Curse Words: Fame Beats World Domination [Interview]
December 15, 2016
CHARLES SOULE: CURSE WORDS is a story about a wizard who appears in the modern world—just pops up in Central Park one day—and starts doing magic for money. This isn't a Harry Potter thing, where magic already exists but is kept secret. It's literally our world—the only difference is that now it has a dude who will cast spells for cash. The wizard is named Wizord, and he's a pretty cool cat—he's helping folks, getting rich and famous, settling in. We like him, and he likes us, especially the conveniences and enticements of the modern world. Wizord comes from a place that's much more like your typical dark medieval fantasy land, and so NYC, with its cool clubs, great food, and flushing toilets, really works for him.
The twist, the trouble, is that he's actually an extremely evil wizard wearing a good wizard disguise. He's come to our world for a nefarious purpose, and he could pull the trigger on it at any time. For the moment, he likes his life here too much to go full on dark wizard...but the possibility is always there. We call it The Lord of the Rings meets Breaking Bad, but with magic instead of meth...and it's kind of funny, too.
The genre is "gonzo fantasy," the idea being that anything can happen at any time—you literally have no idea what will happen on any page turn, which is both a real tightrope walk for us as creators and hopefully really fun for the readers. A surprise on every page, we like to say.
IC: Your previous creator-owned works (Letter 44 and Strange Attractors for Charles, and GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS for Ryan) have very strong science fiction elements. How does it feel to change gears and tackle more mystical subject matter with this story?
SOULE: As a writer, I love the idea of a story with no boundaries. CURSE WORDS is about magic, which means we can set up our own rules and limits—and in this case, we've more or less decided that there are none. The challenge there is to create situations with drama and tension when the characters can hypothetically magic themselves out of any problem, but I think we've done all right.
RYAN BROWNE: It's nice to get away from the muscles of the sci-fi superhero parody I was doing before. With fantasy I get to draw from a new set of tropes and twist them on their ear. When Charles and I were developing CURSE WORDS, we wanted to utilize the unique visual fun that can happen only in comics. We started with gonzo absurdity and slowly defined and whittled the story into an epic fantasy with a lot of heavy emotions, intense battles, and a talking koala.
IC: From the opening showdown, it appears color plays a strong role in the story, particularly in regards to magic. Can you share some of your plans or intentions with the color in this story?
SOULE: Wizord is not the only sorcerer in the story, and I think Ryan and I each liked the idea of giving each wizard/witch/magician their own unique look and power set. Each wizard (there are nine, including Wizord) is associated with a specific type of gem or jewel, from sapphires to chocolate diamonds. That presents some fascinating possibilities as far as telling stories with color. We're fortunate to have Jordan Boyd on board for coloring duties—he worked with Ryan on his GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS series for Image, and he's completely up for the challenges and opportunities of a story like this. It's important to create a juxtaposition between the modern world and the magical world in CURSE WORDS—Wizord and his spells need to seem like they're completely fantastic, literally changing the world around him, and color is a huge part of that.
BROWNE: Yeah, color is essential to our story. There have been plenty of other stories that have used gem powers and color themes for characters, but Charles and I are using the idea in a new way that is quite cool—and very dark. The color helps inform the character design when I am figuring out the look and feel of each evil wizard. I have also been assigning different animals to the various characters, in the same vein as Blade Runner or a reverse Disney's Robin Hood. Wizord is a tiger, and I use that for posture and expression when I draw him—specifically when in battle.
IC: Wizord appears to acclimate to his surroundings relatively quickly despite the big time gap. What made New York City the right backdrop for the story?
SOULE: I've lived in NYC for twenty years, and I know the city extremely well. It's one of my favorite places in the world, and it's also very well known as a story backdrop because of its prevalence in so many other movies, comics, novels, TV shows, etc. It's that familiarity that's helpful to us, because, again, we're working with a character who is doing some very unfamiliar things. We kicked around other cities—Ryan lives in Chicago, and he and I both have a big background in Detroit—but NYC has its own gravity, and that's where Wizord ended up. That said, the story goes all over the world—we hit Sri Lanka in issue two, and there's sort of a globetrotting element that will kick in with issue three that will allow us to go almost anywhere.
IC: Despite his malevolent background, Wizord seems easily approachable by the locals. How do they see him and how does he see himself in this different setting?
SOULE: Wizord LOVES our world. He comes from a very dark place, literally. The meaning of fame over there is very different—if you're well known, it's generally because you're excellent at murdering many people. Being famous and being feared are the same thing. Here, though, celebrity can come from doing good things. He's never really encountered the idea of a "hero" before, in every sense of the word, and he finds it seductive. The question is whether that will allow him to overcome his own dark past, and even if he does start being all nice and so on, whether that cancels out some of the heinous stuff he's trying to leave behind.
