PREVIEWSworld: How did you come up with the concept for Letter 44? Was there a specific source of inspiration?
Charles Soule: I have always been fascinated with mankind's efforts to reach space - from early experiments with rocketry and astronomy all the way through the heyday of manned spaceflight in the 60s and 70s through its somewhat reduced circumstances now. I wanted to write a story where humanity is put in a position where we have to go up there - and farther than we've ever gone before. Budget concerns, technological constraints... all of the reasons the powers-that-be have found to prevent us from going back to the Moon, or Mars, or anywhere else in space we should be going - I wanted a reason for all of that to fall away.
With that as my starting point, it was mostly a matter of figuring out the hows and whys for the mission, and talking about the behind-the-scenes political reality of a secret manned mission to learn more about a mysterious alien construction project in the asteroid belt seemed like it would be a bunch of fun to write (it is) and to read (we'll find out soon!)
PREVIEWSworld: How was it working with artist Alberto Alburquerque? Have you worked with him before? What does he bring to the story?
Soule: Alberto is an extremely skilled storyteller, and that, for me, always has to be number one. I don't care how stylized your art might be - if the story beats are clear, I'm good. Alberto has that in spades, but he's also got a great design sense, and his character work is excellent. I've described Letter 44 as 24 meets 2001, and that requires a really strong skill set across the board - there's huge action, there are alien machines to design, and there are also intimate character moments and conversations. It's not an easy challenge, I'm sure, but he's nailing it.
I hadn't worked with Alberto before this project, but I hope to work with him for a long time to come.
PREVIEWSworld: What about this title will surprise readers?
Soule: Hopefully just about everything! In one sense, it's a classic mystery revolving around the question "What's up there?" But once we learn that answer, then the next question is "Why is it up there?" There are layers upon layers, and it's going to be really fun to play them out over the series. That said, I'm a firm believer in the idea that you can't wait TOO long to give readers answers, so I'm planning to pace out the reveals at a pretty even pace. The whole thing spirals up to a really huge ending, and I can't wait to get there.
PREVIEWSworld: Who’s point of view is the story told from?
Soule: The story runs on two tracks. First, we have President Stephen Blades, who has just been inaugurated for his first term as President when the story begins. He learns (through the letter referred to in the title, which is left for him by his predecessor on the Oval Office desk) that seven years earlier, NASA discovered the alien construction up in the asteroid belt. They've kept it secret, but the outgoing President did a huge amount of prep work, planning for almost any scenario - but assuming they'll be hostile. These preparations included sending up a manned mission three years prior, which is about 6 months away from the artifact when the story begins. So, we see the new President trying to deal with all of this, but we also have the second track, which has the astronauts up in their increasingly rickety spaceship, getting closer and closer to finding out what's really going on. Every issue cuts back and forth between the two stories.
PREVIEWSworld: What was your favorite thing about working on this story?
Soule: All the space stuff, for sure. As I mentioned earlier, I love manned space travel - astronauts (from any country) are true superheroes, and it's a dream come true to write stories about them. I'm also enjoying all of the research I get to do - I've had a few conversations with an astronomer from JPL, for example, just to get the science right. It's also fun to be working in long-form storytelling. Letter 44 is planned to run for a number of arcs, and it's a great challenge to set things up that way. Each arc has to build upon the last, while remaining engaging issue to issue as well. It's not easy, but it's a blast.
PREVIEWSworld: Letter 44 #1 Black and White edition was available during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, have you received any type of feedback? What made you/Oni decide to release it early?
Soule: I think it was an effort to get the first installment into the hands of eager readers as early as possible, at the biggest comic event of the year. I think Oni is confident that we've got something special here, and releasing it early could only help generate some advance buzz for the full release in October.
Feedback so far has been excellent! I consider the first issue to be a pilot, of sorts - it's where you have to hook people for the long term, to convince them that there's a long-term plan that they want to be on board with. Based on the reactions I've read, people are really digging what they've seen so far, which is amazing.
PREVIEWSworld: The first book in the series will be able for only $1.00. What was the reasoning behind this lower price point?
Soule: Just another way to get people to give it a shot. I think we all feel that if people read the first issue, they'll want to read more, so why not make it as easy as possible to read that first issue? It makes it easier for retailers to order more, and easier for readers to buy it. That said, I suggest that people buy three - one to read and two to give away. It won't cost you any more than a regular comic, and think of the good comics karma!