“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.
Even someone who’s never picked up a comic book before might still know Sam Maggs’ work. She’s built a multifaceted writing career, giving herself the chance to transition among multiple creative writing fields — not to mention her on-camera hosting gigs. Her current queue of projects is testament to how the mixture of hard work, talent, and preparation can pay big dividends.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Writer
Your home base: Los Angeles and Toronto
Current project titles:
Con Quest! (middle grade novel, June 2020)
Fangirl (manga, October 2020)
Marvel Action: Captain Marvel (IDW)
Tell No Tales (middle grade OGN, November 2020)
The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope (YA novel, May 2020)
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: To lead off with a big question… Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other art forms?
Sam Maggs: I love comics because of the unique combination of freedom and collaboration. I write novels and video games, too; in novels you don’t get the great input from your artist, and in video games you’re so limited in terms of what you can put on-screen by your engine. Comics give you the best of both worlds as a creator.
KS: Before we get too far into comics, you’ve been involved in a number of genre events. I saw you described with the byline, “Writer. Host. Geek.” If a stranger asked you what you do professionally, how would you sum it all up?
SM: I would say I’m an author and a host! More technically, I say I’m a writer of comics, books, and video games and a live on-air host/moderator. That’s a handful.
KS: So, roughly when did reading comics first become an important part of your life?
SM: I really got into [them] in college. Growing up, I knew my dad was big into comics, especially Spider-Man, but whenever I walked into a comic book store, it didn’t seem like anything on the shelf was really made for me. When I got to university, I first discovered Marvel’s Runaways, and then Y: The Last Man, and I felt like I’d found something magical.
KS: Fanbase Press launched the #StoriesMatter initiative this year to highlight the impact that stories can have on their audience. To that end, what’s a particular comics story that really impacted you as a younger reader?
SM: Scott Pilgrim was huge for me. I was a garbage, twenty-one-year-old in Toronto when the movie came out; Bryan Lee O’Malley is from my hometown, so you can imagine it was really relatable content. I loved being able to really see myself in a comic for what I felt was the first time.
KS: How about the idea of a writing-centric career? When did that come to you?
SM: It’s honestly the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve always loved reading and TV and I started writing stories in elementary school. (I won a couple local prizes, no big deal.) I graduated from high school with the English award, did my B.A. in English, and then my Master’s in Modern Literature. It was just always the thing for me. I just didn’t always know how to go about making a career out of it!
KS: Was there a “realistic” career Plan B?
SM: I had a brief diversion after grad school for a couple of years, having gone straight from high school to uni to grad school I felt like I needed a brain break from writing! I got into film and television on the publicity side, working at film festivals and production companies and a national broadcast network. But it wasn’t long before I was itching to write again.
KS: How did your first professional comics job come about?
SM: I’d been writing novels and video games for some time and traveling to conventions across North America to promote them, which is where I met a ton of professionals in the comics industry. One of these folks who got to know me through Twitter and the con circuit, Sarah Gaydos, was (at the time) an editor at IDW. She reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in pitching a ten-page story for a Star Trek mini-series they were doing called “Waypoint.” I pitched, one of my ideas made it through, and it all went on from there!
KS: Since you’ve written in multiple formats, does your process differ when it comes to a piece for comics as opposed to a “regular” book?
SM: It’s actually not that different! There’s no “right” way to write — everyone finds what works for them — but I, personally, am an outliner. Since most everything I write is on spec, I always need to have a pitch and then an outline approved (by an editor or a licensor or both) before I can move into drafting. But I love having a map to work from. Things change on the go as I write, but I find it helpful to have a starting point, at least.
KS: What about a writing routine? Are you typically a word count writer or a page count writer?
SM: I’m a word count person. I can hit about 3,500 words on good days, though not for too many days in a row before I need a breather. I wouldn’t say I have a writing “routine,” necessarily. I sit down and I get it done, you know?
KS: Obviously, working on a novel is a largely solitary experience, while comics are the opposite. What’s something you’ve learned about making comics that you might have not known, or fully understood, when looking in from the outside as a fan?
SM: How many people are involved! Not only do you have your writer, your illustrator, your letterer, your colorist, but you also have licensors on multiple levels, editors, group editors, and sometimes more! There are so many people with great ideas helping to make the book as good as it possibly can be.
KS: You’re someone who’s been to a lot of conventions in a variety of roles. Can you talk a bit about your experiences with “con season” — even though 2020 is an unfortunate exception?
SM: I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that invitations to cons have allowed me to travel the world, to cities I would never have been able to visit otherwise. San Diego and New York and Seattle and all the big cons, of course, but also Whitehorse and Utrecht and Amarillo and all over! Meeting readers at conventions is always so wonderful, and I love making crowds laugh while speaking on panels. It’s also great to connect with my friends and the rest of the comics community at these cons — it’s the time when we get to see each other the most!
KS: On the flip side, do you find it difficult at all?
SM: There are challenges, of course. Travel is always tiring, being “on” for four days in a row is difficult for me as an introvert, and it can be hard on your body, too, not always eating well or being on your feet so much. But it’s always worth it!
KS: Looking back over your varied career thus far, what’s a particular moment of professional pride that stands out and maybe still makes you smile?
SM: I write largely for teen and all-ages audiences, and every time I get a letter from a girl whose day was made a little bit better by one of my books it’s the best feeling in the whole world. If I’d only ever gotten one of those letters all the hard work would have been worth it.
KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?
SM: Anything by Marguerite Bennett. She’s such a brilliant writer. The women in her comics have such grace and nuance.
KS: Finally, tell us what you’re working on now and what you’ve got upcoming for 2020!
SM: In June, you can grab my middle-grade novel, Con Quest!, about two tweens doing a scavenger hunt at comic con. My YA novel with Marvel Press, The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope, is out July 14, following the adventures of Nadia van Dyne. I’ve also helped adapt Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl into a manga which comes out in October, illustrated by Gabi Nam. In November, my first middle-grade OGN, Tell No Tales, will be out. Illustrated by Kendra Wells, it follows the adventures of lady pirates! And you can pick up the first volume of Marvel Action: Captain Marvel, illustrated by Sweeney Boo, right now!