"Never Count Yourself Out of Anything" - An Interview with SABS COOPER
Tales from Nottingham #3 from Mad Cave Studios will be in comic shops TODAY, on April 26th, so CBY Interview Content Editor Jimmy thought there was no better time than now to invite writer Sabs Cooper into the Yeti Cave! Read about the challenges of writing this issue, working with the creative team, and what it was like to be one of the winners of the Mad Cave Studios Talent Search. This is a fantastic conversation and I hope we are all reading Sabs' work for years to come.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Sabs, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave. I’m a fan of Mad Cave Studios, Nottingham, in particular, so I’m excited to chat with you today. How are you doing?
SABS COOPER: I'm great! Happy to be working with Mad Cave Studios, happy to be here in the Yeti Cave. Lotta caves in my life right now, apparently. And I am spelunking. Metaphorically.
CBY: For anyone not familiar with your work, what’s your comics creator origin story? What is it you like about writing comics?
SC: Ooh, my origin story? That's a fun question. Well, I've loved writing since I was a kid, and I always knew I wanted to be involved in comics somehow. About a decade ago I was doing comic reviews and creator interviews, anything to be closer to the creative process, you know? I wrote some articles and stuff. Then I had my first opportunity to be published when Joe Corallo and Eric Palicki gave me a chance to contribute to the first Dead Beats anthology. And in that story I got to work with Claudia Aguirre and Taylor Esposito, who are both incredible at what they do, just absolutely enormous talents. So I got to see how it works to put a story together with total pros, and it was a blast. I'm very grateful to be doing something I love so much, with people I respect and admire tremendously. It's not without its challenges, but it's deeply rewarding.
CBY: Tales from Nottingham #3 comes out April 26th. I’ve read the first 2 and these are stories that are filling out the world of Nottingham. What can you tell CBY readers about the story you wrote for this issue? Was there any particular challenge to writing a story set in this time period? Did you have to research any particular aspect of life in 1191?
SC: Yeah, there were a lot of challenges, actually. It was the first full issue script I've written on my own and I feel like I learned a lot. Coming into a particular spot in David Hazan’s expertly crafted narrative, putting it together in a way that began and ended where it needed to, it was like a math problem. But that also made it a lot of fun! I got to write a story called, “Maid No More,” which follows Marian’s first steps toward becoming the dangerous woman you meet in Nottingham #1. I read a lot about the war and politics of the time. Coups, assassinations, conspiracies. Just to get a sense of how those things played out at that time. I don't know if it helped to construct the plot of the issue, but it did inform my approach to the characters. I think it gave me a sense of what they would have to be capable of, in order to survive.
CBY: I interviewed David Hazan for the CBY Cryptid Creator Corner podcast, and I recall him saying that he acted as or was available as a story consultant for this project with the writers. What was that experience like collaborating with one of the creators of the series?
SC: Oh it was fantastic. He had a lot of warmth and enthusiasm in bringing us into he and Shane Connery Volk’s world. And so much trust to let us kind of dig into his babies and interpret their motives. Brian Hawkins was my editor, and he was a fantastic help in every part of the process, but there were several moments where we found we had to go to David for the final word on how things ought to go down. It certainly made the end result much stronger, having a team like that to work with and rely on.
CBY: You were one of the winners of the 2021 Mad Cave Talent Search. Congrats by the way! Had you participated in the Talent Search before that year, what did you do to prepare for that, and what has your experience been with Mad Cave from the Talent Search to Tales from Nottingham #3?
SC: Thanks! It was my first year entering, and I knew I wanted to try, but I was totally caught off guard when they announced the results. My creative output at the time was not quite what I wanted it to be. And I just wanted to prove to myself that I could get the submission turned in. I ended up sending it off literally minutes under the deadline. They read off the names of the winners in a live stream. I was at work at the time and I had to lay down on the ground until my head stopped spinning. It was a big surprise! Just goes to show, never count yourself out of anything. Working with Mad Cave has been an absolute dream. And not just in terms of the creative team, but everyone I've talked with at the company. Maya Lopez, the marketing manager, really got involved with having cool behind the scene stuff to show off, and we're gonna be sharing some extremely fun tidbits on the mad cave website when the issue hits the stands. And Chris La Torre, who's the retail relations manager. He works with comic shops putting together retailer exclusive variants, and without saying any more than that, we're gonna have something REALLY cool to announce pretty soon.
CBY: Your collaborators for this issue are Federico Bertoni, Rebecca Nalty, and Chas! Pangburn. Can you talk to me about how your collaboration worked for Tales of Nottingham #3?
