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Get Tooned In

Tackling topics like homelessness, foster care and alcoholism, local author Robert Soul’s compassion takes shape in his Ruined My Rhythm graphic novels set in Tulsa.

Michele Chiappetta
August 29, 2017

What is a teenager to do when she loses her mother, runs away from foster care and ends up homeless as she searches in Tulsa for the father she’s never met? That’s the driving, emotional story of Ruined My Rhythm, a striking graphic novel written by Tulsa author Robert Soul, drawn by Missouri native Luna Cooper, and boasting cover art by Tulsa artist Zach Raw.

In a world where comics, novels and films are so often born, bred and based on the East and West Coasts, a graphic novel created and set in Tulsa may seem unconventional. But it’s no surprise when you know the love for Tulsa that drives its author.

“What I love about Tulsa is the fact that Tulsa is a small city and a large town,” says Soul. “It really offers a lot to its people. It’s small enough that you can meet a lot of very interesting people with great stories to tell. In terms of the art scene, it’s become pretty clear that we’re on par with cities that are much larger. Tulsa has made its mark in terms of art and is continuing to do that. It’s a cool thing to be a part of.”

Though born in California, Soul moved to Oklahoma with his mother (who is a Tulsa native) at the tender age of 3. He spent his childhood kicking soccer balls around Hoover Elementary School before moving away — first to Illinois, then Kansas City, then Dallas. But when he moved back to Tulsa in 2014, he felt like he’d finally come home.

“I was back here for the first time as an adult,” says Soul. “And I realized not too long after that, Tulsa really was my hometown. So, when I had an opportunity to put this story into a graphic novel form, I thought I would be missing an opportunity if I didn’t share about my hometown of Tulsa.”

Soul’s appreciation for Tulsa is evident in the graphic novel’s detailed portrayal of downtown’s art deco architecture, well-known locations like Cain’s, and friendly faces like Be Love Yoga’s owner Joe Picorale and artist William Franklin of Decopolis, who both make cameos in the story. And anyone who lives here will recognize icons like the Golden Driller and the Blue Dome in the graphic novel’s pages. But even if you’re not from Tulsa, you’ll be drawn in by the story of Maria, a bold, brash teen whose life is turned upside down after her mother is shot and killed in a drive-by shooting.

Though Ruined My Rhythm is not based on a true story, it comes from many encounters Soul has had with people over the years, as well as his compassion for those dealing with issues like homelessness, foster care and alcoholism, all of which are highlighted in the story. In fact, in his non-author life, Soul works for the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, and is pursuing a master’s degree in social work. But ultimately, he says, Ruined My Rhythm is a story about searching for your place in the world, something we all can relate to.

“It’s about a teenage girl who goes through a lot and wants people to leave her alone,” Soul says. “But she keeps meeting some really genuinely nice people who force their way into her life and help her solve some things in her life and come to terms with her grief and with her search for her missing dad.”

Soul’s appreciation for Tulsa is evident in the graphic novel’s detailed portrayal of downtown’s art deco architecture, well-known locations like Cain’s.
Soul’s appreciation for Tulsa is evident in the graphic novel’s detailed portrayal of downtown’s art deco architecture, well-known locations like Cain’s.

Originally written as a screenplay, Ruined My Rhythm was never made into a film. Soul put the project on the shelf until a moment of serendipity propelled it into production in a totally unexpected way. The magic started when Soul attended the Wizard World ComicCon at Tulsa’s Cox Business Center in 2015, where he met twin teen artists Luna and Maia Cooper.

The Cooper sisters — 15 at the time — are talented artists who had been writing and drawing their own comic series, Champions of Erendil, since they were 13. They had a booth at Wizard World that year to sell their comic. Soul was struck by their talent and also by the fact that, like his heroine Maria, they too were Latina sketch artists.

“What really hit me was that Luna knew what she wanted to do with her characters. I could tell there was a real confidence in how she illustrated her characters. And other comic book illustrators who were twice her age were saying how good she was,” Soul says.

He handed her a flash drive with the script and asked her to read it. As it turned out, Luna and her family loved the story, and she agreed to do the artwork for it, in between her studies and other activities.

The team-up has gone smoothly on both sides. “In a collaboration, you shouldn’t have to lose anything,” Soul explains. “In fact, you should see everything that’s important to you embellished and made even better. And that’s what Luna has done. I can tell she values what I bring, tries hard to incorporate it into her own ideas, and then in the end it feels like it’s much better than it ever would have been on its own.”

When Soul met local artist Raw at a convention earlier this year, he knew it was a chance to bring another Tulsa connection into the project. He tapped Raw to create a new cover for volume one as well as the covers for volume two (out this year) and volume three (scheduled for next year).

Tulsa has embraced the graphic novel with warmth and excitement. In addition to appearing at local conventions like Wizard World, Tokyo in Tulsa and Pryor Comic Convention, Soul has been selling volume one of the three-part series at places such as Nova Comics, Comic Empire, World of Comics, Wizard’s Asylum, Vintage Toy Mall, and other local places where comics are sold.

The release party for Ruined My Rhythm, Volume Two, is being held Sept. 15, 6:30–9:30 p.m., atop the Boxyard shopping area in downtown Tulsa. Sponsored by Nova Comics, the event will feature live music by local band Hey Judy, a cosplay contest with prizes, giveaways and more. Luna, Soul and Raw will all be present to sign copies. The event is open to the public.