Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for Chaotic Neutral. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you share with us about the premise of this series and its gaming tie-ie?
Mark Sable: Chaotic Neutral is the story of an unlikely group of fantasy heroes - farmers, blacksmiths, a princess who [is] tired of being saved and would rather save others - who band together to defeat a Satanic cult demanding human sacrifices from their town. It's designed to evoke the feeling of old-school role-playing games like D&D, before the so-called "Satanic Panic" in the 1980s scared many publishers and parents away from them.
What makes the book unique is it's not just a 48-page comics story, but a fully playable role-playing adventure module. That means readers can enter the same world as the characters in the comic, fight the same monster...and create their own stories.
BD: What can you tell us about your shared creative process in working with artist Chris Anderson to bring this story to life, and what was the inspiration for the project?
MS: Working with Chris has been one of the best collaborations I've ever had.
I wanted Chaotic Neutral to feel like it was an artifact from the '70s or '80s. Back then, D&D rule books and adventures had lushly painted art on the covers, but black-and-white art inside. That art was sometimes amateurish, often daring, but always weird and wildly imaginative. Chris was able to evoke that feeling while adding a modern touch. He balances out some of the darkness with a modern, whimsical approach that I'm hoping will make it accessible to new readers and gamers alike. To me, his artwork is the star of this book.
Sneakily, I recruited him to the book by inviting him as a player in my weekly D&D campaign. What's special about RPGs is that they are a form of collaboration between player and DM (Dungeon Master). So, we had already been creating stories together before either of us set pen to paper.
BD: In light of the Kickstarter campaign, are there any particular backer rewards that you would like to highlight for our readers?
MS: Two in particular stand out.
One is that, if you're a gamer, Chris has offered to draw your favorite RPG character. The other players in our campaign have taken us up on that and are using it as their character tokens for our online games on Roll20.
And from my end, I'm offering to run the adventure module as DM for a select group of backers. Something I've always loved about comics is the special relationship between creators and fans. As a kid, I'd love to meet creators, and as a creator even after 15-plus years, the thrill of interacting directly with fans hasn't worn off. RPGs are also special in that a group of strangers can really bond together over playing pretend. This is a way of combining what makes these two mediums so distinctive.
BD: Separate from your work on Chaotic Neutral, you also have the collected trade paperback of Dracula: Son of the Dragon releasing from Dark Horse Comics next month. What will readers have in store with the upcoming release of the collected edition?
MS: Dracula: Son of the Dragon is the epic, blood-soaked tale of how the historical Vlad the Impaler became the fictional vampire from Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Illustrated by the incomparable Salgood Sam, it blends historical fiction and horror.
Like Chaotic Neutral, we started with a Kickstarter. ComiXology Originals picked it up, and now Dark Horse is finally getting the print version in readers' hands. In addition to the story, it's loaded with a ton of behind-the-scenes extras, including end notes where I source all of the historical events and explain where I took dramatic license.
BD: In looking back at the development and creation of the series, what really made this series and its focus on the real-life Vlad the Impaler stand out to you?
MS: Dracula is one of the best horror novels of all time, and without a doubt my childhood favorite. But something that was always missing for me was his origin. The novel doesn't really explain how he becomes a vampire. It does however allude to something called The Scholomance, or The School of the Dragon, a school where the Devil teaches the dark arts. Students would write questions down at night and find Satan's answers in the morning. Of course, the price of admission was the soul of every tenth scholar.
When I got older and learned that there was a "real" Dracula, I was even more horrified. His deeds were even darker than that of the fictional Count. I became obsessed with finding a connection which would explain how Vlad became a vampire. I learned his name meant "Son of the Dragon" (or Son of the Devil) in Romanian, and that his father belonged to a real-life secret society known as The Order of the Dragon.
At some point, all the Dragon and Devil references started to swirl together, and I thought I came up with a never-before-seen origin story for both characters.
That origin has both a historical and human grounding. In real life, Vlad Dracula's father hands him over as hostage to his enemy, the Turkish Sultan. In Dracula: Son of the Dragon, his father sends him to The Scholomance...putting him literally in the hands of the devil. That's a hell of a way to come of age.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about the Chaotic Neutral Kickstarter campaign and the Dracula trade paperback?
MS: I really hope they'll check out both the Chaotic Neutral Kickstarter, and Dracula in print. They are both character-driven, dark fantasy stories created by people with reverence for the source material but who are determined to create original work that stands on its own. And of course, fans should feel free to reach out to me at @marksable on Twitter or Instagram, where I'll be happy to answer any questions. And unlike the headmaster of The Scholomance, I won't be claiming any souls...