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DF Interview: Charles Soule spins his indy ‘odyssey’ with Letter 44
By Byron Brewer
The past year has been a busy and celebratory one for writer Charles Soule as he saw himself launched to superstar status thanks in part to work on the incredible Death of Wolverine “event” at Marvel, writing the ultimate super-couple at DC in Superman/Wonder Woman, and launching Inhuman for the House of Ideas.
And then there is his dream, the creator-owned Letter 44.
What? Letter WHAT? Yes, even in the midst in September of signing an exclusive agreement with Marvel Comics, Soule’s cosmic crusade that is grounded in today’s headlines continues on.
For those who are not familiar with the ongoing book, read on. Dynamic Forces has all the 411 for you from the scribe himself … plus a little on a certain iconic red and blue-clad super couple and a now-deceased Canadian X-mutant.
Dynamic Forces: Charles, Letter 44 is almost a creator-owned dream from you, isn’t it? Oni Press seems to let you turn it out at your own pace (given your commitments elsewhere), the trades seem to be doing well, and you have said it will end in the future as you have planned. What more can a writer/creator want?
Charles Soule: Very little! I should say that L44 has hit monthly since it started, with just a single “skip month” between the first and second arcs (between issues 6 and 7), and the trade for the first arc hitting right around the start of the second arc. That will continue for subsequent arcs. We’re taking the skip months to make sure we can keep the fantastic Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque as the regular artist for the series. It’s sort of the same thing Saga does. But everything else is dead on – I’ll get to tell the whole story the way I want to, and people are actually reading it! It’s amazing.
DF: We are well into this comic book, but for the uninitiated tell us the premise behind Letter 44. Kind of a political sci-fi romp, eh?
Charles Soule: Kind of? Definitely. The premise revolves around a US President who, on his first day in office, learns that the previous President’s administration learned that aliens were building… something… out in the asteroid belt. The prior Prez covered it up, and started to make all kinds of preparations for what he saw as an inevitable war with alien invaders. At the same time, he sent up a mission with nine astronauts to see what’s actually going on up there. The new President comes into office and has to decide how he’ll deal with all of this. The story has two tracks – one is the new President, Stephen Blades, on Earth, and the other has the astronauts up in space getting closer to learning the truth. Things spiral out of control quickly – it’s a pretty wild ride. I have two rules for writing Letter 44 – one is “surprise” and the other is “get bigger.” I try to do both with every issue.
DF: And your main protagonists?
Charles Soule: Stephen Blades is the new President – he came into office full of idealism – he was going to fix all of the mistakes made by his predecessor. However, he very quickly realizes he can’t really change anything – at least not until he understands what the world is actually facing. I think it’s a dilemma faced by many newly-elected Presidents. The job is a LOT harder than we think – that’s why Presidents age four years for every one in office.
Up in space, we also have a pretty great cast of characters. It’s a mixed-scientific/military crew, so we have space marines and geniuses (sometimes both). They’ve been in space for about three years by the time the series begins, and they’ve become a dysfunctional, odd sort of family. Lots of history up there – but they’re making it work. The book has a big ensemble cast, though. Think West Wing meets Alien.
DF: When the comic began, we had one president trying to redeem himself after spending taxpayer monies on unpopular wars while another strived to keep the promises he made to get into office. The bedrock of Letter 44 seems ripped from our nation’s headlines!
Charles Soule: Isn’t that funny? I decided that it might work better to tell a story that was somewhat relatable to today’s readers. The story veers into some pretty wild sci-fi territory, but I still keep trying to infuse those little moments of “oh, sure, I remember that” into the book, just because I think it’s a nice thread for readers to follow.
DF: One of the more intriguing storylines sliding through everything is Dr. Hayden’s pregnancy as she undertook a challenging space journey, likely one-way. Tell us about your perceptions of Charlotte and the other crewmen of the Clarke.
