It was almost one year ago that I first spoke with M. Zachary Sherman about his upcoming graphic novel "SOCOM: SEAL Team Seven." It tells the story of one Navy SEAL team sent to investigate a submarine that was mysteriously downed in the Persian Gulf. Throw in a full-blow war between the underwater Kingdom of Atlantis and man, and well, you've got yourself a comic. Except, a variety of events conspired to keep "SEAL Team Seven" off the shelves for a prolonged period, but the 136 page graphic novel finally sees the light of day today, March 8th, from Sherman, artist Roberto de la Torre and Image Comics. We caught up with Sherman for a lengthy preview and a chance to reintroduce readers to the book.
The book tells the story of Commander Douglas Griffin, an ex-Navy SEAL who's reactivated to investigate the disappearance of a nuclear submarine somewhere in the Gulf of Oman. As if investigating a sunken nuclear submarine isn't difficult enough, once the investigation begins it gets a bit more mysterious. Throw in the under water Kingdom of Atlantis in one of the most volatile regions in the world, and you've got a big mess on your hands. For an indepth discussion of the story, don't miss our original interview with Sherman.
So, last year Sherman found himself in the position of needing a new publisher. With a completed book in hand, Sherman called over to Image Comics and landed a meeting with Image's Executive Director Eric Stephenson.
"There I was, sitting in his office, with three portfolios full of Roberto's final art, the 140-page printout of the final script, all the art Alex Jaeger ['SOCOM: SEAL Team Seven' Art Director] had done, pitching the project. He was very receptive to the story, the art spoke for itself and he gave it the green light," Sherman told CBR News.
Sherman said his time with Image has been nothing short of amazing. "All of the guys and gals over there are so incredibly supportive of their creators; they made me feel at home immediately," said Sherman. "Joe Keating and Jim Demonakos took me under their wings and walked me through this process of what we in the motion picture business call 'post production.' Scans, lettering, lay-up, ftp-ing proofs to the printer, and Allen Hui (one of Image's production artists) was so great to work with. Man, when images didn't fit right or lettering was askew, he pulled the long hours to make sure this book was out on time! Image has a rep for being a 'creator friendly' company and it's well earned! They busted their asses to make sure this book got the treatment it deserved and fast-tracked it for a March release. I owe them a big debt of gratitude for their efforts and I thank them profusely."
While it may have taken a while for the project to see the light of day, the first time comic writer said he's enjoyed watching his creation grow into something better than he ever imagined. As time went on, Sherman began to tinker with the book and while he didn't change anything in the original story, he did discover that the dialog did need some reworking. "After getting the art back from Roberto and having it scanned into the computer, I really got a sense of the space issues in comics," said Sherman. "When writing a movie screenplay, you're always worried about page count because one page usually equates to one minute of screen time. With comics, it's a similar set of circumstances, but for different reasons. What you're trying to do is tell the story as succinctly as possible because of so many external factors; you don't want to cover up the awesome art, you don't have too much room in the panels to begin with, comics is a visual medium, blah blah blah… With that being said, I didn't want to compromise my vision, but I had to make allowances and with that came the big red pen to slash at the dialog to tighten it up and make it better.
"With a book like this one where you have a mystery with several plot twists, introduction of brand new characters no one has ever seen before, tech speak, 'alien' races and their plights, man, trying to put that into 136 pages was a chore," admitted Sherman. "I wanted you to feel for these characters, to understand what they were going through, what their motivations were. Yes, there is some text to be had in this book, for sure, but the fans I have spoken to are tired of comics that use so little words, have so little story, they can finish a single issue in less than three minutes! One person told me 'comic fans don't read anymore, they just look at the pictures.' Wow, I thought, is that what we've become? A collective of people that has no interest in reading good stories? And then it hit me as I went to buy my books one Wednesday afternoon. I looked down at my weekly titles and frowned. No, we haven't. We're just starved for good stories. I want to do my best at delivering the greatest story I can as the writer. That's my job: write kick-ass comics."
This is Sherman's first forray into comics and it's been a long process for him. He said the journey may have been long, but it was well worth it. "The way I look at it is like this-- the industry as a whole isn't a race, it's a marathon. Let everyone else who wants instant gratification run their asses off and drop out when they don't get it, it just clears the field for the rest of us who are willing to stick through all the crap to get to the finish line," said Sherman. "It takes a lot of time and hard work. All those guys who 'pop up' and make it big over night? Never happens. Ask those guys how hard they've been working at their trade and they'll have some toe-curling stories. Do not quit If this is what you want to do, do it. Don't talk about it. So many people say, 'Yeah, I wanna write a comic' and don't do anything. You need to be willing to sacrifice for your art in one way or another. People ask me where I found the time to do this and I tell them I wrote until three in the morning and didn't sleep. 'How did you pay your artist?' I took another job teaching an on-line course at night and yes, I am married! She's just very understanding and very supportive. You have to make it work for you. Schedule your time after work and fit it in. Truman Capote said he may only write one word a day, but it's the right word. And you have to work at it as well. Natural talent may get you 50% the way there, but a lot of practice and learning from your failures sculpt it into a 110% effort.
