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Aaron Sammut explores Thrash and Superheroes in Maurice and the Metal

Maurice and the Metal #3

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This article is part of the Super Backer Digi-Mag which is covered solely by the Soda and Telepaths editing team. Super Backer is a bi-monthly digital magazine which reports exclusively on Kickstarter Campaigns. You can subscribe to Super Backer by heading here.

Maurice and the Metal goes deep on 1980s Heavy Metal

Earlier this month I caught up with Brisbane-based comic book creator, Aaron Sammut, to chat about his latest Kickstarter: Maurice and the Metal Issue 3. Maurice and the Metal is a comic book inspired by superheroes as much as it is about the Bay Area Thrash scene in the 1980s. Featuring main character, Maurice, who’s thrown into a whole set of circumstances resulting in him receiving super hero strength and his walkman being possessed by the spirit of a Black Sabbath roadie.

Aaron and I talked about his experience as a Graphic Designer helping map out this comic book, the effect Jesse Hamm (RIP) had on this series and Aaron’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Thrash Metal. All of which has contributed to the success of his campaign which sits at over 200% funded (at the time of writing). Let’s delve deep into Maurice and the Metal.

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Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do in the world of comics?

Aaron Sammut: A bit of everything: apart from the illustration, part time designer, publisher, editor, letterer and above all a creator. I love everything about what a blank page can offer me. The journey you can go through, your own personal development, the exciting risk of failure, the fleeting sense of success with creative milestones and how, as creators, we are always looking for that next one!

I love the thrill of publishing. Seeing a concept through to completion that has been nurtured and developed, over time and the responsibility of getting great content out there. It used to be a cause of so much stress but I’m slowly learning to trust my judgement the deeper I go into comic book creation.

You’ve got a unique story where your lead character, Maurice, is a drummer who has superhuman strength and owns a Walkman possessed by the soul of a Black Sabbath roadie. Tell our readers where Maurice has come from and the journey he’s gone through to get to issue 3? 

Aaron Sammut: Maurice, as a character and the story as a whole, came from a deep love of heavy metal, but more so music in general. I was on my way to work one day, I got off the bus and started dragging myself down the street. I was feeling depressed and the only thing that helped me was some metal music. By the time I got to my building I was riding high!

I had developed the character in the space of 10 minutes based on a single question… what if a superhero was powered by music? The next 24 hours and all of the piece fell into place. I had the villain, the guide, the journey. The more I developed, the less I tried and it was just happening. Now that I am up to issue 3 there are so many things that I am discovering about my writing that I did preconceive, meaning that it is happening organically. Which to me, means that the story is not forced, which is an amazing thing given how much of the story is based in fantasy.

The storylines that weren’t planned that have hightened the story are ones of absenty parents being forced to be a parent when they are needed most, an accidental and unwilling hero, how music can divide a family, and trepidations of teenage individualism, a theme that many can associate with (if they can remember what it was like to be a teenager).

Maurice’s identity and sense of individualism is very much tied up into metal and the community. As a character he has gone through quite a lot in his 17 years of life, but he has always had metal there to protect him. In issue 3 we find out that metal is under threat and now it is Maurice who has to do the protecting.

Maurice and the Metal comic book pages

Which heavy metal bands form the basis of your influence in writing Maurice and the Metal?

Aaron Sammut: The comic is set in the Bay Area of San Francisco in 1986, so we are talking about a very distinct sound of metal. THRASH! Early Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Exodus. Fast and loose, but so much fun.

The Bay Area was the mecha for thrash and because it was such a crazy time in America with every parent in the country having Satanic Panic, the genre of music was such an amazing environment to set the story. Seriously it couldn’t have been anywhere else, or at any other time, and it had to be these bands!

What would Maurice think of your music tastes?

Aaron Sammut: Haha! Great question. I do listen to a lot of metal, but also a lot of genres you wouldn’t expect from someone who created a comic so steeped in metal nostalgia. I think Maurice would say that I listen to too many genres of music, that there is no central theme with my choices. I think we would agree on our love for metal but he would have a problem if I put on some oldie rock, or some danceable indie guitar tunes.

Maurice’s kryptonite is all other genres of music, and so if he listens to pop music he gets weak and disoriented, but I don’t think too much of my music would make him feel that way. He might draw the line at Beegees! He was named after a Beegee!

Jesse Hamm at Stumptown Comics Festival 2007
Jesse Hamm at Stumptown Comics Festival 2007

Jesse Hamm (R.I.P.) was a much-loved person and human being in the comics industry. He also illustrated your first two issues before passing away. How did you recover from needing to find an artist to replace Jesse’s unique style? 

