If you’re hungering for comics that feature offbeat female protagonists, writer Rebecca Rothschild and artist Kate Rodriguez have you covered. The Chicago-based team collaborate on Warshiner, the tale of a middle-aged woman who descends into the underworld of an interstellar black-market booze trade. It’s Breaking Bad meets Farscape – psychological crime drama in a fantastical intergalactic setting. Last month at Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con, Rebecca and Kate talked with me about their diverse inspirations, using science fiction to comment on history and politics, and bringing Warshiner‘s colorful creatures to life.
Kate Rodriguez: Well, this was really Becca’s project.
Rebecca Rothschild: It’s a brainchild of mine. I wanted to take the concept of Prohibition and put it on a hyper-futuristic, intergalactic scale. I wanted to do space chases and sexy aliens. Our protagonist, Evelyn, is really cool. She’s a botanist from Earth. She’s about fifty years old, so she’s not a spring chicken. I think she had other plans than starting to make alcohol on a planet far away from her home, but she got in a little legal trouble, to put it lightly, and she ended up running away from Earth. She had to make kind of a new home since. She ended up making alcohol at a time when a large empire has banned alcohol. It’s very much Dukes of Hazzard, Hitchhiker’s Guide, a little Breaking Bad in there. I’ve enjoyed writing it. Issue two is already on the way. Katie did this gorgeous art for it.
Graphic Policy: Talk a little bit about the art, and about how you translated that vision into what you’re drawing.
KR: One of the things that really drew me to this concept was the fact that it’s an older protagonist – not just a female protagonist, but an older female protagonist who had her whole life set, and then all of a sudden, everything had to change. I really liked this recurring theme of, there is no end. Your life doesn’t just happen, and then it’s done. You’re always in flux like that. So I did want to portray some of that with the colors. There are a lot of colors going on, there are a lot of gradients, and it’s not just two colors. It’s from purple to pink to orange, and then back to rose color, especially with the cover. On top of it all, Evelyn is the only human character in the entire series. So this left me open to do so many critters and aliens, which I just love doing. Being able to manipulate the features of so many different animals and combine them, and see which shapes still work as a person, except not. Also, I like the fact that Becca was like, “I want her to be cute, but I don’t want her to be just an older version of the same Ms. Marvel-y scene over and over again.” So I really liked being able to design somebody who has her own face. Evelyn’s got this very square head, she’s got this cute long nose. She’s really wacky looking, but she’s still really cute. And all of her friends – the people she becomes friends with – have their own unique faces. For example, Scoso is one of the characters I really like, because he’s, like, eight feet tall, his limbs are all over the joint, and he has this weird hooked nose. I have worked with other writers before, and a lot of them are like, “Well, yeah, but could you make them prettier?” I got really sick of hearing the word “prettier.” And thank God, Becca has never once told me, “Make them prettier.”
GP: I love hearing that. I love that you’ve got a character who’s obviously older than you guys are, but is in a position that a lot of our parents find themselves in.
RR: There’s a big reinvention. Evelyn is a combination of all my favorite women in my life, all my role models. Evelyn is the name of my grandmother. It’s such a comforting name, at least to me. It’s just about reinvention, and the fact that she was ready for retirement, she was ready to take it easy. But especially in the future, we’re living longer and longer, and women are not condemned to boring lives because they’re older and no longer wearing makeup. She can be a space crime lord. So there you go. It’s never really over.
GP: It’s the kind of thing where, if you got to make the movie of it, you’d have actresses lining up.
RR: We’ve already said Helen Mirren.
KR: Helen Mirren!
RR: We want her real bad. But she’s surrounded by young, hot aliens – all this fun stuff – and it doesn’t even faze her. I love the fact that she’s not immortal. She’s human, very human, and she has to adapt to this very different atmosphere. She’s going to have to develop a little bit of a naughty streak.
GP: One of the other things I noticed when you were describing the concept was, you were mentioning a lot of influences that aren’t comic books, and aren’t sci-fi, and aren’t genre. How does that fit in to this very sci-fi, aliens and creatures, type of premise?
RR: I realized early on, you’ll notice a very tropical theme on this planet. I realized when I was watching Contact the other day, “Oh, that’s why I’m so obsessed with space travel!” I loved when she got there – spoiler alert – she gets there, and there’s the beach, and I’m like, this is so weird and alien, I would love to be on a planet like that. So I do pull references, but I don’t like copying people. I think that’s rude. I’ve tried not to. I obviously do some themes that can come from different places. Watching Boardwalk Empire really helped me write through it. But I took a lot more of the references from history. Prohibition was such a ridiculous thing, and it propelled history into a ridiculous place of crime and nonsense and car chases, and all this crazy stuff going on. So to have it on an intergalactic scale would just be ridiculous. So I really wanted it. I wanted to do it.
GP: Of course, there are still prohibitions of different kinds now.
KR: That’s true!
RR: Which is interesting. So it could still be topical.
KR: And I think it is still topical, because even, some of the stuff later on is, how much power should a government have? At what point is it keeping the people safe, and when is it just self-serving? And having to learn the difference between the two. Yet another reason why I really like this concept and this script, as she presented it to me, was that I don’t feel like it slaps you in the face with the answer. It really just asks the question, and follows it through to its progression. I feel like especially a lot of comics when they try to tackle this stuff, they really ham-fist you in the face with the answer.
RR: Yeah, I’m never going to tell you why everyone can understand each other. All the good excuses are taken.
KR: Maybe they all have the ear worms from Hitchhiker’s Guide.
RR: I’m sure they do. Maybe there’s an Apple device in your ear. But whatever it is, you guys will get it.
