In comics, Scott Morse is known for writing and drawing a series of idiosyncratic graphic novels that touched upon many genres, played with form, and experimented in fascinating ways. From The Barefoot Serpent to Magic Pickle, Volcanic Revolver to Tiger!Tiger!Tiger!, Noble Boy to Spaghetti Western, Morse has played with the medium in interesting ways. At the same time, Morse was working in animation, for many years at Pixar.
Morse’s first big comics work was Soulwind. Originally published at Image Comics starting in 1997 and then at Oni Press, the book was an epic in every sense of the word. This month, Oni has released a new hardcover edition of the book. It's the story of a sword named Soulwind that covers thousands of years and multiple planets, and yet it is also the story of a young man and his family. It is a book composed of multiple stories that overlap and build upon one another in striking and moving ways, to a climax that is inevitable and yet not predictable.
The book had been out of print for far too long, and Morse answered a few questions from CBR about Soulwind, the new Oni hardcover and what he's working on now.
CBR: Now, I know the marketing tagline, I know how I describe the book, but I’m curious what you think of Soulwind? What is this story to you?
Scott Morse: For me, personally, Soulwind has always been about discovery. The story itself was designed to play with and twist up the Joseph Campbell “Hero’s Quest," to really explore how “the story” can be toyed with in various ways. The content even plays with discovery, the quest to understand what’s right in front of you through interactions with the world around you, with the unexpected, and with emotional turmoil.
Artistically, I always intended Soulwind to be a vehicle for me to explore different styles in relation to the story elements at hand. I knew the book would take on different aesthetic “looks” as the story changed, and I wanted a playground to discover different ways to approach drawing and sequential pacing.
Now when did this begin? I started reading it when Oni first reprinted it, but you were publishing before then at Image, do I have that right?
The original single issues did indeed premiere with Image. There were 8 single issues that were designed as the first two story volumes, and Oni reprinted those as volumes 1 and 2, and I finished out the tale at Oni with the three final volumes. The first four issues with Image were nominated for two Eisner Awards in 1997, for Best Limited Series and Best Writer/Artist (I think). That blew my mind to have it accepted by my peers so readily and quickly.
Strangely enough, though, Soulwind really first appeared in a fanzine out of Ohio called Graphic Enterprises Presents. It was very different then, but still revolved around the sword. That was printed when I was in high school, probably around 1991 or so. And, if you can find those stapled fanzines anywhere, you’ll also catch the first iteration of Paul Pope’s THB, then going by the name the Grape Man, if I recall correctly.
You were trained as an animator, or at least went to art school for animation and you’ve been working in animation. When were you in your career when you started to work on this?
I started work on pages that appear in the first volume of Soulwind in 1993, I think. I was still in college at CalArts, in film school, studying character animation. I worked on it on the “side” as I studied and began working in the film industry, always with the goal of self-publishing, inspired by Cerebus and Bone and Stray Bullets. I set up at Wondercon one year, not selling anything, just showing pages and doing free drawings for people, and was humbled when Will Eisner dropped by and looked it over, offering advice and praise, and really just staggering me with validation. At that same show, I spoke with Bob Schreck, Rob Liefield, and Jim Valentino, all separately, and Jim called me afterwards, out of the blue, and asked if I’d consider printing with with Shadowline at Image. I owe Jim so much for encouraging me with that first real foray into the industry at large.
Meanwhile, I was handling art direction at Universal, and eventually moved on to art direction at Hanna-Barbara and Cartoon Network, just as I finished the whole story with Oni.
How did the project change as you were working on it? Did you always know the story and how it would play it out? Did anything change in the process?
I honestly knew the whole story would resolve with the Chinese brush-painted characters. And while I had a rough idea of the larger movements, I didn’t have the fine details painted out. Book III is really the one that I had to sit with and really plan out the details of the back-half of the story. I tend to draw on old memories and references from my life when I’m writing and naming characters and such (Nick is named for a family friend, the car in Book II is my Dad’s 1934 Ford Sedan), so when I remembered a high school band named the "Infamous Transit Vagrants" that clicked for me and helped me brainstorm to move things along. I was heavily researching Arthurian legend for Book II, so I knew about how I wanted to play with the Arthur myth in Book III. But having Weaver sort of “haunt” Nick on his journey through the wormhole helped tie things together, and that wasn’t planned on until I started laying out pages. So much of the research I did on the Arthurian stuff, and research on really old creation myths (which lead to a discovery of references to the August Ones), had already sort of been marked in my brain from earlier on to get through the endgame of Book V.