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Friday, December 14, 2007

Occasional Interviews: HAZED's Mark Sable


Comic book scribe Mark Sable might be familiar to regular readers of this blog for his connection to the controversial Supergirl #16. Well, as I discovered when I sat down to interview him, he has a heck of a lot more cool comic stuff on his resume. His critically-acclaimed Grounded, with Potter's Field's Paul Azaceta, is currently available as a trade-paperback, and the first issue of his mini-series Fearless has just hit the stands (both books published by Image Comics).

Now Sable might be set to court a touch more controversy with his dark comedy about sorority life, Hazed, a graphic novel by Image currently being solicited by Previews and set for a February shelf date.

OS: Were you always a comic book fan?

MS: Definitely. The theme of my bar mitzvah was Marvel Comics. They had shirts with a caricature of me in Iron Man's Silver Centurion armor which said “I had a marvelous time at Mark's Bar Mitzvah.

OS: Did you always want to write comics and create your own characters, or did that come later?

MS: I think I went through that arc that everybody does, where I read comics up until high school and then I discovered the opposite sex. I got back into comics in college, but in between that period is when I discovered I really wanted to be a writer. And actually my formal training is in screenwriting & plays.

OS: Is comic writing still something you want to do, or do you want to make the leap to film?

MS: It's one of those things where I'm almost ashamed of my screenwriting thing, because I'm afraid people will think I'm trying to break into screenwriting through comics. Really, they are both things I want to pursue.

OS: In terms of comic work, what was your first book?


MS: Grounded from Image Comics was my first. Grounded actually started out as a screenplay that I was shopping around, and one day it occurred to me that it might work well as a comic. I was friends with Mark Powers, an X-Men editor at Marvel Comics. I asked him if he knew any up and coming artists that might be up for Grounded, and I lucked out with Paul Azaceta. Then we put together the pitch and went to Image with it. They just really said yes on the spot, which I credit to Paul's art.

OS: I think your writing and Paul's art really meshes together well. Was it very collaborative experience for you two?

MS: We were separated by coasts and by time zones, but we talked on the phone & e-mailed a lot. I tend to script very tightly, but as time went on I got to trust him to do his own thing.

The other member of the team is Nick Filardi, who does the colors. Nick's amazing in terms of just picking up the subtext of scenes and getting the mood just right without my having to spell it out for him.


OS: It sounds your experience with Image was overall a happy one.

MS: Completely.

OS: And you really lucked out with all the critical acclaim for Grounded as well.

MS: I really did, and honestly it made me a bit more nervous coming into the comic work after that. Because now I have to live up to those cover quotes.

OS: What was your next work after Grounded?

MS: Grounded did relatively well for Image; the first issue sold out and we went to a second printing. In Spring of 2006 I was approached by Jeanine Schaefer, an assistant editor at DC Comics. She was a fan of Grounded and asked me to pitch. I did two issues of Teen Titans with Sean Murphy that have yet to be published but which are completely pencilled and inked, and then I did some Supergirl stuff.

OS: Any reason why the Titans issues didn't come out? Were there continuity issues?

MS: My Titans arc was supposed to be the first meeting of the Titans and Flash's Rogues Gallery, and I think it didn't work with their overal continuity plans (The Rogues killing Bart, Countdown, etc.)

OS: Tell me about working with Jeanine Schaefer.

MS: Jeanine has really been wonderful. I got to work with her very closely with Teen Titans and she gave really great notes. I was a little nervous coming into it, because at Image you're pretty much your own editor. You hear horror stories about getting stupid notes from editors, but everything she suggested really did make the story better. And I'm really happy for her getting the Associate editorship. She's really a person who I can see, if she really wants it, going pretty far.

OS: Would you say she's a rising star?

MS: I really feel that she is. She's smart and has a good instinct for editing. She's on Robin right now, and she loves Tim Drake and has a real feel for the character.

OS: You currently have the first issue of Fearless on the stands...


MS: That's out from Image and my co-writer is David Roth, who is a television writer from California. Our artist is PJ Holden who is a 2000 AD artist from the UK. Fearless is about a superhero who is addicted to an anti-fear drug. He can't fight crime or function in his personal life without the drug because he has a crippling anxiety disorder. Later issues get into the origin of that disorder.

OS: How does Fearless differ from Grounded?

MS: Grounded was an irreverent take on superheroes whereas Fearless is more a straight superhero book -- although the concept itself is a twist.

OS: I found that in Fearless the art really gives you a sense of the main character's anxiety. There was also one scene with a half-mask that seemed like an homage to that old Ditko Spider-Man...

