What do Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin have in common? Aside from the fact that they’re some of the most prolific rock and roll musicians of all time, they also share another tragic bond: they all died at the age of 27.
Well, guitarist Will Garland has just turned 27, and the forces of the world are working overtime to make sure he doesn’t live to see 28.
Garland’s struggle to survive is at the heart of “27,” a new four-issue Image Comics miniseries from writer Charles Soule and illustrators Renzo Podesta and W. Scott Forbes. In addition to telling the high octane story of Garland’s life, “27” is an exploration of the origins and outcomes of creativity, a series filled to the brim with little known music trivia and even secret codes that readers can puzzle out for themselves. CBR News reached out to Soule to learn more about the upcoming comic.
CBR News: Charles, what can you tell us about “27?”
Charles Soule: “27” is about a famous rock musician, Will Garland, who turns twenty-seven and realizes he’s slated to be the next person to join the 27 Club, the list of brilliant artists who died at twenty-seven. We’re talking Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones – the list is depressingly long. From there, the book’s about Garland just trying to live to see 28, and battling his way through all the crazy stuff that comes his way. Turns out members of the 27 Club are magnets for attention from all sorts of strange entities and presences, and they’re going to put Garland through the wringer before they let him go, one way or the other.
Will is the man of the hour, fighting his way through his 27th year of life. Can you talk a bit about who he is and what he’s facing?
Will is a guitarist, first and foremost. He’s one of those artists who probably didn’t have a lot going for him growing up beyond his music, and he spent hours and hours every day developing his natural talent. He’s not unusually clever or smooth, but man, can this guy play. My inspiration was the sort of guitar hero we don’t see much these days, guys like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana and of course, Jimi Hendrix. Bands built around guitarists are rare at the moment, sadly.
Anyway, Garland is super famous, although he hasn’t played any gigs for months and months. Why? Unbeknownst to anyone but his closest confidants, his left hand has been afflicted by a nerve disorder that left him unable to play. Doctors – regular ones, at least – can’t help him, and he’s in a pretty dark place. After all, the one thing that makes him special, that gives him the purest sense of joy he has in his life, has been taken away from him. It’s ugly. On top of that, he just turned twenty-seven, and things in his life are getting…weird.
Based on the solicitation’s mention of mad scientists, long dead rock legends and cosmic entities, it would appear that this story takes us to places we don’t normally go in our daily lives. What can you say about the world of “27?”
It’s a heightened reality. I’d say it’s closest to something like “Hellblazer.” Basically, the world of “27” is ours, just with some hidden corners where almost anything can happen. And it does, believe me. “27” goes all over the place.
Mortality is clearly an issue at the heart of “27.” How do you plan on exploring that idea through this series, and what some of the other themes and ideas you’re hoping to highlight?
“27’s” main theme is really creativity: where the creative impulse comes from, why some people have more talent than others, why it seems to fade over time for some people, that sort of thing. I mean, I’ve been writing seriously for about ten years, and I’ve been involved in music in a pretty big way since I was three years old – creativity is a huge, beautiful mystery to me, and that’s what the book is truly about.
That said, I also layer in a lot of themes about fame and, of course, death. What would be worse: gaining fame and losing it, or never being famous at all? Is it worth dying young as long as your legend outlives you? Cool stuff to think and hopefully read about.
Walk us through the development of “27,” Charles – how did you take this from a germ of an idea to a full-fledged miniseries?
“27” started as something unrelated to music at all. I had a concept about a person who was given a defined number of powers or gifts of some kind, and each would only last for a short time, once triggered. Kind of like the “Dial H for Hero” concept. Once I realized it was pretty much exactly like the “Dial H for Hero” concept, I shelved it for a while; the outline went into my “Story Ideas” folder on my laptop. Every writer should have one of those, by the way. You never know when you’re going to be able to recycle an idea into something new.
From there, I eventually hit upon the idea of making each gift related to genius-level creativity, and free association brought me to the idea of tying it into one of rock mythology’s greatest leitmotifs: the idea that every so often, a brilliant musician is taken at 27. On a side note, I think the development phase is one of the most fascinating parts of the creative process. No one has all their good ideas at once, and seeing how a project or a story evolves over time is always a blast.
I’ve been involved in music since I was three years old. My mom had me playing classical violin back then, and I picked up guitar in high school and some other instruments in college. Along with playing, I listened to almost everything. I didn’t get much exposure to real rock until I was in high school, but once I did, I started to mainline Zeppelin, Hendrix, Floyd, you name it. Then in college, I minored in music composition and got pretty heavily into jazz. These days, I listen to anything as long as it’s good.
Anyway, to sum all that up, I’ve been immersed in a ton of different genres as a listener and performer since I was a little kid, and also got a lot of exposure to music history. Rock music in particular has a very rich mythology. Hell, “Hammer of the Gods,” the great Led Zeppelin biography, has enough craziness in it for ten bands. Taking everything I’ve learned about music over the past several decades and incorporating it into “27” was a gigantic rush. The book doesn’t just cover the guys who died at twenty-seven. It’s absolutely full of cool rock trivia. Just to give you one example, there’s a reference in issue #2 to an absolutely insane Ozzy Osbourne story that is just too nuts not to be true.
As a musician and as a comic book writer, do you see similar sensibilities between the mediums? What are some of the notes that both comics and music tend to strike, at least from your perspective, and what are some of the different itches they scratch for you?
Well, they’re both infinitely flexible. You can do anything in music, and you can do anything in comics. They’re both collaborative, at least for me. I’m no artist, so without the help of my many incredibly talented artist pals none of my comic stories would ever get out into the world.
As far as differences, though, music is very immediate. I can pick up my guitar, or play a gig with my band, and blow out a tune like nothing. Comics, on the other hand, are much more of a slow burn. It’s about layering and building and eventually ending up with a beautiful product. That’s not to say music can’t be that way – I’ve certainly taken months slaving over a string quartet or whatever – but for me, personally, music is a quick release, and comics are more deliberately paced. They’re both awesome, though.
Going back to the subject of your artist pals, you’re working on this series with Renzo Podesta and W. Scott Forbes. What do they bring to the table on a project like “27?”
Renzo, the artist on interiors, has a fabulous, impressionist style that works incredibly well for the tone of the story I’m telling. Panels are filled with dark, shifting texture; it feels like Garland’s running through a dream, and not necessarily a good one. It’s always easy to understand what’s happening, but there’s a depth to the panels that really gives the story that extra dimension.
As far as Scott goes, I first met him several years ago, when he did a pinup for my graphic novel “Strongman.” He has a really beautiful, iconic style, almost liquid in its qualities. I thought it would complement what Renzo was doing on the interiors very well, and Scott really outdid himself. He adopted a painted style that isn’t like any other comics work I’ve seen from him, and I honestly think it’s some of his very best stuff. I was lucky to get them both on the book, and I can’t wait to work with them again.
I know you have a cool little puzzle built into the book. Can you tell us more about that?
Sure. Another one of “27’s” little sub-themes is numerology, specifically related to the number nine and its connection to creativity – after all, two plus seven equals nine, there are nine muses, etc. With that in mind, I decided to place a sort of puzzle into the book. I’ll say that it’s tied to the number nine, and music, and it’s spread across all four issues of the mini. It should be easy to spot for sharp-eyed readers, but not necessarily easy to figure out. Anyone who does figure it out, though, will find themselves with a very clear set of instructions to follow, and I’m planning a cool surprise for the first person – or maybe people – who get there.
As for why I did this? Well, it’s fun, right? Comics are supposed to be fun, last time I checked.
Do you view “27” as something that could continue past this miniseries, or is the story fully finished by the end of the last issue?
“27” could certainly continue if people dig it enough – and buy it! – but it’s designed as a self-contained story. What I could see happening is a series of minis, each one like a new record album from the 27 “band.” As much as I’d like to do that, though, I can promise we’ll stop before we get into our 70s; I don’t want “27” to be the comic book version of the Rolling Stones.
For those who may be on the fence, push them over: why should readers purchase “27?” What are they getting here that they won’t get elsewhere?
I think “27” has a really unique combination of a cool hook that’s explored in a deep way, and solid character work. To put it another way, “27” isn’t just about a bunch of dead rock stars. It’s being printed in Golden Age size, which means the beautiful art of Renzo Podesta and Scott Forbes is that much larger/gorgeouser. Issue #4 in particular tells you exactly what you need to do to become a successful, famous creative person. It’s all right there, laid out, step by step. The secret to success – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in a comic before!
I’ve never read anything like it – it’s not just the same old thing – but it’s still totally accessible and rad. I’m very proud of the way it’s turned out.
Finally, I admit to not knowing your age. Let’s say you’re past 27, Charles: as a musician, what did you do to make sure you survived to see 28? And if you’re not past 27 yet, well, uh… what are you going to do?
I’ll try to act 26 for as long as I can, and hire the best papermen in the business to make sure my documents reflect that reality from year to year. I will also invest heavily in Grecian Formula. That stuff’s liquid magic. Or so I hear, since I’m only 26!
“27” #1, written by Charles Soule with art from Renzo Podesta and W. Scott Forbes, hits comic book stores on November 10, 2010.