Interview: Rukis on her comic 'Red Lantern'
[Isiah is the creator of furry video blog FurReview; his latest episode covers Communist import foxes and responses to the prior episode about the Ursa Major's 'Best Website' award.]
Me: Good evening, Rukis! Thank you so much for joining me tonight! It's a pleasure to have you on the show!
Rukis: Evenin'. Pleasure to be here.
Me: Now, you've recently come out with your second ever publication, Red Lantern: The Crimson Divine. Came in the mail today and I just finished reading it a few hours ago. I know you get this a lot, but if you could please just briefly explain what Red Lantern is about for those who don't know.
Rukis: Put simply, it's a drama/adventure/romance set in a quasi-Indian setting in the 1700s. If the world had been populated by anthro animals, and wasn't really the real world, at all. The story follows a prostitute in a brothel, his young trainee, and a group of naval soldiers fleeing a bunch of angry lizard folk.
Me: Yeah, all of that can rot in hell for all I care. The story itself is set in the backdrop of a war, with the natives of a certain land rebelling against having their land colonized, is that correct?
Rukis: Yep. The draconic 'villains' in the story are in actuality a defensive force, chasing the mammalian colonists and their navy off their land. The naval men are mostly pawns of a far vaster Empire, so I can't really say there are actual 'villains' in the war. The Hyenas who own the 'indentured servants' are the closest things to villains in the story.
Me: Now the whole war thing is what I love about this story. People fighting off the colonials in the 1700s. It's like America. I can't help but approve of that.
Rukis: That puts you in the minority, but hey, glad to know someone enjoys that portion of it. Yeah, the story is vaguely, and I do mean vaguely, meant to echo real historical events. With just enough of a margin so no one's feelings get hurt.
Me: Why would a furry care if someone's feelings get hurt? I thought you guys just did whatever you wanted?
Rukis: Well it's mostly furries reading this book, so, y'know, protecting our own fragile egos. Don't want anyone getting butthurt. If it was a book I expected would have readers outside the furry fandom, I would tromp all over their brains with offensive material. But furry as a genre already does that to most people, just because it's furry, so. . . .
Me: Well at least you have the higher brain capacity to understand that! But I digress! How long have you been working on this project? Was it immediately after finishing up Cruelty?
Rukis: Almost before, actually. I started writing down bits and pieces of this big storyline, which was really just a blob of ideas at the time, in the weeks prior to Cruelty's release. I drew the first images of Amon a few weeks later. It's evolved a lot since then. I don't remember when it became Indian, I believe after I saw an actual documentary about Indian brothels. Which I believe I watched because I was researching brothels.
Me: Was this documentary the direct inspiration? Or were there others?
Rukis: I research any subject material a whole lot before I write about it. Small things can majorly affect a story, so it's good to have your research done ahead of time. I knew I wanted to do a story about a brothel. I researched a LOT of different historical brothels, and the Indian brothels called out to me in particular. Many of them still exist, in fact, so the information on them was very detailed.
Me: So, on a scale of 1 to absolutely mental scarring, how much of an impact did this documentary have on you?
Rukis: I would say the impact it's had overall has been positive, honestly. I've had a lot of good cries, and I've seen a lot of material I never would have sought out otherwise. I've watched a lot of documentaries and read personal accounts, and it's helped me write, yes, but it's also given me a lot of perspective on my own personal issues, and how minuscule they are in comparison. Obviously an anthropomorphic graphic novel isn't going to have the same impact as a documentary about children in a real world brothel, but I'm hoping the story will have a smidge of the same impact on its' readers.
Me: And that furries will overlook the gay sex?
Rukis: I've had a number of people tell me they aren't really interested in the adult pages, but they read for the story. That's really fantastic. Personally, I feel that adult content can enrich a story, especially when that story has a lot of sex central to the plot. And any story about a brothel really can't avoid it. It's a part of life, man.
Me: They are liars! That does not fit my preconceived ideas of what furries are and that makes me mad! But this show isn't about me. It's about you, what I think about you.
Rukis: Alright, well. . . I'm prepared. Bring on the ruckus.
Me: So why did you want it to be a brothel? Why not make it something equally as controversial? Like a crack house? Or a child labor camp? Or a Democratic debate?
