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Jeph Loeb on "Sam’s Story" - Newsarama.com Interview (buffy, angel & whedon mentions)

Saturday 18 February 2006, by Webmaster

A unique feature of this medium of comic books is how often we like to explore “alternative timelines” - variant "dimensions" and "universes" that deviate due to a singular event, causing ripple effects that change the entire world.

In such an alternative universe, perhaps a young writer with the familiar last name of Loeb - in this case Sam - follows up his first published work in Dark Horse’s Tales of The Vampires #5 with a one-shot issue of Superman/Batman #26. On the strength of that work he is assigned his first limited series, and then eventually an ongoing series. Perhaps in short order the comics industry finds its next Eisner winner, familiar name to the pages of Wizard and Newsarama, and fan-favorite panelist at the San Diego Comic-Con.

But that’s just an “alternative timeline”. In June of 2005, seventeen year-old Sam Loeb, son of comic book writer Jeph Loeb, died after a three-year battle with cancer.

By all accounts Sam lived a remarkable life for such a young man, touching the lives of just about everyone he came in contact with. And in April, DC Comics and a host of superstar creators are giving comic book readers a small glimpse into who Sam was and what he might have been, as 26 of the biggest names in comics lend a hand to finish a special story Sam wasn’t able to complete before his passing.

Superman/Batman #26 isn’t just a glimpse at the kind of comic book writer Sam Loeb may have become, but the way so many people who knew him have rallied around this special project, for those of us who didn’t know him it serves as a glimpse at the person he was, the mark he left, and at the limitless potential that the world lost with his passing.

We recently had the opportunity to speak to Sam’s colleague, best friend, and father - Jeph Loeb - to discuss the upcoming issue...

Q: Jeph, please tell readers about your son Sam. Who he was and what about his life made apparently touched so many people?

LOEB: You’re asking me what made my son special; I don’t know if that’s something I can put into words. Anyone who met him just felt it. People would say that he was an "old soul." That often times he had a way of understanding Life that 40-year-old so-called "grown-ups" hadn’t grasped yet. Maybe that’s why his life was so short... because he lived it all in the seventeen years we had with him.

We’re talking about a boy who charmed or impressed or just made an indelible impression across many industries. They loved him at DC, Dark Horse, and Marvel. Everyone at Buffy, Angel, and Smallville knew who he was or knew a "Sam story."

He made friends with all his doctors, no matter how grave the situation. At school, the line between young, old, and cliques - none of that mattered. He was involved in a very intense theater program during several summers and always stole the show.

And, of course, he crossed the divide of myself, his mother, and his sister - a task any of us who are in a family would find remarkable.

Since his death, the Smallville Season 5 Premiere was dedicated to him; a hilarious episode of Robot Chicken was dedicated to him; the first issue of Comic Box; the French edition of Herobear and the Kid... the list goes on and on and I had nothing to do with any of that. These were things that creative people all around the globe felt they had to do to honor his memory.

He was meant to change the world and taken way way way too soon - so that ripple of his passing is what is changing the world.

I miss him so terribly...

While this is somewhat off-topic, you have given me a chance to explain the somewhat erratic shipping schedule of my two books at DC, Superman/Batman and Supergirl. I’m now shouldering the blame for any of that. DC could have, at any time, taken those books away and given them to other writers, but because they knew that through the past four years we were living with Sam’s illness - a roller coaster of happiness and then sudden disappointment that was as scary as anything you can imagine - they stood by me.

When Sam died last June, I effectively stopped writing for the entire summer. That left the last arc on Superman/Batman (#20-25) with gaps and caused Supergirl’s first arc (#1-5) to miss ship. I’m very sorry that I disappointed so many people.

Both of my Superman/Batman and Supergirl arcs will wrap up before the end of March and Superman/Batman #26 will ship in April 2006. I apologize to my readers and fans who have been frustrated by all of this and all I can say is please try and understand who we all lost and how, in healing, I’m trying to make it all right for everyone.

I may fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

Q: The stories we hear are that even in the face of his tragic circumstances, Sam could always find humor in any situation...

LOEB: When Sam was asked by Joss Whedon to do his first work, the short story "Some Like It Hot" in Tales of The Vampires #5 from Dark Horse, I remember Joss calling me and asking if I thought Sam would be interested because - having spent time with Sam - Joss had concluded "He is not without The Funny." Part of that is Joss-speak, but the reality was that Sam could "find the Funny" in any situation - even if the Funny was about him.

