Sam Sawyer is an independent author and illustrator of a graphic novel fantasy series entitled, Salem: The Secret Archive of Legends, Entertainments, and Monsters, that whisks audiences away to a world that is connected to reality that also allows creatures we believe to be imaginary, to exist in a world of their own. This is a world populated with Nightwalkers, Boogeymen, and a whole civilization of creatures we thought to only be imaginary that come to life in a true testament to the power of imagination and a world beyond belief.
Sawyer has taken her ambitions for this series from the page to the screen now that Salem is being developed as an animated series that is due out online around October 2020 thanks to her successful Kickstarter campaign. The series has managed to bring onboard voice performers including Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs), Laura Bailey (Dragon Ball Z) and Adam McArthur (Star vs. The Forces of Evil), and many more. Sawyer has attended over 20 ComiCon events in her career and has been dreaming about bringing the Salem series to audiences in an explosive way for years, so make sure to check out the trailer for the upcoming animated series.
We were lucky enough to chat with Sawyer about what it takes to bring characters to life and watch them go from being drawn on the page to coming to life before our very eyes. Prepare yourself to enter a story that breathes life into some of our wildest dreams.
Check out the Animatic Salem the Series Trailer:
So, I was wondering what was the biggest thing that informed Salem as a project before it really took hold as a story in your mind? Was it particularly like a character? Or like a story concept? Or was it more of a visual style that you eventually married to ideas to help flesh it out and come together as one cohesive narrative?
Sam Sawyer: “So, it all actually started out as a drawing that I did when I was in middle school. Yeah, I had this cute little monster character that I would draw all the time, and kind of over the years, I eventually wanted to tell a story with this monster. Pretty much after that, Salem began. I was like, ‘Ok, what would their story be? What would they look like?’ and we kind of went from there and the style kind of developed. It all just happened naturally and developed over time.”
Oh yeah, so it’s obviously been stewing for years before it hatched into its own full-fledged character.
Sawyer: “Yeah, exactly.”
So the character was the Trojan Horse into the whole concept of the world (that the story takes place in).
Sawyer: “Exactly, yeah. The monster came before the human did, which I thought was kind of funny.”
Well, I was going to say, that’s kind of a perfect navigator, especially in a genre as elaborate as fantasy can often be, especially for regular folks in the audience when they’re not sure what the rules of the world are and things like that, right? It’s definitely a very helpful hand to have.
Sawyer: “Oh yeah, definitely.”
So when you eventually began expanding the world of the story, how was the plot able to help guide you through it in order to be able to get an audience on board?
Sawyer: “It kind of started with the overall concept that even though there are so many different sightings of these different mythical creatures all around, why haven’t people found one? It started off with the idea that Salem was kind of like the Gatekeeper and kept all the monsters hidden. I thought that was a really good idea and I would get started there. So rather than going on the path that this monster is a protector, turned into, ‘Do they even know who they are?’”
Yeah, so it’s almost like, I don’t want to say realistic, but a reality-based investigation through curiosity of a fantasy-based world that kind of coexists among what we call reality.
Sawyer: “Exactly. It’s a nice mixture of fantasy and reality. They exist in a world that is similar to ours but with a little bit of a twist.”
How did you find the themes begin to start to emerge, not just for you as an artist, but for years as the story began to develop?
Sawyer: “Oh man, it all kind of happened naturally, which was really cool. Rather than having to force too much with the art style, the characters, and I try to use that concept with all of my creations in that things need to come into place when they want to, rather than trying to force it.”
Yeah, exactly. When it came to introducing a lot of these characters to each other, how did you find that they kind of played or interacted with each other on first blush before the plot kind of took hold of them?
Sawyer: “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a really interesting experience to see how all the different characters interact with each other. I’m not really too sure how they will. So, I’m like, ‘Let’s put them all together and see what happens.’”
Do you have a set number of volumes or an idea of how long this is going to go on? Or is this like a shotgun one-and-done type deal?
Sawyer: “Oh, I have so many different plotlines, stories, and stories within the story that I would like to be able to tell. So, as it stands right now, I have three episodes plotted with the possibility of having five if we wanted to fill in a couple of places with some little side adventures. It has the potential to go a lot further than one episode, so we’ll kind of see what happens with it.”
Yeah, what was it like being able to swing or pivot from being an author and going right into TV when it’s such a hugely vast emerging market compared to the sitcom format people were used to since basically TV was invented?
Sawyer: “It was really different coming from a background of comics and artwork and things that are relatively still versus being in motion, it was a vastly different world. Honestly, I’m still learning things every day, which is really cool because I get to have the perspective of not only having to learn and grow from this but getting to help others along the way too. It’s interesting. It’s a really cool experience getting to jump from world to world and see where this is going.”
Yeah, and how were you able to attract such a diverse alumni of all kinds of backgrounds as far as voice talent goes and merging that with the characters through the animation?
Sawyer: “Honestly, the way that it happened was we sent out our auditions for the show and we sent them through a couple different agents and agencies and what we got back, we listened to, trying not to look at the names. Just listening to the sheer voice alone. By doing that we found pretty much exactly who we were meaning to find, which was so cool, and just letting the voice speak for itself.”
Yeah, absolutely. One thing that had to be almost a sense of sensory overload was what was it like seeing these characters get a whole new life breathed into them to not only see them move around but hear them have a real human voice onscreen to give them a whole other dimension of reality beyond seeing them on the page?
Sawyer: “Oh man, it was a completely – almost like a numbing experience, just because it was something I wasn’t used to at all. Getting to see a character that I created coming to life in ways beyond being on a piece of paper, but becoming an actual cartoon, an actual piece of animation… (laughs) We’ve been doing this for about a year now and I think I’m still losing my mind a little bit about it.”
Yeah, it’s got to be kind of surreal because with a graphic novel or a book and the character kind of stays in there like a locket or a hope chest. Whereas with this you can’t contain it, they have a laugh, they have feelings, they have a cry, they have memories. It’s got to be pretty surreal to go from one to the other (from graphic novels to animation).
Sawyer: “It’s really more of its own world and it’s own experience. It’s so cool, it’s changing every day, it’s really, really awesome.”
Yeah, and beyond the audience that you were able to build through events like ComiCon and your history of working in the field of graphic novels as an author and as an artist, what are some things that you hope to inform audiences that are about to go see S.A.L.E.M. for the very first time?
Sawyer: “Oh man, I really want people to take away not just the cuteness and the colors, but the messages and hidden stories that we’re going to be portraying. I guess that’s kind of that’s taking a book from raw pulp. I want to be able to create a story that people can sit down, watch, and enjoy for ten, twenty minutes at a time, and forget about the world around them for just a little bit. Because there’s so much going on in today’s world that sometimes it’s better to be able to shut off for a bit and enjoy a story.”