If you look at the top music stars of today, you wonder where they got it: for some you wonder where they got the talent, and for others where did they get the push to excel past it. In the recent Image miniseries 27, a washed-up rocker looked a second chance and pushes his body (and soul) to the limit to get back in the limelight. The question presented is will he get that chance or will he be the newest member of the fated ’27 Club’, the prestigious but tragic rock stars who died at the age of 27.
With the collected edition of that first volume in comic stores now, 27 returns this September for a new story in the aptly titled 27: Second Set. Set one year after the finale of the original volume, rocker Will Garland came to terms with his injuries and strikes out on his own to get out of the specter of being a one-hit wonder. All three original creators are back on board for the encore performance, and writer Charles Soule is here to talk about the book.
Newsarama: After what happened in the first 27 series, what brings us back for 27: Second Set?
Charles Soule: Everything you loved about 27: First Set, and nothing you didn’t! Actually, that’s not too far from the truth. 27: Second Set brings us back to the world of Will Garland, guitar hero struggling to navigate through a world that seems dead-set against letting him do what he wants to do most – play rip-snortingly amazing solos for huge crowds in sold-out arenas. The entire creative team is back: Renzo Podesta on interior art, Scott Forbes on covers, and Shawn DePasquale doing great work with the lettering. Everyone’s stepped up their game, too. This is the best work, across the board, I’ve ever seen from these guys, and that’s really saying something.
The tone is similar to 27: First Set, in that we’ve got supernatural craziness, lots of fun from the music business, parties, jam sessions with cosmic entities, surprise cameos from familiar faces from rock and roll (more or less, anyway)… it’s an absolute blast. I think a lot of people enjoyed the sense in 27: First Set that anything could happen at any time – ANYTHING – and that’s certainly retained in 27: Second Set.
Nrama: Where’s Will Garland’s head at in this new series?
Soule: Well, just to refresh, poor Garland used to be one of the world’s premiere rock guitarists – at least a 9 on the Van Halen Scale. However, he was struck by a nerve disorder in his left hand that robbed him of the ability to play. Most of what happened in 27: First Set revolved around him desperately trying to find a cure so he could play again. At the end of 27: First Set, after a bunch of weirdness, Will came to the realization that he could change and develop as an artist. As long as he was making music, he could let go of what he used to be and find what was next for him. He changed his playing style to adapt to the heavy brace he has to wear on his left hand, and embarked on a new path as a neo-folk artist.
27: Second Set opens about a year after 27: First Set ended. Will has released his first album in his new style to middling reviews, and he’s seeing his audiences reduced to a tiny fraction of what he used to command. He’s realizing that while pure creativity for its own sake is a lovely thing, it’s also nice when people pay attention to what you’re doing.
Nrama: The first 27 showed Garland grasping at whatever he could to get back in the spotlight – what’s he after here?
Soule: Well, I would say that in 27: First Set, Garland was primarily focused on finding a way to play guitar again. He got that, but not without cost. In 27: Second Set, he wants one thing: fame. He wants people to pay attention to him the way they used to. He feels like he’s already done all the work to become a rock star, and the idea that the public eye is turning away from him just because he can’t play all those sweet licks anymore is tremendously unfair. In other words, he’s desperate to avoid becoming… the dreaded ONE-HIT WONDER.
In fact, if 27: First Set used as its musical template the legend of the 27 Club, (the famous musicians who have died at age twenty-seven,) then the backdrop for 27: Second Set is the long list of one-hit wonders in pop and rock music. They’re just as potent, to my mind – even a casual fan can think of tons of examples off the top of their head: Gerardo, Right Said Fred, the Fat Boys… there are hundreds. They’re sad and amazing at the same time. These folks work as hard as anyone else to break into the music business, they achieve their dreams, then poof! It’s all gone, and they have to figure out what in the world they’re going to do next. Endless opportunities for cool stories there.
Nrama: And what is he up against to try and get it?
Soule: Why, a one-hit wonder (or OHW, as I shortened it in my scripts after typing it a million times)! The main antagonist in 27: Second Set is a OHW from the 80s, a woman who had a sort of Alice Cooper/Marilyn Manson black magic shtick going on. The difference is that this gal, Valerie, wasn’t just playing at being a witch – she knows her share of evil spells and such. She had one hit, a song called “Drink Me,” and then disappeared from the public eye. She’s been fuming ever since, and she sees Garland as her ticket back into the spotlight. A lot of the drama in 27: Second Set revolves around the conflict between Garland, a man desperate not to be a one-hit wonder, and Valerie, a woman who feels she deserved much more of a shot than the world gave her. It gets ugly (in a thrilling, beautiful way.)
