Make Comics Metal Again – a chat with Aaron Sammut – DIYFS

Maurice & The Metal - Author - Aaron Sammut A

For the unfamiliar, ‘Maurice & the Metal’ is a brand new independent comic that tells a story involving metal and superpowers set in the 80’s. Entirely self produced, funded and written..this is a labor-of-love project that captured my attention for its cool look, fun concept and multitude of in-jokes which only musos will get! I sent some questions to Aaron, the Brisbane based writer behind this project to learn more about how this all came about.

What was the process like for writing a story like this?

The story evolved organically. About 6 years ago I was on my way to work and it was a real low point. I was deflated, felt like I was running on empty. I was listening to some music but whatever it was, it wasn’t working. So I made the decision to put on Metallica’s Master of Puppets and turn it up. From the start of the riff, I was walking upright and started to feel like I could get through the day! I started to think about this song and the difference it was making to me and my overactive imagination stepped in and I started developing a superhero where their strength came from music. That was the best day at work… ever. I made notes for that entire first day and a lot of them did make it into this first issue.

In the beginning, it was all about the ideas and developing the arc of the hero’s journey. Getting notes together, scene ideas and moving them around and then I started writing a treatment, then a script, with dialogue and panel description that I would work on back and forth with the illustrator, Jesse Hamm.

A lot of the ideas were drawn from real life experiences, growing up listening to metal in a household where it wasn’t fully understood, and just a serious appreciation of all things metal!

That’s awesome! Did you do your own story-boarding before going to Jesse?

When I first started working with Jesse Hamm we focused just on the characters. Simple descriptions and a mood board about the direction for each character but it was Jesse who brought these characters to life! I saw his first pitch for the lead character and while it did need a slight change (it looked too much like Lars), by the first draft we had a lead. After the look of the main characters was established, Jesse worked from a script with basic descriptions of panels. Using terms like low angle, long shot, establishing, and explained the position, mood and expressions of each character in a scene.

The process was perfect. Jesse was such a great guy to work with. He would read the script and ask questions, then quickly sketch a mock-up of a page, then pencils, and then the inks and all with increasing levels of detail. Such a fantastic process to be part of. At each stage, I could approve or make adjustments where I needed them, but Jesse did such a great job that all changes were minor.

Did you use any tools, apps or programs to help you achieve all this?

I will have to check with Jesse on that one as far his methods and tools but pages were drawn digitally with Adobe Photoshop, and the layouts and dialogue were done with InDesign.

I noticed that the story switches between narration and speech between characters to move it along. How do you develop the dialogue between characters and then…know when to ‘just tell’ the story?

I used narration just as a way to keep the story progressing without needing characters to spell it out for the reader. It’s a standard in comics and I don’t think that I will need to explain who is narrating because essentially it is me. Just give enough information to get the basics of mood and story across and then letting the characters play it out.

Trying to find the right tone for each individual character was tricky. I could refer to movies from that era for inspiration but as the comic progressed I felt like I got better at giving each individual character their own voice. My favorite scene, dialogue-wise, is when the family is arguing about music. I found that very relatable and drew heavily on personal experiences.

Oh man I loved that moment! What were you listening to when writing it??

Yeah, all of the staples! Metallica, Sabbath, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Megadeth, Opeth. All my favourites really. It was a massive influence on the story and kept me motivated. Every so often when doubt would rear its ugly head, a timely metal track would be there to keep me motivated! Writing a story with Slayer’s Angel of Death

So side question time..Maurice in the story is 17…what were you listening to when you were 17?

When I was 17 I was listening to stuff like Primus, Smashing Pumpkins, Faith No More, Beck, Ween, The Cure, Radiohead, Tool… basically music that was making sad people sadder.

So the essentials! Got it! So with issue #1 done and out, how often do you plan on releasing subsequent issues..and how many all up?

I want to focus on the launch of issue one and then I will get back to focusing on issue two. But the script for the next issue is already 90% written, just struggling with a few key scenes. So I will go back to work on that in the next month, and maybe have the next issue out at the start of next year. I know it’s a long time to wait but it’s all about finding the funds and making it work within a budget. Sadly.

All up in this first volume there will be 8 issues and I have an idea for the next volume but that is a long way off and is only really a one sentence concept. But it would be amazing if the comic could get to the point where I could focus all of my energy on it.

Does the story have an arc and a finish already or do you go bit-by-bit?

It is strange for me, because I don’t usually work like this but the project has been planned, meticulously. I have heard that it’s great to write yourself into a corner and then see what you can do with your characters but I felt like I had already done that with the concept of having audio play such a key part in a visual medium. So I tried to plan as much as possible.

I noticed the book doesn’t have any big logos or publishers names on it.. this is a totally independent project right?

Yeah, 100% independent. All out of my own back pocket. Initially, I tried to get a publisher behind the project but I found that I was only doing that because I wanted to get reassurance that the idea was good enough. Why should I expect others to believe in this project so much that they would finance it when I wasn’t willing to do the same thing for my own project. In the end, I started looking at this mentality like it was cowardly. I believed in this idea so much that I couldn’t let it go, so I took the leap and financed it myself.

That’s such a solid ethos and mentality! For anyone who’s reading and might be interested, what advice would you give people looking to get into comics and writing? Got any tips or wisdom to share?

Most of what I learnt about producing comics came from my own research and development (and mistakes) of getting this first issue finished. The internet has really made it easy to learn anything. I read a lot of blog posts and websites, learning tips from comic creators and I took what I needed. One of those tips that I tried to follow (and feel like I did accomplish) was that a comic should work with the visuals alone, with no dialogue and then with dialogue and no visuals. It’s to ensure that the reader can get the story regardless of their focus. Readers will never focus equally on dialogue and visuals, you will always focus on one more than the other. That’s the great thing about comics. It’s all at your own pace. You choose to move to the next panel when you are ready. The reader controls the pace of the story! I remember reading this comic when it was at a draft stage and I stayed looking at the panel of the band in the rehearsal room following the guitar leads on the ground or reading the posters on the wall.

Other advice that I think is relevant for any creative project is that you need to know what you want and focus on that. What I wanted was to hold this comic as the first reader. That is where I’m gauging the success of the comic and now anything else on top is great! Beyond my expectation. Selfish I know. But I couldn’t let that thought go. I went to sleep thinking about it, woke up in the middle of the night ready to make notes and it was the first thing I thought when I woke up. Passion is the only thing that will see you finish any project and get you passed any hurdle and I faced so many hurdles; budget, losing a full-time job and long stretches coming to terms with a sense of imposter syndrome, as I had never written anything before this (aside from a few game reviews)! I got passed it all because of the idea… and also I am super stubborn!

You say stubborn, I’d say committed! Ok, last one…any plans on doing conventions and stuff? Trek around with other local comic writers and artists like we see at comic-con?

Yeah for sure. I would love to have a stand at Comic-Con or Supanova, meeting fans of the book or making new ones and getting feedback would be fantastic. It’s too early at this stage, so I am going to see how things go with the launch next month at Crowbar, in Brisbane, on Saturday, June 1st – everyone who comes through the doors gets a free comic.

Grab it here:

https://www.comixology.com/Maurice-The-Metal-1/digital-comic/766222

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