Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by Greg Ruth, author and illustrator of comics and children’s literature. His latest graphic novel, The Lost Boy, comes out from Scholastic August 27th. Check out a preview here on Tor.com and all throughout the quiz below.
Join us as we cover subjects ranging from abandoned toys to a squirrel named Pettibone, and more!
Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.
When I was younger and spent a great deal of time in my room playing in between epic battles amongst my Star Wars figures or reading books, I would make small anatomically accurate plastecine cadavers of people or animals or weird invented alien creatures, and then dress up in surgical gear made of t-shirts and perform autopsies on them. To date this has not yet made me a serial killer.
Describe your favorite place to read/write?
We live in this old Victorian house on main street here in Ashfield, and it sports a really fantastic covered front porch that looks out onto the main thoroughfare and the inn across the street. We’ve got a couple of wicker rockers set up and plopping down in one, propping my feet up onto the railing of the porch is the absolute best place ever to read and write. Granted, you end up getting interrupted by passersby and the kids playing out front, but that’s just part of the package and I love it.
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
Oh I learned a tremendous amount, especially how we’ve changed our relationships with the natural world that abuts our older towns and neighborhoods. The common practice of using the woods, or nearby ravines as dumping grounds for old toys, equipment and household items—even old cars (we found near an old house we lived in in Cummington, an entire Studebaker that had been there long enough for full sized maple trees to grow right out of the middle of it). Many of the old toy creatures and characters in The Lost Boy come from this history. But the thing that most interested me most was that for poor families who had no way of feeding or caring for unwanted children, taking these children out in the woods to be left was not uncommon. While usually it was a death sentence for the child, they did sometimes survive and were occasionally discovered as “Wild Children.” I have written into the mythos of the story whole tribes of these feral kids, named “The Skelkies,” who roam in wolf packs and ravage the surrounding tribes as feared raiders. While we didn’t have enough room in this story to include the Skelkies, if we get to continue the story, they will play a very prominent role in the events to come.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
We had a giant old hardcover book that collected all of Bradbury’s stories that I read and reread countless times growing up and it has entirely shaped my love for sci-fi. Same goes for Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which today I still dream of adapting into comics sometime. I also grew up in Texas and for a while there was a local TV station that only had enough money to license old sci-fi and monster films and thus played them in an endless stream all weekend long. Lost many beautiful weekends sitting in front of the old black and white TV set watching those shows and films and having the best time ever.
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
I would have to say reading comics and drawing. Drawing as an act of playing hooky is what got me into this business and I managed to codify this sinful practice in the form of The 52 Weeks Project, a weekly drawing assignment I gave myself, as a way to express it. Nothing better than to wake up each Monday morning and draw a picture no one else asked for when you’ve got a deadline for work people are expecting. Feels good to be bad sometimes.
What would your Patronus/familiar be?
A snarky sweater-vested squirrel named Pettibone, no doubt. When I was a child I lived about ten blocks from my local elementary school and used to walk home each day. Sometimes I would walk with friends but mostly it was just me and my imaginary friend named Pettibone, who would accompany me along the way. We would plan all sorts of major events and discuss the trials and tribulations of the school day. That Pettibone was the basis for the character in The Lost Boy, though the original was a good deal more kind and earnest.
Bad news: You’re about to be marooned alone on a desert island—name the five things you would bring along.
First of all, my complete collection of Lone Wolf and Cub comics. If I was allowed only one thing, that would be it. But given the opportunity for more… I would next include a rechargeable flashlight for night reading, a proper knife for the making of things of use and defending myself against any Skelkies that might be lurking on the island, the entire collection of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, and a solar powered iPad loaded to bear with ebooks.
Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time. Alternately: Heroes vs. Villains—which are more fun to write?
Villains are always better and more fun to wrote I think. Villains are more dynamic and posses a great deal more agency than heroes do—they are self assertive in a way the hero never can be. Heroes require villains to define themselves, but villains don’t need heroes. Villains are active and heroes merely responsive. And narratively, villains have a better arc to run with. They always possess within themselves the possibility of salvation, of being better. Their arc then always points upward and is inherently more dynamic, more emotionally true. Heroes are tougher because they are, by the virtue of being heroic, have nowhere to go except perhaps down. They have already arrived at their pinnacle and if they haven’t yet, then they need a villain to spur them towards heroics, which I think makes them sort of weak and dependent.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Darth Vader was my most iconic villain—I am old enough to have seen Empire Strikes Back in the theater when it came out, and the gasping horror of his being Luke’s father (spoilers!) has been forever imprinted on my soul. I think it’s that moment when I realized for the first time, how deeply complex and interesting the villain’s story could be.
Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot: Narnia or Middle Earth (or some other fictional realm)…
Rama. I’d never want to live on Arthur C Clarke’s floating space machine but I would kill for the chance to explore the hell out of that place before I had to get off as it passed through our galaxy. Best vacation ever.
List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.
1.) That I truly believe comics is one of the most effective and potentially powerful mediums to convey a story ever, and that I have a duty to try and bring my best efforts to make others realize this by both turning them on to comics that achieve this quality and by doing my best to produce works in this medium that match it’s potential. Because comics take so long to make, and demand so much work, I can never take on doing one that I don’t entirely devote myself to, whether it’s my own stories like The Lost Boy, drawing and interpreting another’s like I did for Steve Niles on Freaks of the Heartland, or Kurt Busiek for Conan, or collaborating in a partnership as I am currently doing with Ethan Hawke for our story about Geronimo and the Apache wars, entitled Indeh.
2.) That the characters I create, draw and write about are unto themselves wholly real. If I’m doing my job right and giving them enough to begin to grow themselves, these little imaginary Golems will come to life and begin writing their own dialogue and directing their own narrative arcs leaving me barely holding the reins of a pack of wild horses running scattershot all over the story. When a world you’ve invented starts growing itself and feeding itself like this there is no greater achievement for a narratavist than that I think.
3.) That the act of drawing is one of the most painful and difficult things I do. It’s never easy and it’s rarely pleasant unless step number two above comes into play. They are always a far cry from the images in my head and as a result always a disappointment to me in the end. I think my entire motivation as an artist is to one day achieve work that does meet this standard, but I suspect the moment that finally happens I’ll stop drawing altogether. The struggle is where the heart is, and the brief moments of accomplishment the sole purpose for trying again the next day and the day after. It truly is a drug I can’t imagine not being addicted to, but forever cursing it at the same time.
Greg Ruth has written and drawn stories for Dark Horse Comics, DC/Vertigo, Fantagraphics, The New York Times and Scholastic including Sudden Gravity, Freaks of the Heartland (with Steve Niles), Conan: Born on the Battlefield (with Kurt Busiek), The Matrix Comics, Goosebumps among others. He has also created work for The Criterion Collection, Macmillan, Random House, CNN, Viking, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Hyperion including his first children’s book, Our Enduring Spirit (with Barack Obama), A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess (with James Preller), City of Orphans (with Avi), and Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang) as well as music videos for Rob Thomas and Prince. He is currently working on his ongoing 52 Weeks Project drawing series, and the graphic novel, Indeh (with Ethan Hawke). He lives and works in Western Massachusetts.