GP: That’s actually gotten plausible at this point. We have Google Translate. Imagine what it’ll be like.
RR: It shouldn’t be too hard to communicate. So I’ve just kind of left that to the readers.
KR: Not to mention, I feel like that, in particular, is one of those questions that a lot of people ask, but is it super important?
RR: I feel like, if someone asks me, “Why does everyone speak English?” I’d be like, “So you can understand it.”
KR: So I don’t have to come up with a whole other language, and do a whole ridiculous storyline about them learning each other’s language that’s going to take forever, and take away from the main story of what we’re actually talking about.
GP: Because Ursula K. Le Guin wrote that novel so nobody else has to. So we’re just going to skip that novel and go on to the thing that’s new. So because it’s on my mind general, and we had this adorable little girl that just walked by and was like –
KR: [Imitating girl] Ohhhh.
GP: If you guys could talk a little bit about being young women writing comics, and how you got into that.
KR: Well, you wrote it.
RR: I write, she draws.
GP: Writing and drawing.
RR: I’ll tell you, I was a journalist for a long time in gaming and geek culture. I’ve been where you are, with my phone, doing this exact thing. So I feel you. I specialized in the female demographic, and it has changed so dramatically from the time I started, which was, like, 2009, to now. Even, I also play a lot of video games, I used to be told to make a sandwich, like, nightly. All the time. And everything has changed since. It’s very accepting. And yet there’s still some ways to go. Why Wonder Woman doesn’t have her own movie, like, now is beyond me, but whatever, I can hang with it. It’s getting better, and faster. It’s getting better faster, which is a wonderful thing to see.
KR: And exponentially.
GP: How did you get into drawing comics?
KR: I’ve always been able to draw. That’s, like, the only thing I’ve ever been good at. Like, I never did math or anything.
RR: She’s good at having really cool colored hair.
KR: Yes, but that’s still not me. I hire someone to do that, you know. But I’ve always been into drawing, and I’ve always liked telling stories, on top of it all. But I’ve never been much of a writer. I can do little vignettes, and most of the time they’re funny, because I’m f***ing ridiculous that way. But I like being part of the storytelling process, and if this is what I have to contribute, then this is what I have to contribute. And I love to. I love telling a good story, and I think that’s a really good way that we can all connect with each other, is through telling stories. Because that’s how we understand each other. For example, a lot of people our age don’t understand the older generation. And they will think, “You’re sixty. Just sit down, don’t break your hip.” But maybe if people our age pick up Evelyn’s story they can [realize] she doesn’t necessarily need protection. She doesn’t need to go back home and cover herself up with a blanket. She can actually be the protagonist. She can actually do s**t still. Even just sitting here, I’ve seen so many middle-aged women, here, buying comics. The demographic is there, and they’re not being catered to at all.
GP: And they grew up reading comics.
KR: Yeah! So it’s not like they’re just getting into it. It’s not like they haven’t always loved this. So why on earth are they not being represented right now? It’s completely unfair, so if this is just a pebble in the pond, so be it. At least it’s one more pebble that they have.
GP: Awesome. I’m going to ask you a few wrap-up questions, and I want you both to answer. If you could write or draw any character or comics series in the world, what would it be?
RR: Like, that already existed? Punisher. No doubt.
RR: Well, I didn’t really have a big appreciation for Punisher until I was married. My husband is a retired Marine. And I didn’t really understand. But the thing I love about Punisher is, first of all, he always cleans up his mess. There’s a villain, shoot him in the head, goodbye. Next. Second of all, who else can really pull off a gelmet like Frank Castle? Nobody. So those are my two big things. I just love him. I love how dark and gritty – he lives in a dump. He’s so unlike anyone else. You know, a lot of times, villains come back – no. You tussle with Big Pun, there’s a good chance you don’t come back. I love that. I want him.
GP: So what about you? What would you love to draw?
KR: My two favorite comics right now are Rat Queens, illustrated by – I love him but I can never say his name right – Stjepan Šejić. It’s beautiful, but I will never, ever be able to live up to his art. So that’s out. But ooh! Saga. If I could contribute in any way to Saga, my life might be complete forever, because it’s so wacky! It’s so wacky, but so good at the same time. It really brings the drama, and the comedy, and this irreverence that’s so great and so inventive all at the same time. I don’t think I could ever beat it, and I’ve accepted that. I’ve accepted that I will never be better than Saga. But I can live with that fact.
GP: You get your creatures, right?
KR: Oh, creatures.
RR: She is so good at creatures.
KR: Oh, you hush now.
RR: The critters in here, I mean, he’s a hot little piece of man-cat. I mean, she has so much fun.
KR: And I love the fact that she lets me – like, whatever’s in the script has to be there, but she’s also like, whatever you want to go on in the background, let it go. So, little tidbit for all of you to be watching in the next couple of [issues], there is a character that is not in the script, that I made, named Madame Centipede, and she is going on quite the adventure of her own. We’ll see if you can figure out what she’s doing.
GP: And then two years on, she gets her own book, right?
RR: Oh my God, we’re doing it.
GP: One last question. Pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys? You get to pick one. Each of you can pick different ones.
KR: In what setting?
GP: However you want to answer.
KR: You go first. I’ve got to think about this.
RR: I want to do aliens, after I’ve already launched my corpse into space, and they wake me up. Those aliens. They’d better be friendly, too.
KR: They better be the friendly kind. They wake me up and enslave me, I’m going to be pissed.
RR: Yeah. That’s not cool. Friendly aliens.
KR: I do love cowboys.
RR: So hot.
KR: Mmm, cowboys. I’m going to have to say cowboys.
GP: All righty. I feel like you don’t need to add to that. You said it all.
KR: Mmm, cowboys.