Greensboro has become an important stop for comic book writers and artists promoting their work. This Friday and Saturday, the creators of two ballyhooed titles from competing publishers will be at two different comic book shops in the town that has been officially named by the Greensboro City Council, “Comic Book City, USA.”
On Aug. 4 from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., popular and critically-acclaimed writer Charles Soule and artist Ryan Browne will be at Acme Comics on 2150 Lawndale Drive to meet fans and sign copies of their creator-owned fantasy series Curse Words, which its publisher Image Comics describes as, “The Lord of the Rings meets Breaking Bad.” Acme’s Jermaine Exum said wizard-based cosplay is welcome and madness is expected. Previous stops on the tour suggest that one may see a lot of fake beards, regardless of the wearer’s gender.
On Aug. 5, superstar Superman artist Shane Davis will be at Ssalefish Comics on 1622 Stanley Road to greet fans and sign his and DC Comics’ special tribute to the New Gods characters of the late great Jack “the King” Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and the Avengers. Like the Friday event at Acme, this event is free and open to the public.
Jack “the King” Kirby, who passed away in 1994 (and whose 100th birthday will be on Aug. 28), was perhaps the first comic book artist whose style I recognized growing up in the 1960s. Davis discovered Kirby in the 1990s, when he was 12 and found an old copy of the first issue of the comic book legend’s 1970s supernatural series The Demon at a yard sale. He was immediately struck by the cover art and “the way the Demon’s fingertips are coming at you as he jumps off the wall.” After that, he found Kirby’s 1970s run on Marvel’s Black Panther (a character Kirby created in the 1960s) and the artist’s most important work for Marvel’s rival DC, the New Gods characters that may have influenced George Lucas (villain Darkseid is the father of the hero Orion, and the heroes worship a mystical energy field called the Source).
“Jack Kirby was such a dominating and powerful artist,” Davis said. “It was almost like I wasn’t reading the books, but ‘reading’ the artwork. I particularly loved how he drew crazy old people like the villain Granny Goodness, how he drew their flapping jaws, the way his line work conveyed their craggy facial features and made them look like barking frogs.”
This year DC Comics editor Dan Didio invited well-known creators to pitch special projects for the Jack Kirby centennial. Davis’s first proposal only featured the hero Orion, but “Dan said I should involve the other New Gods, too.” Davis said the finished project, New Gods Special, which was released on Aug. 1, was almost a happy accident. “If I’d known from the start I was going to use not just Orion but almost the whole New Gods cast, I might have choked,” he said.
The day before modern superstar writer-artist Davis is celebrating all-time, superstar writer-artist Jack Kirby at Greensboro’s newest comics shop, Ssalefish, the gonzo lawyer-turned-writer Charles Soule and artist Ryan Browne will be at the city’s oldest one, Acme Comics. Acme Comics is the only North Carolina stop on their Curse Words Wizard Van Tour 2017. The tour is promoting their new series about a wizard named Wizord, who with his talking koala Margaret appears one day in New York and announces that he’s arrived from another dimension to defend us all from evil. But is he?
In an email conversation with Soule, I ask him if his and Browne’s book is a reaction against previous fantasies about wizards in the modern world, just as George R. R. Martin reacted against J. R. R. Tolkien’s heroic and high-minded trilogy of noble characters striving against evil.
“I think you nailed it,” Soule wrote. “Ryan Browne and I had two goals when developing Curse Words beyond just telling a good story with great art: do something that worked with our respective senses of humor, that would let us just have a blast riffing off each other and making each other laugh; and do something fun. The world is at stake in Curse Words, for sure, but it’s done in an enjoyable way – we’re covering a story that has some pretty dark elements with a layer of rich, funny frosting. You should be able to pick up an issue of Curse Words and just have a blast – and then keep thinking about what you read for a while. I think we’ve done a pretty good job getting there.”
I also asked if the series reflects his interest in Asian language and culture, which he’d studied at Columbia along with law. He said he used that more in his run on Marvel’s Daredevil, which also drew on his legal training.
“I studied Mandarin, primarily, and there are scenes set in China and NYC’s Chinatown here and there for which it comes in handy,” Soule wrote. “Believe it or not, Curse Words has drawn more from the other non-English language I speak, French. There are a number of French characters, including an anthropomorphic version of the Eiffel Tower that speaks in sort of a mix between broken English and French as it wanders the world looking for meaning and love. Curse Words is that kind of book.”
Readers may be wondering what led someone who’s practiced Immigration and Corporate Law to comics, even if it’s a good background for writing the alter-egos of Daredevil and She-Hulk, attorneys Matt Murdock and Jennifer Walters, who are known as the two best lawyers in Marvel Comics.
“The law is wonderful,” Soule wrote. “And it was good to me, but I’m much happier telling stories. Thank god enough people seem to be interested in what I write that I get to keep doing it. I like to say that the law gave me discipline, and the ability to see something through no matter how long it takes. Law is full of tedious projects and tasks that culminate in, ideally, a well-crafted argument or brief. Writing fiction is sort of the same. You do your research, you write a story over a long period of time, then you polish it, and then you’re done. Lawyering/comic writing . . . basically the same gig.”
It looks to be a great weekend for comics fans. I asked Joe Scott, co-owner of Geeksboro Coffeehouse and Cinema, why he thinks this city has become such a comic book nexus. “Greensboro is home to no less than four comic book stores — three of which are owner operated,” Scott said. “That three different groups of people put up their own money and sacrifice huge chunks of their lives in the name of locally-owned comics retail says something about our city, and comics creators can sense that.”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.