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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Artist Victor Santos talked to us about The Question, Kamandi and his latest work

Occasionally DC in the 80s likes to do an interview with a current artist that we find to be really exceptional. We have known about Victor Santos and his incredible work for years now, but recently discovered that he is a huge admirer of the classic 1980s DC version of The Question. Mark Belkin would be quick to identify Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan's run on The Question as one of the top 3 books of the 80s, and considers Victor Santos as one of the best artists working today -- so he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to find out a bit more about Victor, and expose fans to some of the work that Victor is currently working on.

Ladies and gentlemen... introducing Victor Santos

Mark Belkin (MB): I know the first DC Comic you may have read was Kamandi #32. Could you speak about your experience with that issue. How did it make you feel and what was it like reading it for the first time?

Victor Santos (VS): My youngest uncle was a comics fan and I usually infiltrated in his room silently (laughs). He had a lot of European books (Tintin, Moebius, Asterix, Valerian...), Spanish editions of Marvel stuff, superheroes and black and white Conan magazines. DC was not published in Spain, yet, I think we are talking about 1984... I was 7 years old. But he had Mexican editions of DC: Batman, Legion of Superheroes and Kamandi. Digest size editions with awful simplified translations. Kirby was a visual impact, I called him "the guy who draws exploding fists"; his art blew me away. All was different in that issue: his ships, those massive gorillas and tigermen, crude energy blasts -- this was the first time I realized art does not have to be realistic, but can work in its own way.

Kamandi #32 (1975). So much Jack Kirby goodness.

MB: What DC comics followed that?

VS: I really didn't read many DC titles out of the stuff my uncle bought. I read American stuff recommended by friends in school, but not superheroes. The only DC exceptions were Norm Breyfogle's Batman and Mike Grell's Green Arrow, my father bought me some of them and I loved it. But I occasionally [read] things like Tim Truman's Scout by Eclipse and First comics stuff like Elric and Hawkmoon... and some Marvel books like Secret Wars (I had the toys). And later books derivative of animation like Masters of the Universe, Ninja Turtles or Transformers.

You have to consider I belong to the first generation influenced by the first manga wave. Dragonball, Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya... When manga arrived I only read manga. It was more accessible to me because I didn't understand the superheroes books with all these references to other titles.

MB: But you did read Dark Knight when you were very young and I've read you weren't into it. Have you changed your opinion over the years?

VS: Of course! (laughs). I didn't read it when I was nine because I never gave it a chance. I saw that mythical cover of volume 2 and said: "What crap! Batman is fat and old and he´s injured! Batman can´t be injured!" (laughs). When I attended the Fine Arts College I was influenced by friends who recommended a lot of classic and essential American stuff. Then I read the DKR and a lot of Miller's stuff like Daredevil and Ronin -- those titles changed my life.

MB: We share a mutual love and admiration for the 1980's version of The Question, the Dennis O' Neil and Denys Cowan masterpiece. How did you get into The Question? Did you start off with #1?

VS: Thanks to a friend from college, he lent me his DC and Vertigo complete collections: Things like The Question, Sandman, and Grant Morrison's Animal Man. I enjoyed all that stuff but The Question was my favorite ever.

The Question by Victor Santos. I made this my background image the moment I saw it. This NEEDS to be a story, I’m writing a pitch this very minute.

MB: How amazing was Denys Cowan's art? Have you ever had a chance to speak with him? If not, what would you ask him artist to artist?

VS: Mainly you can see and enjoy how is increasing and improving his art. When I read it I was growing as artist too, searching for my own style, studying Drawing, Anatomy and Art History, searching for my voice. You can see this in the art and how every issue is better than the previous one. And the story is the same, how Vic Sage grows as a human being and accepts his own human condition, both his mistakes and victories. I’ve never meet Cowan and I don´t know what I would ask him, I would simply thank him for inspiring me.

MB: Do any stories stick out to you? Any great memories of pages or panels?

VS: Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva parts of the story, I love them... well, all the cast of characters was incredible, like the reverend Jeremiah Hatch or that story of the kidnapped bus... The relationship with Myra... My biggest impression was the art and story of the final issues. How The Question was abandoning Hub City. That sense of failure and how you must accept that life is life, you cannot win forever. Sometimes the only exit is protecting a new generation and trust the hope they will bring.

