Charles Soule: If You Want It, Then You Can Get ItA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
Sometimes you interview a creator and an hour or two goes by before you realize that you’ve talked forever. That’s usually the sign of a really good interview, and I think you’ll agree that this transcript of my hour-plus interview with Charles Soule is really interesting. This musician-turned-comic-writer has some fascinating insights on the similarity between comics and music, the future of digital comics, the way that the world now embraces creator-owned work, and many other really fascinating topics. I had a great time talking to Charles, and I hope you have a great time reading this transcript of our conversation.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: I really enjoyed reading both parts of 27. William has really gone through a lot of changes in his life.
Charles Soule: I wanted to start in First Set with a prototypical kind of rock star guy who hasn’t faced a lot of significant challenges. I mean, becoming a rock star is not an easy thing to do by any means, but it's sort of a situation where if you're a famous musician, or famous creative person of any type that you kind of get built up to this point where you feel like you're involved in your own world, and you can't do anything wrong, and the world is sort of there to hand you things.
So I wanted to take all of that away from him, and see what would be left, and what he would do to get it back. It's been fun to toy with the rock star archetype. And for Garland, when all is said and done, it might be for the best.
CB: He definitely has the rise, and the fall, and the attempted rise again. That may be the best way of putting Second Set.
Soule: I think so. The overarching theme in First Set is creativity, exemplified by that big speech that Garland gives at the end of the arc where he says that the point of trying to live a creative life is about working for it and honing on your craft for years and years and turning into someone who speaks through whatever their art is.
Second Set I wanted to be more of an exploration of fame. How it affects a celebrity, and the lengths that people will go to get it, to keep it, to get it back, and how while it can be a polluting influence, it can also be inspirational. You have to push yourself to greater lengths to make sure you’re not just coasting on the sustained interest of your fans. It's a really complex issue that I thought was worth visiting, and obviously I just scratched the surface. It was really interesting for me to think about, and write about.
CB: Will Garland is at rock bottom at the beginning of Second Set. It was interesting, because William was a giant rock star, as big as they got on some level, and to have him back playing small clubs with just a few people... you could see in every scene that he was depicted in how much pain that really caused him.
Soule: There's no doubt. While the main character in 27 is a guitar player, and it’s a music book on the surface, I tried to write it to resonate with all creative people no matter what their discipline is. In particularly, I really wanted to explore the ups and downs… the vagaries of fame and trying to live a creative life. Garland’s path happens all the time. People are huge, and then they're just not anymore.
I can’t imagine how that would feel (although I tried, and that’s what the book is about.) Most people live lives on gentle slopes. Maybe they'll go up, but it's a just a minor bump in the grand scheme, or maybe they'll go down a bit for a little while. The peaks and valleys are not as dramatic as they are for someone who really reaches for the stars, so to speak, like William Garland does in 27. The crashes are so much worse, too. It's the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
CB: Definitely. At the same time, though, we see him working through both situations. He’s not necessarily the most heroic guy, either. He has his absolute flaws.
Soule: Yeah, I wasn't interested, and honestly I don't think readers were interested, in reading about a perfectly heroic character. It's just not as compelling, and it certainly doesn’t reflect reality. Obviously Garland is not a real person, but I thought it would be fun to write someone who is really flawed, who can be a total jerk to people, and doesn't see other people around him - even people he cares about - as people who are there for any reason other than to help achieve what he wants. He rarely takes into consideration what they need, or what they're trying to achieve in their lives.
Part of the overall arc of the series as a whole – sometimes things change as you're writing them, of course – but ideally it will explore how he comes to maybe not be so sociopathic, and learns to empathize with people a little bit. Realizing that his goals aren't the only ones that matters.
CB: Do you think it's a real changing point of his life when he rescues the school children from the shooters who took them hostage in First Set?
Soule: Absolutely. Obviously it's not completely self-interested because his niece is there. So that's kind of why he does it in part. Because he's rescuing his niece, and then he rescues the other kids too. Because it's supposed to be, in sort of a comic-booky sort of way, one of the first real ways that he does something that has potential to hurt him if it goes wrong. He's doing something for other people that has no real upside for him. It would be better for him if he didn't do it essentially. This is the first time anyone's seen him do something like that. You see smaller examples of that in Second Set.
