RED SONJA - THE TRAUTMANN EXIT INTERVIEW PT4
By Marc Mason
Lost in the hullaballoo of Gail Simone taking over RED SONJA starting with a new issue #1 is the sterling job that writer Eric Trautmann did with the character during his run on the title. Running issues 51-75, with no fill-ins, Trautmann has the distinction of having the longest uninterrupted tenure writing the character in her history. (Mike Oeming’s run had some subs step in.)
Issues 67-71 sent Sonja off to the Far East. This is part four of a five-part look at his tenure on the book.
MM: "Swords Against the Jade Kingdom" is a magnificently pulpy title. Let's talk pulp for a moment; Sonja has pulp roots, of course, but that isn't always the feeling her stories give the reader. How conscious of her pulp roots were you as you wrote the book?
EST: Pretty aware. I mean, I know that this incarnation of Sonja isn't purely “Howardian,” but she was introduced in this form in a Hyborian context, so that sense of brawny, blood soaked sword-and-sorcery was always a touchstone.
And yeah, I liked that title, too.
MM: What does pulp lit mean to you personally, both as a reader and as a writer?
EST: As a reader, I've always had a soft spot for it—particularly the airwar pulps like G-8 and his Battle Aces, hero pulps like The Shadow and The Spider, and the hardboiled detective Black Mask stuff. As a writer, I think pulp needs a certain level of bombast, of heightened threat and consequence. The characters are governed by their passions, the environments are always dangerous, and so on. 24 was, at the outset, a terrific example of modern pulp. There was character work in there for sure, but the plot and violent resolution of conflict was more important.
So, for Red Sonja, I tried to strike a balance between modern pacing and sensibilities and that old school, purple-prosed delivery.
MM: Basically, you send Sonja and her crew to Asia this time around. What were you looking for, story-telling wise, in making that choice? What kind of inspiration did you use in putting together the arc?
EST: I keep coming back to that old Marvel Conan run I referred to earlier—Jim Owsley's stuff. There was a short arc where Conan ventured in Khitai because one of his closest allies, a Samurai-type named Kobe, was forced to abandon his companions and return home at the behest of his father, the emperor.
It was fun stuff, but different in tone than what had come before, and I probably was unconsciously mirroring that a bit.
But one of the things I was hoping to accomplish was to steer the description of Khitai a bit more in the direction of Howard. In comics, Khitai is largely presented as Howardian Japan. It seemed to me that Howard's original intent was to reference China and Korea a bit more, so I tried to do that here.
MM: Once again, Sonja gets played by a bad guy and sent after a good guy. She's a clever warrior, but not so great at judging character! Why, as a character, does that tend to be one of her biggest flaws?
EST: (laughs) Why not? She needs at least one.
I tend to prefer flaws like that in a heroic character—conflicts aimed at her personality, her intellect, her emotions, rather than physical threats (though those are certainly present in abundance, too). Again, look at her first appearance—she incorrectly pegs Conan as an idiot. From the outset, she's shown some lack of skill at judging the people around her.
So, with the story she's been told, of women and children murdered by bandits, Sonja really couldn't do anything but go after the so-called “bad guys,” right? That's just not something she can turn a blind eye to. Failing to investigate that would just feel “off” to me.
And Xi Longwei's plan there is pretty elegant — send the outlander he doesn't care about after the people hunting him. If she wins, then those hunting him are out of his hair; if she loses, so what? A dead barbarian is meaningless to him.
MM: My favorite part of the story is the introduction of Yusan, a swordsman who is the equal, if not better, of Sonja. Their fights were exquisitely done, but the respect they develop for one another was more so. He’s the closest thing to someone who could be a legitimate love interest for Sonja you put in the book. Was there ever any thought of playing that angle with him?
EST: Some. But setting the story in Khitai led to me writing the story somewhat differently than I had in prior arcs, especially in the narrative captioning. The style, while still the “Lost Nemedian Chronicle” device I had used all along, took on a slightly different rhythm and cadence, became a bit more, for lack of a term, lyrical or poetic.
I was shooting for an Asian folk tale tone, so I didn't want to muddy the purity of that with a love interest that just wasn't going to go anywhere. (Besides, Yusan may have respected Sonja, but she was still an outsider, a barbarian. There wouldn't be a love affair there, I don't think.)
And so, his purpose as a storytelling device became sacrificing himself for Sonja to make a kill. That kind of hero in that particular tradition wins only through self-sacrifice.
MM: Dragons! Another different type of foe for our heroine. Indeed, the final showdown between Sonja and Lau Xifong is as good as anything you did in your run - my favorite aspect of her character is her intelligence as a warrior, which is what wins the day. How difficult was it putting together that final battle and that final issue, much of which is just Sonja stalking her prey in the snow?
EST: I couldn't help myself. I had avoided too much of the “Sonja fights this kinda monster this week, and that kinda monster next week...” in my run—there were some magical mechanical creatures, some damned spirits, some magical guardians, but very few traditional monsters.
So, I figured it was time for a dragon hunt. I'd set a goal, though, of not just having the dragons be Western—the whole “Three Brothers” folk tale aspect of their origin was a great deal of fun to write, and I hoped readers enjoyed it, too, and felt it wasn't just another monster bash.
In terms of putting it together, it wasn't too difficult. Mapping out a fight scene has never been too tough for me; making it work along with all the character stuff is where the challenge lies. And by this point, I feel like I knew Sonja pretty well.
For this fight, there was a certain inevitability to it, and for my purposes it played well thematically. Sonja's isolated in the issue, and the environment is cold, which matches her mental state pretty well. But in truth, she's not really alone, and the people who's respect she's earned are with her the whole time.
MM: At the end, you're in the home stretch. Four issues left. Where were you at, mentally, as you began preparing to wrap it all up? Still upbeat? Feeling a bit of melancholia?
EST: I was genuinely sad. I love the character, far more than I ever thought I would, and that melancholy permeated this arc and added to its bittersweet punch. And it definitely played into the subsequent arc.
END PART 4