Rukis: Well, arguably, the indentured servitude the hyenas practice in the books amounts to child labor, when the servants are children, so. . . I think I've got that covered. Also, drugs ARE a major part of the story, as well, since many of the workers of the brothel are force-fed drugs at a young age to keep them indebted to their owners. Also a real-world practice. And I'm not a Democrat, so I wasn't gonna write about them.
Me: Well, at least there is one redeeming quality about you.
Rukis: I've got more. I make an excellent sandwich, I am told.
Me: Well, you are a woman. It's only natural.
Rukis: I also wander my house barefoot. If I can just get knocked up, I'd have everything going for me, huh?
Me: You need to get working on that!
Rukis: I'll inform my mates.
Me: S?! You're a Mormon?
Rukis: You don't need to be religious to love multiple people : P
Me: Well, there is no doubt at all you will be burning in hell! Only one man and one woman should be in love with each other and marry each other and be miserable and cheat on each other JUST LIKE GOD INTENDED. But anyways, Red Lantern is actually a collaborative effort between you and Alector Fencer. Did you know all along that you wanted to work with her?
Rukis: Yeah, well, we preferred to do what made us happy, soooo. . . yeah. I like warmer weather, anyway, so Hell might be just right for me. And anyway, I was already goin' there, what with all the gay furry porn. . . . Oh, I had NO idea. The comic was my baby for a little while, and I actually ended up speaking with a bunch of folks in Germany when I went to Eurofurence two years ago about it, because some of them were curious. Including Alector Fencer. Anyway, we got to talking, and it just sort of happened. She's actually been hatching plans for her own comic 'Myre' for awhile, and was looking for comic experience. I was a HUGE fan of her artwork, so when she offered, I was ecstatic. We'd already discovered from a collab or two that our styles complimented each other well. We honestly weren't certain if we'd be doing the entire comic together, or if she'd just do a few spot backgrounds, at first. It's a lot of work collaborating overseas, and working out timelines was the hardest part.
Me: It's been hard enough to get an interview with her!
Rukis: She is very elusive!
Me: Your first piece together was "Dragon Reunion" correct?
Rukis: Draconic Reunion [NSFW], yeah. We did a bunch more after that, and a few collaborative pieces with comic characters and backgrounds to get our groove.
Me: Other than the time zone difficulty, what was it like working with Alector?
Rukis: Very inspiring. I learned a lot, about lighting and backgrounds, mostly. It's always beneficial to work with another artist, get another perspective on methods and media.
Me: And I assume what the best poses are for gay sex.
Rukis: You know for someone who claims to despise gay sex so much, you bring it up a LOT. Someone's curious.
Me: Because furries bring it up a lot. It's fair and balanced.
Rukis: Uh-huh. Closeted much? Anyway, if you must know, Alector had very little part in the sexy bits. That was more my arena.
Me: Well thank God for Alector.
Rukis: And I got the poses from real, flesh-and-blood, non-furry porn. Some of it with good, god-fearing straight couples, even!
Me: So you stole the art work?
Rukis: Yes. That's it exactly. I found porn of an anthro jackal and an anthro blue heeler dog, and just copy/pasted it into the comic panels. The hard part was finding, specifically, an anthro jackal porn star fond of wearing Indian garments.
Me: Well, anything can be considered porn for anyone.
Rukis: Yep. Bellybutton porn. I've seen it. Innies doing outies.
Me: Now, originally, Red Lantern was scheduled to be released in January. Why was it pushed back to March?
Rukis: Funny story. The book was actually completed in early November. It was all ready to go. . . and then the offset printer declined to print it. And then the next offset printer declined to print it. And so on. Four times. Sofawolf had a hell of a time finding someone willing to print it at the volume we needed. There are plenty of print-on-demand services that would've done it, but they ruined the color to the point where it was un-sellable.
Me: That wouldn't happen to have inspired part of Amon's backstory when he tried to escape his servitude four times, would it?
Rukis: Heh, no. But that's a funny coincidence. No, it happened because there are anthro animals having SEX in it. Why do you think?
Me: Because there are anthro MALE animals having sex in it.
Rukis: I really don't think that factored in much. More the whole animal part.
Me: With furries, you can't have one without the other.
