By Cy Beltran
After a bit of a delayed start, things moved fast at C2E2’s Saturday spotlight on Ryan Browne and Charles Soule. Moderator John Siuntres opened up by quickly introducing the pair and moved right into discussing Eight Billion Genies, the duo’s recently-announced new eight-issue miniseries from Image Comics debuting next May.
The genesis of the idea came over a night out after a convention when Browne thought “What happens when everyone on Earth gets a genie at once?” He joked that things could have ended quickly on the first page if someone said “I wish the world blew up,” but thankfully didn’t leave things that way. The book was shelved for a time, and Soule almost wrote it as a novel, but they eventually brought the idea back and got it ready for next year.
As Soule put it, each issue is allocated to a different time period, with the first issue containing the first eight seconds, the second issue about the first eight hours, the third issue holding the first eight days, and so on. The central location is a bar in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, a small suburb just outside of Detroit, but the bar itself is based on Chicago’s own “The Empty Bottle.”
Soule called Browne “one of the best surrealist comedians in comics,” which is exactly what drew Soule to work with him. Browne talked about how a problem throughout his whole career has been his struggle with working on mainstream books and his distaste at having to draw “serious boring stuff” in issues. When the pair first started working together, they had planned on creating a more high-concept series, but it was more Browne drawing a Soule-led book, which made them want to retool the idea and find something that worked for the two of them.
From there, Browne asked Soule “What can we do that’ll be fun for me to draw?” and they both somehow settled on a magic series, since Browne would just be able to do whatever he wanted. He started by drawing this “wizard who was kind of a dick” and putting him in modern day NYC, thus beginning what eventually became Curse Words. From then on, whether it’s been on a creator-owned project or a quick mainstream piece for the two of them, they’ve continued to have a blast working with one another.
Siuntres then asked why they chose Image over Kickstarter to release Eight Billion Genies, since Browne has had incredible success just through his creator-owned pieces for Kickstarter. For Browne, it came down to the resources Image was giving them: while they have to handle working with printing, distribution, and the creation of the book, the pair just has to “turn it in, someone can proofread it, and that’s it.” And while Soule claimed the proofreader was unnecessary since there “were never any spelling errors,” he also admitted the company does a great job handling their releases.
Soule pointed out how they printed (and sold) 500 early copies of Eight Billion Genies for C2E2 without the help of Image and the company was completely ok with that, since they owned the copyright for the books and handled production all on their own. This is why Browne says he typically doesn’t choose to work for other companies outside of Image, since he doesn’t feel like he needs anyone else to do the work for them.
Briefly moving back to Curse Words, Soule began describing the process by which they released the Curse Words omnibus on Kickstarter. He explained that because Diamond Distributors stopped sending books out to shops at the beginning of the pandemic and held the money needed by creative teams in house, making it hard for any creators in comics to make money and pay the bills. So, rather than waiting for Image to release a Curse Words omnibus, they put out the book themselves on Kickstarter and raised funding within a day of posting the book.
However, because the omnibus is completely sold out of the first printing of the book, Image is rereleasing the book with a new cover next May, to coincide with the first issue of Eight Billion Genies.
With all of the success Browne has had through Kickstarter, he is considered by fellow comics creators to be a master of the website, mentioning how “three different people [he hadn’t] talked to in a while” called to figure out how to run their own Kickstarters (which are now successful in their own right). Although he is the so-called master, Browne says he’s still having difficulties printing books due to the massive paper shortages affecting the world, saying that with Image he “doesn’t have to learn about freights” and enormous shipping issues.
Switching over to their solo work, Soule started talking about his role in Star Wars comics. Marvel reached out in 2015 and asked if he wanted to write a Lando miniseries. He accepted and has made history from there, “having written over 100 issues of Star Wars comics, the most of anyone to write them” at Marvel.
Because of this catalog of work, Disney asked Soule to be one of the writers to work on their High Republic initiative. Soule talked about how great of an opportunity it was to write in an era that didn’t have a defined beginning, middle, or end, as “you can do anything you want within reason,” compared to writing for the Skywalker Saga. Soule was really proud of his work in Light of the Jedi, the first book in the High Republic line, as he wrote it during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and felt that his focus on hope and persevering was really well reflected in the book and received by fans.
Browne then moved over to Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief and the process that went into that book, saying that he started it while working on “serious, boring comics work.” The book, about a thief with a flaming tie who steals just for the sake of it, was the result of a few different limits Browne placed on himself: “One hour on each page, with no script, no thinking ahead, a page a day for five days a week over the course of one year.”
While the book initially had a slow start, it has since taken off with fans, with a trade paperback version out on Browne’s website. Soule brought up how he first met Browne, buying a first edition copy of Browne’s hit God Hates Astronauts at Heroes Con in Charlotte, and reflecting on how unique his artwork was.
A quick Q&A followed, where they talked about world-building and how important it is to hone in on a central character to build the world around them. Browne referenced the genies from their new series and how each genie is unique to every character in the book and is based on their individual interests. The panel ended with Soule talking about a Kickstarter reward he promised for the Curse Words omnibus, where he was supposed to record a full length album about the book and release it as a vinyl for readers. It is currently nowhere near done.
Eight Billion Genies #1 will be released by Image Comics in May 2022.
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