He's evolving a little bit, basically. I wouldn't call him a heroic guy who's going to be saving kittens from burning pet stores on a regular basis. Still, he certainly has learned something and is changing. At the end of Second Set, I don't want to spoil too much, but something really significant happens to him where he realizes that his life is never ever going to be the same. He has to accept it, and instead of wallowing in it, figure out what he can do with it. He’s asking himself, “how can I change things to make this work for me and everyone else?”
CB: Well he's broken the 27 curse too, which is a great theme in First Set. Do you think that the fact that he has moved on from his so-called destiny that has allowed him to mature a little bit?
Soule: That's the idea. You'll notice in First Set there was a big focus on numerology, 2+7=9 and so on, the significance of that age and that number. In Second Set it's still there floating around in the background, but it's not the focus of the book. I felt that I had to move on from the 27 Club as sort of a hook to rest the book on because I didn't feel like there was enough to say about it anymore. I feel like I'd said everything that I needed to say about the 27 concept, and how it might relate to creativity in the First Set. Second Set needed to move on, just as Garland moves on from being twenty-seven. That’s still a pretty young age. If an artist wants to maintain a career, they've got to evolve from where they are in the early stages, when they’re just starting out.
So yes, it's definitely designed to show him evolving. It's really fun to write about a character that undergoes some big changes, and I hope that people are following and enjoying it that way too!
CB: He undergoes a lot of changes, and so it's very much a character driven piece, but it also has some really fun comic and science fiction elements too. It's not strictly speaking a drama about a musician as much as there's a big element of mystery, horror, and other pieces to it.
Soule: Yeah, as part of First Set, Garland enters into a sort of a deal with the devil in the classic sense, and he ends up with this weird button in his chest – it looks a little like a guitar amp’s faceplate. Every time he presses it he's given three hours of creative genius in some discipline or another, and he never gets to choose what it is ahead of time. He just gets whatever he gets. It might be sculpture one time, it might be tap-dancing another, and it's very rarely related to music, which is of course the one thing he really wants to do and cares about. Total “careful what you wish for” scenario.
The button gives me really weird, almost "Dial H for Hero" creativity element that I've been able to run through the series. The other fun element of the concept is that once he presses it twenty-seven times, at the end of the third hour of that 27th press, he dies. He's lost count of how many times he's pressed it throughout the series. So we're playing with the drama of scenarios popping up where he's got to push it for whatever reason, but each time it’s possible that it could be the one that kills him. It's a cool device that keeps things spinning through the series. It's a lot of fun to pick out each new talent, too.
CB: I've been kind of fascinated at the idea that he's forgotten how many times he pressed it, and you just don't know what's going to happen to him. There's this life and death element to it, and I think "Dial H for Hero" is a great example. You just don't know you're going to turn int. You guys have done some really inventive pieces with that. I've loved the symbolic representation of the songs that he sings, for an example, when he was rescuing the schoolchildren in First Set. That was just so clever and inventive.
Soule: It's a book about creativity, so we decided that we were going to do everything we could to try and tell the story in a creative fashion as possible. With the particular point you're referring to, he sings song lyrics, but we set them up as rebuses where instead of putting the words in the bubbles, instead you might see a British flag and a telephone, representing "London Calling" by The Clash. We did that because he sings like twenty songs, and getting the rights to use those lyrics would have been unimaginably expensive. By using symbols you can get around that, and you maybe get a little credit for being clever as well.
CB: Now, you're obviously a musician – with this much passion for this subject you must be. What do you play, and how has that influence your approach to comics?
Soule: My main instrument now is guitar. I've been playing guitar since I was 16, so it’s been quite a while. My first instrument was violin which my mother had me pick up at 3. Kind of crazy, but that’s what she did. I was a Suzuki kid. Anyway, I've literally been playing music for decades. I studied composition in college, and I’ve written classical pieces, and jazz, and all sorts of stuff. I've been in more bands than I can easily count. I've played lots and lots of shows at all different venue levels, and different sized crowds. That said, I've never had Garland-level success. I put a lot of time into music, and I think I'm a skilled musician, but I'm not an Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar hero like Garland is.
That background gives me insight into what it’s really like to have a band and try to make something happen. You work incredibly hard to prepare a set of tunes, and you get the band rehearsed. In New York City, where I live, you often have to lay out some cash, because usually the really good musicians – even guys you’re really tight with (I’ve been playing with some of my band members for more than 10 years and we're very close), do this for a living. They don't have day jobs, so when I come up for a show if we don't make a certain amount of money at the show I'm going out of pocket to make sure they get what they need.
