Superheroes, Alternate History, and a Splash of Lovecraftian Fun: An Interview with Jay Sandlin on Outbreak Mutiny

Anyone who knows me (even remotely) knows I’m obsessed with Lovecraft. What fewer  folks know is I’m also obsessed with a few other things – wrestling, martial arts movies from the 1950s-80s, Godzilla, Cryptozoology/Fortean Studies, and the big one: comics. I used to have a massive hard copy collection that sadly was stolen from me in one fail swoop during a move years ago. Forty eight long boxes and more gone in minutes that contained full runs of Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing (to date), Sandman and all spin offs, all Creepy, Eerie, Rook, and all the other Warren comics, et cetera. I was sad for a long time, then rekindled by interest with digital comics, which has afforded me a strong return to my obsessive ways. I’ve “discovered” untold numbers of fabulous new authors and illustrators I would never have been able to read before, and made friends with some fantastic folks working in the industry, many of whom are, in my opinion, overlooked and are worthy of having attention drawn to them, even if they are definitely doing well on their own. Jay Sandlin is decidedly one of these amazing contemporary authors whom I suspect will become one of your favourites, as well.

Jay and I have had a few exchanges on Twitter (@JaySandlinWriter) and it was clear that not only he is an engaging author of superhero awesomeness, but he’s a Lovecraft fan as well, so I felt that an interview with him would be of high interest to the cultists, Tentacles, and Deep Ones who follow Seesar’s maddening sounds, and I may even humbly suggest that reading his works with something of a dark ambient nature playing in the background is a prudent idea to intensify the literary experience. He has a new title out now, Outbreak Mutiny, that is incredible (reading it now, about halfway through, and I did not want to wait until I finished it to stop and write this post!) that presents an alternate history of the U.S. and the World that includes multiple superheroes and vicious, intriguing situations that have kept me turning pages late into the night.

We’ll talk more about Outbreak Mutiny below, but first, here is a wee bit more about Jay: He is a historian (which definitely comes through in his fiction writing of alternative history), and lectures regularly at universities and is working on a Master’s thesis in History at University of North Alabama currently. Jay also created and founded The Novel Comics: Alternative History with Superheroes, a series of books in which his stories take place. The chapters are delineated as comic issues and released in a serial fashion – comics in a literary format. Other comic-related credits to note is Wolverine: Battle of the Claws with the voice of Cal Dodd, the original animated series voice of Wolverine. (You can listen to that here)

I asked Jay sort of the typical question of how did you start writing. Perhaps a little predictable, but I definitely got a fun response:

“When I was in the second grade we were assigned to write stories about Halloween. Every other kid wrote a paragraph or two about trick or treating or candy. I wrote a two and a half page treatment about being teleported to a haunted graveyard and transformed into a bloodthirsty creature of the night by a cult of ghouls. I always knew I was different. While others were playing kickball or some other form of sports, I was hiding under the playground equipment reading Shadows of the Empire or another Sci-Fi novel. I began printing my own books before I was ten (see photo). I would have benefited from spellcheck then. In June of 2016, I read a book on vacation about superheroes in the common world and decided I could mix my passion of history with the idea of superheroes being inserted into world events. I began to write on the way back from that very trip and came up with the basic idea of Atlas, Okinawa Dragon, and the Reich facing off at Pearl Harbor.” [characters from Outbreak Mutiny]

Of course, I asked about Lovecraft as an influence. What can I say; I’m a broken record! Here’s what Jay said about general Lovecraft inspiration and how it relates to Outbreak Mutiny:

“The lure of a Lovecraft tale is the otherworldly elements. Even in our favorite Sci-Fi, we find familiarity in the alien invaders. Most of the time, they resemble us: two arms, two legs, and a head. If they don’t resemble us, they resemble something we are already familiar with from nature. Lovecraft invokes images that defy the imagination or any sense of basic design or familiarity in his cast of creatures, the Old Ones.

“This mythology of the Old Ones can be seen in my first Issue, Issue 0: Operation TripleReich: Bones Bay Rising. The invading empire, known as the REICH, show up with one of their shaped beasts. A shaped beast has been modified as an abomination against nature and designed for combat and service.” [Seesar note: the shaped beasts are pretty damn cool… 🙂 Just sayin’!]

