Cosmos Philly: Chris Jaymes Interview

What does a modern-day American skateboarder from the beaches of California have in common with a Greek Revolutionary from 1821? Simple – the love of freedom. One man who fought for, it and the other to tell his story for the world to remember.

Chris Jaymes, an American musician, television and film actor, director, screenwriter and producer, who has directed award-winning movies, such as In Memory of My Father, played piano in the Capitol Record’s band Bootstraps, and has appeared in the hit television show, Lost, has now taken his career to a completely, unexpected, and unusual turn with his latest project. Sons of Chaos described on Amazon.com as an “Oversized, panoramic graphic novel… exposing the quiet agenda of the Ottoman Empire’s most brutal dictator and his fascination with a young Greek boy that led to a war that would define the Western World.”

Partnering with Ale Aragon, a well-respected and famed comic book artist, Jaymes brings to the modern world, the story of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, where the small ancient country of Greece raised the standard of freedom and threw off the yoke of the Ottoman Turks after 400 years of domination. To anticipated fanfare in the comic book world, Sons of Chaos will be released on July 17, 2019.

CP: Who is Chris Jaymes?

CJ: I began my working life in my early teens, as a skateboarder and a Rescue Scuba Diver in Huntington Beach, California. As a skateboarder doing commercials, it opened a window into the entertainment industry, which then led to a period of time that I worked as an actor. I guest-starred on shows like Chicago Hope, The Profiler, Party of Five, and a few movies including Father’s Day with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. I learned to play piano at age eighteen, which led me to music school for a bit in Boston. From there, I toured with Wanda Jackson and played at times with a swing band Royal Crown Revue. Eventually, I started acting again and then directed my first movie, In Memory of My Father, which led to more writing and directing. I’ve also done a lot of Marine Mammal and Ocean Conservation work during the past 10 years.

CP: What attracted you to the subject of the Greek War of Independence?

CJ: Initially, I was introduced to the subject from an impassioned, somewhat insane Greek friend of mine, Nick Lambrou. He knew I had directed some movies and written some scripts, and he had wanted to develop a story around the subject for quite a while. After looking into the materials he had compiled, I saw how layered the subject was and was amazed that a revolution of this stature had, in some way, lived under the radar and yet, had an impact that really defined Western Europe as we know it today. Somehow, I got hooked and became imprisoned within the obsession for the past decade.

CP: Tell us about the title? Why Sons of Chaos?

CJ: Sons of Chaos refers to various storylines within the book, from the children raised by leaders and facing a current reality that was handed down, a reality that has nothing to do with them. We acquire our reality from those that come before us and are forced to accept this reality or stand against it. Generations born into a time of repression, or war, or challenges that we didn’t create and didn’t choose… which this ties back further to the idea that the Gods were born from Chaos. The theme lives heavily throughout the book.

CP: There are several key characters and the storyline that has been redeveloped for fiction. Why, and describe the storyline?

CJ: In the telling of every story, elements are changed for simple reasons, such as compressing time or building a story arc. This is true whether you are watching a documentary or the news, or when listening to a friend talk about something from last night. We don’t have time to tell every nuanced moment, and if we did, no one would end up caring enough to invest the massive amount of time to get to the end. Also, whatever medium you are working on, you must fit your story into that format. Even trying to tell the initial story outline that I first created would have required a four-hour film or a 1500 page graphic novel. So, initially, the need to fictionalize something is a formatting requirement, and the second part is for story structure.

Within the story I chose to tell, we follow a band of Souliotes [Greek resistance fighters from Souli in Epiros] that had managed to resist the regional Pashas that the Ottoman Sultan had placed in Northern Greece. This garners attention from one of the most unpredictably egregious pashas of the time, a man named Ali Pasha, who was much like a 19th Century Joker character – The Dark Knight version. They now refer to him as the “Napoleon of the East,” and ironically, he was Albanian and cared very little about the agenda of the Ottoman Empire. He was very focused on his own legacy with an acutely formed, yet quiet agenda. The story I tell focuses on this agenda and how the imposition of Ali’s desires influence the life of Markos Botsaris and stimulate his evolution as a revolutionary leader. That said, certain liberties were taken to include Markos in various historical moments and situations that he may or may not have been a part of, but they were moments I felt were important to the story. The Battle of Gravia, for instance, was something I wanted in the story, so I brought Markos into it.

CP: Tell us about the artwork and how came to be?

