Sable Kickstarts "Rift Raiders"

Every writer hopes that a script they write gets the attention of as many people as possible, but last year Mark Sable's script for issue 3 of Unthinkable (his miniseries for BOOM! Studios) garnered more interest than he ever imagined. Unfortunately, for a period of time it was the kind of interest no one wants to attract - TSA officials at Los Angeles International Airport briefly detained Sable because they found the comic's script to be of concern. Fortunately for all involved, Sable was able to explain the nature of his work, or else no one would be hearing about his latest 88-page original graphic novel, "Rift Raiders."

"Rift Raiders," one of four flagship books for Kickstart Comics that is set to go on sale this month, reunites Sable with his "Unthinkable" artist Julian Totino Tedesco. In discussing the collaboration, Sable makes it clear how immense a shift in artistic style that Tedesco has pursued in the new volume. A book described by the writer as "'Goonies' meets 'Time Bandits'...the story of three orphaned teens who learn they're not orphans at all. Their parents have been hidden throughout time." The kids make a deal to save their parents by traveling through time, retrieving request artifacts.

After already covering the launch of Kickstart with line editors Jimmy Palmiotti and Larry Young as well as one of the other four starter books "Mirror, Mirror" with up-and-comer Joshua Williamson, CBR News spoke with Sable about his perspective on time travel, how "Rift Raiders" is similar in tone to his previous project, "Grounded" and the appeal to Kickstart's expanded distribution plans (which include a presence in Walmart).

CBR News: You described "Rift Raiders" to me as being a bit of a spiritual successor to "Grounded." Can you expand on that a bit further?

Mark Sable: They are both books with teen protagonists, but I think that the real similarity is tone. They share a certain sense of adventure and irreverence that wouldn't have been appropriate in, say, "Hazed" (my Image sorority satire), or "Two-Face: Year One." Most of all, like "Grounded," "Rift Raiders" is meant to be a fun book. I like grim and gritty as much as the next guy, but it's fun to nice to go on a Goonies-style ride once in a while.

The core concept of the story is that of a teen time travel story. Does this allow you to explore historical periods in your narrative, or are you able to explore unique character dynamics by allowing the teens to see future versions of themselves?

A little of both. The protagonists - Dodger, Myles, Layla and Sykes - are traveling to different historical periods to recover unique weapons and artifacts for a mysterious character known as The Fence. Some of the weapons are mythical, like Excalibur. Others have some basis in reality, like Da Vinci's flying machines. Many of them are things that maybe could have existed - like a steampunk exoskeleton designed by Charles Gatling - but don't, because our heroes have stolen it, so there's no record of it. There's also deeper character reasons for visiting the different time periods. The characters believe they're orphans when the story opens, but the Fence reveals that their parents are very much alive - just hidden throughout time. He offers to help the kids find them if they "borrow" the artifacts for him.

I chose the times and locations based on where and when legendary artifacts might be found and where it might be fun to see their parents hiding out. But the idea was really to take the characters and the audiences to cool places, not to comment on history. There are definitely a few moments where we get to see future versions of the characters and alternate realities, but to say more would spoil the surprise.

Are there certain fiction or nonfiction writers that help shape your view of time travel?

All time travel stories live in the shadow of Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis' "Back to the Future," which is pretty much a perfect movie. I'm a huge fan of the new "Doctor Who" and of Phillip K. Dick's "The Man in High Castle," and I've also recently gotten into the sci-fi books of Connie Willis. As much as I love all their takes on time travel, I didn't want to delve too deeply into the whys and wherefores. Time travel in "Rift Raiders" is in the service of story, so I tried to pick a few rules to stick and steer clear of trying to be too clever.

Really, the two biggest influences I on this book are "Time Bandits" - that's where the idea of time traveling thieves comes in, as well as the mix of humor and emotion - and also "Oliver Twist." Dodger, the main protagonist, is named after The Artful Dodger, and The Fence is to some extend modeled after Fagin. There's also some nods to the all time best time travel villain, Kang The Conqueror.

How did you team up with Kickstart for this project?

Before launching Kickstart Comics, they were one of a number of production companies interested in optioning "Hazed." While that didn't work out, I developed a very strong relationship with Samantha Olsson, who is at the spearhead of their new imprint. She's been an incredible supporter of my work, and when she and Jason Netter created a new publishing venture, I was flattered to be asked to create one of the launch books. When I knew it also meant a chance to work with Julian Totino Tedesco again, I couldn't say no.

