Charles Soule is one of the hottest writers in comics, with hit series at DC, Marvel and Oni Press. I got to catch up with Charles at this year’s San Diego Comic Con and had a great time talking with him about his projects and process.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Three years ago the only comic you had out was 27, and now…
CB: Yeah. It’s got to be kind of exciting.
Soule: It is. I would never complain. I would not change it. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the projects I’ve been getting. Starting with Swamp Thing at DC, that was my first Big Two work. I’m still on it. It’s been a thrill. I couldn’t be happier, honestly.
CB: And it’s turning really into a big thing. You’ve followed some big footsteps in Swamp Thing.
Soule: I did.
CB: You’ve carved your own space, and it’s been exciting to see you carve your own space.
Soule: Thank you. I followed Scott Snyder, who brought the character back to the DC Universe and did away with the whole Rotworld story. It was intimidating to come on after Scott. And not just him, but you got Alan Moore, you got Josh Dysart, you got Mark Miller, you got Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughan, like a rogues gallery of some of the best writers in comics. So to think that I was going to follow those guys and it was my first DC work or big two work of any kind, it was crazy.
When I started, I was like, “For all I know I am going to have one issue on this. I’m going to have two issues and then I am going to be yanked. So I’m going to go as big as I can and start checking off boxes in terms of what I want to have in the title. If in twenty years, I say I’ve written two issues of Swamp Thing and that’s all I’ve ever done, I want to make sure that this has happened, this has happened.”
That’s why Superman shows up in the first issue. And then in a bigger way in the second issue because I thought if that’s all I get, then I want to say I’ve written Superman. And the nice thing was that projects tend to bounce off one another. Eddie Berganza, who is Superman editor at DC, read the Swamp Thing issues that had Superman in them.
When the time came to do the Superman/Wonder Woman book, my name was in the mix. I was incredibly fortunate to be the guy who was picked to do it. And it’s been a…talk about a dream project, right? Writing the relationship of Superman and Wonder Woman in a way that hasn’t really been explored to this depth before. It’s amazing.
CB: I literally always wanted to read a Superman/ Wonder Woman book. My friends and I used to make jokes about Superman and Wonder Woman, their secret relationship.
Soule: It’s been amazing. You have to thread the needle a little bit on it because you can’t go… they both need to win all the time. But you also need to make them feel like a realistic relationship so there has to be tension between them at times. It’s been a challenge in the best possible way. It’s been great that the readers seem to have really responded and they’re following us to where we are taking it. It’s just great.
CB: How do you manage the cross-continuity of all the other titles though with a book like that?
Soule: That’s a good point. It’s interesting, one thing that’s nice is Brian Azzarello with Cliff Chiang have created this incredibly rich mythology in the Wonder Woman title. And then obviously there has been a lot of wonderful things to build on from the other Superman writers. There’s been 52 so far. And then of course Jeff Johns created the relationship in Justice League.
A lot of it has been, particularly in the beginning, where are these characters now in their superhero lives? Who are the supporting cast members that we should really take a look at? And then you just start telling your own stories with it. Like in Superman/Wonder Woman #2, they go and visit Wonder Woman’s family, which are the Greek gods. So they go and visit Apollo, the sun god. And since Superman is powered by the sun, you start thinking maybe there is a fun way to play up those two things. So we did that story.
It’s been a blast to be able to find ways to use those supporting cast in individual books to make rich stories and create our continuity in the mixed title.
CB: It is its own continuity but it is also obviously plugged in to the larger universe. How complex is coordination of the universe? Or do you have a certain amount of freedom inside the book?
Soule: The way you do it is, first of all, you rely on your editors to let you know when you need to maybe adjust something a little bit. And then beyond that, at least what I’ve tried to do is to try to tell stories that are built on but not reliance on, interlocked with the main Wonder Woman and some of the other Superman titles. Because that way I get to be a little free.
So in the first Superman/Wonder Woman arc, we had Doomsday appearing and then Zod and Faora, the big bad for that first arc. The great was thing that none of those characters had appeared in any of the other Superman titles before, and they weren’t preparing any of them during my first six-issue chunk. That gave me a great deal of freedom. You try to make smart choices.
It’s not just me. It’s not like these things happen in a vacuum. We’re all very aware of what is happening in the rest of the universe, and it’s a shared universe, which is part of the fun and part of the challenge. But if you do it right, it can really resonate in a way that is fun.
CB: Do you talk to Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns to make sure you aren’t stepping on their perceptions of the characters?
Soule: Absolutely. These titles are as rich as they have ever been right now. So I would never want to… Well, I think we are all lucky to be able to use each other as material. So I would be an idiot not to put some of those designs and characters from the Wonder Woman title in my book and likewise with the Superman stuff. It’s been fun.
CB: How different is it working for Marvel and for DC and for Oni? Are there different approaches to the material?
Soule: Sure. Every company has its own feel. But ultimately every book has its own feel. For me it’s about trying to tell a good story within whatever title I’m working in, no matter who’s ultimately publishing it.
If you look at the DC titles, I’ve got Red Lantern, Swamp Thing, and Superman/Wonder Woman. They are all different as can be from one another feel-wise. And that think that is almost more of a challenge than whoever happens to be putting them out. So for me, it’s about making sure that if I’m telling kind of a weird, mythological horror story thing, that my head is in that space- for Swamp Thing obviously. If I’m telling a big space revenge saga, then my head is the Red Lantern space. And those things shouldn’t be overlapping too much tone-wise.
