The Aquaman Shrine: 'Deep Sea Duel' is your first Aquaman book. Were you a fan of the character beforehand??
John Sazaklis: I sure was! One of the first action figures I bought with my own money was the Toy Biz Aquaman with swimming-kick action. I was in fourth or fifth grade and it was around the time I wanted to be a marine biologist and/or dolphin trainer when I grew up. My obsession with studying sea life and exploring the ocean made me dream of having water-based super-powers like Aquaman. I also wanted to fall in love with a mermaid like Tom Hanks did in the movie Splash.
AMS: Had you read lots of Aquaman comics? Were you familiar with all the characters?
JS: Around the same time I got the Aquaman action figure, I was also reading issues of Aquaman Volume 4. (I just realized that this was 20 years ago...whoa.) I have vivid memories of going into a comic book store and buying them based on the awesome covers by Kevin Maguire. Each one is a work of art in and of itself. After that phase, though, I switched to Batman and only had passing knowledge of the Aqua-Family. This was a chance to reintroduce myself to them.
AMS: How did the writing process work coming up with the story? Did Capstone specifically want a story that focused on Aqualad?
JS: This was the third wave of Super-Pets books to be published and Capstone provided a list of characters that had not been used yet. Aqualad was one of them and I couldn't wait to dive into an ocean-themed adventure. Out of my choices for villain, I went with Ocean Master, given his family ties to Aquaman. Then the rest of the plot with the reunion and visiting relatives/pets fell into place. The great thing about the Super-Pets series is that no ideas are deemed too silly or ridiculous. They are encouraged!
AMS: Whose idea was Nicoletta, Mera's niece? That's a new addition to the Aqua-Family!
Wherever possible, I like to include my friends and family as characters in these books. The first one I wrote, Royal Rodent Rescue, features my sister, Markela, and her pet hamster, Zouli. In Deep-Sea Duel, not only does my wife make a cameo, but all of the henchfish I created for Ocean Master are named after my buddies.
AMS: You've written dozens of DC and Marvel heroes for children's books (even Swamp Thing!!). Is it more/less fun writing some of non-movie star characters like Aquaman and Flash, as opposed to Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man?
JS: Since I had already written stories with popular characters like Batman, Superman, Flash, and Shazam, I was excited to sink my teeth into unique characters like Aquaman, the Atom, and Swamp Thing (and, by extension, their sidekicks and pets).
It's more fun for me because I get to learn more about a character that I am unfamiliar with. Ultimately, I become a fan of that character once I've immersed myself in their world, so it becomes hard to pick favorites!
AMS: How did you get started writing kids books?
JS: I've been writing stories and drawing pictures since I learned to use a crayon over 25 years ago. I guess the answer is yes. I knew I wanted to be a story teller, and my original major in college was animation.
Now, I'm a graphic designer at a publishing company in the children's department. I immediately jumped at the chance to design the super hero books and reached out to the editorial department saying, "I've got a lifetime's worth of knowledge up in my head. You gotta let me write one of these, too. Please!"
I assumed it was going to be a one-shot deal and so I poured all my love and geekiness into my first book Batman: Gotham's Villains Unleashed! (The Joker busts the rogues out of Arkham Asylum and Batman and Robin have to round them up before it's too late.) In a stroke of brilliant luck, the book made it to the New York Times best-seller list, #4 in Graphic Picture Books for Children! I had so much fun doing it, that I asked to do more. That took me down a path lined with many fun projects. Fingers crossed, I hope to keep doing it until I run out of stories to tell.
AMS: Who are some of your favorite authors, in and out of comics?
JS: This is a tough question! Looking at my bookshelf, these are the names that repeat themselves: Jeph Loeb, Darwyn Cooke, Paul Dini, Joss Whedon, Ed Brubaker, Brian Azzarello, and Dwayne McDuffie. They are versatile in telling stories for all ages without losing the integrity of the characters and have the constant ability to suck us in to whatever world they create. I find them inspirational and super awesome.
Out of comics, right now, I'm really enjoying Rick Riordan. He's pretty much monopolized my two favorite subjects, Greek and Egyptian Mythology, with his three series; Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and The Heroes of Olympus. I don't know when this man sleeps, but I'd like to meet him and see for myself if he isn't really a robot.
AMS: What's it like working with Art Baltazar?
JS: It's a dream come true! Come on, have you seen this man's art? It's magical. To have him bring your words to life with his unique art style is an amazing experience. I've had the honor and privilege to be by his side at conventions, book signings, and special events. He is a giant teddy bear of a man, full of humor and kindness. I'm 100% sure he's a robot.
AMS: What do you have coming up? Any more Aquaman stories you'd like to tell?
JS: I'd love to tell more Aquaman stories, but I don't have any lined up. Then again, that could change at any moment!
Hopefully, that will whet your appetites until we meet again. In the meantime, you can visit my blog at sazmagic.blogspot.com for more updates, news, and doodles. Thanks so much!!
AMS: Thank you John!
The Aquaman Shrine encourages all Aqua-Fans to pick up a copy of Deep-Sea Duel by John Sazaklis and Art Baltazar...you'll be glad you did!