The Power Inside: Chuck Satterlee talks Speakeasy's "Of Bitter Souls"

Most people when they try their hand at breaking into the comics industry will generally be content with launching one new series. Anything just to get your foot in the door. But that doesn't work for Chuck Satterlee, though. Why enter the industry with just one book, when you could have two?

This August sees the release of two new titles from Speakeasy Comics and Satterlee's Relative Comics Studios, "Of Bitter Souls" and "Smoke & Mirror." CBR News spoke with Satterlee about both series and today we'll bring you word on "Of Bitter Souls," while tomorrow we'll talk more with Satterlee about "Smoke & Mirror."

First, a bit of an introduction. A former Chicago native, Satterlee and his family now call Lisbon, Iowa home. Satterlee has been published once before in the comics industry, back in 1996 he wrote the mini-series "Agony Acres," but nothing else until now. He spent some time in LA at the LA Film School, studying under acclaimed directing coach Jim Pasternak, but now his focus is squarely on comics and the two projects he's got coming out in August.

First up is "Of Bitter Souls." Satterlee's joined on the title by acclaimed artist Norm Breyfogle. The book's about four very bad people who've been taken from their lives and given powers directly related to their worst character flaws. The four must work had to overcome their own personal demons to avoid destroying themselves with their newfound powers.

"'Of Bitter Souls' is a story about stewardship, really," Satterlee told CBR News. "I mean, we all have gifts. I don't care what those gifts are. They could make you a great salesperson, baseball player, artist or whatever. The question is, what do we do with those gifts? Are we a good steward of those gifts? So, in 'Bitter Souls' I was thinking it would be cool to give gifts to people who have led the wrong types of lives. I know that there have been rough heroes in the past. Speedy had a drug habit back when Adams and Giordano ruled comics with any character who started with the word green. There have been a lot, but I don't remember seeing a series where the hero's powers were directly related to their most heinous character flaws. This really can be tempting to anyone.

"I have an addicted gambler as one of my main characters. She is given the ability to turn back time for a short while. Imagine her temptation. What would you do? I know the first thing I'd probably do is head straight for the casino and roll the bones at the craps table, see what number comes up, turn back time and drive away in the new Hummer I just bought from my winnings. I don't think I'd immediately think of helping people with the power. So, these characters are really going to have to slay some inner-demons before they go after the actual demons running amuck in New Orleans."

Down the road, Satterlee says the series will explore the path of redemption these characters embark on. "It's not going to be easy for them to be sure," explained Satterlee. "There will be relapses and pretty heavy feelings of guilt, and there will be hope. I take a story from New Orleans myths and legends every issue (from issue two, on) and there are a lot to choose from so I think I have quite a ways to go as long as people are willing to keep letting me and the team entertain them."

There are five main characters in "Of Bitter Souls." First up George Parker, a drug addict and gang banger, who becomes the character Jobe. Next is Lynette Story, a con artist and an addicted gambler, who becomes Salome. Jade is a young Asian prostitute, who will become Magz. Winston Fontenot is a violent, abusive, dirty New Orleans cop who later takes the name Sampson. Rounding out these five main characters is a mysterious pastor named Secord. "Secord basically plucks these four people out of their lives," said Satterlee. "The readers will learn in issue five that not only were they taken from their lives, they were erased. Nobody remembers them. They are all given powers when Secord feels they are ready to have them. The trick is that they are all given powers that are directly related to their worst character flaws. Jobe can shape-shift, which means there is really nothing stopping him from going into a crack-house looking like the owner and walking out with drugs. Imagine that if you were a drug addict. Salome can (apart from her skills with throwing stars and fighting) turn back time a few moments. Imagine having the ability to go back in time and bet on the number you know will hit at the craps table? That's quite a temptation. Magz has the ability to control minds and phase herself (teleport) out of any situation. Had she had these abilities she could have gotten out of the life she had. Now, with her mind so screwed up from years of abuse, what is to stop her from abusing back? Sampson, already strong and violent, will be given the gift of strength and near invulnerability. Imagine knowing you can crack the skulls of your hated enemies. Imagine knowing for sure that you wouldn't get hurt. It's awfully tempting to go back and take over the city's underworld."

In the end, though, Satterlee said that as strong as these four become physically, it's their human side and their past that they'll struggle with the most. "The have huge flaws in their character. They will have setbacks. They will have triumphs. It is more a story about gifts than anything else. What can any of us do with the gifts we are given?"

Throughout the series Satterlee jumps around time a bit in telling his story, going from the present day to the past regularly. The writer explained it's done so intentionally as he really dislikes the design of your typical origin story. "The problem is that they [origin stories] are really a necessary evil if you want readers to understand where your characters are coming from," explained Satterlee. "So, I thought that there must be a way to work an origin in so it's interesting and part of the story. In the first issue, I introduce each character's initial 'character flaw' along with their power, which I hope works well. In the next four issues, I will be focusing on each individual member's specific past, again jumping back and forth through time. In issue six, you'll learn about the most mysterious character in the series...Pastor Secord. There's more to him than meets the eye to be sure!"

The genesis of this story begins with Satterlee's own love for the city of New Orleans. "I've read a number of titles that have been based in New Orleans and I just thought I might be able to do a better job. That's not to say those other titles were crap, far from it. I just thought I might be able to do better. So, I knew I wanted a series set in New Orleans. The town is also known as Sin City (no, the other Sin City) and it struck me-- it ain't called Sin City for nothing. Gambling pretty much originated in the States through New Orleans. Prostitution, drugs, corrupt politics and cops, it's all in the history of the city. When you couple that with all of the lore, for example a million ghost, vampire, zombie and other stories, it just hit me. What a great back-drop for a series. I am a church goin' kind of a guy and so I brought all of it together in this series."

For someone who's essentially a first time comics writer, he's lined up an incredible artistic talent in Norm Breyfogle, known for his work on DC's "Batman" and Malibu's "Prime." Satterlee said working with an artist he remembers fondly from his younger years is a huge treat. "I met Norm a number of years ago when I was doing my first mini-series, 'Agony Acres.' I lived in Chicago and had dinner occasionally with Len Strazewski. I asked him if he thought Norm would do a pin-up for our book. He was working on 'Metaphysique' at the time and we had somewhat similar base concepts. I got his phone number, called him up and then he agreed. I have to admit that I was showing my fanboy-self when we first talked. I was like, "Uh, you're so cool, Mr. Breyfogle" and stuff like that. Anyway, we stayed in touch over the years.

"When Jaye Gardner was working as an editor at Marvel, he told me to create a character as a sort-of tryout. Norm and I came up with this guy named Amp (he'll be showing up in 'Of Bitter Souls'). I hung out on his forum and then in the past year or so, we started talking in earnest about working together. We approached Moonstone and pitched a Phantom story, which they rejected. That's when I told him about 'Of Bitter Souls.' He thought it was cool. When my funding came in from my "Relative" (Aunt Janise, hence the name Relative Comics Studios) Norm wasn't working on a regular title and it was a go. The timing was just right and I thank my lucky stars for that!"

Satterlee's given the more experienced Breyfogle a lot of room to stretch his wings on the title. Breyfogle started by creating the visual look of each character. "I think he is pretty excited about the look of the book and the characters since he created all of that. I know I am. We're both edited by a very talented guy named Erik Enervold. I asked Erik in because I am of the mind that it is very hard for one to edit one's own work. The three of us really work well together. I also want to give some props to Mike Kowalczyk for his color work. New Orleans is a colorful town and it takes a special colorist to nail it. Mike does just that!"

Return tomorrow for word on Satterlee's second series, "Smoke & Mirror."

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