MS: That's definitely what we were going for.

OS: Fearless is a four-issue mini-series...do you have any plans for the title past that?

MS: Depends on how the sales do, but we definitely have more ideas.

OS: And now you have this new graphic novel Hazed.

MS: Yes, it's also from Image, is currently being solicited in December's Previews -- and hits stands in February. It's also being printed in a manga-sized format.

OS: What is Hazed about?

MS: Hazed is a dark comedy about sororities and eating disorders – Heathers or Mean Girls with a college setting. The story is about the brutal journey of three girls through sorority life.


OS: From reading the preview I see that the main character, Illeana, goes through some sort of transformation...

MS: Well, there's essentially two protagonists. Illeana is, for lack of a better term, an "alternative" girl who is not overly concerned about how she dresses and is passionate about women's issues. Her roommate is named James -- after model James King. James King has a quote I actually use in the book: "I just want everybody to want to be me." Hazed's James is a legacy student whose family always wanted her to be a sorority girl.


James & Illeana end up as unlikely roommates...and one gets into the sorority and one doesn't. The how and why of this is the twist.

The villain of the piece is the slightly older Val, who in the world of the sorority is the "falling star." And part of the book is exploring this weird relationship between the sisters and their sorority mentors which is both nurturing and competititve. Because every new girl might be a potential threat.

OS: So there's an ambivalence at play.

MS: it's a passive-aggressive sabotage going on. From my own observation, it's rather an awful world.

OS: How did you get interested in writing about sororities?


MS: I went to Duke for undergrad -- whch has a very big Greek system. I think the sororities outnumber that fraternities, and that something like 60% of women on campus are in one. So you've got some of the smartest women in the country, who have so much more going for them than just their appearance, get completely obsessed with looks and how to appeal to guys.

And the sororities become institutionalized versions of this attitude, encouraging these women to look like wafer-thin models and to get involved in that hookup culture. I think it damages these young women's self-esteem a lot.

So my research was just observing that culture on campus, and in the beginning I wrote it as a play, "Purge." My girlfriend at the time, who was in a sorority, read the play and said "oh, you're exaggerating this." That some of the things I wrote about, like "circling the fat," were more like urban legends.

OS: What is "circling the fat?"

MS: In "circling the fat" the idea is that the sisters will strip girls down to their underwear and circle the areas of their bodies where they "need" to lose fat.

And my point to my ex was, even if it was an urban legend, it's one that has stuck around, and is symbolic of what was being pushed on college women. Later on, as I dated more sorority girls, they would say that they indeed went through things like that during hazing. So on one hand I felt vindicated that I didn't do a hatchet job on sororities, but on the other hand I felt worse because this stuff was actually happening to women.

OS: Do you think this would a book women would enjoy reading?

MS: Well, “women” is a very big, general catagory. Obviously if you're in a sorority, you bring your own experiences into it. Beyond that, this big sister/little sister relationship dynamic is intriguing. It seems distinctly different from male relationships of that type. Guys can just get their fights out and hit each other -- whereas with the women it can often be far more passive-aggressive and subtle.

I certainly don't want the book to represent my view of women or sororities in general. It's a slice of life, purposely exaggerated.

OS: What would you compare Hazed to?

MS: "Even meaner and harsher than Heathers." Like Heathers, but smarter, meaner, and funnier. I was weirdly influenced by, of all things, the film Full Metal Jacket; the first half of that movie with the Marine training reminded me of sorority hazing. In fact, they call it hazing in Marine Corps as well.

OS: Tell me something about the artist.

MS: Robbie Rodriguez has drawn Hero Camp and Maintenance from Oni, as well as Stephen Colbert's upcoming Tek Jansen.

Why I think Robbie's work fits so well for Hazed is that it's a very harsh book in a lot of ways -- and he's got an expressive, almost cartoon-like style that softens it. His work also reminiscent of stuff like the animation on Adult Swim, and is very dynamic & plastic.


OS: What's next for Mark Sable?

MS: Well, I have a new project from DC coming up. I can't tell you much about it yet, but it stars a solo character who has never had a solo series before -- and also was in a cartoon that is no longer on the air.

I've also sold an animated series to the Cartoon Network which is - surprise, surprise -- superhero themed.

OS: Just to wrap up, I read in your online bio that you're the only person who has worked with both Charlie Rose and Howard Stern...

MS: I was a intern for Charlie when I was in college. And then in grad school I became first an intern, then a production assistant, and finally am assistant director for Howard Stern. They were great people to work for, and, in my opinion, two of the best broadcasters in the world. And they have more in common than you think.