The world is awash with stories. Any cursory look at the marketplace is proof of this statement. Yet, for a certain caliber of the creative mind, the process to bring a story that begs to be told is an allure that is never quenched. There is something so raw, so intimate, and expansive about building and shaping stories that haven’t been told before. For, indeed, writing and creating stories is an incredibly personal venture. But it is also a challenging path. Years of hard work, hours upon endless hours of editing and rewrites, and, most frustratingly, the real prospect of no one ever enjoying the final product is a real possibility. For some, this is a barrier that can’t be overcome. For others, it’s more than a worthy challenge: it’s a philosophy of life.
For Leonard Samuels, a graphic designer and artist based out of Los Angeles, it was this challenge and drive to tell a story that led to the creation of The Sun Guardian, an expansive fantasy and sci-fi drama. Complelety self-promoted, self-financed, and self-published, The Sun Guardian is not shy to wear it’s ambitions on its sleeve. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Samuels about the genesis of the book, designing an entire mythos from scratch, and the challenges of creating an independent intellectual property in an era of franchise dominance
AJ FROST: Hey Leo! Great to chat with you today. Before we start talking about your book, can you tell me a bit about your background? Were you always interested in writing?
LEONARD SAMUELS: AJ, thank you so much for having me take part in this interview! To answer your question, I’ve always been a lover of art and creative writing since childhood. I would write short stories and create mini-comic books years before I took it more professionally
FROST: What were your earliest memories of creating characters or stories? Anything that sticks out as particularly momentous to young Leo’s development of loving comics and fantasy?
SAMUELS: I was a huge fan of anime and movies growing up, so when I would make comics as a kid I would insert song titles as soundtracks, for the audience to know what I wanted them to hear/ think while reading it. I also did a whole fan fiction miniseries to Dragonball Z…as if they lived in the real world or something. I find doing passion projects is the best way to strengthen your craft. My main goal has always been to create these stories and form a mythos to them. I would read The Killing Joke and X-Men comics constantly. Only then I got a better sense of fusing illustrations with writing. This later paralleled my novel in The Sun Guardian.
FROST: The ambition for Sun Guardian is huge! I know there’s only one volume out right now, but there’s a lot of chutzpah involved in creating a new work and subtitling it “Part 1.” Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for creating Sun Guardian?
SAMUELS: I’ve always had a passion for mythology. One day during my time in graduate school at Pratt, my professor asked our class to design something that relates to our future professions, followed by a discussion of our creations. Well, I love to illustrate and write, so I designed five ideas right there. One of these designs was called Solest the Sun Guardian. I later got back on the train in New York and couldn’t get this idea out of my brain. Solest… the Sun Guardian! There was something about this title I couldn’t shake. From there, I drew some sketches of her, and a little story and that’s when it hit me: This is something more! I dropped the name Solest and made her younger. What if she wasn’t the Sun Guardian and we told the story of the person before her. The Sun Guardian. That’s what I’ll call it!
FROST: So you were coming up with mythologies and lineages while taking the ‘1’ Train?
SAMUELS: Yeah. I took the 1 uptown to 135th. But I took a lot of walks with my wife and we talked about it each night on our walks down to Columbia University.
FROST: So, you’re in New York at Pratt and you have this idea for an epic story that takes place in the celestial realms. How long did it take before the first notions of the story were set to paper?
SAMUELS: I would say it took about two months before I actually started plotting it out. I wrote a small comic for it first, then decided to plot out the whole story later. In total, it’s taken about four years to produce: two years to write Parts 1 and 2. Then another two years just to edit and condense the first part.
FROST: Did the story come in fits and starts, or did you have a grand vision for it from the beginning?
SAMUELS: I had a grand vision, but as I wrote the story the characters started to have a life of their own and so I had to adjust the story based on decisions they would make and not just what I wanted to happen. My writing approach has been to be the villain and challenge my protagonist at every turn. If they defeat me, then I have a sequel.
FROST: Without revealing too much, how would you describe the main characters in this book, their motivations, and desires? You said that when you’re writing, you want to be the villain. So, how do you create heroes?
SAMUELS: Heroes are created by the devastation I bring to their lives. Some people rise to the challenge and others become victims. All the characters are dimensional. It’s no fun to have boring motives. I can say that even the noblest of characters seek the dark side at times. But maybe the dark side is the only way to save the ones you love.
FROST: Put simply, what exactly is a Sun Guardian? What is his (or her!) powers?
SAMUELS: The Sun Guardian is the protector of the galaxy. They oversee other worlds guardians and shine a light on evil if it ever should arise. Their power derives from the sun and they can release various forms of fire attacks.When I started writing the novel in New York, I had covered the basic elements of who, what, where, and when this story should take place. It was written on loose paper and just a big mess. It was a year and a half later I moved back to Los Angeles and continued writing the story, but at that point, I was formulating my first draft on the computer until I had finished.
FROST: And besides writing the book, you designed all the characters, which are presented in this cool trading card fashion throughout the book. What came first: the character design or the character description?
SAMUELS: First came the character description and then I had to rewrite what they all looked like after I actually did the illustrations! Sometimes you just got to see it so it makes sense.
FROST: While it’s definitely awesome that you had this auteur vision for creating an entire universe, what have been the challenges so far? I presume that creating an independent IP has been an uphill battle, right?
SAMUELS: This has been a challenge, especially when trying to create something new in the world of mythology. You don’t want to tell the same old stories with names nobody can pronounce. So when conducting this process I’ve had to take creative liberties and find an angle that hadn’t been told yet. Better yet how do you market it?
SAMUELS: With my professional background in movie marketing, that’s how I wrote and designed the advertising for this. The book reads like a movie and the advertising is slick and meant to feel EPIC! It’s best to write about what you know, and what I know is how to tell a great story!
FROST: Is there anything that appealed to you about taking the indie/guerrilla approach to marketing? One could say that it is, at one level, freeing and more personal than a corporate media blitz. But on the other hand, it’s also a lot more work. How did you approach the more business side of your creative venture?
SAMUELS: At the end of the day no one should work harder than you on your project. Whether I have an agent or not, I’m going to market the hell out my book.
FROST: What’s next for the Sun Guardian saga?
SAMUELS: I’m happy to say Book Two has been green lit and I’m currently writing it. Or at least editing it…
FROST: Any closing words, either about the journey you’ve had with Sun Guardian, or about what comes after this story that has resided in you for so long has finally been told?
SAMUELS: When I look back at my life, this story has been a long time coming. I get to incorporate all my favorite tales and inspiration into this epic series. I want to take this novel as far as it can go and I’m really excited to see its potential. I plan on writing this as a trilogy and then who knows what the future holds. Either way, you can count on fun stories for the next decade to come. Maybe someone will read this and get inspired to write their own story.
AJ Frost is an editor/writer based out of Phoenix, AZ.