The Great Sabre Interview Part Five: The Future Depends on Where You Are as a Creator
Continuing our monster interview with Don McGregor, Don talks about disappointments, the future, stories about children, and the way that death and injury actually affects characters.
Don McGregor: What had seemed so positive — the sale of Ragamuffins overseas – brought Sabre to where the series did not recover, and, in the end, was one of the key elements that led to Sabre: The Decadence Indoctrinationnever reaching completion.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: I think that’s the really sad part of it. There’s this kind of tragedy about if the book had just been distributed better, if you had just been able to coordinate the stories better somehow, we would have possibly had the chance to read that full incredible “Decadence Indoctrination” storyline. Instead it got mangled or bungled or whatever word you want to apply to it.
McGregor: Yeah, it’s one of those things that’s still a painful wound.
I don’t blame anybody for it. It would be different if somebody was acting maliciously, but that wasn’t the case. Everybody had something to lose. That said, I still have the emotional scars remaining. It doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the fact that the book is gone and I never had the chance to show people where I was going and what I intended to do.
Still, I’m glad I had the chance to do the books I did.
Ragamuffins is still one of my favorite books out of anything I have ever done. I wish I had been able to continue it. The series was going to grow from story to story, and it was unlike any of the other series I had done or created. I always said it was a book about childhood for adults. That was one of the things the series was. The stories that did see print all had flash-forwards from the 1950s to the ’60s, ’70s and beyond. So there is also a cause and effect aspect to the series. Oftentimes, the series would look at what adults think they are teaching kids, and what the child really takes from what has happened.
Eventually, there would have been stories that occurred when the mothers and fathers were five years old, and we would see what shaped them to become the adults and parents they were.
But more. In the long run, we would look at America from the early 1900’s, the teens, the 20’s and 30’s, etc. We would see what had changed in America and the world, and what hadn’t.
Gene Colan would have told those stories with such infinite grace and subtlety.
So much of Ragamuffins, if I wrote it right, I think would have been about what makes us human and the human experiences and emotions that transcend time.
I wish you all could have seen it.
But that’s another series.
Sacks: Yeah. So let’s get back to the Decadence Indoctrination. I know we talked about this a couple of times, but we haven’t recorded it. So talk about where you had planned to
move that story, since we got about a quarter of where you may have gone with it.
McGregor: Having an unlimited amount of pages to tell a huge story made a big difference in approach. Sabre was still going strong enough that at the time Dean Mullaney had talked of doing a Blackstar Blood mini-series. I had already conceived the idea of the beginning and end of that story-line, and created the villain: Colonel Wormrat.
That’s the reason there isn’t an exit sequence for Blackstar. The exit actually starts with his good-bye to Willoughby.
I knew where Sabre’s life was going to go. I suspect most of the readers wouldn’t guess ahead of time, and it certainly isn’t the direction Sabre himself would see his life going. I never told Dean, or anyone, to this day where it ended, but that once I was there, it might be the last Sabre I would write. Never say never, though. But I would have had to see where I was as a writer and as a human being by the time I got there to see if it was possible to continue from there.
It also allowed me to create a whole new slew of characters, and to explore more deeply different aspects of Sabre’s world.
I loved the idea of switching scenes to different locales, peopled by a divergent cast, and the challenge of making the readers care about these new characters and not care if we weren’t with Sabre and Melissa for the entire issue. This kind of unbridled room allowed me to develop how these various places worked, become intimately aware of the people within them, and not immediately have to showcase how these disparate individuals would connect with each other.
I loved the idea that the reader would know the intricacies and complexities of these people and places, so that by the time Sabre and Melissa arrive, they know the conflicts and the various agendas. The reader knows what the stakes are, but Sabre and Melissa and the other main group of characters, like Midnight Storm and the others, don’t.
In a lot of heroic fantasy stories, basically, the place doesn’t exist until the hero gets there. I liked the idea that by the time Sabre, Melissa and others in the cast got there, they are in total ignorance, while we know when they are being told the truth or lied to or manipulated. And all the time I have the chance to explore how that world works and new themes that I hadn’t had room to delineate otherwise.
I wanted to be able to deal with ideas like how big corporations worked within their organizations and how it affected the society. This would be the first time I could really address how the media worked in this kind of future and how different media had evolved. I could even take time to dwell on literature and books, from the smell and weight and ideas of them, and how all of it lingers with people who love words and stories told to them.
Heironymous Skull, for instance, is a fascinating character to me. He reflects in his style, which is a Fred Astaire eloquence, but he only revels in the outer aesthetics of the dance. He takes from this beauty ugly sadistic urges that are like worms in his brain. So, yes, he can love all those musicals and the Technicolor bright world of simple problems easily resolved, but for Heironymous he turns it into what he views as stylish brutality. No matter what the people who love to censor things think they might accomplish in banishing bad behaviour, horrific human behaviour, it can find spark in the most innocuous of places. So many of these people attack the horror genre for example, as if the Frankenstein monster is going to create a monster of out of human being. Monstrous origins often come from what you and I might find bland, but they take that blandness and twist it within their heads with what is part of their make-up as individuals and what happens to them personally and by what the hell is going on in the world around them.
And sexuality is always in major dispute. What should people be allowed to see? What shouldn’t they be allowed to see? The loudest voices screaming “family values” end up in headlines, with adultery or accusations of sexually harassing interns or taking photographs of their genitalia and sending it to unwanting strangers.
I’m always suspicious of people who know what other people should or shouldn’t be doing.
And condemning storytellers is a helluva lot easier than admitting to any individual culpability in what they do or how they treat others around them or addressing complex problems that don’t have simple solutions.
A little while before we did this interview, when it was being set up, I actually looked at a few of the books. It was total synchronicity though.
Marsha was in the hospital. I was home alone, looking for something else, and I stubbed my foot into the FedEx box. I looked down at it and thought, “What the hell is in here?” It was a collection of the Sabre series someone had sent me a long time ago. So, I thought, “Something in the universe must be trying to tell me something. ”
There was some letter printed in one of the issues, Daniel, that you asked me about, so I searched through them. I hadn’t read the books since I wrote Sabre: the Early Future Years.
Normally, the readers have read the books much more recently than I have. But in going over them, I saw lines I liked, and, seeing as we are in this age of instant communication with Facebook and other social media, I posted some of the lines from the books up there.
I liked what the lines said, and I thought if Jason is really going to put together this Kickstarter project together, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to refresh people’s minds about all of these characters and the kind of topics the series handled.
One thing that surprised me while looking at those initial issues in “The Decadence Indoctrination” (and by the way, you’ll note that for the first time the pages are listed from issue to issue, continuing on from the last issue, so that by the last issue the graphic novel was up to around 125 or 126 pages, or so) was “Oh man, I can see, I was setting up stuff as early as the second and third issue that would pay-off when the group go to Lynchburg and Roanoke. I used Roanoke because my friend Ed Via lived there. Any place I used as a setting, be it Rhode Island where I grew up or Oklahoma where Marsha grew up, they probably all wished I hadn’t included them at all. In research I was doing at the time, the Reverend Donald Wildmon has his big religious group located in the area, and there was huge communications center established, which made it integral place to set this war of media moguls.
Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: Not to change the subject, but one of my favourite characters in this series is Willoughby. I’m sorry, but I have to ask, why did you have to kill Willoughby?
McGregor: Fair enough question, Daniel. For Sabre, I got asked why I killed Willoughby. In Killraven, the question was often about the
Navajo Indian Hawk, and Grok.
I’ll tell you it’s a good thing you never got to see the end of Killraven because the questions might get more vehement. You know, as your career extends throughout the years, you have to hope you still have some surprises for the readers, that you will do things they don’t expect to come from you. “That’s not what Don does.” Well, what Don does, hopefully, is what makes for the most powerful story. Which doesn’t mean some readers wouldn’t want my scalp.
But the reason there is the loss of characters people cherish is mostly my belief that too many times in comics, as in all aspects of Pop Culture, writers lie.
So often only the people that you don’t like get hurt or get the death they deserve. You get some kind of karma that is cathartic. But that isn’t what happens in war. My feeling was, and is, if I’m writing about the effects of war, I can’t just have the victims be the bad guys. It has to deal with the chaotic nature and randomness of death and destruction; the toll this all takes on everyone.
One of the major differences with Sabre: The Decadence Indoctrination is that I did not have to immediately have the hero meet a new villain. Because the new series would be on a monthly basis, there was time to see the after effects of the war. How long the wounds take to heal, if they ever heal. I never had room to take the time to explore how all the major players’ lives change afterwards.
For example, there’s the wounds that Summer Ice suffers. Summer doesn’t immediately recuperate. You see how long and painful the recuperation process is, and how Deuces Wild reacts to how fragile flesh and bone can be to violence.
So you asked me why Willoughby had to die, Daniel. There had to be a character that people cared about that was a casualty. People liked Willoughby and I liked him. Oftentimes when I’m reluctant to kill a character it says to me, probably, that means that the audience will also be affected by it. So again, I just feel you can’t tell people that war doesn’t take people that you love and you care about. You lose them. Sometimes there is a moment of heroics. Most often, it’s a tragic loss of life and limb, and that had to be a part of this kind of story.
The intended Blackstar Blood series deals with his intense emotions about Willoughby. That story started with Blackstar burying Willoughby. But it got put on a back-burner, as Eclipse looked for an artist for the series. By this time Dean knew many more artists than I did, since he dealt with talent on many different projects. You can seeSabre was still pretty successful or there would not have been any talk about doing a separate series based on one of the characters
And as I probably mentioned, I knew where the story would end, if I didn’t necessarily know everything that happened in between.
Did I know that Willoughby was going to die? Yeah. I knew that. Decisions had to be made pretty early on, you know, who probably would or wouldn’t survive at the end.