Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Question: Who is Charles Soule?
Earlier this year SLG Publishing released Strongman, the story of a down-and-out Luche Libre star fighting against an organ smuggling ring in New York. Written by Soule and drawn by Allen Gladfelter, the story details Tigre’s rebirth as a hero, as he fights not only the dangers inflicted on his neighborhood, but also the memories from his past that led him there.
Soule and Gladfelter are now working on the sequel, which is due next summer. Before that, though, Soule will appear on an episode of the TV game show Jeopardy! on Jan. 4. Soule was kind enough to answer a few questions about his television appearance and the new book, and he also provided some preview pages from the second volume of Strongman.
JK: So how does one become a contestant on Jeopardy!?
Charles: It’s a several-step process. The show runs an online test about once per year, at a specific time on a specific date. You log on to the Jeopardy! website (and by the way, that’s the preferred punctuation, with the exclamation mark – goofy or not) and respond to 50 trivia questions of the sort that are typically asked on the show. You’re given five seconds to type in each answer, which is actually the amount of time you have to ring in and respond on the show. It’s also not quite enough time to Google an answer, which I’m sure is pretty intentional.
So, once you do that, the show producers narrow down the field to people who got somewhere between 35-45 of the answers right (I’ve heard conflicting things). I felt pretty good about my answers, but I didn’t have too much invested in being on the show. I found out about the online test on a message board, if I recall, and had half an hour to kill that evening, so I did it. I just thought it would be fun to give it a shot.
Anyway, after the online test, they do a random selection of people from among those who got enough answers right and invite them to one of a series of in-person audition/interviews they hold in big cities all over the country. I live in New York City, so I ended up getting the call to show up at a hotel conference room in Times Square a few months after the online test.
The audition was very fun. You play a mock-up version of the show (buzzers and all), do a camera test, take a handwritten version of the online test (with different questions, of course), fill out a questionnaire about what makes you interesting (if you can, of course – I had to struggle mightily) and watch a video from Alex Trebek about how great Jeopardy! is and how much he hopes every single one of the people there make it on to the show. Again, once that was all done I felt good about the experience, but didn’t have any particular expectations about being called to be on the show. They audition thousands of people and only call 100-200 for each show cycle, I believe. Beyond that, many people audition multiple times before they actually make it out to California to tape the show. The odds were against me, so I just chalked everything up to a bizarre but fun experience to add to the list.
Then, I was in Minneapolis in early October (attending and exhibiting at the wonderful FallCon, an amazing convention put together by the great people at the MNCBA (Midwest Comic Book Association)) and I got a call from one of the contestant coordinators to say I was in. I was driving at the time, which I don’t do all that much living in NYC, and came perilously close to destroying an innocent telephone pole. It was neat.
JK: Did they bill you as a “comic writer from New York” at the beginning of the show?
Charles: They didn’t – they billed me as something else, something connected to the day job. But, I did get them to bill me as hailing from Brooklyn, NY, which might give me a bit of street cred back. (Even though I’ve only lived there for two and half years…)
JK: Did you get to talk about your book at all during the episode?
Charles: I had it on my list of “cool/interesting facts” that Alex Trebek could have asked me about, but they had me provide a fairly substantial list of things, and Alex gets to choose whichever things he wants to talk about. For whatever reason, he decided against discussing an ongoing series of masked Mexican wrestler graphic novels. In any case, even if he had asked about Strongman, I wasn’t allowed to mention the title of the book – show rules. That was unfortunate, since the show gets an audience of something like 11 million people across the US, Canada and various random places, but it’s all right. This interview will have roughly the same impact, I’m pretty sure.
JK: What’s Alex Trebek like in person?
Charles: He’s very polished and excellent at his job. You’d hope he would be, of course, but it was very fun to see him at work. He’s a true pro, and seemed very genuine and nice. He spends the downtime during the taping day (commercial breaks, time spent while the judges hash out whether a response to a question is correct, etc.) taking questions from the studio audience. Those covered everything from his age (a surprising 69, considering how good he looks, even up close) to his favorite book (whatever he’s reading at the time) to his feelings about the Saturday Night Live spoofs (loves them, and wishes Will Ferrell were still on the show so they could do more.) As the day went on, he became goofier, which probably isn’t that surprising. Hosting the show, and doing it well, is real work – that was very clear. Answering the audience’s questions in semi-bizarre ways is probably his way to blow off a little steam.
