Exclusive: Ethan Sacks, Anthony Breznican, and Jeff Edwards Talk “A Dangerous Lesson” from the Maybe Someday Anthology
Through June, A Wave Blue World has been running a Kickstarter for its latest anthology, Maybe Someday: Stories of Promise, Visions of Hope. The graphic novel anthology is a sequel to All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World which received a Ringo Award nomination for “best anthology.” The anthology features twenty-five stories to lift the spirits of readers and instill the hope of a brighter future. You can find out more about the contributors at the link to the Kickstarter above or here.
We got a chance to talk to three contributors Ethan Sacks, Anthony Breznican, and Jeff Edwards about their contribution “A Dangerous Lesson” which features colors by Andy Poole.
Graphic Policy: Ethan and Anthony, you both have backgrounds in journalism as well as other forms of media. Tell us a little more about that and how it led you into writing for comics.
Ethan Sacks: For nearly twenty years, I covered the “geek beat” at the New York Daily News, including comics and over that time I became pretty close friends with Marvel’s Joe Quesada. I ended up pitching him an idea for a story about Greedo. Yes, Greedo. Oddly, he loved it so much, he brought me to then EIC Axel Alonso, and the rest is history. But even though I ended up being a 43-year-old rookie, a lot of skills I learned in journalism helped me get up to speed — sticking to deadlines, an ear for dialogue, and working with editors.
Anthony Breznican: I covered the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years for USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, and had been on the set of so many of those movies, all the Avengers and Captain America films, Black Panther. I always loved the comics that inspired them, but that work immersed me in them in a new way. A comic plays like a movie in the mind, and they can bring such hopefulness and strength and escape to readers. I had previously published a novel and some short stories but had never tackled a graphic novel. It’s much more of a team effort, and Ethan was kind enough to invite me aboard as a rookie to be part of Maybe Someday and the story that would become “A Dangerous Lesson.”
GP: Was your story for the “Maybe Someday” anthology the first time you had worked together? How did that go?
ES: Anthony is not only a friend, but someone who I’ve looked up to as a journalist since the days I was covering entertainment for the Daily News. I wouldn’t call him a peer, because that’s like a dude with a guitar in a coffee shop comparing himself to Bruce Springsteen. But we gelled really well on this project, our first (and hopefully not last) collaboration. We used a shared google doc to trade ideas and did a skype summit with Jeff, too. There was no issue melding all our ideas in one story. Just a blast collaborating.
AB: Ethan is exaggerating here. I’m just another guy in a coffee shop, but we’ve known each other for years, and while we both followed the same trajectory in journalism, I was a lost little kid in the woods when it came to writing comics. He really guided me, showed me what needed to be done, how to think about writing for Jeff to interpret. It was Comics Writing 101 for me. It also happened at a time of upheaval in my life, so it was nice to have this fun project to work on, focusing on a glimmer of joy and possibility in the future.
GP: What were the challenges you faced writing a story that was specifically focused on positive visions of the future? Did you feel constrained by this in any way?
ES: For much of my early comic career, I’ve been living in one dystopian post-apocalyptic landscape or another (Old Man Hawkeye, Kiss Zombies), and that’s par for the course with pop culture. Heck, it’s hard not to be pessimistic when you read that Siberia has hit 100 degrees and we’re going backwards with climate change policy. But we shouldn’t forget that there is a younger generation of Gretas stepping up and fighting the good fight. I think we owe it to them to rewire our brains and get off our butts. For this story, I think we looked to where we wanted to go and wrote a path to get there.
AB: I found it a little daunting because you need some conflict to make the story interesting. A field of wildflowers is lovely and peaceful, but it’s not dramatic. So what can we put into that tranquil setting that is exciting, but doesn’t ruin it? We came up with an idea (I believe it was Ethan’s) about a world where the biggest problems we face today have been solved. But how would a society make sure its next-generation doesn’t backslide? We came up with the concept together on a conference call, then Ethan kindly let me devise some characters and subplots for an actual storyline. After that, he took my overlong story and tailored it to fit the pages and the panels we had, and added his own spin to the dialogue.
GP: Jeff, tell us more about your background as an artist and how you got involved in this project.
Jeff Edwards: Well, I have been a professional comic book illustrator for about 9 years or so. I’ve worked on a lot of indie projects, as well as worked with some publishers, but the story of how I got involved with this project is actually a pretty interesting one. You see my first published work was in an international magazine called Film Ink. Think of a mix between Entertainment Weekly and Wizard magazine. My role in the project was to illustrate the answers given by Hollywood directors to a specific question, “If you could direct any superhero movie, what would it be?” Now the only caveat was that only directors who had not yet directed a superhero movie would be a part of the interview. And who interviewed those directors? Ethan Sacks. My first published project, and my first international project, was written by Ethan. And we have been friends ever since. We have wanted to work together in the interim years but it just never worked out, so when he asked me if I would be interested I said yeah. It was a win-win. I would get to tell a fun and uplifting story that gives a view of the future in a positive light through a sci-fi filter. I mean what’s not to like! And on top of that, I got to work with my buddy for the first time. So yeah, it was a win-win! I had a great time on it!
ES: I literally stumbled on Jeff at an airport on the way to San Diego Comic-Con in 2010. He was sketching and just giving the drawings to the little kids that were engrossed by his work. Just a selfless, kind, talented dude. At the time, I was the movie editor for Wizard Magazine and I just thought, I’m going to make it my business to work with this guy.
AB: This is the first I’ve worked with Jeff, and he’s like this joyful barbarian, with a big heart, big energy, and a big bushy beard. I knew his work on Transformers and Batman, and we seemed to have grown up loving the same robots, monsters, and heroes. Every page that would come through on Maybe Someday was a mindblower. He’s incredible.
