Earlier this year, Z2 Comics published the first comic book written by novelist Samuel Sattin, Legend. This week, the publisher is putting out the series’ first collection as Legend Vol 1 prints issues 1-5 for fans of binge reading. Sattin’s tale is about a world where the animals have inherited the Earth after humanity was wiped out by a deadly virus. Legend is more than a post-apocalypse horror story, it’s a tale about how a tribe quilted from different species can be bonded.
The dogs, cats, and other animals left in this world form uneasy alliances in order to survive nightmare-fuel threats. Dangers are the canvas these characters are painted on. Sattin and artist Chris Koehler dig deep to reveal a consciousness we never thought existed inside of our domesticated pets. Some of the most compelling moments come from the emotions these animals feel from memories of the world, the way it once was.
Legend is a book which mixes powerful narratives of survival like The Road with gorgeous visuals measured alongside books such as Saga. Earlier this month, I got to talk with writer Sam Sattin about kitties, doggies, and our November rain.
COMICS BEAT: So how are you holding up? It’s been quite a turbulent few days.
Sam Sattin: It really has, and I’m not holding up all too well, to be honest. Or at least I wasn’t. My default setting is optimism, but I’m having a hard time finding the silver lining here. I’m working again, though, which is nice. I don’t know how productive I was for the first few days following the election (spoiler: not at all). And the Bay Area where I live felt a whole lot like a funeral on November 9th and 10th. But then again, there’s comfort in knowing you’re in the same rickety boat as a lot of other people.
But onto cheerier subjects, like the apocalypse!
CB: Ha! Indeed, let’s talk about comics.
For those who might have missed Legend’s individual issue launch can you give us the elevator pitch for this story?
SS:I tend to describe LEGEND as Watership Down meets The Walking Dead, with cats and dogs instead of rabbits and monsters instead of zombies. But really, it’s a story about what would happen if humanity perished and our domesticated animals were left in charge, to pick up the pieces. At the beginning of the book, Ransom, the leader of the Dog Tribe, has been killed by a creature called the Endark, and a new leader must be chosen. Legend, an English Pointer, is quickly appointed, and seeks out help from the Cat Tribe to destroy the monster, which leads the main characters on an epic and difficult journey.
CB: That’s pretty apt, it almost sounds a little Syfy channel in a way to say “hey have you read that book about the post-apocalyptic dogs?” Do you feel as though post-apocalyptic stories might be hitting too close to home these days?
Do you feel as though post-apocalyptic stories might be hitting too close to home these days?
SS:I certainly think so, considering recent events. When I first got into post-apocalyptic fiction, and science fiction in general, I saw the best of it as a series of cautionary tales. Those tales have proliferated in recent years. And now, our society actually feels like it could truly head in an Orwellian direction, and I think it’s more important than ever to keep on making art that challenges the status quo, and that scares us. LEGEND takes a pretty dismal view of humanity…not an irredeemable view, but it doesn’t put too much stake in our ability to see what’s coming. I’m hoping it can make a few people take pause. And use that pause to think about how they are going to prevent the worst from happening.
CB:What were some of the inspirations that went into the creation of this story?
SS:I’ve always loved animal stories. Watership Down, Plague Dogs, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Animal Farm, Pride of Baghdad, and WE3 are huge inspirations. Also, real moody books like Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Anything by Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Ursula K. LeGuin. All of that is speaking for the writing side of things. I know (artist and co-creator) Chris is really inspired by film noir, which explains the sense of claustrophobia throughout the book. Both of us are big horror fans. We’re happy when things scare us.
Overall, I’m inspired by art that tries to imagine a post-human world. I think that’s why I like Hayao Miyazaki’s work so much. We’re so centered on our own consciousness and beliefs and histories that I think we forget how small we can be. Not to say that we’re going to go extinct in the near future, but the concept of the earth being ours and ours alone is, to me, somewhat naïve. I think we should try and think about our planet as something we inhabit and share, but not necessarily something we own. If we can do that, then we’ll become more deserving of what we have.
CB: Like most of the world, I will put down whatever I’m doing to see anything with dogs and cats in it. Chris Koehler draws them as lifelike as I see them on YouTube and I think that’s what first drew me to the book.
What is it about animals which makes them a good lens to explore a dystopian world? As characters, even with human-like qualities do they grow and earn their moments differently?
SS:I think animal stories do a really great job of employing allegory. Maybe because we naturally see animals as symbols. We look at a fox and think: wily; a dog: loyal; a cat: independent, etc. And those elements come into play when we read. When you introduce those pre-established, cultural notions into a post-apocalyptic landscape, the entire equation can be changed. Though LEGEND is a fantastical book, it’s also grounded. The animals that inhabit its world can talk to each other, and in the case of the cats, manipulate a ramshackle form of technology. There are indeed factors that influence their enhanced intelligence that I can’t discuss at this moment, but I’d also like to think that overall, they act like animals; that they think like animals.
CB: Alright let’s get to some famous animals. Give me your top three favorite animals in movies, TV, or books and why.
- Bigwig: He’s basically the muscle in Watership Down, the one that stands up to forces discouraging survival. I have a soft spot for brawn and earnestness, especially since Bigwig’s is so pleasingly comical. He’s also a stand in for reliability, which is important in dangerous situations.
- The Great Owl: This might be a childhood thing more than anything else, but the first animal character that really stuck with me was the Great Owl, from The Secret of Nimh Equal parts wise and terrifying (especially to a mouse) he lived in a cave covered in spider webs, and seemed to have insight into a secret world. It was the secret world, the frightening, beautiful wisdom of older things, that caught my imagination.
- Lorek Byrnison: The armored bear from the Golden Compass always struck me as one of the most well-rounded, interesting animal characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Pullman goes through great pains to illustrate that a bear’s mentality is different from a human’s, to the point of being nearly incomprehensible, and excessively violent.
CB: You dug pretty deep in the intellectual well, I was expecting Lassie to be the first answer. But overall I like that list and feel like I have to pull out my copy of Watership Down.
While we haven’t learned every answer to the burning questions of this story, we now know a lot about this world. What happened to the humans, the condition of the rest of the world, etc; can you tease a few of the other mysteries we’ll get answers to in the next arc of Legend?
SS: Our characters will end up further in the Wild then they ever dared venture before, and will be in great danger. But cats have ways to even out the odds. Also, people have asked whether or not one of the dogs will get a suit of armor…that question will be answered as well.
CB: You’ve said yourself the world of Legend is much bigger than the story you’re currently telling. Are there plans to do more after this initial run? And if so will it be in comics?
SS: That’s a very good question. There are certainly more stories to be told within the world of LEGEND. Though whether they’ll be told in comics format or in novelizations remains to be seen, I know I’m not ready to leave this world quite yet. This story is one of millions crying out to be told.
CB: More bulldogs and what happened to giant turtles in future volumes! Thanks for taking the time Sam.
Z2 Comics has been putting out some ingenious stuff. I can’t wait to see how this first volume of Legend ends. If you haven’t had the chance to see drawings of pugs and armored cats then go to your local comic shop and pick up the first volume of Legend when it hits stores November 22.