Marvel Comics often turns to novelists when searching for writing talent, but hiring Rainbow Rowell to write a new Runaways series is an especially inspired decision. The writer of bestselling books like Fangirl, Eleanor & Park, and Carry On, Rowell has a talent for creating compelling, multifaceted characters with complex personal relationships, and she writes young people that actually act and sound like young people. These skills make her a great fit for Marvel’s beloved but underutilized teen superhero team, and she’s working with artist Kris Anka and colorist Matthew Wilson to bring the Runaways back together, just in time to capitalize on the November debut of the Runaways TV show on Hulu. Rowell recently chatted with The A.V. Club to discuss her love of Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s original Runaways run, how she got involved with the new series, and the plethora of reasons why Anka is her ideal collaborator.
The A.V. Club: How did you discover Runaways?
Rainbow Rowell: I don’t remember why I picked it up other than at that time, I was buying a ton of Marvel comics. And—I even—was it Wizard Magazine? I was also a subscriber to that. I always really like teen teams, like New Mutants. And I was really into Generation X when it started. So Runaways just seemed right up my alley. That was something I was going to read. That’s how I started reading it, and then I really fell for it, because it was a different kind of team, especially when it started. I was mostly reading X-Men books. And it’s so different. It’s so character-driven. And the writing was really a cut above what I had experienced. And that isn’t to say that everything else I was reading was bad, it’s to say that Brian K. Vaughan is really good. Runaways was part of me shifting the way that I read comics. Up until that point, I had been very attached to certain characters in certain teams, and I would read those characters no matter where they showed up. And then Runaways, around that time is when I was like, “Oh, I care more about the creative team, I think, than these characters.” So I let go of a lot of characters I loved and started following creators. I’m a writer, so I mostly followed writers. A few artists.
AVC: I think not having anybody be in costumes made a big difference, too. It’s about the clothes they wear and the style they personally have instead of, “I’m defined by this one look that places me in this superhero universe.” That can turn people off.
RR: I think you’re absolutely right. I’m so indoctrinated into people having ridiculous costumes that that would never have occurred to me. But you’re right. [Laughs.] For people, I think, it’s just like if you’re not used to that, it’s really silly looking and weird and off-putting.
AVC: It gave the book a different flavor than most superhero comics. Adrian Alphona is also amazing, and gave the book a different visual sensibility.
RR: They all have a very distinct visual appearance, too. That was something we talked a lot about as we were preparing for this run and talking about artists. Especially at that time, for those girls to all look as different as they do and to have different body types and just different facial structures and different head shapes. That sounds stupid, but it’s a big deal. Adrian gave them all a really distinct feel.
AVC: Working on this new book, how do you make that as accessible as possible now that there is all this continuity for these characters? Some of them, like Nico, are really ingrained in the Marvel Universe.
RR: Well, I mean, I don’t have the advantage of it being a true issue #1. I should say “we.” Kris and I don’t. We aren’t starting at zero. I have been saying to people, “You know, you would love the original run of this.” This is not the sort of thing where it’s like homework to brush up on these characters. If you are interested, go back and read at least Brian Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s original 42 issues or so. But I’m assuming that a lot of people won’t. I guess my approach is to do a moving introduction of the characters. They’re moving and we’re progressing, but Kris and I are still very much introducing them to you. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that we focus on one character each issue.
AVC: How did you end up getting involved with the book?
RR: [Runaways editor] Nick Lowe emailed me or tweeted at me. I think he emailed me after he read Eleanor & Park. And then he was like “hey”—I think he was working on Spider-Man books. So he was like, “Hey, I read your book Eleanor & Park. I see that you like comics,” because I talk about comics—that’s a big part of that book. He’s like, “Maybe you’d like to write for us. Maybe you’d like to do a one shot or something.” And I don’t know what was wrong with me that day, because I normally would not—If you were to say, “What would you like for dinner?” I’d be like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. Anything. What do you have?” But in that moment, I was like, “Well, what I would really like to do is bring back Runaways.”
I was really bold. I don’t know. I was uncharacteristically bold. “What I would really love is to bring back Runaways and here is why.” I think that was four years ago. It was between Eleanor & Park and Fangirl coming out. So it had turned out he had been the editor at the end of the run. He was like, “Oh, I love Runaways. It was hard for me when that book ended.” He was very young at the time, but he was a part of that team. So he was like, “We’ve talked about bringing them back, but it’s never felt like the right time. Maybe we should do this.” And then I feel like he called my bluff, because I had already committed to doing like three other things. I was writing, Landline was coming out, I was writing Carry On. I was writing the Eleanor & Park screenplay. I had committed to a graphic novel for First Second. I honored all those commitments.
