Damian states, for the record, that he's perfectly sane. At least he thinks. But there's this cybernetic girl that won't leave him alone, not until he can at least get her a blaster and a starfighter. Yeah well, get in line, lady. Me and a few generations of '80s kids, Star Wars fans, and Star Trek fans (to name a few) were here first, so it looks like the writer and artist of brand-new indie digital comic Sage: Escape is stuck with you!
Sage: Escape, at least its debut issue, is quite easy to describe, but that doesn't make it any less imaginative than any die-hard sci-fi fan could ever expect. The year is 3042, and as Friendly Corp commits genocide (aggressively taking back real estate from its own clients), sending out their assassins "The Salesmen" to do their wetwork, one of their new experiments has gone missing.
Damian brings not only his own knowledge of cinematic code and convention from the film industry he has been a part of for so long, but also a huge love of the sci-fi genre and all the sub-genres that lie in its looming shadow.
Starting up Sage: Escape, he not only wrote it but also illustrated it himself, like a man possessed. Upon originally reviewing the first issue that he sent me, I was a total bastard and pointed out some inconsistencies, mostly regarding the artwork. Less than a day later, I got another email from him. Damian humbly stated that my observation confirmed his belief, and then offered me a thoroughly improved version of the issue that he'd immediately gone to work on after reading me. Here is a man who the big comic brands should be talking to. Damian S. Simankowicz is indeed a creative workhorse.
|And let's face it, if Darth Maul's a fan, who will argue?|
On one hand, the corporations of the future, weaponizing people with cybernetics, have automated the police state with drones. This has rendered human law—as it is today—redundant in the eyes of big business. With today's sociopolitical and liberal movements fighting the likes of Wall Street and riots spreading worldwide in the face of unpunished corporate crime, this could become reality.
On the other hand, the story is centered around the plight of Natura, an Australian city massacred by Friendly Corp, where Sage is originally from. The Crays, the most wealthy human family in the universe, are descended from African-Americans. It all makes me think Farscape meets The Fifth Element. It's a world "shared" by self-appointed royalty, cyborgs, aliens, farmers, and miners. I like this dynamic!
Aside from the artwork, which can only improve as Damian has already shown, I thought the dialogue between characters started out a little empty. Sage: Escape's debut focuses more on telling a straight story rather than endearing us to any characters. Take into consideration the fact that we've yet to become accustomed to any "Sageisms"; she's new, and like any other writer, Damian will learn over time. This is a colorful world full of characters who have yet to find their way, and I think Damian has a fight to make something special here. Sage: Escape definitely has the potential!
Q&A with Damian S. Simankowicz
1. Where did Sage (the character and the story) come from? You mentioned to me recently that there's quite a close bond between you and this unique character that's been "waiting to be brought to life?"
She’s been around for years. Whenever another project would get stuck, I’d write Sage plots instead. When I’d come home after a big night out and still be wired, I’d turn up the stereo and draw segments of her universe. An early story had a male warrior (Nihil) in the lead role, but a teenage girl worked better. I took some visual traits from a coworker buddy, and hey presto! Sage just arrived. Her peers have been around for while too. For example, the villain Groth (see Mars Gambit 2 &3), I’ve been drawing him since I was in high school—and that was a long time ago!
2. Have you always been a comic fan? How long for, and what are your favorite characters and story arcs?
Yeah, I always loved comics. My dad would buy every Batman and Superman issue, plus all the DC crossovers. As I grew up I got into Death’s Head 2, Ghost Rider, Morbius, Blaze, Nightstalkers, and Lobo. And then Dark Horse rocked my world with the Aliens series. Their first The Thing mini series is also incredible. But my all-time favorite characters and story arcs come from Simon Furman’s rendition of The Transformers. I followed him from the UK series, onto the American title, and now I’m reading the Regeneration One continuation of that story. All time favorite character? Optimus Prime. Favourite story arc? Optimus becoming the new Prime in the original War Within.
3. You've come into the world of comics from the film industry. Is this something you've planned to do for a long time or is it a case of jumping in at the deep end as a fresh approach to your artistic tendencies?