JK: Did your comic knowledge, or anything you’ve learned from comics, come into play at all in the episode?
Charles: During the taping day, the show tapes five episodes. The contestants sit in the audience for the shows they aren’t on (and you don’t know which one you’ll be called for, which is incredibly nerve-wracking, particularly for hours at a time – very, very, VERY intense and draining) and so I was able to watch several games before it was my turn. One of those games had a $2000 question, which was “This Marvel superhero was King of Atlantis.” One gentleman (who shall not be named) incorrectly guessed “Poseidon,” and the question was ultimately considered a Triple Stumper, which is J! terminology for when no one knows the answer. Alex Trebek then gave the correct response as “Sub-Mariner,” which I thought was interesting, because I would absolutely have gone with Namor. I didn’t have a chance to ask anyone if they would have accepted Namor, but it would have been fun to argue the case.
Beyond that, I did have a category about music, which I thought I would crush, since I’m a musician when I’m not writing comics. It ended up being crushingly difficult. Luckily, neither of my competitors in that game knew the answers either. Jeopardy! is tough, since the people on the show basically know everything. I memorized everything I could think of during the 30 days leading up to my taping, and made over 2000 flashcards. All that work more or less brought me up to par with the other people in the green room. Still, it was incredibly fun, and I don’t regret the work – at all.
JK: When is your episode airing? And when can we expect to see the second Strongman?
Charles: It airs Jan. 4, 2010, which is a Monday. Check your local listings!
Strongman II… ah, Strongman II. The script has been complete for some time, and Allen Gladfelter, the marvelous artist, is hard at work. Right now, we’re on schedule for a summer 2010 release, although the question right now is whether that ends up being early or late summer. I’d love to have it out for Comicon, but release dates can be fluid. Our publisher, SLG, is behind Strongman II in a big way, and the whole team from volume one is back (including Austin, Texas’ very own Paul Adam on the covers). We’ve also added the skilled and diligent Shawn DePasquale as letterer, which makes me particularly happy, since I did a pretty sad job on the volume one letters.
JK: What can we expect from Strongman II?
Charles: I am INCREDIBLY excited about it, especially as the pages come in. Allen’s knocking it out of the park. You can actually get some sense of what he’s been doing at my blog, which I update regularly with art from Strongman II and other upcoming projects. In a sense, the Strongman II story goes to the next logical place for Tigre (our old luchador hero) to go: he cleaned up his Spanish Harlem neighborhood in volume one, and in volume two he heads back to Mexico to see what one over-the-hill masked wrestler can do about the situation down there. For those who haven’t been following the Mexican sociopolitical climate, it’s pretty rough right now. Lots of violence, drugs, gangs, etc. as the Mexican government tries to crack down on the cartels. Not that I’m glad that Mexico is suffering under that sort of trouble, of course, but it does make for a fertile environment for a Strongman story.
Basically, Tigre left Mexico 35 years ago, and has convinced himself that all of the bad things that have happened down there in the intervening decades occurred because he wasn’t personally there to stop them. Ridiculous, of course, but in the heightened reality of Strongman, it makes perfect sense. As the story progresses, you get feats of strength, a robotic wheelchair, menacing bad guys, epic vendettas, sacrifice, betrayal, pectorals, an 18-year-old, gorgeous female smuggler captain and probably even a bit of masked wrestling. If volume one took film noir as its tonal touchstone, I’ve been inspired for volume two by 1980s action movies – Commando, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, etc. It’s longer, bigger and badder, and I feel like the last 20 pages or so are some of the best stuff I’ve ever done.
The best thing about Strongman II for me, however, is that people really seem to be anticipating it. Volume one was more warmly received than I ever would have dreamed, and the idea that there are people who read it, really enjoyed it, and can’t wait to see more of Tigre’s adventures is the most gratifying thing in the world. So thank you, to everyone who checked out the first book and are (hopefully) looking forward to the next one.