New York City has been targeted by comic book villains for conquering or destruction ever since the medium’s inception, and when these villains act on their schemes they’re almost always brought down by some noble hero ready to save the day. Which begs the question of if you’ve got fantastic powers why try and conquer or destroy the Big Apple when you can use your abilities to build a pretty sweet life there? That’s the question that fuels “Curse Words,” writer Charles Soule and artist Ryan Browne’s January launching creator owned series from Image Comics, which stars a dimensionally displaced wizard, named Wizord, who upon arriving in New York and seeing its wonders abandons his scheme to destroy the planet.
Wizord then decides to build a new life for himself as the Big Apple’s one and only “Good Wizard.” What happens though when his demonic master decides to check in on the status of Wizord’s extradimensional activities? And will protecting his new life cause the lying, magical miscreant to become the hero he’s pretending to be? For the answers to these questions and more we spoke with Soule and Brown about the development of “Curse Words;” the book’s cast of eclectic and strange characters, which includes a talking Koala named Margaret; the darkly comic misadventures the cast members will become embroiled in; and Browne's love for a certain C-List high stepping Marvel Comics villain.
CBR: I remember your sort of first, unofficial, creator-owned collaboration on Ryan's late great series "God Hates Astronauts," where Charles took over as narrator for a couple of issues, but what inspired this particular series? Where did the idea for "Curse Words" come from?
Charles Soule: Technically, we collaborated twice before the epic events of Narrategate in “God Hates Astronauts,” on a short Inhumans story for Marvel featuring Black Bolt and Lineage, and a short excerpt in my “Swamp Thing” series for DC which introduced what is perhaps Swampy’s most incredible incarnation of all time, Popcorn Thing. The thing is, when you work with Ryan Browne, you always get Ryan Browne. It doesn’t matter which character you think you’re writing – it always ends being some Browneian creation.
Anyway, we had a blast on all of that, as well as just hanging out with each other. A number of times, we’d be out to dinner (or, er, drinking) and we’d just start riffing on a story. Nothing really to publish, just fun batting things back and forth, very spontaneous. There’s a story about Stilt-Man, and another about a young man named Joey with a very special talent, and a few more – but I think “Curse Words” really started there.
We realized (or at least I did – I don’t want to speak for Ryan here, for all I know he hates my guts) that we could have a lot of fun telling stories together. Eventually… we got to work in a more serious way, and here we are today. “Curse Words” in particular was born from the idea that I wanted to do something with no restrictions on either the writing or art side, to best take advantage of Ryan’s unique storytelling abilities. Magic fit the bill in a big way, and from my initial pitch to Ryan (“So, I have this idea about a wizard who’s kind of a dick…”) the book came to be.
Ryan Browne: Stilt-Man! I forgot about our wonderful Stilt-Man pitch! Hey, Charles, can we work some of those ideas into “Curse Words?” There was one issue where Stilt-Man was on page one, kicking his stilt leg out off the page to the right, and the stilt leg traveled across double page spreads for the entire issue crashing through various scenes only to end up kicking The Hulk in the dong on the final page. What a great issue that would have been! Time to write Stiltzard into the second arc!
[Laughs] At the center of "Curse Words" is your protagonist Wizord. What can you tell us about him?
Soule: Wizord hails from another dimension, a dark, sorcerous place called the Hole World. He was pretty much the baddest wizard there, and considering the magical talent in that spot, that’s really saying something. The Hole World is ruled by an evil demon thing named Sizzajee – think Sauron, Voldemort, that sort of thing. Sizzajee hates our world, our nice, happy Earth, and so he sent Wizord here to destroy it. But… BUT! When the time came to cast the world-ending spell, Wizord decided he actually likes it here.
