Novelist Sam Sattin and artist Chris Koehler have joined forces to create ‘Legend’ a story that follows a pack of dogs in a post-apocalyptic world without humans inhabited by monsters, gangs (of cats), and existential anxiety. I got a chance to ask the creative team about this innovative new project.
There is a long literary legacy attached to anthropomorphism stories from Animal Farm to Watership Down. How does Legend build on those legacies to create something new?
Sam Sattin: Legend draws directly from the tradition of animal-centric stories, and we wear that inspiration on our sleeve. Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, and in recent years, comics like We3, Pride of Baghdad, Beasts of Burden, and others have come to offer an array of groundbreaking additions in the graphic medium. Legend follows up on those legacies by combining various genre conventions and political/religious imbroglios so that the story becomes just as much about its characters as the world they inhabit. Also, the fact that Chris and myself come from different backgrounds–novel-writing and illustration–affords us a unique approach.
How does your understanding of the comic medium inform this story? What can comics do for you that another medium cannot?
Sam Sattin: The visual aspects of the comic medium provide an entirely new set of challenges and advantages one doesn’t tend to find in prose writing. Story structure and character still apply, but the act of visual collaboration, and the necessity of telling a story with visual language, allows for a unique kind of dynamism. Overwriting is my crux, so in a way comics have helped me tighten up my craft, forcing me to become more succinct. I’ve learned to rely on the art to move the story in conjunction with my words, and I’ve been amazed with the results.
What is something that will surprise the reader about your take on “animal as proxy” in this project?
Sam Sattin: think people will start to notice that Legend opens itself up to a wide array of curiosities. There are dangerous secrets to be unearthed, and the world we’re creating is vast. Through the animal’s eyes, we come to understand what may have happened to humanity, and how the planet has a way of reclaiming itself from abuse. The animals have belief systems in this book. They have religious creeds, mysticism, superstition, and quite possibly, power that is derived from it. Also, two words: cat armor.
Chris, you were Sam’s professor at California College of the Arts, how did this experience help you navigate creating the visual language you use to interpret the script?
Chris Koehler: Before being brought on as a professor in the MFA Comics program at CCA, I hadn’t ever done an actual comic. But if I was going to teach in a Comics MFA, I wanted to learn how to make one myself. I grew a keen interest in doing so as I went on, and in Sam’s case, we ended up teaching each other a lot.
You have mentioned the use of color and challenge of drawing animals as two big facets of this project. How did addressing those challenges help evolve the concept into the story we see in Legend?
Chris Koehler: In illustration, color can function in three ways: conceptual, mood, and representation. We don’t use representational color in Legend. It’s emotionally coded. There are scenes in the book where color is guided by mood. We also use colors to depict how a dog might see the world. In terms of drawing animals, they’re trickier in some ways, easier in others. Easier in that people don’t notice anatomical inconsistencies like they would if they were looking at humans. Trickier in that different animal species and breeds require more attention and detail, being that each varies so much.
There is an artistic freedom in anthropomorphic stories for the writer, but what is the advantage for the artist? How can the appeal associated animal stories create opportunities for you as a storyteller?
Chris Koehler: Animals are a blank slate for personification. People make assumptions about pit bulls, for instance, based on the breed. You can do a lot with preconceived notions like that.
What are you both hoping to see come from Legend? Is this beginning of a world that you will return to again and again?
We view the world of Legend as one that has a possibility for exploration on a massive scale. The world the animals inhabit is narrow, but as they venture it out, it balloons in terms of size, scope and mystery. With Legend, we’re only telling one story of many. Humanity may have fallen, but it has left something terrible behind. Something twisted that threatens the dog tribe and their allies.