From the Vault: The Importance of the Supporting Cast

Li Yuchun, one of Gravedigger's agents - depicted by Will Meugniot!
Li Yuchun, one of Gravedigger’s agents – depicted by Will Meugniot!

In classic pulp, the best heroes had rich, well-characterized supporting casts. What would Doc Savage be without his Fabulous Five? How would The Shadow handle the dangers of organized crime without his plethora of aides? And The Avenger is so associated with Justice, Inc. that it’s hard to separate them.

That’s why I’ve always put a strong emphasis on giving my heroes a strong cast of characters surrounding them. These characters are not only expository sounding boards (though they work well for that, too), they also bring to light different areas of the hero’s personality and often accompany them on adventures. In The Rook series, we have Evelyn, his lover and companion. We also have Will McKenzie, Leonid Kaslov and even his maid, Nettie. All of those characters are, to me, so interesting that I could doing an entire story featuring them.

I took that to the next level with Lazarus Gray — Assistance Unlimited are active participants in every adventure and when designing them, I consciously tried to make characters who could star in their own pulp adventure series if it came to that.

Gravedigger has a number of agents that she utilizes and each has a very different personality. There’s the dangerously grim Mitchell and the devil may care Li Yuchun, just to name two.

The ultimate driving force behind an adventure series should be the main character but I don’t think they always have to be the most interesting personality — that’s kind of strange thinking, I know. But often, the classically heroic figure at the center is stoic and unshakeable. It’s the people around him who doubt, who fail and who have to rise above. That’s not always true, of course — but I’ve written series where it’s clear that the really interesting personality-based stuff happens around the hero, not to him. The hero is there to drive the story forward and save the day — but when you get right down to it, the story was just as much about the effect his actions have on his friends as anything. I think that’s okay, too.

I’ve had requests from fans to do solo stories featuring Leonid Kaslov, the Assistance Unlimited cast, etc. I expect they’ll do the same when they meet Gravedigger’s crew. Eventually, maybe I’ll do that. But for now, I think some of those characters’ appeal stems from the way they orbit the hero’s world… remove Kaslov from The Rook’s setting and you have a Russian Doc Savage, interesting perhaps but even more so because of the way he plays off our main character, I think.

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