As far as how we see him? We think he's amazing. He's got cool shades, dresses well, has a luxurious beard and a talking koala assistant, and he can DO MAGIC. Within a very short time after revealing himself to the world, Wizord is the most famous and beloved guy on the planet, to such an extent that we don't really ask the questions about him that we should. That begins to change as dark things start happening, but by then it might be too late.
IC: Ryan, GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS had a very surreal, weird science feel to it, while this initially appears more grounded, despite its mystical elements. What were you going for when building CURSE WORDS? Were you inspired by anything in particular?
BROWNE: Charles and I originally started by looking at Stardust The Super Wizard and Fantomah The Mystery Woman of The Jungle. Both are outrageously surreal comics by Fletcher Hanks (pause here to Google if you are unaware) that use magic and imagination in truly bizarre ways—like magically creating tigers to drop on the parachutes of invading soldiers so they will rip holes in the silk.
I have this problem that I can't fake interest in a project, and if I don't like what I'm drawing, it gets a little stiff and laborious. From the outset we wanted to design something fun for me to draw. In GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS I drew only what I wanted to draw and let that drive the narrative—which lead to the most WTF moments in the history of comics. Working with Charles I knew I wanted more structure to the project. So as the book developed we really focused in on character, motivation, and a clear overall path for the story. We still kept the absurd, but now it isn't the driving element. Trust me, it's better this way.
IC: From the book's opening, it's clear that Wizord can't escape his past no matter how far into the future he runs. Will we explore his personal history before the time jump? How heavily will its repercussions play into the future?
SOULE: Absolutely. Wizord's time before he pops up in Central Park is a huge element of the story. We'll see a lot of the dark dimension from which he hails, as well as many of the people he left behind. He's trying to reinvent himself, but no one from the old days feels like he should be able to do that. It's like when you go to college and try to act like an entirely awesome new person...until one of your high school friends comes to visit and reveals that you used to be a total dork. It's like that, except instead of "dork," we'd probably say "monstrously evil dark wizard."
IC: Wizord isn't entirely alone in his journey to NYC. He's accompanied by what appears to be an animal familiar. Can you shed some light on Wizord's companion?
SOULE: Yes! Wizord's best friend, conscience, and guide to our world is a talking koala named Margaret. While she's originally from the same dark place as Wizord, she was sent here ahead of him to prepare the way, and lived here for five years scouting things out and getting the lay of the land. Wizord and Margaret have a complex relationship—she knows everything he was, but also understands what he's trying to be, and is trying to help him get there. Or maybe she's just trying to save her own furry skin. Time will tell, but I will say that Ryan LOVES drawing animals. I think he would prefer if every character in CURSE WORDS was an animal. Having known him for a while, I was very aware of his artistic sweet spot and wanted to get as many creatures into the book as possible. Margaret is just the beginning.
BROWNE: I can confirm that I love drawing animals.
IC: You've previously described CURSE WORDS as Breaking Bad with magic instead of meth. I've gotta ask: how do the authorities view and react to a figure like Wizord?
SOULE: At first, they see him as an incredibly useful tool. He seems benign, and his three rules for his magical "clients" (No Cures, No Love, and No Wars) suggest that he holds to at least some kind of personal responsibility about the magic he's willing to do for folks. I'm sure that the President and all sorts of higher-ups have had terrified, sweat-soaked meetings about what the hell they're going to do about a wizard being active in NYC...but what can they do? Wizord is magic! The last thing they want to do is antagonize him—at least until things really start to go south.
IC: You two previously worked together on an issue of GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS. How has your working relationship changed, especially building this story from the ground up together?
SOULE: Ryan Browne is an incredible talent—incredible. We've been able to do a few things together here and there, and I've wanted to do something bigger with him for a long time. I really think CURSE WORDS started with the two of us just sitting around in bars at conventions making up stories to make each other laugh. Nothing about wizards, not then, just riffing—taking a story premise and kicking it back and forth for hours. None of that will ever see the light of day (probably), but I think it gave us both some confidence that we're in good storytelling hands with the other. This book is so much fun to create, just a blast, and I think that the readers will be able to feel that from page one.
BROWNE: Charles Soule (Soul) is the best co-riffer I've ever co-riffed with. He loves to find connections and build drama, and I love to find connections and make it dumb as hell. It's fantastic when one of my awful ideas actually makes sense to him and he starts to build on it. We seem to balance each other perfectly and it's great to finally collaborate long form. I don't know if you guys are aware of this, but Charles is a superhuman writing dynamo. Between his words and ideas and my koala drawing abilities, this book is going to explode the socks of all that stand near it. Look out, world. Look out.
CURSE WORDS #1 is available for pre-order now, and debuts 1/18.