Charles Soule, writer of the recently announced Image miniseries 27, sits down with the Outhouse to talk about music, breaking into comics and his upcoming works.
Charles Soule is the writer of the recently announced Image miniseries, 27. An aspiring writer and musician, Soule is also the writer of the SLG published Strongman, the tale of a washed up luchador living in New York City. The Outhouse sat down to talk about his work, what it's like to juggle a comic career and day job, and his musical influences on 27.
The Outhouse: So tell us how you got into writing comics.
Charles Soule: I've been writing in one way or another pretty seriously for about ten years. Before comics, I wrote two novels, had an agent, the whole deal. About five years into trying to make novels work, I realized that comics could give me what I wanted out of writing without slowly murdering me in the process. I've always been a heavy comics reader (Secret Wars II and New Universe represent!) and trying to create them seemed like an obvious fit.
OH: According to your blog, you have a day job on top of your comic career. How do you juggle both?
CS: It's slowly murdering me. No, in truth I just have to be kind of focused about my time management. There's a lot of room around the edges to get things done, if you look for it. I also tend to get mad at myself if I don't push my creative work ahead at least a little bit every day. I'm sure I'm lots of fun at parties. That blog, by the way, is located at http://charlessoule.wordpress.com/ if anyone's interested. I'm also on twitter: @charlessoule, and I keep my Facebook mostly comics-related. Okay, no more social networking plugs, I promise!
OH: Could you tell readers unfamiliar with your first foray into comics: Strongman?
CS: Strongman is a series of books published by SLG Publishing (which some folks might know better by their previous name, Slave Labor Graphics.) The series is being published as full-length OGNs, one volume at a time, kind of like Scott Pilgrim, I suppose. Volume 1 was released last year, and it's looking like Volume 2 will be out at the beginning of 2011. The series follows the adventures of Tigre, a 65-year-old luchador (masked Mexican wrestler) who used to be a famous, rich athlete/film star/secret vigilante, but has now gone completely to seed. Volume 1 picks up his story in New York after he's basically been living inside a bottle for 35 years. It's one of those "big old dude starts kicking ass" sort of stories, as Tigre tries to clean up crime in his neighborhood. The tone's sort of like Sin City, but uplifting.
OH: What would you say is your inspiration for Strongman?
CS: I like writing meaty characters, and Tigre gives me just about everything I could want. He's very lived in, he's got a strong moral code that governs his actions, and he's funny – or at least I think he is. He's a man out of time, living with his black and white 1970s morality in a very dark grey 2010 world. The character came first, and the story came shortly thereafter – basically, I just wanted to put this guy through the wringer and see if he could come possibly come out on top.
OH: How do you feel Strongman differs from other comics out there?
CS: It's got a very strong focus on character, and it's not grim and gritty for the sake of being grim and gritty. The ass-kickings and beatdowns are absolutely there, but you also get characters who are more than just archetypes. You get to know these people, both the good and the bad. I also think it's different because I'm not tearing a hero down – I'm trying to build one up. Tigre tends to succeed because he knows the right thing to do and bulls ahead with that, no matter what else happens. He's a Silver Age character in a modern-day setting, and that's a fun contrast.
OH: Why did you choose to focus on a washed-up luchador as your main character?
CS: Like I said, that's a pretty rich vein to mine. These luchadors were almost like real-world superheroes back in the day. They were spectacular figures – they never took their masks off outside the ring, so you might be in the grocery and see a luchador buying plantains or something. They were larger than life, and so to take one of those guys and check in with him after he'd lost everything seemed incredibly compelling.
OH: How does El Tigre compare to a character like Superman or Batman?
CS: He's not superhuman, and he's absolutely not always perfect. He's not the smartest guy around. He mostly just kicks ass when he needs to. He's also really easy to root for, though, which Superman and Batman sometimes are not. Tigre's a dude you could have a beer with. He's the guy you might go ask for help if some thugs were harassing your sister on her walks home from school. He's awesome.