Big Barda & Mister Miracle art by Victor Santos

MB: Were there any cross overs that you enjoyed? Any particular storylines from DC comics in the 1980s that still speak to you today?

VS: I never was a fan of crossovers. I read Crisis on Multiple Earths in a commemorative edition and never connected with them. I always preferred the closed stories and, if it's possible, the same creative team. For this reason I always loved manga, you never had that problem with it.

MB: How did you get into being an artist? What inspired you? I know Will Eisner's Spirit was huge for you. Was that the awakening of your love for noir?

VS: No, really my love for noir came from movies and Dashiell Hammet novels. Will Eisner inspired me in how I can play with the storytelling and how ambitious can be a story told with panels. I love animation and cinema, and since I was a child I drew comics because I wanted to draw motion pictures. When I was a teenager I drew manga exploits, rip-offs of Dragonball or Saint Siya (laughs).

I studied animation in College, I wanted to make animation. Batman TAS was a success then, that was my goal. But then I read Eisner, Frank Miller, Matt Wagner, people who twist the storytelling... They showed me the true potential of the medium. Then I understood comics are comics, and I chose that path.

DKR Batman by Victor Santos. Inspired by Frank Miller

MB: Who were some of the artists that you were most inspired by? Who do you like today?

VS: The people I mentioned you and a lot of artists more like Mike Mignola, Jim Steranko, Mike Oeming, Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, Osamu Tezuka, Hugo Pratt, Jose Muñoz, Mark Buckingham, Akira Toriyama, Alex Toth, Jordi Bernet, Edurado Risso, Walter Simonson, Tim Sale, Gendy Tartakovsky

MB: Would you say that your soul is noir? That something inside of you is inspired by that Hollywood criminal dark past. The scars, the eye patches, the violence. Is that anything like your regular life?

VS: No, I live in a very safe place (laughs). I love the iconography and pulp flavor of these things; patches and scars... It comes from my love for Spaghetti western movies too, where the characters are defined by little visual elements or rituals. I'm obsessed by the "Pulp and cheap" inspiration, you know, things like the John Carpenter movies. I also I'm a fan of American culture and its Modern History. The culture or the gun is something, as European, I can´t understand and maybe even hate it, but at the same time it holds a fascination for me.

MB: Your work just blows us away at DC in the 80s. Could you talk about a few of your works? Did you draw any inspiration from the past for your art and writing?

VS: Thank you! I began in the Spanish and French market, writing and drawing my own books, first as self-publisher and with indie publishers, and later with other big publishers. I created Los Reyes Elfos (the Elf Kings), a black and white comic-books saga that was popular there, inspired by Nordic mythology and won some prizes. I made six series' compiled as GNs, three anthologies and even two spin-offs. Made some noir GNs like Pulp Heroes, Faeric gangs, Protector, Black Kaiser, Lone in Heaven and a lot more, and wrote GNs for other artists like Silhouette, Ezequiel Himes: Zombie Hunter or The Blood of the Valkyries. I tried in the US market with two collaborations with an american good friend, writer Miles Gunter, Zombee for Image comics and Demon Cleaner for Antarctic... but they didn't work out really well.

In France I created a young readers series titled Young Ronins, very 'Bruce Timm style'. Just when I was doing Young Ronins came Filthy Rich.

MB: Could you tell us more about Filthy Rich for Vertigo?

VS: It was a great chance mainly thanks to Brian (we meet at a Spanish con), but I must say I think it was a lost opportunity because I was really conservative. The chance scared me a little and the little size format didn't let me do some storytelling things that I felt would be cool. He wrote an AWESOME story and the book looks cool, but I think in the next collaboration with him (we're chatting about), I have a lot of ideas to fix a lot of things. I'm awful selling the book (laughs) but the good part is the book opened me a lot of doors, although not to DC (laughs).
page from Filthy Rich (Vertigo). If this isn't noir, I don't know what is.

MB: Maybe that will change some day. How about your long run on Mice Templar?