Rukis: There ARE straight relationships in this series, I'd like to point out. One very major one, which comes up a lot more in the future volumes.
Me: In all 90 pages of the first volume, I didn't see anything! And that one page with Isolde doesn't count. Nothing was even happening!
Rukis: You call a blowjob nothing? Someone's a fan of the Clinton school of sexual terminology. And I didn't say straight SEX, although there is a lot of that to come, if you must know. What I said was straight relationships. The building blocks for one very important one were laid out in Volume 1.
Me: Ok, first off, the blow job with Amon was much more graphic. How come you didn't do that with Isolde? Do you have a thing against women giving head? And how come it couldn't have been gay relationships? Why did you have to sex it up?
Rukis: Well there aren't ANY relationships in the first volume. And that's because rushing into a relationship in the first week of a story isn't particularly good writing, and certainly not appropriate for a brothel, where sex is a business, and emotional involvement is nil. As for the blowjob scene, I may have drawn the one with Amon out because that particular client is very, very important as the story goes on, so that interaction was very important. The client Isolde was seeing didn't even have his face shown, indicating that he does not MATTER. There are very graphic scenes involving Isolde in volume 2. You won't be disappointed, I promise : P And I have absolutely no issue with women giving head. I find it more attractive than men giving head, honestly. Something about the lips. . . .
Me: Angelina Jolie sized lips?
Rukis: Well. . . not on a furry. Unless we're talking a baboon, or a hippo, or something.
Me: All the other furries don't have a problem with exaggerating anatomy to fulfill their own twisted fantasies! Nor do they have a problem with writing stories where two fags fall in love over a one night stand. And are you telling me that Amon's "friendship" with Dhaval is just a lie?
Rukis: Amon's friendship with Dhaval IS a relationship. It's just not a romantic one. And I don't have a problem with a one-night-stand turning into a love story. It's just not appropriate for whores, who are worldly enough not to get involved with clients. At least not easily.
Me: I don't know. Now that I know you're a Mormon, I think you're going to incorporate that in to Red Lantern. Amon will be torn up between his two gay lovers, and then they have threesomes on a boat in the middle of the ocean forever. The End.
Rukis: Aw, you just guessed the end of the story. Now I've gotta rewrite it all. Darn.
Me: I'm a literary genius. Thank you very much. So let's go over the cover real quick. Is there any hidden, Indian symbolism hidden in it?
Rukis: Nope. Any graffiti on the walls was just Alector Fencer screwing around. She liked to draw penises in some of the graffiti all over the city. I think she kept the cover background fairly serious, though.
Me: So she did include sexual aspects!
Rukis: The cover is about what it seems. Two characters in vastly different settings, brought together. The flower petals drifting down into the blood on the deck of Luther's ship are about as symbolic as it gets.
Me: And here I thought furries liked to go deep. The title for Vol. One, The Crimson Divine, is so named after an opiate used on the sex slaves, right?
Rukis: The 'Divine' is the street name of the substance from the flower they harvest, much in the same way poppies are harvested to create Opium. It's like a lot of things in the book. Not exactly it's real-world equivalent, but close. The name of the actual brothel house Amon works at is 'The Crimson Divine', named because the flowers they harvest are bright red.
Me: So, you mention Amon, who is one of the main characters. He is a golden jackal, as opposed to the beliefs of many of your readers that he is a fox. As I understand it, there is some symbolism to his name and species, right?
Rukis: All of the names are symbolic, actually. It'd take me forever to go over them all, but yeah. Look up every single name in the book, and it's got something to do with the character. Amon, specifically, is Egyptian, and means 'educator'. Dhaval means 'white, pure'. . . and so on. I have a journal about it here.
Me: No significance to Amon being a jackal?
Rukis: Most of the characters in the brothel are anthropomorphic versions of species that would exist in the climate of the Shanivaar islands. Isolde is an exception, but it's pointed out that she's a foreign acquisition several times throughout the story. Similarly, most of the Amurescans are European species, most of the Carvecians are North American species, and so on.
Me: Now, I can understand the symbolism for pure and how it relates to innocence. Why a tiger? Why not something that's really gay and innocent? Like a rabbit. An albino rabbit. Or another snow leopard!
Rukis: Well for one, there are no anthro herbivores in Red Lantern. Omnivores and carnivores only.
