Imagine if you will, just for a moment, that you were in a tragic accident that nearly took your life and stole the lives of your parents. You live, but only after having an experimental brain surgery that saved your life and left you with a form of agnosia that warps your senses. Everything you see looks as if it were made of flesh and organs, people resemble monsters, and food disgusts you. You soon contemplate suicide but then you meet a beautiful young woman named Saya who is the only form of beauty in your flesh filled existence. That, in short, is the story of IDW Publishing’s twisted new tale by Todd Ocvirk and Daniel Liatowitsch titled “THE SONG OF SAYA”. Recently the team sat down with me and spoke candidly about the twisted project revealing plenty of insight into the demented world of their story. Read on for the skinny.
THEoDEAD: “First of all thank you very much for your time. Before we go into “Saya” can you give readers your “origin story” so to speak? How did you get started in the industry? What did you do before working on “Saya”?
Daniel Liatowitsch”Thanks for the interview! Todd and I grew up on opposite sides of the world – him in sunny Hawaii and me in decidedly less sunny Switzerland. We met at USC Film School, I convinced Todd to be in one of my short films. On our way to the location we both admitted to being horror fans –but we had both met self-proclaimed “horror fans” before, so the trivia started immediately. Once we had talked about Argento, Fulci, SANTA SANGRE and BUTTGEREIT, we accepted each others’ claims to fandom – and Todd was very gracious about co-starring in my short film alongside an evil vegetarian spring roll.
At USC, we used to go to the conventions at the Shrine Auditorium, where Todd supported his McFarlane toy collecting habit. We discovered another mutual interest: Marvel’s Bronze Age. We both grew up loving comic books and Todd introduced me to SPAWN and SIN CITY. ”
Todd Ocvirk”Yes, the good ol’ days! I have fond memories of that green spring roll. In film school, we each made some pretty out there shorts, so it was only natural for us to collaborate on our first feature film after we graduated. It was a low budget, surreal, head trip slasher flick called KOLOBOS, and it served as our homage to Italian horror films. It played at Screamfest LA, even won a few awards, and enjoyed a healthy life on cable and video.
After that, we focused on some solo projects for a while, Daniel making a documentary called AVATARS OFFLINE about the then-nascent MMO gaming genre, and I produced a zombie flick called LAST RITES, released as GANGS OF THE DEAD on DVD. Mr. Disgusting actually stopped by the set at the time.
Once that was completed, Daniel and I got back together and started writing on various film projects. Along the way, Rick Privman and Yumiko Miyano mentioned a Japanese visual novel to us, SAYA NO UTA, and asked if we would be interested in taking a crack at a Western version. It was out there to say the least. Nonetheless, we were very intrigued and it ended up being our comic writing debut. ”
THEoDEAD: “Speaking of “Saya” what can you tell readers who haven’t heard about your title yet? What is going on in the story?
Todd Ocvirk”SAYA NO UTA is a Lovecraftian visual novel and plays out like a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE story where the reader makes choices for the characters at certain points. There are several different endings. The original story is quite different from our version, although we follow some general plot points. It certainly needed to change in order to be palatable for a Western audience. The basic storyline for the game follows a medical student who loses his parents and nearly his life in a horrific car accident. He undergoes experimental brain surgery in order to survive, but when he awakens, the world is completely different. Everything is made of flesh and meat, people aren’t people anymore, and the only being that appears normal to him is a mysterious girl named Saya. But there’s a little more to it than that… ”
Daniel Liatowitsch”like cannibalism, rape, dismemberment, and, of course, tentacle sex. It went all the way out there and kept on going. Although par for the course in Japanese otaku culture, it would have sent any US movie studio screaming for mercy. Which would have been fun, but ultimately counterproductive. Nitro+, the makers of the game, indicated to us that the love story at the core was what really mattered to them — which gave us the freedom to focus on this bizarre but touching relationship and then develop the craziness around it. IDW suggested a three-issue format and we built the story backwards. In order to cozy up to the comic book format, we drew out issue one for ourselves…and by draw I mean Todd created recognizable images while I scribbled barely coherent stick figures. In the interest of self-preservation, those “drawings” were not shared with anyone (no wait, they were…once…Rick and Yumiko, we’re so sorry). But they did help us understand paneling and pacing. Thankfully our actual artist, Yair Herrera, is infinitely talented and immediately took to the story. He brought an extremely distinctive style to the books and took it all to a whole different level. Our editor at IDW, Kris Oprisko, patiently guided us through the process and much to our joy (and relief), Nitro+ is very pleased with the American version of their creation. ”
THEoDEAD: “That sounds like a lot of homework! What is a “visual novel”? “SAYA” is a very foreign (pun very intended) concept to many on this side of the world. It isn’t your run of the mill type of story, and it is very different from anything else out there. Were there any type of worries going in that western audiences might not accept “SAYA”?
Todd Ocvirk”A visual novel is basically a novel you read on your computer replete with music, sound FX and animated stills. I guess you could say it’s kind of like an anime novel. Needless to say, SAYA has some pretty twisted visuals to go along with its twisted story.
