Rat Queens Scribe Kurtis Wiebe Pursues Bright New Cyberpunk Ensemble Comic, Bounty

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<i>Rat Queens</i> Scribe Kurtis Wiebe Pursues Bright New Cyberpunk Ensemble Comic, <i>Bounty</i>

Nobody likes getting dragged, kicking and screaming, out of a rest stop bathroom by some burly ne’er-do-well with a Stryper tattoo, returned to the courthouse at gunpoint, when all they wanted to do was skip bail and flee the country. Not unlike vampires, zombies and assault weapons, bounty hunters are zero fun to encounter in the real world. But that plain fact of life has not impeded near-universal adoration of characters like Boba Fett, Brisco County, Jr. and Samus Aran.

With the simple-yet-efficiently titled Bounty, Rat Queens scribe Kurtis Wiebe and artist Mindy Lee add sisters Georgie and Nina—oft-referred to as The Gadflies—to the lineage of intergalactic fugitive-recovery specialists. While hardly the only futuristic (futuristic-ish?) book to feature the romanticized-yet-maligned freelance profession, Bounty places its characters in a neon, effervescent universe comparable to a sunnier version of Japan as rendered in Ghost In The Shell. Amid their exploits, the Gadflies and co. echo the cavalier demeanor of Rat Queens’ disorderly adventurers, though with substantially fewer phrases too bawdy for a PG-13 publication such as Paste. We chatted with Wiebe about his new series, the art of the ensemble and addressing a larger readership.

Paste: Okay, so tell us what’s up with Bounty. How did this thing come about?

Kurtis Wiebe: Well, Bounty was actually something that I put together as an animated show. I had been doing comics for a few years at that point, but I was also looking to try other mediums, so I started outlining what I thought would be a cool animated show for younger audiences. Then I pitched it around a little bit, but it wasn’t getting the traction I wanted from it.

The original idea was a little bit different. It had kind of the same characters, but they were part of a reality show, and would broadcast their hunts live like Dog the Bounty Hunter but in the future. There was a lot more commentary on social media and stuff like that. But I took a lot of that out and rewrote it, because I came across Mindy Lee’s art on Tumblr.

Bounty #1 Cover Art by Mindy Lee

Paste: Was the vaguely Blade Runner-ish aspect of the book your idea, or was that more Lee’s doing?

Wiebe: Equal parts. I gave her the idea of what I wanted it to feel like. Some of the words I used were, “cyberpunk, but bright,” because we haven’t seen that done too much. I know cyberpunk is supposed to be dystopian, but I wanted to change it up a little bit. What I saw of her work online was a few Blade Runner pieces, and her style was really eye-catching. So I thought she could do something interesting with Bounty. A lot of the design and world-building is all her.

Paste: I really like the reality show angle. Did you come up with that when reality shows were a little more of a thing?

Wiebe: Yeah—a year-and-a-half, maybe two years ago. That element is actually still in that first issue. They talk about, “Did we make The Catch Of The Day?” The bounty hunters of this universe are kind of like the WWE stars of the future, where they’re these big celebrities who wear these ridiculous costumes. And there’s an aspect of social media and reality shows, because they stream or upload what they’re doing.

Paste: I know Bounty is nothing like Saga or Tokyo Ghost, because I’ve read it, but if all people see is the headline “Bounty Hunters in Space,” they might think, “Oh, so this is like other things that are out now…” Was that a concern when you were pitching this concept around?

Wiebe: Not really. I think what people can except with my work is a twist on what’s expected. Rat Queens is a fantasy adventure, so some people might’ve rolled their eyes before they actually read it. Bounty isn’t a straightforward bounty-hunting book. There’s a lot more going on under the surface, and a lot of twists and turns in the story. Bounty-hunting is probably one of the least important aspects, to be honest.

Paste: Your books get quippy. What can you tells us about the art of the quip?

Wiebe: I think it has to be rooted in character. Sometimes, people will write a joke because it fits in the space, rather than because it’s something the character would say. That’s one thing I really tried to avoid with Rat Queens—having a joke in there for the sake of itself and assigning it to a random person. I think the comedy of quips comes from people knowing the character, and knowing how and why they’d tell a joke.

Bounty #2 Cover Art by Mindy Lee

Paste: You seem to enjoy writing ensemble casts. Some other people hate writing team books.

Wiebe: Yeah, I enjoy exploring not only the individual personalities, but how those people function as a unit. A lot of my writing is based on the idea that friends are equally family, and like your family, you love your friends, but you hate them sometimes. Exploring that with a contrast of different characters is always a lot of fun for me. There’s more potential for comedy and drama when you have four, or more or less, perspectives looking at the same situation.

Paste: I noticed the Gadflies and their pals don’t swear and talk about drugs as much as the Rat Queens.

Wiebe: I actually aimed at a more inclusive age audience for this book. One of the things I heard a lot from Rat Queens readers is, “Hey, I’d love to show this to my teenage daughter or niece, but I’m not comfortable doing that with all the violence and swearing.” I heard that over and over again, and that’s why I wanted to make Bounty a more age-appropriate punk-rock comic book. Bounty’s going to be something you’ll feel comfortable giving to a 12-year-old, with the same things people liked about Rat Queens, without all the mature content.

Paste: Back in my day, every comic book had to have a huge steroid cyborg guy from the future who carried a ginormous gun. I’m glad the situation’s evolving…

Wiebe: We have to embrace the new age of comic book readers, and not just serve the ones who are getting older. I think there’s a real hole in the market for comics that kids have easy accessibility to that are appropriate and fun for them. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years. It’s fun for younger boys and girls and will challenge them intellectually, but not offend them or their parents…too much, anyway.