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Samual Sattin’s personal stake in this year’s Oscars

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‘WolfWalkers’ was an unexpected national sensation for veteran writer/cartoonist Sam Sattin.

When the Academy Awards are presented on April 25, Oakland writer Samuel Sattin will root for a European film with a personal connection.

WolfWalkers, a production of the Kilkenney Ireland studio Cartoon Saloon, is nominated in the Best Animated Feature category. Having adapted WolfWalkers into a graphic novel, Sattin used skills honed here in the Bay Area to reach audiences thousands of miles away.

Sattin grew up in Denver and moved to the Bay Area to study at Oakland’s Mills College for an MFA in fiction. “I had a really worthwhile experience there,” Sattin said. “It was foundational in how it formed my writing career.”

At Mills, Sattin began his first novel, League of Somebodies, a gonzo family saga about superheroes. “It was the most experimental thing I’d written,” Sattin said. “I had a lot of thoughts I had to get out.”

Sattin learned about “the incredible fortitude” it takes to write a novel. 

“I basically had to start over from scratch and write the book as it should have been,” Sattin said. “It taught me a lot about storytelling, and showed me where I should be heading—even if I wasn’t conscious of it at the time.”

A self-proclaimed “big comics-head,” Sattin wanted to be “one of those writers who could go back and forth between prose and comics.”

Toward that goal, Sattin pursued a second Master’s degree, enrolling in the newly initiated comics MFA program at California College of the Arts. He said, “I wanted to be a guinea pig in its Year One class.”

After graduation, Sattin wrote Legend, a post-apocalyptic animal adventure series. It was popular and well-reviewed, but the series is on hiatus due to rights issues. Sattin and artist Chris Koehler hope to eventually finish the series.

Released last year in international markets, the film WolfWalkers chronicles the adventures of a young English girl, Robyn Goodfellow, as she follows her father, a hunter, to Ireland to exterminate the native wolf population in the 1600s. Robin meets a wild child named Mebh, who tells her about the WolfWalkers, who assume human form during daylight hours but transform into wolves by night. Rob must find a way to obey her father, who is employed by the dangerous Lord Protector Cromwell, and to save Mebh, her mother and their pack.

Co-created by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, the animated WolfWalkers is hand-drawn, a gorgeous fantasy that appeals to a wide audience, filled with stunning visuals, a rousing score and a propulsive plot.

Available in the U.S. on AppleTV+,  it was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and took top honors in its category at the Austin Film Critics Association Awards. It is the final installment in a trilogy begun in The Secret of the Sea and continued in The Book of Kells, achieving a hat trick of Academy Award nominations.

After being vetted by Cartoon Saloon, Sattin jumped into devising the graphic novel, even before the film was completed, requiring that he sometimes work from unfinished animatics, rather than fully rendered scenes. Instead of doling out scenes in lockstep with the movie, Sattin was allowed to add material and make minor changes.

“It really is its own animal,” Sattin said of the adaptation. “People have really embraced it. Sometimes adaptations of films can be on the rushed and unremarkable side. They are made to be pushed out quickly to promote the movie.”

That wasn’t the case at Cartoon Saloon.

“They really wanted to make sure this book stood on its own as a graphic novel, and I was very happy about that,” Sattin said. “It really came together as its own thing, rather than as a slapdash collage of images from the film, which would have been beautiful but wouldn’t have worked as a comic.”

From his home in the Lower Rockridge neighborhood, Sattin writes full-time, combining his own projects with freelance and work-for-hire gigs. Next up is the graphic history book Side Quest: A Visual History of Role Playing Games, with art by St. Louis comics-creator Steenz. In 2023 comes Buzzing, a young-adult title illustrated by Jen Hickman, about a boy with obsessive/compulsive disorder and an interest in Dungeons & Dragons.
As it happened, Sattin spent a year abroad in Ireland, and the WolfWalkers sojourn primed his enthusiasm for a post-Covid return trip. Meanwhile, there are the Academy Awards to look forward to.