The appeal to me of Kickstart, beyond the personal relationships, is their desire to make accessible comics. Part of that is making the actual books available to a wide audience, not relying so heavily on the superhero genre. The other part is telling complete stories with a beginning, middle and end, without a need to have read a quarter century or more of continuity. Others have said it before, but I think this medium needs more dense, diverse, non-decompressed books in the hands of a wider audience.

Why do you think more comic companies are not making unique distribution efforts along the lines of Kickstart's plans to be readily accessible in Walmarts nationwide?

That's a really good question, and my first instinct to say, "Ask the other publishers." I love comic book stores - I'm a regular weekly customer - but I never would have gotten into comics if my dad hadn't brought them home from newsstands, drug stores etc. I think having alternate distribution channels are vital to the future success of comics. It was one of the big selling points for Kickstart.

I thought other publishers might be afraid of pissing off Diamond or direct market retailers, but I know that Kickstart is going to great lengths to provided incentives for retailers, so they've proved it's not an either or proposition. Ultimately, if I had to guess, I'd just say that larger comic book companies, like any major corporation, are just slow to change. Smaller, hungrier and more nimble companies like Kickstart are better positioned to take risks like that.

Who is editing "Rift Raiders" for you? Is it Jimmy Palmiotti and Larry Young or someone else?

I was involved with Rift Raiders and Kickstart before I knew Jimmy and Larry were involved. Samantha was the most active person involved in the notes, and later Jimmy came in and helped out. I was lucky enough to have Jimmy ink "Two-Face: Year One," and I'm a huge fan of his writing as well, so when I found out he was involved it definitely made me feel like I was in good hands. I don't know Larry Young personally, but he introduced me to some great, breakout work like Brian Wood's "DEMO" and Matt Fraction's "Last of The Independents," so it can't hurt to have someone with that kind of taste involved.

This is the second time you've collaborated with Julian Totino Tedesco - what is it about his visual storytelling that meshes so effectively with your writing?

His strong foundation as a storyteller. That's more important to me than style. With "Unthinkable," Julian brought the incredible amount of detail and dynamism a Tom Clancy-like thriller needed. For "Rift Raiders," he used his eye for detail to bring the past to life, but he brought a completely new style. The action is more fluid, the characters more expressive. I loved his work before, but I think he's upped his game tremendously with "Rift Raiders" to such a degree I think this will be a huge breakout book for him. I should also mention colorist Juan Manuel Tumburus. He really makes the art pop off the page and I'm lucky he's joining us again, too.

At this point, both "Unthinkable" and "Hazed" have been optioned by Mandalay Pictures. How closely will you be working with the projects and how difficult (or not) is it to see your creations in the hands of other writers?

Mandalay has been kind enough to keep me in the loop, showing me their takes, having me speak to the writers etc. I've been impressed with their plans for the book, and I trust them to make the best movie possible. I try to make myself available as a resource, without getting in the way of them doing what they do well. It's in everyone's interest to make a successful movie (or two). 

My feeling on having creator owned projects is, I've already gotten my vision on the page. Artist Robbi Rodriguez brought the definitive version of "Hazed" to life, and Julian did the same for "Unthinkable." If I'm lucky, my work will inspire the producers, directors and actors to create something that stands on its own. If I'm not, no matter what happens, I don't think that anyone can take away from the work we did on the books. That said, now that I've had multiple projects optioned, written an original animated pilot for Cartoon Network, I'm hoping to leverage that success into a more active role in film and TV side of things the future.

What else is on the creative horizon for you?

The best compliment I can get as a writer is having my collaborators want to work with me again. I'm doing another book with Kickstart that blends my love of espionage with that of sci-fi. In December, a Teen Titans story that I did with "Joe The Barbarian" artist Sean Murphy is finally going to see print as a special from DC.

What I'm most excited about, though, is that I'm finally working with "Grounded's" Paul Azaceta again on not one, but two projects. One is for Marvel, which I'll leave them to announce. The other is creator-owned, and we haven't announced a publisher yet. It couldn't be more different than "Grounded" - it's a war/horror story involving zombies in Afghanistan - but it feels like I'm coming full circle by re-teaming with the artist that launched my career. I'm hoping it will be the best thing either of us has done to date.

"Rift Raiders" and the rest of the Kickstart line of comics ships for sale this month. Check back with CBR soon for a talk with Kickstart CEO Jason Netter about the entire line.

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