Comics Features

INTERVIEW: Don McGregor, Trevor Von Eeden & Jason Sachs of Sabre: The Early Future Years

Some older readers may remember Sabre, released in 1978, and often considered to be one of the first ever graphic novels. A new Sabre series, written by Don McGregor, the writer of the original,and illustrated by Trevor Von Eeden, known for his work on Batman and Green Arrow, is currently in the works, trying to get funding on Kickstarter.

 

Here’s an exclusive interview in which Don, Trevor and the Project Coordinator Jason Sachs talk us through what we can expect in the new Sabre series.

AP2HYC: So what is this new Sabre series all about?

Jason Sacks: Sabre is a thrilling action-adventure comic set in a future where much of civilization has broken down and men and women must fight for their freedom. In that world emerges Sabre, a strong man with deep philosophical impulses to help create that freedom. Sabre is a passionate man – a man who loves the thrill of battle, the companionship of friends, and the love of a good woman. In this book we watch Sabre meet his beloved Melissa, a woman born of a test tube who compensates for that impersonal upbringing with an equally deep passion for life. Together, the two of them fight for their lives with retro-futuristic weapons and ride into battle on techno-horses.

There’s never been a comic quite like Sabre. It’s filled with true swashbuckling adventure with dynamic characters and a deep philosophical heart. It’s the kind of series that inspires very deep passion among its readers

Don McGregor: There has never been any one definition, for me, on Sabre. Certainly with the series colorful, costumed lead characters, it is in the heroic fantasy genre.

At its heart it is a love story about a man and woman who keep their love alive through-out all the chaos in the world about them. It is about family. It is about making a stand, and having to decide when to make a difficult stand. It is sometimes satire. It is sometimes differences of opinion, and ways of living, that come into terrible conflict. It is about power, and the old axiom, how power corrupts, all through-out human history. It’s a series that allows people of all different backgrounds and sexual preferences in the cast of characters. 

But one elderly editor thought it was only about a black guy with a lot of guns, and who would buy that?

AP2HYC: How would you describe the tone of the series?

Sacks: This book is thrilling. It’s deep. It’s dynamic and filled with action that will lift you out of your seat, and filled with interesting musings that will deeply engage your brain. It’s filled with vivid characters and intriguing settings and is very much its own thing.

AP2HYC: How did the idea for the new series come about?

McGregor: It’s gone through a decade where it was about to happen, was sure to happen, then didn’t. And keeping the energy and spirit up to listen to the next people who wanted to help make it become a reality.

Sacks: Don finished his script for Sabre: The Early Future Years in the early 2000s, two decades after the original series ended. This character and his world were so vivid and compelling that Don could not stay away from it and was compelled to bring it all back. 

Don was kind enough to share the script with me, as a fan of his work and of the series, and I broached the idea of running a Kickstarter project to fund the creation of this book. I met Trevor at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con and we discussed his coming aboard the project at that time. Since Sabre really sparked Trevor’s imagination, it was easy and exciting to bring him aboard.

 AP2HYC: How does Sabre, as a character, appeal to you?

McGregor: I love him, his honorable stand, his capacity for love and to defend those he loves.  I love the people he draws around him, because they can be caring.  They can be compassionate.  I love to see him as the iconic figure, not backing down, I love the aspect of Sabre as a romantic realist.

Although the question kind of makes me shake my head, because I created him, and I’ve lived with him so much of my life, and he represented such a challenge to the comic medium when he came to life that I would have gone through all that for a character that did not appeal to me.

Von Eeden: Sabre, as a character appeals to me because of his intense integrity, and the romantic lyricism of his love story with Melissa. The sci-fi elements are also immensely appealing to me, and Don’s highly conceptual and psychologically perceptive writing provide a lot of meat for me to sink my visual/narrative teeth in.

Sacks: In a world that doesn’t value such things, Sabre is a man of integrity, deep intellectual and emotional passion and a huge drive to make sense of his world. They just don’t make ‘em like Sabre, you know?

AP2HYC: In addition to Sabre, what other interesting characters can we expect to meet?

McGregor: This story showcases many of the major characters in Sabre.

It’s actually the earliest story time-wise about Sabre and Melissa Siren and Crimson Dawn and Midnight Storm and Blackstar Blood. Kind of the ultimate origin story for Sabre and the world that has been so splintered in the future.

AP2HYC: Sabre is widely considered to be one of the first ever graphic novels. Do you think that the series has a cultural importance?

McGregor: Other people decide that. I know it has had tremendous impact on many people, because they have let me know many times over the years. Read Daniel Elkins opening to the big Sabre interview that’s on Comics Bulletin. Or Michael Davis‘ column on Sabre. If the book has given something to people’s lives, that’s a tremendous reward for the story-teller.

Sacks: The original Sabre was one of the very first graphic novels to be published in America. It was also one of the very first graphic novels to be created by two men who were actively working in American mainstream comics, in Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy. The original graphic novel was a milestone in the development of independent, creator-owned comics in America, and without it we might not have books like Walking Dead, Chew or Saga today – or even Image Comics. Don was a pioneer, and he’s still working in the creator-owned arena today.

Von Eeden: Do I think that Sabre has a cultural importance (aside from being one of the pioneering graphic novels)? –I couldn’t say. But I think it should, because of the mature intelligence of both its approach, and content.

AP2HYC: Was it a challenge to adapt such an iconic character for today’s audience?

McGregor: Story-telling isn’t trendy. The challenge is to tell a story that is honest, that is true to its intent, that gives something to the reader through-out.

Sacks: Don and Trevor follow their visions and would never compromise them. I think that’s a big part of what makes this book so special and this series so beloved by readers.

AP2HYC: What style of artwork will the new series employ? 

Von Eeden: The only answer I can think of is: “The best possible, to suit the needs of the story.” With me, the art is designed to suit the story–not the other way around. At least, not until I start working Marvel-style, from a plot instead of a full script.

AP2HYC: What perks can those who pledge towards the Kickstarter campaign expect?

Sacks: We offer digital copies of the original Sabre graphic novel and the new graphic novel. Now everyone who donates $5 or more will receive copies of both books – a tremendous bargain. We also offer softcover and hardcover copies of the completed Early Future Years, along with sketches, original art, and even the chance to have your likeness included in the book.

AP2HYC: Don and Trevor, you’ve both worked for huge publishers like Marvel and DC, how to you find working on a smaller project like this? Does it allow you more creative freedom?

Von Eeden: Working on ANY project outside the productive confines of a multibillion-dollar corporation would naturally seem “smaller” by comparison–but to me, the content of the job determines my enthusiasm. Of course there’s more creative freedom involved, since a large corporation has infinitely more ducks in the water when producing a comic (worldwide distribution, sponsor appeasement, merchandising deals, etc) so there are more creative restrictions/guidelines to keep in mind for the artist–e.g: extremely adult sexuality and graphic gore/ violence would more likely be seen in independent publications that don’t have to worry about the underaged children market that keeps the sponsors happy, and in business… But basically, the main creative interest for me lies in the project itself, moreso than in the publisher. Big corporations too have produced many great comics.

AP2HYC: How did you break into the comic industry?

Von Eeden: When I was 16, a friend of mine sent in some ballpoint sketches I’d done to DC Comics, for a critique. (The same guy who’d introduced me to comics a few years earlier, by sharing his extensive collection with me) They sent me back a form letter, thanking me for the submission–at the bottom was a handwritten note “If you’re ever in the area, drop by…” This was back in 1971, pre- 9/11, so you could just walk in and out of an office building without an appointment back then–which I did. Once they saw how young I was, and that I was brown-skinned (originally from Guyana, South America)–they offered me the job drawing and designing their first black super-hero, Black Lightning. The rest is history. The ending is still a mystery… (since I’m not dead yet.)

AP2HYC: What advice do you have for up and coming comic-book writers?

Von Eeden: I’ve written and drawn my first graphic novel, The Original Johnson, released in ’09, and still on the shelves in New York (Forbidden Planet, Midtown Comics, Jim Hanley’s Universe). It got very good notices from the fans and critics alike–even garnered a NY Times quote on the cover! The hardcover version, featuring my cover painting, will be released soon. My advice to both artists and writers is this: Have FUN with what you’re doing–especially if you want to do it for the rest of your life, as most professionals do–whatever business they’re in.

AP2HYC: What other projects do you currently have lined up?

Von Eeden:  Presently, I’m working on my second book “HERU: The First Hero” while doing a lot of commissioned work for the fans–which I really enjoy. If the Sabre graphic novel hits, I’m sure we’ll do more. It’d be the logical thing to do, and I’d put money on the fact that Don has a lot more in his mind than we’ve yet seen, or even suspect. Right now though, it’s all up to the funding…

AP2HYC: If the series is a hit, can we expect to see more of Sabre in the future?

Sachs: You can count on it.

To find our more about Sabre and help support the comic, head on over to the Kickstarter page here.

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Davidde Gelmini

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