Honestly, I never had the nerve to do a full comic by myself. It’s kinda intimidating. But one day I realized Sage’s universe was created, and the characters were off and running. But they only lived in an over full folder on my shelf. So I thought, why not see what the public thinks? So I made a first issue print, and some friends helped me launch it at a few pop culture expos. And guess what? The public bought the comic. And liked it. And asked, “So what happens next?” and “When’s the next issue out?” Then suddenly I had the nerve. And I knew it was time. I was going to let the Sage: Escape characters and universe out of the folder and put it into an ongoing series. And I was going to do everything in my power to tell the story authentically and honestly. Well, lucky for me, those close friends who helped me launch the original print also stuck around for the ongoing series (‘cause I don’t know the first thing about making websites).
4. Considering the qualities you took into film and the skills and knowledge you learned from that, what do you feel you've most brought into comics with Sage: Escape? Which of your qualities as a director did you feel really helped you to get into the creative process here?
You know I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it, but you’re right. I storyboard Sage: Escape like it’s a film shoot. I draw all the shots (panels) on paper and arrange them in an editing pattern. In fact, I figure out the line of direction as if the panels were to be filmed. I even approximate different lens focal lengths in the artwork, even though there’s no camera. It’s the same creative process. As for qualities? The ability to stay focused and work hard.
5. I noticed quite a few cinematic conventions and stylistic references to classic and modern sci-fi in Sage: Escape that made it easy to familiarize myself with this future you've created. I felt that you'd drawn a little from the likes of Fifth Element, Star Wars, the original Aeon Flux cartoons, even a bit of Robocop and Nemesis. What are your favorite sci-fi movies?
I’m passionate about most of the major sci-fi franchises that everyone else is into these days. But here some of my favourite late night go-to sci-fi flicks: Nemesis (the Olivier Gruner one), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars ROTS. And even though it’s not cinema, Patrick Troughton's Dr. Who episodes.
6. You also earlier mentioned that a lot of your friends read comics digitally these days. Was that the basis for your choice to go digital?
Yes, so many people read comics on tablets. It’s just the easiest way to get a new title out there. Having said that, I’d like to get Sage: Escape into print one day; most people I know collect graphic novels.
7. In comparison to the filmmaking process, what has been the most enjoyable aspect of producing your debut comic?
The most enjoyable aspect of producing this comic is working with my friends. I get to create with people that watch the same shows I do, collect toys, and enjoy going on terrifying rides at theme parks. The Sage team is…a little different.
8. Your team has worked independently here, and on a limited budget. For the Fanboys out there looking to follow in your footsteps, what are the most important things you've learned through this experience so far?
When I wrote and drew the first Sage: Escape ashcan, I was working six days a week. I worked on Sage late at night and on Sundays. I took the next year off and self funded to get the Mars Gambit mini series and Sage: Escape website going. We now have some financial backing, which enables me to continue working full time on the series. The rest of the team have full-time professions and give up their weeknights and some weekend time to make everything happen. Creating a series from the ground up takes a considerable amount of will power and proactivity. There are no short cuts. If you decide to give it your all, these are the most important things I’ve learned so far: work with people who have expertise and integrity. Seek out their opinions. Treat them well. Keep improving.
9. Will you be looking for artists in future and who would your dream artist be?
I would say no, but that would be a lie, because I’m working with an artist right now on another one of my titles. Thing is, this artist and I are into all the same films and have a lifelong obsession with the genre of that series. Also, the public likes his art, and that counts. So, I’m not looking for new artists, but you never know. As for a dream artist, I’m very interested in the work of Stewart McKenny. People know him from Clone Wars Adventures and DC Super Friends. But he also does magnificent portraits. I have one of his 8th Doctor prints in my office, signed by Paul McGann. So I’d be curious to see where that collaboration would go.
10. Any chance Sage might end up on the big screen some day?
(Laughs) I might just focus on establishing the story canon at this point. I’m halfway through the art of the follow-up miniseries, and it’s full steam ahead!
Damian, thank you for joining us, and we wish you all the best!
For regular updates on Sage: Escape, visit the Facebook page. For how to get your hands on a copy, head over to sageescape.com.
Sound off, Fanboys! Tell us what you think of Sage: Escape in the comments section below, feel free to share with your comic-loving friends and thanks again for reading!