Charles Soule is one of those guys whose list of accomplishments leaves you in disbelief. He’s a lawyer, a musician, and an emerging force to be reckoned with in the comic book world. Not only is he writing Swamp Thing and Red Lanterns for DC Comics, in addition to Thunderbolts for Marvel Comics (upcoming), he’s just published his new creator owned series, Strange Attractors through Archaia Entertainment.
I had the privilege of sitting down with Charles at the awesome Archaia booth this past C2E2 in Chicago. We talked about Strange Attractors, upcoming projects, and the comic book medium.
BRC: A lot of people are hearing your name now from your work on Swamp Thing. But for those who are unfamiliar with your creator owned work, can you give us a rundown of Strange Attractors?
Charles Soule: Absolutely! Strange Attractors is my new, hardcover graphic novel that was just issued by Archaia Press. They’ve done some amazing other titles like Mouse Guard and a lot of other really great books. So, I’m really happy to have a book out with them.
The premise of Strange Attractors is that it’s a book about New York City, which is where I live. It’s about the complexity and immensity of New York City and what an amazing place it really is. In the actual story, you have two mathematicians, one is young and one is old; and they’re both geniuses. They’re able to use Complexity Theory (or the Butterfly Effect) to turn New York City into sort of a machine or an engine. Then it’s more or less about what they do with that engine once they turn it on. So the vibe is a little bit like Inception, except it’s math instead of dreams. It [Strange Attractors] is a real love letter to New York City, which is the city I’ve lived in for 16 years. It’s beautiful and crazy; and Strange Attractors is my book version of the city.
BRC: What kind of audience do you picture really digging this story? Because, in terms of the norm, Strange Attractors isn’t your average comic.
Soule: Right! It’s certainly not a super hero punch-about kind of book. You know, I’d like to think it’s a thoughtful book. It asks questions about how much control we actually have over our lives; and how can we influence things that happen around us. That said, it’s not like a philosophy tome. It’s an action packed thriller. There are serious bad guys in it. There are incredible scenes of…almost this type of Butterfly Effect magic. It’s designed to give you a story that you can read on a surface level that’s exciting and has lots of questions and puzzles and twist and turns. But then if you want to look at it a little more deeply, you can do that too. So, you know, it’s for everyone.
BRC: So, in becoming familiar with your work, I’ve seen that your writing is very measured, very methodical. It’s not off-the-cuff. It seems as if you take a lot of time to think about it and really try to craft a story. Do you have a go-to writing process? Or can you just jump into writing a story wherever you are and however you are?
Soule: First of all, thank you. That’s very kind. Because I’d hopefully like to think every writer takes time to think about their stories before writing them down (laughs). You know, deadlines get in the way and sometimes you just gotta write what you gotta write.
But, for me, I have a process that has built in thinking. I basically start in long hand; I keep a bunch of notebooks that I have with me at all times. Now, let’s say I’m scripting an issue of Swamp Thing. I’ll start with just writing down a bunch of bulletin points about what I think the issue should be. From there I’ll break that down into an actual order, and how many pages I will allocate to them. And then I’ll usually go to script at that point. I’ll write a draft and then I’ll let it sit overnight (at least). Then I’ll do a second draft. So by doing it this way, I’ve got at least 4 opportunities to touch the script before it’s finished, and I think that’s really important. You know, it’s worked so far. I hope I’m able to continue doing it because it’s important to put as much time as you can into a story, even with deadlines.
BRC: So, the art is Strange Attractors is done by Gregg Scott, and it’s fantastic. How was it working with him? Did you guys hook up through Archaia?
Soule: You know, one of the great things about Archaia is that it’s a creator owned shop, which means the creators bring their own team to the table. Then Archaia provides the publishing, marketing support, and a lot of other really great things. But as far as the creative side goes, it’s really up to the creators. This was my script from the beginning, so I knew I needed a guy who could draw New York the way it actually looked. Gregg Scott is based in Staten Island, which is one of the Five Boroughs. He’s lived there all his life and he also loves New York City. So, he was able to bring a level of detail that I think really helped sell everything. In fact, of the artists on the book, you’ve got Gregg Scott on pencils and inks. You have Art Lyon and Matthew Petz sharing the duties on colors. There’s Robert Saywitz who drew these maps that are essentially diagrams of the complexity of the city. Then there’s Thomas Mauer who lettered the book. And Rebecca Taylor edited it. So of that group, I think I listed 6 names, 4 of them are New Yorkers. So, it’s a lot of people who knew New York, cared about New York, and wanted to get the details right. And I think it comes across in the final product.
