CHRIS SANAGAN & JASON LAPIDUS
Intro: We chatted with Chris Sanagan and Jason Lapidus to talk about their comic, Group of 7: A Most Secret Tale, the inspiration behind the story and the process of creating a comic book for the first time.
Modular: How did you get started making comics and what inspired the story for Group of 7?
Chris Sanagan: I work in the heritage field in Ontario, and back in 2014 we were planning events and activities around the centennial of the First World War. I got to thinking about a number of characters - real people - who were young soldiers in the First World War, and who ended up contributing to big events in the 20th century in Canada and the world. People like Frederick Banting who co-discovered insulin, Conn Smythe who started the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Lester Pearson who became Prime Minister of Canada. The story started with identifying that these men were all young soldiers in the First World War, and then I started thinking, "how cool would it be if they knew each other when they were younger during the war?" Then I thought, "how cool would it be if that story was a comic book?" And I was always writing but never anything fictional. And I knew Jason would draw - he was always showing me his work - so I brought the idea to him and that's how the whole thing got started.
"I never even drew a page of a comic until Chris and I began working on this, which seems crazy because I can't imagine my life without them now."
Modular: Chris mentioned that he hadn't written fiction before. Had you, Jason, worked in comic books before?
Jason Lapidus: Not at all. I was an art student as a youngster and I was on a trajectory to go to art school, but things pulled me off that path. I went toward education and teaching, but the desire to be creative remained. I redrew things from movies or television - shows like Batman The Animated Series and seeing the designs that Bruce Timm had for all those characters. I redrew those and that satisfied me a lot, but the desire to story-tell also remained. I never once put the two together: that I could contribute to storytelling through comics. I thought, "I'm going to draw pictures, and I'm going to write down my ideas for movies." It was so obvious: for 20 years it was so obvious that I should just make independent comics. The visual elements and the storytelling, my love for all this was there, but I never made a comic book before now. I never even drew a page of a comic until Chris and I began working on this, which seems crazy because I can't imagine my life without them now.
Modular: How did you go about making the first issue?
CS: The first step was just to write a prologue. Because again, I'd never written anything like that: scenery, character dialogue, never done anything like that. And Jason said, "I'll just try to come up with some sketches based on the characters in the book," because we knew what a lot of them looked like. And that's how it started: I wrote a prologue and sent it to Jason, which we got a kick out of, and that ended up being the first eight pages of issue one. Because it takes place at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, we released those first eight pages on the centennial of that event in 2017, and it got a pretty healthy response. The first issue came out three months later and now we're onto issue seven which comes out this Spring [April 2021].
JL: Those first eight pages took me, I don't want to say years *laughs* but it took a long time. I didn't know the process, so I tried all sorts of different tools on the pages, and we published them. This lead to so much variety, many variants of technique I should say, through the first six issues. But now with issue seven, it's sort of like, "oh, I have a way," and the style is really emerging - there's a recognizability [sic] to the work. They say you're supposed to get your 10,000 hours to master something, with a cartoonist they say it's about 1000 pages, and I've cracked 200 so I'm getting there on the journey. Anyway, it was a very fun beginning.
"The comic has that Indiana Jones vibe, [and] is also an action adventure to the max: it's punch ups, it's one liners, it's daring, it's danger!"
MC: A Most Secret Tale has a bit of a classic war movie feel. Were there any particular movies or inspirations that informed the writing and the visual style of the comic?
CS: Well, there's one movie in particular that Jason and I go back to all the time when it comes to thinking about what inspired us, and that would be Raiders of the Lost Ark. The comic has that Indiana Jones vibe, where the design is a bit of a throwback to traditional cartooning and there are Indiana Jones kind of Art Deco flourishes. The story is also an action adventure to the max: it's punch ups, it's one liners, it's daring, it's danger. It's also got a lot of my love of 80's movies in it, like Predator or science fiction teen movies - there's that kind of team-up element. So those definitely all influence it to a degree.
MC: What age group do you think A Most Secret Tale appeals to?
CS: I think in terms of tone, it's similar to Raiders[of the Lost Ark] which isn't specifically for kids, yet you hit 10 or 12 and it appeals to you. So it's really enjoyed by all ages to a degree and that's really something that has also informed A Most Secret Tale and how we think of story creation moving forward.