FanBase Interview: Chris Jaymes with Nicholas Diak
Sons of Chaos (due to be released by IDW Publishing this month) is a historic epic graphic novel written by Chris Jaymes and illustrated by Ale Aragon. The comic focuses on the Greek War of Independence during the 1820s and follows the story of Marcos Botsaris and his rise to become a Greek hero. In the following interview, Fanbase Press Contributor Nicholas Diak chats with Chris Jaymes about his ambitious project.
Nicholas Diak, Fanbase Press Contributor: Can you tell us about the genesis of Sons of Chaos? How did this graphic novel come to be?
Chris Jaymes: After finishing my first film, a dark comedy called In Memory of My Father, a friend of mine, Nick Lambrou, reached out about making a movie surrounding the subject matter that inevitably became Sons of Chaos. Initially, I researched the 1821 Revolution, and it became a bit of an obsession as I compiled rooms full of research materials and realized how little the world outside of Greece knew about this war that was actually extremely relevant to the creation of modern-day Europe. Less than 200 years ago, just after the French Revolution, this uprising altered the state of Europe and stimulated the fall of the Ottoman Empire. There was global support for the Greeks, including participation from celebrities and writers from all parts of the world. Even the U.S. brought support. After arduous research, an outline was written and even a screenplay; however, the scope of the project was so massive that it led us to creating a massive 200 page double-sized graphic novel, to convey the scope of the events through a more immersive visual experience to bring it to life.
ND: This is your first graphic novel that you've worked on. What did you do to prepare yourself for working in the comic book medium?
CJ: Primarily, asking lots of questions and looking at lots of books. It was like learning an entire new industry and figuring out how to convert my thinking to tell more story in less time and conceiving new ways to punctuate rhythmic story points visually. Fortunately, the team that was put together were all experienced in this arena and I learned a lot of what needed to happen from them.
ND: For Sons of Chaos, why did you go the route of creating an ornate, graphic novel release instead of single issues to be collected in a trade paperback later?
CJ: We went back and forth, and I was leaning towards single issues and after a long conversation with Ale, he convinced me that the epic nature of the story was stronger in a book that reflected the scope of the content. And I questioned it, until the first book arrived and holding it in my hands understood what he meant. Just the presence of the book feels significant and has a sort of magnetism when you see it sitting there, because of the size. I think he was right.
ND: The art style of Ale Aragon is quite stylized; it's both vivid and muted. It has the unique aspect that it is able to portray the graphic nature of Sons of Chaos without being excessively gory or exploitative. What other aspects of Aragon's art do you see that strengthen the Sons of Chaos story?
CJ: Exactly what you said; there is a harsh rawness to Ale’s work. Even his method of working is ink to page without hesitation or second guessing. His unwillingness to engage with a cautionary fragility resonates on the page and that fearlessness created an aliveness and an urgency that I don’t see much. There’s always a sense of motion and an underlying tension, even in the most subtle, isolated panels. His vulnerability as a human comes through in every frame, without that this book wouldn’t feel so alive.
ND: In the promotion of Sons of Chaos, your publisher, IDW, refers to it as a "sword and shooter" comic, which is a play on the sword and sandal /sword and sorcery/ sword and planet /etc. genres. Have these sister genres has any influence on you and your work?
CJ: Not necessarily [laughs]. The story of Sons is extremely grounded in a vicious arena, but very human. The raw mental torment is mirrored with some of the most inhumane physical torment conceivable. It’s based on events that actually occurred a short time ago, and the goal was to give a sense that this is how things were and what these individuals went through for the purpose of rising against an Empire, sacrificing everything to free themselves from centuries of oppression. Something that is challenging for all of the post-war generations to comprehend.
ND: What's the best soundtrack one could listen to while reading Sons of Chaos?
CJ: That’s an insanely interesting question, and funny enough, one of the biggest drivers behind this project was always saying it needed to have a modern, driving rock soundtrack. That’s ambiguous and can be interpreted in many ways… I would have to sculpt the various parts and sections. The battle montages in the third act I always imagined muted battle sound effects behind visceral drones of Sigur Ros and Radiohead… but would constantly change what I was listening to while writing. I like working with music on shuffle, hoping that the algorithms will magically support the moment; however, it’s challenging when you want a playlist that moves from Sigur Ros into Debussy and Mussorgsky and Yann Tierson and jump to a Mumford & Sons or an isolated Bon Iver track. It spans so through such an array of emotional/mental parameters, the music needs to follow.
ND: Sons of Chaos can be favorably compared to Frank Miller's 300; both are historic epics involving Greek people and their lands, both have incredible stylistic artwork, presented in a luxurious hardcover format. With this in mind, what does Sons of Chaos accomplish that 300 doesn't?
CJ: Good question. And yes, they are both panoramic and presented in a similar format and they both take place in Greece. The Battle of Thermopylae occurred nearly 2,500 years ago, as opposed to the Greek War for Independence which happened 200 years ago. Sons is presenting something that has influenced the world we are currently living in, the siblings from those involved are still alive, their legacies are still current and Greece is what it is today because of what occurred in 1821. The awareness of something that is alive and current brings a newfound perspective to the meaning of freedom, and honors those who are responsible in a manner that is still relevant. It’s a very different story and circumstance. Also, 300 focuses on a single battle and an epic, isolated event, whereas Sons focuses more on the characters and the agendas of the leaders at the time bringing insight into how and why this revolution was possible. The two books actually compliment each other pretty well I think.
ND: Aside from 300 thematically complementing Sons of Chaos, for those readers inspired by the graphic novel, what other texts would you recommend to learn more about the Greek War of Independence?
CJ: It’s challenging because there aren’t many in English, and most of them are swayed with the agenda of the author. The telling from an English writer is very different from that of a German writer based on what their bias was. You really need to read multiple sources to get a sense of what is going on. My favorite was a book about Ali Pasha, Lion of Ioannina: The Remarkable Life of the Balkan Napoleon, by Dr. Eugenia Russell. Getting a sense of the reality of who is was… honestly, there has been no human being closer to a living “Joker” than he.
ND: In the process of creating Sons of Chaos, what has been the biggest surprise to hit you? What has been the biggest thing you've learned?
CJ: This process started nearly 10 years ago, and the respect I have gained from the artists and writers and comic shop owners is significant. To exist in this medium requires a burning determination unlike any of the other arenas I have participated in. The creation of comics and graphic novels requires a different sort of relentless determination than other mediums, as it requires a team of collaborators, working for long periods of time in such a meticulous, thoughtful manner, with a self-imposed belief/hope that somehow it’s gonna work, and the experience you create will be conveyed in the best possible manner. The process taught me relentlessness more so than anything else, and the drive to continue pushing onward again and again, regardless of how you feel or the challenges the day brings you. But if an entire population could stand up against an Empire, the least we could do was stand up against the challenges of making a book about it.
ND: What is in the future for you and for Sons of Chaos?
CJ: For Sons, we will ride the book out and work towards a Greek release which should be interesting. We will be at AthensCon in November/December, and that is the moment I am most curious about. I am currently rewriting the screenplay version, as we are already working with a veteran production company who will begin moving it forward once I finish the current rewrite. Other than that, I have a few shows I’m developing… sort of if you were to combine Anthony Bourdain with an opposite version of Vice, maybe like a NatGeo for humans, sort of a global cultural investigation with more of a comedic sense as opposed to just the focusing on the conflict. Our world’s current trend of polarization needs some serious reversing and all of my projects moving forward follow a theme of humanization. I also am putting together a documentary surrounding solutions for Marine Mammals in captive environments. A bunch of various things at the moment.