CJ: The artwork is from an absurdly talented individual named Ale Aragon, and the process was extensive. The two of us never worked in the same physical space for a single day, as he lives in Argentina and I am based in Los Angeles. The conversion process was extensive as my initial outline for the story was over 250 pages, and compressing it was challenging. Numerous passes were required to find a shorter version of the story, and converting the extremely verbose writing into snapshots for panels that could convey the nuances of the storylines was arduous. At times, Ale would work conceiving the panels from my original outline, and other times we would break down the panels for him just to lighten his workload, as years were passing. I feel blessed that he had the capacity to stay focused on this one project over the course of three years, as most people don’t have the tenacity or the time. But inevitably, we got through it. Occasionally, he wanted to harm me I assume, as I would ask for a new page, or for something to be changed slightly, so most likely, the geographical distance saved me from physical injury.

CP: Is there another medium you’d like to explore in with this project?

CJ: The story obviously can exist in any and every medium. Television would serve best primarily due to the sprawling nature of events. The Revolution covers nearly a decade and then lingers for years in all directions. The research manuscripts I compiled prior to writing fill over 2500 pages with well over 200 characters, and the stories are rich and layered, which makes compressing the story into a single movie extremely challenging. Doable, but challenging.

CP: How do you feel children will respond to this book?

CJ: I think children will love it because it’s all the things you dream of seeing as a kid. It’s vicious and grimy and filled with adult content, with everyone wearing cool outfits and fighting with amazing looking weapons. It’s the book you see behind the counter that you desperately want, but your parents won’t let you have it until you’re older, so you and your friends devise a plan to secretly get a copy and inevitably get caught. But once they get past the shock value, I assume much as I did as a kid, they will embrace certain characters, and want to wear their outfits, and argue about which one is cooler.

CP: You have invested many years in this project. Why? Is this book a labor of love for you?

CJ: Inevitably, as the years pass and your focus sustains, no matter what the project is, it becomes a part of you. A lot of the drive came from Nick and I being together, obsessing over moments, or mentally deciphering the research materials, trying to ascertain what actually happened. It’s a lot like investigative reporting, as the accounts are all very different, and the version taught in school seems to be like a glossy, Greek Disney film, which couldn’t be further from the reality of what 1821 is about. So, to say a labor of love might be misstating… the love part comes and goes, just like with a husband and wife, sometimes more intense, sometimes quite distant and barely present at all. I think creative projects are more like a girlfriend or a boyfriend who you idealize and constantly struggle to “get,” but they’re squirmy and unpredictable. They can’t be controlled, but you are desperately working to control them and get proof that they’re yours, or at least, that they want you as much as you want them. So, yes, there are hints of love in there, but much more of a pursuit where you never know if you’re winning.

CP: Greek Independence is approaching the 200 year anniversary, do you hope to make some kind of impact with your book in helping bring this history to the public?

CJ: The fact that outside of Greece and Turkey, aside from Greek-Americans, very few people know about this war, definitely justifies the story to be told. The fact that an underdog can stand up against an empire and come out ahead warrants awareness and seeing that it hasn’t garnered wider attention in 200 years, it’s definitely time. Ideally, this is even more justification for the story to be told.

CP: How do you feel the Greek and Greek diaspora will take to this book?

CJ: Overall, I assume they will love it, especially if they see the larger picture of the book and the intention to honor those who took part. The minutiae of fact and fiction will be argued about by those who hold the events dear to them, but that’s something I’m actually excited about. The more people argue, the more success we will have achieved.

CP: Is there a character that you are drawn to? Why?

CJ: Each of the characters are, for better or worse, a part of me now. Or more accurately, I am a part of them. There’s no way to write for a character without encompassing their circumstances, their state of being and thought processes, and since there is no way to get a firsthand glimpse of who and how they were, the only option is to manufacture a version of each individual from a personal voice of my own. And each of them is extremely different and layered with different psychological challenges. Ali Pasha is meticulous and calculated, charming and witty, and amazing to watch and try to decipher what he’s actually thinking and doing. His son Muhktar has grown on me, as his struggle is more significant than any, dying to gain acceptance and approval from a father like Ali is more torturous than being his enemy. I’m drawn to all of them in some way, as they tend to take exaggerated characteristics from my own psychology for better or worse, and now I’m stuck accepting that for eternity.

CP: Who has influenced you in your career?

CJ: Influences range from all sorts. As a kid, I was obsessed with Sean Penn and Gary Oldman. Also, Daniel Day-Lewis, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Truffaut and Fellini, Tom Waits, Milan Kundera, Goethe, Victor Hugo, and Anthony Bourdain. Most of my education came from living at the dollar movie theater watching four movies a day, and from staying in motion as much as possible around the world.

CP: Where can people pick this book up?

CJ: Local comic shops and bookstores. Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million, Target and a lot of the typical outlets. You may also email the websites and we will get you one, at sonsofchaos.com or my personal site chrisjaymes.com.