Sam Sarkar’s “The Vault” — a three issue miniseries from Image Comics shipping in July — features a crew of treasure hunters, a mysterious undersea treasure trove, a shipwreck-prone island and a deep sea digging robot. And the craziest part? Those are the real-world elements. Based on actual locations including the fabled underwater money pit of Oak Island and nearby Sable Island with its history of nefarious shipwrecks and utilizing the latest in diving and digging tech, the story features a team of explorers and scientists with their sites set on finding long lost treasure. When a storm comes rolling in and they make a few hasty decisions, the crew winds up with the discovery of a lifetime on their hands. Of course, you’ll have to pick the book up to see the potentially earth-shattering object the hunters find in the titular vault, but the implications are pretty monumental.
Re-teaming with his “Caliber” artist Garrie Gastonny, Sarkar has ambitious plans for this miniseries which hints at a much larger mythology in the works. Sarkar has woven a tale that ties the undersea vault to the Great Pyramid and asks the question: “Where did these things come from?” The writer spoke to CBR News about everything from how growing up near Oak Island influenced “The Vault” to how he and Gastonny took advantage of the emergence of new technologies to create the series.
“I grew up with Oak Island as a kid and I used to go there. It was always this great story that was very old. It was discovered by two teenagers basically in 1795 and the mystery stretched on for 200 years,” Sarkar told CBR News. “At one point Teddy Roosevelt was fascinated by Oak Island and wanted to do an expedition there. It’s really had an interesting history. It’s always remained an anomaly and a mystery and nobody’s really gotten to the bottom of it or figured out who made it. It’s always been a fascinating subject to me.
“Then of course Sable Island, where I set the island, is sort or semi-related because it’s really famous for shipwrecks and the horses,” Sarkar continued. “In the first issue you can see them walk past this little herd of horses and even that is kind of bizarre because you would not believe a herd of horses could survive on this island for 150 years. There’s nothing on it, just basically grass and sand and it’s in the middle of the North Atlantic. How do they get through the winters?”
The bigger question question readers will want to know the answer to is what’s contained within the vault. Sarkar gave a few hints, but remained cagey about the specifics.
“The only thing I would hint at is that it is something that, if it’s proven to be what it is, it undoes a lot of human history as we know it,” Sarkar said. “It will confirm some peoples’ point of view and will change others.’ Some of it is pointed out in the first two pages, which is supposed to be a book that one of the characters is reading but I think the implications are sort of in that two page spread. That was one of the fun things to do, to come across with something that seems like it doesn’t have anything to do with the story but then it sort of does.”
From the locations to the science behind the digging and diving equipment, Sarkar knew he had to plant the story firmly in the real world before things get philosophical and possibly supernatural.
“A very good writer who we work with here said most stories like this can only really handle one big ‘what if,'” Sarkar said. “If you have too many going on, at least in your first story, it’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot to ask somebody to believe.”
Belief is exactly what “The Vault” becomes about as the discovered object has the various members of the crew questioning long-held truths.
“In this first series what they find in the treasure pit initially causes a debate about what it is,” Sarkar explained. “They can’t easily make out whether it’s organic or non organic. The main pressures on them are very commercial pressures because they need to return on the investment put into the dig, which I think is pretty much where most of our problems lie right now whether it be oil or nuclear power, we’re forging ahead saying, ‘We’ve invested this much in it, we need to go all the way,’ rather than turning around and walking away saying, ‘We better leave this alone.’ The next phase is when they decide what to do with what they’ve found. Ultimately, whether they’ve made the right decision or the wrong decision, it’s also open to interpretation.”
As the story progresses and the characters have time to process what they may or may not be dealing with, more opinions are formed. Sarkar liked playing with the different points of view of his large cast and how they played off of one another.
“They each have a slightly different view or perspective on this, and again, they don’t all come out right at once,” Sarkar said. “Holding some of that back so you can have it come out later is interesting. I like the idea that two or three people can view the same object and each come up with their own take on it and each be able to prove it. That’s the religious implication, that if you’re presented with something you can take as evidence for your side the other guy can easily take it, twist it and make the same case for his side. That debate and what that means for all of us is the framework behind ‘The Vault.'”
One aspect of this debate was spawned by the very real comparison between the design of the Oak Island money pit and that of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, an idea that captured Sarkar’s imagination. From there, other megalithic architecture like Stonehenge and the Easter Island heads became part of the overall mystery.
“In the first issue they’re talking to other scientists at other pits in other sites around the world. The idea is that there are more sites around the world and they all bear a certain similarity, but they’re all unique to those locations,” Sarkar explained. “That again ties back into a larger mythology like why are there pyramids in more than one location, why [is] there megalithic architecture like the pyramids, Stonehenge or the pyramids in South America?
“There’s a site in Japan off the coast in the sea that some people say is a natural formation and others say is a form of megalithic architecture. There’s even the statues of Easter Island,” the writer continued. “There’s all these forms that people scratch their heads and say, ‘Why is that sort of common?’ Around the world there a kind of commonality of all that in a time when people surmise that we weren’t traveling the oceans at that time, or supposedly we weren’t.”
With so much going on, Sarkar struggled a bit to fit all of the science and the mythology into just three issues. He took a few cues from some very important and lauded movies when figuring out how much to explicitly state and how much to imply.
“I always loved Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon’s ‘Alien’ and ‘2011: A Space Odyssey,'” Sarkar said. “‘2001’ and ‘Alien’ contained a lot of implied mythology with very, very little. In the case of ‘2001,’ you basically have a flat black stone. That’s all that it comes down to, but it’s the result of four years of thinking between Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. The great thing about ‘Alien’ is that first sequence where they walk into the ship and there’s this very large skeleton with its chest ripped out. It’s all suggestive of another civilization with it’s own language and symbols but that’s all you get. It’s such a tip of the iceberg way of handling it and that’s what I wanted to do with ‘The Vault.’ It is open to interpretation. There’s my explanation for it, but a person reading it might come up with their own.”
Story construction wasn’t the only element of the “2001” creative process that Sarkar and his team mimicked. After doing some research on the film, Sarkar discovered that Clarke and Kubrick used an early form of E-mail to communicate. As it turned out, Sarkar did something similar by utilizing a relatively new piece of technology to create “The Vault.”
“I’m working with my editor, Dave Elliot, in New York, I’m in Los Angeles and [the artists] are in Singapore and we have this incredibly fluid rapport that’s all basically electronic,” Sarkar said. “Almost 99% of the stuff I did for ‘The Vault’ was on the iPad. I wrote it on it, did most of the research on it, did most of the visual research on it and when Garrie would send me sketches, I would import them and be able to draw my notes back on the early sketches, then email them back without having to print. It’s amazing the things we were able to do.”
In addition to a digital synergy that has developed between the writer and his team, Sarkar also appreciates a very fluid rapport with Gastonny that goes back to “Caliber,” their first collaboration from Radical Comics.
“He’s extremely confident in his composition now,” Sarkar said. “One thing that we always say when we talk about Garrie and those guys is that they draw women unbelievably well. The male characters look great, but you want to ask for the girl’s phone number. I’m sure we’ll get some E-mail requests asking for the models’ phone numbers, but they’re not [models], they’re Garrie’s creations.”
It might seem like three issues is not enough to contain everything Sarkar has planned for the world seen in “The Vault.” In fact, as he hinted at several times throughout our conversation, he does have more plans for future stories if this initial offering does well.
“Everything in this is suggestive of a lot both past, present and future,” Sarkar said. Fans and readers willing, I’d love to do more.”