It’s better than where he comes from. We have flushing toilets and Netflix, and so he decided to blow off his boss and go native. He appears in New York City and announces himself to the world, saying he’s a good wizard (he’s not, at all) and becomes very rich and famous. However, his past starts to catch up to him quickly, and soon magical assassins are appearing in Manhattan, trying to kill him and end the world. Wizord sort of becomes the de facto defender of all existence, even though he never really intended to be a hero. And from there… you’ll see. It’s strange and wonderful and dark, and often very funny.
Browne: Oh! All of what Charles said, but I’m going to change it a little bit. Now, Wizord’s greatest power is his robotic stilts that he fights crime with! Crime hates really long legs. Sorry, Charles, I’m going to have to redraw every issue so far to incorporate some sweet extendo-legs. What a great collaboration this will be!
[Laughs] Ryan, what inspired the design of Wizord?
Browne: He had to be smooooooth. The coolest dude in town. In Wizord’s home world (The Hole World) he is a dingy, scary evil wizard. When he gets to modern day NYC, he quickly learns the power behind personal image and that our world is a place where you can be famous and powerful just from looking sweet. The beard and magic staff are a must for any wizard, but everything else is straight up hipster cool guy.
It was one of those things where 1: I do a drawing. 2: Charles and I figured out some story reasons for why he appears that way, and 3: I alter the design accordingly. The sunglasses he wears, for example, were just a cool guy thing, but then we came up with the fact that his eyes get super scary when he does magic. Like all white and glowy, so wearing sunglasses to cover his eyes makes him look friendlier.
The robot stilts (that I need to go back and add after doing this interview) are really going to make him quite the special looking wizard!
In some of the pages of preview art, I've seen a koala interacting and even talking with Wizord. Who is this character
Soule: That is Margaret, Wizord’s familiar – but really, she acts as sort of his conscience and guide to the modern world. She got here five years before he did to pave the way and look up all the stuff he would need to know in order to assemble the ingredients for the world-ending spell. Now that he’s decided not to do that, though, she just sort of helps him out, and tries to curb his instincts to solve every problem with a massive magical blast to that problem’s face. Sometimes she’s successful, sometimes less so. Margaret is the heart of the book, and I think she will be many readers’ favorite character right out of the gate.
Browne: Agreed. I love drawing animals, so she was an early addition to the book. The more Charles writes her, the more endearing she becomes. Watch out, world, Margaret is here to melt your hearts. Also, she will now also have robot stilts to fight crime with.
Obviously magic is a very real part of “Curse Words.” Can you talk about how magic sort of works in this world and the rules governing it? And will there be other fantasy elements in the book as well like monsters?
Soule: Yup. Dragons, monsters, beasts – there’s a hogtaur (like a centaur, but half pig instead of half horse) named Botchko who’s a pretty significant character in the story. Ryan really, really loves drawing animals and bizarre creatures, and who am I to stand in his way?
There are definitely rules to the magic system – all of the magic-users have a sort of internal magical “battery,” which runs down with use and then needs to be recharged. Sort of like Green Lantern’s power ring (but actually nothing like that, Warner Brothers legal department!!!!) The mechanisms by which they recharge their batteries are really fun, and involve “magical” spots in our world – your Happiest Places on Earth and such (but actually nothing like that, Disney legal department!!!)
Browne: I actually think it’s more like Captain Planet, but, y’know, with a stilty wizard.
Ryan what's it like bringing to life things like magic and monsters in a real world locale like New York City?
Browne: It’s really fantastic. There’s a big NYC wizard battle in issue one that ends in a certain New York baseball stadium. It’s fun to use the backdrop of skyscrapers to give spacial depth to the scenes. There are always buildings in the distance that you can use for compositions and showing scale. Specifically when Wizord uses his robot legs to visit the top of the Empire State building. I use Google street view for background reference and then make up the crazy stuff on top.
And what kinds of tone will the book feature? Is "Curse Words" a straight up comedy?
Soule: It’s a book that takes place in a sort of heightened reality where really dark things can happen alongside really surreal, funny things, and it somehow all works. The tone is something like “Archer,” or “Rick & Morty,” or even certain “Deadpool” stories. It’s kind of its own thing, though. You’ll see.
