Nick Sagan & Mark Long: The Craftsmen Behind the Shrapnel Mecha

A comics interview article by: Karyn Pinter
Recently, Karyn Pinter got the chance to sit down with Nick Sagan and Mark Long, the creative team behind Radical’s hit series Shrapnel. In this interview we get a fun look into the world of Shrapnel, along with all the things that went into the making of this title.


Karyn Pinter: Hi fellas, how’s it going?

Nick Sagan: Very well, thanks. It’s good to talk with you.

KP: First off I have to say that I’m a huge fan of Shrapnel -- hands down one of the best comics I’ve read all year. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing the series, so I want to thank you for creating something so entertaining.

Mark Long: Awesome! Thanks.

KP: So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What can you tell us about the inception of Shrapnel? Was it something one of you had in mind or was it one of those, sit down with a couple of beers and say, “Hey, let’s do a Sci-Fi comic?”

NS: While working on a videogame for Activision, Mark and I became friends, and we found we dug a lot of the same stuff, including ancient battles, mecha, and the question of where we might be headed as a species once we begin to colonize the solar system. I wrote up a treatment for a project called Liberty, whose story explored many of these common interests, and over time it evolved into the Shrapnel we know and love.

ML: Really, Shrapnel was so ambitious in narrative and scope that we could never get it off the ground until we hit upon the idea of producing it as a graphic novel trilogy.

KP: What is the inspiration behind the story of Shrapnel? What message did you want to send with Shrapnel? And, what did you feel were the issues that could be addressed through the telling of this story?

NS: Revolution was the spark, I think, heroes and antiheroes who would stand up against social injustice and brave death for a chance at self-determination. I’m not sure any of us have been looking to send a message so much as tell a story, though there are issues of class warfare, eugenics, preemptive war and human nature. I enjoy telling stories about the apparent inescapability of human nature. We have billions of years of evolutionary programming up against thousands of years of culture, and the tug-of-war between the two can become lopsided and messy in ways that speak to me as a writer.

ML: For me the inspiration was mechsuits. What if body armor evolved to the point that it was impervious to attack? Maybe armies would revert to tactics of antiquity? Maybe they would mass in columns, close with their enemy and fight with sonic swords.

I’m a geek for mechsuits. I love the form fitting designs of manga and anime, Matsume Shirow (Appleseed) in particular. And I love sword and sandal epics. Heroic speeches made by Kings and Generals to their men to prove their mettle and go once more into the breach. Shrapnel for me is a mashup of these two themes.

Mechsuits are magic armor in a way. Like Achilles armor, hammered out by the god’s own blacksmith, they inspire in me a genuine wonder at their art and technology. My friend Caroline Alexander says “Armor represents the enduring prayer of all terrified mothers whose sons must go to war. Whether holding bake sales to raise money for ceramic-plated body armor for their sons in Iraq, or pleading directly with the smith of the gods, the objective is the same -- magic armor that will protect my son.”

KP: While reading the story, Starship Troopers kept jumping into my mind, and I think a lot of other reviewers and readers may have made that same connection. How do you feel about being compared to a Science Fiction classic like that?

NS: I’m thrilled that so many readers and reviewers have sparked to Shrapnel the way you have, and I’m very flattered by the comparison to Starship Troopers. It’s my feeling that all military-themed science fiction published in the last 50 years owes a debt to Robert Heinlein, so I hope we’re doing him proud, and I’d like to think the story we’ve been telling homages Starship Troopers in a fun way without cleaving too closely to it. For me, the lack of giant alien bugs in our universe focuses Shrapnel more on human conflicts, as we continue to make war against ourselves despite setting foot on other worlds.

KP: Opening the comic, the reader is treated to some of the most amazing artwork to hit the shelves in a long time, done by Bagus Hutomo. Did you approach Radical for this project specifically because of their painted art format? Or were you taken pleasantly by surprise by how great the style of art fit the book?

NS: Though I was a fan of Radical’s painted style from before Bagus Hutomo’s involvement, you’ve found the perfect word for him in “amazing.” He’s such a talented artist, and Shrapnel is that much better for it.

ML: I literally begged Imaginary Friends Studios to take on the series after I met them at Comic Con, I loved their work so much. They just happened to be working for Radical at the same time. It was Edmund Shern who was at Imaginary at the time that introduced us to Radical.

KP: The first series ends with Sam and company looking out over a devastated city after winning the battle, but certainly not the war. Can you give us a taste of what’s to come? What role will Sam play in the future of the series?

NS: Now the battle becomes the war. Sam has to break the siege of Venus and find a way to bring the fight to her enemies. It’s the story of her rise to power and the toll that rise takes, the unintended consequences it brings.

KP: While, we’re already on the topic of Sam. At Wonder-Con this past February I got to chat briefly with Zack Sherman, and he told me that Sam wasn’t originally planned as a female hero. Can you tell us more about that?

NS: Well, Sam went through a number of changes along the way, and I believe at one point we talked about making her male, but the original incarnation of the character was female, back when the project and Sam herself were known as Liberty.

ML: My recollection was that Sam was always female. That was Nick’s stroke of genius. I think what Zack meant was that at several points in the process of developing the series, we were told that making the lead a female was a mistake if we ever wanted to see the trilogy adapted for feature. Conventional “wisdom” in Hollywood is that chicks can’t open a big action picture, which is ridiculous -- Aliens!; Tomb Raider! -- so we stuck with Samantha and I think the books are righteous for it.

KP: A lot of the Radical properties are either in talks to or already on their way to becoming films. Can the fans look forward to a Shrapnel film adaptation any time soon? Perhaps a videogame?

NS: Adapting Shrapnel into other forms of media is something we’re definitely investigating. At the same time we’re committed to the comic, and it’s important to us that we continue to tell the story in each issue to the very best of our ability.

ML: I agree with Nick. I’m a little wary of this recent trend of OGN’s published almost as picture books for movie pitches. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see any book like Shrapnel as a movie, but it wasn’t our motivation. We’re working hard to make the trilogy a great set of books that you can curl up with and get lost in.

KP: Other than the future installments of Shrapnel, are there any projects you guys are working on for Radical? Any other projects our readers should look out for?

NS: Mark has a graphic novel coming out called The Silence of Our Friends that you should definitely watch for. The setting couldn’t be more different from Shrapnel, but it’s so good, just a terrific book. Zack is continuing to write for Radical with the upcoming title Earp: Saints for Sinners. Over here Clinnette Minnis and I are hard at work on the second Shrapnel series, Shrapnel: Hubris, and after that I’ve got a few irons in the fire I’m excited about and looking forward to discussing at a future date.

KP: Again, thank you both for bringing Shrapnel to us comic book nerds, and for taking the time to do an interview with ComicsBulletin.

NS: Absolutely! We’re comic book nerds ourselves. Thanks for the great interview and all the kind words.

ML: Thank you!

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