There was a time, that playing RPG’s like Dungeons and Dragons or admitting to it, was a first class ticket to Dweeb Town. None of the cool kids would ever admit to playing the game (but most of them probably were). In time, RPG’s became more mainstream and the stigmatism that used to surround playing them faded. With that popularity, came more attention and eventually the mistaken assumption in the 90’s that somehow D&D was becoming a “damning” influence on our youth. Just like comics and music and most popular entertainment before them. It was the space in time that got writer Mark Sable’s creative juices flowing, having been an avid RPG player himself. It didn’t hurt that D&D had once again regained popularity in the last ten years.

So Mark, along with artist Chris Anderson came up with CHAOTIC NEUTRAL, which captured those early days of RPG’s before it became watered down due to the pressure from parents and religious leaders at the time. Now, Mark and Chris along with a large number of talented creative contributors bring CHAOTIC NEUTRAL to Kickstarter on Monday, September 27th. We were fortunate to be able to talk to Mark in advance of his exciting project’s Kickstarter launch. So let’s welcome Mark Sable to GVN’s Talking Comics Interview.

GVN: Thank you for sharing a bit of your time, Mark.

MS: Thank you! Truly my pleasure:)

Mark’s Inspirations

GVN: As is our norm, let us start with some of your background. When did you take an interest in writing and which writers inspired you to pursue that career?

MS: Comics and writing have been with me from such an early age that it’s hard to remember when I WASN’T interested in either. The theme for my bar mitzvah was Marvel Comics, and we gave out a t-shirt with a caricature of me as Iron Man that said “I had a MARVELous time at Mark’s Bar Mitzvah”.

My first completed work when I was in high school was a spec script for Seinfeld, which I put in Jerry Seinfeld’s sister’s mailbox (she lived in the neighborhood I grew up in on Long Island). She was kind enough to forward it to the Seinfeld production offices and I still have the rejection letter.

My early writing inspirations were Chris Claremont and Larry Hama. X-Men and GI Joe had a depth that blew me away as a kid. As I got older, I was inspired by Miller, Moore and Gaiman in comics, Shakespeare and Chekhov in theater, David Simon in TV etc. Discovering great writing continues to be a source of pleasure for me.

Education

GVN: As I did a bit of research for this interview, you have a very impressive educational background. So much so that a person might wonder how you came to write for comics? (of course, I think all comic creators are highly intelligent). Did someone approach you with an opportunity or had you wanted to take on that challenge on your own?

MS: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have received an education that’s been both broad and deep. My parents, generous public servants who worked hard to put their only child through school(s) deserve the credit for that. Comics was a challenge that I took up on my own. I was unhappy in law school, working for an entertainment law firm in the summers helping to make other creative people money while I had very little time for my own pursuits. In what little spare time I did have, I wrote the script for GROUNDED, my first book for Image Comics, pitched it to Image with artist Paul Azaceta in the summer between my second and third years and watched it get published right after I graduated. I’ve never looked back since.

Main Stream vs. Creator Owned

GVN: You have worked for most of the big names, DC, Marvel, Image. Does your method change any with the project or who you are writing for? Also, which do you prefer, writing for established characters or creating your own?

MS: I’ve had fun writing for both, but my passion is really creating my own characters along with my collaborators – artists, colorists, letterers, editors etc. My day-to-day process for work-for-hire and creator-owned projects is pretty similar – pitch, outline, script, revise with input from my collaborators, repeat. But I feel freer to break the rules my own work. Concepts or characters that might not seem commercial, trying to push them and the medium as far as I can without breaking…in general, taking more risks.

CHAOTIC NEUTRAL

GVN: Your newest project is a collaboration with talented artist Chris Anderson on CHAOTIC NEUTRAL which is inspired by the classic fantasy role-playing games. What made you decide to do a story based on this popular genre?

MS: Role Playing Games like Dungeons & Dragons were as much of a part of my childhood as comics were. I was painfully shy though, and rarely had the courage to get a group of friends together to play. So I’d buy as many RPGs as I could get but read and absorb them like literature. I’d create my own characters and play solo, or just create maps and adventures in my mind. In the past decade there’s been a renaissance in role-playing in general and D&D in particular, with the release of D&D’s 5th edition, its featured role in Stranger Things and streaming shows like Critical Role.

