Scott Sava: King of the All Ages Comic Books

Scott Sava on His All Ages Books

All-ages comics are enjoying a renaissance these last few years, with lines such as Marvel Adventures, Johnny DC, and Boom!’s Disney/Pixar books. But Scott Christian Sava might well be the hardest-working man in all-ages comics. Sava, best-known as the mastermind of the hit webcomic The Dreamland Chronicles, has a plethora of all-ages graphic novels out from IDW, which are making waves in bookstores and in Hollywood.

With his latest project, Cameron and His Dinosaurs, in stores now, Sava treated Newsarama to both an interview and in-depth previews of his different books, which we’ll be running on the site over the next few days.

Newsarama: Scott, tell us about your myriad projects at IDW, starting with Cameron and His Dinosaurs.

Scott Christian Sava: Last year, I was going to venture out as a publisher. I was all prepared to have my animation studio publish books. Fortunately, Janna Morishima over at Diamond’s Kids division talked me out of it.

I was introduced to Ted Adams (President of IDW) and they were looking to get into kids graphic novels. I had a bunch. It worked out really well. Bookstore (chains) had just opened up a “Kids Graphic Novel” section in all the stores. There’s not much there yet. It’s a perfect opportunity for us both.

Fast forward one year later…here I am with eight books in the store…and three more coming out by August.

Pet Robots and Ed’s Terrestrials were previously published under the Blue Dream Studios (my company) banner, but never made it to stores. Those were the first two books to come out with IDW last fall. The Dreamland Chronicles of course…I had three books too.

Hyperactive was the first new book in the series of kids graphic novels through IDW --my first book with Joseph Bergin III, and definitely not my last. Joseph’s got such a wonderful Saturday Morning Cartoon style -- very Spumco (Ren and Stimpy) and full of life.

Hyperactive was my first book I’ve written with a real kinetic pace to it. I learned in that book how to use a trick done in screenwriting…“Enter a scene late” and “Leave a scene early”. It really keeps things moving. One of my favorite books. It’s also selling like gangbusters too.

My Grandparents are Secret Agents is a nod to my parents. Now that they’re grandparents themselves. I watch how much they love to read to my kids (twin boys…6 years old), but how they also have their own life.

The excuses they have to give sometimes for not being around for their grandchildren “We’re flying to California”, “ We have to get a new hearing aid”, “We have church again”, got me thinking…”What a great time to slip away and save the world!” Grandparents are the perfect agents. Lots of high tech gadgets and fake parts (Hearing Aids, Fake Teeth, Pacemakers, etc.). Always traveling. Long naps. Frequent bathroom breaks.It’s perfect.

So…My Grandparents are Secret Agents was born. And what an adorable book.

Cameron and His Dinosaurs hit shelves last week. It’s a MONSTER of a book (I hope small puns are allowed). Dinosaurs versus Robots. (WARNING…HOLLYWOOD LOG LINE AHEAD!) It’s like Transformers meets Jurassic Park. My biggest book to date. It’s 176 pages with military, robots, dinosaurs, mad scientists, and so much more. Cristian Gonzalez and his team did the art for both Grandparents and Cameron. They did a fabulous job, too.

The other great thing about this book? The lead character (Cameron) is handicapped. He is bound to a wheelchair. I know nothing about living like this. But I wanted to make a hero whose handicap never is an issue. We never mention it…and it never stops Cameron from living his life or being a hero. My kids have not stopped reading it since we got the books in last week.

Gary the Pirate is my first book with Tracy Bailey. I met Tracy online as she was doing a webcomic called Catena (http://www.catenamanor.com/). She has such a wonderful Disney style. I’m so glad to be working with her. Gary was a perfect project to work with Tracy, as she really “gets it” when it comes to facial expressions and body language.

I wanted Gary the Pirate to be something for girls. Something with a strong lead girl character and lots more dialog than the boys books. It’s more romantic…but still lots of laughs. My wife described the book like this… “The story was good…but with Tracy’s art….it’s fabulous! You need to thank Tracy!” Yes dear…

NRAMA: What' s been your process for developing these books -- collaborating with artists, putting the stories together, etc.?

SCS: Well since I work on The Dreamland Chronicles pretty much for my full time job…I have to work hard at finding time to write these books. I get up in the mornings and work in bed for a couple of hours on a laptop. I write these books a little at a time each morning and then go off to “work” down in my studio on Dreamland later on. I guess little by little I get a book done every month or two. They’re tons of fun. But you have to be patient with them.

As for the process….I start every idea with, “If I were a kid…wouldn’t it be cool if….?” Then, I write down all of the fun things: Having pet robots, running at super speed, dinosaurs for friends, etc. And from there…it’s pretty easy.

I write everything in Final Draft. It’s a screenwriting software. Once I’m done. And I’m happy with the story…I break down the panels and pages. So essentially, I write it like a screenplay/movie. That’s how I see it in my head. Then once the whole thing is done…I turn it into a book.

I really enjoy keeping the stories paced like movies. Keeping the” beats of time” there where characters will simply react to the story. It helps so much. It also helps kids read these better.

I make sure to keep dialog boxes to one a panel. And most pages have at least one panel with no dialog. In a movie…people aren’t always talking. There’s action, reaction, thought, emotion, and so much more. Comics need these, too. Kids really get it. And it’s a good blend of animation and comics.

NRAMA: Do you feel like you've got a "cottage industry" of all-ages books out there at this point?

