What happens when your mother’s dying wish is for you to find the father you never knew?
That’s the premise of a graphic novel written by Robert Soul, and there are many “Easter eggs” for Tulsans to find within its pages.
The graphic novel — “Ruined My Rhythm” — is sprinkled with illustrations or mentions of the BOK Center, Tulsa’s downtown bus station, the Golden Driller, the Blue Dome District, the Brady Arts District, the University of Tulsa and Be Love Yoga Studio.
Why? Because “Ruined My Rhythm” is set in Tulsa, just like its 46-year-old author.
Soul (that’s his pen name, his “real” name is Robert Harmon) lived in Tulsa from age 4 to age 16.
“In 2014, I moved back here, my first time living here as an adult,” he said. “Up until then I felt like I didn’t have a hometown just because I had lived in different places. But, living back here, I’m looking at the city through different eyes.”
Soul saw a lot to admire about Tulsa’s arts community, and he wants “Ruined My Rhythm” to be a part of what he has “felt” since returning to town.
The primary character in the graphic novel is a teen girl, Maria, who, after her mother’s death, runs away from foster parents in search of her biological father, a musician who allegedly frequents stages in Tulsa.
Maria makes it to Tulsa, but what’s a girl to do with no money and no place to live?
Soul was asked why he went the graphic novel route instead of penning a novel. Graphic novels are fully illustrated and are crafted in comic book format.
Soul said he wrote “Ruined My Rhythm” as a screenplay. A movie storyboard and a graphic novel are sort of cousins, right?
“I was thinking the end result was to be able to show the entire story to filmmakers and say ‘here it is’ visually,” said Soul, who still hopes the story will become a film.
But for the here and now, Soul is eager to share Maria’s story by way of graphic novel, and he’s pleased with the result and the feedback. Many people have asked him when volume two will arrive.
Volume one is available at area comic stores and at vintagetoymall.com. A 76-page volume two should be available in the fall. Volume three, the final installment, will have a bigger page count, according to Soul.
Of course, you can expect more Tulsa-centric content. In future volumes, Soul said Wayman Tisdale will be mentioned on the first page of volume two. Scenes in volume one take place in venues called The Firebird and The Kane. Those are dopplegangers for The Phoenix and Cain’s Ballroom.
Interviewed at a table inside The Phoenix (“I love this place”), Soul said the world Maria inhabits is sort of an alternate Tulsa.
“For example, the alternate Tulsa that she is visiting has a train system called the T,” he said. “Maybe I’m trying to be a forward-thinker there, speculative fiction or what have you. But I would love to see Tulsa have a couple (of train) lines.”
Look for penguins in the next volume — and not the Penguin from Batman lore. “Ruined My Rhythm” is not a superhero kind of graphic novel. Soul’s penguins will be illustrations of the 6-foot fiberglass (and colorful) penguins that sprang up all over town as part of the Tulsa Zoo’s 75th anniversary celebration in 2002. Some are still standing.
Soul said the next volume is going to have a lot of those penguins, even ones that don’t exist anymore because he remembers them fondly from trips to Oklahoma to visit his parents.
“I think anybody growing up or living here long enough remembers those, so I would hate for them to be completely forgotten because they just have kind of disappeared,” he said. “I don’t know where they have all gone.”
The person charged with the responsibility of drawing the penguins is the graphic novel’s co-creator, Luna Cooper, who comes from a Springfield, Missouri, family of artists. Rising star? Cooper is 16.
Soul was introduced to the work of Cooper and twin sister Maia at the 2015 Wizard World Tulsa pop culture convention. He knew he had found creators who could help him bring Maria to life.
“I took a flash drive to her and her sister,” Soul said. “I said, ‘Please read this. I hope you like it. If you do, I would like to work with you to illustrate it.’ ”
Soul said Cooper captured the graphic novel’s characters and made them her own.
“This could not have been anything like this without her, so every page to me is just phenomenal,” he said. “And when I brought some things to her attention that maybe I hadn’t communicated to her as well, she blew me out of the water and did it quicker than I would have imagined.”
Michigan-based artist Matt Peppler provided the cover art for the graphic novel, which was published by Soul Fiction Factory of Tulsa and Champion Comics in Springfield, Missouri, in conjunction with Chipper Muse Creative Service of Tulsa.
Seed money for the project was raised through a Kickstarter campaign. Soul also reached into his wallet to get the graphic novel made. Worth it?
“Absolutely,” he said. “It may be a little while before I get my money back, if ever. But in the long run, I want to get the story out.”
Soul, who will be among author guests at the Pryor Creek Comic Convention, set from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at 6 N. Adair St. in Pryor, answered additional questions about “Ruined My Rhythm” during a Q-and-A session.
Artist Luna Cooper drew images from Tulsa in the “Ruined My Rhythm” graphic novel. Did she visit here or did she work from photo reference?
She has been to Tulsa. She has seen some of the landmarks. I have sent her a lot of pictures. She knows the town firsthand. I think for volume one she has spent a lot of time really landing on the characters and what they look like and how they feel. So the landmarks of Tulsa, there are a few icons, but this next volume she is going to really capture like the Philtower and some of the other buildings downtown (like) the Boston Avenue Church. She is really going to highlight some of those.
Maria, the primary character in “Ruined My Rhythm,” loses her mother at the start of the story. Is the character based on anyone or real-life experiences?
No. But I have lost aunts and uncles who have passed away. I have had loss, and I know what that’s like. I’m definitely a compassionate person and I hate to see people lose loved ones. ... You can’t solve that problem, so it’s hard to wrap your mind around it. When you are going through it, you really and truly feel like you are the only one going through it and you are the only that has ever experienced this before. That character, this story is really important to me because it shows how she grieves — in the good ways and the not-so-good ways — so I’m hoping that it really touches people who have lost somebody. Again, trying to find a solution for a way to fill the void when you lose someone, it’s tough. That’s why I just want people to know that you can make it. You can come out on the other side and you will never replace your loved one, but you can fill the void in really good ways and still remember your loved ones.
The graphic novel is character-driven. Readers may find it easy to root for the primary character because she’s homeless and they don’t know what’s going to happen to her next.
When she moves to Tulsa, she doesn’t have a place to live. She is homeless, which is another thing that I think is important, especially young people. I think most people, when you say ‘homeless person’ you immediately think of an older guy, or an older woman pushing a cart around. But actually there are a lot of teens who are homeless. ... Their story is tragic, but yet the world just kind of moves along and you don’t really know about the fact that there are a lot of young homeless people. That’s important to me, and Maria is one of those. I’m hoping to show people who don’t understand how tragic it is. I’m hoping they will see some of the problems that she has. But the same young people who are homeless or have been homeless, I want to tell their stories in such a way to help young people have hope if that’s what is going on with them.