Charles Soule: Well, they all had their reasons for going on a trip they knew was one-way from the start. It’s complicated. Some did it for the scientific opportunities it presented, others did it for religious reasons, and some did it because they had nothing left for them on Earth. That’s the category Charlotte fits into – we see in Issue 7 that she had been unable to have children on Earth, and despite her many professional achievements, she couldn’t find any true happiness without kids. Everyone is different, but that’s how it was for her. So, when a sort of miracle happened and she got pregnant on the voyage into space, there was absolutely no way she was going to terminate the pregnancy, despite the idea that it’s sort of pure lunacy to have and try to raise a child in such a terrifying, deadly environment (and I’m just talking about space there – aliens aside.)
Those questions are some of my favorite things about the series. It’s not a blow-em-up kind of story (although plenty of things blow up.) It’s a story about people in a very extreme situation. I don’t know how I would react to some of the things that happen to the crew of the Clarke – probably nowhere near as well.
DF: Yes, yes … The “Clarke.” … Am I wrong, or over the course of issues has there been a lot of 2001: A Space Odyssey to Letter 44? An inspiration perhaps? A homage?
Charles Soule: You are not wrong. It’s a major inspiration. I mean, the name of the Clarke, the name of their little away mission shuttle is the Bowman (the name of the astronaut who battles HAL in 2001), the location of the Chandelier inside the orbit of Jupiter, the name of the secret group back on Earth running this whole thing (Project Monolith), etc. I love 2001 – it’s one of my favorite films, and I wanted to evoke some of its grandeur here. Whether I succeed… who knows – but I’m trying!
DF: So we have impeachment proceedings beginning on Earth against the President while the Clarke is being boarded. Is it difficult to manage this staggering juxtaposition?
Charles Soule: You have no idea. The third arc is even worse as far as balancing plotlines. I write these arcs all at once, six issues at a time, so I can go back through and revise and adjust if anything’s out of whack. I think it makes a huge difference, but it also means that there are about two months out of every six where my workload (which is already pretty rough) is essentially tripled. It’s worth it, though, and I don’t think it would work any other way. Doing the arcs together means I can find little connections and motifs between the issues, but also the series as a whole.
DF: On another side of the industry, what has it been like being the creative linchpin behind the mega-popular Death of Wolverine “event” (I don’t know what else to call it)?
Charles Soule: Pretty fantastic, honestly. It’s bumped my profile in a big way, and that certainly helps the creator-owned projects like Letter 44. Plus, you know, it contributed a major chapter to the legacy of one of the biggest characters in comics. I’m very proud of that book, and I can’t wait to have the hardcover on my shelf.
DF: Across in another universe (one of 52, I hear), you got to play in the sandbox with two of the three top industry icons around: Superman and Wonder Woman. As a fan as well as a writer, what has that been like?
Charles Soule: It was a challenge, especially since it was exploring new territory for another two huge icons. I think it could have gone spectacularly wrong. I just tried to write them as two young people in a relationship, exploring their own feelings for each other while the world was in chaos around them. It was a huge rush, though. I wish I could have done more with them, but I’m very happy with the stories I did get to tell.
DF: Finally, Charles, where can we expect in Letter 44 as your great sci-fi poli-sci epic continues?
Charles Soule: Well, remember my watchwords for this series? Surprise, and get bigger. Both will continue to happen, and then some. My goal is to make this a series that’s difficult to predict, but that always makes sense in hindsight, when you look back at what you’ve been reading. We’ll meet the aliens (that happens pretty soon, in fact), and we’ll get some hints about why they’re here, but we don’t get the full story for a while yet, either. More things blow up real good. Things don’t get any easier down on Earth for the man with the toughest job on the planet, President Stephen Blades.
Basically, it remains the same thoughtful, exciting roller-coaster it’s always been. I hope everyone will keep reading, and if you haven’t tried it, do! The first volume is out in trade, with the second scheduled for March 2015, and of course the singles hit just about every month – we’re wrapping up the second arc now… get on board!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Charles Soule for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer our questions.
Get your copy of Death of Wolverine DF Exclusive Cover signed by Charles Soule right here!
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