SCS: Yeah. I’d like to think so. We’ll have eight of these in the kids graphic novel section by August (The Dreamland Chronicles series goes into the Teen Manga section). And my hope is to have many more each year. There’s such a need for this. And I’m happy to fill that role.

Our hope (mine and IDW’s) is that we can bring more kids to comics. And with this series of books…they’ll have many different adventures they can choose from. I love seeing these all on the shelves next to each other. There’s nothing more exciting.

Would I like to see Marvel and DC make a serious effort at this? Sure. My kids love Spider-Man and Batman. But until they do…I think we’re more than happy to jump in and fill the shelves….ha ha.

NRAMA: What's the process like of working with IDW?

SCS: It’s a perfect opportunity for me. They’ve given me all the opportunities I need. They’ve pretty much told me “Do what you want…we’ll publish it”. What creator wouldn’t want that?

Now…it’s more of a partnership than it looks. I’m still paying for my half of the deal. I pay the artists, hire a children’s book editor, pay for lettering, and have to do a lot of work myself on each book. But once I hand off a book to Justin Eisinger (my editor at IDW) it’s in their hands. And they really know the book industry.

They’re now the third largest comic company now, I think, beating out Image and Dark Horse. But they’re focusing so much on the book industry…it’s fantastic. Alan Payne (VP of Sales at IDW) is constantly somewhere in the world…talking to retailers, buyers, librarians, you name it. He’s “pimping” the books all over the world…and the sales really reflect that.

I couldn’t ask for a better partnership, for a better deal. Ted has been amazing. And supportive of anything I want to try or do. I couldn’t be happier.

NRAMA: What are your feelings on the overall importance of creating new all-ages books for the marketplace, and what do you feel is the biggest step companies can take toward getting these books in the hands of their intended audience?

SCS: It’s so important. The most important thing this industry can do. Sadly…it’s not getting much attention from the “Big Two.” We need to cultivate a new generation of comic readers. We have more than enough comics for 18-40 year old males. We really do. But if you compare the comic industry to the movie industry…about 90% of the comics we make are PG13/R-rated. 90%!

Tell me….could the movie industry survive on 18-40 year old males? No. The comics industry needs to balance itself out. Get more families involved. Get into school libraries, classrooms, and even back on to spinner racks. Boom!’s doing a great job getting Pixar and Henson properties out there. We at IDW are doing what we can getting these kids graphic novels onto bookshelves….but it should be an industry-wide movement. Without a new generation…where will we be in another 10 years?

NRAMA: How has your background in animation helped in creating these books?

SCS: It helped a lot. Which is weird…because I was an illustrator and an avid comic fan loooonnng before I got into animation. So I thought I’d be doing “Comics the Marvel Way” (one of my favorite books) when I started doing comics. But when I did Spider-Man: Quality of Life back in 2002…I instinctively went to an animated style of pacing and framing/ I just saw things as frames of a movie. Beats of time.

Add to that…my buddy and business partner at the time was none other than Herobear and the Kid’s Mike Kunkel. He had a tremendous influence on me with storytelling and pacing. So you grow. You adapt. You re-imagine yourself. Now I’ve hit a groove on the writing and art of The Dreamland Chronicles…and I’ve found a couple of “animated style” artists who I dig working with, Tracy and Joseph. I think together…we’re finding a good balance for our storytelling and the kids really seem to enjoy it too.

NRAMA: And you've gotten some attention from Disney already...tell us about that.

SCS: Yeah. We sold the rights to Pet Robots for a live-action feature film. The screenplay is being written by Colin Trevorrow, and I’m hoping it goes into production sometime this summer. Come on Colin! (laughs)

Casey Wolfe is the exec on it for Disney. He was responsible for Race to Witch Mountain with the Rock. What a nice guy (Casey…not the Rock…I haven’t met him yet). I’ll definitely let you guys know when production starts.

But I’m pretty excited to see this come to life.

NRAMA: Can you give us an update on what's coming up in Dreamland?

SCS: We’re halfway through the series. 3 books and 900 pages. I’ve been online for 3 years now. It’s been such an incredible experience. We get about 200,000 hits a day on the site. And I’m really hitting a stride with the story. If you’ll forgive me for saying so… It’s my Dream project. I love working on it.

We have a series of figures to go along with the books. And also an adorable Paddington Rumblebottom III plush.

What more can I say? I’m loving life.

NRAMA: What else are you working on?

SCS: I have six more books I’m writing for next year. Joseph and Tracy have signed on to do three more books each next year.

We’ve been asked to do sequels to Pet Robots, Ed’s Terrestrials, and Hyperactive. So I have to write them too. I’ve spoken to Diego Jourdan and he’s on board for the Pet Robots and Ed’s Terrestrials sequels. He just finished up a run on Astro Boy for IDW.

My producer and partner, Alexandra Milchan (Street Kings, Mirrors, Righteous Kill) , has I think six of our properties set up with writers, production companies, actors, and the like…and she’s getting ready to start “shopping” the books to studios. She’s incredible.

Coming from Hollywood and from animation…I can say…I hate pitching my books. I’m no good at it. No…I’m really bad. I could never do it. But my agent at William Morris, Scott Agostoni, introduced me to Alexandra last year and she took one look at what I was doing and she knew. She just got it.

She’s putting teams together. She’s speaking to actors and writers and getting them excited about these books. We’re not going for “options” from studios. Everyone has an option. You read about it every day. Alexandra is going to get these movies made. And she’s doing it in a really smart way. And I can focus on my books. It’s all good.

Stay tuned to Newsarama this week to see previews of Sava’s current and upcoming projects.

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