So, you set up a show, and make this financial commitment, and then maybe ten people show up for whatever reason. Could be anything - it's just a bad night, there's competition from other bands or movies or plays or just staying home, you didn't promote the show well enough, the club didn't promote the show well enough. I've been in that situation before and it stinks, but it's a part of music. It can give you insight to what it might feel like if, say, you played a show for 20,000 people, and then the next week you go down to playing a tiny club with four people watching, like Garland does in the series. And of course, it parallels the experience of writing a comic book that you slave over for a year or whatever. You manage to get yourself a publisher to get it out there, and then nobody reads it because it's an indie book that doesn't have Batman in it. I put all of that in 27.
CB: I loved your liner notes to First Set. I used the liner notes advisedly, where you talked about the musical theory. How that's an interesting element you can see what happens to him in the book and such. I thought that was a really cool and interesting touch.
Soule: I almost can't write anything now that doesn't have music in it. I've got stuff coming up that will be out later this year called Strange Attractors with a strong musical element in it, and I didn't even see the connections to 27 until after the fact. It's not the same as 27; it's used in a different way and it has different elements, but the main character in Strange Attractors is a giant music fan. He adores the New York music scene and all its varied history. You write what you know whether you plan to or not, and I guess for me music is always going to be a big part of my stuff.
CB: Well of course comics when done right there is a rhythm and recurring themes just like in good music.
Soule: I think so. In Second Set you mentioned the liner notes. I did another set of liner notes for Second Set that that talks about some of those recurring refrains and themes. It's neat to see them particularly because I didn't recognize all of them when I was scripting, but when Renzo’s art appeared I realized they were popping up again and again. Maybe that's just me repeating myself, but I like to call it beautifully planned themes and countermelodies and stuff like that.
CB: Every writer is going to repeat himself. We only have so many ideas to present, and we're always working through our own issues. Any writer that you find that you enjoy is going to do that. It's very rare that you're going to find someone who's a chameleon. Tell me more about Strange Attractors; that sounds like a very interesting book. You described it to me as an old man who figures out how to turn the city into an engine and complications ensue. That's a very intriguing description, Charles.
Soule: I’ll have been living in New York City for 16 years this summer, and I love the city. It's beautiful, it's epic, it's incredibly complicated, it's just crazy. So I started thinking about how really multi-layered New York City is, and how it has new systems built on the ruins of the old systems, all integrated together. There are still wooden water mains under New York, which I think is incredible. Integral parts of the city’s infrastructure that might be hundreds of years old, that no one ever replaced because they never really broke.
Another example: if I want to go from downtown Manhattan up to 110th Street, if I'm going by car it could easily take me two hours depending on how things go. The distance is only seven miles, but it could take me longer to drive it than walk it. Yet somehow the NYC grocery stores don't run out of food, and the electricity works, and the cable works, and the water keeps flowing, and people get to their jobs each day. Somehow it all works. So I thought that New York City is a complex system like the weather, the stock market and so on. Mathematicians understand how to see and even predict general trends within them, but they can't explain how they work with any specificity. It's just too complicated.
Strange Attractors is basically about an older guy who figures out how to take all of those complicated multi-systems in New York and make them work for him. One of the main maxims of complexity theory is that a small input or change at one part of a complex system can cause a giant rippling effect throughout the entirety. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in Chile and causing a hurricane in Japan.
The old mathematician learns to model the city’s systems to such a degree that he knows precisely how to makes the tiny changes that will cause the large effect that he wants. For example, he might rearrange newspaper boxes on a corner which would then change the pedestrian flow on that corner, as different people stop maybe two feet further along or ten feet further along to get their paper than the day they did the day before. That has a ripple effect, which turns into this huge effect – he can make the city into whatever he thinks it should be.
He is essentially a good guy, and he's been using his ability to almost serve as the city’s custodian. He kind of helps the city solve problems, and fend off huge disasters before they materialize. That’s the basic premise.
