"Soul Kiss" writer Steven T. Seagle has two words of advice for those of you anticipating the final issue of his creator-owned comic book series:
The Image Comics series, one of many books from the new Man of Action imprint, ends with June's "Soul Kiss" #5, which wraps up a string of lethal events stemming from one singular act of desperation. Lili, the book's protagonist, made a fateful deal with the Devil himself in order to avoid the clutches of a rapist, but the price she paid was steep. As a result of her actions, the Devil claimed her boyfriend Damon's soul. Now, Lili has the opportunity to win Damon back, if only she claims the souls of ten other individuals on the Devil's behalf.
Collecting said souls is literally as easy as a peck of the lips - once Lili kisses another human being, their soul is as good as gone. It's a hefty fee to be sure, but it's all worth it so long as Lili's boyfriend can come back from the great beyond, right?
"That's exactly what this book is about," Seagle told CBR News. "I don't really want to answer those questions, because those are questions that Lili has to answer herself by the fifth issue of 'Soul Kiss.' And the ending is definitive, but it's still haunted by that very ambiguity. There is no easy way out, and she's playing against a force that doesn't play fair."
For Seagle's part, he's just thrilled that the reaction has been so positive for "Soul Kiss." The writer, whose previous Vertigo title "American Virgin" was canceled, managed to play out the story's entirety over the course of five issues - a much less intimidating number for a publisher than an ongoing series. But Seagle himself insinuates that "Soul Kiss" may have worked better as a single graphic novel rather than as a serialized story.
"'Soul Kiss' is a slow burn, and I expected that in a serialized form people would not fully buy-in until about the third chapter - which is exactly what happened. Our reviews suddenly exploded!" Seagle revealed. "Some of the reviews noted that the first issue started slow, which again is a function of the way the story is parsed out by doing it as five issues instead of a book. But it's also important to me thematically that we had the right momentum for what Lili is doing. Her first kill had to be motivated twice before she went in. Then she had immediate doubts and ramifications. The second had a 'fight or flight' instinct about it, but seemed very justified in her mind. The third was all but asked for and she was feeling vulnerable. But at that point, Lili kind of goes 'addict' and slides down a slippery slope of justification. It starts getting easier. Too easy. And that's a problem. Or is it, if what you're fighting for is your heart's desire?"
That is the very crux of "Soul Kiss" - how far can you go to save someone else's soul before you lose your own? While Lili certainly had her reasons for making the initial deal with the Devil, things have most assuredly spiraled out of her control - or, at least, her options have gotten grimmer and grimmer. "I deal with a lot of people who enter into situations that look exactly like what they are," Seagle said. "Then a few weeks, months or years later - when the situation turns out as it was always clear it would - they are shocked! It's convenient and popular to cry victim, but who is a victim of their own circumstance, really? Only Lili can answer if it was worth it to sell her soul in order to avoid a rape, but she did make that choice. It was free will, albeit under duress. But can she claim 'victim' after the fact?"
Whether or not her circumstances called for extreme measures, there's no doubt that Lili has crossed a line of some sort. After some internal dialogue, Lili has decided that her boyfriend's life is worth more than the lives of ten strangers, and a-kissin' she went. "I've always been a little leery of the term 'goodbye kiss' - it always sounded a little fatal," said Seagle. "The myth of the succubus, depending on your cultural touch-point, uses the kiss as the means of delivery of the soul. And in these times there's definitely something metaphorically appealing about an act of love that's also an act of damnation."
Lili's kill-by-kissing spree has left quite the body count in her wake. Victims of her rampage include but are not limited to her jerk of a boss, her overbearing best friend (that was an accident!), and several other strangers who just casually annoyed Lili during her travels. By the end of the fourth issue, Lili has stolen nine souls - but for some reason, Damon has resurfaced alive and well in Lili's living room. Since the Devil told her that it would take ten souls to reclaim Damon's, just what the heck is he doing in her home at the end of the issue?
"What the heck is Damon doing alive?" Seagle teased. "We know that Lili's 'employer' has been screwing with reality, but this seems to violate everything. Issue #5 reconciles it. See, these are all questions someone not under the influence of kiss-kills might ask, but will Lili? I hope so - because if she doesn't, things could really turn out badly for her."
Seagle also promised that over the course of the final issue, both Lili and readers would learn a new facet of the Devil. Does he have designs on Lili for a specific reason, or is she merely one his many irons in the fire? "Lili learns something very specific about him that will greatly impact how she chooses to play out this nightmare week-and-a-half she's found herself trapped in," revealed Seagle. "You can always learn from your peers, and given her agreement, that dark force is unfortunately one of her peers now."
While Lili's peers have an undeniable demonic quality these days, one of Seagle's own peers have a similarly powerful gift - namely Marco Cinello, the artist and co-creator of "Soul Kiss," who Seagle is enormously impressed with. "The story was locked before I started, so it looks exactly like I imagine on that front - but where it's a lot better is on the visual landscape," Seagle said of his co-creator. "By far the biggest wow for me is how great Marco's art has been. He started out looking like no one else in comics and has grown from there to be a truly inspired force to be reckoned with."
In fact, Seagle and Cinello's partnership on "Soul Kiss" was anything but conventional. Although the series eventually saw publication through Image Comics, that wasn't always the plan. Explained Seagle, "Marco was on this project from before day one. I met him through my frequent collaborator Teddy Kristiansen, saw his work, and immediately wanted to do a project with him. We were approached to create a web series for the then-new web company IceBox, and I made 'Soul Kiss' up specifically for Marco at that time. I wanted a story that played on the edge of reality - a story that was both comedy and tragedy - something over-the-top in terms of character and conception because I see such unbridled energy in Marco's work. We only completed a single chapter of the web series and never signed our contracts for IceBox, who then ran into troubles. Marco decided last year to convert the whole thing into a graphic novel, so I pulled out my notes and we made it happen."
Seagle's experience with Cinello was so rich that they've already set off to work on another project together. "Next up with Marco is our long-gestating children's book 'Frankie Stein,'" revealed the writer. As for Seagle himself, he said, "In comics, I'm working on a Vertigo graphic novel called 'Donor' with Dean Ormston painting. I'm still finishing up 'Genius' for [First Second Books] with Teddy Kristiansen, and I have three more cool projects coming through from Man Of Action and Image Comics later this year through early next year - something with Mark dos Santos and something with Mike Allred and... something else. With my Man Of Action crew [writers Joe Kelly, Joe Casey and Duncan Rouleau] we're hard at work on our new show for Cartoon Network called 'Generator Rex.' And in my spare time, I've been working on an original musical with some incredible collaborators - we have our next song debut party this month and the singers at yesterday's rehearsal were amazing."
One thing that's conspicuously absent on Seagle's to do list is a sequel to "Soul Kiss." We asked him if he'd ever be interested in pursuing another series in the "Soul Kiss" world, particularly considering that the concept could outlast its initial story - in other words, Lili's participation might be a secondary component to the main ingredient, the complexities of Devil-dealing. While not outright uninterested in working on further "Soul Kiss" stories, Seagle said that he'd be just fine leaving things as is, considering that the current "Soul Kiss" series definitely has an ending.
The obvious question, then, is what kind of an ending will readers see? While "Soul Kiss" is permeated with a sarcastic, dry wit courtesy of Lili's own monologues, there's no doubt that the basic premise of the story is morbid as all get-out: a girl strikes a deal with the Devil in order to avoid being physically harmed, inadvertently damning her boyfriend in the process, only to learn that she can save his life by killing ten other human beings.
Seagle conceded that given the principles of "Soul Kiss's" premise, the outcome is likely not to be pretty. "'Soul Kiss' isn't a 'very special episode,' so I would not expect any kind of warm-fuzzy, neat-and-tidy resolution come issue five," he said. "The thing I try to do in all my work is tell the story I see before me. In this case, I don't see the set up as allowing for a particularly happy ending. So it becomes a matter of degrees. How much happiness can Lili squeeze out of the ending barreling toward her? She tried kissing a mirror after [her best friend] Sona went down and that didn't work - so what does winning look like at this point?"
"Soul Kiss" concludes with issue #5, on sale June 10 from Image Comics.