SC: Well, in terms of collaboration, Federico is the only one I had much direct back and forth with. You gotta understand, the whole production was such a well oiled machine, most of the work of communication is done by the editor, so we can all focus on our specific role. And Fede’s art is, I mean, I just can't praise it enough. We talked early about what kind of story we wanted to do, what he wanted to draw and what I wanted to write, and he had such clear ideas of how everything was gonna be presented, how he was gonna do the characters, and my god, some of the outfits he designed are just jaw droppingly fucking awesome. Sorry for saying fuck, I just don't know how else to express it. And Rebecca Nalty, I was so stoked and honored when I found out she was coloring the issue. She is one of my absolute favorite colorists in the industry today. I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it many more times, her work on Sparrowhawk is a high water mark for the entire medium of comics. Chas! did an excellent job as well. I, like a lot of writers without a ton of experience, have a hard time being concise in my dialogue. We all get our foot in the door and we think we're Stan Lee, and we can just put paragraphs of text everywhere and it's all necessary and it's all beautiful. So I'm learning, as everyone does, to be more direct, leave some of that off the page, let the illustrations do the talking. Nevertheless I am a somewhat verbose writer and I know it was no small task to fit my words on the page without obscuring all of Federico’s hard work. But it looks fantastic. It reads well, it flows, it fits, and it's stylish as hell. Without any one of them I can honestly say the issue would not be half of what it is.
CBY: I read that you manage Pegasus Books in Bend, Oregon. Did managing a bookstore make you want to write or did you always have a drive to write and that led you to the bookstore? Looking through photos of Pegasus Books on social media it looks like a really great store.
SC: Haha, you really did your research, huh? Like I said, I always wanted to be involved in comics, so when I was in high school and I got a part time job at my local comic shop, I totally dedicated myself to it. Fifteen years later, I'm running the place. It really was running the shop that put me in touch with the people that got me going on reviews and interviews, and that led me to meeting people and getting writing gigs, so it's all very interconnected. And I'm the kind of person who, when I'm interested in something I want to understand it inside and out. So I really love getting to see the comics field from both the production side and the retail side. And having both perspectives is really an advantage, because they inform each other.
"It was the first full issue script I've written on my own and I feel like I learned a lot. Coming into a particular spot in David Hazan’s expertly crafted narrative, putting it together in a way that began and ended where it needed to, it was like a math problem. But that also made it a lot of fun!"
CBY: Who are some of the writers that have influenced your own writing?
SC: My influences are a bit all over the map, I think. Rumiko Takahashi, who is probably, to my mind, the world's greatest living cartoonist. Her work has really influenced how I approach characters. Stuff like Inuyasha, Urusei Yatsura, and Ranma ½, with these really simple and straightforward premises, but just crazy big casts of fun, dynamic, memorable personalities. My earliest exposure to comics was Claremont’s X-Men so there's a bit of that in there, certainly. And I know everybody always mentions Alan Moore, but I just think it can't be overstated how different the landscape of comics would be without him, and that includes my own conceptualization of comics. How and why they are made, and what they can be. There is a documentary I try to watch at least once a year called Monsters, Maniacs, and Moore. I can't recommend it highly enough for comic readers, and especially aspiring creators. It's a younger Moore, and it shows a more optimistic side of his work than I think gets discussed much. His reasons for writing, his methods, his ideals. It's something that's always rattling around in my head. Another contemporary example would be Lilah Sturges, who became a friend after I interviewed her years ago, but I think she's fantastic. She constructs such fun and meticulously set up sequences. Public Relations, which is a comedy/fantasy series that didn't get nearly enough attention when it came out, has some of the funniest, most satisfying payoffs I've ever read.
CBY: Are there particular kinds of stories you want to tell and are there any particular genres you plan on tackling in the future?
SC: Of course! I'd love to do some high concept slice of life. Something like I Dream of Jeannie or Tenchi Muyo, where you have these very genre conventions, but the plot is all just people living their sad, goofy, little lives. And I'd like to try some romance. I feel like I'm working up to writing YA material, which I think a lot of adult readers write off, but it's actually incredibly difficult and impressive to write in a way that is clear and digestible to a younger audience. It's an exciting challenge. Mostly I just want to write about the people I see in my life, single moms, misunderstood kids, the queer, the working class, the neurodiverse.
CBY: Is there anything you are reading or watching currently that you are enjoying and that CBY readers should check out?
SC: Well Chainsaw Man kicks all kinds of ass, and has really interesting things to say about cultural attitudes around violence and sex and capitalism and policing. It's not just action violence, it's a really special and timely book. But probably the thing I'm most excited to read every month is Earthdivers. Such a gripping premise that goes absolutely nowhere you would expect. And there's a great catharsis in reading a book that doesn't shy away from imagining a better world. I'm also reading Why Sharks Matter, which is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. It makes shark conservation science accessible and fascinating and funny and sweet. As far as what I'm watching, it's pretty much just Frasier for the 90th time. The show is a masterclass in writing perfectly tight, self contained, clever stories, that balance brilliant dialogue, immediately clear and recognizable characters, and all these complicated little schemes and misunderstandings.
CBY: Where can folks find you online?
SC: I guess I'm on twitter til the wheels fall off, for better or worse. You can find me there and on instagram @witchhatsabs
CBY: Sabs, thank you so much for joining me for this interview.
SC: Thank YOU! I could go on about this stuff forever, thanks for having me, it was very fun.