Sam Roads is a man of many hats. The founder of the award-winning Harlequin Games, M.E. Games Ltd., and Game Systems International Ltd., he is also a writer, entrepreneur, and musician. In 2013, Sam launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring his first graphic novel, Kristo, to life. Two years later, he’s bringing us Silicon Heart. Sam was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule to chat with us about his work.
IM: What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
SR: Playing games on the Sinclair ZXSpectrum! The Hobbit, Manic Miner, Elite, Tau Ceti, Sabrewulf. Bit lo-fi compared to today’s output.
IM: What sparked your interest in comics and graphic novels?
Later in life I discovered Sandman, Alan Moore, and Transmetropolitan, and thus discovered that indy comics people were my people.
IM: How have you developed your craft?
SR: I read a lot of books about writing, generally books on screenwriting, because that discipline has a better-developed literature than comics writing. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! is probably my favorite book. He makes some claims I don’t agree with, but it’s chock full of solid writing advice.
I watch little TV, but listen a lot to BBC Radio 4, which produces unashamedly highbrow programs.
IM: You’re also the director of a game development studio. What does that entail?
SR: I run a team of four developers, writers, and artists. We develop games and apps for Facebook, including the official The Lord of the Rings game and, recently, a bilingual English/Welsh game based on the Hinterland/Y-Gwyll TV show.
IM: Has that had any impact on your graphic novels?
IM: Let’s talk about your first Kickstarter-funded graphic novel, Kristo. You’ve billed it as a retelling of (Dumas [père]’s) The Count of Monte Cristo, set in Soviet Russia. Can you elaborate?
SR: The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the classic revenge stories, about someone who gets locked up for twenty years and then, upon escaping… kills everyone. It seemed a great fit to move that story to Soviet-era Russia, where—in reality—people were being locked up for decades.
The original concept came from artist Alex Sheikman. He grew up in Russia and felt that this story needed to be told, but wanted to find the right writer to do it justice. I pitched him a version of the story that wove in certain ‘What If?’ concepts revolving around the Nobel Laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and we took it from there.
Alex’s art is just sumptuous. His panels have something of the same quality as stained glass—iconic and mythic. It was a real pleasure to work with him.
IM: How did you go about mounting a successful Kickstarter campaign?
SR: About a month of preparation, lining up interviews, blogs, spreading the news. Aiming at a target figure that felt possible. And having a strong product with an inviting brand. People seem to turn to Kristo if they have an interest in Russia or know the story already.
For both Kristo and Silicon Heart, I directly ignored the Kickstarter advice about videos. Instead of me facing the camera telling everyone how much the projects meant to me, I created teaser videos set in the world of the story. I feel people respond to the product more than the creators.
IM: When you decided to launch Silicon Heart, you had that experience to refer back to. Was there anything that you changed this time out?
SR: Yes! Alex was not involved in the Kristo Kickstarter, whereas Kat Nicholson was a powered-up cyber-rex of enthusiasm and promotion. We raised about three times as much in this second Kickstarter, and a vast chunk of credit for that goes to Kat and her legions of Katnatics.
IM: How did you connect with her?
SR: We’d said hello at one of the Cardiff drink and draw events, but I approached her after seeing a brief post she made of a picture called ‘My Favourite Neighbour’. It was in the style you can see now in Silicon Heart, but it seemed unlike her other work, or indeed most of what other people do. I found it warm and charming and, on the strength of the single picture, approached her to work on Silicon Heart.
IM: What is the elevator pitch on Silicon Heart?
SR: It’s set in the Welsh valleys in 2045 and tells the story of a girl who falls in love with the robot next door. And then how they deal with society’s prejudice about their relationship.
IM: Your plan is to tell the story in four installments. How would you say that the characters and the stakes change as the story progresses?
SR: One of the themes of the book is the question of how teenagers can take control. When the story starts, both our protagonists are struggling with life at school. But by the end of the story, the stakes are about as high as they can get. I don’t think I can go into much more detail than that here without giving away too much!
IM: Could you share your creative process with us? How do you and Kat hammer out the details and bring the story from vision to reality?
SR: I write a very detailed script. I learned from, amongst others, Steven Forbes and Yannick Morin of ComixTribe, and their method involves making sure your artist is never left scratching their head!
However, I’m very happy when Kat tells me that we need to add in a panel, or run things a different way. It’s about finding the best way to tell the story, built on our shared sum of experiences.
IM: Where do you go from here?
SR: There is one—and possibly two—prequel(s) to Silicon Heart. The first is called Pluperfect, which tells the story of a minor character from Silicon Heart called Pi. Kat and I have agreed to think about whether we want to work together on that, once Silicon Heart is finished. For all I know she’ll be sick of me by then! 🙂
I’m also developing a brand new story called Cryowulf. This is a retelling of Beowulf, set in a future dark age, on board a shut-down space station orbiting a black hole. I may have an artist lined up, but I need to further explore funding options before going ahead with issue 1.
IM: What advice would you give to someone looking to launch their own comic/GN?
SR: Find someone who is where you want to be in a year. Befriend them (try tea or biscuits) and ask them lots of questions about how and why they do what they do. I did this to Steve Tanner (Time Bomb), Lizzie Boyle (Disconnected), and Jon Lock (Big Punch Studios), and each was very gracious in giving me the advice I needed to get to where I am now.
IM: Is there anything else that you’d like to share that we haven’t touched on, yet?
SR: I only write if there is some (small p) political theme of the work. Kristo dealt with the kind of unjust incarceration that Amnesty International campaigns against. Silicon Heart was a direct response to the UK government being tardy at rolling out the legalisation of gay marriage. Pluperfect is about celebrity, whilst Cryowulf plays around with gender issues.
Hopefully no-one notices this boring stuff while they’re enjoying the Cossack swordplay and futuristic dialogue!
IM: Thanks so much!
ONLINE FOLLOW THROUGH
About the interviewer: Ellen Fleischer
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