Sunday, December 9, 2012

December's Peculair Person of the Month: Peter Johnson of the Global Manga Initiative

Peter Johnson co-founder of G.M.I.
As a child, Peter Johnson was really into cartoons, which quickly translated into a strong passion for anime and manga. What started off as hanging out around import-stores amongst the small bloom of U.S. anime market of the mid-to-late 90’s has led to the Global Manga Initiative. As head manager and spokesperson for G.M.I., Peter, along with other professional contacts, has developed an online community for upcoming manga creators.

A graduate with a custom B.A. in Japanese Anime and Manga, Peter also spent a semester studying abroad at Japanime LTD best know for their "How to Draw Manga" books. Concluding his education at the School of Visual Arts, he was able to get G.M.I. off the ground. Peter was cool enough to site down with This Peculiar Life NYC to talk about G.M.I., the state of the anime industry, and the joys of squirrel fishing.


This Peculiar Life NYC:  What made you want to start the Global Manga Initiative?

Peter Johnson: Stubbornness. Ever since I was a kid the idea of a creator who wasn't born and raised in Japan, and particularly one from the Western-world, making any serious ripples in the anime/manga-industry was a long-shot at best, impossible at worst. That was something I always wanted to change. It was incredibly frustrating growing up with the knowledge that this art-form, this manner of story-telling, was something still very much isolated from my ambitions due to its current-place in the world; locked behind language and culture barriers that would take years or even decades to overcome, plus social-prejudices that I would constantly have to work around. Even with The Avengers blazing through the box-office, most people still raise an eyebrow at the idea of you having a successful career in comics, let alone a SPECIFIC FORM of comics from halfway around the world. Somewhere along the way I decided that I wanted to change that, not just for myself but for every creator out there with similar passions. I formed G.M.I. because I feel there are a lot of creators out there like me who are just too dedicated and steadfast in their ambitions to bear giving up on their goals, and I want to do my best to found the kind of creative-platform for success I felt was missing from the world of manga. 


T.P.L. NYC: What are the goals and mission statements you hope to achieve with G.M.I.?

P.J.: I guess you could say one of our primary goals is to progress/evolve manga. I've spent my education and my work seeing many talented creators who had strong-passions for making manga, but who are realistically stagnated by the state of the industry and how hard it is to find recognition/success as an artist to begin with. There's all this great content out there, but so much of it just floats adrift, isolated on the internet or dumped into massive-archives sites where there is next-to-no chance of really standing out. With G.M.I., I want to create an open-anthology that not only hosts quality work, but also incorporates the creative aspects of that work into the anthology itself; that really focuses on not just archiving these works, but letting the viewers and fans who come to our site know what's going on in these individual, epic stories. And part of that process is watching just what exactly this melting-pot of creativity will allow the world to come up with, and how that ends-up affecting the growth of the Manga-genre.



T.P.L. NYC: How long has G.M.I. been operating?


P.J.: G.M.I. began to form around the end of 2010, but operated primarily behind closed-doors until spring of 2011, when we announced the project on Deviantart leading up to our first major outing at New York Comic-Con. Things were very 'hush-hush' at first; we spent a lot of time speaking with various artists and writers. There was a lot of careful preparation involved; we wanted to make sure we did this project right.  The website itself launched in July of 2012, so we're still fairly young, but I'm looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

G.M.I. Homepage



T.P.L. NYC: How many people are involved in G.M.I., and what do you think makes a good team?


P.J. G.M.I. is made up of about twenty individuals in-total at-present. The artists, writers and other creators featured on the site make up the majority overall, with the management team holding a comparatively-smaller roster of myself and several other individuals of various-roles/specialties.


I think making a good team isn't all that different from forging good relationships with those around you in-general; honesty, understanding and empathy really go a long way in forming dependable-bonds, even if only through a computer. Once you make that connection, it's just a matter of knowing each individual's strengths and how best to use them in collaboration with one-another to get the job done. I'm very grateful to the absolutely-fantastic work I've gotten out of all the on-board artists and my team thus-far. 


T.P.L. NYC: You were just at Comic-Con. How was the experience? 

Peter Johnson and G.M.I. at NYC Comic-Con 2012

P.J.: This was our second year at New York Comic-Con; we were at the 2011 Artist's Alley back when New York Anime Festival was still part of the picture. That said, I can see why most would think 2012's show was our first NYCC-outing since this was our first time on the Show Floor-proper. The experience was probably what you'd expect; an insane blend of excitement, effort, worry, fun and amazement, but a fantastic ride when all was said and done. We were right-across from the Square-Enix booth this year, and literally next to the Show Floor entrance, so it was a little intimidating when the NYCC doors would open-up and that huge crowd would pour out in front of us, but I have to say my team did an excellent job remaining cool under-fire. I was also really glad that some of our artists made the effort to make an appearance in-person, some coming from as far-away as Argentina. Being used to working online, it was really great to see the support for the project take on a human face, and they were absolutely wonderful people to meet.


T.P.L. NYC: What are some of your favorite titles on the site? What are they about?


P.J.: I try to remain impartial overall when it comes to the works on the site (I'm not voting in the Best of G.M.I. Awards), but I have to give special-mention to Crystal Jayme and her work Nigh Heaven & Hell. She's got a really great style, has a serious knack for creating memorable/fun-characters, and is an absolute-gem to work with; she's been consistently updating exclusively on G.M.I. at about a 30-page-per-month rate, and includes some frankly-breath-taking color work to use for promotion-purposes. That kind of effort deserves recognition. It's somewhat contrary to the usual approach to story-telling, but has a sorta tongue-in-cheek approach that makes it all just work, which adds to its overall uniqueness/charm. 