VS: This was a great chance too, Miles Gunter was close friend of Mike Oeming and he offered me the chance to continue the book. Above all it was a great human experience and an incredible schooling. Bryan Glass and Mike gave me all the freedom and during the 39 issues I drew, I tested all kind of storytellings and designs. Sadly, at the end of the series, the sales dropped down and the final stages were a little dying -- it was hard to hang on until the end -- but I don´t regret it, I´m proud of being part of that Mice Templar family.

Mice Templar by Victor Santos

MB: How was the experience of Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters?

VS: I always say this was my first contact with a popular character and how that world is. People of IDW were really cool and they let me do whatever I wanted -- but some reviews and criticisms were terrible. It was hard working day by day knowing the opposition of some hardcore fans (and this was before the twitter rising, luckily) but I had fun drawing my beloved fat lizard.

Godzilla by Victor Santos. Looks great to me!

MB: Furious

VS: Bryan and me collaborating together again! A really easy job, my editor was Jim Gibbons, who was the editor of Polar and the relationship was great. We had budget limitations so they let me color the book, this was important to me (and I had good colorists). I think the series deserved a continuation. Bryan is going to continue it with another publisher and artist but I´m going to be involved, too, with covers and designs.

MB: I really enjoyed reading Polar online. How was publishing a webcomic and collecting it? Did you feel a connection to your audience that maybe you don't see when putting out a monthly book or collection?

VS: Well, when I began with the web comic it was more something made for myself than for the audience. I need to recover the joy of drawing before a lot of franchise stuff had affected it. The reason I transformed it into a web comic was “Hey, if I'm going to do it for free maybe some editor will see it and give me a job”. I never expected Dark Horse would publish it, they were FIRST on my list because they published Hellboy and Sin City. Then I had a GNs series, options for a movie and the book sold to a lot of countries... and this began because I wanted to do something I could enjoy. It sounds like a cheesy story but sometimes doing something with the heart works.

Polar page by Victor Santos. Hotness.

MB: And now you've just put out Violent Love as a GN. How did that come about?

VS: Frank and I met because Boom Studios! needed an artist for a miniseries. I had refused other series' from them, but then I needed the money (laughs) and the plot looked fun to draw. Frank was a nice guy and really easy to work with, and we'd chat about noir and a lot of common likes, like the Powers series. He has writing a successful series for Image [comics], Five Ghosts, and I wanted to return to Image with a new creator-owned series because all the cool people were at Image now! (laughs) So we chatted about we wanted to do and the result of these conversations was Violent Love, a crime story that was also epic and a romance.

Violent Love from Image Comics. I bought it, You should, too.

MB: Anything else we missed you'd like to mention?

VS: Right now, at the same time as the Violent Love series, I'm drawing a graphic novel for Gallery 13, the GNs line of Simon & Schuster publishing. It's a great noir book written by Alex de Campi about the heist of a Cuban casino in the 50s. It will be published next year and I think if you like books like Darwyn Cooke's Parker this is your book.

This October Dark Horse will publish Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi case. It's a 160 page original graphic novel written, drawn and colored by me and published originally in Spain. It's a free adaptation of the Ryonosuke Akutagawa tale which inspired Akira Kurosawa in his classic movie but with a touch of noir. Think of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential placed in the Feudal Japan. I think this is one of my best scripts, solid and complex, so if you've read Polar and think "hey, that guy draws OK but his scripts are simple" then read Rashomon.

MB: What inspires you to draw today? What process do you go through at home?

VS: Well, I try to get inspiration for everything: books, movies and TV shows, art, music. I´m a disciplined guy and this is the reason I produce so many books, but working on a lot of things at the same time make this job so much fun. If my schedule lets me, I used to work on a different project in the morning and another in the evening. I try to do the boring things at the beginning and at the end of the day, so I´m focused on the important things in my most productive time. Try to do some exercise like jogging and I use this time for "mind work" like scripts and storyboarding. And I never work at night because I want to take care of my sight.

Above all I try to enjoy what I do with every work, I don't want to be an embittered artist in the future. If some day I see that I hate drawing, I think simply I´ll quit.

MB: You have so much work that we want to see. Where is the best place to pick up your work?

VS: If you go to my sites and you can find a section with links to all my books (and a lot of links to my social network and tons of images and comics).

MB: Thanks so much for talking to us!

Victor Santos sketch cards

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