Next month, BOOM! Studios and best-selling writer Charles Soule will bring Strange Attractors, Soule's 2012 original graphic novel, to monthly, serialized comics.
It won't just be a reprint, though; the series will actually offer new material, in the form of a backups story that fleshes out the world of Strange Attractors.
Soule joined ComicBook.com to discuss the series. You can check out a preview of the first issue below.
Strange Attractors came out in three years ago as an original graphic novel from Archaia. Why the decision to release this again but divided up into single issues?
Well, part of it is the happy fact that my profile has gotten higher since the original hardcover came out in 2012. I’ve had something like 4,500 pages of comics published since then, and so it’s possible that I have a larger audience now than I did back then. We [by which I mean the creative team of me, Greg Scott (pencils/inks), Art Lyon & Matthew Petz (colors), Robert Saywitz (complexity maps), and Thomas Mauer (letters)] were all very proud of the book, and I know the Archaia folks—who are now the good people at BOOM!—are too. We were talking about what we might do with the project, and the idea of putting it out again in a format that could expose it to a new readership, with new material and stories included for those lucky people who read it the first time around—it just seemed like a good idea. And here we are today!
I really like the idea here: Brownfield kind of reminds me of the not-evil version of how producers pitched Vandal Savage for Legends of Tomorrow: the most important historical figure you’ve never heard of. What gave you the idea to pursue that?
Well, the main thing to know about Strange Attractors is that it’s my big New York City book. I’ve lived in NYC for almost 20 years, and I LOVE this town. It’s intense, and wonderful, and you see people’s dreams everywhere you look. It’s also terrible and destructive and burns people out constantly. That dichotomy is one of the reasons we get so many stories set here, and I wanted to take a swing at doing my take.
So, Spencer Brownfield, one of the two main characters of the book, is an avatar for me—someone who really loves the city, and would do anything to keep it safe and running smoothly. Of course, he has genius-level math skills and an understanding of complexity theory that’s near-magical, which I do not—but the emotional core is the same.
I also like books with a “secret history” theme—the idea that the story you’ve been told isn’t the real story—and tales with older people doing amazing things. So, put all of that together and you get some of what we’ve got in this book.
The idea of an illuminati -- this evil force manipulating things that we know nothing of -- is so popular and commonplace it’s basically a cultural meme. Do you think that Strange Attractors says something about your perception of humanity that you’re going the other way?
I’d like to think so. The main premise of the story is that Spencer Brownfield (and his young protégé Heller Wilson) uses complexity theory to analyze all of New York City and constantly make minor adjustments to its many systems that allow the “machine” of the city to operate properly. Spencer’s been doing it in secret for more than 30 years, and now he needs to take on an apprentice to carry on his footsteps after he dies, since he’s gotten quite old.
The adjustments are weird stuff, like buying all the Diet Coke in a bodega to adjust the micro-economy on that street corner, or tossing paint on the ground to adjust the pattern of foot traffic. The main conflict of the story comes when they realize that the entire city is falling incredibly out of whack, and they have to devise a massive adjustment of tons of elements at once in order to keep New York City from self-destructing. So, they’re definitely hidden heroes of New York…I just like that sort of tale. I’m also an optimist by nature (and by trade), so this was right up my alley.
How much research did you do for the scientific theory and how much of it is just made-up stuff that SOUNDS impressive?
I did a ton of research for this book, but I’m not a mathematician. I would say I took a lot of ideas that exist within chaos and complexity theory and scaled them up while making certain assumptions about what might be theoretically possible for a super-genius to achieve. So, everything’s legit… IF you could see things in a certain, extremely unique, and challenging fashion.
The art here is really effective, especially the facial expressions. Did you have the chance to adjust scripts a little to write to the artist’s strengths?
As I mentioned, Greg Scott handled the pencils and inks for the main story. Almost everyone involved in the book is or was once a NYC native, and that was very important to me, because I wanted Strange Attractors to feel like it was taking place in the real, actual Manhattan, as opposed to, say, the Marvel Universe version, where neighborhoods and streets can get a little fuzzy depending on the needs of the superhero fights. Greg lives in Staten Island, and he went around and took tons of reference photos for shots. He’s also just awesome at faces. Some of the shots of Spencer Brownfield in particular are just spectacular—but he also killed at doing full backgrounds. That can be a huge pain for city scenes, but he never blinked an eye. Finding Greg was a huge coup for the book.
