Interview: A tale of one superhero

Hiya guys! This week, I have the pleasure of interviewing Aravind Menon who set up Jove Pater Media with 4 of his buddies. Jove Pater Media is also the Singapore company behind Salvation Sam, a western style comic about…SUPERHEROES! Glad to know that superheroes ain’t just limited to the Marvel flagship. XDD

And now, if you’re ready…let us jump into the mind of one who dares to dream about superheroes and bring them to life on paper!

 

All for one & one for all. Aravind & Alex are the dudes on flanking the group.

 


 

Why superheroes?

Having grown up on superhero comics, you kinda tell yourself that you’re either gonna grow up and become a superhero, or–at the very least–write about them. After hundreds of attempts of getting myself bitten by radioactive spiders and looking for toxic spills to bathe myself in ended with zero success, I decided to settle for being a superhero writer.

I guess on a more serious note, I’ve always felt that the comic book medium has always been the single best medium for superhero stories. Despite some of my favourite movies of all time belonging to the superhero genre, I can honestly say that I have never found a movie to be anywhere as satisfying as a good comic with superheroes.

What is Salvation Sam all about?

It would be easy to say that Salvation Sam is a coming of age tale about a person becoming a superhero, but Alex (fellow writer and creator) and I would like to say that it is something more. Having read and watched comic and superhero related stuff for our whole lives, there were some specific things that we wanted to approach and discuss.

The first thing–which is pretty obvious very quickly in the comic–is the importance of a good villain in a superhero’s career. We take for granted how famous Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the X-men are. However, if we were to look at their careers, a lot of their fame is directly linked to Lex Luthor, the Joker, Green Goblin and Magneto. So the question then becomes: what if a really powerful superhero–as powerful as most A-Listers–got stuck with a B-List rogue gallery? What happens to his career then?

Another thing that really struck us–and this was due to the trend of today’s superhero comics almost always having a shared universe–was the question of how special superheroes really are?

Salvation Sam, as a superhero, is pretty powerful. He’s in a world where superheroes are celebrated like rock stars and by all right he should be nothing less than a celebrity. But he isn’t. So in here we have the question of how does this super-powered being put the ‘hero’ back in ‘superhero.’

What is the collaboration process like between writer, artists and inker? Were there any cat fights?

The collaboration was actually pretty smooth. In total, we worked with 6 artists–1 penciller, 3 inkers, 1 colorist and 1 letterer–and the kicker was that none of them were Singaporean. In fact, all of them live in North and South America and that effectively meant a neat 12 hour difference that completely messed with my sleep cycle.

But other than that, it was an amazing experience. Despite most being freelancers or new to this, they were extremely professional. If anything, I was more concerned if I was over imposing or was stifling their creativity. As much as possible we kept our scripts simple and only offered directions if it was something of particular necessity to the story. Otherwise it’s just mostly suggestions and it’s actually quite exciting to see how they interpret the script.

Things will be slightly different the next time though, we’ll be streamlining our art team to one inker per project. The last time we had to resort to 4 inkers–our penciller joined in–in order to get the product completed before STGCC and this resulted in some inconsistencies. But of course, this was inevitable given our 6 month schedule and at this point we’re just grateful to have been able to have found such great and quick artists in short notice.

How did you work things out when the artist doesn’t agree with the writer or vice versa?

As mentioned earlier, we didn’t really have any disagreements per se. As long as there were no misinterpretations that affected the continuity of the story or hindered some portion of the story-telling that Alex and I weren’t ready yet to reveal, we kinda let Renzo–the penciller–have free rein on the art. And he’s really quite amazing at that.

Interestingly though–and I know this isn’t really part of the question, sorry–the disagreements ocurred between me and Alex. We were in kind of a unique position where there were two writers and creators on this project and that led to multiple differing views on characters, story and technicalities. But we’ve been working on writing scripts for 5 years now–and that’s in a team of 5–so these debates that we had were comparatively minute.

It’s just matter of how long a debate/argument/cage match would last before we realised that our discussion had brought about a bunch of whole new ideas. But I would say that it’s actually one of the advantages of working in a team with multiple creators/writers. Our different ideas always led to stronger characters or–more often that you’d think–new characters that better embodied the different ideas that we had.

What is the difference between working in a team or paying someone to draw for you?

I guess, again, we’re in a unique position that merges both of those fields together. Our company, Jove Pater Media, is composed of only 5 of us and we’re all writers with no experience in sequential art… or using a pencil for that matter. That was one of the main reasons why we turned to the friendly world wide web to look for artists talented and tolerant enough–very tolerant–to work with us.

As owners of the company though, we pretty much feel that it’s our responsibility to take the financial gamble and so we ensured that all our artists were remunerated on a commission basis. This does kind of add a hierarchy to things but we worked really hard on maintaining a team mentality to things. And hopefully, we get to actually include artists in the team soon. In fact, out priority for the next year is to build our art teams with local and regional talents for the multiple projects that are coming up.

How can a comic artist publish his/her own comics without needing to set up a company? Is there a viable self-publishing business model that you can advise us on?

Despite having started a company and being in one, I can honestly say that it isn’t essential to have one to self-publish. In fact I set up this company initially because I was freelancing for established production houses that didn’t regularly outsource script-writing to individuals. It later turned out to be a good platform for me to work with my friends and we started working
towards short film production.

It was only in 2009 that we decided that we would actively work towards publishing comics and very frankly I’d say that we’re also self-publishing our own stuff. The advantage of having the company during all of this was that we had 5 people working towards handling the problems that crept up on us.

A gift that a lot of talent have that we didn’t was that–as a group–we were mostly writers. But I think if you can pull yourself a strong and talented team that’s 50% of the battle won. The biggest problem always turns out to be the actual publication and you find yourself thinking: “Geez, how expensive could paper be?”

The cost of printing and distribution is quite ridiculous and it usually seems impossible to recoup costs by sales alone. But the internet is kinda changing the scene and web comics have become increasingly popular. Earning through subscription or even by selling through an Apple or Android app store seems to be highly viable.

Of course, many people–my company and I included–are fans of the print medium and the dream is that we can all enter on that medium in the industry. And I guess that’s where I hope my company can play a part. One of our primary objectives is to publish independent work and basically remove the headache of publication so that they can focus on the actually fun part of things: creating the comic.

When is the next issue of Salvation Sam coming?

Well, we’ll actually be re-releasing Salvation Sam #1 as a 40-page special, fully coloured and so on for retail first. The art will also be redone to a certain extent and we’ll be introducing new story elements.

The series–which will be in 6 parts with 1 tie-in–is meant to be released on a monthly schedule and so the second part should be released the month after the first. By that point of time Salvation Sam–along with our future titles–should be available on the magazine shelves of 7-11 and Cheers to keep it accessible to casual readers who wouldn’t want to journey to specific points in Singapore to purchase the comic.

What made you guys go into comics? What inspired you?

As I mentioned earlier, our company initially pulled together for short film productions. But writing comics was always kind of one of those things that all of us wanted to get into. In 2009, a year after I had finished NS and Alex, just a month since, we just met for one of our usual dinners and decided that it was about time that we got proactive with our company.

At this point, the other 3 members of our company were all in NS and we had to realistically assess our available resources. And that’s when it hit us that this would be the perfect time to re-prioritise our company’s objectives and bring comics to the forefront. We started passively working on Salvation Sam and a few other possible ideas for about a year and when we heard
that 2010’s STGCC would be placing extra focus on the western genre of comics and bringing guests down we just decided that it would be now or never. The event itself didn’t turn out very well but it was definitely a good motivator.

That actually gave us 6 months to progress Salvation Sam #1 from a constantly expanding concept to an actually printed comic book with a cohesive story and awesome art. But to be very honest, all our difficulties–and my whining–aside, it was pretty damn awesome to be writing comics. I mean, if I met a guy who wrote superhero comics for a living I’d pretty much be burning with jealousy, so now I get to be jealous of myself. Which is kinda confusing actually.

I have a friend who started drawing her comics from right to left in the manga method. Do you have a workable solution such that she can convert those comics into the Western style (read: left to right) method?

Well, I’m thinking that you don’t mean literally rotating it with photoshop, right?

As a fan of western comics and manga, I can honestly say that there are many fundamental differences between manga and western comic books. The story-telling structure, utility of beats, mythos and many other elements come into play accordingly and are part of the baggage that follow the medium.

If your friend is considering changing her manga-styled story into a western-styled one, I’d first recommend having the script edited accordingly and then redraw it.

All of that being said, I think if any writer/artist is interested in marketing to a western comic audience, they should do it in whatever style they feel best fits the content. Cross culture entertainment is common now and I think it would do well enough with the chosen story-telling style.

Nevertheless, if anyone is interested in readdressing their content in the western format, my company and I would love to do anything we can to help.

 


 

You can now read Salvation Sam online here at Issuu! Start supporting Singaporean comic creators today. =D

moon