In the 1970s, many people in the Mainstream comics industry thought I was crazy.
Some of them quite possibly could have been right, but not for the reasons they spoke during that time.
I had this idea, see, that if you took a writer that the readers knew and that some readers felt passionately about, and if you took an artist that they knew and were enthralled by that artist’s work, I said this idea more than once: I think the comic book stores can support a comic.
The experts in the comics biz thought this truly established my qualifications as “crazy.” In the big companies, the common belief was that the comic stores were only a small percentage of their business. I mean barely above single digits. They were still rooted where they had been in the past years.
Sabre, as a series looked to the future, not only in story content, but in how comics could be sold and where they might be sold.
I also knew most of the “unwritten rules” of what a writer could or could not do in a comic.
I wasn’t totally crazy, although maybe I may not be the best person to judge that, so take it with some skepticism, but, I knew I could not explore the possibility that you could sell on the store racks or even with the Distributors with a series like DETECTIVES INC. or RAGAMUFFINS. I had done DETECTIVES INC. as early as 1969, with Alex Simmons drawing it, but if there was indeed a market place for comics that were going to explore territory that invaded the “unwritten rules” then it probably should be in the costumed heroic vein, not private eyes, or little 5 year olds growing up in the 1950s.
I wasn’t interested in writing just one kind of story, over and over again.
Long before the comic ever became reality, it was worked on for at least two years! Long before I chose an artist to draw it, I already knew the characters and themes that I wanted to explore and had spent months researching and developing it.
When you start, as a writer, there is nothing. There is just you and, in the 1970s, a blank sheet of paper. You start to construct who those people are, characters you know you will want to write about and care about, and that hopefully that caring will translate over to the audience.
There are short memories in the entertainment business. Already many folks had forgotten me as a horror writer at Warren Magazines. If you read some people’s revisionist history as if it were fact, I didn’t start in comics until I wrote Panther’s Rage and Killraven.
The fact that the comics medium was dominated by colorful figures and that I was now associated with that form of story-telling, meant to me that I should take that genre and go places where I could not go before.
Thus, again, Sabre.
I had never seen a black swashbuckler character before, and the initial impulse to start creating such a character came from watching an Errol Flynn movie, “The Sea Hawk.” I had this thought, “this shouldn’t be about a white guy, enslaved on a ship, under the whip working on a plantation, who goes to rebel against the forces that thrive on slavery. He should be a black guy“.
And I called him Dagger at first, but he wasn’t Dagger.
If Sabre lives in some alternate version of our world, he is to me in every way named Sabre.
To add to reasons why some big names in the comics biz thought I was nuts, the response was: “Don, whose going to buy a book about a black guy with a lot of guns?”
Dean and I were watching a 16MM print of I SPY one night, and afterwards I talked with about Sabre, and Melissa Siren, the first test-tube baby, and this world set in the future, and the clash to maintain love and lust and individuality.
Dean called a day or two later and asked if he could publish Sabre.
I told him what I wanted. I wanted to own my characters. I wanted final say in my copy. No one could touch it but me.
This, like selling comics directly to comic book stores, bordered on heresy.
Dean said yes to everything I asked.
I told him you better come over.
I think I took around $300.00 at the time to do the book. Everybody else got paid above their establishment wages. Art was owned and returned. But the book got held up for 2 years. And I still had to survive.
And its delay was over issues of race.
I thought I only had to contend with the “unwritten rules” in the editorial halls of the big companies, where diversity was a suspicious word, and don’t even think about putting any gay characters in the pages of those comics.
You don’t have to take my word for it.
Take a look at what was being published.
And it won’t it take long before you realize what Pop Culture generally would allow, and wouldn’t.
Were there racists in the comics industry? You can take it to the bank.
From the get-go, Sabre was always going to include a variety of characters.
If the color green was supposed to be the comics industry bottom line, Why the Hell would they want to exclude vast members of the buying public?
Don’t get me started.
After two years the book finally made it to the stands, with a disclaimer that looks like what you read at the beginning of many DVDs, that the ideas in the book are only the writers and no one else.
Check it out.
It’s right near the Copyright notice in the 1978 edition.
Now, the book did sell, at a high price, but I gave the audience something they could not find anywhere else in comics.
That lead to being able to do DETECTIVES INC: A REMEMBRANCE OF THREATENING GREEN.
And then those little kids in the 1950s, RAGAMUFFINS.
The industry changed its tune pretty quickly after the success of Sabre and other independent books. Within three years they were aggressively entering the comic book store market place, trying to extinguish the little publishers.
The medium became increasingly complex, but more distinctly unique voices were heard.
If you are a writer in comics, and you don’t draw, you know this is an Art-Centric medium.
It’s like cinema. A writer is a necessary evil if you don’t have anything to film the next day. Ask Raymond Chandler.
In comics, if you don’t both draw and write, this second class citizen (which is what writers are often considered) is needed so the artist has something to draw.
That may not be totally true these days, but I don’t look at enough of the stuff to really go for the jugular here.
It took a decade to get to this Sabre Kickstarter The Early Future Years project.
It started when someone wanted to do a Sabre film, with a young Sabre.
I had refused to come back to the character unless I could finish The Decadence Indoctrination, which was planned for around 600 pages. It was the first time I would truly write Sabre as a graphic novel, and not one that was a novel in name only.
But this approach I felt did not violate any of the principals of where I intended to take Sabre. His life journey would remain totally unpredicatable and as it is for many of us, going places we never anticipated, never would embarked upon to begin with. It would take Sabre to places that would shock him if you told him before it happened. And hopefully the readers would also be there with widened eyes.
Doing this project, I see similarities between starting Sabre with the idea of targeting the comic book stores, and going to directly to the fans. I even used an ad line, something like, “The kind of comic you’d choose, if they gave you a choice.”
Kickstarter does that.
The fans get to choose what they want to support, and the kind stories that specifically appeal to them.
So, I like being a part of that.
I like the fact that I am working with Trevor von Eeden. I have been fortunate in my career to work with so many fine artists who took pride in their work, who cared about the stories I wanted to tell, and brought their individuality and talent to bear on them.
I’ve never met Trevor.
I’ve never talked with him.
Everything we have done so far is through mail.
Trevor is articulate, discerning, passionate, an original.
I have written I don’t write easy. If you want to draw easy, you should probably go somewhere else.
Trevor doesn’t look for easy. He takes the challenge of art seriously.
You need all the positive energy you can get to take on a book of this size, and working with Trevor, I find I have that.
Now, it’s in the hands of the readers, and if they are there. I hope I deliver the kind of Sabre story they’ll love, even if it isn’t what they expected.
You don’t ever have had to read Sabre to become involved in this world. This is the story of how Sabre and Melissa Siren meet, and thus form the core of this series, as a love story. It is still about the fight to retain individual thought and freedom. It is about the different forms of warfare. It’s still pushing the sexual boundaries, as it always has.
And thankfully, the book won’t be held up for two years.
You have two story-tellers who love comics, who love diversity, in life and story.
And thus, Sabre storms the Kickstarter frontier!
I’m about 70 pages into a new DETECTIVES INC: A FEAR OF PERVERSE PHOTOS/A REPERCUSSION OF VIOLENT REPRISAL.
Normally, I cannot give you an opening line, the way Hollywood likes a high concept.
But in this instance, here is private investigator Bob Rainier’s opening line of dialogue, “So, let me see if I’ve got this straight, you want us to break into your apartment and steal all the porn you’ve printed off the Internet.”
Be kind to each other.
Be kind to yourselves.
And hang in there.
August 8, 2013