Regarding the new content illustrated by Soo Lee you’re adding in each issue, what can you tell us about that? Is it a side story happening alongside the events in the main story? Or something else?
The new story is called “Antithesis,” and it’s designed to work as a counterpoint to the story and philosophy presented in the primary tale. I wrote the original script probably about six years ago. My outlook on the city and life in general has evolved somewhat since then, and “Antithesis” reflects that. The whole book is about complexity, after all, and so telling a new story that makes the main story seem a bit more morally ambiguous felt like the right way to go.
Without spoiling too much, “Antithesis” is about a man whose life is drastically affected by the adjustments Spencer Brownfield has been making to the city for three-plus decades. Spencer’s self-appointed job is to remove chaos from the “system” that is NYC, and he’s good at it… but all that chaos has to go somewhere. The main premise of “Antithesis” is that all that chaos lands on the head of one man, Bill Carter. We follow him through the decades to see what happens to him. His situation mirrors real-world events in NYC over that time, just as the primary story does. I think it’s really cool, and Soo Lee (another New York resident!) is doing amazing work with it. I feel like I’m running her through the wringer a little bit, since the scripts ask for a bunch of different time periods and city locations, but she’s doing a heck of a job.
You bounce around New York a lot in the first issue: how important was it to get the character of the city first of all into the book and second of all to get it right?
The city is, without a doubt, the third protagonist (and antagonist) of the book. I thought it was crucial to get right—after all, this is supposed to be a love letter to New York. I’m sure if you talk to any of my collaborators, even the original editor Rebecca Taylor (another NYC veteran!), or the current editor on the new material, Sierra Hahn, they’ll tell you that I was pretty particular about all of that. Still, though, precision is important for books like this, I think. It was worth the effort, in my opinion.
I love the multiple instances of (variations on) "this damn city." Are you having a little fun with the conflicted relationship that a lot of New Yorkers have with the town?
Oh, yeah. There are days when I would love nothing more than to move out to a farm and never see this damn city again. Every longtime New Yorker has experienced these cascades of chaos that run completely out of control and ruin your life. You miss one subway and it all just dominoes out from there. But that runs both ways, too—there are these perfect days here where the world aligns and you can’t imagine every living anywhere else. That’s New York.
There’s a lot in the high concept that isn’t explicitly laid out in #1. Do you feel like doing a new idea requires a little leap of faith on your part, giving the readers more than you maybe would if this was a superhero book or something?
You know, people are pretty smart. I think back on some of the stories I’ve loved over the years, and something they had in common is that they didn’t hand-hold. They let the story reveal itself in its own time. That’s how Strange Attractors works. We’ve got a main character in Heller Wilson who is being introduced to a new world as Spencer Brownfield takes him under his wing, and his growing understanding is reflected in the pacing of the story. A good murder mystery doesn’t reveal its killer on the first page, after all.
One thing that isn’t mentioned in the solicitation text is this idea that there seems to be a kind of anti-Brownfield out there. Will that really complicate things as Heller is new to the job and may be in a little over his head with a more experienced "opposite number?"
That’s actually an idea that’s getting explored in the “Antithesis” story, and I don’t want to spoil too much about it for fear of, well, spoiling it. But the idea that there are people in the world who might like chaos more than order seems entirely plausible to me.
A book like this in a very cynical society, especially during a very cynical election cycle, is interesting. Do you think that the idea that you can change the world by just nudging it in these tiny ways feels really fantastical to a lot of people?
It shouldn’t. Change begins with us, and small changes lead to big ones. That is literally the fundamental principle of complexity theory. We’re all important. Take a step and you change the world. It’s mostly just up to you to decide what way to go.
Anything you’d like to say about the book that these questions didn’t open the door to?
Just that I’m very excited to have a chance to get a new audience reading this story, and I hope people will give it a shot. I’m extremely proud of it, and fans of my other work, especially Letter 44, She-Hulk, and Daredevil, will probably enjoy Strange Attractors quite a bit.