Another work I'm excited about is a new series coming to G.M.I. in December; "Bleak" by the artist AI. Without spoiling too much, it follows a high-school student who's depressed over the stagnant-nature of his life, but then begins to experience strange, supernatural-dreams that blur the lines between fantasy and reality, and make him rethink his approach to life. I think a lot of people will be able to identify with its themes, which orbit around the idea of wanting to escape the dreary, ordinary routine and aspire to something greater in life.


T.P.L. NYC: How did you find your artists? Do they come to you or do you go look for them?


P.J.:  A little of both; we scout works when we have the time to do so (either online or through cons) but we also get approached by a wide-range of talent interested in contributing to the anthology in some way or another. 



T.P.L. NYC: What are some of the challenges that you face in putting something “Global” together?


P.J.: It's tough to organize something with people living in different countries, on different time-zones and speaking different languages as opposed to friends/connections you have in the neighborhood, but it comes with the concept here. One of the obvious updates we'd like to incorporate into G.M.I. is a multi-language format, so we can more-accurately reflect a "global" standing.


T.P.L. NYC: Why manga as opposed to other styles of comics? Why do you emphasize this particular style?


P.J.: Manga has always been very interesting to me because it is an art-form that is simultaneously incredibly-diverse yet still very restrained in terms of its global development. Progress has definitely been made, and this art-form is still comparatively young, but I feel the overall "soul" of Manga is something that is still very-much concentrated in a small part of the world in which it was born. So there's a great combination of huge diversity of the format combined with the exciting potential of seeing how Manga will evolve as it continues to progress through the art-world on a global-level that keeps me excited about it.


T.P.L. NYC: How can people be a part of G.M.I.? Who do they contact?


P.J.: The best way to get involved with G.M.I. is to contact us through our website and give us a quick-introduction. Nothing too fancy needed, just tell us who you are, the sort of work you've done in the past, what you want to do in the future, and your general ambitions in regards to working with us. If you want to pitch a work to be featured as part of the G.M.I. Roster, it helps to include a brief summation of the series as well as a pilot-chapter so we can get an idea of the style of the story. We're also looking for talented bloggers, critics, writers, editors and those involved in video who are interested in Anime and Manga, as we're currently working on expanding the website with new aspects like review, coverage, editorial and media-sections.

T.P.L. NYC: What all does G.M.I. offer on its site?

P.J.: For Creators:

-Complete free, quality exposure on a secure, dedicated and funded website.

-Retain full Creative and Publishing control of your work.

-Rise up to the World Stage; Post your Concepts/Ideas to our Community-Forums to attract the attention and momentum you work needs to take flight.

-Stand Strong; Have your Series featured alongside the best in the world in our Online Manga Anthology.

-A Series Hub incorporating a Personal Blog and links to your Homepage, Facebook and Twitter Accounts creates a one-stop-shop for updating your work and reaching your fans.

-Unite; In-House Networking to help you form the creative team that's right for you.

-Community Feedback and Guidance to help your work be the best it can be.

For Fans:

-A Focused Roster of top-quality manga series from the most talented rising-creators on the planet.

-Instant Updates; Keep up-to-the-minute with your favorite Series/Artists via Twitter and Facebook Notifications.

-Make your Voice Heard; Give us an aspiring creators feedback through our Community Forums, and Social-Networking.

-Witness the Evolution and Progression of the Manga-Genre firsthand as creators from across the globe come together under one roof as they strive to become the next great Manga Legend!


T.P.L. NYC: How do you feel G.M.I. contributes or changes the anime/manga market?


P.J.: I feel the open-nature of G.M.I. makes it something of a variable to the market; what it becomes is really up to the Manga-creators out there. We're essentially throwing open the doors to the world itself and saying "show us what you've got out there!", then taking the greatest works we can find and doing our best to help show them off to the entire world. I feel variables like that are good for the overall market as it's a great way to see the art-form evolve "from the front-lines."


G.M.I. differs from other online indie-manga sites [because] G.M.I.[‘s] …goal is to remain an online-anthology [not an] archive-site. There are hundreds of sites out there that will host original-series, but are content to simply dump these works onto a "social-network"-esque archive next to hundreds of similarly-setup indie-series. These sites merely HOST the series they receive without really engaging and promoting the creative works they've been given individually in a way that keeps fans interested. With G.M.I., when we accept a work onto our roster, we also promote it not just as yet-another entry into our database, but as a creative world that is constantly changing and is exciting; when a major battle, romantic turning-point or other major narrative event occurs in one of our on-board series, you will see it promoted right there on the front-page. This also makes it more-fun for the fans, as they can just jump onto the site and instantly get a preview of what exciting things are occurring in all these different stories under-one-roof. This is a lot easier, and in my humble-opinion a lot more FUN, then having to scour through archives trying to get an idea of what a series is really all about based solely on a cover-image. Obviously this requires a smaller, focused, tighter roster of ongoing-works, but by cycling through featured series we keep things interesting and do our best to give great stories and creators their time in the sun.


I don't feel a Manga Anthology with this level of focus combined with this open, global nature hasn’t really existed yet, so if I could accurately predict the response to this project, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch it develop *smiles*.

Page from Bleak, a series from G.M.I.


T.P.L. NYC: Are you exclusively web based or do you plan on going into the print arena?

P.J.: Exclusively web-based...for now...


T.P.L. NYC: So this blog is about peculiar things, what is one of the most peculiar anime/manga titles you have seen or read recently?


P.J.: One of my all-time-favorite mangas is Yu Yagami's HIKKATSU!: Strike a Blow to Vivify! because of its incredibly bizarre and absolutely hilarious nature. It's about an expert martial-artist who literally beats things back into shape with a technique called the "Repair Blow"; a master-level strike designed to fix next-to-any problem with something, whether it be a human or mechanical entity. The result? This guy round-house kicks his friend across the street to fix the guy's dislocated shoulder, engages in epic-battle against rampaging malfunctioning construction-equipment and blows a hole in Mt. Fuji to "fix" the frigid conditions on the mountain's peak. Combine that with the fact that the "Repair Blow" isn't quite perfected and the primary love-interest being raised by pigeons and you get hilariously bizarre story you won't soon forget. I continue to profuse my adoration for this series here:

Cover of Hikkatsu Vol. 1

T.P.L. NYC: What is the most peculiar thing you have experienced or seen while in NYC?


P.J.: Squirrel-Fishin'. Basically the idea is several people sit up in a tree, or on a high-point (like a rooftop) in a park or some other environment that squirrels would inhabit with acorns, walnuts or the like tied to the end of fishing line. You drop your bait to the ground below and wait for a squirrel to grab-hold, then try to lift your furry-friend as high off the ground as you can before they either free the bait or bail; highest squirrel wins. Yes this is a real thing and no, they don't use any hooks (because that would be addition to the cruelty). Easily the strangest thing I've seen in Central Park...

Squirrel-Fishing in the park

To learn more about G.M.I., or be a part of the creative team, please visit their website, as they have some upcoming events planned. They will premiere two new series for December: "Bleak" by AI and "Meeting Hearts" by Stela Canga. Stick around for their “Best of G.M.I. Awards"; a poll to determine which Ongoing-Series will be declared the best G.M.I. Series for 2012. Fans can vote now at Polls close 2013.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October's Peculiar Person of the Month: Writer and Editor Jorel Lonesome

 Jorel Lonesome is an American comic book writer and editor best known for his independent comic anthology series, Blackout 1 & 2 for Pronto Comics. In addition, he has featured stories in other Pronto Comics anthologies such as For a Price, Kicked and Pronto Goes to War. Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, he is the second of two children of a middle school teaching mother and a computer-engineering father. A student and scholar at Borough of Manhattan Community College working on his associate’s degree in English, Jorel is working on becoming a better writer. He first found his love of comics by drawing his own using familiar characters such as Spider-Man, Spawn, and Blade. His appreciation for writing developed by keeping a journal, where he would add physical objects, mementos, newspaper and magazine article photos, relating to most of his journal entries. A fan of everything from hard rock bands, WWE wrestlers, and spoken word poetry, helped to influence his writing. At 16, Jorel performed his spoken word poetry at numerous venues such as Deborah Gray throughout New York City. He had a signature piece, Town Crier, a poem that depicts the social issues of his community, which was well received by audiences. From 2004 to 2010, he was an MC known as Silent Thoughts, where he featured rap cyphers called, "Spit-N-Pass" before deciding to take a break from spoken word poetry to focus on comics. Jorel was kind enough to sit down it This Peculiar Life NYC to tell us all about how he got started and his creative process.

This Peculiar Life NYC: You are involved in comics; tell me how did you become a part of Pronto Comics?

Jorel Lonesome: It all started when I enrolled in Andy Schmidt's Comics Experience courses instructed by Mike Siglain, an editor at DC comics at the time. It was a hand’s on intensive 6-week program, learning how to create effective visual storytelling. It was quite a challenge, but it is one of the best courses to take if you want to learn how to draw and/or write comics.  When classes were over, I stuck around quick enough to keep in touch with colleagues. There I was introduced to the students who took the writing courses. Achilles Yeldell, a student from the comics experience writing course and the founder of Pronto Comics, had us all join him in what he called "The Breaking In Network,"  to discuss what comic book stories we can create as a group. The writers and artists, me included, networked together and decided to create a comic book anthology about bounty hunters. We scheduled monthly meetings at a pizza shop downtown near Times Square. The meeting consisted of finding out what stories that beginning writers want to tell, pitching their stories to artists and working together to develop a five- page comic for the anthology. So we collaborated and eventually released our first book titled For a Price: Bounty Hunters And Other Scum. It features ten stories from various writers and artists in addition to other talents that were not in the comics experience courses, but joined to show their magic on a page. More comfortable taking the position as writer, I wrote a short story that is featured called "Club Banger". It was about a hard-nosed, veteran bounty hunter named Conrad Buchanan. He must capture a shape shifting bail jumper, formally created by a secret US government experiment. After the anthology was released, everyone suggested we'd make up a name for ourselves as a collective?  We called ourselves Pronto Comics. I’ve been with the group three years now.

 T.P.L. NYC: What were you doing before Pronto?

J.L.: I was reciting poems and spoken word at little cozy cafe's, bars and clubs throughout New York City.

T.P.L. NYC: You are a writer for comics. How has your experience as a writer shaped your view of comics?

J.L.: I remember seeing my first comic in print. It was interesting to go back to memory lane and realize how it began and what it takes to make a decent story for readers. I remember having to edit my script 4-5 times to get it right within a 5-page limit. It was not easy work, but when you have a passion for writing comics and enjoy the process, there is no stopping you. Seeing my story told from script form to a visual narrative blew me away. Over the years, thus far, I continue learning more about how comics should be done for the sake of our audience.  I can look through a comic book and find the fundamental development that lies within each completed page, how it relates to my process of making a comic and comparing their work to mine, whether it’s good or bad. I take into consideration of how important it is to tell a visual story and the contents that need to be there for readers. The goal of making a comic book is to keep your audience turning from page to page using dynamic visuals and compelling storytelling. Whenever I make a comic, I make it my goal to meet the standards. It is also a great accomplishment to exceed our audience’s expectations.

T.P.L. NYC: Blackout is your signature book. Tell me what it is about?

Blackout 1
J.L.: Mischievous brothers, Chester and Preston Pemberton, arrive at a mysterious tree house in the outskirts of Vineville Town. Suddenly, the brothers are welcoming guests by the lonely being as it brings them inside of its realm for a treat. Hesitant to enter it, Chester and Preston peek through a room filled with art utensils, painting canvases and magical paraphernalia as if it were occupied by a wizard of some kind. They’re captivated by it and play as long as they please, until Chester mistakenly hits Preston with a magic wand, causing Preston to spill magic ink onto a mapped painting of Vineville. As the ink trickles down, the light bulb flickers in the room. Once the black ink covers the whole painting, the entire town is out of electrical power as all sources of light become scarce. A series of mishaps occur in the town, which most of our Vineville residents concurrently experience during the first night of this particular blackout.


T.P.L. NYC: How did you come up with the concept for it?

J.L.: It was a hot day in the summer of 2010.  In my neighborhood, everyone had their air conditioning on, in their homes and led to me thinking, what if all the power eventually goes out? Later that night, I said it too soon. I was packing up to go out of the country for vacation. During my destination from New York to the Caribbean Islands, I began to believe that it might be interesting to have a blackout themed comic book. I pitched it to the Pronto guys and they liked the idea, so we went with it.

 T.P.L. NYC: How many issues is it?

J.L.: There is issue one and two issue three will be released in the near future.

T.P.L. NYC: When can we see the new issue?

J.L.: Issue 2 will be ready October 2012. Blackout 3 is slated for release in 2013.

T.P.L. NYC: The format has changed from an anthology to a series of one-shots. Why the change?

J.L.: Pronto is heading towards a new direction, which is writing one-shots, so after Blackout issues #2 and #3, it will then become a series. We also want to focus on the town itself and get more in depth with our characters.

 T.P.L. NYC: What is the new one- shot about?

J.L.: Despite the continuation of the Blackout series still in development process, we know that it continues where the anthologies left off. Blackout will pay more attention to the town and its cryptic past, which the founders and authority of the town try burying to maintain control. We experience how this mysterious blackout begins to wear on the residents and how Vineville's scarcity of light effects their living standards. The characters will lead our way to getting deeper into the town’s origin and the cost for doing so.

Cover for Blackout 2

T.P.L. NYC: Aside from being a writer you are also an editor, how do you feel the two jobs are different from each other?

J.L.: As an editor, you have to build a creative bond with the writers and artists. Staying on the same page is very important. You have to make sure the people involved in the project are on tabs with their work and doing it properly for the story to be told as well. You have responsibility over the progress of each story for the sake of the comic book. You also need to look at a page and find out what works and what doesn't. You need to find what needs to be added, taken out or changed. You should also ask yourself, “What would make this page better? Does the art flow well with the story through the panels?  Are the characters engaging? Will the reader be entertained throughout the book? What enlightenment or feelings, emotions can we get out of the reader? What relationship does the characters and audience share? I look for character development in the story so we can put ourselves in the characters shoes and immerse ourselves in the story as we find ways we can interpret it from our viewpoint. As a beginning editor, I look out for these things.  I try to avoid dissatisfying the reader or audience. Comic book editors are like the producer or director of a film, managing the project creatively with guidance, support and appreciation for the people involved in the process. A comic book writer must make sure the story is clear, properly structured and entertaining. The writer’s should also be on the same page with their artists. These are some of the things to look out for. Through experience, another difference between writer and editor is that for writers, you are given deadlines and guidelines you must follow. There’s less responsibility or tasks given compared to an editor.

T.P.L. NYC: Is there one that you enjoy doing more?

J.L.: Both duties are essential to your practice of understanding the way comics are made. I learn something new from it after each story I finish thanks to the other people involved in the project.

T.P.L. NYC: What do you feel makes a good script and story from your point of view?

J.L.: A good story must have its beginning, middle and end. It must connect with audiences on an emotional level as well as riveting. The characters must be engaging and make us feel whether we dislike him/her or not. I like to feel enlightened by stories and before I forget, a good theme for the story is very important. I like stories that provide a message and give lessons that I can incorporate in everyday life. I also like to experience the worldview of characters that I have never tapped into. When I close a story at its ending, I want to get some sort of emotion and satisfaction from the journey I take with the character(s). I believe it is better to have an interesting character working a boring job, than an interesting job being performed by a boring character.

T.P.L. NYC: How long does it take you to put a book together?

J.L.: For an anthology? It usually takes me 4 to 5 months because some collaborators fail to meet deadlines…It happens and it sucks.

For A Price

T.P.L. NYC: What are some challenges you have experienced as an independent creator? Do you have any advice on how to get through the challenges as an independent creator?

J.L.: Learn everything it takes to produce a self- published work. Create a goal and strategy before you even start working on the book. You'll have to network like there's no other day and be professional. Get hands on in the field that you're creatively involved with. As an independent creator, procrastination and writers block are my enemies. To break out of writers block, keep yourself busy doing something productive. Take a jog, exercise, watch a film, play music, clean or just hang out with someone. Two things that loosened me up from writer's block was exploring new places and keeping myself busy for inspiration. As for procrastination, you need to tell yourself that the more you hold something off the more it will bite you in the arse. Plan accordingly. Set dates and times when it should get done, even if you didn't get everything you wanted out of it, at least you tried to find your desire or need. It takes a dedicated disciplinary time and persistence to focus on that story or project you’re trying to get out.

T.P.L. NYC: How did you find your artists/ creative teams? What are some of the steps you take to find people to work with?

J.L.: Nonstop networking and building relationships. You have to be believable, professional and good to get along with. You might have to jump out of your shell and make friends to make connections and make connections to develop your product, unless you are a one man army.

T.P.L. NYC: You have another story in the works called Nunchuck Nancy. It is a cool title. What is it about and when will the book come out? 

J.L.: I'd rather not spoil anyone yet, but I plan on releasing it by 2014.

T.P.L. NYC: How did you come up with the idea for this book?

J.L.: Random thoughts and having a love for women that kick butt!

Splash Page Pronto Goes to War featuring Jorel Lonesome

T.P.L. NYC: Will you be using a lot of the same artists on it?

J.L.: If I can, I’ll stick with one artist. However working with more than one is a treat as well.

T.P.L. NYC: What are some of your other interests or hobbies?

J.L.: Writing, jump rope, jogging, exercise, Videogames, reading, and collecting comics in addition to  reading books.

 T.P.L. NYC: What do you feel readers get from your work?

J.L.: As of now, I’d say a creator who has the potential to make good comics.

T.P.L. NYC: What are some of your influences when it comes to other creators?

J.L.: In the comic book medium, I am a big fan of Frank Miller’s earlier works. Alan Moore always entertains me. I’m enjoying just about everything that Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder brings to the table in comics.  Stan “The Man,” Lee is another unforgettable storyteller. I enjoy Peter David’s work, especially his run on the Incredible Hulk. Anything Neil Gaiman is great. I always like the edginess and dark gritty crime stories from Chuck Dixon. There are many other writers/authors that I enjoy reading as well.

T.P.L. NYC: What is your creative process like? How do you best like to write and work?

J.L.: I start off with” what if’s?” I brainstorm and start with a character. Then, I set a world around them, come up with a problem they have with other characters and what characters support them. I write as much as I can to select what would work well for my interests and the reader’s interests simultaneously. I like to write and work when the other responsibilities are done and when an idea catches me during the night or day. I like to incorporate bits and pieces of what I learn in everyday life into my writing process as well.

 T.P.L. NYC: What kind of genre do you like to write the most?

J.L.: I'll go for science fiction, fantasy and horror. As of late I’ve been trying out different genres. I like all genres of film and comics. It's good to look for the best work in each genre.

T.P.L. NYC: This blog is about peculiar things. What is the most peculiar thing you’ve experienced in New York City?

J.L.: A gang of vampires in the subway station at about 3a.m. in the morning. It was the strangest, but coolest experience ever. It wasn't around Halloween either! It took place in the summer when my sister and I, along with her friends went to the movies. One leader of the whole pack was some short frail 20-24 year old with pale makeup, jumping from top of the subway steps to the bottom, showing his fangs. His friends, that were all vamps too were showing their teeth and moving around the station like actual vampires. It was the strangest thing and I feared it at first, but it just seemed like a way of life for them. In New York City, you'll see just about anything weird at night.

Check out a copy of the Blackout #2, available now from Pronto Comics at Collector’s Kingdom,and will be available online soon. His future projects include, Blackout#3 in 2013, his first graphic novel, Nunchuck Nancy , and a script that he will be producing for his first short film "The Great Soup," with director Charlton Ruddock.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

September's Peculiar Person of the Month: Writer and Musician Charles Soule

Photo by Seth Kushner
Many might be familiar with Charles Soule's name when browsing through the pages of one of his many comics or graphic novels, but there is a lot more to this Michigan born musician and writer. Growing up throughout Asia, he studied in Philadelphia and New York City before settling in Brooklyn in the mid- 90's. An avid lover of music and travel, perhaps one of his greatest journeys has been through written words and music notes. Charles Soule was kind enough to sit down with This Peculiar Life NYC to talk about putting the soul into his music, comics, and creating.

This Peculiar Life NYC: How long have you lived in New York?

Charles Soule: I've lived in the city since 1996, and I [feel like I] have a [been] here forever, at this point. Not that I mind.

T.P.L. NYC: How did you get into comics?

C.S.: I started reading comics when I was very young - it can be a hard habit to break. My dad gave me my first book. He needed my siblings and I to chill out while he ran an errand, so he zipped into a drugstore and picked us up a little stack of comics. Mine was an issue of Fantastic Four with Asgardians involved somehow. From then, my comics addiction went through a number of phases - sometimes it would go into remission. By '98/'99, though, I realized there was no point in fighting, and surrendered completely to the wonderful, crazy world of comics. I've been there ever since, first (and still) as a voracious reader, and now, amazingly, as a creator as well.

T.P.L. NYC: What was it about comics as opposed to other artistic platforms?

C.S.: Well, I didn't actually begin there - I've been writing for years. My first "book" was a children's story about a unicorn I did in fourth grade, with art by Brad and Greg Mohr. Unfortunately, the manuscript has since been lost. I've also been a musician since I was three, first on the violin and then on the guitar. My first big "try to go pro" writing efforts were novels, and comics writing just grew organically out of that, more or less. I've always loved comic stories, and it's no stretch at all to be making them.

T.P.L. NYC: How long have you been in comics?

C.S.: I started taking comics writing seriously around 2004-2005, by contributing short stories to several anthologies. That's always a good way to get your feet wet, I think - make sure you can handle a small, self-contained story before you aspire to anything longer-form. Long-form stories are in many ways just a bunch of short stories strung together in any case (it's just that in a novel they're called "scenes" or "chapters" as opposed to short stories. But I digress. I got my first publishing deal for a full-length comics story in late 2007. That first book, Strongman, appeared on shelves in spring 2009 from SLG, and I haven't looked back.

T.P.L. NYC: What is the difference between writing novels as opposed to writing comics?

C.S.: Well, novels are incredibly solitary and incredibly difficult. Not that comics aren't, but they're a different beast. I spent several years on each of the two novels I've written, and the best comparison I can come up with is the idea of taking a long drive across the entire country by yourself. You'll come across some amazing things, and you'll grow from the experience, but man, does it get lonely. With comics, you're constantly bouncing the story off your various collaborators - the artists, the letterer, etc. There are many more differences, but that's the one that sticks out the most to me.

T.P.L. NYC: You are into music also, what are some the instruments you play? Ever made an album or perform live somewhere? Tell me a bit about the process, like how do you write your music and songs?

C.S.: My main instrument is the guitar, and I'm a solid bassist. I also play violin, and I've got very basic competence on keys, drums and most instruments with strings. No horns, though. I've been playing live since I was 16, and I've done hundreds of shows at this point. Many recordings too, although that's not as hard anymore as it used to be since the home recording revolution (which I think is fantastic.) I studied music theory and composition in college, and I've written everything from classical to jazz to rock to musicals. I love music, and it's easily as much a part of my creative life as writing, if not more.

T.P.L. NYC: I have noticed that many musicians have been making comic versions of themselves such as K.I.S.S. and Coheed and Cambria. What do you feel the connection between comics and music is?

C.S.: Music is a freewheeling, anything goes discipline, and so is comics. There's a vibrant indie scene in both, and they both have that collaborative aspect, as I mentioned above. Going from working with musicians to working with artists is a natural. It's all about melding your respective talents to make something that's a shared effort, something bigger and better than any one of the group could have done on their own.

Photo by Sandy Pertuz
T.P.L. NYC: How does it feel being a working writer in comics and making a living at it? Do you feel that this is something that has become harder for hopefuls to achieve?

C.S.: I don't think it was ever easy. Making a living from creative efforts is near-impossible. There's tons of competition and very few slots. Making a living from creative efforts that aren't compromised in some way (by conforming your creations to the expectations of people who are funding them, for example) is even harder. There are only a handful of people who get that far. I think you have to create to create. Chasing dollars just leads to bad art and heartbreak, I think. Your goal should be to get good, and then get great. If you can manage that, money will come. Usually.

T.P.L. NYC: What do you feel you provide readers with the most when it comes to your projects? Is it style, your characters or the medium in which you tell your stories?

C.S.: I find it hard to evaluate my own stuff, but I think I'm good at high concepts and character work. There are plenty of areas in which I think I'm weak - not that I feel any burning need to share those today - but I do think the people I write seem like real people, and do things that real people would do. I'm pretty proud of that (assuming I'm not totally confused about what my writing's actually like.)

T.P.L. NYC: Do you ever feel that your ideas can be translated into different types of mediums? Like can a comic idea you have ever be a book? How do you go about deciding which idea is going into which medium?

C.S.: Great question. Over time, I've just sort of developed a feel for what will work where. There are certain stories that are very internalized - not particularly visual, or restrained to one location. Those don't make for great comics, usually (although even those can work, because as we know, comics can do anything!) You just have to feel it out. I've got a comics story that happens to have tons of water and detailed battle scenes in it - two things artists don't always love to draw. Still, when it eventually DOES get done, it'll be amazing simply because of those tough elements. It'll get there eventually.

T.P.L. NYC: For aspiring writers looking to break into comics, the challenge can be difficult. How were you able to pitch or get your work noticed by editors?

C.S.: Basically, you just have to sort of be around a lot. Go to cons, network, get your talent noticed by anyone who's a rung or two up the ladder from you. If you're cool, and you're good, maybe they'll help pull you up to their level with a well-placed kind word here or there to someone up the ladder from them. It's a long, iterative process that takes a lot of focused effort. No one breaks in overnight. The standard path is like five years from deciding to do comics professionally to actually doing them professionally - that's about how long it was for me.

T.P.L. NYC: Did you pitch things to different companies; are there comic book publishers that look at unsolicited material?

C.S.: Sure, I did, and still do. Every publisher has their own feel, and you want to research who will be the best fit for the story you're trying to tell. Lots of publishers look at unsolicited material: Image, Shadowline, SLG, Archaia and others will check your stuff out - but if it's not ready for prime time, you might be doing yourself a disservice by putting it in front of them before it's super solid.

T.P.L. NYC: What are the best ways you can think of to find resources to getting your project ideas out to people or what resources do you use?