It’s just a lot of fun, but also obviously a challenge.
CB: You really are exploring different spaces with those, and also with the Marvel and Oni work is very different approaches, attitudes, styles. Do you enjoy exploring kind of different sides of your creativity by doing that? I mean She-Hulk is kind of a slapstick book in a lot of ways. It doesn’t fit at all with Superman/Wonder Woman, which is a big, epic, star spanning kind of drama.
Soule: Yeah, it’s one of the things I am know for, for better or worse, is writing a lot of books at once. And I think it would be difficult to do that if the books didn’t have pretty radically different tones. Never say never, but I don’t think you would see me writing two books that felt very similar.
I’m writing Swamp Thing, so I probably wouldn’t be writing Constantine at the same time. As much as Constantine and would love to write more of it at some point, it tends to work better for me if I put each book in its own book.
CB: You are aware that is unusual. Most writers kind of tend to tread the same ground in every book that they do, at least they have their same kind of things they like to explore.
Soule: Well, you know, I like surprising people, right? I like surprising myself. I think I probably would get bored if I was writing the same thing over and over again. For me, it’s been kind of fun; it’s been this high wire act. So I am going further and further out on the tightrope, and hopefully I’ll never fall off. It’s been amazing to see what I’m capable of.
And this is not to talk myself… This isn’t to say that the work is life-changing or anything like that. But I feel like I’ve been honing myself into this story machine. And it’s a nice place to play.
CB: She-Hulk especially has been on a book that there’s been a lot of buzz on.
CB: Is that maybe one of the books that might be a little closer to your heart too because of your background in Law?
Soule: These are all my children. I love them all. She-Hulk is a lot of fun because it does give me a chance to use the lawyer muscles in a creative way. It’s funny. I was interviewed by the ABA Journal, which is one of the big legal publications in the country. It’s like The New York Times of the legal profession. And so the fact that they did a feature on me was sort of vindicating because they certainly hadn’t been calling up to talk to me about my practice. But they called me up about She-Hulk. So I love it. It’s a great book. It’s really fun.
CB: What type of law do you practice?
Soule: Most of my practice is immigration work these days. I was trained in corporate deal work, transactional stuff, and I still do a lot of that. But mostly it is immigration.
CB: You really are flexing completely different muscles than what you do in your day job. I mean, this is as different as it can possibly be.
Soule: Yeah, it’s night and day. Absolutely.
CB: It’s got to be therapeutic for you.
Soule: I think it is therapeutic. At this point it feels like I am skiing down a hill just trying desperate not to hit too many bumps and fall over.
CB: Don’t break your leg. Don’t kill yourself.
Soule: Yeah, exactly. But it’s exhilarating. It’s really exhilarating. I love it.
CB: It’s something I’ve always heard from you, Charles, is just the excitement of getting to do what you love to do.
Soule: It’s the best. It’s the best. You know what, who wouldn’t love to be in the position? I’m so lucky.
CB: I keep thinking about you all the time. We talked all those years ago now.
Soule: Yeah, yeah. It was Emerald City, right?
CB: It was four years ago, I think.
Soule: Yeah, it’s crazy.
CB: All you had out was 27. Is that every going to come out again? You going to like a deluxe edition of 27?
Soule: I would love to, but I want to wait to do that until I have third set ready. The artist and I talk about it. We talked about it fairly recently. I know what it will be. It’s really just sitting down and typing it.
Soule: But I would love to do it. I have plans for it. I have plans to continue Strongman. I have plans for a lot of additional create your own work that I would love to get to. But right now Letter 44 is my focus in that area, which is doing really well.
CB: Is Letter 44 a limited series? Do you have a conclusion in mind?
Soule: It’s a maxi series. Issue 35 is where it looks like maybe where the ending will be.
CB: 35, okay. You have a lot of elements you have been building all through the series.
Soule: Yeah, at this stage it’s my Preacher or whatever like that. It’s something that is designed from the beginning as a good long series that is going to pay off in a big way at the end, and have lots of little cool payoffs during it, too.
CB: Do you allow yourself to go off on tangents as you work on it or do you like to keep it pretty tight?
Soule: I do, but you have these benchmarks that you need to hit story-wise. So those are happening. As you plotting the arc, there are 22 pages to fill in every issue, so there is plenty of room for improvisation, which is fine.
CB: It’s very different from the approach you have to have with the DC stuff and Marvel, where the beats are different, right?
Soule: They are. That’s create your own versus company owned, and part of being a part of a shared universe as opposed to being the master of your own universe. It’s all great in different ways. I keep hitting this beat, but I wouldn’t change any of it. I’m just lucky.
CB: You have a unique perspective in the industry, having really hit it big in the last while. Where do you think we are going?
Soule: Where do you think the industry’s going?
CB: Yeah, yeah.
Soule: You know, you look at all the create-your-own books doing so well now. I think that is great for the exposure of new voices to new audiences. We are here at San Diego ComicCon. Everywhere we are looking, there is movie stuff with these characters you never thought would be… I mean, Guardians of the Galaxy has a movie coming out next week; it is amazing. As long as I’ve been a comics fan, this is the most legitimate kind of renaissance I’ve ever seen.
And it feels much more real than say the ’90s boom, which was built around weird speculator bubble. This doesn’t feel like. It feels like real, legitimate creativity- strong creativity- is driving the audience’s interest, which is amazing. So I’m excited about that. It’s very promising.