The Scott Christian Sava Chronicles
Scott Christian Sava started out as a video game animator for Sega, then went on to movies and television, working on properties such as Digimon and Spider-Man.In 2002, he turned his CGI animation skills to comic books as the artist for Spider-Man: Quality of Life, written by Greg Rucka. After that, it was only a short step to writing and illustrating his own comic, The Dreamland Chronicles, a fantasy comic that has attracted a large following among teenage girls.
A few years ago, Sava shifted gears and began writing children’s graphic novels as well, hiring a variety of artists to illustrate them. He has six in print so far, all published by his own company, Blue Dream Studios, which became an imprint of IDW in 2008. Disney has purchased the film rights to Pet Robots,and MTV has the rights to Hyperactive, the story of a boy with super-speed. In addition to his standalone books, Sava continues to update The Dreamland Chronicles regularly, and he just published volume three of the print edition.
Your first comic, The Dreamland Chronicles, has been running for over three years now. How did you get the idea for that series?
I’d always had a keen interest in dreaming. Just an overactive imagination, I guess. But dreams were a big part of growing up for me. For better or worse.
When I got into college, I would write ideas for a story about a boy who went to a world of dreams. It was really rough. Not much to it. I just knew I wanted to do something with dreams.
Then one day, in “History of Illustration” class (yeah…life’s rough in art school), we studied Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. It was a turn-of-the-century [1905–1914] comic strip that ran weekly. It was incredibly popular…and gorgeously illustrated.
Every night, Nemo would go to Slumberland and have adventures with the princess [the daughter of King Morpheus] and a clown named Flip. Well…the idea came to mind: “What happened to Nemo when he grew up? Did he still dream? Did he marry the princess?” And thus The Dreamland Chronicles was born.
In fact, for the first year of writing Dreamland, Alexander’s name was Nemo in the script. It wasn’t until I had my twin boys, Brendan Daniel and Logan Alexander, that I changed the story and names. Originally, Daniel was a next-door neighbor. Now he’s a fraternal twin brother to Alexander.
Artwise, I picked the CGI style because I had done Spider-Man (the comic book series) using the 3D animating software I had been using for TV and film. It was a pretty good experiment, but I wanted to see if I could push the medium. Dreamland gave me the perfect excuse to flex my 3D muscles and really push the medium in a direction no one had ever taken it.
Where are you in the story at this point, and how much longer will it go?
Whew. Well, I’m over the halfway mark. So that’s good. The story was written to have 24 chapters. I’m on chapter 14 now.
Chapters 13 and 14 comprise Book 4, which will hit stores in February, I think. I’m so happy with the writing and art now. It’s really coming into its own. After six years of working on Dreamland, I’m finally feeling comfortable with my writing and I’m pushing the art to new levels every day. It’s very exciting.
How did your work evolve over the course of making that comic?
Wow. How DIDN’T it.
The computers were a lot slower six years ago, so from a technical standpoint, I’m running on better hardware and software. For a comparison: A frame I rendered back in 2003, just a panel of a page, would take me upwards of three days to render. That means I set up a scene…and sent it to another computer to process the lighting, reflections, shadows, and such. Three days later, the frame was done, and I could put it with the other frames into one single page.
Now the computers can process the same panel in a matter of minutes. Yes, minutes.
I was shocked too.
What this does is it gives me the ability to go back and tweak a frame until it’s just right. Whereas before, I’d have to be satisfied with the final outcome and keep moving on. No way I’d go back and wait another three days for a single panel. So technology had a lot to do with the evolution of my style. It’s made life so much easier.
From a writing standpoint, I’ve grown so much as a writer. I’m more in tune with the characters now. They practically write themselves. My pacing is so much better. I’m able to work so much more with emotions, subtle glances, tender moments, and even action sequences so much better now too. I really enjoy writing Dreamland.
And from a storytelling point of view, I’m (hopefully) much improved there too. My page layouts have become more varied. My camera angles are better. My lighting and rendering is greatly improved. But mostly, I’m enjoying body language. It’s amazing what you can do with a wordless panel. Done right, a subtle glance, a tilt of the head, and a tender holding of hands does so much more than any words could do. I’m trying to push my acting abilities in this book now. Hopefully, it comes across.
Dreamland runs as a free webcomic, yet people buy the books. Why do you think that is?
They want to support the creator. They appreciate the free comic…they know what efforts I put into it…and they (very kindly) support those efforts by buying the books, toys, and such.
Also, for anyone who’s seen the books…the resolution is much higher. And the detail is wonderful. IDW has really done a great job of printing the books. And I get so many emails from parents whose kids take the books everywhere. It’s great for trips.
Oh…and I also do sketches of people’s favorite characters inside the books when you meet me at cons. Bonus!
Now you are doing a series of children’s graphic novels. Why did you make the switch to younger readers and self-contained stories?
My kids. They adore Dreamland. But while it’s safe for a 6-year-old, it’s got “kissy parts” and a lot of dialogue. They love it when I read it to them. But even so, they have me skip to the next fight.