C.S.: Well, the internet, obviously. Every creative field has a vibrant community of fans and content creators online these days, and you can find those people on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, message boards and so on. Seek out people who know what you need to know and ask them for help. Sure, you'll get the brush-off every once in a while, but you'd be amazed at how often people are willing to help out.

T.P.L. NYC: You have mentioned that people can establish a following online now in addition to print. Is it a bit of the “chicken or the egg” paradox with starting things online? Do you feel you have to have a print following first in order to have success online?

C.S.: Nope, not at all. If you're good, you'll get noticed. You just need to be smart about promoting, and make yourself easy to find.

T.P.L. NYC: If so, what are some ways people can establish a following online? How did you do it?

C.S.: If you're doing something like a webcomic, or you've got songs or video clips, put them up everywhere. Use the many free tools available to promote yourself (mostly talking about social networking here). Be relentless - without becoming insufferable. Use every opportunity you can think of. It's hard to keep that balance sometimes, but it's possible.

Cover for Strange Attractors

T.P.L. NYC: You live in NYC and are writing a series about an older and younger man who use the butterfly effect on New York City. How did you come up with the idea for Strange Attractors?

C.S.: That's right - Strange Attractors is a beautiful graphic novel that's due to be published in the first quarter of 2013 by Archaia Entertainment. Archaia's a wonderful company - they do some amazing things with their books as far as presentation. They've actually won the Eisner (the comic book equivalent of an Oscar) for best graphic novel two years in a row, which is a stellar achievement. Anyway, I've lived in NYC for more than fifteen years, and I've always been fascinated by the city's thousands of systems big and small that all somehow manage to work together to keep the lights on, keep us safe, and so on. NYC is basically this massive organism designed to support millions of people, as well as generate money, entertainment, fashion and all sort of other things we export to the world. My preoccupation with the epic complexity of New York made me want to write a story that would do justice to the incredible, exotic environment in which I live. I decided that it would be interesting to write about characters who were sufficiently perceptive to be able to understand the NYC "machine" well enough to influence it via the butterfly effect way you mentioned. Basically, they turn the city into sort of an engine, and the story's about what happens when they turn the key.

T.P.L. NYC: With such a complex idea how much preparation did it take you to get the story ready? Did you find the research challenging?

C.S.: I did, but I like research as a rule. I spent a lot of time reading books on complexity theory and chaos theory and how they relate to one another. I'll confess that my mathematics background isn't really sufficient to do anything like what's depicted in the book - I can just barely understand the underlying theories (which are, understandably, pretty damn complicated). Still, as a dumb writer, I don't have to. I can use the work of my intellectual betters as the foundation for a fun story.

T.P.L. NYC: With an idea like this, I imagine that it would require a lot of thinking to stage out the “cause and effect” situation of the story, what are some of the exercises or techniques you use to get ideas to form and flow for you?

C.S.: Index cards and flowcharts. I don't always do that for stories - some I just let flow - but Strange Attractors needed to work in such a way that the entire book functions almost the same way as I described the city - it's an engine, with lots of interlocking parts. One thing affects another, and it all happens in unexpected and hopefully cool ways. It took a lot of planning, but I'm very happy with how it's all coming together.

 T.P.L. NYC: How many issues is it and is it available for purchase?

C.S.: Strange Attractors will be released as a full-color hardcover of about 150 pages. We're not putting it out as serialized single issues because it just seems like the sort of story that will work better as one volume - a feast as opposed to a number of little meals. You can see some art and learn a little more about the project here:

T.P.L. NYC: Why did you choose NYC as the setting of the book? What is it about the city that inspires you?

C.S.: Well, it's hard not to be inspired by this place. It's physically spectacular, from the very nature of Manhattan as an island metropolis, to the architecture. It's also a place where the best of everything comes, at one point or another. Finally, it's a place filled with dreams - they're everywhere. New Yorkers are aspirants. I'm not saying it always works out for everyone - dreams don't always come true - but it's still quite a fertile environment. Inspiring.

T.P.L. NYC: You are also the writer of 27. This is a very fun idea that is very relevant in pop culture, how did you go about choosing to use this idea?

Cover for 27
C.S.: 27 is the series that broke me through as a comics writer - the first part of the story started to come out in the fall of 2010, and it got a lot of attention for an indie series from a writer few had ever heard of before. The premise of the series is built around the legend of the "27 Club," the list of famous musicians and artists who have died at twenty-seven years old. It's a pretty staggering group: Hendrix, Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and most recently Amy Winehouse (among many others.) In the series, I set up the reason for these deaths as a sort of curse affecting brilliant twenty-seven year-olds, almost a magical thing. It's related to the spirits of creativity and decay, who appear as characters in the book. The main character is a famous rock star guitarist, Will Garland, who gets hit with the 27 Club curse and has to try to understand how it works and ultimately beat it so he can keep playing guitar and rocking out. The story is soaked in references to rock and roll trivia history and craziness. It's sort of a supernatural musical adventure, like the best concert you've ever been to, but it's a book. The series has been collected into two volumes so far, 27: First Set and 27: Second Set, published by Image/Shadowline. You can get them here, as well as a bunch of my other work: in print versions, or here digitally: . The story is also being serialized online for free at Keenspot here: Check it out - it's a lot of fun.

T.P.L. NYC: You mentioned how you like to add many layers of complexity with each new project you take on. Since Strongman you have written about many different things. What new areas do you think you would like to explore in upcoming projects?