We would often talk about the stupidity of Life - the great silliness that we all have inherited at work, at school, or in our relationships. No matter how big a problem you have or how mighty you think you are, there’s still a banana peel out there waiting for you or a pie in the face. What Sam understood was that those bananas and pies weren’t always literally there - they sometimes came in the form of finding yourself in a situation, whether it was about love, creativity, purpose, where you’re just screwed and your only choice is to laugh.

Q: How about telling us about Superman/Batman #26? Can you detail the origins of this story and detail what Sam accomplished before his passing?

LOEB: There are two stories about Superman/Batman #26. One is what it is about and the other is what happened afterwards in the real world.

Superman/Batman #26 is a stand-alone issue about Superboy and Robin. In the middle of Infinite Crisis, these two have a story that is told about their lives and their friendship. It is, in only a small way, a sequel to Superman/Batman #7, which also starred Superboy and Robin. It’s a great big, very fun, action/adventure story with a very emotional core. I’m quite proud of what my son accomplished.

Eddie Berganza (Superman/Batman’s editor) had asked Sam, largely on the strength of Sam’s first published work in Tales of the Vampires #5 to write issue #26. Since the story was about two teenage superheroes, Eddie thought Sam, being 17, would have his own unique spin. When you read the story you will see how right Eddie was/is.

Q: You must be very proud that your only son wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a writer, in a day and age when father and son relationships can be awfully complicated...

LOEB: Sam wasn’t following in my footsteps. He was blazing his own trail. He was just as interested in math and politics as he was in comics and writing - there were no boundaries in his life. Part of that is the joy that is being a teenager where your whole life is ahead of you and any path seems possible. This was just the beginning of one path.

But, yes, what we had was very unique and that’s incredibly bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade one day that we had together because he was my smile; but I’d give anything to have one more day with him - even though in the end we said everything we could say to each other. That’s the hardest part about living in a world without Sam - it isn’t that I wish we’d done this or I said that... It’s that all I’ve wanted since he’s been gone is more time with him. A new story. A new adventure. A new laugh...

Q: Did you and he work together on his writing? Who sought the other’s help or input more, you are him?

LOEB: Sam was my toughest critic. He’d never read my comics until they were printed. He wasn’t interested in the script or reading it in black & white when it was lettered. He’d see the pencils and inks when they came in, but that was as someone who loved and appreciated how hard a comic book illustrator works. He wanted to hold the comic book and experience it the way it was intended to be.

Sam never sought out my help. I would read over his stuff and sometimes make a suggestion here and there - but he’d just laugh! He’d made his own way.

It’s why all of us are being as respectful to his story in Superman/Batman #26 as possible, because he had such a clear vision of what a story was - even at seventeen.

Q: How did this special version of the project come together?

LOEB: In the aftermath of Sam’s death, which saddens me to no end, the comic book community rallied around - all of whom are Sam’s friends - to finish the issue. It began at the funeral where many of “The 26” asked what they could do for Sam.

Sam wrote the story. That is to say, he wrote the plot for the entire issue.

There are some smatterings of dialogue all of which we will keep. He worked long and hard with Eddie to get it approved and then Pat Lee was going to draw it when Sam died. In an effort to make the issue even more special, Pat graciously became one of “The 26” and allowed for these other talented folks to come on board. Pat had finished the original cover just before Sam died and we’ve included that in the issue as a “bonus pin-up.”

Eddie, Geoff Johns, and I have taken Sam’s plot and divided it up into sections for the various artists.

Every artist will be penciling at least one page, and the writers will have between 1-3 pages. Since Sam’s story was episodic in nature, it’s actually easier than it sounds. But don’t get me wrong, this could turn out to be a gigantic mess and Sam would find that hilarious.

Q: Who is involved, and how did they all come together?

LOEB: We all knew about Superman/Batman #26 and it was after the funeral that Dan Didio and Eddie Berganza approved us moving forward with the crew that was quickly being assembled.

It’s important to point out that this isn’t a tribute book like 9/11. This is a group of very talented artists and writers who got together to finish a single issue of Superman/Batman for their friend who could not do that job. It’s a big, splashy, fun jam.

These were all Sam’s friends. He had his own relationship that was separate from mine with each of these astonishingly talented folks.

Who are The 26?

