Charles Soule sits down with the Outhouse to discuss his latest series, 27: Second Set!
Last year, 27, an Image Shadowline miniseries that fused the paranormal with rock and roll history, debuted to critical acclaim and a minor speculating boom. Now the series is back with the aptly named 27: Second Set. The Outhouse sat down with writer Charles Soule to discuss the new series.
The Outhouse: So, it's been about six months since 27: First Set has come out in trade format and when we last spoke to you. What have you been up to since then? Living the glamorous rock star/comic book writer life?
Charles Soule: You know it, man. I've been staying in a suite at the Mondrian, flying out to cons on PJ (oh, sorry – that's what my pals and I call the private jet – get it?) Rolled down to Sao Paolo with Leo and Ridley a few weeks ago to... yeah.
Actually, I've mostly been writing and going to conventions all over the country. This year I did, let's see... Emerald City, MoCCA, C2E2, HeroesCon, San Diego Comicon, Toronto FanExpo and I'm still slated to do NYCC, and maybe one more. So, lots of travel (but no PJ, sadly).
OH: 27: First Set focused on the 27 Club and introduced a mythology to explain why so many talented musicians died at such a young age. You mentioned in your last interview that 27: Second Set will focus on another aspect of musical history. Can you elaborate any further as to what Second Set will be focusing on?
CS: Well, we haven't abandoned the 27 Club concept entirely. The main character, Will Garland, is still twenty-seven, and he's still trying to avoid being another member of the 27 Club, but he's also got another pretty pressing concern – he doesn't want to be a one-hit wonder (or OHW, as I've taken to calling them.) OHWs are almost as potent a part of rock and roll history as the 27 Club people. They're tragic in their own way, and any average music fan can probably name ten just off the top of their head.
If you want to take it up a notch thematically, you could say that First Set was about creativity, and Second Set is about fame – what it's worth, what people will do to get it, and most definitely what they'll do to keep it. I like to put it as a question: is it better to create something beautiful that a hundred people know about, or something mediocre that a million people know about?
OH: What sort of preparation or research did you do when writing 27: Second Set? Did it differ from how you went about writing 27: First Set? Did any of the lessons that you learned from 27: First Set make Second Set easier to write?
CS: I researched one-hit wonders, definitely. Lots of "where are they now" investigations, just to see the types of lives some of these people have after they're out of the spotlight. Some of the stories are pretty amazing – you might find a member of a once-famous band working at a donut shop, for example. These guys worked just as hard as any other act to break in, but for whatever reason, whether it's luck or talent, they just couldn't keep it going. I think it would be harder to have it and lose it than to never get there at all.
OH: 27's picked up a pretty healthy fanbase over the last year. What type of person would you say this book appeals to the most?
CS: You would think the obvious answer would be music fans, and they're certainly part of the 27 demographic, but I've found that it really seems to appeal to people who like something a little different in their comics. 27 isn't a superhero book (which is not to put them down, because I've read thousands of superhero books.) Capes books do dominate the market, and giving people an alternative has been pretty effective. That's actually true of Image as a whole right now. I don't know of another publisher putting out a broader slate of books – they cover every genre, every approach, and they're pretty uniformly excellent as well.
OH: For those who haven't read 27: First Set yet (and they should be ashamed of themselves), what's 27 about and what's happened so far?
CS: 27: First Set revolves around the group of musicians and artists who have died at age twenty-seven. They're known in rock lore as the "27 Club," and the list includes such luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and most recently Amy Winehouse. The main character of the book is a famous guitarist, Will Garland, who turns twenty-seven and sees his life fall apart. His hand gets hit with a nerve disorder so he can't play any longer, and he's just going through a rough time in general. In an attempt to fix his hand through sort of pseudoscientific/black magic means, he discovers that he's been tapped by the mystical spirits of creativity and decay to become the next member of the 27 Club. From there, he has to figure out what's happening to him, beat the 27 Club curse and live to see twenty-eight. Basically, he wants to keep rocking out, and there are a thousand things he has to overcome.
It's a fun book full of references to pop and rock music, with action and supernatural weirdness throughout. I often say it's like Sandman or Hellblazer mixed with rock and roll.
OH: So what's Will Garland been up to since 27: First Set? Where does the reader find him at the beginning of Second Set?
CS: Second Set picks up a little under a year after First Set concludes. I'll try to dance around this without giving away the ending to First Set, but basically, Garland has found a way to continue making music – more or less. He's released his first solo album in his new style, which has been largely rejected by critics and fans because it doesn't contain the sort of guitar hero pyrotechnics he was known for with his previous band, The Fizz. So, Garland's becoming increasingly bitter, and he's missing the old days, when he could sell out multiple nights at a 20,000 seat arena with no problem. As Second Set plays out, he starts to make increasingly reckless choices in an effort to recapture his old fame, and gets entangled with more freakiness from the bizarre dark corners of the music world. It's a blast!
OH: 27: First Set ended with Will Garland making an active choice not to use the device embedded in his chest to prolong his life. Obviously, if Will never pushed the button again, it would make for a pretty boring comic. Under what sort of circumstances would Will push the button?
CS: Just to explain, one of the many weird things that happened in First Set was that Will Garland had a sort of button stuck in his chest. It looks a little like a guitar amp's faceplate. Whenever he triggers it, he gets three hours of genius-level ability in some random creative discipline. One time it's sculpture, another time it's erotic dance, but whatever it is, he's the best in the world at it for those three hours. Once he presses it twenty-seven times, he'll die. On the other hand, it was hinted in First Set that if he never presses it, he'll never die. So, as you point out, pressing it at all doesn't seem like the smartest idea. I'll say this – the button does get pressed in Second Set, and more than once. As for the how and why, read the book!
OH: 27: First Set focused mainly on Will and the mystery behind the 27 Club. We only got a couple of glimpses of potential supporting cast members. Will 27: Second Set show more of Will's family and friends and how they're affected by Will's choices?
CS: Absolutely. I think with any sequel you have to expand the cast of characters a bit. We see some returning characters from First Set and learn a bit more about their motivations. Still, this is Will's story, and as an egotistical rock star, he tends to see things in terms of his own goals. Other people are mostly there to assist him in getting what he needs (at least from his self-centered perspective.) Overcoming that point of view is actually part of Garland's growth as a character – at least one would hope so.
OH: Another one of great things about 27 is the variety of ways you reach out to and engage your fans. For First Set, you placed a (impossible to solve) puzzle throughout the four issues. Have you done anything similar for Second Set?
CS: I didn't intend for the puzzle to be impossible to solve! Just because no one solved it doesn't mean it was impossible. But to answer your question, yes, I have some fun ideas about how to take the 27 universe and let people play around in it beyond just the books. Right now, for example, for each of the nine days leading up to the release of 27: Second Set #1 on September 14, I'm recording one acoustic cover version of a one-hit wonder song and releasing them on my blog (http://charlessoule.wordpress.com). I've taken suggestions for which song to do from the fans, and I'm sending out signed copies of the first issue to anyone whose song I choose. It's been a blast so far – we've seen some A-Ha, some Tony Basil, a little Modern English... you name it!
OH: So, last year I asked you why people should read 27: First Set. Why should they read 27: Second Set?
CS: If you liked First Set, you'll love Second Set, and if you haven't read First Set, you'll still love Second Set (it's designed to be a standalone – you get all the backstory you need in the issues.) Put simply, 27: Second Set is like the best concert you've ever read.
By the way, if you want to keep up with 27 and my other projects, I'm pretty active on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/charlessoule) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=557991766). Say hello anytime.
27: Second Set #1 hits stores September 14th.
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer