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:


No comments:

Post a Comment