BRC: It’s a New York book!
Soule: (laughs) Yeah, it’s a New York book.
BRC: So as a medium, if a comic book has a wide range of ways it can tell a story, like colors, gestures, and emotions, how meticulous are you in terms of scripting that type of stuff? Do you micromanage a lot? Or did you let Greg interpret it as he saw fit?
Soule: It depends. Greg is very, very skilled with facial expressions and human beings. He’s a good actor, as they say. Or he can make his characters good actors, however you want to term it. But I hadn’t worked with Greg before this. So I had to understand what he was capable of; and I had the entire script for this written ahead of time. It’s an intricate plot; so in my original script I was quite detailed about a lot of specifics, because otherwise the story would have fallen apart. It’s not a loose story. It’s very “every-piece-in-the-machine-needs-to-work-properly.” But the thing about working with a really great artist is that they bring things to the book that you never knew were there; and Greg did that constantly on almost every single page. So did the colorist. So did the letterer. Working with great artist, there’s just nothing like it. You can put yourself in their hands and they’ll deliver.
BRC: Are there any other creator owned projects that you’d like to let people know about?
Soule: Absolutely! The next big creator owned series that’s going to hit is starting in October from Oni Press. It’s called “Letter 44.” It’s an ongoing series; and it’s a little bit like 24 meets 2001.
The basic premise is that, you know, there is a letter that a new president gets on his desk in the Oval Office from the old president. The letter says “Surprise! About seven years ago, we found some sort of mining or construction going on in the asteroid belt. We really don’t know what it is. But every decision I made in my presidency was basically preparing for when those guys [whoever the equipment belongs to] come down. So, now it’s your problem! Good luck with it!…And P.S. We sent up a mission about three years ago, they’re about six months away. Take care of them, they’re all American heroes.” [Just to point out, I'm sure this isn't exactly how the letter reads. But I couldn't resist quoting it simply because of the candid nature that Soule paraphrases a president with. Made me chuckle]. So what you end up with is the “A” story on Earth with the President dealing with that and the “B” Story with the astronauts in space getting closer and closer. So it’s fun. It’s ongoing.
The art is by Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque, who is a really, really talented Spanish artist. Working with Oni Press is also like Archaia. They’re a fantastic company to work with. And I think it’s going to be worth watching out for. It’s out in October.
BRC: Do you have time to read comics anymore? If so, what books are you into?
Soule: I make a point of reading. There’s a lot of research reading you have to do. Like, I’m writing Red Lanterns now for DC; and the Green Lantern mythology is deep and complex. So, it’s taking me a little while to get up to speed on it. But, you know, you have to read. As far as non-research stuff, I love Locke & Key. I love Saga. Well, (laughs) everybody loves Locke & Key and everybody loves Saga. That’s not a surprise. But I’m also really enjoying Garth Ennis’ Fury Max books from Marvel. Animal Man is great. I like Ray Fawkes’ Constantine. Oh, man…there’s so many. Mark Waid’s Daredevil is amazing. I think I’m just hitting the greatest hits of things everyone likes.
BRC: Hypothetical: It’s the apocalypse. You’re in a bunker that will keep you safe and fed forever. But you only have three books. What books do you have?
Soule: Three books? Well, let’s hypothetically say there’s a Sandman Omnibus that includes that entire series from Neil Gaiman. I would take that (laughs). Because I think that’s got almost everything you want out of a reading experience. You know I would also take Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson; because, again, it’s one book that has all kinds of great ideas and stuff in it. Then for a third book, I’d probably take a blank diary or a notebook so I could write my own stories.
Keep an eye out for my review of Charles Soule’s Strange Attractors in the coming weeks. If you’re looking to get into a creator owned series that’s character and story driven, I’ll tell you now, Strange Attractors is the way to go. Need more convincing? Check out the free preview! http://graphicly.com/archaia-comics/strange-attractors/preview/preview#spread=1