Conflict occurs when, in the course of his modeling, he sees that a gigantic disaster is about to crash down on the city. In years past, he would normally just fix it by rearranging things a bit; change the pattern, but he's 86 years old and too old to do it anymore. The problem’s too big. He can't physically go out and make the hundreds of changes that he needs to make, and he's terrified because he doesn't have a lot of time to get all of this ready to go. So he has to find someone else to do it for him, but finding someone else to take over this job is not a simple thing. If you told someone you’d been secretly been manipulating the city for thirty-five years you’d be locked up. At best.
So the old guy finds a grad student, and starts manipulating him to take over the job. He needs him to try to save the city before this disaster hits. It's all about how their relationship goes, how the young guy relates to the old guy, and how they deal with the various emergencies that crop up as the city’s systems begin to collapse. There’s a question as to whether the kid is going to step up in time to do what he needs to do, and whether the old man is actually just a lunatic. I’m pretty excited about it.
CB: What I think is really intriguing is that you're not implying that he has any special powers. He's not some Marvel super-hero with the power of the city.
Soule: It's not like that at all. He's not a super-villain. He's a guy who has made this his personal crusade. His challenge is getting someone else to take over for him, to see the city the way he sees it. He has to find a really compelling sales pitch, because the younger guy is going to have to give up his entire life to do this job. There are some perks to it, you can manipulate the stock market and things like that, but the old man’s life as a whole is not incredibly appealing. He has no family and lives like a hermit. The young guy has a promising job waiting for him, he's got a girlfriend, he's got his whole life ahead of him. I think it’ll be fun to see how it all turns out.
CB: It sounds a little bit like a love letter to the city that you love so much.
Soule: There's no question. The artist is Greg Scott. He has a really fantastic eye for the city's scenery, architecture, and people. It's not quite photorealistic, but it’s close. Some of the New York City panels are just breathtakingly beautiful. It's phenomenal, and I can't wait to see it all finished. It's being put out by Archaia Press as a full graphic novel, in their typically beautiful hardcover package. It's expected to be out in October. I think people are really going to like it – or at least I truly, truly hope so, because we're all working really hard on it. It's very exciting. I can't wait.
CB: Archaia puts up a lot of really beautiful graphic novels. They've really gone after some interesting new creators for doing some innovative and interesting work. They've turn out to be a very interesting line of comics.
Soule: It's true, I think Archaia's audience, and certainly their line of books, is really one of the only places where Strange Attractors would feel completely at home. I felt like Archaia really stands behind a line of books that might be considered unusual or difficult for an audience raised on Marvel and DC They're very excited about our book, and I’ve had a great experience working with them. They just really seem to get it. This book is a multilayered, complicated story, and they're just totally into it,
CB: You put 27 out through the Jim Valentino line, which is a really interesting line inside Image because there's a certain amount of editorial managing of work that you don't necessarily get from other areas of Image. How has the experience with Shadowline been, versus being with Archaia?
Soule: As you said, Jim has a vision for his books. He picks the ones he personally likes, or that he thinks will do well. He tries to make sure they express his vision of what a comic should be.
For example, it was his idea to do 27 in Golden Age format, which is a little bit bigger than a standard book, to help the book stand out a bit. He provides input on things like that. It's never "you've got to change this line of dialogue." or anything like that. What you do get are occasional discussions or nudges in one direction or another. What if we published it in this format; what if we did this kind of cover; what if we set up the trade this way? It's not a heavy editorial presence, but it is certainly collaborative, in the interest of making the book as strong as possible.
CB: Digital has really been a side that's worked out in surprising ways for you.
Soule: Yeah! 27 is on Comixology, and I get the impression that people are finding the books there, and buying them. I like digital releasing in part because it's evergreen. You don't have to worry about print runs, you don't have to worry about whether the shop ordered the book. It's available at any time, anywhere.
27 is also being serialized on a website called Keenspot, which is a high traffic webcomic site. Their M.O. is to take books and to serialize them, putting up certain number of pages per week. They have a lot of cross advertising between the various titles on the site, and they do a lot to help books keep going, and help people find books they might like. It’s a neat model.
There are a number of Image comics on Keenspot besides 27. Skullkickers is there, Green Wake, and I believe Avengelyne. For me, it's been phenomenal because with 27 we're doing five pages a week as the site runes through First Set. It's only been up since March 10th, and we’re getting six-figure page views per month. You do the math, and it’s clear that a lot of people have found the book, are looking at it, and are reading it. The book is finding a new audience, and I’ve already met people at cons who are reading the series that way. There’s a path by which the Keenspot version can monetize, and we'll see what happens, but even if it doesn't I strongly feel that getting the story to the audience is the right thing to do. Finding eyeballs is the most important thing.
