When you first meet Nathan Sage, you’re likely to forget which decade you live in. Wearing a crisp suit, perfectly enunciating his words, and expressing thoughts that are so well formed you’d swear he was scripted, his personality is more like that of a character in a Hemingway novel set in 1920’s Paris, than a 20-something living in 2013 Los Angeles.
Mr. Sage leaves you wondering: Is this guy for real?¹
He absolutely is.
And the only reason you’re uncomfortable with it is because, well, you’ve likely never met somebody who seems so comfortable in their own skin. Nathan has a charm and confidence about his personality that seems effortless. His ability to capture a story, whether through word, photo, film or—now—comic book, is uncanny. Whether you’re reading a Facebook post about his very eclectic beagle, Doolittle, watching one of his films, or anticipating the release of his first comic book, The Shepherd, his method of communication always seems to cut through the noise with a truth about life that hits you right in the gut.
I met Nathan Sage at Creative Mornings in, I believe, 2011. Since then, Mr. Sage has become not only a person I respect for his talents and his heart, but a close friend as well—not to mention one of my favorite drunk people (which is saying a lot).
To kick off 2014, I decided that, instead of writing about people on the Internet you’ve already heard of, I’d like to highlight the people that mean the most to me, and ask them questions about what they do, why they do it, and, most importantly, who they are.
So. Nathan Sage, everybody.
What makes a story effective? (Not “good”—effective.)
I’ve considered this question endlessly since you asked it, holding it up to this story and that, because frankly it’s something I’ve never quite put into words myself. When I tell a story, I’m often looking to emphasize the conflict, so that the resolution really feels like a resolution; but there’s conflict in every story–I mean, it’s right there in the Hollywood formula. I think my answer would be something like “shoe-fit-ability.” You know, like how a song you can hum sticks in your heart like a foxtail. Perhaps if the audience can reach out and feel the story, fit their foot in it, that ought to do it.
Who are some of your favorite storytellers, and what makes you appreciate them so much?
Victor Hugo had this ability to tell stories that showed you the grime in people–he wanted you to see their cruelty, their rabid fear, their impossibility for redemption, and then he wanted you to love them. He painted a picture of the world that included the reality of all of its hate and greed, and yet he could poke a little hole in the darkness to let in just enough light.
What makes a fictional character believable? How much did you have to dig into yourself to make Astrid believable in The Shepherd?
You know, my artist Ron pointed out one day that the letters of “Thanacht,” the name of the mythical monster in the story, could easily be rearranged into something very close to “Nathan.” He asked me if there was something about the Thanacht that I related to myself. And I thought “maybe.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I associated with the villain of the story, Rul–a man whose singular obsession is his hunt for the Thanacht–who seems to believe that capturing the beast will somehow give his life meaning, or at least confirm what he believes about the world. I think I can understand that delirium.
While we’re talking about it… Tell us a little bit about The Shepherd? Where did the idea come from—was it gradual, or one of those “light bulb” moments in the shower where you’re singing Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ and you drop the soap and ask Doolittle to fetch you a pen and paper because OMG YOU JUST HAD THE BEST IDEA?
I had this idea to make a 5-page short comic story about a shepherd who has to balance duty with compassion when a wounded monster is chased onto her flock’s grazing grounds by a group of nasty poachers. It was naive of me to think that story could be told in 5 pages, though. Soon I had 8, then 12, then 15. I went to meet artist Ron Joseph and apologized profusely that my 5 page story went on for 24 pages.
Why the comic format for this particular story?
There’s a language to the storytelling that’s built on panels and page turns. You build up a story idea for a page or two, and then turn the page for the reveal. Astrid walks down a canyon that gets narrower and narrower, finds a spot of blood, climbs over a boulder and jumps down, finding herself in the mouth of a cave. “Is anyone there?” she asks. And then you turn the page.
Do you still plan on making films? If so, what’s next?
Certainly. There’s a kind of cinematic storytelling that lends itself to comics, and vice versa. They’re both rich visual mediums that you make by putting pictures next to each other. I started making comics because I realized it was a way for me to tell the fantastical adventures I had dreamed of. I’d always assumed there would come a time when I could tell those stories as films, but I now question that assumption. My feeling is, if you have a story in your heart, tell it.
Ok, now it’s time for some random questions.
Night owl, or early bird? Tell us about your routine. (Note: you’re not required to have a routine, and if you don’t have one, tell us about how wildly spontaneous you are.)
My dog Doolittle normally gets me up around 5:30. I make coffee, holding a towel over the grinder to muffle it. Coffee at my desk. Ignore the email. If I can get a bit of writing or a editing before breakfast it’s a victory.
Wine, beer, or cocktail?
Scotch. On the rocks.
Black coffee, cream and sugar, or tea?
Black coffee. Especially a light or medium roast.
Best book you read in 2013.
Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (Amazon Affiliate link). Long-winded, sometimes bizarre, always lyrical.
Best song you heard in 2013.
Well, obviously, Katie Perry’s “Roar.”²
Tell us a story—it can be one you’ve lived through, one you’ve heard, or one you make up on the spot.
True story. Doolittle and I went down to the docks to see a man about a jar of pig ears. When we showed up he kept making air quotes. “So you’re here for the ‘pig ears?'” We stood there awkwardly, dumbfounded. He adjusted his goggles, twisted the end of his mustache and tried again. “The ‘pig ears,’ right? I got some great ones today.” He glanced toward the door and then leaned in close. “Look guys–we’re not gonna be practicing any cannibalism at all today until you say the password.”
Find Nathan Sage elsewhere:
² This is an inside joke between Nathan and I. Or at least I think it is. There’s a chance “Roar” is actually his favorite song from 2013. For some reason, it actually wouldn’t surprise me.