Aaron Sammut: Jesse’s passing was an incredible loss for the comic community and for Maurice as well. He was an amazing illustrator, comic book creator and teacher as well. He held my hand through the entire process of creating Maurice and the world of The Metal. Absolutely integral to shaping the story and bringing this character to the page.

After we wrapped on issue 2, I asked Jesse if he was going to be available to start working on issue 3 straight away and he told me back then that he was moving to a project with Dark Horse and didn’t have any time available. That was a very scary moment but the plan was that Jesse would be there as a safety net to consult on the book and to help me find a replacement. Sadly when Jesse passed away Maurice lost one of his creators. A very sad day. 45 too, and has so much more wisdom to impart to the community. 

I decided that I would take a break from the production of the comic, and really focus on writing the script with as much description as I could for both issue 3 and started issue 4. I had a few leads on a new illustrator that Jesse suggested and a few from the comic creator community as well. Nicola Izzo was one of them! I reached out and we hit it off creatively.

It’s a near-impossible task to replicate or continue someone else’s style without sacrificing your own instincts or flair. If you had 1,000 illustrators all drawing the same character, I am sure that you would be hard-pressed to find similarities, with the differences being so much more apparent. Nicola knew the task and still took it on. Nicola really needs to be commended for the job that he has done. It is distinctly different from Jesse’s style, but not so much that it looks like a different comic, character or world. I was very lucky to both find Jesse for issue 1 and 2 and now Nicola for issue 3 and beyond. 

For heavy metal fans, how would you convince them to read this comic? And for non-heavy metal comic book fans, how would you convince them to read this very metal comic? 

Aaron Sammut: Metalheads just know! Or they should! If they don’t, they are posers. No! Just joking. But I think it is the reason metalheads listen to metal and even at a subconscious level, it does give you a sense of power and strength! Perhaps just on an emotional level, but for Maurice, that power is physical. Should be instantly relatable to any metalhead. 

This love of metal is treated with respect of other genres of music, and I always aimed for it to be accessible. I am not saying you should listen to metal, but just for this character and concept it couldn’t have been any other genre of music. While Maurice might not listen to much other music, he is still a well rounded character and the story has enough themes to hold the attention of any reader, comic book fan or not. It is a story about individualism, about being a black sheep and scapegoat all at the same time.

A story of a broken family because of their differences, and a community and country on the brink of bedlam because of the satanic panic. It is a story of redemption, and reunited responsibility, with an absentee dad who is now forced to be there for his son. And, a son who is pushed into a world of responsibility fighting for the only thing he understands: thrash metal!

It’s also a funny concept, that any music listening person should be able to get behind, right?

Maurice and the Metal comic book pages

You’re not a comic book artist but you are a Graphic Designer. How has this helped in mapping out the first three Maurice and the Metal issues?

Aaron Sammut: I joke that I do everything… apart from drawings in my comics. My years in design, and in particular publishing is what helped me understand the ins and outs of comic books. I never feel like I have read enough comics to understand every level of intricate details about sequential art and comics book production but what I did know is what I wanted when the book was finally printed.

I worked in magazine publishing for 15 years before I took the leap into comics, and anybody out there reading this who is thinking about … stop thinking about it and just get it DONE! Publishing, marketing and design really helped me understand colour, space, fonts, visual hierarchy, pagination, and above all consistency.

The comic masthead and colour of the Maurice and the Metal series is going to be a constant. I committed to that very early on. 

We’ve spoken before about your plans for Maurice. Where to next?

Aaron Sammut: I’m so excited to think of the future for this character. Unlike thrash metal, I am not very fast! I take a long time to work on these books and I understand that is not fair on the people who love to read them. It was actually quite selfish that sometimes I want to take my time, because my day job is so deadline driven that I never get to savour the creative process. But I am changing that up.

I want to put more pressure on myself. I will have Issue 4 out by the end of the year! I have plans to extend this series to about Issue 10 as well. So there is so much more of this story to tell, more metal and more Maurice! Maurice is up against overwhelming odds when he faces off against the dark machinations of a gloom goth pop band.

With his family and the metal community hanging in the balance, Maurice will be tested in battle, he will fall, and he will pick himself up again, with the help of his Walkman and a metal mixtape! 

Where can people find the Maurice and the Metal comic book?

Aaron Sammut: You can find the book on Comixology and at www.maurice-and-the-metal.com but the place right now to get our METAL fix is on Kickstarter. The more funds raised the more metal, the more variant covers, the more shirt designs, posters… and the more pages. The book literally gets HEAVIER!

Have I convinced you to support the Maurice and the Metal?

Check out the Maurice and the Metal Kickstarter which offers Issues 1 through to 3 and leave a comment on your socials with what you thought about this Interview.


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