Charles Soule is best known for his creator-owned Image series “27”, but now he’s jumping headlong into DC Comics’ Swamp Thing as he fills the void left by Scott Snyder. Given the long list of incredibly writers who have worked on “Swamp Thing” prior to Soule, he’s got big shoes to fill, but he’s more than up to the challenge.
Joined by artist KANO, Soule is only just beginning his journey into the murky waters of the swamp. The Brooklyn-based writer sat down with Bloody-disgusting to discuss his take on the Swamp Thing mythology, his plans to dive into body horror, and his love for the rich history of the character.
BD: I imagine there were plenty of writers dying to tell their Swamp Thing stories. How did you get the gig with DC?
Soule: I don’t think the story’s too different from how most folks get their shot. I’ve been working on creator-owned and small press comics for a number of years. My Image/Shadowline series 27 caught the attention of someone over at DC, and an editor contacted me to see whether I had any ideas for Swamp Thing. I thought about it for a while (after processing the fact that they had actually asked me to pitch for Swamp Thing – incredible), put some ideas down and sent them in. Honestly, everyone says this, but it’s true – the best way to get a job working at one of the Big 2 is by creating work that gets you noticed. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between. You don’t start at DC (or Marvel) – you work towards it. Fortunately, the “work” you have to do to get there is making comics, and that’s some of the best work going.
BD: Swamp Thing is one of the most beloved of the DC horror characters, do you feel any pressure going in, or just trying to enjoy it?
Soule: Ever since the announcement that I would be taking over the title, I’ve gotten tons of notes on Facebook, Twitter and so on from people letting me know how much they love the character. It’s funny, I knew I dug the Big Green Guy, but it’s become clear that he occupies a very special place in the hearts and minds of readers. I’m not going to lie – following up some of the best writers in comics (whether directly or indirectly –Scott Snyder is writing the book right now, and besides the classic Alan Moore run you’ve also got Len Wein, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison and many others…) was, er, interesting to contemplate. That said, when I was working on the original pitch, and as I’ve been writing scripts, I told myself just to see whether I could find good ideas. Swamp Thing is and always has been the kind of book that can be about almost anything. As long as I had ideas, I knew I’d be all right. Within ten minutes of being asked to pitch, stories started to pop into my head, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m planning some cool, fun stuff with Swampy, and I think readers are going to dig it whether they’ve been reading Swamp Thing since the 70s or just checking out the more recent versions.
BD: You mentioned in an interview with io9 that you like the idea of mythologies being linked to our everyday life. Swamp Thing is a perfect fit for that ideology. How do you plan to bring it into your run?
Soule: Oh yeah. Swamp Thing, as he’s been portrayed for a lot of his prior runs, is essentially a god/demigod. His power levels are off the charts, and they’re only restricted by his awareness of what he’s capable of, his will and his own moral code. The book’s mythology very directly suggests that there could be other entities out there with similar abilities, but very different approaches to how they use them. We’ve already seen some of that with the Rotworld arc that’s wrapping up soon, but I think there’s more to be done with it. Beyond that, I just like the idea that there’s magic in everyday things. I generally won’t walk under an open ladder. There’s a superstition in China against the number four (because the way it’s pronounced in Mandarin sounds similar to the Chinese word for ‘death’). I don’t even want to tell you what a Manananggal is.
The world is a pretty weird place, even before you stick Swamp Thing into it, and I want to get some of that oddity into the book.
BD: Given how much mythology is involved with the history of Swamp Thing, is it daunting to keep all of it in mind while writing?
Soule: Yes and no. I’m pretty well-versed in where Swamp Thing has gone in the past (although I know there are people out there who could put me to shame), but I’m looking forward. I’m not ignoring his past – in fact, the very first page of my very first issue addresses the Swamp Thing legacy in a very direct way – but I think there are new stories to be told. That’s not to say that Alec Holland won’t encounter figures from his past, or have to deal with the legacy that previous Avatars of the Green have left for him, but I think it will happen in a way that people might not expect. When writing a book like Swamp Thing, with a rich history, I feel that it’s important to strike a balance between bringing in elements of what’s gone before and finding new tales to tell. Too much one way or the other and the book doesn’t work. That’s something I’m very much keeping in mind as I pound out my scripts.
BD: In an interview with CBR you said, “The fun thing about Swamp Thing is that he really doesn’t have a lot to fear.” How do you plan to explore his fear and bring horror into the title?
Soule: Swamp Thing isn’t afraid of physical harm, not really. While he can experience pain, he’s so powerful that he can shrug off most of the things that would destroy you or me. I would say that he’s afraid of the choices he’s made and what they mean for him in the future – and for the world. I think he’s afraid of what he might do, or might be made to do, with all of his newfound power. Remember, Alec Holland is pretty new to the job in these stories. He accepted the Swamp Thing mantle in Issue 7 of the New 52 run, and since then he’s basically just been dealing with Rotworld. He’s done a great job there so far, but he hasn’t had a chance to sit and process what’s been happening to him. I think I can play around with existential horror, body horror, good old fashioned creepshow monster horror, you name it. Swamp Thing as an entity is pretty freaky too – I mean, he’s a giant swamp monster. Even if Alec Holland isn’t afraid of much, people could be very afraid of him.
BD: The second issue of my run will spend a lot of time figuring out what scares the Swamp Thing. I think it’ll be good and creepy.
BD: Scott used Abby quite a bit in his run; do you plan on bringing in more allies for Swampy?
Soule: Absolutely. One thing about Swamp Thing is that he doesn’t have a huge supporting cast. I mean, it sort of makes sense. It’s not like he works at the Daily Planet. Even so, I want to bring in some new folks for Alec to interact with. We’ll see the first one pretty early, and there will be more to come.
BD: Scott’s run was made of small chapters, ultimately building up to Rotworld. Do you have a major arc in line, or are you going to focus more on episodic storytelling?
Soule: For the moment, it will be pretty episodic, with stories of 1-3 issues. There will be an overarching mystery that Swampy will be trying to work out, but I’m going to dip in and out of it as necessary. It’ll be a good little while before we get an issue that focuses on the mystery directly, and even that is part of a more self-contained story featuring a guest star I’m sure readers are already anticipating. As an aside, bring able to write some of the other characters in the larger DCU has been one of the big thrills for me on the title. It’s already been revealed that Scarecrow show up in my first issue, but he’s not the last bad (or good) guy we’ll see. Swamp Thing lives in the same world as Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Vandal Savage, and it would be a shame, almost unrealistic, if he didn’t run into those folks from time to time. (By the way, I have a specific plan for bringing one of those character into Swamp Thing in a fun way… although that’s all I’ll say for now.)
BD: For me, Swamp Thing has always been so fascinating because of how diverse the content is. While it’s primarily a horror title, it often ventures into politics, environmental issues, and the nature of human relationships. What themes or ideas do you want to explore?
Soule: All of the above. As I mentioned earlier, Swamp Thing gives its writers a pretty broad canvas. In that way, I think it’s almost unique among superhero books. Honestly, I think it’s one of the best gigs in the funnybook business, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working on it.
BD: Do you have a favorite Swamp Thing issue or arc?
Soule: The very first issue is pretty amazing – it’s the essence of 70s horror comics, and they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Here’s the very first line: “The darkness cries… a long, mournful wail that writhes through the gnarled cypress branches like a breath of Hades’ wind, skipping over the placid surface of the stagnant mire below…” NICE. There’s plenty of great stuff beyond that, of course – it’s hard to go wrong.
BD: Thanks so much, Charles! I’m excited to experience your take on Swamp Thing.