Last month, Superman/Wonder Woman scribe Charles Soule returned to the creator-owned world with the sci-fi/political drama Letter 44. Published by Oni Press, it follows a newly elected U.S .President on the first day of the job as he learns about a top secret space program that has found proof of alien life – and its sitting right outside Earth’s doorstep. After making a name for himself with the creator-owned series Strongman and 27, the in-demand writer of both Marvel and DC books returned and made out quite well with Oni revealing the first issue was a complete sell-out.
And now on the eve of Letter 44 #2 and the release of a second printing of the first issue, Newsarama spoke with Soule about his bold new ongoing series, the buzz surrounding it, and most importantly the far-ranging story itself.
Newsarama: First off Charles, congratulations on the sellout of Letter 44#1 – 22,000 copies sold. You’ve done creator-owned series before, but I believe this is your biggest launch ever in that arena – what’s it been like for you?
Charles Soule: Unsurprisingly, it’s been pretty wonderful! Oni did a lot to make sure as many people checked out the first issue as possible, from the dollar pricing to a really fun press kit (which included astronaut ice cream, among other neat promo items). Our hope is that the first issue is hooky enough that people will check it out and immediately decide to follow the series. So far, the reaction has been fantastic, so I think the strategy might just pay off. I mostly want to do my best to make sure I get to tell the entire story - not always easy to do in long-form serialized indie comics these days."
Nrama: Before we did into the story, can you tell us how big a print run the second printing of Letter 44 #1 is, and if this sellout changes what you and Oni are printing for issue #2?
Soule: You know, that’s one of those “above my pay grade” questions. I believe the second printing will be quite healthy, and Oni will do a print run on #2 based on retailer orders, which are also quite healthy. While you never know how things will go, a lot of shops went big on this series, which I truly appreciate. This is a book that has a bunch of fun things in store, and these first six issues are pretty non-stop. The idea is to set the hook good and deep, you know?
Nrama: That’s the intent. I have to ask about this second printing of #1 – specifically that cover by Javier Pulido. That piece is beautiful – how did it come to be, and any chance Pulido will do more for Letter 44?
Soule: I agree. It’s just gorgeous. As some readers may know, I’m currently working with Javier on the upcoming new She-Hulk series over at Marvel, and I’ve been blown away by what he’s bringing to that book. So, when it became clear that we were going to do a second printing of Letter 44 #1, we reached out to Javier to see if he might be interested in giving the cover a spin. Thankfully, he was, and the results speak for themselves – how about that green logo, you know?
Nrama: Over on Bleeding Cool last month Rich Johnston posted an unsourced rumor that Letter 44 is already in talks for a TV adaptation. Is that true?
Soule: Rich is great. He also posted a story before Issue 1 came out that was essentially a rave review, and I know that helped spike interest – he’s a fan of the series, and I know that he likes to get behind indie books that he thinks could use more attention. As far as TV/movie stuff, the truth is that every happening creator-owned book attracts that sort of thing, and that’s as far as I’d like to discuss it until if and when anything more formal can be announced. But wouldn’t it be nice?
Nrama: Getting away from the spectacle surrounding the series to the spectacle itself, let’s delve into the story. First off – the massive scale. It’s a space drama and a political drama, each of which could’ve been their own series. How’d the idea of these two things working together in tandem come about?
Soule: Well, real-world space travel has always been a massive interest of mine. The things astronauts do – the bravery, intelligence and training involved is just off the charts. They’re true superheroes, with abilities beyond those of ordinary men and women. Presidents are similar – they’re called on to give up their lives in service of their country, and they’re never the same again. I was also really interested in the idea of something that would get us sending manned missions into space again. I had this idea more or less around the time the last Space Shuttle mission was approaching, and it bummed me out. I thought if anything would get us back up there, it would be the discovery of an alien artifact. Layer the Presidential stuff on top, and you end up with Letter 44.
Nrama: At the end of the first issue, the Clarke’s crew got their first look at what’s been hiding in the asteroid belt. I’m no expert, but that looks like a solar sail or some sort of thing to focus solar energy. What can you say about that alien vessel?
Soule: Well, the details on that thing (which we’re calling the Chandelier, for obvious reasons) make up a huge chunk of the mystery in the story. What it is, why it’s there, how it will be used – that’s all stuff you’ll learn as you read the book. That said, I don’t intend to string the mysteries out forever. Part of the fun of a book like this is reconfiguring readers’ expectations of what the story is and what the pieces all mean – and I’m going to do that a number of times. In other words, glad you thought it looked cool, and stay tuned!