Nrama: In advertisements, 27 is now described as a saga – what’s the size and scope of 27 going to be when its all said and done?Soule: In comics these days, getting to two arcs seems pretty saga-like to me. That said, I have an idea of where I would like to take 27 if I get to do everything I have in mind. I’m not talking about a 50-issue maxiseries, though – more like two more arcs past 27: Second Set, each exploring a different aspect or level of what it means to create, and why it matters. It’s all sales-based, though, really. If people enjoy the book, and sales stick more or less where they’ve been, then I’ll absolutely keep going. So if you like it, please be vocal about it! Let your retailers know! Tell other people how fun the series is! However, and I want to stress this, each arc of 27 is self-contained, and if 27: Second Set is where we stop, readers will be pretty happy with where Garland ends up.
Nrama: 27 wasn’t your first comics work, but it’s the first one a lot of people got to know you by. What’s the experience been like for you with the success of the book?
Soule: Phenomenal! I’ll tell you, there’s a lot to like about having a book that people respond to. One of the best parts for me has been getting to know some of the other creators working at Shadowline (where 27 has its home) and Image Central. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that both Shadowline and Image are going through a real creative renaissance, and they’re putting out books as strong and varied as I’ve ever seen. Being part of that little club is a great feeling. Beyond that, I’ve had so many fantastic interactions with fans, both online and in person – hard to beat.
Nrama: At signings and conventions I bet you get a lot of musicians coming up to you relating their experiences with 27. Any funny stories you remember out of that?
Nrama: Plenty. Lots of guitarists, for sure. I had a bunch of guitar picks made up with the 27 logo on them to hand out as giveaways at cons, and that often leads into what I call the “gear conversation.” Guitarists love their equipment (I’m no exception), and love talking about it at extraordinary length. One dude – I’m not even going to name the con – spent a good twenty minutes exhaustively explaining to me why I shouldn’t play the brands I play and should shift over to some obscure type of guitar he’d found. By about minute twelve, when he was going over the type of varnish the company uses on the body as opposed to the neck, I was ready to buy one just so he’d move on to the next table. He was cool, though – you can’t fault enthusiasm, and I love guitars too.
At another con, a very nice-seeming lady checked out the four covers to the single issues of 27: First Set (each is an homage to a famous image of one of the artist who died at age twenty-seven, like Hendrix, Cobain, etc.) I didn’t do one for Janis Joplin, just because the covers all featured Garland, and, you know, he’s a guy. The woman at the con accused me of being a misogynist for leaving Janis out, and it turned into sort of a weird conversation about the place of women in rock and roll. (Which, for the record, I’m all for – ladies can rock, dudes can rock, kids can rock – even Chipmunks and California Raisins can rock, under certain specific circumstances.) We left it with me promising to include more women on the covers for 27: Second Set – which I’ve done, as three of the four covers will feature ladies – and she picked up all four issues of 27: First Set. A little intense, but I think we both left the interaction feeling good.
Nrama:I know you’ve got more on your plate coming up – can you tell us what’s coming up in addition to 27: Second Set?
Soule: Sure. The biggest non-27 project on the horizon is the release of the second volume in my Strongman series, published by SLG. It’s an action/crime book with something of a light tone. I tell people at cons that it’s like Sin City, but uplifting. The main character is an over-the-hill masked Mexican wrestler named Tigre. He’s 65 years-old, built like a tank, and tends to get confused about what in his wrestling past was real and what was just in one of the many B movies he starred in back in Mexico. In Volume 1, Tigre cleaned up his New York City neighborhood, and in Volume 2, he heads back to Mexico to fight the cartels, face his past, and crack some skulls. It’s exciting stuff, and I can’t wait for people to read it. The full title is Strongman Vol. 2: Oaxaca Tapout, and its due in stores in August. The thing is with small press books, though, is that it’s absolutely crucial that people pre-order these titles, since otherwise shops sometimes don’t even bother to stock them. It’s a crime, I know, but it’s the way the industry works these days.
Beyond that, I’m working on an absolutely gorgeous graphic novel project for Archaia called Strange Attractors, which is due for release in 2012. There are other things I have in the works as well that aren’t quite ready to be discussed yet, but hopefully very soon.As always, people can keep up with me at my blog: http://charlessoule.wordpress.com and via Facebook and Twitter (which is @charlessoule). Thanks for the chat, and I hope people enjoy the books!