I wanted them to have something fun to read. Something on their level. I couldn’t find anything that spoke to them. So I started writing them. One thing led to another, and as I’d see what they would laugh at, I’d incorporate that into the next book. I started writing these when they were 3. Now they’re 6 and they can read them all by themselves. It’s amazing.
So…yes. I wrote the books for my boys.
How is writing these different from The Dreamland Chronicles?
Dreamland is more Harry Potter. More Chronicles of Narnia than anything else. The kids’ graphic novels are more SpongeBob SquarePants. It’s more Bugs Bunny. It’s more Three Stooges.
Also, each book is self-contained. Beginning, middle, end. Dreamland keeps going for a bit.
I enjoy both, really. It’s like playing golf…and then playing hockey. Two completely different things I enjoy.
Hopefully I’m better at writing than I am at either of those sports, though.
What do you do to make your characters seem more real?
In Dreamland, I gave each of them a backstory. And I stuck to it. Every emotion, every action comes from who they are as I set it down before I started writing. That is a tremendous help.
For the kids’ books, I don’t know how real they are…ha-ha. But I usually write with my voice. So maybe that helps a bit. I mean, I’m pretty real. I think.
Each of these stories seems to have a theme in addition to the plot. For instance, Ed’s Terrestrials was about space aliens but also finding your place in the world; Gary the Pirate is about first love. Why did you decide it would be better to add that complexity?
I don’t think I do that intentionally. I definitely don’t want the books to have too much meaning to them. I want them to be pure fun.
Everyone nowadays makes TV shows and books and such to have a “message.” I have no problem with that. Really. But I think sometimes kids just want something silly. They want something exciting. They get enough teaching in school…they just want to read something entertaining. So it’s definitely not planned.
Now, if in the course of writing, the story happens to tie in real nice with a message, I won’t shy away from it. It worked out nicely for Ed’s Terrestrials. It really did. But other than that…it’s all just fun.
Some of these stories, like Gary the Pirate and My Grandparents Are Secret Agents, seem like they could have a sequel. Will you do any follow-up stories?
I’ve been getting asked that a lot! I’m going to do my first sequel next year: Ed’s Terrestrials 2: Escape from the Intergalactic Food Court.
I’ve been asked to do a sequel to Hyperactive and Pet Robots next. So while it wasn’t “part of the plan,” I think I’ll be reexploring these characters very soon.
How is writing for another artist different from writing a book you will illustrate yourself? How much direction do you give the artists?
It’s tougher, for sure. When I write for Dreamland, I just put “fight sequence” and leave it at that. I know I’ll storyboard it out later. But with these other books, I have to describe what’s going on for them.
Another time consuming thing is that I have to break the panels down for the artists. For Dreamland, again, I do that during my storyboarding process.
But it’s all good.
The hardest part about writing for other artists is, as an artist, I want to tweak stuff. I would have done it this way. Or maybe we should change the color to that.
But also, as an artist, I know how absolutely annoying it is when people do that to you. So I leave them alone to work their magic.
How does your animation experience inform your writing?
I think I’ve developed a unique style of storytelling that breaks the “comic book” mold. Telling stories in a more animation-style pacing allows young readers to feel like they’re watching a movie. They don’t have to learn how to read a comic book. There’s no “old-school storytelling” going on. It’s clean. There’s never more than a single word balloon per panel. Characters rarely break out of panels. It’s easy to follow and easy for young readers to enjoy.
Also, coming from animation, I have a tendency to let characters think, react, and act without explanation. This lets the young readers follow along even if they can’t read yet.
They get the body language. They can follow the action.
What are you not doing that you wish you could do—either something you haven’t attained yet in your work or a project you would like to tackle in the future?
Nothing really. I got to do Spider-Man back in 2002. It was my childhood dream come true. So I’m quite content. Would I want to do it again? Sure. But I’m having so much fun doing my own stories right now, I can’t see me pursuing it any time soon.
This is where I want to be. I’m doing what I want to do. Nothing is more fulfilling than to see my two boys sitting on the bed reading my books. They love ’em. And that makes me so happy. What more can a dad ask?
You just got back from the American Library Association conference and now you are on your way to San Diego Comic-Con. Why do you go to conventions—what do you get out of it?
What do I get out of it? Deeper in debt. Headaches. Sometimes a cold or two. But why do I do it? Because it makes the readers happy. They get to meet me. I get to meet them. I love doing sketches. I love meeting the little ones who read my books.
I’ll tell you honestly…I’m not a social person. I’m a hermit. I can stay home forever and be perfectly happy. But it’s part of the job. To go out and show people you’re a normal person. That you care about them.
I love to thank people for reading my books. I wish I could meet every one of my readers. Maybe one day I will. I’d love to try and do some European shows one day. I have lots of readers in other countries.
That would be fun…but my wife has threatened me with bodily harm if I go without her and the kids.