“In the first chapter, you meet the Cephalectric. It is a combination of a giant squid with an electric eel. It’s tree-trunk like tentacles squash the Boston Harbor in a way that would have made the British and Cthulhu proud. Electricity also courses down its limbs in order to knock out power plants and cut off all communications to the coast. Lastly, the mad scientists that designed it, the shapers, inserted ink-sacs into its biology used to camouflage approaching submarines, like the flagship Beast-Boat, The Swatzbuckler, from radar. The creature is universally feared, and you can see a sketch of it on the Reich and Remnant Territory map in the beginning of the book. When the U.S. starts to lose the war with the Reich, the President issues a warning to coastal cities: Flee. When the waters turn black, it’s already too late.” [Of course, that definitely comes into play in the book. 🙂 ]

I (back to Seesar here) thought I would toss in my two P’s worth of thoughts here, at least on my favourite characters so far. I’m partial to Clockwork, a metal-encased Steampunk sort of guy; and having spent a lot of time in Hawai‘i, which, in Outbreak Mutiny, is the Underworld Isles, and a bit of a martial arts buff (slightly), I’m also a fan of the Okinawa Dragon. My favourite so far, though is possibly hive-mentality collective of rodents known as the Hoardling. Nice touch there!

Anyway, back to Jay: I was pleased to hear that his love for comics had a similar beginning as mine (just a few decades later… 😉 ). Here’s his story:

“My love of comics started when accompanying my mother to the grocery store. The Marvel line-ups were my first love and Spider-Man took my comics virginity. I loved the classical stuff, like Dikto, Kirby, and the work of Alex Ross. When I started reading Marvel, the Clone Saga was in full force with Ben Reily wearing the reds and blues. So you could say it was a hard time for comics. Tony Stark was a teen, Daredevil was in battle armor, and I was imagining my own superheroes while I begged for a $1.99 to buy the latest issue!” [When I first started buying comics, they had just gone up to 20¢! Showing my age…]

Lovecraft is a clear influence for Jay. What about things I consider to be fringe Lovecraftian fun, like UFOlogy, Cryptozoology, Paganism, Mythology, et cetera?

“Absolutely! Mythology is a major influence in my work with The Novel Comics and that will only increase. The real-life Nazis were influenced heavily by the occult and my villains are no different. The Warlords of Reich wear the silvery Ehrenring as a sign of their authority, just as their SS counterparts did in our reality and just as the Norseman who worshiped the Nordic pantheon.

“Greek mythology is also present as well. Readers will notice in the opening maps a sketch of the Hawaiian Islands with a new label of ‘The Underworld Isles”. The vacation destination has become a horrible penal colony for Outbreak Babies (beings with superpowers) in this reality. It is only hinted on in Outbreak Mutiny, but it’s run like the 9 circles of the Underworld.” [Can’t wait to get more of this story line! I hope a Mo‘o and the Menehune come to the rescue from time to time in these stories! 🙂 ]

“And there are rumblings of a White Throne Judgement prophecy from the Reich’s Church. But at this point it’s only a vague rumor…” [A la the Apostolistic Faith? I assume so…]

So what is next for Jay Sandlin, then?

“My next release for “The Novel Comics” will be a collection of short stories following characters from the book in prequels/origin stories. It will be called “History of Heroes” and tell earlier stories of Clockwork, and the fiery Latina Liberator, Caliente Blu. Readers demanded more of her after Issue 0 and I was happy to deliver! Stay tuned for that by early 2018.”

And trust me, there’s plenty more exciting stuff to come, too, if Outbreak Mutiny is any indication!

Thanks to Jay for fielding all my questions! Allow me to end this post with the mere suggestion that you check out his work and get ready to want more! You can grab a copy of Outbreak Mutiny on Amazon here and you can find out more about Jay Sandlin on his Amazon page. There’s also The Novel Comics YouTube channel and the official The Novel Comics website, as well. Enjoy!

P.S. Fun note from Seesar: Jay looks so much like (read as SOOOOOO much like) my roommate of many years in undergrad school, Dantlzer Albergotti III, who is also an esteemed author (in South Carolina), that he could be his son. Just thought that was fun. 🙂

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