I really enjoyed the first issue of Dark Horse Comic's Dragon Age Magekiller (you can read the full review here), and I recently got to chat with writer Greg Rucka about the setting of Magekiller, as well as the two new additions to the canon in Marius and Tessa. Without further ado, let's get to the chat shall we?
Matt Mueller: Well, I wanted to just talk in general a bit first. I’ve read a few interviews with you and I know you are a big fan of Bioware's work, as well as RPG's of the digital variety and pen and paper. What made you want to tell this particular story in Dragon Age’s world?
Greg Rucka: I wasn’t actually looking to tell this story, just to tell a story in the world, ya know. I mean I am fortunate enough that I had some communication with Mike Laidlaw and Patrick Weekes, so when the opportunity came up they just presented it to me, and when they presented it to me, Mike and I had a few conversations and I said basically, “Well, what do you need? What is the story beat you need told?" Because in cases like this it can be more about supporting stuff to fill out what they’re doing with the IP. They’ve got an established world, they've got 3 games out not including DLC, plus all this other ancillary material. So really it's a question of knowing how they build stuff there, and where do they need me. So on the basis of that they sort of proposed some ideas, and those ideas turned into Marius and the idea of the magekiller and this story.
MM: One of the cooler aspects about this is that we don’t get to see, either in the games or the other books for that matter, the land of Tevinter. It’s always talked about and referenced, and some of the main characters actually come from there, but they don’t show it. Now I know that Bioware has plans in place for future games. Were there a lot of things you had to work around in regards to Tevinter and the people there, or did they give you more free reign?
GR: No, no, see you do them a bit of a disservice (laughs), just because you’ve never seen it doesn’t mean they don’t know it, know what I mean? And I was lucky, I think it was Ben Gelinas, who was sending me stuff that they had written up. They have material that they’ve done, and they’ve done an incredible amount of world building. It basically goes, “Well how does Tevinter work?” and they basically say “Well, this is what we know, here” (laughs), and all the sudden here is all this stuff I’m getting to read through. So more than anything actually it was kind of trying to make sure the visual, which in comics are arguably, I don’t actually think it's arguable, I think they are more important than the prose. It is a visual medium and visual storytelling. So making sure that what Carmen was drawing while we are in Minrathous, the capital of Tevinter, fit with their vision. So there had been discussions, all of this ongoing because it is a very living universe. It is one of the things that is so exciting about it is that it's growing and expanding with so much more room to explore. So I’m working with what they gave me. I’m writing on the basis of what they’re giving me. I’m giving it back to them, and that’s as much a dialogue as much as it is an approval process, you know what I mean?
GR: Because I’m presenting stuff, I’m going to places that we may never ever see in a game, so the question is well does this work in the context with the rest of Thedas, and does it work in the context of this story, and so on. It is kind of like walking into a super well stocked workshop. Just about everything you need in raw material is already there. If there is something you don’t need, well there is still the raw materials to build it, and that is incredibly exciting, and frankly it is an incredible amount of trust that they’ve given me to do that. Mind you I say that knowing as well that they had the ability at any point to go nope, you’re not doing that. (Laughs)
MM: You mention Carmen’s work, and I have to say her art style and the coloring just nail that, I guess, essence of what people have come to expect out of something related to Dragon Age. It feels like it could’ve been taken from assets behind any of the games. It really is a gorgeous book.
GR: That’s fantastic, and I don't want to understate it, because all of that is stuff we worked on, when I was coming up with Tessa and Marius, and actually writing descriptions, these were going back to Bioware and being approved, and they were being approved by, I believe it's Matt, who sits next to Laidlaw, who is the art director. All those visuals go past him, so trying to make sure that the pallette was the right color palette, the costuming, what they’re wearing. I’ve said in other interviews that because I’ve played the games, I wanted it to be recognizable. There is nothing worse than when you’re invested in the IP, in the property, and you pick up something that is supposed to be based in it, and it doesn’t look like it, or the story doesn’t make sense in the context of the world you know. Kind of the tightrope we were walking for this is wanting to make sure we had something that a new reader could get. Someone who had never heard anything about Dragon Age could read it, get it, and enjoy it. For the audience who knew Thedas, that was to some extent experienced in the lore, but they would look at it and say “Oh Winter's Grasp, I know that spell”, or “Wait a minute, that's a rogue and rogues don’t use long-swords in the game” you know, so we just wanted to be consistent.
MM: Well, and like you said about walking a tightrope and trying to stay authentic, Marius specifically, that character type, the Journeyman who is quiet and stoic. That character can easily go overboard where they are either not interesting at all or the story is so ham handed in eliciting sympathy that you feel bad for not feeling anything towards the character, mostly because of how they are conveyed. Marius however walks that fine line well, and by issues end you come to empathize with him, in part because of the burden he carries. How is the process of walking that tightrope with him? Is it something you were always conscious of?
GR: I think, you are making choices, so it is absolutely conscious. When you are starting with new characters, and Tessa and Marius are both new, it was sort of learning as I went. One of the things you discover in later issues is that Marius is kind of a dope. He’s not dumb, but he is incredibly naive of certain things. Like interpersonal relationships he just stinks at, he just doesn’t get stuff. Nuance is completely lost on him. He is really good at the thing he was trained to do, but the idea for him, for Marius, is that he was a slave who was trained for one job, and through that job, one way or another, he became free. He’s not particularly happy with the job he does, but he’s not particularly unhappy with it, and he has rules with it. He has his own morality. He needed to have some personality, and that is always tricky when the character doesn’t say a lot, so a lot of his personality is supplied by Tessa. At the same time we had a character in Dragon Age II, Fenris, who in many ways him and Marius have a lot of similarities, and I didn’t want, he couldn’t be a lead up to I’M ANGRY, I AM REALLY ANGRY! Because if you look at Fenris, what is his broadening emotion? Hatred. I get it.