CB: It's a fascinating business to be in. It's actually what I do in my day job. The company I work for creates e-reader applications for third party clients. We've found over the last few months that there is just more and more momentum around e-reading. Both from the consumer side and the retailer side, this is growing steadily. It just seems like it really clicked in for people. Maybe it's the influence of the iPad 3. There's just a greater and greater perception that this is the future of all art form. That so much of it is going to be available in digital, and it's cool because no one really knows where it's going to go at this point. So you have you try something like Keenspot, Comixology, and still do work in print. How do you navigate that as a creator?
Soule: I’d love all of my stuff to be available digitally, and I’m sure it will be, over time. The thing about a digital audience, however, is that they're insatiable. They want new material and they want it right away. Comics, however, take a really long time to create, and so creating beautiful content that lives up to my own standards for what my work should be that can also be created quickly is a real challenge.
Still, it has to be solved. To quote Jim Zubkavich who writes Skullkickers, "the web is mainstream comics." His point is that Marvel and DC, or the print-focused comics I’m doing with 27 and my other work, aren’t really the mainstream anymore. It's webcomics.
The popular online comics get millions of readers every week, and print comics haven't seen millions of readers for 20 years. I think that digital is obviously where things are going to go. Floppies are going to disappear. They’ll be seen sort of like LPs are now. A creator will do a run of floppies every once in awhile as a retro thing to do. I feel like trades will still exist. I mean, we'll see what happens. But I feel like trades are a unique and different enough experience. It's kind of like the theatrical experience. People can watch just about any movie that they want to at home with video on demand, but people still go to theaters. People still go to watch baseball games, even though it's arguably more fun to watch a game at home, on your own couch, with your own cheap beer and microwave popcorn. There's an experience reading a print comic that cannot be duplicated by digital, that won’t go away. That said, digital is just going to be the way that most people get their comics on a regular basis.
CB: It fits our lifestyle these days to be able get something immediately. We've all been conditioned to that. Via iTunes and other applications. Hulu and all the other media are presented that way, so it just kind of makes sense. Part of the reason we've been waiting for books to catch up with other media is that it's inherently something that you want to have a good device on. Which is why something best like the Android tablets or the iPad make such a big difference.
Soule: I think that's right. I just got my first few comics on iPad recently. You know Journey Into Mystery, the Kieron Gillen series? I just got the hardcover for the first six issues, and then the next four were available on Comixology. So I was like, all right, let's give it a try. It's a nice experience. I have no complaints; it's pretty fun.
CB: It's different. There's nothing like holding an actual book in your hands, and you made a point earlier about how your comic was out in the Golden Age format. So it presented a different aesthetic experience versus reading on the iPad, but at the same time it's a very good experience.
Soule: I think so, and I think the nice thing is that I'm an optimist by nature, and so what I assume is going to happen is that all the young folks are going to basically have Comixology, as their spinner rack, like I did when I was young, and they're going find weird and interesting titles to check out.
If I could look into a crystal ball even just five years from now I think it would be fascinating to see where we’ll be.
CB: I actually just wrote a piece for my site recently about essentially; "is the cup half empty, or half full?" and I said "Well it's all the way full. It's overflowing." because what we're seeing is the democratization of a process where no longer need to go through Marvel or DC. You've done work through Image and Archaia who are much more niche publishers, but even five years in the future I'm curious how much there is even going to be even a need for that level of publisher
Soule: I know what you mean. It's hard to say. Again, there’s more than one way to monetize a story these days. There’s Kickstarter, there are ad-based models for successful webcomics, and it’s evolving constantly. I don’t think I’m there yet, but when the audience gets big enough you don’t need print at all to make enough to produce the book and have money left over to, hypothetically, live on, which is kind of an amazing thing.
CB: It's exciting for all media. At the same time it's terrifying too, but then again everyone is always terrified about where the art form is going, same as it always was.
