A Heist Like No Other – Christopher Sebela Talks ‘Pantomime’
by James Ferguson
Mad Cave Studios has debuted a number of exciting new series lately including Pantomime. This comic centers on a group of deaf children at a boarding school who form a strong bond by committing robberies. Now that’s a great hook. Pantomime is written by Christopher Sebela, illustrated by David Stoll, colored by Dearbhla Kelly, and lettered by Justin Birch. I had a chance to speak with Sebela about the project.
Haley and her brother, Max, are alone after their mother’s death and are sent to Wayfair Academy, a special needs boarding school. Eventually, they find family amongst other deaf children. One night the group decides to dip their toes into crime… the thrill is too much to leave behind. They soon find out that stealing from the wrong person, has its consequences. With no one to turn to but each other, they must make a choice, one where no one comes out the same.
James Ferguson: The characters in Pantomime are united by their common condition of deafness, but it is not what defines them. How did these characters come about?
Christopher Sebela: Honestly, I wish I knew? I never know where characters come from, even though they’re the biggest aspect of most of my writing. I knew that the story centered around Haley and Max, so I figured out who they were first and then once I had them mostly figured out, I tried to make sense of who the rest of the kids were. Their disabilities definitely figured in, but the same way that their family lives and what kind of hobbies they have figured in, it’s all part of the foundation of who they are, but it’s not everything they are. Once I feel like I understand everybody, that’s so much of the work done that I can usually sit down and write it pretty easily.
JF: I understand the concept behind Pantomime came from Mad Cave. How did you put your own spin on it in building this world?
CS: What Mad Cave sent me was a paragraph about what they saw the book as and out of everything, I found a few things in there that really interested me and made me want to dig deeper. So I talked with my editor and sent him my ideas, how I saw everything going, and luckily he was into it. He might be a better person to ask about this, because I’m too close to all of it. I think, more than anything, my main goal was to tell a story about these kids and how they react to the world they’ve found themselves in, all the good and bad parts, and make this a story that matters. I didn’t want it to be gimmicky or gawking at our main characters because they’re deaf or mute.
JF: Heists are no easy tasks and if I’ve learned anything from movies, they never go as planned. How did you lay out the robbery in the first issue? Were there any unique challenges these characters faced given their condition?
CS: Having written a few now, heists are hard, especially as someone whose thefts have always been petty. But there’s something exciting about them compared to any other kind of crime. Picking a place, finding all its stress points and then figuring out how to eliminate them and get the thing inside, it’s all kind of elegant. And I wanted to see how that elegance plays out with a group of kids who are still figuring out who they are and where they fit in the world. So the first issue deals with a lot of second-guessing and fear because it’s still brand new to them. And since writing this book was new to me, I think I adopted some of that myself, so that by the end I was as confident as all our kids wind up being. There are definitely challenges our kids face as a result of their deafness that are pretty easy to guess (can’t hear alarms going off) but no more challenging than anyone who isn’t a master thief trying to pull down a heist. It’s not an easy line of work no matter who you are.
JF: How was it working with the art team on Pantomime? It’s a nice group with David Stoll on pencils, Dearbhla Kelly on colors, and Justin Birch on letters.
CS: Mad Cave put together an amazing team for this book and the similarity of putting together a heist crew and putting together a creative team is not that different. Everyone has their specialty and everyone is working towards this singular goal. I couldn’t have had a better team for this particular job, they all came in with lots of ideas and enthusiasm and skill, so mostly I tried to write to their strengths and stay out of their way.
JF: I really like how the characters’ communication is depicted through sign language. That’s not easy to do in comics. How did this come about?
CS: That was a process, figuring out how communication worked in this book, but I think right away we all knew we didn’t want to cheat and go some route where someone is speaking and there’s just an editorial box in the corner saying “translated from _____.” We wanted to give as genuine an experience as we could. The majority of the credit goes to David Stoll, who really worked out the best way to do it in a way that felt right and a lot of the rest goes to Chris Sanchez, our editor, who worked with us to figure out how it all works. Once we locked in on an approach, it became as easy as doing a comic with spoken language.
Comicon would like to thank Christopher Sebela for taking the time to speak with us. Pantomime #1 from Mad Cave Studios is available now at your local comic shop.