GP: Did you do much to adjust your style of storytelling process to fit with the direction of the script?
JE: Well as an artist who grew up on superhero comics, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make changes to my process. There are no capes, no superpowers, no fistfights. All of which I love! But that wasn’t what this story was about. “A Dangerous Lesson” is about interpersonal connections and relationships. It’s about showing what might happen if we achieve the ambitious goal of a brighter, cleaner, more beautiful tomorrow. And to be fair, I haven’t strictly stayed in the superhero genre my entire career. I have worked up stories that range from noir, horror, hard-boiled detective thrillers, to choose-your-own-adventure-style stories depicting a post-apocalyptic end of the world. So having that range served me well on this project. I wanted to focus on the person-to-person dynamics, the subtleties. And from the beginning of the layouts stage, I was focused in that direction. I also had to change up my visual style a bit. I like to abstract, or cartoon my figures a little bit if the project is a superhero story. I switch over into a bit more of the dynamic figure for my superhero projects. But with “A Dangerous Lesson,” I wanted to give the characters normal proportions. Which is a subtle change, but it’s there. It was actually one of the more enjoyable parts for me. I rarely get to draw a more realistic figure, I rarely get to do a non-superhero story, so the change of pace was fun!
GP: What makes this the right time for an anthology like this? Do you feel it can have a lasting effect?
ES: We’re in an era that is incredibly cynical, and it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about the state of the United States and the world. We wrote this story before the global pandemic, but it has felt like we’re hurtling towards the type of dystopian apocalyptic future that has long been predicted by comics, movies, and other pop culture. But then you see a younger generation really galvanized to march, organize, and advocate, and you start thinking maybe there’s hope we’ll get our act together. I think it is high time that we change the narrative that everything is bleak and hopeless and start doing something to make the world a little better. For us, this is just a start.
JE: Hmmm… well, I don’t think there is a wrong time for a story that focuses on a positive future. Don’t get me wrong, I love a dark and gritty, post-apocalyptic tale! But there is so much negativity constantly bombarding folks everyday in the real world. So I think that a story like this, an anthology with imagining the future in an uplifting way as the focus, I think it can help people today, tomorrow and always. Any time when there are folks out there who need a twenty minute break, or however long it takes to read the story, any time when folks need a break from all the negativity surrounding them, then that is the right time for a story like this.
I hope it can have a lasting effect, I really do.
AB: These guys said it. I think the hard thing right now is hopelessness. That’s where I struggle nowadays. “How are we ever going to get out of this?” I find myself much like Bill Paxton in Aliens — ”That’s it, man. Game over!” Ripley kept her eye on the future, on surviving. This story and collection shows you a better future. It’s a best case scenario, and aspirational, but perhaps it can play a hopeful song in your head: “Wouldn’t it be niiiiice …?”
GP: With everything going on in the world and how much the comics industry has had to change to adapt, are you still hopeful about the future of comics?
JE: I am hopeful yes. Actually I am more than that, I am confident about the future of comics. Let’s be clear, people have always told stories. Always. There are cave paintings that are thousands of years old, and they tell a variety of tales. There’s ancient paintings on walls and pottery. So we are a storytelling species. And I think that there are still a lot of folks out there who love their stories told in the comic book medium. So yes I am confident. The industry, like any other, will adapt, it will evolve and I am pretty excited to see where it goes!
ES: Comics have survived nearly a century, through the Seduction of the Innocent witch hunts of the 50s through the economic collapse of the ‘90s and beyond, and we’re still surviving. There’s no doubt that the pandemic really exposed some issues with the economics, but at the end of the day, many the highest-grossing movies in recent years have started in the four-color pages of the comics, so we’re just five to ten years ahead of much of the rest of pop culture. What annoys me is there’s so much more to this medium than superheroes and if we could get more eyeballs to see that, man what a treasure trove of visual literature is out there for the future readers.
AB: Agreed. Comics have proven their staying power. And they are the raw material, the scientific storytelling experiments that are like the research and development lab for other kinds of much more expensive TV and cinematic storytelling. As Ethan said, these are the cave paintings that contain our hopes, dreams, and sometimes nightmares. Once you visualize those things, you can wrap your mind around them.
GP: Is there anything you can share with us about upcoming projects or what to expect from you in the future?
ES: I am continuing with Marvel’s Star Wars: Bounty Hunters and I just launched a project I’m very proud of called, COVID Chronicles, for Axel Alonso’s Upshot imprint at AWA Studios. It’s first-person accounts of people on the frontlines of the global pandemic and it’s my first foray into non-fiction. I’m so proud of the work, but if I’m honest, it’s entirely buoyed by the people sharing their stories and the art of Dalibor Talajic. Anytime A Wave New World wants to work with me again, I’m there. That goes for working with Anthony and Jeff, too.
JE: For a while now I have been putting out covers, so there might be more of that in the future! I am also developing my own project, and I am extremely excited about it. I have other irons in the fire, but I can’t talk about them just yet. But if anyone out there wants to keep up to date with my projects, the best place to go is my website or my social networks! I’m mostly on Facebook and Instagram. I have a Twitter but to be fair, it’s pretty anemic! HA!
AB: I’ve been focused on my new work as a Los Angeles correspondent for Vanity Fair, which has been all-consuming, but is an absolute dream job. As with Maybe Someday, I find myself on one of the greatest teams ever assembled, and that gives me a lot to live up to. I like that, though. It’s a good thing to have friends and colleagues who inspire you. That’s how we live up to our better selves, and how we get to a better future like the one Maybe Someday shows us on a vast scale.
GP: Thanks so much and can’t wait to read this story and the entire anthology!
Check out the exclusive look at the story below: