Bringing "Rescue Sirens" to life: a guest post by Jessica Steele-Sanders! July 02, 2015 09:22

Jessica Steele-Sanders, here! I can’t tell you how excited my husband Chris and I are to finally share “Rescue Sirens” with all of you. Like Chris, I’ve always been fascinated by mermaids. I mean, who isn’t? Mermaids are awesome. From the time I was a little girl growing up in Florida, I’ve been drawn to the ocean, and, to me, mermaids represent all the beauty, power, and mystery of the sea. They’re irresistible.

Especially Chris’s mermaids. Seen scattered throughout his six sketchbooks in his trademark style, Chris’s take on mermaids is the perfect blend of fantasy and realism; I love that his mermaids’ tails draw inspiration from real-life sea creatures, since that's how I used to draw mermaids, myself, and I think it makes the most sense. The question was, what could we do with Chris’s mermaids beyond those drawings? In 2013, we saw one of his sketches memorialized as a beautiful sculpture by our talented friend Anders Ehrenborg, but I wanted something more.

People say to write what you know. I know water. Before I moved to California, my jobs in Florida had almost always revolved around getting wet: I helped care for and train dolphins, went diving with sharks for a living, taught marine conservation programs, and spent a summer working as a lifeguard. I got to wondering... what if mermaids worked as lifeguards? Well, then, you’d call them “Rescue Sirens”!

Once I stopped laughing at my own joke, more questions bubbled to the surface. What if these mermaids worked as lifeguards because they were sworn to an ancient vow to protect humans? What if living topside for a time was a requirement for all mermaids as soon as they came of age? What if they had to keep their identities a secret from the humans they lived amongst? I was intrigued and delighted by the possibilities. The more I thought about it, the more things fit together. Far from being silly, it started looking like a world.

I thought up a detailed backstory, rooted in mermaid tales dating back over three thousand years — from Assyria, Turkey, Ancient Greece, and every community near a coastline. I described my mermaids’ anatomy and physiology based on the marine life that I know and love so well, their culture’s mythology, and the “rules” governing their world. I then began writing a short story-within-a-story that laid the groundwork for these mermaids, which I showed to Chris. He loved it, and, with a few tweaks from him, that initial pitch became the prologue for our first book, “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist.”

I’d never written a novel before, so Chris and I jumped into the deep end of the pool together. After I built the outline, we split the work fifty/fifty, dividing up chapters and then going back over one another's work; it went so much faster that way than if either of us had tried to write it alone, and our respective writing styles complement one another well. I highly recommend working with a writing partner, and Chris is the best. He’s known for directing Academy Award-nominated animated films and for his incredibly appealing artwork, most recognizably featured in “Lilo & Stitch,” but a lot of people don’t realize that he also co-wrote “Lilo & Stitch,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” and “The Croods.” Chris’s writing is full of quirky but relatable characters, humor, and heart, and I don’t hesitate to say that all the best parts of the first “Rescue Sirens” book are his! His imagination is truly impressive, and I consider myself the luckiest woman in the world to get to work with him. If you’ve enjoyed any of Chris’s animated films, you’ll find the same sensibilities in “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist.”

On the artwork end of things, Chris and I were privileged to have an awesome collaboration with Genevieve Tsai, who drew all seven of our book’s gorgeous black-and-white interior illustrations. While Chris and I wrote the manuscript, Genevieve and I exchanged lengthy, lively emails about the images we wanted to feature in the book, and her insight was invaluable. Genevieve “got” “Rescue Sirens” instantly and completely, and working with her was a genuine pleasure. I really can't say enough good things about her, both as a person and as an artist. The creativity that she brings to the table never failed to blow us both away, and I get such a thrill thinking about people picking up the book and meeting these characters for the first time through Genevieve’s drawings, which are simultaneously cute, dynamic, smart, detailed, and full of joy. Chris and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect illustrator. She nailed it.

We were really fortunate to work with Edgar Delgado, as well, who we knew from “Ultraduck” and from his coloring work on a variety of projects for Marvel and others; I think I first saw his colors in J. Scott Campbell’s “WildSiderz” comic book, and I was downright giddy when Edgar said yes to coloring Chris's work on “Rescue Sirens.” Edgar took Chris’s linework for the girls in both their human and mermaid forms and gave them all a life and dimensionality that’s striking — and he did so in record time, with the clock ticking! You’ll see his colors on the front and back covers of the book as well as inside in the gallery/sketchbook section. For the “Rescue Sirens” poster, we’re also deeply grateful to skilled illustrator Teresa Martinez, who drew a version of Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive that’s even more fun than the real thing! When we picked up the books from the printer on Tuesday, we saw the proof for the one-sheet poster that we've having made for San Diego Comic-Con, and you guys are going to go crazy. Chris's drawing of the girls, colored by Edgar with Teresa's background, looks cool at any size, but it's truly impressive at 27"x40"!

With the first full day of SDCC just one week away, Chris and I are currently in last-minute prep mode. We can't wait! Over the next few days, we want to share with you more of what you can expect to find when you come see us at booth #4616.

In addition to the hardcover edition of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" ($20.00) and the 27"x40" poster ($5.00), we'll be offering some rad "Rescue Sirens"-themed freebies (while supplies last!): 1" buttons, temporary tattoos, and a special gift for the first thirty people to buy "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" every day of the convention. We'll also have a new limited edition 13"x19" fine art print showcasing a drawing of one of the Rescue Sirens, Nim, stunningly watercolored by Chris. This numbered print is hand-signed by both Chris and yours truly, and it features an embossed "Rescue Sirens" stamp to prove its authenticity. Add to that more of our open edition 11"x17" prints, all six softcover sketchbooks, Ogo plushes, and -- yes! -- more of the Club Coconut resin figurines from last year.

If you can't make it to SDCC, don't worry -- we have plans to offer "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" and a few other items for sale online later this summer, after our usual break to recover and rebuild following the wonderful madness that is our yearly pilgrimage to San Diego.  =)  There will also be an opportunity to get your hands on some of the merchandise that's usually an appearance-only exclusive (like prints), so stay tuned for more information as the month goes on.