Arthur Adams
Joe Casey
John Cassaday
Joyce Chin
Ian Churchill
Allan Heinberg
Geoff Johns
Joe Kelly
Mike Kunkel
Jim Lee
Pat Lee
Rob Liefeld
Paul Levitz
Jeph Loeb [laughs]
Joe Madureira
Jeff Matsuda
Ed McGuinness
Brad Meltzer
Carlos Pacheco
Duncan Rouleau
Tim Sale
Richard Starkings
Mike Turner
Brian K. Vaughan
Mark Verheiden
Joss Whedon

Q:: There seems to be a big name or two on that list...[laughs]

Please tell readers about how proceeds for this issue will be generated and where they are slated to go?

LOEB: Every artist and writer has agreed to donate his or her fees and royalties directly to The Sam Loeb College Scholarship Fund. In addition, all of the artwork will be auctioned off next summer - at either the convention in Chicago or San Diego. All of those proceeds will go to the Fund as well.

The Sam Loeb College Scholarship Fund was set up in September 2005. It awards one student, a graduating Senior, each year who attended Sam’s High School, North Hollywood High Gifted Magnet Program. The student best exemplifies Sam’s qualities both as a student and as a person - in other words, brilliant with a sense of humor.

Since The Fund receives a portion of the book’s sales (through the artists and writers royalties), we are urging the retailers to order heavily for two reasons.

One, on a purely business level, look at the talent assembled for this book. There probably isn’t a reader or a customer who doesn’t appreciate one or more of the artists and writers who contributed, so we can’t imagine you not selling out of every copy you order.

The other is on a more human level. The Fund will make an immediate difference in a child’s life. The money awarded can be used for any purpose (provided he or she are attending college), meaning it could go toward tuition, but it might buy them a car or allow them to go on a trip before college. We want the kids to be able to take a little bit of Sam along with them in the journey of their lives and so that Sam’s memory would be continued as well.

I’ve spoken to retailers across the country and some of them are buying like 1,000 copies because they know no matter how long they have those issues, they will be able to sell them. All we are asking is that if you were thinking about ordering 10, order 20. Thinking of ordering 50? Order 100! There are two Michael Turner covers (only one has been released to the public), which in many cases will increase the sales two-fold.

I want to do a special shout out to Cat at DJ Universal Comics in Studio City, California and Mike Malve at Atomic Comics in Phoenix, Arizona who have encouraged us from the start.

I’m not pulling any punches here. I’ll never do anything that is as important or as personal as this project and that’s as it should be. My wish is that the retailers and the readers and fans who have enjoyed my work (and the work of everyone else) through the years - whether it is The Long Halloween, Superman For All Seasons, Batman: Hush, Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue; from Cable and X-Force up to Superman/Batman and Supergirl - to rally here please.

I’d like to think I’ve helped those stores make money or find new customers. I’ve tried to make someone’s reading experience enjoyable.

Now, I’m hoping they’ll all help Sam and this incredible Fund for the future. That can be in the form of making a donation or just by buying Superman/Batman #26.

Q: We also understand support of this project is coming from across “party” lines?

LOEB: What was truly remarkable is that despite whatever “Talents Wars” DC and Marvel might be experiencing, both [Marvel Publisher] Dan Buckley and Joe Quesada didn’t even blink when I asked if I could get exclusions for Joe Madureira and John Cassaday (two of their biggest guns) to help out. They just said, "Go and do it."

Marvel is also doing a very special something that I can’t talk about right now but it will be quite huge for The Fund. Here again, Sam touched the lives of so many people. Even today he continues to amaze and surprise me.

Q: Another special feature of the issue is a new story by you and Tim Sale. Please tell readers about that?

LOEB: This is a very personal story that I wrote about Clark’s friendship with a boy named Sam who gets cancer in the Junior Year at Smallville High. Paul Levitz wrote me the most amazing note after my Sam died and suggested that I try to use what had happened to create something - anything. Paul told me a story about a writer/artist who is one of my heroes who had lost a child and somehow found a way to channel that into a story that others could enjoy. I didn’t immediately know how to react, but then something struck me.

Ten days after Sam died, I wrote "Sam’s Story". Tim Sale illustrated it perfectly. Richard Starkings lettered it perfectly. Like “Prom Night” that was in Tim Sale’s Solo book and the two-page “When Clark Met Bruce” that’s in Public Enemies, these are all stories from the Superman For All Seasons era and done in that style.

What we’ve done, through special arrangement with DC is presented the worldwide premiere of the entire six-page story on Newsarama.

It is in its original black & white form for two reasons - we believe that Tim’s artwork has incredible power in black & white and on a more practical level, the coloring, as it was in Superman For All Seasons, is so spectacular that readers who have seen it in this form will have an extra treat when they purchase the issue in April.