Nick Sagan & Clinnette Minnis: Pulling out the Shrapnel

A comics interview article by: Karyn Pinter
Nick Sagan and Clinnette Minnis kindly sat down to talk about the upcoming second chapter in the Shrapnel series, Shrapnel: Hubris. See what the co-writers have to say on the tides of war, holographic little sisters, and girls kicking ass.

Karyn Pinter: Nick, it's a pleasure to talk to you again on one of our mutual favorite topics, Shrapnel, and Clinnette, it's an equal pleasure to talk to you for the first time.

Nick Sagan: Thanks, Karyn, I really enjoyed the last time we did this and it’s great to speak with you again!

Clinnette Minnis: Nice to meet you, Karyn!

KP: It's been hard to control my excitement for the upcoming installment entitled Shrapnel: Hubris. I got to read the synopsis for the comic, and man, just from the first issue this already sounds like it's going to blow the first volume to bits with pure action alone.

NS: We’re excited, too! The first series did a real number on Venus and now we get to wreak havoc on other parts of the system as well. Aristeia Rising was so action packed and skillfully executed that blowing it to bits is a tall order, but we’ve given it the old college try and hopefully the sequel is as well received as the original. It’s always tricky to be objective when you’re close to a project, but Hubris is looking really good and we’re proud of how it’s come together.

KP: Now about the title, Hubris. Generally that isn't a good thing, as it often leads to trouble because of pride and presumption. Is our heroine, Sam, going to get in over her head in this continuing chapter?

NS: In over her head and maybe even a little out of her head! Sam’s an extraordinarily gifted soldier, capable of so much on the battlefield, and yet she has good reasons to be reluctant to take the reins of command. It’s said that to achieve amazing things one has to be at least a little bit arrogant, in that you have to believe you’re capable of tackling a problem that others consider impossible. That arrogance can give way to hubris. But the title doesn’t just refer to Sam alone -- the conflict between the colonies and the Solar Alliance is swimming in hubris!

CM: Hubris a human conceit, a human frailty, and we’re all capable of it -- especially our leaders with whom we entrust so much power. It’s fair to say that Sam’s going to endure some growing pains in the course of this one.

KP: It sounds like some characters who were once "bad guys" are joining the good guys. Are they at all trustworthy, or will they just be a giant wrench in the gears?

CM: No one is all good or bad. We’re complex creatures and neither side of a war likes to identify himself or herself as a villain. The shifting loyalties in Shrapnel are one of the elements I enjoy most in the series. As for who’s trustworthy, you’ll just have to read.

NS: Sam’s old mentor, Colonel Rossi, was delivering ultimatums at the start of Aristeia Rising, so even though he did flip to her side at the end, it’s understandable why the colonists might be reluctant to trust him now. And to pick up on something Clinnette said, you can’t always have purity in a war. Often it’s messy and you have to make dangerous compromises that cause the line between “good guy” and “bad guy” to become blurred. In the Shrapnel universe, there are some who see Sam and her forces as revolutionaries with a heroic cause, and there are others who see them as cold-blooded murderers and despicable traitors. Each side has points to make and we try to give them their due.

KP: There have been a couple of changes in the creative line up. Most importantly, Clinnette has joined the crew, and you are both writing this volume. Do you both feel this will be a change from the original style of M. Zachary Sherman? If so, how will it change?

CM: Zack wrote an amazing installment and we’re so grateful for him laying down such fun and exquisitely designed groundwork for us to build upon.

NS: Absolutely, I was very impressed by Zack’s writing, and my appreciation only grew stronger upon diving into the sequel. We’ve taken pains to try to be true to his work in Aristiea Rising while at the same time following the structure Mark Long and I plotted out, moving the story in new directions and evolving the characters into somewhat darker territory. As a writer, Clinnette brings a terrific skill set to the table that includes deep insight into Sam’s psychology -- perfect for this arc of the story. It’s interesting -- on one level, Shrapnel’s my baby, but it’s been a very collaborative project from the get go, and it’s been fun and rewarding to see it unfold and take shape via the hard work of writers as talented as Mark, Zack and Clinnette.

KP: Nick, you and Mark Long created the series, but this is your first time filling in the word balloons. Was there anything you were itching to change from the first volume?

NS: It’s not really that I was looking to change anything so much as open it up. We get to go offworld, see what the Moon and Mars look like in this future, and we step back to get a broader sense of the conflict in all its complexities.

KP: How has being married and co-writing a comic worked out? Do you guys veto each other's ideas only to sneak them in later? Or has it been a creative experience, working off each other's ideas? From what I read in the synopsis, it definitely sounds like the latter.

CM: Sneaking ideas back? I’ve never thought to try that! (Watch out, Nick…) Working together has been a wonderfully creative, challenging and deeply rewarding experience. We’re both looking out for the story, so ideas only get vetoed if they’re not serving it. Anything that fits the story wins, hands down.