We’ll have a gallery of stills as extras in the trade paperback (due out in July) so readers can see where it all came from and how it changed. In the very beginning, the hardest part was the fact that it was all in Japanese with no English translation. Thankfully, my wife Yuriko (love you, hon!) was willing to go through the whole thing and translate it for us. An English patch has since been released and now SAYA NO UTA can be enjoyed by all.
As for the story itself, yes, there were some worries that Western audiences wouldn’t accept SAYA as it was. Such as the aforementioned tentacle sex, rape and cannibalism, not to mention the Saya character being underage. SAYA NO UTA has a die hard fanbase to say the least, and of course we run the risk of alienating them if we change too much. On the other hand, most people here have never heard of the game so we had to find some kind of middle ground that could open up the story to a whole new audience while retaining what was most important from the original. ”
Daniel Liatowitsch”We definitely had a few heart to hearts about this one. We’ve always written horror, but the original visual novel went to places that US projects dutifully avoid. At first, I wasn’t sure what would remain if we eliminated all that stuff. Todd kept pushing for us to try and finally I had this epiphany: It’s an allegory about how far we’d go for love, for that one person who no one else may approve of — we’ve all had one of those. If we manage to grow all the horror out of that relationship we might be on to something. I remember telling Todd this, very proud of my sudden insight. And Todd calmly replied: “Right, that’s what I keep telling you”. And then we finally started writing. (Morale of this story: Listen to writing partner. Always.)
THEoDEAD: “Thus far the story has been very well received, and you both have gotten a lot of very positive feedback on the title. To what do you attribute that success to? Do you think that this type of style might catch on in the states?
Daniel Liatowitsch”We’re hopeful it will catch on enough to further explore the Saya universe. We have a great TPB coming out in July, which will give more people the chance to check it out. Stylewise, the world of comics has such depth. Yet the fact that Saya is based on a Japanese property actually seemed to confound comic book stores — Japanese seemed to indicate a manga rather than a comic book. I had naively assumed that in the same way Todd and I grew up loving European, American and Japanese horror, surely comic book fans would have the same amount of reverence for styles from around the world. But comic book fans appear to have their hearts set on one style or the other. My manga reading friends admitted to me that they’d never even opened an American comic book before. We’d love it if Saya played even a tiny part in bridging that gap and in peaking readers’ curiosity. ”
Todd Ocvirk”Even though SAYA NO UTA may be different from what we normally see here, what Daniel said about how far we’d go for love is true, and I think it’s those kinds of universal themes that everyone can identify with. Who hasn’t done something crazy and embarrassing for someone they love? Also, most of us have suffered through some kind of loss at some point, and this is another theme in SAYA that I think readers can identify with. As long as our readers can relate to our characters and feel for them and care for them, I hope they’ll continue to be interested in finding out what happens next. If you wrap all that up in a bizarre story with portraits of creatures that make you go, “what the hell was that?!?” well, then I think you got something pretty interesting. ”
THEoDEAD: “I’ll make no bones about it, “SAYA” is disturbing, and more so it is DEEP. Fuminori wakes up and the entire world is its own version of gore. What is the inspiration behind the completely far out storyline of “SAYA”? When comparing it to the source material there are obviously some revisions that were made, but the overall base is still intact. What was it like creating the title?
Todd Ocvirk”Creator Gen Urobuchi was definitely influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and has stated that he’s been pleased with the fact that SAYA has come “full circle” with this American comic adaptation. When we came up with our version, aside from Lovecraft, we kept David Cronenberg firmly in mind and his signature “body horror” films like VIDEODROME, THE FLY, SHIVERS, EXISTENZ, etc. JACOB’S LADDER was another big influence as was REPULSION and THE TENANT. Oh, and one particular scene from ROMEO IS BLEEDING.
Personally, I had a lot of fun doing this but it was not without its challenges. First and foremost was having to make sure things were explained adequately for our Western audience. I’ve always leaned towards European and Asian horror films where it’s okay to be ambiguous and dream-like with no explanation necessary. Unfortunately, that’s not so true here and rules must be established and followed consistently. In a way, having to do that takes away from what makes SAYA NO UTA effective. In the original, we meet Fuminori when he’s already in the middle of his ordeal and you kind of accept the way things are, even though there are flashbacks and some explanations along the way. In our version, even though the bulk of the story is a flashback, for the most part, we see Josh go through the process of losing his mind chronologically. We hoped to establish the rules as we went along and see things as he experiences them. We had to go beyond what was explained in the original, so creating the world was pretty tricky. ”
Daniel Liatowitsch”Another thing we had to deal with was that Fuminori in the original is a fairly reactive character, which works in the visual novel format. But in our version, there had to be things for him to do, places for the story to go. What the visual novel more or less accepts as the given circumstances became more of a mystery in the comic. Who is Saya? What does she really want? We either changed or added quite a few characters in order to accommodate a perhaps more traditional story trajectory, that could still carry and support as much of the surreal horror as we could keep in there.