"I think the most daunting task, as the creator, is to sit in front of the blank screen and just write. And let me tell you, that takes a while. Then after the global search for an artist concluded, the script became layouts, from layouts came pencils and from pencils came inks. But it was so much more than that. It's comments, corrections, edits, rewrites, inkjet cartridges, trips to Office Depot for paper, late nights, early mornings, no sleep, research, interviews, 350.00 phone bills, need of more email space for larger art attachments, ugh. This is a bunch of crap that's what's known as 'the process' and it never goes away. But what an amazing learning experience! And I thrive off of that pressure, I love it! But this was the best part-- I had these huge portfolios that I'd kept Roberto's art in for a year and apart they're just cool illustrations, but when they finally got them shrunk down and bound, it's like it all came together in this one harmonious package that was like finding the Lost Ark of the Covenant or something. It just made it all worth while."
Just a few short weeks ago, Sherman got a call from Joe Keating at the Image offices saying the advance copies of the book had arrived. Sherman got so excited about his first published comic that he immediately drive over to the Image offices to hold one in his very own hands. "Let me tell you, all the thoughts of the process and all the BS you've gone through to get to this point melt away as soon as you have a copy of that puppy in your hands," said Sherman. "When you crack open a fresh issue, creasing the spine for the very first time allowing the scent of crisp black ink waft from the pages... Man, that was freakin' awesome! Joe just looked at me and smiled, knowing everything I had been through with this book and said 'Congratulations, buddy.' It was pretty moving. I know this sounds kinda' dopey, but being a Marine and realizing how quickly life can be taken away from you, I have learned to focus on those moments that come only once and soak them in for what they truly are. Precious. And this was one of them."
And when it comes to the visuals on the book, Sherman says he found the perfect artist for "SEAL Team Seven" in Spanish artist Roberto de la Torre, "Roberto is quite honestly the only person in my mind who can draw it," said Sherman. "He's an amazing talent and everyone should be checking out his 'Ms. Marvel' run right now-- it kicks ass! He's still on 'SOCOM' and issue two progresses. It looks even better than the first one. And Alex is back to do all the designs. It's like getting the band back together."
With the second and third volumes of "SOCOM: SEAL Team Seven" already planned, it's full steam ahead for the creative team. de la Torre is already working on art for the second book, while Art Director Alex Jaeger has already completed production designs for book three. "Book two is a shorter story with much more action than intrigue," said Sherman. "Roberto and I like to call it 'The Navy vs. The Hulk,' but it's much more than that as we quickly come to find when the Team is called into Iraq once again to recover a downed communications satellite. That piece of equipment turns out to be more than they bargained for when they find themselves battling the results of a human genetics project that is being utilized by insurgents to advance their ideological doctrine. Imagine Frankenstein gone rampant against the SEALs! How do you stop something that's impervious to harm, bullets or tanks? How do you stop that kind of threat? Trust me, the answer is a kick-ass book that looks like a million-dollar blockbuster!
"With Roberto now doing Ms. Marvel as an on-going series, he's dividing his time between the two projects, but we hope to have this one out before the end of the year. Book three, which is about time traveling Nazis (Alex's designs for this book are freaking remarkable!) is a long one and will hopefully be out early next year (depending on everyone's schedules)."
Research is an important part of the process for Sherman. Sherman's goal for "SEAL Team Seven" was to create a story about a covert action team that was grounded in reality, with access to the world of science fiction (ala Atlantis). When it came to getting the military stuff right, Sherman's status as a Marine Corps Reservist gave him something of a leg up. Still, he had much research to do and poured himself into every SEAL book he could find, surfed the web for information and even spent time at the Naval Base in Coronado, California, watching the SEALs train for hours. He also called upon the services of his father, a retired Navy Captain with over 26-years of active duty service under his belt, who has served as a technical advisor for the Navy on many films and television shows and also, naturally, "SOCOM: SEAL Team Seven. "He went through the script with the big red pen, looked at all the layouts and final inks making corrections and suggestions as we went along. He was fantastic to work with, his wealth of knowledge about the Navy was invaluable and I owe him a huge thank you.
"I also asked several questions of Master Chief Journalist Joe Cioken. A retired Navy Master Chief, he was in-country with the SEALs in Beirut and had so many stories and was incredibly helpful," continued Sherman. "My old First Sergeant, 1stSgt. Moore, told all these great stories during drill that helped shape some of the characters and the emotional elements in the story. Listening is the writer's greatest tool. And yes, I did speak to SEALs, who will remain nameless, that gave me some great insight to their world and I hope they enjoy the book.
"My hope is the details only enhance the underlying story, not draw your attention to them. They're there; you see them but almost on a subconscious level. Hopefully I've done my job right."
Sherman hopes one day to put together a field-trip with some of the Image gang and take them down to Coronado to meet the SEALs personally, to get an understanding of who they are and what they do. "Also, we're planning on sending several copies of the book out to the Teams currently deployed in forward operations as a thank-you to what they do and putting their asses on the line for us. I also have several copies earmarked for my fellow Marines out in the 'Big Sandbox.' Semper-Fi, Devils! Keep kicking that ass! They're coming!"