Me: Then an albino stoat.
Rukis: This was done for a very specific reason, actually. Namely that there are feral versions of most herbivores in the story, like ox, sheep, goats, and horses. Well tigers are very important to Indian culture, so I was pretty resolved to have a tiger be one of the main characters.
Rukis: And it's a big joke amongst the zoological community that white tigers are all really derpy, since they're all horribly inbred. Dhaval was always meant to be a very simple-minded character, so it just fit so perfectly.
Me: He does have his moments.
Rukis: Dhaval's not the brightest crayon in the box, I'm afraid.
Me: Now, as I understand it, Dhav was originally 17, and you were content on keeping it that way because it was the legal age on consent in New York. But in the printed version, he's 19. What happened?
Rukis: I didn't want to cause drama. It's really a moot point, since the age of consent differs everywhere. What's more, what's happening to Dhaval isn't really consensual. But being as the scene with him is actually SHOWN, I figured it was better to be safe vs. sorry.
Me: So, one thing I find very fascinating about Amon is that you decided to give him heterochromia iridum. What's the decision behind this?
Rukis: It actually serves a purpose for the plot, in a VERY important scene that comes up in quite literally the last few pages of the comic, in volume 4. So, I can't tell you why I did it just yet. You'll have to just keep reading.
Me: Damn you, woman! And your use of Chekov's Gun!
Rukis: :- P If I told you, it would absolutely ruin the end of the series. So, deal with it!
Me: Alright, so, I know that you claim yourself to be a "straight woman", but why do your stories involve gay men?
Rukis: If you must know, I'm actually fairly bi-romantic. I enjoy relationships with women, I'm just not as interested in them sexually. One of my mates is female. Most of my friends from high school, and at present, are either bisexual or gay. I've always been a part of the community, since I'm often mistaken for a lesbian. I'm a very masculine woman, and I associate with and enjoy the company of men far more than women.
Me: So you're Kinsey 2 gay?
Rukis: And I don't know what that means, so. . . can't answer that one, I'm afraid : P
Rukis: Nope, never heard of it. And I don't know how I feel about a 'gay scale'. It's a lot more complicated than that. You can't really put a number on it.
Me: Well anyways, I ask that because of my next question.
Rukis: Oh, this should be good.
Me: I can understand your use of a brothel. It's a controversial subject that can have a deep impact. Usually brothels are made of women. Why did you have to put men in there and gay it up? Why couldn't it have been some sappy love story between two women and how they are abused by the evil male owner when he finds out there secret? And then they go off in to the ocean to have lesbian adventures.
Rukis: First off. . . two women in love IS a gay relationship. I hate how 'gay' as a term is almost always associated with two men. It's very popular amongst men who find homosexual MEN disgusting but find lesbians sexy to only tack the 'gay' label on the men. Secondly, the Crimson Divine is primarily staffed by female workers. Amon is the only male worker out of over twenty at the get-go, and it's pointed out that Dhaval is his replacement, not a second male worker, and that his presence is going to cut down severely on Amon's business.
Rukis: And thirdly, there IS a relationship between two women at the Crimson Divine. It's heavily alluded to in book 1.
Me: You're going to make me read your book again! AND IT'S WORKING.
Rukis: Shame on me.
Me: Yes, shame on you! How dare you make me read something more than once! The first time was bad enough!
Rukis: I'll give you a hint. It involves Manjusha, the Hyena who runs the house, and one of her female workers.
Me: I'm going to assume it's Isolde. Regardless! How come it couldn't have been about them?
Rukis: The story's about a lot of different characters, really, so who it's 'about' isn't all that specific. There are some characters like Amon who show up more often than others, but plenty of other characters get screen time as the story goes on.
Me: I have a feeling one of them will be Ranje, I believe her name is. Rajne! What a bitch!
Rukis: Manjusha's mother? Oh yes. She is very central to the story overall.
Me: It made me feel very uncomfortable to feel sorry for Manjusha about how bitchy she is!
Rukis: Heh, that's nothing. She's vicious. You'll hate her more and more as the story goes on, or I'm not doing my job.
Me: So, another concept that really gets to me is how Luther is part of a society that is heavy on religion, and as such, is against homosexuality. But Luther himself is actually gay. Does heresy turn you on?!
