Within the first few pages of SARA, readers are brought into a world of war and death. Throughout the harrowing tale, readers go on a bloody journey with a group of female Russian snipers during WWII and learn more about the titular character and her squad. Now, it is time to get to know the brains behind the incredible story: Garth Ennis.
In an interview with TKO, comic legend Ennis discusses the origins behind the graphic novel, working with his SARA collaborators Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser, and whether or not a sequel could be in the works and much more.
SARA follows a group of female Russian snipers on the Eastern Front during WWII as they beat back the Nazi invaders of their country. How did you first come upon this story? And how did you decide this was a story you wanted to tell?
GARTH ENNIS: I’ve been reading about the women soldiers and aircrew who fought for Soviet Russia in WW2 pretty much my whole life, in comics as a kid, then in military history and memoirs later on.
The snipers are fairly famous in that context, largely due to the lethality of their particular job- they tend to stand apart from the tank crew, machine-gunners, medics and even the Night Witches and other pilots. I knew I was going to get around to telling a sniper story sooner or later.
Every member of Sara’s squad is so compelling and distinctly drawn. How did you decide on Sara as being the entryway into this world and this team?
ENNIS: Sara is like the others but not, the same but different. She does the same job but she does it alone, whereas the other six work in pairs. She fights the same enemy as they do- the Nazi invaders- but she’s much more willing to acknowledge the enemy behind them- the Soviet secret police.
This is a reality that it’s simply impossible to avoid when you consider the Great Patriotic War (what Russians call WW2)- the Soviet effort and experience was fundamentally different to their British and American allies in the west. Sara is the best at the job, but the darker side of that job has taken its toll on her and she’s more cynical about the Russian cause overall.
The main character of Sara has a very unique methodology to the way she goes about her work. Can you tell us more about how that developed during the writing process for the book?
ENNIS: I was determined not to pull any punches in my portrayal of a Soviet woman sniper. The Soviet aspect I’ve covered above. The lot of a woman fighting in the front line against the Germans was that bit more unpleasant than that of a male soldier, because looming large in the women’s consciousness was the thought of what the Germans might do to them if they were taken alive- which is why so many of the veterans talked of their determination not to let that happen.
But even beyond that, I wanted to be absolutely clear and unequivocal about what it is a sniper does: kill people. Sometimes an individual target, sometimes hunting behind enemy lines and hitting whoever comes along, sometimes as part of a larger ongoing battle. But the goal is always the same- to degrade the enemy’s combat ability by killing personnel (thus degrading the morale of the survivors), thereby preventing them from killing one’s own troops.
I decided that Sara was going to be utterly ruthless in this regard- working on her own has allowed her to develop her own system to get the job done, with no one to protest or say otherwise. She’s careful, methodical, clever and utterly deadly- the one thing that hasn’t occurred to her is the cost to her own humanity, which is possibly her Achilles heel.
This is the first time you’ve ever worked with the art team of Steve Epting on line art and Elizabeth Breitweiser on colors. What was that experience like for you?
ENNIS: They were simply brilliant. Bettie immediately and intuitively understood how to bring the story to life in terms of tone and setting. As for Steve, if this isn’t the best work anyone’s ever done on one of my stories, it must be damn close. I’d put the art on Sara well within my top ten. Hell, top five.
Without giving anything away about the ending, do you see yourself returning to this period for another tale? Or is there some other place and time that you’re eager to tell the story of next?
ENNIS: I find the WW2 Russian front endlessly fascinating. I do have other ideas- perhaps something set behind the lines, to see what happened to the people caught in German territory.