AVC: What do you appreciate the most about working with Kris Anka on the new book?
RR: So, everything. I love Kris. I mean, I wrote all of this without an artist. Sort of everybody that Nick and I talked about was busy or didn’t want to do it or whatever. And I had all these scripts written, and I started to think, “This isn’t actually happening. It’s taken six months to do this and it’s not actually going to happen.” And then Nick was like, “Hey, what do you think about Kris Anka?” And then it came together so quickly. And now I can’t imagine another artist. I can’t even imagine another artist doing the job. I can’t imagine working with someone else. It just feels like Kris is the most perfect choice, because everything we were just talking about that Adrian Alphona is good at are things that Kris keeps alive and pushes forward. He was already a fan.
He was able to just read my scripts and be immediately there, and he already had this love for all the characters. Personally, because that’s his world. He’s from Los Angeles. I had done a little field trip to Los Angeles as I was writing because it’s such a different world, more than any other part of the country, I think. It’s a different planet. Even the houses look different. And I had taken all these photos like, “Oh, I’ll share these with whoever the artist is.” Because I figured the artist could be in, like, Spain. Who knows. And Kris, that’s his neighborhood. He says those are the people he went to high school with. So he really brings this love and knowledge about the characters. You and I were just talking about how they don’t wear costumes, so their clothes are important. Well, no one draws clothes like Kris Anka. No one cares about them, you know? He does style sheets for each issue, and they’re beautiful; what everyone is wearing, the color everything is. And so for him, all of those choices are part of the character choices.
He’s also breathtaking at the character acting. He’s definitely meeting me halfway on the storytelling, always, and sometimes pushing beyond me. His figures are acting and emoting and reacting to each other. They’re always positioned in an engaged, active way with each other. I wrote a lot of dialogue, which is kind of true to the history of this book. But I was worried like, “Oh, are these going to be really boring scenes of people talking?” And also, you go back historically, the Runaways don’t use their powers all the time. It’s not a book where people are constantly fighting and hulking out, so you end up having a lot of kids being kids and talking. In Kris’ hands, that becomes very dynamic and very emotional and very dramatic.
AVC: Now that you know who you’re working with, has that changed how you’re scripting issues?
RR: It’s not like I was like, “Kris is here. I have to change everything!” But they were already scripted, and then you’re kind of editing them, right? And he’s just more a part of “Oh hey, I wrote that scene. Can we talk about it? What do you think of this or that?” One thing is I didn’t know who I would be working with. And so when I originally wrote the scripts, I did not block it out panel to panel. I did it in beats instead a little more like a screenplay. And what I said having talked to a couple of other writers and to Nick, I was like, “Well, do you want me to go back and do the panels?” Because I don’t think I’m incapable of doing it, but I don’t think I’m the best person on this team to be doing it.
Kris came onboard and I said, “Hey, do you want me to bring you some panels?” And he was just like, “No, no, no, no, no. This is awesome. Let me do the panels. Let me set the stage here and do more of this.” So that is the way we kind of worked it out together. I think that just turned out to be a really, really good decision because he’s so deeply engaged in the storytelling. I mean, there are times if I really want something to play out a certain way, I do it, “Okay, in this panel, this can happen,” but I just really feel like it is the best use of our resources and talents to have him doing that.
AVC: What do you hope sets your Runaways apart from other Marvel books?
RR: I don’t want to say that it’s what sets us apart, more like what do I think we have to offer here. I write characters and I write dialogue. And I write people interacting and colliding with each other. For me, my plots always come from the characters, so if you’re going to read one of my books, the plot comes out of these two people, and when they end up in the same room together, what happens. That’s the way that I interpret plot. That works really well for Runaways because—I was very intimidated to write these characters because I loved the original run so much. But in a way, the reason I felt like I could do it was because I felt like my strengths are writing characters, writing dialogue, writing human relationships. And there’s just infinite opportunity to do that. And I think Kris and I are intersecting in a really nice way because his style and my style are both so focused on the characters. We both want to do stories that would only work as Runaways stories.