Nrama: The Clarke operates under the name of Project Monolith, and in issue #2 we’re supposedly going to see President Blades touring their earth-bound facility. What can he, and your readers, expect?
Soule: Again, spoilers! But basically, in the first issue, we got an indication from the prior President’s letter to our guy that he’d been very busy during his term developing tech to battle the aliens when they eventually arrive on Earth. Project Monolith has been the focus of those efforts. So, space guns!
Nrama: A big shocker in the first issue has nothing to do with aliens or advanced technology, but something as old as the human race: the leader of the Clarke’s science team, Dr. Charlotte Hayden, is pregnant – seemingly done entirely in space. How’d this idea come about for you, and what are the ramifications of a baby born in space – not ever being under the gravity of a planet?
Soule: First of all, the idea that these people would be up in space for three years and more and not have sex with each other is crazy. However, you would think the mission planners would have thought of that, and would have taken steps to ensure that something like this didn’t happen. The space baby is a tricky, complicated business that makes their mission much, much harder. You’re correct that children born outside of Earth would probably have a host of medical problems (no one knows for certain, since it’s never happened), from pulmonary to bone development to cardiac issues. I’m worried about that little baby, actually.
Nrama: Back on Earth, President Blades is trying to get up to speed as fast as he can after President Carroll. We don’t see Carroll at all in the first issue, but his presence weighs heavily on the whole book. Will he make an appearance at some point in the series?
Soule: What a great idea!
Nrama: I take it I hit on something, so I’ll let you stick with that answer. Moving on, Letter 44 makes some allusions to President Blades being similar to President Obama, so would President Carroll be President George W. Bush by extension?
Soule: All similarities are unintentional. Or perhaps they aren’t. I wanted this story to feel as “real” as possible, and I also wanted to use it as an opportunity to comment on the actual office of the President. One of the sub-themes of Letter 44 is that it is hard to hold that office, no matter which side of the political divide you happen to hail from. I think Blades and Carroll illustrate that pretty well.
Nrama: He might be overlooked, but I see President Blades’ Chief of Staff Elijah Green to become a major part of this. Can you talk about Elijah and his relationship with Blades?
Soule: The Chief of Staff is an incredibly important position within a presidential administration – in many ways, he’s the President’s second-in-command, in charge of delivering tough messages that the President himself doesn’t want to or can’t pass along. Traditionally, they are old, close friends of the President – part of the small group of people the Prez can absolutely trust. Elijah Green is no exception. He’s known Blades for a very long time, and can talk to him in a way that your average citizen just wouldn’t be able to. Elijah is a big part of the story, and I look forward to people getting to know him.
Nrama: You’re doing Letter 44 on top of doing multiple books for Marvel and DC, as well as having your own full-time law firm in New York City. How do you do it all?
Soule: It’s not always easy, but I’ve been getting asked this question a lot recently, so I have something of a stock answer prepared: writing comics, for me, is not “work” in the traditional sense. It can be tricky, and demanding, but it’s almost always really fun as well. There’s that old saying – do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s something like that here, with lawyering added on as well. (Not that I don’t enjoy that as well, but it’s a totally different vibe.)
Nrama: And specifically for comics, how important is it for you to do work-for-hire but also keep your creator-owned ventures going?
Soule: It’s extremely important. I’m really enjoying all of the work-for-hire series I’m working on right now, and I intend to keep them going for a good while, but there’s nothing like crafting your own series from scratch, and following the story wherever it goes, no matter how bizarre. Right now, while Letter 44 is the only creator-owned series I have happening at the moment, I’m working on a number of additional books that will hopefully see the light of day in the next year or so.
Nrama: I can’t let you go about asking about your collaborator on Letter 44, artist Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. How’d you two connect, and what’s the working relationship like?
Soule: Actually, Oni put us together, and I think (hope) he would agree that the working relationship has become pretty seamless pretty quickly. Alberto is an extraordinarily gifted artist – he’s fast, he’s precise, and his characters have great acting. The storytelling is there to an extreme degree, and that’s always the first thing I look for in an artist. I could not be happier to have Alberto on Letter 44, and I’m not just saying that because he’s currently on Letter 44. I look forward to seeing the whole story through with him – and there are some amazing things to come!