The Great Sabre Interview Part Seven: Values Askew, Artists Aplenty and Happy Sex
In the penultimate chapter of our monster interview with Don McGregor, Don talks about sex, hid writing style, and breasts and why Americans have a hang-up about that topic.
Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: Earlier, Don, you talked about how important it was for you that Sabre and Melissa have a child together. Given that, I have to ask why you chose to give them twins?
Don McGregor: Ah, that’s a simple question to answer. I have a daughter and a son and for a series that I was going to spend so much of life with, I wanted both of them to know they were loved. Since the children would be a permanent, important part of Sabre, this way it was just a simple way to say they were both loved equally.
Now Jason made a comment about the names being, I forget the word he used, “Awful,” or something like that. I don’t disagree with him. I had reasons for the names, but still and all, if I were the kids, when I got older I’d let Mom and Dad know how much the names were hated.
I’m really fond of the diaper changing sequence, because it’s just never done in costumed heroic comics. Typically, the guy just has to be a bad-ass. We seldom see them as a dad.
Elkin: You also never see a nursing mother lactate into the mouth of the father of her children.
McGregor: Ah, now, see, we’re getting down to the kinds of human scenes you don’t often get to see in comics: men and women enjoying each other’s company, and being playful and sexual. I had the splash page drawn by Jose Ortiz up on my Facebook page of Melissa feeding one of the babies. Someone had asked if breasts had ever been shown in comics being used for their natural function. If I recall right, I think the question came up because a woman doing cosplay at a Comic Con dressed as Supergirl had a photo taken of her breast feeding her baby. TheSabre splash-page was the only example, I guess, that got found of breast-feeding. It got yanked off Facebook. Apparently if there is one complaint, the image is gone. So some scum-sucking weasel, who should have just de-friended themselves, got it taken off. I haven’t forgotten. p>
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: That is so strange.
I saw somewhere, just recently, that some male comic book writers made dismissive comments about rape, and, I guess, also about how women characters can’t sell comics. I’ve said before that certainly in mainstream comics in the’ 70s, you sadly could get a rape sequence through more easily than a sexual union between two people who were enjoying each other. This is another example, as far as I’m concerned, of values being askew, that I hopedSabre as a series would challenge. The breast play were a man and woman easily enjoying each other.
Jason: As more than ornamentation or something?
McGregor: Right. Now the thing with the adults; I have often found in my life that women have much more of a sense of humor about sex than men. Men, they take it really, really pretty seriously and maybe I’m just lucky that I’ve been with women that are much more playful and much more open, probably than I ever was. What the hell they were doing with me is beyond me.
So, to me that was just a scene of playfulness between a man and a woman who love each other. So it’s kind of sexual, but it’s kind of going to Kinsey’s statement: “There’s what people say about what kind of sex they have and then there is what they really do.” And I think Kinsey probably was pretty much on the money about that.
Sacks: Let’s talk about the artists. You worked with three very distinctive, different artists and then a couple of others with Kent Williams and others. I‘m not going to ask you to name your favorite. You mentioned Ortiz very briefly.
McGregor: I probably like the Ortiz Sabre issues best, but that’s maybe because of the kind of material I was getting to write. The novel form allows you room to explore subject matter and character you couldn’t in the earlier books. There’s a whole different kind of pacing, in The Decadence Indoctrination. It wasn’t something that was chopped up because in the beginning it was going to be a mini-series. I said earlier, Sabre becomes Sabre, for me, really in Sabre#7. I loved working with Billy Graham. Billy and I had been friends for a long time and there was never any problem with having to fight to get the material into the book. Sabre only became a struggle at the end. Detectives Inc., on the other hand, despite being a genre that was more difficult to sell, always went smoothly in the creative parts of the process.
Sacks: I know Billy was one of your closest friends.
McGregor: I probably have to be careful talking about Billy. When it’s someone you were close to, as with Gene Colan as well, and they’re gone, sometimes when I’m talking about them it can still hit me emotionally that they aren’t here anymore. There’s no more chance to add memories. There’s no chance to ask them how they feel about something you both had interest in.
You’re working day in and out with somebody and when I was first coming to the city, it was Billy Graham who was one of the people that gave me a place to stay. I would get a bus ticket, a round-trip ticket to allow me to get back to Rhode Island. I would come and stay in New York as long as I could; I would stay with Alex Simmons or Billy.
I think that for Billy, Alex Simmons and I reminded him of himself when he came to Manhattan and got involved in comics. We had that same love for media, films, books, comics. I know you’ve seen that photo of Billy and I when I am still living in Rhode Island. That was taken about five o’clock in the morning. We were talking comics all night long and about comics, women, movies, sex, comics, women.
Sacks: Yeah, that about covers the full spectrum.
McGregor: The book Billy is holding is probably cut-out newspaper strips of Leonard Starr’s On Stage. I had glued entire stories into binders, and given the stories my own titles. I’ll be writing an intro for Charles Pelto’s On Stagereprint books. I’ll have to see if I can get a photo of me holding onto a couple of the books. Wish I could have written about those stories, they are just some of the richest, subtlest that Leonard did.
My ex-wife used to cut out strips from the Boston Globe, like the Phantom and a couple of others. I still have them. I really have an inability to throw things away. Doesn’t matter if I haven’t read them in decades, just the act of holding them in my hands literally anchors them to my fingers. The trick would be to find where everything is now. Especially if I’ve moved a certain series from where it was for years. I tend to remember where it was, not where I moved it to, even though I might have sternly reminded myself to remember where I was putting it.
Projects often have a lot of tiny events, meetings, things that affect them, but if I didn’t keep the daily diaries (and I really must go through those someday) many of the smaller details I would have totally forgotten.
After Gene’s burial, Marsha and I went to his daughter Nanci’s house for the shiva. Amongst the people, I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar, and I asked Marsha, “Do you know who that is?” She told me he had been over to our place a couple decades before, wanting to do some project. I have no memory what that project was.
But so many people would talk to me about wanting to do this or that at comic conventions. Later on, at times when the kids would be with me when they were older, at the end of the day I would ask Lauren and Rob, “This business card here. Who gave me that? What were they talking about?” It’s not that I’m not paying attention. There is just such a sensory overload, and I am concentrating intensely during the day, really trying to give whoever is with me all my focus, that by night-fall much of it has become a blur.
I was trying to give everything I had when I went to a comic convention. I wanted the readers to know that they were getting same amount of energy and attention at eleven o’clock in the morning as they would at four or five o’clock in the afternoon.
So many of the readers had stories of what my stories meant to them, and at what point in their lives they experienced them. I hope I give them back the kind of courtesy and respect they have given me. I’m glad the stories spoke to them and in the ways that they have. I know that some people love these books and other people just hate them, There seems to be little middle ground on reaction to what I do, It’s love it or Don sucks. Why do you think that is Daniel and Jason?
Elkin: Are you asking why people either love you or hate you and there’s no middle ground?
McGregor: It seems to be about the impression I get. People just really, really love these books or they hate them.
Sacks: Well I think there are some people who want to try and work and learn something special and enjoy something that’s
a bit more substantial, and there are some people who just want to enjoy a comic or work that’s going to give them escapism. That’s a big part of it. They don’t want to work.
Elkin: I was going to say that very same phrase. There are people who just don’t want to work for their entertainment and there are other people who if they don’t work for their entertainment aren’t entertained. You make people work.
McGregor: When I first started writing comics, especially the series material, I did consciously approach some of the stories that way. I was aware that a number of comics get read at one sitting. It’s as if there is a check off list. “Okay, I finished this comic. That goes into the pile. Here’s the next. Done! That goes into this stack!” My hope was that the reader would start the book and a few pages in actually stop and think, “Wait a minute, something more is going on here. What’s this really about?” And hopefully they would be compelled to savor the story, to see how there could be more than one level working on a page, sometimes in a panel. But ultimately, I’ve probably said this in other ways, the story is about the people in it, and I hope that there will be a connection made so that as the story evolves, as with life, you get swept up into what happens to those people. As, say, you did with Willoughby, Daniel.
Sacks: Well I think that’s the other thing that people have trouble with, too. These are real people with real giant emotions who feel things deeply, and a lot of people feel that maybe cuts too close to home, maybe it’s too honest for them.
McGregor: I’m not trying to put you on the spot, asking you this. I’m just curious about it, and both of you obviously have a great love for the medium, and have written in-depth, intelligent pieces about the artform.
I found the pieces that both of you wrote for this interview fascinating. You guys are often operating in a different venue, writing for cyberspace and the Comics Bulletin website, and Facebook. I still find writing on Facebook curiously alien at times. Once in a while I’ll dash off a line inspired by something someone has written, but the writing of lead pieces, the approach to that is so different from doing the books. The new Kickstarter for Sabre: The Early Future Years took a lot of research, and there are often a number of drafts of pages before the final version. If I do write something on Facebook I find I have to write it really quickly, hit Enter, I can’t even take time to proofread it, because if I do, it may never get sent, I’ll want to re-write it, or I will have run out of time.
And I don’t have any clear line of intent with Facebook. I’m there. People have helped to get me there, but it also seems like a disposable kind of writing. It’s there. Then, it’s POOF! Gone.
But also, it does remind me a faster version of doing the letters pages for Sabre, when it was published regularly, or “Killraven” and Jungle Action. It’s just a more immediate kind of response, from the people, and from me. So, I do find that interesting.