The central storyline revolves around Wizord trying to save his own skin from Sizzajee’s magical assassins while working as a badass wizard for hire, and protecting his secrets about the darkness of his background from the world at large. Everyone sees him as a hero, and he loves it. He doesn’t want to give it up. Many complications ensue – it’s a book about a bad guy who says he’s a good guy, and then whether he actually becomes that good guy over time – or if he even wants that.
Browne: Yeah, while there are quirky elements and funny moments, the story gets quite dark and intense at times. I really think that the collaboration between Charles’ and I has lead to a totally unique book — with stilts!
[Laughs] What can you tell us about the antagonist that will initially oppose Wizord in "Curse Words?" What do you want readers to know about this guy?
Soule: He’s the first of the magical assassins we meet in the book. Sizzajee originally had nine kickass wizards working for him. Wizord was one, but he went rogue, and so Cornwall is the first guy Sizzajee sends to take care of business. He’s bizarre in the best way - I want to let readers experience him in the course of the book, but Ryan really nailed his look. Other assassins we’ll meet include the aforementioned hogtaur Botchko, and Wizord’s ex, an extremely powerful lady named Ruby Stitch. She’s carrying a huge grudge against our guy – and it’s completely earned. The buildup to their battle, and the slow reveal of their backstory, makes up a big part of the first arc.
Browne: I’ve always loved groups of quirky assassins. Sort of like Cobra agents, or Star Wars bounty hunters. Everyone has their own color theme and animal association that helps me with the design. They are my favorite part of the book (other than the stilts I’m going to add).
Ryan how would you describe the overall look and feel of "Curse Words?" How does it compare to some of your recent work? Also, who's coloring the book? What's it like working with them?
Browne: This book is all about rich color. Bright explosive blasts of magical energy within the background of NYC concrete. Jordan Boyd and I were coloring the book, but he had to drop out for personal reasons. Now I’m coloring the book with Michael Garland doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. He colors stilts so damn well! As I said before, our characters are all defined by their color palette. Each magical wizard draws their energy from a different colored stone so expect big neon explosions of wonderful.
Finally, one of the great things about creator-owned books is that they can be a chance to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, which is something you can't always do in mainstream company owned books. If Wizord's adventures resonate with readers do you have an idea for how long the series might go??
Soule: We definitely have an endpoint in mind. There are eight magical assassins who could be sent after Wizord, for one thing, as well as a bunch of other story points we’ll hit – why does Sizzajee hate our world? Where did the Hole World come from? Lots of good stuff, and we’ll get to all of it. It’s absolutely a journey with a point, both for the characters and the readers. Big payoffs away, for sure.
It’s a monthly read. We may take the occasional month off between arcs, but the idea is to make sure it’s a story readers can get every month, like clockwork. That’s important to us, to retailers, and I think to readers as well.
Browne: We get to design everything. Tinker with every element and not worry about killing characters off at any point. It makes the stakes higher and the robot-stilts longer.
Soule: We’re shooting for the fences on this book– it’s my first creator-owned project in five years, since I started my series “Letter 44” with Oni Press. That book is wrapping up in the first half of 2017, so “Curse Words” will be it for me – and every bit of storytelling technique I’ve learned in all this Marvel work I’ve been doing, plus all the ideas I couldn’t use for “Daredevil” or whatever… it’s all going into this book. I hope everyone will give it a spin – we think it’s very, very fun. Everything comics should be.
Browne: It’s been the most effortless collaboration that I’ve ever been a part of. With a lot of my work I’ve done every aspect of book creation, even self-publishing. With “Curse Words,” Charles and I are combining our workaholic tendencies in a truly exciting and inspiring way. We have total trust in each other’s brains and abilities and it is resulting in the best work of our careers. As a side note, I can’t wait for you guys to see how cool all the robot stilts look in this book!