OH: What can readers look forward to in Strongman 2?
CS: MORE! Tigre cleans up his section of NYC in Volume 1, and Volume 2 takes him to Mexico to try to fix things down there. The situation in Mexico for the last several years has been intense, to put it mildly. Insane levels of drug-related crime, to the point where the Mexican government has been using their military to fight the cartels. The cartels, of course, use their cash to hire mercenary armies of their own, and it ends up being sort of like a meat grinder. Tigre feels somewhat responsible for this – he feels that if he hadn't left Mexico in 1973, things wouldn't have gotten so bad – and so he wants to see what he can do to help. The action is amazing, and the art is spectacular (thank you Allen Gladfelter, who drew Volume 1 as well.) A preview of the first 22 pages is available over at www.slgcomic.com right now!
OH: Could you describe your upcoming work from Image, 27?
CS: 27 is about a famous guitarist named Will Garland, whose left hand stops working just before he turns 27. He can't play anymore, which is an obvious problem for a famous rock star guitarist. He tries regular doctors first, but when they can't help him he turns to "alternative" health care providers – witch doctors, shamans, folks like that. From them, he learns that he's the next in line to become a member of the 27 Club – a list of famous musicians and artists who all died at age 27. That's a real thing, by the way, and includes some amazing names like Hendrix, Cobain, etc. From there, the book's about Garland trying to live to see 28, figuring out what's happened to him, and why the 27 Club exists. It's a little supernatural in tone, and definitely tense and exciting. It's full of cool music trivia, even though you don't have to be a music fan to enjoy it. I also should mention that I built a cool little puzzle into the book. Certain pages have little bits of a code that adds up to something interesting. You have to read all 4 issues to get the whole puzzle, and I hope people think it's fun enough to spend the time figuring it out. It's not a contest, but the first person to figure it out will know exactly what to do next, and I'll make sure they're appropriately thanked for their time and enthusiasm. Why did I do this? Just because comics are comics, you know? They're supposed to have awesome stuff like that in them!
OH: It seems like 27 is going to play with a lot of different genres. What influenced you to write 27?
CS: I love music – LOVE it. I've been playing music since I was three years old, first classical (violin) then jazz and rock as I got older (mostly guitar, but I can play a number of instruments at this point with varying degrees of success). I wanted to write a story that captured something about what it means to create – that is, to be a creative person. It's also about fame, and what it feels like to not be famous anymore, and the desperate lengths a person might go to in order to get that fame back. Beyond that, the lore and history of rock guitar, and more generally rock music, is fantastic. It's another modern mythology, just like, for example, superheroes. It's a blast to play in that sandbox.
OH: According to your blog, you're an aspiring musician as well. How did your work as a musician affect your writing about a musician?
CS: Well, for one thing it meant I could get the details right. When I asked my artist to draw Garland playing a left-handed Fender Stratocaster strung upside-down, there's a reason for that, and I can tell whether it's right when I see it. I also know what it's like to play crappy clubs, and have amazing gigs, and a lot of the other music world detail I put into the book. I think my twenty-odd years of being a musician go into every page here. They probably go into every page of all my writing, actually.
OH: Are there any similarities between the protagonist of 27, Will Garland, and El Tigre?
CS: They're both people who've lost something, and they both have clear, understandable goals. Garland's much more selfish, though (which was done consciously, in part to give him room to evolve as a character and in part because it fit the rock star mold). They're both great, real characters who live and breathe in their own stories, but they're pretty different. I have a feeling Tigre would think Garland was a spoiled brat, and Garland would think Tigre was a has-been freak. That might be quite a crossover, though. Maybe one day!
OH: How did you come to work with Renzo Podesta? What's it like working with him?
CS: I found Renzo online. He'd done some work for Top Shelf and some other publishers when we started talking, and I have to say I couldn't be more impressed with his work. He's incredibly fast, for one thing. Stylistically, he's perfect for the book, too. His art has a heavy, fantastic quality that really fits the mood of 27. I'd love to keep working with him, and I think we probably will.
