The Image Comics series Rat Queens is the smash hit of 2014 complete with its own cult following. And from the moment I laid eyes on Roc Upchurch’s fantastic character designs of Dee, Violet, Betty and Hannah – I just knew these characters were going to be something special. At least, I hoped they would be. Just look at them!
Yeah, Hannah is giving you the finger. Betty is totally about to eat some ‘shrooms. Violet will gladly spar, if you’re into that. And Dee, well Dee is just perfect. All of these ladies are especially perfect in a world where the most read comics are filled with recycled versions of long-loved characters grasping desperately at the status-quo. Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch’s Queens quite literally spit in the face of your preconceived notions of who they should be and make for a fresh and fun comic to add to your pull list.
Now an Eisner-nominated series, here are some of the reasons Rat Queens deserves every bit of the accolades.
Roc is a longtime favorite of Girls Gone Geek and it’s because he’s got skills. One of those skills is a penchant for color. I’ve seen his pencils sans color and they are great all by themselves. But Roc lays the color down with a vibrancy and well-timed contrast that gives the characters he renders definitive life. Or, if you are on the receiving end of the Queens… blood-red death.
I mean that quite literally, but figuratively, too. Rat Queens isn’t pulling any punches (or stabs) when it comes to visual gratuity. Gore not your thing? I invite you to consider the fantasy context of these over-the-top characters, the festive sense of humor the book is written with and that Roc is drawing it. He’s got a unique, roguish stylization that sets a bold tone and boasts some dynamic perspectives. You could ignore every speech bubble in the issue (although you wouldn’t want to) and still be completely enamored. There are some truly fetching pages that will make you pause.
That over-the-top thing that I just mentioned, yeah, these women have filthy, filthy mouths. It is the kind of thing you imagine you’d hear in a medieval pub post-battle, when the men are all drunk and blood-spattered. Except it’s four ladies covered in blood and it’s before, during and after the battle. A real paradigm-shifter (unless you’ve listened to one of Dana’s podcasts, then it’s business as usual).
I certainly am not so obtuse that I think there are no non-white non-believers. There are, of course, plenty of heathens in all the various shades of human (hobbit, elf and dwarf), myself included. The thing is that I live below the Mason-Dixon Line, and that’s a demographic that doesn’t get a lot of love ’round these parts. So, not only do we have an atheist, but an exquisitely drawn, beautiful brown lady atheist as one of our four protagonists. Her name is Dee, and she fills my damned soul with joy.
Over the past two years, the collective initiative for the “Strong Female Character” has unintentionally devolved and can come off as condescending as fuck. Not only that, but “strong” is not a catch-all adjective when considering a complex character who happens to identify as female. Women are people and people are flawed and that’s OK.
The SFC has somehow been conflated with a desire to “goodwash” new female characters in what seems to be a vigilant attempt at preventing the ills of the past. I don’t like trite female tropes either, but what fiction and comics could benefit from is more female characters of all kinds with varying virtues and vices.
The Rat Queens have got the vices portion of the show covered. Thank goodness.
You can check out an interview I did with the writer, Kurtis Wiebe, and a preview of Rat Queens here. There’s a free webcomic that features each of the Queens here. You can pick up the first trade of Rat Queens, Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery online or at your local comic shop. My vote is for your local comic shop. And if you end up loving Rat Queens as much as I do, you can get some merch here.