C.S.: I'd like to do something with really large-scale action. I have a script that's based around gigantic battles and swashbuckling adventure that I'd like to see come together. I'd also like to do a horror script. 27 has some horror elements, but they're more spooky or unsettling than outright terrifying. I think it would be an amazing challenge to really try to scare people. One day, hopefully! I have several series coming out over the next year that let me stretch some of those other muscles, though. The next big thing after Strange Attractors is a political/sci-fi thing, kind of like 24 meets 2001. After that, I've got a paranormal adventure story, like an X-Files episode in comic book form, and some other really fun things as well. Eventually, I'd like to try every genre at least once.

Cover for Strongman
T.P.L. NYC: With only so many pages in a comic, what is a good way to tell a story without it feeling rushed or having to cut out a lot of dialogue.

C.S.: This is really just a matter of practice. The more you do it, the better you get at fitting into that 22-page length. A single issue of a comic can't really sustain too many scenes, or it starts to feel cluttered and scattershot. I usually start with a beginning and end point (usually a cliffhanger) for an issue. I then think about the other things I want the issue to accomplish, and decide how many scenes and locations it will take to get there. Usually, I can figure out how to shift things around to make it work. It's really an experience thing, though, I think. The more you write the better you write.

T.P.L. NYC: Do you think you would like to return to novel writing, or do you still write prose and fiction?

C.S.: I would love to, but the comics thing is really taking up almost all of my writing time real estate right now. I've written a few screenplays for features and shorts here and there, and I'm slowly working on a big book of... fairy tales, basically, which will be prose, but it's hard. I'm getting to a point where I can't just take as long as I want on any given project. Once deadlines start to become a factor, it can be tough to find the time to work on huge side projects, especially something like a novel. I'd really like to get back to it, though. I'm sure I will, one of these days.

T.P.L. NYC: Is there an existing character or comic book that you would like to work on? Do you feel that you only want to do original material or would you like to adapt something already created?

C.S.: I would be thrilled to work on established characters at some point. I'm doing some of that now, although it's too early to talk about it in any detail. Most aspiring or established comics writers want to take their turn at the big superhero books, if nothing more to say they've done it, and I'm no exception. I'm very happy where I am in my writing career, but if someone handed me the keys to Batman (or Robin, for that matter), I'd go for it. I like street-level heroes. I think I could write a nice Green Arrow, or Hulk, or Nightwing/Robin, and I've always liked The Flash and Daredevil. It would be amazing to write a Star Wars story as well. But really, I'm pretty jazzed to be where I am.

T.P.L. NYC: Where do you see the state of comics in the next decade?

C.S.: Digital comics will reignite the newsstand mentality, allowing people to get new stories in a quick, almost disposable way, and then they'll purchase collected editions of the things they love. So, a kid might read six issues of Spider-Man for a buck apiece on his iPad, and then eventually he might get the collected graphic novel of those six issues to stick on his shelf. I see single-issue print books - what the average person thinks of as a comic book - becoming a specialty item printed and purchased for nostalgic reasons, almost like LPs now. Still, it's all good - as long as the readership grows, it'll work out. People will always love comics.

T.P.L. NYC: How do you go about getting your artists? Which ones do you like to work with?

C.S.: It started out that I would find folks online, via digital classified ad boards like or I got in touch with some amazing artists that way. These days, I'm fortunate to know tons of artists, just from being in the community. So, I can email or call someone I know and see if they're interested in working together. It's one of the most gratifying things about my time in the comics world - getting to know so many spectacularly talented writers and artists. Hanging out after hours at a comic con is like being dipped into a whirlpool of ability - it's a huge rush.

T.P.L. NYC: Of all the different comics you’ve written is there one that stands out as your favorite? Was there one that was the most challenging or that you were disappointed with the outcome?

C.S.: This is like asking a parent to select one of their children as their favorite. I love them all for different reasons, even the ones that had a little trouble in the execution. The ones I worry about the most are the stories that haven't made it into print yet. I have a pile of unproduced treatments, scripts and stories that I'd love to have see the light of day. Making that happen requires a lot of persistence and clever working of the system - not to mention they have to be half-decent enough for people to want to read them. But with a little luck, I'll get there, I hope.

T.P.L. NYC: What do you think readers would be surprised to learn about you?

C.S.: I appeared on Jeopardy! I was on in early 2010. I didn't win, but I did well nonetheless. It was a pretty amazing experience.

T.P.L. NYC: What is the most peculiar thing you’ve seen or been a part of while living in New York City?

C.S.: NYC is an endless fountain of peculiarity, but let's see... my band once played as the backing band for a lingerie fashion show down on the Lower East Side. Our "green room" was the ladies' dressing room. The models were all Eastern European and two feet taller than everyone in the band. They could have cared less whether we were there, too. Man, now I'm thinking through all the crazy things that have happened since I've lived here. You don't have to look far in New York City to come across something strange and wonderful.

Photo by Seth Kushner
T.P.L. NYC: What is the most peculiar thing that has ever happened to you?

C.S.: Unprintable- but it didn't happen in NYC. It happened in Singapore.

Read Charles Soule’s latest work in issue 18 of Images hilarious swords and sorcery series Skulllkickers, which will be available in print and digital on September 26th. His story is called “The Corran’s Tale”  and feature many other talented writers such as Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore, Blair Butler, John Layman and Rob Guillory, and J. Torres.

To learn more about Charles Soule’s upcoming projects check him out on Twitter,
which is @charlessoule, his blog :, and on Facebook: