From Mad Max to The Road, we’re drawn to post-apocalyptic tales, showcasing the struggles of those left to rebuild the future. In writer Samuel Sattin and artist Chris Koehler’s Legend, out this Wednesday from Z2 Comics, the creative team takes a very different perspective on the traditional template for cataclysmic storytelling. Described by Sattin as “Watership Down…remixed with The Walking Dead” with canines and felines instead of rabbits, Legend looks at life after a biological catastrophe has decimated most of humanity. The dogs and cats left behind attempt to pick up where humanity left off, rebuilding what they can of a fallen civilization
Mr. Sattin spoke to me recently about the genesis of Legend, the themes threading through the book, and the importance of choosing the right dog breeds for the right characters.
FreakSugar: For folks who are considering picking up Legend, what would be your sales pitch for the series?
Samuel Sattin: I like to say that Legend is what would happen if Watership Down was remixed the Walking Dead. With dogs (and cats) instead of rabbits. Plus monsters. But more thoroughly, Legend is a story of what would happen if humanity collapsed and our domesticated animals were left in charge.
FS: Stories exploring the world through the eyes of animals always provides an outlet to speak to larger themes that we as humans wrestle with. What overarching thematic ideas are you hoping to explore with Legend?
SS: That’s a really good question! Though the answer will surely shift as the series progresses, I’m definitely interested in environmentalism, bio-mutation, and the gap humans perceive (and enforce) between themselves and nature. We may discover this entire book is about conflicting political and religious ideas as well. We hope to cover a lot of ground.
FS: How did you and illustrator Chris Koehler come to collaborate together on Legend?
SS: Brilliantly. Chris was my illustration teacher in the Comics MFA program at California College of the Arts. Chris and I bring different qualities to this project that complement each other in unexpectedly effective ways. Though I’m comics-obsessed and have been for a long while, we’re both approaching the medium as relative outsiders; as a novelist on my behalf, and as an illustrator on Chris’s. We often bring our past experience to the table, and it ends up coming together quite beautifully.
FS: The series has a beautiful pallet and a unique look that marries wonderfully to your words. Did you have any particular images you wanted to make sure made it into Legend?
SS: Thank you! I think I tend to write rather visually. I’ve been told that my prose is concerned with evoking visual responses, anyway, and I’ve come to believe it. My favorite writers excel in instilling images in my head…not just in terms of physical description, really—that kind of thing can burn out quick—but in terms of emotional texture.
Concerning the first issue of Legend in particular, I would say that the image of Ransom dying near the thornwall was something I was very concerned with. Chris ended up making it incredibly successful with his usage of composition and color. It’s funny…I always have a vision in my head for how a panel will look when I compose the words for it. But whenever Chris interprets it, though it rarely lines up exactly with my original conception to a tee, I end up liking it even more.
FS: You’ve written two phenomenal novels, The Somebodies and The Silent End. How does your work as a novelist inform how you approach Legend?
SS: Thank you! Primarily, I would say my work as a novelist informs the way in which I approach characterization and scene. Story telling is story telling—that doesn’t change no matter which medium you’re working in. But prose requires a lot of patience, in that you’re used to having to shoulder the responsibility of creating a completely immersive experience with words alone. In some ways it puts me at a disadvantage in comics, since I have to curb any tendencies to overwrite. But in other ways, it allows me to be more selective in the words I do convey, and thus create a stronger story.
FS: Following up on that, why did you choose to tell the story of Legend in comic book form instead of adapting it for a novel?
SS: I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I’ve fallen in love with animal-stories in comics. Pride of Baghdad was the one that did it, and since then I’ve discovered others. But it’s also for that reason that I felt the need to contribute. I wanted to tell a big story like Watership Down in a graphic format. I wanted to write what I wanted to read. And working with someone like Chris ended up creating something I’d never had suspected would exist.
FS: The first issue manages to give readers a taste of a whole host of genres, which casts a wide net for folks who have interest in different types of storytelling. Was that injection of those genres intentional or just a result of how the story evolved?
SS: I try not to think about what genres we introduced into the book, to be honest. Mostly because I’m not quite sure. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I just like a lot of different things. I read and watch loads of horror, fantasy, weird and science fiction, but I’m also a fan of literary realism, true crime, and thriller/noir. Overall, I wanted Legend to be something I would want to read, and I want to read books that travel (and smuggle) across genre borders like a pack of itinerants.
FS: What works do you feel have influenced how you have tackled the story of Legend? It seems to share DNA with works like Animal Farm and Watership Down.
SS: Watership Down and Animal Farm are definitely big influences. Each covers a lot of territory in that it explores totalitarianism, religious devotion, and environmental strife. Other works of direct influence are Pride of Baghdad, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, The Secret of Nimh, We3, His Dark Materials, Mouseguard, and Plague Dogs.
FS: We several different breeds of dogs represented throughout the course of the first issue of Legend. What was the process like for choosing which breeds to use and how they contribute to the overall story you wanted to tell?
SS: Unlike my attitude towards genre, I am preoccupied with breed, and each is chosen with a particular goal in mind. Chris feels the exact same way. I don’t want to give away too much in terms of story, but just as people judge each other based on notions of race, people judge dogs preemptively based on their breeds. Our pitbull Herman, for example, is going to provoke a lot of preconceived assumptions because of the fact that his breed is popularly thought to be aggressive, even if that supposition stems from the ways in which humans have abused the breed historically. We choose the breeds we did because they directly inform the way in which the story is read.
FS: Z2 Comics is putting out a bevy of different types of comics for readers of various interests. Is that why the publisher was a good fit for Legend? It seems like the type of comic that is in Z2’s wheelhouse.
SS: I really think that has a lot to do with it, yes. Z2 really has an extraordinary line up, and we feel lucky to be part of it. I think that all their books offer unique perspectives from a diverse roster of writers, all of whom are putting out top-quality, thought provoking and/or exciting work that deserves a lot of eyes.
FS: Is there anything you can tease about what we should expect from the book going down the line?
SS: Look out for Journey Cats, the blooded path, and stenchless creatures in the night.
Legend #1, written by Samuel Sattin with Chris Koehler on art, hits newsstands this Wednesday from Z2 Comics.
From the official issue description:
What if a biological terror agent wiped out most of humanity, and our domesticated animals were left in charge? How would our dogs and cats set about ruling and rebuilding the world? Ransom, the leader of the Dog Tribe, has been murdered by a creature known as the Endark. An English Pointer named Legend reluctantly rises to lead in his place, vowing to kill the monster once and for all. From acclaimed novelist Samuel Sattin and award-winning illustrator Chris Koehler comes LEGEND, where cat technology rules, dogs partner with hawks, and humans may be the most beastly creatures of all.
Also check out the trailer for Legend #1!