Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Charles Soule might not write thirty-five current ongoing comic books, but he does write seven. By his own estimate, he wrote 1116 pages of script in 2013, and he’s well on his way to toppling that estimable figure this year. He also moonlights as a lawyer, drawing upon that experience for his latest project, Marvel Comics’ ongoing “She-Hulk” series, featuring the travails of Jennifer Walters as she launches her own practice. The rest of that page-count stems from issues of “Thunderbolts,” “Inhuman,” “Superman/Wonder Woman,” “Swamp Thing,” “Red Lanterns,” and the creator-owned “Letter 44” from Oni Press.
We lobbied for a brief window in the more-than-accommodating Soule’s increasingly hectic schedule to discuss just that, as well as the entertainment he continues to juggle amongst all that writing.
CBR News: We typically start these by talking about entertainment or extracurricular activity outside of comics, but you write all of the books, or most of them.
Charles Soule: [Laughs] Mmm-hmm, yep.
You’re a special case and I know your leisure time is at a premium. You wrote a blog post back in December called “How I Do It.” In it, you said something very interesting to a couch potato such as myself: you look at entertainment in terms of what you need, rather than what you want. How much leisure activity do you suppose you need, physically or mentally, in a week or even a day?
In a day? I read a lot. I read quite a bit. Any time I’m commuting anywhere, whether in a taxi or on a bus or the subway, I’m almost always reading. That helps a lot. As far as TV and stuff, it always feels sort of slow to me. You’re watching a TV show and you’ve got to get through it. I’m a very fast reader, so I can get through a story and feel I’ve gotten a whole bunch of fresh ideas relatively quickly, whereas a TV show or movie are more of a commitment. I try to go see a movie every week if I can. We’re in that movie dead zone right now, but as soon as something pops up, I’ll get back into that routine. Maybe I’ll watch a show every day or two. And I read a lot. And then I go for my runs, which is also in that post. I realize it sounds pretty grim and pathetic, but it’s how it is.
No, I’m jealous of your discipline. It’s something I wish I had. I don’t so much lose weekends to “Law & Order: SVU” as I offer them up willingly to the altar of Dick Wolf. What’s appointment TV or reading for you right now?
I’m enjoying “House of Cards” season two. “Archer” is phenomenal. My friend Kevin Mellon is one of the artists on that show, so he always tells me ahead of time how good it’s going to be. And he’s never been wrong. What else have I been watching? I’m a little behind on “The Walking Dead.” I should probably catch up before the spoilers catch up with me. I was as into “Breaking Bad” as everyone else was.
[Pulse quickens audibly.]
Believe it or not I found a cheap deal on “The Matrix” trilogy. I’ve been working through that a half an hour at a time here and there. There was a time, coming up on fifteen years ago now, when that was a big deal in my entertainment world. I was super into all that stuff and all the tie-ins. I wanted to watch it again with some distance to see if it holds up.
How rare is it for you to revisit something like that these days?
Incredibly rare. Writing seven titles a month, which is what I’m doing right now, there’s a lot of ancillary reading that goes along with that. Take “Superman/Wonder Woman,” for example. I have to read — get to read, really — a pretty substantial portion of the other Superman books as well. There’s also the Green Lantern universe of books to go along with writing “Red Lanterns.” That’s three or four books to read to make sure I’m not doing anything contradictory. If you look at some of the books I write, they tend to be more self-contained. That’s purposeful. I think if I were writing fewer titles, I might make them a little more interconnected than they are, but as it is, if they’re insular you don’t have to worry quite so much about external continuity.
That’s obviously a different scenario, but when reading or watching something purely for yourself, can you toggle the writer’s brain off?
It depends. If it’s really engaging, which is, well — One of the last comics that had me going, “Oh my god, I can’t put this down! I have to get to the end of this!” was “Mind MGMT” by Matt Kindt. I read a huge non-fiction book called “Dirty Wars” that was basically about the change in American military policy since 9/11, how both the Bush and Obama administrations have really altered the approach to asymmetrical warfare and so on and so forth. That was absolutely fascinating, a 900-pager I just chewed through pretty quickly. I don’t know if you read on an e-reader or anything, but–
That was a big helpful thing. It meant I could carry all these books around. I travel a lot too. “The Abominable” was really good. That’s the latest Dan Simmons book, about a mountain-climbing expedition to Everest.
I haven’t read that one, but I liked his book “The Terror” quite a bit.
My god. That book. So good. Although that’s what this winter feels like, doesn’t it?
Yes it does.
We’re all just trapped in a ship in the Arctic, waiting for Spring. Anyways, I’m an avid reader. I think that’s where most of my pop culture consumption comes from these days. I can do it quickly. I can do it wherever I am, in ten minute chunks if I have to. It works for the lifestyle I guess I’ve set up for myself.
I remember reading a quote from Stephen King, that he likes to say he writes every day except for Christmas, only that that’s a lie because he inevitably sneaks away to pound out a few pages while everyone is taking a nap. Do you write every day?
Yes. It depends on how you define writing. There’s not a day, these days, ever, that I don’t write something. That could be anything from breaking a scene to actual scripting or revising, or e-mailing back and forth to editors about story ideas. There’s not a day, literally, when I’m not doing that. As for thinking about writing, it’s more like there not being two hours in a row where I’m not.
You also maintain a law practice. Can I ask what kind of cases?