Soule: The threats, so to speak, that we're facing now are very different and very new. We're going to see a lot of change. But the thing is, you go to any convention and there are so many young people there who are dying to do comics. Just dying to get into the business. By young people, by the way, I mean teenagers. 12-18 year olds. They’re there maybe with their family, or just with their buddies who are very curious about how it works, and they just want to know how to do it. They're finding the answers, and they're figuring out how to tell their stories.
Graphical storytelling and comic book story telling will never disappear. It's been around forever, and I can't see it going anywhere. So it's just a matter of how it's communicated to the audience. I think all in all it's going to be a good thing. I wish they released more digital sales and digital audience numbers. I know you can kind of find them, but it's not done in the same way that the print sales charts are. I don't think the print sales charts tell the whole story.
CB: I think it's evolving and I think the balance between the two is slowly changing, and we're actually seeing a whole lot more movement in the comic industry than we are the standard print industry maybe aside from Kindle. When Comixology announced that they sold 50 million dollars worth of comics, that was an earthquake. That really showed that the future is actually happening.
Soule: I actually missed that announcement, that's fascinating. That's amazing! How long ago was that?
CB: That was just within the last few months.
Soule: Wow that's fantastic. That's really cool to hear. I'm not surprised. I just bought those four Journey Into Mysterys. That was twelve bucks. It adds up. Of course there's going to be a bunch of money over time. I hope they're using a lot of that money to be smart and staff up. And I hope a lot of that is going to the creators. Who knows?
CB:. Honestly, to get ready to talk to you, I got the first mini series from Comixology. I think it was a $1.99 an issue, so for eight dollars? That's something interesting. There was no stress. I could do it from my couch at 9:00 at night, and not hope the store was opened and had the book.
Soule: That's the thing. The print runs on paper books are still tiny, and it’s possible for a book to disappear, never to be seen again. But the digital run is infinite. It never ends. It's nice to think that 27 will never go out of print at this point. Which is something that can't be said for so many books.
I have a series – or I had a series called Strongman that was published by Slave Labor Graphics. The first volume of it came out in 2009. It's sort of an action piece. I like it a lot, it's fun. That hit right as Comixology was coming online, and it was sort of left in the gap between the books they were digitizing with their process. I mean, I don't want to overstate it – there’s no reason at all Comixology should have devoted resources to my little book. But regardless, that book is not on Comixology, and it would have to be something that I'd have to ask Comixology to do for me as a favor, or I’d have to get it done by myself somehow. It's not the end of the world. But think of this: Strongman was out in 2009, and it barely missed the digitization wave. Think of how many amazing small press books from the previous decades that haven’t been put up, and might never be. That will change, though. The idea of putting out a book without a digital version will seem as foreign as putting out a movie in theaters and never releasing a DVD.
CB: We've actually talked about this a bit for our site. We have a guy that runs for a place called Cheap Thrills where he talks about books he finds that's in the quarter bin. It’s been this amazing run of titles. He's found at least three that I can think of at the top of my head that are just outstanding comics that you just would have never heard of. We were talking about how fascinated we've become that there's this great depth of really quality material out there that very few people have heard of, let alone read. I'm intrigued at the idea of something like Comixology that will allow people to have more access to that. We were talking about "What would it take to create us a little PDF- based site that would allow creators to upload?" and have it available for download, or read in the browser or whatever.
Soule: Isn't that sort of what Graphic.ly is doing? They're trying to do something along those lines, I believe, but not just for comics - for all kinds of graphics-based publishers or projects, like magazines or instructional books. That's an option too. I think what we really need is a way to view recommendations based on what you've viewed and enjoyed from the past. If you look at Netflix, they have a really good recommendation engine – not awesome, but a decent set of suggestions based on what you've watched and rated and enjoyed in the past. Amazon is maybe a better example. They seem to have a very good recommendation algorithm. It would be helpful with comics because there's so much that you wade through, and it's not all good quality. Once we figure out the quality issue, and we can direct people to something that they'll like it'll be better.
CB: That's a really good point. Something we talk about while we're on Comics Bulletin is push people towards books that they would enjoy. It's an interesting question. It really is almost a mathematical algorithm as much as it is an interpersonal kind of thing.
