|ETHAN SACKS & NAOMI SACKS
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DF Interview: Father-daughter scribes Ethan Sacks & Naomi Sacks talk of ‘A Haunted Girl’
By Byron Brewer
Cleo, an adopted 16-year-old Japanese-American whose depression drove her to near-suicide, is trying unsuccessfully to reintegrate back into her old life. But her struggles are just beginning as she encounters an increasingly terrifying succession of ghosts. Is she losing her grip on reality...or is the explanation much worse?
From Syzygy and Image Comics comes A Haunted Girl, written by Ethan Sacks & Naomi Sacks with art by Marco Lorenzana. As soon as I saw Ethan’s name on the credits, I said, sign me up! Let’s hear from Ethan and daughter Naomi about this new four-issue limited series.
Byron Brewer: Ethan, I’m sure this new book, A Haunted Girl, is for you both cathartic but also a tad disturbing at points. Tell us about your real-life inspiration for this mag and how it led to a writing team-up with your daughter, Naomi.
Ethan Sacks: The inspiration for this story came four years ago as I sat in a hospital waiting room between visiting hours at the children’s psychiatric ward where my daughter was hospitalized. She had just been diagnosed with major depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, and I was desperate to feel like I was doing something, anything to help. So, I hit on the idea of telling a story that I hoped would be inspirational to her and other people going through similar struggles; about a depressed girl who finds out she’s the only one who can save the rest of the world. A tale of battling inner demons while fighting outer ones.
I drafted Marco Lorenzana from the start and we had some offers that fell through over the next few years. But that ended up being fortuitous, as my daughter is now in a place where she could co-write this story, giving it an authenticity that it wouldn’t have otherwise.
We found a home with Chris Ryall’s Syzygy as he got from the start what we were trying to do: Be an inspiration to others struggling with their own mental health battles. This is more than a comic book story to us; we also teamed with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which created a resource guide for help that we’re printing in every issue. If we’ve done our jobs right, this will entertain many and inspire others.
Byron: Naomi, is this your first comics work, and your first collaboration with your father? Talk a bit – as little or as much as you’d like – about your own situation and how it inspired both Sacks writers to develop A Haunted Girl.
Naomi Sacks: This is, in fact, my first comics work. And while my father and I often read over each other’s work, this is the first time we are working on something together. Going into this, I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to keep up with the comic writing process, especially compared to my dad. However, his confidence in me and my voice gave me the courage to push through and do my best.
The process was probably easier because I was drawing from my own lived experiences. On the night of my fifteenth birthday, I had a panic attack on the carpet of my bedroom and confessed I wanted to die. A few weeks later, I was hospitalized for two weeks in a psychiatric unit. When I was discharged, it felt like a victory, like I overcame and closed that chapter of my life. I was ready to “go back to normal.” But it wasn’t that easy. Trying to come back to school after missing so much was difficult. I didn’t feel all that supported during this time. I ended up hospitalized twice more and had to miss the rest of that semester. I wrote from both my experiences then and what I wish I had known.
Byron: So how does it feel to team up with your family member on such a creative and overall inspirational project?
Ethan Sacks: It’s gone so much smoother than I expected. Going into the project, I worried that Naomi would have a steep learning curve from a technical standpoint – how to structure a script, pacing, avoiding too much exposition. After all, she had never written a comic before. I worried that there would be disagreements that bogged the process down. I worried that she would struggle with deadlines, especially as we started the first two issues during her college semester. But she took to it surprisingly quickly and got the process down by the time we wrapped the first issue. And her input has made all the difference. She writes every line of dialogue by the teen characters and all the therapy scenes, to give two examples of ways she’s added authenticity that I just couldn’t match on my own.
Naomi Sacks: This is an interesting experience. It’s my first time writing something with someone else. Having my dad show me the ropes really helped me get started. It’s interesting to watch how my dad’s comic brain works in action and try to think like that too. I think it’s a cool and unique bonding experience. Not many people get to work on a comic book with family.
