Comics Writer Charles Soule Talks About '27' and Death, You Know

​There's a perverse romance to the rock 'n' roll aesthetic of living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse. The fatalistic edict is both empowering and life-affirming, even if it's ultimately just an over-the-top, immature "fuck you" to one's mortality. It's an idea that has so attached itself to the rock star lifestyle it's spawned fascinating artifacts like the 27 Club, the running list of talented, charismatic musicians who never made it past the age of 27.  


This is the jumping off point for 27, a four-issue Image Comics miniseries from writer Charles Soule and artist Renzo Podesta that hits stores next week. The series focuses on Will Garland, a guitarist who is setting the music world on fire. He's just turned 27, and strange things are starting to happen. Is he about to become an unwilling member of the 27 Club?

In an e-mail interview, Soule talks about his music background and the mythology surrounding the live fast, die young mantra of rock 'n' roll. He also discusses the challenges of portraying the power of music in the soundless medium of comic books. 
Comics Writer Charles Soule Talks About '27' and Death, You Know
Art: Renzo Podesta; Words: Charles Soule

​OC Weekly: Give the elevator pitch for 27. What type of story are you hoping to tell with this series?


Charles Soule: 27 is a story about a supposed curse affecting some of the most brilliant musicians and artists in popular culture, causing them to die at age 27. We're talking about Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison--and there are many more. In my story, a famous guitar player named Will Garland turns 27, and his life start to fall apart. Various spooky things happen, and he realizes he's going to be the newest member of the 27 Club. From there, it's about him trying to beat the "curse" and live to see 28.

It's a story about music, and creativity, and fame, and losing fame, and what you might do to get it back. It's also exciting and cool and like the best concert you've ever been to--in comics form.

Talk a little bit about your background in music. What music inspires you? What music, if any, inspired the creation of this series? Do you listen to a certain type of music when you write?

CS: Well, I've been playing music in one form or another since I was 3 years old--my mom had me learning violin way back then. I'm no prodigy, though. (I think I was pretty terrible.) I played classical music through high school and college and got into rock and jazz once I was in high school--mostly because of the girls factor. I started playing guitar around that time, and I studied composition in college. I still do a ton with it. I play in bands and compose various things. Music is probably always going to be a huge part of my life.

I'm inspired by musicianship. I know how hard you have to work to become a brilliant musician or singer or songwriter, and when I see someone who has clearly put years into their art, it's always very inspiring. In other words, I'd take Van Halen over the Sex Pistols any day of the week. Not to say punk isn't awesome, but it's just a different thing.

As far as the music that inspired 27--well, like I said, I've been playing music since I was
literally a toddler, in all different genres. As part of that, I was exposed to the mythology of
rock music--and it's broad and deep, let me tell you. It includes everything from Ozzy biting
the head off a bat to Led Zep's satanic messages buried in their records. In particular, there
are many stories about the great guitarists. I love all that stuff, being a guitarist myself, so I
think it's really just the lore of rock music in general that inspired the story. There's a reason superstars are called "rock gods," you know?

I tend to listen to old favorites when I write, records I can sort of slip on like a blanket. If it's
too new, I tend to listen to the music instead of writing, and that doesn't work as well. For 27, I listened to a lot of Hendrix, Van Halen, Cream ... you know, guitar hero stuff!

In the series, you play with the mythology surrounding rock superstars not making it past the age of 27. What is it about that "better to burn out than to fade away" philosophy that's so alluring to rock stars?

It's youth. Youth is hot, youth is sexy, and it's not like we don't all have models of what happens when young superstars get old. It's hard to age gracefully in showbiz, particularly if you're in rock music. Now, I can't speak for every rock star out there, especially since I haven't been one, but the idea that no matter how big you are, there's always a new crop of kids coming up behind you, ready to push you off your pedestal. When you're young and in the thick of that, the idea of 40 years or more sitting around remembering your glory days has to sound pretty grim.

Why do you think myth-making is so strong in rock music? How do you try to tap into that with Garland's attempt to recapture his music career?

 
Music, particularly rock music, is about immediate, visceral connection with the listener.
A truly amazing concert or record can be a transcendent, near-religious experience. Is it any
wonder that people put rock stars up on pedestals, when they provide feelings like that? I'm not surprised at all. As far as Garland goes in the book, I wanted to make him a character who goes through his own mythic journey, something that uses the history of rock as its backdrop. I think it's a pretty good time.

Comics Writer Charles Soule Talks About '27' and Death, You Know
Art: Renzo Podesta; Words: Charles Soule

Comics Writer Charles Soule Talks About '27' and Death, You Know
Art: Renzo Podesta; Words: Charles Soule

What does Renzo Podesta bring to the equation of bringing the musical experience through?

He's all of it, really. Without his fantastic skill, there's no way I could get across with just words what the characters are experiencing. There's that great quote: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." It's really true. Luckily, drawing music seems to work a little better. Renzo's amazing. His art has this great impressionist flair that contributes enormously to the atmosphere of the story.

As a fun bonus for readers, you've built a puzzle into the series, a code for readers to decipher. What made you want to do that? 

Well, I wanted to do something to make the experience a bit more fun. (And after all, isn't that what comics are supposed to be?) So I created sort of a puzzle: Each of the four issues has pieces of a code hidden within them on specific pages. The pieces aren't so disguised that you'll never be able to find them, and if you think about some of the book's themes we've talked about, the pages to check out should be pretty obvious.  

Anyway, the code can be translated into a set of instructions (although you need to read all four issues to get the full code). I'll know the first person who figures it out and follows the instructions--it'll be very obvious--and I want to reward the reader dedicated enough to put in the time by buying them a plane ticket to the comic con of their choice in the subsequent year. It's kind of a goofy little thing, but I'm excited about it. More details/rules about this are up at my blog (http://charlessoule.wordpress.com), and I really hope people get into it. 

I want to shake the hand of the winner at a cool con next year! I will say, though, if people want to do this, do your best not to grab the codes off scans, all right? Do what you gotta do, I suppose, but this thing isn't Image-sponsored or anything like that. It's all coming out of my own pocket, and believe me, I'm not a multinational publishing entity with dough to burn.

Word association: I'll list a few of the musicians from the 27 Club, and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind:

  • Jimi Hendrix: There's never been anyone better.
  • Kurt Cobain: I wish he'd gotten more joy out of his talent than he seemed to.
  • Robert Johnson: Cautionary tale for people visiting crossroads at midnight.
  • Janis Joplin: My God, what a voice.
  • Richey James Edwards: Being a rock star absolutely isn't everything it's cracked up to be.
  • Brian Jones: I think without him, the Rolling Stones wouldn't have gone anywhere.
  • Jim Morrison: 27 Issue 3.





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