Soule: I just found that - this is not news, but marketing comics is tough. As a creator you have to hustle, and be your own constant cheerleader in a way that’s ever-present but isn't over the top and annoying. It’s a hard balance. The successful ones are kind of cool and kind of mellow about it. They're inclusive with their fans. Everyone wants to help them out. Sam Humphries is a lot like that. I think that Jim Zubkavich is great at that. I think that Jonathan Hickman is very good, too. They make the idea of supporting them into a shared adventure. We're all in this together; we're all working on this together. It's difficult to do, but it's the only way that it can work. You can't just rely on doing one interview every once in a while, or hoping that people find your work. You have to struggle for every set of eyeballs I think.
CB: Well at least you have the chance to get eyeballs now. We're more democratized these days, you know?
Soule: Well, it’s still not easy. I remember what it was like when Strongman came out, and it was an even smaller press book than 27. Which was a fairly big indie book, relatively speaking. So getting people to pay attention to Strongman, to cover it, to give me quotes – it was not easy. There are so many indie books, and even though there is good stuff in the quarter bin, there are also vast rafts of terrible stuff.
A lot of people trying to break into comics make books, which is great, but a lot of it is not terribly good – there’s some learning to be done yet, some work to be done. Comics is an art form that takes practice. Believe me, the first books and pitches that I put together were not good. It takes some time to get there. This is a known situation in the comics world among pros, press, retailers, etc., and so when you approach any sort of media outlet with your brand new little book and ask for some coverage… for example, if I came to you in 2009 and said that I'd like to do an interview because I have this great book out for SLG, etc. etc., I think you would have approached that, er, opportunity in a different way than if I came up to you after I had several years in the business, with a few Image trades under my belt. It's just the way it is.
CB: We get those requests all the time. "Help me start out, help me promote my work!
Soule: Exactly. So finding all the chinks in the armor that you can use to get through is difficult. It takes a long time and a lot of dedication. I like it, though. I find that it's rewarding to find things like that. For example, how I got to be talking with you – it was Sunday evening at Emerald City Comicon this past spring, and the show was winding down. I was doing a little walk around the floor, and my little brother was minding my table. When I came back, my brother hit me with, "Jason stopped by. Just wanted to say hello. He just walked over that way." I was just like, "Oh man." You can't let things like that slip by. I guess I could have just emailed you, but meeting you face to face, shaking your hand, makes it that much better. Take every angle you can find.
CB: Are you kidding Charles? You're the guy that ran up to me and said "Hey I gotta meet you! Hey let's talk! Let's connect!" That was awesome. That was very cool.
Soule: It's important. I like doing it. It's fun, I like talking to people, and telling them about my work. There's a reason why this chat has lasted so long. It's a good time. I like these conversations.
CB: Yeah I can relate to what you're talking about because I manage and stuff. We've got a big staff, but it's my site. I'm the sole-owner at this point. So you just have to try and develop interesting content that gets people interested and excited about. There's a lot of damn work. There's times where you feel like you're falling on your face, and there's times where you feel like a rock star. You just got to keep going through both sides, and not let them get to you either way.
Soule: Yeah, sounds a little like the struggle that William Garland goes through in 27.
CB: I was going to say, what you're talking about with your creative life of a writer really is the same as the creative life of a musician except they get to stand in front of people and play their guitar, and they probably get more girls than comic book writers do as well.
Soule: We sit in front of our computer screens and type. It has its rewards. The conventions are a blast, as I'm sure you know. I would guess that you had a great time after Emerald City was done, and hung out with people you knew and all that?
CB: Exactly, of course!
Soule: It's a blast. What else do you have on your schedule for conventions this year, any others?
CB: I'm probably going to go down to Stumptown, and I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing besides San Diego.
Soule: It's funny, San Diego- I did it last year and it was a huge expenditure for me, because it’s a cross-country flight, and I didn't know anybody in the city to stay with for free. That means an expensive hotel, and they're not handing out tables at San Diego for free. So when I do that con, either I go to hang out and network which is pretty fun, or I pay the huge amount of money for the table and hope to make some of that money back. And even when you’re tabling, you’re sort of stuck at a table for the whole convention. It’s often fun, but it's not exactly what you want the experience to be. We’ll see. I'm doing a lot of cons this year – C2E2, some smaller one-day local cons, and of course Heroes Con, which is amazing if you've never had the chance to go. It's really a fun convention.
CB: That's in Charlotte, right?
Soule: Yup. It's really good. I did MoCCA, which is basically the New York equivalent of Stumptown, and I’ll do New York Comicon, because it’s local. Maybe a few others; Baltimore is great, Toronto Fan Expo, etc. I really like conventions. I think they're a really good time, and you can't beat the networking.