Yeah, of course. There are two sides to my practice. One is immigration, so I’m helping people get green cards or work or travel permits, whatever they need. The other side is basically business law — employment contracts, licensing, forming businesses. A lot of my clients on that side are small but successful business that just need some help with whatever their situation is. I’ve been doing all that stuff for a long time now. The comics stuff, at least on the level where I’m at now, is much, much newer in comparison.
I imagine you hear a lot of interesting human stories, particularly from the immigration side.
Do you ever borrow anything from that, or is that unethical?
[High pitched] Yeah. You know, it gets a little dicey when you start borrowing your clients’ stories verbatim because of attorney-client privilege and all. What you can do is, you can take situations and things that tend to recur.
I’ve seen Sam Waterston do this.
I’m actually doing an immigration-based story in issue #3 of “She-Hulk,” out in a couple months. It’s actually based on Doctor Doom’s son trying to defect to the United States.
[Laughs] That’s great.
I hope so. It’s pretty fun. Within that, I was able to use my experience as an immigration attorney to know exactly how that would work and what he would need to prove. Knowing the specifics of it and what it’s like being in that court room making arguments to the judge, it all informs the writing. There’s a bit in “Thunderbolts” #21, which is already out, where the Red Hulk makes a deal with Mephisto, who is quote unquote not the devil, but of course he’s the devil, and Red Leader comes to negotiate it for him. At some point I will get sick of putting legal stuff into my books, but I’m not there just yet. It still makes me laugh.
I love a good dissection of the classic Faustian pact. So, with things like that and with “She-Hulk,” are you drawing solely on case law already familiar to you, or have you needed to pull out the big leather-bound books to brush up on the arcane stuff?
So far I haven’t had to do very much research, which is great. I’ve been able to rely on my own professional experience. That’s nice, because there are books where I have to do a ton of research and this isn’t necessarily one of them. Which is one of the things that attracted me to the book in the first place. I loved the Dan Slott and John Byrne runs. Those are just so fun. I was also attracted to the project by [artist] Javier Pulido, because he’s absolutely brilliant, just a consummate storyteller. The third thing was the lawyer side. I could write that book with a sheen of expertise without having to earn it. I have my fifteen years of practice already. I could do some cool and intricate things with it as a writer and it would feel legitimate and researched, even if it was just me drawing upon things from my own life.
My father is a lifelong auto mechanic who yells at any reality programming with mechanics or people using drills. Can you watch and enjoy legal dramas without spikes to your blood pressure? Do you have any favorites.
“A Few Good Men” springs to mind. Maybe that’s because it’s more military procedure. I don’t come across much military legal code stuff in my work, so that was interesting. Beyond that, it’s not really where I tend to go.
So when you were at Columbia, you didn’t have posters of Matlock or Atticus Finch up on the wall that you’d just sort of look at or maybe talk to when the words just weren’t happening?
I did not. Had none of that stuff up on the wall.
Because I want to get to this question of who’s in your fantasy law practice, your blind justice league.
Oh, my fantasy law practice? I just don’t fantasize about law practice. [Laughs] That’s the unfortunate answer.
Not even real lawyers? Like — okay, who’s a famous real lawyer? Like if Ben Matlock were real, that’s the guy I’d be referencing as an alternative to Ben Matlock.
There are other things you could probably do, but that’s just not one of them.
That’s fair. That’s just.
Like, who’d be in my sweet band?
Who’s in your sweet band?
Eh, let’s see. Marvel or DC?
Let’s take the Amalgam Comics approach and you can mix and match.
You want somebody flamboyant for the lead singer. I think Deadpool would be a pretty cool lead singer. You’d never know what he was going to do next. With bands like the Murder Junkies, the lead singer would just go and do — you’d never know what you were going to see at one of their shows.
Headless birds and lewd things with sharks, I get it.
For bass you want strong and stoic. Maybe put the Punisher there. Guy Gardner on lead guitar. Lead guitar? Maybe rhythm guitar. Lead guitar, also a tricky choice. Very, very tricky. Let’s keep talking and I’ll think of one.
Do you have a favorite weird law?
There’s a bunch of blue laws on the books in Boston. Blue laws have to do with codes of morality. There’s one still on the books in Boston that says you can’t have more than, I think three unmarried women living under the same roof or else it’s considered a brothel. Which seems like it would be awfully complicated to enforce.
If you could lawfully break any one law without facing any consequences, what would it be?
That’s an interesting question. One thing that would be nice would be if I could stop paying my student loans.
I like that. That is attractive to me and I’d imagine 400% of our readership.
For one that’s a little less boring–
That’s not boring. That’s wonderful.
It’d be nice to go into the Smithsonian and take one thing. Just one thing I could steal and have. It’d probably be from the Air and Space Museum. Like an Apollo capsule.
Where would you put that?
Shit, I live in New York City. That’s a good question. If I could get an Apollo capsule, I’d figure it out.
Last question. Are you writing right now? You are, aren’t you?
I’m — I’m focused on this. You’ve got my full attention. But there’s also a script I’ve almost broken, and I’m planning on scripting it later this afternoon. So I am thinking about that at the same time, while also focusing entirely on this. It’s “Red Lanterns” #32.
I should let you go then.
I still owe you a lead guitarist for this band though. I bet Johnny Storm would be a good lead guitarist.
Built in pyrotechnics. You’re big on theatrics and spectacle, I think is the statement being made here.
I like musicianship. Musicianship is always my big thing.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Charles Soule’s many projects and follow him on twitter at @CharlesSoule.