MM: Very true. Fenris was one of those characters that I was always so afraid to go to new places with, because when I did he would always yell at me.
GR: Yeah, Fenris disapproves! Fenris disapproves greatly!
GR: Everywhere you go. Him and Morrigan.
MM: Oh I know! Even after I would clear out a place I would then take him there, and then I’d find a book of spells and he’d still disapprove. After awhile I just gave up.
GR: Yeah, it's just like, so basically I have to hate all mages to get along with you? Kind of sucks if I have a Hawke that has Bethany as her sister (laughs)
MM: Exactly. Well, and like we were talking about where a great deal of his personality is provided by Tessa, I have to say I fell in love with this character as soon as she has that one to two page one sided conversation with him. As soon as that happened I went holy cow she is fantastic.
MM: Mostly because I’m married, and I feel like I’ve had that conversation or vice versa in our household at one time or another. That sarcastic “so I’ll speak since evidently you are not going to”.
MM: So what sticks out the most when writing her?
GR: Aw man I love her. I seriously do. It is funny because one of the things that you get in these five issues is that it's not really one long story. Every part is directly related right, but if there is a really unifying through-line, the through-line is their relationship. Its how these two get along, and frankly how much they need each other. Marius needs Tessa. It is not really clear at the start how Tessa needs Marius. I remember getting a note from Carmen while she was drawing it asking “so are they going to hook up?”
GR: And I said no, they are friends, it's nothing sexual. She loves him like a brother. There's a great, I shouldn’t say great because that is patting myself on the back, but there is a part in the third issue, and during the third issue you are running concurrently with about the middle of Dragon Age Inquisition, the timeline. Because you start before Inquisition, you start essentially shortly after the events in Kirkwall, and by issue two you have reached the beginning of Dragon Age Inquisition. So in issue three what they are dealing with, essentially is a Rift that has opened, and of course, they are not the Inquisitor, so they can’t close it, right? So all they can do is basically try to stop the flood of demons long enough to get as many innocents out of the area. And Marius hatches a plan. You come into the issue during this plan, and its a really crazy, stupid plan, and it works, but the end result of it is once it's over Marius is just spent. He’s fought Rage Demons and Shades, Wraiths, and a Terror, he’s just a mess. Tessa is like “Okay we are going to patch you up now”, and Marius is like “Yes, please, I hurt everywhere.”
That kind of relationship is one I can have fun with, and I’m hoping more than anything that as much as people who know the games will read it and enjoy getting to see Thedas from this angle, and from their point of view, I’m hoping most of all that people are going to like them, because I like them together. And one of the things that probably, now that I’m talking to you about it, I think one of the things that was going on in my head, is that Bioware has done such a brilliant job over the years at making NPCs that you just want to go have a beer with.
MM: Could not agree more. I would love to get a beer with Iron Bull or Isabela.
GR: You look at Varric and you’re like “He’s my bro, man!” There is such a long list of them, and they do it so well, and I kind of wanted that sense of camaraderie between Tessa and Marius, that you would walk away from it and be like “I liked them and I could enjoy hanging out with them more."
MM: It is funny you say that, because my last questions was, depending on how the story progresses of course (if they survive, leave Thedas, that kind of thing), would you like to see these characters in a future game?
GR: Oh yeah, hell yeah, oh my god yeah! How amazing would that be, to see one or two of these characters show up in the main title, that would be fantastic. And frankly, I can’t think of a higher compliment. That said, I don’t think of, I can’t think of Marius and Tessa as mine, know what I mean? They are Bioware’s, they are Dragon Age’s, use them and run.
MM: Well, if we are paying compliments, throughout the first issue, there were multiple times that, well, for context I have actually been replaying Dragon Age Inquisition for the second time through, and the book came right in the middle of that, so I’ve been reading at a perfect time with all of it fresh in my memory. Going through here, Marius and Tessa fit so well into the Dragon Age mold, that at multiple times while reading, the scene played out in my head as if I were walking through the world with those two bantering behind me, just as if it were Cassandra or Dorian. They just fit so well, and at a certain point I would love to play these characters in a future Dragon Age entry.
GR: That would be awesome. I can’t imagine that in Dragon Age 4 you are going to get Marius as a companion, but I wouldn’t cry if you did.
MM: Real quick, if there is one character that I would like to see, only because he’s kind of a jerk, it is Flavius. When he first enters the scene, he kind of reminds you of that guy, and I have a day job and work at an office, so you know that guy or girl who takes the last Post-It pack, but then doesn't tell anyone they took the last one, and just waits for someone to notice, and subsequently the office hits DEFCON Five because nobody has any Post-Its. He’s that person.
GR: (Laughs) He’s that guy that doesn’t refill the coffee pot.
MM: Exactly! And you need those people to give a story layers, as well as give your characters something to reflect off of and react to, and not every NPC needs to be likable. I was just impressed at how quickly you come to dislike him (seriously, it's like one panel and you hate him). Is he based on anyone?
GR: No, he is a type. He is one of those people that you meet who has a little bit of power, and thinks he is better than everybody. He is an arrogant little prick, and I can’t really think of another way to put it.
MM: I think that is an apt description. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about the book, and I look forward to reading issue 2. Thanks so much!
GR: Very happy to do so, sir.
Dragon Age Magekiller #1 is on sale now. Magekiller #2 is on sale 1/20/16