Interview – Aaron Conley and Damon Gentry of “Sabertooth Swordsman”

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We could go with all sorts of cliches like it’s a small world or, life is like a box of chocolates. Instead, it’s safe to simply say it’s surprising what you find out when you least expect it. This can be said about life and the joy to be found in Sabertooth Swordsman.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, a little backstory.

I already knew Aaron Conley from the times I’d seen him working at the Kissimmee branch of Coliseum of Comics right around the corner from my house. Always a personable and helpful guy at the store, he’d out up with my kids and I raiding the place for comics and Pocky plenty of times on Free Comic Wednesdays.

Fast-forward to October 5. The Kissimmee branch of the Osceola County Library had a “Fan Faire” that was designed to be a mini “Comic Con” of sorts. All sorts of crafts and activities for the kids were abound with a geek culture theme including video game tournaments, comic book giveaways, and take home items for the little ones such as paper My Little Pony dolls. Also part of the festivities – sponsored by Coliseum of Comics – was a comic artist doing free sketches and promoting his new graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics, Sabertooth Swordsman. That artist, much to my surprise?

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Aaron Conley.

I’d gotten my hands on an advance copy of the book from Dark Horse and read it. A few times. Sabertooth Swordsman was a fun read; something that seems to be missing from quite a few titles lately (I’m looking directly at you, “New 52”). It’s a rollicking tale of a simple farmer who sets out to rescue his kidnapped wife from the clutches of the malevolent Mastodon Mathematician. Granted the form of the Sabertooth Swordsman by the Cloud God of Sasquatch Mountain, our hero comes across all manner of mayhem to rescue his spouse and the rest of the countryside from the forces of evil. If I hadn’t gotten an advance, I would gladly pony up the $17.99 plus applicable sales tax for this gem.

ConleyGrendelAs I made it to the front of the sizeable line, I got an excellent sketch from Conley of one my favorite comic characters of all time. I also struck up a conversation with Mr. Conley about the upcoming tome and worked out being able to do an interview with him and writer Damon Gentry about the book. Below is the conversation that took place after that fateful meeting at Fan Faire.

 

Pop!: We’ll start here with: how did this character come about? Is this a joint creation or who came up with the Sabertooth Swordsman?

Aaron Conley: I kind of came up with the idea in sort of a half dream, of a man climbing a mountain and getting changed into things by a cloud guy. I like Sabertooth Tigers so I just settled on that being his final form. Everything else Damon and I created together, and Damon wrote the final script and history was made!

Pop!: Was the plan always to do a graphic novel or are there more stories ready to go?

Damon Gentry: It’s been pretty much flying by the seat of our pants. Just since finishing the book we’ve started prepping more stories to go. It was hard to think about anything besides Sabertooth Swordsman while we were working on it, we had never done anything that size before.

AC: We would have done it anyway Dark Horse wanted, we just wanted to get Sabertooth into the hands of comic readers! Graphic novels are always a bit classier and that’s what Dark Horse wanted, but with a bit more work it could have been broken up into a series of comics, it sort of came out that way digitally.

Pop!: Dark Horse has collected up the book for a November 13 release. Who initially approached who about publishing the project? Did Dark Horse come to you and want to publish or was it pitched to them?

DG: We initially mailed Dark Horse a cold turkey submission for a separate comic idea we were working on, and that got the attention of our editor who gave us a small starting gig on MySpace Dark Horse Presents. From there we pitched a few story ideas until Sabertooth Swordsman caught hold and we ended up, miraculously, selling that pitch.

AC: Yeah, the pitch process took about a year!

Sabertooth_SwordsmanPop!: That’s insane! Without giving too much away, where did the story for Sabertooth Swordsman come from? What influenced this particular title and the art in it?

DG: We wanted to do something fun and breezy, with lots of comedy and action and high adventure, and inspired by video game fantasy worlds.

AC: We tried to throw just about everything we love into one book!

Pop!: How has early reaction been to the book so far?

DG: Very positive. I’m hoping word of mouth gets out to all the people that like bizarre, beautiful, fringe funny books so we can sell a few copies.

Pop!: With Aaron working at a comic store, what is the reaction you’ve seen to the direction mainstream comics is going? Was “Sabertooth Swordsman” created to be any kind of reaction to that or was any of that even a consideration?

DG: Sabertooth Swordsman was definitely a reaction to mainstream comics. It’s not the type of book that Marvel or DC would publish, so getting it on the Dark Horse Originals line was ideal for us. We got to make the book we wanted without compromise.

AC: While Damon and I have read and enjoyed superhero books, they were never what got us really excited. Creator owned books like Love & Rockets, Bone, Acme Novelty Library and Madman, books by people who seemed to be doing whatever the heck they wanted and having a good time doing it, have always been the comics that inspired us to make comics.

Pop!: What projects are in the future for both of you? What can we look forward to seeing next?

DG: My driving interest is making creator-owned, original comics, so I’m planning more of those right now. There’s a good chance we’ll make more Sabertooth Swordsman books.

AC: Yep, what Damon said! We just are trying to bring some fun back to comics in a way that excites us, and hopefully that involves bringing more Sabertooth Swordsman to the masses!

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Who ARE these people!?

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com. He's been an avid comics reader since Barry Allen was first put on trial for the death of Professor Zoom. He's also been an avid wrestling fan since Dusty Rhodes beat Harley Race for the NWA World Championship. He now brings his fandom of comics, music, and wrestling to PanelsOnPages.com.

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