OH: What's the difference between working with a small publisher like SLG and a larger one like Image?
CS: They're both great. They both care intensely about the books they put out and want them to do well. I think there's a perception that SLG puts out super indie stuff and Image puts out more mainstream material, but I haven't found that to be true. Both companies publish great books in a wide range of genres, period. SLG gave me my first shot at published comics, and they've got my eternal loyalty (and the Strongman series as long as it goes) because of that. By the same token, I've massively enjoyed working with Image, and I definitely hope the relationship continues – they're fantastic people.
OH: Will there be a sequel to 27? Perhaps a 27 2: 28?
CS: I have two ideas for a 27 sequel. One would take the concept and really turn it on its ear, and go to an entirely new place. The other would further explore the world established in the first series. There's a definite ending in the existing book, but it's open-ended enough that I can keep it going without too much trouble. Reader response will be the main thing, of course. If enough people buy it, like it and want more, we'll make more.
OH: If you had to convince a reader to pick up 27 in 20 words or less, what would you say?
CS: You remember that one amazing, life-changing record you couldn't stop playing over and over? 27 is that, in comic form.
OH: What sort of advice can you give to aspiring comic writers?
CS: Let people read your stuff, particularly people who aren't your close friends and family. Listen to advice – if you hear the same criticisms again and again, they're probably valid. Write as much as you can. Network. Go to cons or hang out on message boards. Read constantly, and learn from what you read. This next one might alienate some people, but make sure your spelling and grammar are solid to perfect. Once you've done all that, find the best artist you can to bring your words to life.
OH: What are your plans post Strongman 2 and 27?
CS: I have two other series I'm working on. One is a post-apocalyptic naval adventure called The Thousand Ships, and the other is a thriller based around complexity theory titled Strange Attractors. The artists on both are phenomenal, and I'm hopeful that I can announce more news about them soon. Beyond that, there should be Strongman Volumes 3 and 4 to close out that series, and I'd love to do more 27, and possibly some Big 2 work. It all just depends on whether people dig what I'm doing, really!
Soule was also brave enough to take on a musically influenced Outhouse Lightning Round.
OH: Animal, vegetable, mineral or other?
CS: Mineral. I like metal. I also like jazz, rock, pop, alt-country... if it's good, I dig it.
OH: Brunettes or blondes?
CS: Brunettes, all the way. Could say more, but probably safest not to.
OH: Nirvana or Foo Fighters?
CS: Nirvana's impact is undeniable, but if I'm going to put on a record to just hang out and listen to, it'd be Foo Fighters.
OH: Where were you the day the music died?
CS: Closest I ever came was watching the end of La Bamba.
OH: Chinese checkers or normal checkers?
CS: I speak Chinese, which gives me a serious advantage in Chinese checkers. However, I like a level playing field, so, normal checkers.
OH: What are your feelings on extraneous consonants in names? (Ex.: Meaghan instead of Megan)
CS: Sometimes they happen to the best of us. I'm looking at you, Gandhi.
OH: What's your least favorite country in the world and why?
CS: That slick, overproduced country Nashville puts out all too often. Give me Johnny Cash or Hank Williams Jr. any day.
OH: If you could have any job in the world what would it be?
CS: Beyond what I'm already doing? That is, making up stories and (possibly) getting paid for it? I'd like to be an engineer. I like knowing how things work, and I sometimes wish I'd taken that path when I was in school.
OH: If a meteor could destroy one sporting event featuring teams of your choice, which teams would they be and why?
CS: Let's say the Sarasota Meteors vs. the Holsworthy Comets, just for the irony. They're both little league teams, and one's in Australia, so it would be pretty unlikely to happen, but hey, you didn't put any restrictions on me!
OH: Favorite comic on the shelf not written by Charles Soule?
CS: Locke & Key. The creative team does amazing work every single issue, and the story they're telling hits me right in my sweet spot. I'm surprised it's not the biggest thing out there, actually.
Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer