INTERVIEW: Charles Soule Is Building His Creator-Owned Brand

When you're writing about Marvel and DC Comics' super-powered champions and intergalactic heroes, you've got a lot of room to stretch your imagination, but you don't have total freedom. That only comes from launching a creator-owned project where the writer and his artistic collaborators own the characters whose exploits they're chronicling. Writer Charles Soule enjoys both approaches, but is perhaps best known for his work on DC and Marvel's superhero and Star Wars titles.

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That said, his body of creator-owned work is growing, and fans of Soule's work- for-hire books now have a diverse collection of titles they can check out to see how the writer tackles stories with definite beginnings and endings that unfold in worlds he and his collaborators have built, featuring original characters. Those titles include the recently launched Image Comics fantasy dramedy Curse Words with artist Ryan Brown, and the recently concluded sci-fi political thriller Letter 44 he did with artist Alberto Alburquerque for Oni Press. Plus, next year fans will be able to see what Soule can do in a different medium with the debut of his first prose novel, The Oracle Year.

CBR spoke with Soule about all three books, the cross-country Curse Words van tour he and Brown embarked on this summer, and bringing Letter 44 to a close in a time of huge political divides. The writer also made an exclusive announcement that will make Curse Words fans very happy.

CBR: Curse Words is now into its second arc and this summer you and Ryan embarked on a pretty unique promotional tour for the book. What was it like touring the country in a van?

Charles Soule: It was an incredible experience. We travelled across 21 states. Not quite half the country, but a lot of it, including stops in 26 cities. 14 stores had us come into sign, and the appearances were fantastic. We had lines out the door, signed for hours, all of that. We met extremely enthusiastic fans who had been with Curse Words since the beginning, and I know it helped us build bridges to new readers, too. This whole tour was designed to engage with both the Curse Words faithful as well as fans of our other work – among other things, Ryan did an amazing book for Image called God Hates Astronauts and I've obviously done a lot of Marvel and DC work and some other creator-owned projects. We probably brought out some people who just liked vans, too.

When you put all that together, we met literally thousands of people on this tour, and it was really great. It had its grueling moments, especially keeping up with our regular workloads while driving around the country for pretty much a month, but it was very worthwhile.

To me, Curse Words seems like a unique blend of humor, crazy imaginative fantasy, and human drama. Is that a fair description of what you guys have been aiming for?

I think that's exactly right. That's the mix we're trying to do. The idea is that you pick up an issue, have a great time, laugh at some gags and get wowed by the incredible art and colors, and then maybe a day or so later a moment strikes you, and you sit back and think perhaps that there was more going on than you realized at first glance. Curse Words is built to work as a fantasy book, a humor book, and as a deeper book about things like emotion, heart, families, and the costs of the decisions you make in your life.

I think it's a really perfect synthesis of what Ryan and I bring to the table. He's one of the funniest artists I've ever worked with. His ability to put comedy on the page is unparalleled; I’ve found that’s a very rare skill in comics. He's also a writer, not to mention just a really smart guy. All of that is extremely helpful as we put the book together.

It's very much a joint effort between the two of us. I send him the script. He sends me art. I revise the script based on visual gags he’s added or new designs he's put into the art. The issues evolve until the very last day they go to press. The van tour was excellent for that because we were able to sit, riff, make jokes, and talk about what we wanted the book to be and where we wanted it to go.

Ultimately, we’re trying to make the book as fun to read as it is to make – and I think we’ve done a good job so far.

The other reason people seem to enjoy Curse Words is its unique cast of characters, which include fan favorite, Margaret. What's it like designing characters with Ryan?

Margaret is a great example of the way Ryan and I work on this book. The original reason Margaret exists is Ryan wanted our main character, Wizord, to have a familiar; an animal creature that helped him accomplish his various goals. There wasn’t any reason deeper than Ryan loves drawing animals. So, he arbitrarily picked a koala – as he described it to me, the thinking was just: “Koalas are fun. I've never done a koala in a book before.” Then, when I saw it, I immediately latched on to the idea, because a koala has a vaguely human shape. They have big, soulful eyes, they can pick up and hold things, and have a number of other characteristics we thought would be useful for the character.

So, we knew we’d have a koala, and then the next major creative beat for her was when I chose her name: Margaret. That’s when it all clicked into place; the way she could work in the book beyond just being a fun, cute animal. Curse Words is full of stuff like that - ideas planted early on that grow and blossom into wonderful, complex iterations. It’s hard to describe unless you’re in it, but it’s one of my favorite things about working on the book. Very organic and great.

Margaret’s origin is especially interesting considering the recent revelations about her connection to Wizord and his former flame/foe, Ruby Stitch.

That's definitely true. I don't want to spoil too much about that because I'm sure people still may not have read the first trade or 5 issues yet. This book’s all about the layers and reveals. There's a lot going on. Ultimately it's as much a book about relationships as it is about crazy wizards throwing magic at each other and trying to blow each other out of the sky.

Going forward, is Curse Words a book that can expand and follow other characters besides Wizord? Might we see Ruby Stitch step into the spotlight as well?

Yes, I would say arc two, which covers issues 6-10, is more Ruby's story than Wizord's in many ways. That was intentional. Wizord is around and definitely doing stuff, but the main character who goes through a significant change in the arc is Ruby. Then, moving forward there's another character we've already met who has a big story arc to go through.

We kind of know who Wizord is at this point. He's still the main character, and he's going to evolve more as the book continues, but with a rich cast like this you want to shift the focus from time to time.

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To that end, and this is an exclusive reveal here - between the end of the current arc, which ends in issue #10, and the beginning of arc three, which starts in issue #11, we're doing a Curse Words Holiday Special. It will look at the way all those crazy wizards celebrate various holidays back in their home dimension, the Hole World. I think it'll be a very fun issue. It's going to be drawn by the phenomenal Mike Norton, and we’re very lucky to have him. We wanted to do this to make sure we still have a “Curse Words” issue in stores for everyone who loves it, but also to give Ryan a chance to get ahead on the main storyline.

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