Byron: Ethan, without repetition of the solicit (since I’ve procured it for another purpose), can you please give readers an overview of this story and what’s happening?
Ethan Sacks: The tagline of this book is, “The fate of all life on Earth depends on a girl who doesn’t know if she wants to live.” And that sums up the story pretty well. Cleo, a 16-year-old teen fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and struggling to reintegrate into high school, struggles with depression. That’s when her life gets even more traumatic, as she starts being haunted by ghosts.
Byron: Naomi, introduce us to your protagonist, Cleo.
Naomi Sacks: Cleo is 16 years old and absolutely miserable. She just got out of the hospital and is struggling to reintegrate back into school and daily life. She hasn’t been keeping in touch with friends. But even if she doesn’t recognize it in the moment, she’s badass and persistent and rises to the occasion.
Byron: Describe your efforts (along with your Dad, natch) to put some of your own experience into what Cleo is going through, and the empowerment of being in control of a story so personal as you write the book.
Naomi Sacks: Although many of the details of our stories are different, both Cleo and I were hospitalized and had to struggle with reintegrating into school and also just day to day life. We experience parallel emotions through somewhat different scenarios. A lot of times the dialogue feels like 15-year-old me saying all the things I didn’t get to say – that I didn’t know how to say. In many ways I’m dredging up these old emotions; when I write these scenes, I am fifteen and scared again. At times it can be overwhelming, and I step away to take breathers as needed. But when I finish and read it over, the result is deeply meaningful and personal. I really hope it resonates.
Byron: I usually do not like to ask writers what they would like a reader to get out of a book at story’s conclusion, but since so much of this project stems from what both you and your father experienced, what do you hope the take-away is here?
Naomi Sacks: I hope the takeaway is that things can be okay even when it feels like your world is turned upside down. That there is a brighter future, even if it doesn’t seem close now.
I also hope there is a better understanding of how mental healthcare doesn’t end after inpatient hospitalization. It’s not a magic spell. There’s still a lot of work to be done and struggles to be had, which means that empathy and patience is necessary all around.
And most importantly, there are people all around who want to help. It’s easy to shut people out. They may not know how right away. They may mess up at first. But they want to help, and they can help. Let them in and ask for help when you need it.
Byron: Discuss the awesome art of Marco Lorenzana and how it influenced this comic as well. And what about that Joe Quesada main cover on issue #1? Wow!
Ethan Sacks: This is the third time that I’ve worked with Marco, including on our first foray into a independent, creator-owned story, Intrusion, for Magma Comix two years ago. So, we have a great, collaborative working relationship. He’s been on this project since the beginning and devoted so much time to getting the tone sharp that it shows in every panel. Such an amazing talent. As for Joe Quesada, he’s a friend for 20-plus years and was a big source of support for my family on this journey. He gifted us this amazing cover to help the cause. We also have some amazing covers to come with a murderers’ row of talented artists – including Fico Ossio, Jessica Fong, and Paolo Villanelli. I can’t wait until everyone sees their work!
Naomi Sacks: I’ve seen Marco’s art in his work with my dad. I love the details he puts into each panel. I think that the way he draws faces suits this project particularly well. There’s a severity to them that matches the tone of the book. And wow does he know how to draw something absolutely terrifying. I also want to give a shout-out to our colorist, Andre Mossa, whose work really sets the tone for this comic and does a great job of visualizing anxiety and depression. And I can’t forget about our letterer, Jaime Martinez, who has added a lot of cool visual effects that I’ve never seen in comics before.
Overall, I think it’s a really visually impactful comic, and I’ve found myself constantly moved by the work of everyone involved.
I’m super grateful to Joe Quesada for his epic cover. It is beautiful and uniquely fear-inspiring.
Byron: Thank you both very much for this very special interview.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Ethan Sacks & Naomi Sacks for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. A Haunted Girl #1 from Syzygy and Image Comics is in stores now. Issue #2 is slated to be on sale November 15th!
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