CB: The networking is just so great. Image Comics Expo was the most fun I've had at a convention in a long time. It was a surprisingly decent attendance, but more than that there was a really friendly vibe. Just one of the most positive shows I've been to. The access to people was unbelievable. I talked to all five of the original Image creators I could, I didn't get the chance to talk to Rob, but just strictly from building the site and making contacts experience was fantastic.
I did an interview with Whilce Portacio, who I really honestly know nothing about and he was the most genuine, nice, interesting, honest, just real person you could ever want to talk to. It was a wonderful experience. I hung out a but to your guy Jim Valentino, who's a good friend I've known for a number of years. It was a good time to have access, and get to meet a lot of people. I actually had twelve interviews there. It was just wonderful.
Going to San Diego, I've been there twice now so far, it's just an unbelievable networking opportunity. I never stopped moving basically for the five days from about 7:30 in the morning to 3:00 in the morning. It's epic.
Soule: Epic. That's the right word. In a society where that word is overused these days, you can still apply it to San Diego Con. It's interesting to hear about Image Comics Expo. I was going to go, but I had Emerald City shortly thereafter. It would have been two cross country cons in a short amount of time. It just seemed like too much of an expense, and too much of an effort to be away that much. I really do regret it because everyone I've talked to has said basically the same thing you have. It was incredibly creator-supported in a way that most conventions – I mean, they all have that, Emerald City was an amazing, amazing con. But it seems like it was a unique, really cool thing that I'm sorry I missed. Hopefully I can make it next year.
CB: I hope so, I usually go down for Wonder Con. It's a great convention also, but it's like Comic Con Jr. It's run by the same people; it has the Hollywood side to it. Expo was very comic focused, and it also had this very evangelistic spirit to it about how it grew out the seven original creators who had this vision of people being able to make their own future for themselves. Build their own business out of their own vision. It was largely about the success that they had and been able to bring so many more people to the industry, and create incredible successes. So it was really more of a celebration of controlling your own destiny in the arts as much as anything. It really was inspiring.
Soule: Absolutely. I think that's a great message. At Image Expo or elsewhere. It's important. Again we were talking about the digital stuff- you don't need anyone if you have the talent level, and the drive, and the sort of entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurial intelligence, which is almost a different thing. You don't need a publisher, anybody at all. You can do it all yourself, and it's amazing. That's the world today. It's great.
CB: Yeah it used to be only people like Jeff Smith could do that. You had to be unbelievably talented. Now you can just be talented and be able to have a life like that. It's great to see how the industry's been changing.
Soule: I mean you look at Kirkman, who is a really nice guy. I don't know if you've had a chance to talk to him at Image Expo or in another place. I hadn't really interacted with him much until Emerald City, other than just saying hello every once in a great while. He's a real trailblazer. I think The Walking Dead is a great book. I read through all the Invincible trades lately and that's also just excellent. He's a very talented guy who's been very smart and very savvy about managing his creative projects. There are a lot of reasons why not everybody can do that. Not everybody is as talented as he is, but I guess the point is that the Image founders did their thing back in ‘92. Twenty years ago. In those two decades, there have been many more smart, talented creators who have been able to forge their own way. Steve Niles, Eric Powell… there's a lot of real creative fantastic creators… Mike Mignola.... It's a real pack, and it's a really cool thing.
CB: I've got to say on some level going to Image Expo helped solidify my views on what my goals are for my site. I have my own creative elements, but what really makes me happy is to be able to allow people to find an audience for their own very personal work. In an odd way Image Expo radicalized me a little bit by showing me how people can really be successful following their muse.
Soule: It's radicalized. I'm now thinking of you in a black beanie or something. There is a Brooklyn guy named Dean Haspiel, he does a lot of indie work. He's very talented. He calls it an online literary salon called Trip City, which is a showcase for Brooklyn creators. Mostly indie guys, but he's using his name to allow people not of big size to get an audience. Which I think is a very charitable thing to do, and is something I bet couldn’t have really existed even five years ago. We keep cycling back to the same theme, to digital and the audience being more accessible to creators. That's really true. If you want it then you can get it.
CB: That's a perfect ending point. If you want it hard enough, you can get it.