Rukis: Oh yeah. Hair shirts, lashings, confession and all. It's hot. The Amurescan religion is actually centered around breeding, and purity of bloodline. That's why nobility amongst them is referred to as 'pedigree'. As such, anything contrary to the natural order of breeding is unacceptable.
Me: Including blow jobs?
Rukis: Yes and no. It gets lonely at sea, after all. . . .
Me: So all of Luther's men partake in gay debauchery?
Rukis: Honestly, that isn't relevant to the plotline, so I haven't written it : P I presume not, though. I doubt all of Luther's men are, y'know. . . gay. Or even bisexual. At all. But whatever the readers choose to fantasize about is not my business.
Me: Well, Luther is very clearly gay. What about Amon? I find him very complex. Let me explain. When Amon is explaining to Dhaval their work for the Crimson Divine, he says it's humiliating, hard, painful, and feel wrong, every time they do it. If that's the case, then how come he is always smiling when serving his clients?
Rukis: Amon has no natural sexuality. He's been so exposed to sex from such an early age, he never had the chance to discovery what his inherent sexuality might have been. Sex is and has always been a form of work or labor for him. It's very infrequent that it's pleasurable for him, at all. That's not to say he hasn't pursued sexual relationships that weren't work-related. But clearly, none of them have proven successful for him yet. As for how he acts with clients, that should be fairly obvious. Amon is excellent at adopting a facade when he works. This is pointed out a LOT more in volume 2, when it begins to slip from time to time. Amon is an excellent actor.
Me: Did this acting play a part in his and Isolde's dance? And their past relationship?
Rukis: Isolde is one of the few people Amon can't lie to. They've both lived very similar lives, and they know one another better than almost anyone else. They are very, very close. They've just dealt with the problems in their lives by evolving into two very different people. Amon mentions this when he's speaking with Dhaval on the cliff.
Me: Fair enough, but what exactly was the purpose of the dance between Amon and Isolde? Or was that just eye candy?
Rukis: Well for one, it was to introduce Amon's back injury, which is obviously relevant to the auction, since Don Coros attends. Also, dancing is one of the few ways workers in the brothels can earn money without providing sexual services. It becomes as important for Dhaval later on as it has been for Amon all this time. It was also meant to show that Amon and Isolde have a physical connection. Or at least, I hope people picked up on that.
Me: I was thinking that. Just wasn't too sure! Now it's cleared up!
Rukis: Yep. Again, more on that in later volumes!
Me: Ok, so, forgive me for these questions, I'm just really curious as to your decisions for how you decided to write this story. So, disregarding the homoeroticism, why include men at all? Why not make it entirely about women?
Rukis: Because. . . I like men. A lotta people like men, from what I hear.
Me: A lot of furries you mean.
Rukis: No, a lot of PEOPLE. Having a story that's sheerly about women is unrealistic, unless we're talking about some kind of 'planet of the Amazons' setting. Men are going to be a part of most stories, even stories are primarily about a group of women. The gender divide in Red Lantern is actually pretty equal. There are plenty of female characters, and many of them are very, VERY important to the story.
Me: Ok, ok, you don't need to get all feminist on me! Keep that lady boner in check!
Rukis: I can safely say that's the first time anyone's ever called me 'feminist' before. . . .
Me: I can appreciate the idea of Amon being an older man and educating a young man, but it becomes so much more complex than that. Why such a complicated web?
Rukis: And the fact that Amon's gotten older is really mostly a detriment to him. He's certainly not bankrupting the Crimson Divine. He is borderline costing them money at times, which isn't good business, but one bad worker isn't going to ruin a house. The problem lies in the fact that he's still got a substantial debt to repay, he spends much of his money on feeding his habit, and his chances of repaying his debt are growing worse and worse as time goes by.
Me: That habit being the Divine?
Rukis: Yeah. He *did* have money put aside to pay down his debt. That's the 'debt repayment' spoken of at the auction. It's pretty much a lifetime's worth of savings. But sadly. . . well, you know. . . he no longer has that. So, if his chances before were slim, they are now almost infinitesimal.
Me: So he's in debt from buying so much of that drug?
Rukis: Better hope he gets help from Dhaval. Or someone. Because he has no other chance, really. No, Amon like all other servants, has been sitting on a debt since he was sold into servitude. What that debt is, specifically, is explained in book 2. The drug use just serves to KEEP him in debt.
Me: Oh! Like the debt Dhaval was sold in to slavery for?
Me: Alright. So what is the nature of The Divine? Is it a narcotic?
Rukis: It's an opiate. It slows respiration, lessens stress and anxiety, fear. . . numbs most negative emotions, and usually puts its' users to sleep, or somewhere close. You can see why it might appeal to someone like Amon
Rukis: Amon's addiction isn't something he wants, though. He's lived with it long enough to know how much worse it's made his life. That's why he was so violently opposed to Dhaval touching the flowers in the garden, or going anywhere near the stuff
Me: So now this is all starting to come full circle and make sense! I would appreciate this comic so much more if it weren't by or about furries. It's lovely story telling!
Rukis: I'll take that as a compliment, the furry-bashing aside : )
Me: So, the setting for Red Lantern is based off a "red lantern district." What do you mean by that?
Rukis: I'm sure most people have heard of the concept of a 'Red Light District'. It's essentially an area of a city, be it one street or a burb of some sort, made up primarily of brothels, bars and drug dens
Me: Obviously run by gangs.
Rukis: There isn't electricity in this age, and 'lantern' just had a nicer sound to it, anyway They aren't always, but in this case, yeah.
Me: Again, I apologize for redundant questions. Just want to make some concepts cleared up.
Rukis: There are two major gangs on this particular island. The Immar, headed by Rajne, own the Crimson Divine. The Harkalla are the other. The striped hyenas.
Me: So, how far along are you in to Book 2?
Rukis: We've begun pre-production, and I'm finishing up the script. We'll be doing editing of the script over the next two months, and building backgrounds up into June. We should start work on official pages in July
Me: And the second volume release next FWA?
Rukis: Likely not. These books take about a year and a half to make. If we do very well, it might come out at AC next year. But more likely, it will be later than that. I hesitate to make any kind of announcement on a release date yet. It's also worth nothing, although we're a ways off from making the official announcement, that there is going to be a switching of the guard, as it were.
Me: You will be doing backgrounds instead?
Rukis: Alector Fencer was only on for book 1. She's embarking on her own comic Myre [concept reel/soundtrack], now, and it requires all of her attention. This was pretty much always the plan. She's been training me on backgrounds throughout the creation of book 1.
Me: Alector has been working on Myre forever!
Rukis: Yep. She really wanted experience on a comic before she set out to do her own full-time, though. It worked out well for both of us. I actually AM bringing on another artist, though; Myenia. I'm sad to lose her, but she's promised to come back and collab with me on some individual Red Lantern pieces from time to time, so she'll still be a part of the project. She'll also be throwing advice at Myenia and I, I'm sure. She's always willing to lend her experience I trust you know Myenia?
Me: She doesn't upload enough to warrant my attention. Lucky for her.
Rukis: Well, that will be changing soon ; )
Me: But I do see the threesome collaboration [NSFW]. And yes it will!
Rukis: She and I are working on some of the first images for Book 2 right now. I'm really excited to see how our styles come together.
Me: Horribly, I hope. Do you have a working title yet?
Rukis: I have an official title, actually.
Me: But you're not going to reveal it yet, huh?
Rukis: Why not? I like you. Red Lantern: Conviction is our volume 2
Me: You heard it here first folks! Conviction! I'm going to guess something bad is going to happen to Luther. But anyways!
Rukis: Yes! Awesome, awesome book.
Me: But let's not get in to that just yet.
Rukis: Aw. . . . Well it's awesome. There. I'm done.
Me: That will have to wait for the feature on his book.
Rukis: I hear he's a great interview. Get on that.
Me: As soon as I get over this cold! Can't conduct a proper interview without having full focus on the book itself!
Rukis: Ah, stuffed up, huh? Congested?
Me: Like a full fox. In the meantime, again, thank you so much for joining me tonight! I look forward to having you back on the show very soon!
Rukis: It's been fun! I'm'a get back to comickin'. I've got more gay furries to offend people with. Reis is sitting half-colored in my photoshop right now. . . .
Me: You whore!