Books: Don McGregor on the Sabre: The Early Future Years Kickstarter campaign

Back to the Early Future

By , Columnist

Don McGregor is one of the best examples of a particular breed of comic creators whose work on corporate-owned characters is eclipsed by the importance and enduring influence of their creator-owned independent titles.

A die-hard humanist and iconoclast who values emotional authenticity and certain universal truths as much as the intensity of a story’s physical altercations and plot twists, McGregor is today perhaps best remembered among many modern comic aficionados for his work featuring Marvel Comics’ Black Panther. Still, however noteworthy, significant and controversial those and his other work-for-hire gigs for Marvel and DC Comics might have been back in the day—and trust me when I say it was all of that and much, much more—it really only served as precursor to his creator-owned titles, Detectives, Inc. and Sabre.

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Sabre, in particular, seemed to garner more attention, supportive and otherwise, than most of his other books. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the titular character’s skin hue was a bit darker than most, or perhaps it was his loving and supportive relationship with a woman of much lighter complexion, but when this series first hit the stands back in the 1980s, it aroused a lot of passions on all kinds of fronts. And it got people talking, and even thinking, about all sorts of subjects that they previously hadn’t encountered in that oh-so-disposable monthly comic book format.

But that’s Don and his work, all the way through. It’s always extremely entertaining and viscerally engaging, as well as thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Given all of the above, I gotta say that it’s long past time for the return of Sabre and company. Don and a few other good folks felt the same way, and together they figured out a way to do it using Kickstarter. Below, Don talks about the long, strange road that this project has traveled over the years, why now is the perfect time to launch it, and how you can help make it all a reality.

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To begin, welcome to the 21st century and your first Kickstarter! How’d this particular project come together, and what led to your choice to fund it via Kickstarter rather than a more traditional route, such as Image or one of the other established indie imprints?

Places like Image and IDW have both printed editions of Sabre and Detectives, Inc. at various times over the years. Interest has always been shown in both the series. The problem has always been how to do graphic novel length stories—not just in terminology only—that the companies will back paying the talent to do the work.

The project went through many forms over almost a decade, but it was always conceived as Young Sabre, and would take place before any of the stories in Slow Fade of an Endangered Species, An Exploitation of Everything Dear, and the uncompleted The Decadence Indoctrination, which had somewhere near 125 pages completed when the regular series was completed.

It had been started as a film project and mini-series that the backers supported; they had me contact Dwayne Turner—my choice—to illustrate. Then it was Joe Pruett who was going to published Sabre: The Early Future Years through his company Desperado. It was Joe who believed enough in the project that he said, “Do the book you want.”

After many discouraging attempts, earlier last year Jason Sacks, of Comics Bulletin, said to me in a conversation—on the phone, I think, or maybe it first got mentioned the time we met outside the San Diego Comic-Con—about doing Sabre: The Early Future Years as a Kickstarter project. I was vaguely aware at the time of the name Kickstarter, but I didn’t know much of exactly what Kickstarter did, or how they did it. Jason Sacks knew about it. And learned more as time went on.

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Well, what’s your take on the experience so far? I mean, I know you’re no Luddite, but I also realize that this is all still pretty new to you. Any thoughts you’d care to share on the Kickstarter experience from an insider’s point of view?

Jason Sacks can answer that better than I can, but I think it’s a more complex undertaking than one might think if they have never done it. Everything from funds the person opening the Kickstarter can be taxed for, even though the money is going to produce the creative work, whatever it is, and not cash that the person running the Kickstarter is going to see. Pledges have to be thought out, and I only half understand things from soft covers to hard covers to digital copies.

There are plenty of different pledges for Sabre. One of the things we discovered is that the pledge for having a complete run of the original series, along with a copy of the unpublished script for Sabre #15 sold out quickly. So, it’s a learning experience, especially when it gets underway. Promoting the book, trying to figure out ways to let people know the book exists is challenging. For every person you contact that may open you to one audience, there’s another you haven’t thought of. If half the people who have told me how much Sabre meant to them over the years, what memories they have the book and how it affected their lives, we’d be funded already.

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Who else is involved in the effort, how’d they get recruited, and what are they contributing to the cause?

Sabre: The Early Future Years wasn’t done for Kickstarter. It has a long, complicated history.

The final version of the script was done when Joe Pruett was going to publish the book through his company, Desperado. The comic book medium went through severe times, and as the comic book-based movies went through the ceiling, often many of the comics were losing sales. It was an especially hard time for smaller companies, just getting shelf space at a store.

Kickstarter gave this a chance to become a reality. Jason Sacks was one of the few people I had let see the script; you were another. Everyone that saw it loved the script. It had various artists over time, but the money just wasn’t there. Jason had met Trevor von Eeden at a comic convention, and they had talked at length.

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I can’t believe Trevor [Von Eeden] and I had never met over the years. I think Trevor was doing the comic series Thriller at DC comics at the same time I was doing Nathaniel Dusk for the company. But I wasn’t in the offices that much, and when I was it was mostly to make sure everything that needed to be done to print pencils on Dusk with color got out right, so a lot of times you only run into the people you are directly working with.

Jason sent Trevor, or I did, at Jason’s request, I don’t recall exactly. Trevor wrote that he was really excited about the script, and loved the characters. Jason set up for Trevor to draw five sample pages that I selected.

At the time, Jason was thinking of running the first two issues of the original mini-series version of the script. Part of the Kickstarter learning experience. That was just going to be too costly to do.

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Anyhow, the best thing to happen was Trevor embracing the series. Finally I was seeing the vibrant energy that I always feel Sabre needs. And Trevor wasn’t afraid of the sexuality in the story. Or the complex tones that the series would need. I don’t do easy. Trevor doesn’t do easy. So, having Trevor become part of this was the best of part of it, creatively, for me!

Jason even talked about color for the book, which had never been feasible before doing Sabre as a Kickstarter project. Trevor had worked with George Freeman before, and George colored the five pages Trevor had drawn that I picked out. The coloring was exceptional. I sure hope we can do it that way.

And then Jon Babcock came on as the letterer. I had never working with Jon before, and we discussed approaches from hand lettering to computer lettering. It’s a really good group of talented people.

But once again, I have to tell you, working with Trevor is thrilling. I sure hope we get to do this together!

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It’s really exciting to see you and Trevor working together, as it really is a pitch-perfect match on so very many levels. Which led me to wonder what, exactly, is it about Trevor as a creator and a person that marked him as the ideal foil for this story?

We both have a deep, abiding love for comics as a storytelling medium. I suspect that means for both of us, we’re always trying to find ways to tell the story, to have the most impact for the current sequence we are working on. There is a boldness to Trevor’s characters that a strip like Sabre needs to work right with such a diverse cast; they’ve got to have a real sense of their strength of individuality about them, and that Trevor captures.

Sabre is the guy who is so charismatic that when he just walks into a place, you know he is there. It’s nothing he tries to do. It’s just who he is. It’s the strength of integrity, of belief, of being willing to make the hard decisions. He’s the guy that people go, “I want to be that guy.” Melissa Siren is equally unique, and I love the contradictions of her past with Sabre. She’s a test-tube fetus, who only has a glass tube to mirror who she is; he comes from a family somewhat dysfunctional, yet Melissa would probably kill to have what causes him torment. Trevor has the ability to capture all this, and more. And we both love sex. So, what more do you need to know?

Wait, Bill, I know you’ll ask. Let me re-think that. [Laughter]

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One of the other cool aspects of this book is that it deals with an era in Sabre’s life that’s remained largely unexplored until now. Why take that approach to reintroduce him and the rest of the cast? And what is it about that particular time in Sabre’s life story that makes it the right tale for today?

The answer to that goes back to when I was originally approached to come back to Sabre. This is even before Joe Pruett came, and Sabre: The Early Future Years turned into a 190-page graphic novel, done as a mini-series. Someone wanted to do a young Sabre. I had resisted coming back to the character, unless I could finish Sabre: The Decadence Indoctrination, which would have run about 500 to 600 pages. I knew where Sabre’s life was going, and it wasn’t anywhere he would ever have predicted. I couldn’t see how I could write him and the other characters without following that life-course.

But I had also always intended within that story to continually explore the beginnings of how these characters connected. I had one issue planned that would take place on New Year’s Eve, and as sometimes happens at the turn of the year, people reminisce about their pasts, and the readers would learn more about who they were, how they came to be the way they are. So doing a young Sabre, “Hey, I can do that!”

And that turned into Sabre: The Early Future Years! This was perfect, also, for readers who loved the characters, and for people who have never heard of them before.

Sabre The Early Future Years pencils for pgs 4 & 5 from Kickstarter pg.jpg

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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