Writer Mark Sable is getting a lot of eyes on his work lately. His series "Grounded" is the tale of a kid in a school where everyone has super-powers but him, while "Fearless" is the story of a super-hero addicted to an anti-fear drug. However, with 'Hazed," Sable's latest Image Comics series, Sable takes on a radically different subject matter. Sable sat down with CBR News to talk about the February-shipping book and how it came together.
"Hazed" is a dark, satirical comedy about three girls and their perilous journey through the world of sororities and eating disorders. "I've likened it to 'Heathers' or 'Mean Girls' set in college," Mark Sable told CBR News. "It's about the brutal hazing that women go through to join a sorority, and two girls in particular who try and put a stop to it.
"Ileana is smart, sarcastic, and a staunch of advocate for women's rights," Sable said of one of his three principals. "As a college freshman, she's comes to believe that sororities are nothing more than glorified escort services for frat boys. At the same time, as an only child, she's secretly harbored a desire to belong."
"Her roommate James on the other hand, is the polar opposite," Sable added. "Blonde and stick figure thin, she's the kind of girl every frat guy drools over and every girl aspires to be. She's a legacy, and she considers being in a sorority her birthright."
"Their antagonist is Val, president of the school's most exclusive sorority, Sigma Tau Delta," the writer continued. "Yes, they're STDs. Once the hot new thing, as an upperclassman she's already considered a fading beauty at the ripe old age of 21, having long since put on her 'freshman fifteen.' She sees both Ileana and James as threats. Ileana, because she wants to get rid of Greek Life and 'stop the spread of STDs,' and James, because she's fears she'll supplant her as the most desirable girl on campus.
Said Sable, "Through Val's Machiavellian machinations, Ileana winds up an STD, and James winds up blackballed. We follow Ileana as she undergoes the horrific hazing it takes to be an STD, and as she tries to reform the Greek system from within even as she's seduced by it. At the same time, James finds herself cut out of the campus social scene, turning to food for comfort and spiraling into despair. Val cackles her way through these girls suffering, until Ileana and James come together to put a stop to her once and for all."
The subject matter of "Hazed" may be considered unusual for a male author to tackle, but the work comes from Sable's own observations in college. "When I was an undergrad at Duke University, I found myself asking the question - why do the smartest women in the country, who have so much more going for them than their looks, suddenly prioritize attracting guys over all else?" he said. "'Hazed' is my (politically incorrect) attempt to answer that question."
How did Sable undertake researching the book? Did he join a sorority in drag? "Drag? That's half-assed," Sable proclaimed. "Here's a CBR Exclusive - I'm a post-op transsexual. When I do research, I go hardcore. And Bendis thinks he's all that for going to the mall to listen to teenage conversation for 'Ultimate Spider-Man' dialogue."
Continued Sable, "Seriously? From my research is from my observations at Duke, and later from my friendships and relationships with girls who had similarly rough experiences at different schools.
"While I think there's a risk inherent in writing about this from a male perspective," added Sable, "I also think it gives me some distance. I also think when we talk about social pressures on women to conform to a certain body image, the conversation is often focused on the media and the pressure men exert on women. Both are certainly responsible for the eating disorder epidemic, but I also wanted to explore the pressure women put on themselves.
"Sororities seem to be an institutionalized form of this, in particular the big sister-little sister relationship, which on the surface appears to be nurturing, but often conceals something darker. Instead of protecting little sisters from the predations of frat boys, they can wind up grooming them to be their successors, in effect, turning them out like pimps. At the same time, a younger, thinner girl is eventually going to be a rival that needs to be dealt with.
"All this is a long-winded way of saying that as an outsider, both as a male and a GDI (or God Damn Independent, someone who didn't belong to a frat), I hope I can offer my own distinct take on this world."
"Hazed" has its origins in both a stage-play that was performed at Duke (called 'Purge') and a screenplay. "When I was writing those, I was purposefully exaggerating sorority urban legends about sexual favors being exchanged for Monopoly money at 'Pimp Ho' parties, big sisters locking pledges in room and forcing them to eat non-fat fro-yo till they vomited, and sorority house pipes getting clogged from bulimic purges," Sable explained. "My feeling was that even if they weren't literally true, they were still emblematic of the kind of hell women are put through. I've said this elsewhere, but as time went on and I spoke with more women, I found that while I thought I was using artistic license to create for comic effect, what I came up with was sadly much closer to the truth than fiction.
As to who this project's target audience is, Sable mused, "It's interesting. A couple years ago I was talking to writer Brett Lewis (Wildstorm's 'The Winter Men'), and we were discussing how the comic book scene is like a Bizzaro reflection of mainstream pop culture. In film for example, a comedy about sorority girls would be considered mainstream, whereas my superhero work would be considered niche. In comics, it's inverted.
"My target audience is the same people who would enjoy the kind of works that inspired me to write this," Sable continued, "from the aforementioned 'Heathers' or 'Mean Girls,' to 'All About Eve.' With the caveat that I think comic readers, particularly those looking for something different than your standard superhero fare (which, don't get me wrong, I enjoy and enjoy writing), are to my mind more discriminating than film and TV audiences. I hope that 'Hazed' is writing up to that audience, whereas many teen or college movies write down to their audience."
Asked if men would like it, Sable said "Four words: 'Animal House' with girls.
"There were a number of reasons we chose black and white, digest sized format," said Sable of the decision to publish in what is commonly referred to as manga-format. "'Hazed' was originally pitched as a color miniseries, but when people saw Robbi Rodriguez's preliminary art, which I think has a somewhat manga-esque quality, they felt it didn't need color, although I should mention 'Hazed' has grey tones by fantastic colorist Nick Filardi.
"Going with this format made it more economically feasible to tell a provocative, edgy story in the way it was intended - as a whole, without artificial breaks," Sable said. "It also forced Robbi and me to push ourselves creatively without a color palette to rely on.
"Reaching for a female audience was also part of that equation, Sable added. "Scientifically, I don't know whether women are more likely to go for one format than another. But anecdotally, any time I step into a Barnes & Nobles, I see at who's browsing in the huge manga section, and I see an audience that mainstream comics don't always reach but should.
"Another reason 'Hazed' should be friendly to female manga readers -- absolutely no tentacle rape. "
Finding an artist for an independent, creator-owned book can be a difficult process. "In this case, it was especially so, because 'Hazed' is a comedy," said Sable. "Humor is tough to pull off. It requires a keen sense of timing, and you have to walk a fine line between exaggerating the characters for comic effect while not going overboard to the point where we can't identify with them as human beings.
"After two years of painful searching, Greg Thompson, writer of, among other things, 'Hero Camp,' came to my rescue by suggesting Robbi Rodriguez. Writers can be very territorial about the artists they work with, and it's a testament to what a great guy Greg is that he was so generous in letting me borrow Robbi for 'Hazed'."
Asked if he had ever been hazed himself, Sable answered, "I've never been in part of a group like a fraternity that had hazing per se. But in some ways I think I've been 'hazed' by ex-girlfriends, ironically enough. Telling me to put on weight and work out more, dress or behave in a certain way and withholding sex as punishment. Their sorority big sisters taught them well. So in some ways, maybe 'Hazed' is my revenge."
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