Also a challenge was the idea of sympathy. Why do we care about these two characters and what happens to them? Saya has little to no understanding of human morality. Meanwhile as Josh’s grasp on reality becomes more and more tenuous, he starts to kill people. Through all of that, both characters had to remain likable enough for the big payoff at the end to really hit home. ”
THEoDEAD: “We touched on the Lovecraftian elements and influences already, but I’d like to explore that a little bit more. When reading “SAYA” I get the same feeling i did when I read “THE CTHULHU MYTHOS” for the first time. In fact there seems to be some comparisons that can be drawn between the two. Were the two of you heavily influenced by Howard yourselves or was this simply a by product of the source material you were working with?
Daniel Liatowitsch”As Todd mentioned, Lovecraft certainly was a huge influence. Reading up again on Lovecraft and the close-knit circle of authors he was friendly with, I was reminded that Lovecraft may have never intended for the Cthulu mythos to be what it ultimately became. It was more of an interesting backdrop than a cohesive universe. Lovecraft was an atheist and quite nihilistic in his view of the world. Only after his death was his universe framed as good versus evil, a kind of simple moralistic framework that Lovecraft resisted. The idea of forces that are simply too much for the human mind to comprehend, that defy our human values of good and bad and narrow definition of reality, those forces were very much meant to be a part of SONG OF SAYA. That sense of powerlessness leads to a sense of isolation, of loneliness. Josh and Saya’s characters hopefully reflect that in different, interesting ways. ”
Todd Ocvirk”Whenever you have beings coming into our world from another dimension, I think you’re going to get some comparisons to Lovecraft. That being said, Saya herself could definitely be ripped from the pages of THE CTHULU MYTHOS. Some of our story may be a by product of adapting the source material, which again is influenced by Lovecraft, but as Daniel mentioned, many of Lovecraft’s ideas and themes just fit so naturally with what we wanted to do. I’ve read the character of Saya being described as a “loli Shoggoth” and I think of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS as a pretty good comparison as to what happens to Josh and others when they’re exposed to this nightmarish, ugly, horrific world. Just as Danforth loses his mind when he catches a glimpse of something horrifying in the mountain range beyond the city of the Elder Things, so do our characters when they see the bleeding, pulsing reality that lies just beneath our perception. ”
THEoDEAD: “All in all what do you hope readers take away from this story?
Todd Ocvirk”Well, since it’s a love story at heart, I hope readers take away the idea that there’s someone out there for everyone, even if they’re not human. And maybe tentacle sex ain’t that bad. ”
Daniel Liatowitsch”After wiping away their heartfelt tears, readers will hopefully ask for more books from the writing team that brought them this cathartic experience. ”
THEoDEAD: “Are there any other projects that we should keep our eyes open for down the road and heading into convention season for the two of you?
Daniel Liatowitsch”There will be a definite push for SONG OF SAYA to venture to the silver screen, a transition we’re extremely excited about. Beyond that, we have several original pitches we’re looking to turn into comic book properties as well as a horror feature script and an animated script that are ever-so-close to becoming a reality. ”
Todd Ocvirk”If we play our cards right, we also hope to be writing on other, more established titles from IDW Publishing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, so we’ll see. ”
THEoDEAD: “Is there anything you would like to say to your readers before we let you go?
Todd Ocvirk”I hope those who read SONG OF SAYA enjoy it! If you’re a fan of the game and quick to write off the comic, I hope you at least read the whole thing before tearing it apart. And thanks again for the interview! ”
Daniel Liatowitsch”If there’s any reader still reading at this point: You would have had a lot more fun reading the comic. So if you haven’t yet, I suggest that as a perfect antidote to our babbling. Huge thanks to BD for the interview and the years of support for our beloved genre. Keep it bloody! ”
THEoDEAD: “Last question, and limber up because this is the big one, Freddy VS Jason: who wins?
Daniel Liatowitsch”Freddy, no question. But if I were Jason’s manager, I’d urge him to use Camp Crystal Lake to his advantage. Sell all the used cars appropriated from disemboweled teenagers and invest smartly: Buy Bruce The Shark (or rather, his non-saltwater cousin). Train Bruce by feeding him only pizza. Then challenge Freddy to a Lake Fight. By the time Freddy realizes that sharks neither sleep nor dream, Bruce will have chewed off his pizza face and can wear the glove as a dorsal fin ornament.”
Todd Ocvirk”Piranhas might also work, be they Mega or 3D. But I’m going with Freddy by submission. Even though Jason possesses unparalleled brute strength and force, Freddy is knowledgeable in other disciplines besides the forward attack. I believe that in most cases, skill trumps strength, and it’s for this reason that I think Freddy wins by tap out in the 3rd. ”
Also Thanks To Todd, Daniel, And IDW Here Is The First 5 Pages Of Issue One In The “SAYA” Saga…
Thank to Todd and Daniel for the awesome interview! For those of you who are interested in picking up a copy of “THE SONG OF SAYA” the first two issues are available NOW thanks to IDW Publishing!