I finally started playing and running weekly games and they’ve become a crucial part of my life, especially during the pandemic when I was quarantined and playing over Roll20 was my only social interaction for a while. But I found that there was something missing from some of the games I’d been a part of. In part due to the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s, when parents and religious groups tried to convince kids that D&D would send their soul to hell – fantasy had become become watered down, corporate and way too polished. I missed the early days that seemed full of both wonder and danger. I didn’t see a comic that captured the essence of those early days of RPGs, and CHAOTIC NEUTRAL was my answer.

The Kickstarter Campaign

GVN: CHAOTIC NEUTRAL is coming to Kickstarter with a number of special features, including a fantasy role playing module written by you. I know there is more, want to let our readers know what else they can expect?

MS: I think that more than anything, the adventure module is what makes CHAOTIC NEUTRAL stand out. You can literally play in the same world that the story takes place. When I was a kid I would have killed for that. At higher tiers I’ll also be offering to run the module as Dungeon Master for a select few backers. One of the things I love about comics is how close the relationship between creator and fan is, and this is taking that to the next level.

Ryan Browne (Curse Words, God Hates Astronauts) is also creating a special, satirical mini-comic model after the religious “Chick Tracts” meant to scare parents and kids away from playing D&D. We want the book to feel like it’s an artifact of the 80s, and poke fun at that hysteria, and there’s no one in comics funnier than Ryan.

The reward I’m most excited about are monster trading cards, though. Each has RPG stats for a monster on one side, and art on the other by one of nine superstar comics artists – Max Dunbar (Dungeons and Dragons), Jeremy Haun (Red Mother), Maan House (Godkillers), Jeff Johnson (Boondocks), Tom Neely (The Humans), Dan Panosian (Slots), Jim Rugg (Street Angel) Tim Seeley (Money Shot) and Kyle Strahm (Spread). That’s a murderers row of talent that I’m so proud to be associated with. There’s more that will be revealed once the Kickstarter goes live.

Working with Chris Anderson

GVN: I had mentioned artist Chris Anderson. What was that collaboration like and were you at all surprised by the results?

MS: Chris IS CHAOTIC NEUTRAL. Early D&D had some great artists who did mind-bending black and white artwork – Erol Otus, Dave Trampier, Bill Willingham (yes, the same Bill Willingham who wrote Fables!). It was weird and captured the imagination in a way that I can only compare to early Marvel work, and I don’t think has been done since. Chris was able to find a way to evoke old school fantasy while at the same time brining his own voice to it.

CHAOTIC NEUTRAL has demons and human sacrifice in it, but Chris’ art brings this whimsical charm to the book that helps balance out the edge. Our collaboration was pretty seamless. Almost as soon as we started talking about working together Chris became a regular in my weekly D&D games. In role-playing there is a great back and forth between the player and DM, and we’ve managed to replicate that in our artistic collaboration. The only thing that has surprised me about Chris is his speed, stamina and belief in me in this project. CHAOTIC NEUTRAL is 48 pages long and was fully drawn well before we started this Kickstarter. My biggest goals with this Kickstarter are rewarding Chris for all that hard work and introducing his stellar art to a new audience.

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Other Projects

GVN: Thank you so much for your time, Mark. Before I let you go, do you have any other projects you are working on that you can talk about? Also, where can fans follow you on social media?

MS: Thank you! I’m really proud of MISKATONIC, my Lovecraftian crime/horror book from Aftershock Comics.  MISKATONIC is about one of the first female FBI agents investigating supernatural horror and J. Edgar Hoover’s Red Scare in the 1920s. It’s illustrated by artist Giorgio Pontrelli, with colors from Pippa Bowland, letters from Thomas Mauer (who also lettered CHAOTIC NEUTRAL) and Dave Sharpe. The covers are by the amazing Jeremy Haun and Nick Filardi. The first trade is out now, and there’s a giant-sized special coming out later this year. October will also see the print release of DRACULA: SON OF THE DRAGON with artist Salgood Sam. It’s a mix of horror and historical fiction from Dark Horse Comics and Comixology Originals, which was originally funded on Kickstarter. I’m @marksable on both Twitter and Instagram and fans should feel free to reach out to me there.

CHAOTIC NEUTRAL launches on Kickstarter on Monday, September 27th. You can find the campaign here. Be sure to check it out and all of the RPG goodness that Mark, Chris and friends are bringing to the table.

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