In the halls of rock and roll there exists an elite club. Its roster includes greats like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin – legendary musicians all, and all struck dead at the age of 27. In the upcoming Image series 27, this members-only institution might be getting a new member.
27 revolves around a famous rock guitarist named Will Garland, whose band made their name on the back of his tremendous skills but saw it all slip through their fingers when Garland lost the use of his hand. A rare neurological disorder robbed him of his musical ability, and left him estranged from fame, fortune, friends and even his band. It’s hard to get used to being a normal joe when you’ve been at the top, so when Will Garland gets word of an unusual treatment by a even more unusual scientist, he sees this risky procedure as a ticket back to the spotlight – despite the possible downsides.
Charles Soule: When the book opens, he’s actually still pretty famous. He’s the sort of guitar hero we don’t see much anymore – someone who can build a band around his fantastic playing and actually make it stick. Most of the time – almost every time – that strategy gives you a bunch of mediocre songs built to get to the guitar solo. It just ends up being self-indulgent wanking, and I’m not sure it’s ever really worked since Van Halen’s heyday. Maybe, maybe Guns N’ Roses, and I’d be open to discussing anyone’s suggestions for others. Anyway, sorry about the derail. Back to Garland – while he’s as famous as ever, it’s true that he’s been out of the spotlight for about a year. His band, the Fizz, played the last show of a big tour in LA and then disappeared for a bit. That in itself isn’t unusual, though – bands often take time to regroup after a tour, work on new material and just get sane again. Garland, however, has a more dramatic reason to be dodging TMZ: his left hand doesn’t work anymore. He came down with a nasty nerve disease that left him unable to pick up a pen, much less play. He’s doing everything he can to keep it secret – he knows that all his fame and success is tied to his ability to produce transcendent guitar magic.
Nrama: As two writers I know we’d be done if our hands didn’t work, so I can imagine Will’s frustrations. What does he do to try to get it working again?
Soule: He sees just about every doctor he can track down. His label pays for the first few rounds, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that there’s nothing to be done, and they drop him. Since then, he’s been talking to less-traditional medical practitioners – faith healers, houngans, shamans, anyone who will take his money and try to heal him. When the story opens, he’s about to see one last guy, a very shady, creepy character named “Dr.” Hargrave Swinthe. Things do not go well. Fireworks, cosmic entities, death, dismemberment, groupies, booze, pills, monsters… it’s an exciting ride.
Nrama: One of the unique aspects of this is regarding the legend of the 27 club in music—can you tell us about that?
Soule: It’s a sad fact that a lot of brilliant artists die young, and not just in music. Fame and talent make for a volatile mix. The list of creatively significant people who died before they hit 30 is just unbelievable. And for whatever reason, some of the most ridiculously talented folks on the list died at age 27. You’ve got Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, D. Boon, Robert Johnson, Jean-Michel Basquiat… and it goes on. So, a sort of mythology has grown up around that age – is there a reason so many are taken at 27? The book presents one answer, and I actually think it makes sense, from a certain perspective.
Nrama: Where did the idea for something like 27 come from, Charles?
Soule: I’ve been a musician myself since I was three – my mom had me playing violin way back then, believe it or not. I picked up guitar in high school (girls) and in college studied music composition and picked up a few additional instruments. My point is that I’ve been immersed in music for literally decades, both as a performer and a composer. Rock music has its own epic mythology that’s fascinating to me. All of that led me to 27, in that I wanted to write a story that used some of the random music factoids I have rattling around in my head. At the same time, I wanted to write something about the creative impulse. Why do some people feel compelled to create? Why are some people so much better at it than others, and what burdens does that level of talent bring with it? What happens to a brilliant creator when they can no longer create? Why does talent fade? Those are the real questions addressed by the book, and I had a blast thinking about them.
Nrama: For this you’re working with an artist I haven’t heard of before – Renzo Podesta. Can you tell us about him and how you knew he was the right guy to tell your story?
Soule: Renzo’s fantastic. He lives in Argentina, and it was a lucky break that I hooked up with him. His style has impressionist elements that worked extremely well for the story I’m telling. You can always tell exactly what’s happening in every panel, but there’s still this dreamlike, lived-in quality that I think adds enormous texture to the story. 27 isn’t completely straight-ahead. It takes some zigs and zags along the way, and there’s room to interpret what’s happening and what it means. Renzo’s work is completely unique, and gave me exactly the vibe I wanted for my story. I think people are going to be talking about him quite a bit once the book’s out, and I hope he won’t get too busy to work with me again – I’d love to!
Nrama: A year or so back we talked to you about the lucha libre comic you did called Strongman. After 27, what else are you working on?
Soule: Well, the second volume of the Strongman series, Strongman Volume 2: Oaxaca Tapout will be out in early 2011 – in fact, I think it’s going to be solicited very soon. The first book had a really gratifying reception, and Allen Gladfelter and I decided to go ahead and do a second one. Luckily, SLG decided they wanted to put it out, Allen found some time to draw it in between his various other gigs (with the help of our new inker Robert Saywitz) and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Tigre (the aged masked Mexican wrestler who’s the main character of the series) cleaned up New York City in the first volume – in this new one he decides it’s time to go home and kick some ass in Mexico. It’s inspired by cheesy-awesome 80s action movies, and if that doesn’t get you to buy it… Anyway, there’s a preview PDF of the first 22 pages available at www.slgcomic.com , right there on the home page – check it out!