NS: You know that “kill your darlings” expression -- often torturous for a writer -- where for whatever reason you have to come to grips with leaving out moments you really wanted to put in? In Hubris there are these two characters that were never in the original outline but sometimes the most enjoyable moments in writing fiction are the completely unplanned ones, the characters who surprise you by suddenly announcing themselves in your imagination. They show up in the middle of the series and don’t stick around for very long, but they make me smile and I kept wanting to bring them back one more time -- and yet for the life of me I couldn’t see how to do it. Then Clinnette found an opportunity to bring them back in a fun, totally unexpected (and yet logical) way. So having a co-writer who can pluck lost gems out of the ether is a great luxury and being married to her is just a plus.

KP: Clinnette, I think it's fantastic to have a woman co-writing this comic. A lot of people wouldn't immediately think a woman would helm a project like this, but everyone just watched Kathryn Bigelow win an Oscar for The Hurt Locker. Do you feel like you are helping break through boundaries by writing something that isn't fluffy and cute or a Wonder Woman type project? Are you ready to prove that girls can kick as much ass as the boys do?

CM: Wow! I am honored and flattered to be thought of as someone who’s breaking boundaries. It’s a thrill to be mentioned in the same sentence as Kathryn Bigelow, but I am not worthy of the comparison yet. Maybe one day. I love fluffy and cute but I balk at the idea some people have that women don’t have a dark side -- or that we’re not interested in tackling tough issues like war and leadership and the consequences that come from making difficult decisions. As a writer, I take inspiration from strong female characters both fictional (such as Ripley in the Alien series or Antigone) and historical (Hypatia, Dido, Boudica, etc.) Can girls kick as much ass as boys do? Hell yeah, we can! Watch out, my foot’s a’comin!

KP: There has also been a change-up with the art. I was only able to see two preview pages, and it looks good, but are there going to be any of those epic two page paintings of the battlefields? Bagus's art was so amazing last time, are you happy with the way the new art by Concept Art House captures the emotion and soul of the comic?

NS: The art in Aristeia Rising is a tough act to follow. I loved the painted quality, the impressionistic style -- it really does evoke something powerful, and it’s a little different from what you expect with science fiction. That said, everything we’ve seen of the new art from Concept House has been fantastic and inspiring. I think the shift in art is like the shift in writers -- we each bring something new to the table as we build upon what’s come before.

KP: Let's talk about Sam. What's in store for her this time around? And how will she evolve? She's lost a lot so far -- her sister, then her lover -- and it seems she's starting to lose herself. Will there be any healing for her, or will she slip deeper into the shadows?

CM: I love that you asked this! It’s true Sam’s lost a lot -- life has not been kind to her -- and yet the blows she’s been dealt and the scars she’s received are only serving to make her more resolute in Hubris. That’s for better and worse. There’s the healthy person she’d like to be and the powerful leader (literally and symbolically) that her followers need her to be. They’re not necessarily the same person. When you’re commanding an army and leading a movement, you don’t always have the opportunity to heal up and work through a serious problem like PTSD. Instead Sam finds ways to compensate -- which risks seeing her slip deeper into the shadows.

KP: Sam obviously carries this story on her shoulders, which forces her to be a strong character. So going back to girls kicking ass and taking names, Clinnette, how did you take to the character?

CM: Well, at heart I’m an introvert. I’m shy. So it’s fun and empowering to spend time in a world with such a strong and dynamic female presence. Her candor is really endearing. She’s tough and honest and very confident when playing to her strengths but also she wears her emotions on her sleeve. Which I can relate to. It’s also been challenging because she lives in a really dark place. You don’t want to take that with you into your everyday life!

KP: Are we going to see Sam's little sister's hologram again? I really liked that aspect of Sam's character, that the person she's closest to isn't even real.

NS: Yes, the Ria therapy hologram makes a comeback. I’m with you in that there’s something really appealing about Sam pouring out her soul to this digital “ghost” who’s simulating her late sister. Seeing a version of Ria in this state of arrested development -- killed so young -- ties nicely into Sam’s emotional blocks, the pain she carries that she’s yet to work through. When we get to Mars, we also get to see some other people from Sam’s past and I think it gives an interesting perspective of where she came from as she figures out where she’s going.

KP: Last time we spoke I think I asked if there was going to be a Shrapnel movie, and Nick, you said no. But, I swear two weeks later, news breaks that Len Wiseman has grabbed the rights to do the film. Can you supply any news on the project?

NS: I swear I wasn’t being coy with you in that conversation -- Len Wiseman coming aboard was a very cool surprise and I was thrilled to hear the news! Since then Len has taken another project to direct, but Shrapnel’s still in active development with Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan) and I’m hopeful it’s just a matter of time before it comes to the big screen. Likewise, there are efforts going on now to make a Shrapnel videogame a reality, and it’s deeply gratifying to see so many talented, creative people getting behind the project and helping it reach its potential in so many different ways.

KP: It's been wonderful to chat again, Nick, and Clinnette, I hope we get to talk again in the future. The comic sounds phenomenal, and I'm sure it'll blow everyone's minds.

CM: Thanks, Karyn, it’s been great talking with you!

NS: Absolutely -- thanks for the kind words, for the enthusiasm and for such smart and fun questions! Looking forward to chatting with you again!

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