Smash Pages Q&A: Victor Santos

The creator of Polar discusses ‘Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case,’ which was recently released by Dark Horse, as well as his webcomic ‘Guts,’ Jack Kirby, the Spain comics scene and more.

Victor Santos’ work might be more familiar to American comics readers than his name, though that is quickly changing. The man has put out a wide and varied body of work. He’s drawn comics and graphic novels, masterfully going from Filthy Rich to Mice Templar, Furious to Black Market, Godzilla to Sleepy Hollow. He’s currently drawing Violent Love, which is published by Image Comics. Santos is also the man behind Polar, the webcomic that he wrote and drew, which was collected in three volumes by Dark Horse.

In addition to Violent Love, Santos has two projects, one new and one old, that are out this fall. He’s launched a new webcomic, Guts, that’s available on which he’s making monthly as a complete short story. The second story was released in early November. Dark Horse has just published Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case, which collects two books that Santos made for the Spanish market. There are two more graphic novels that Santos is drawing and coloring coming out next year, as well as a film adaptation of Polar in production. Despite this busy schedule, he was kind enough to talk about his work.

I like to start by asking people what brought them to comics?

I’ve loved telling stories since I was a kid. I remember trying to draw silent sequences, because I didn’t know how to write! My youngest uncle was fan of European bande desinee books and superhero comic books. I read a lot from his collection, and comic storytelling became the easiest and most direct way [for me] to tell stories. I made my own comics of the things I loved – Masters of the Universe, Godzilla movies, TV series like V or Knight Rider. I was drawing all the time, trying to capture that movement.

What is Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case?

It’s a story born from my love of old samurai films like Harakiri, Yojimbo or Seven Samurai and classic noir. Something like Kurosawa meets L.A. Confidential. It’s based in some classic tales written by Rynosuke Akutagawa and other popular stories from Japanese feudal culture like the 47 Ronin, but with my own contributions. The character of the investigator, that commissioner Heigo Kobayashi, doesn’t appear in any on these tales. I created him as a driving force for the story.

How did you end up publishing the book at Dark Horse? Because you made the comic and published it in Spain before this, do I have that right? 

Yes, this was a personal project I made for the Spanish market. I have been working for the US and France for almost 10 years, mostly as artist, but sometimes I need to write in my own language. I published Rashomon with Norma Editorial in Spain as a story in two parts, “Rashomon” and “Seppuku.” But the relationship with Dark Horse is very good – Norma publishes a lot of Dark Horse books like Hellboy, Sin City and my own Polar graphic novels in the Spanish market – so we offered it to them and they liked. So we made a compilation of the two books and made a really gorgeous edition.

You’re also working on another project at Image, Violent Love

I worked with Frank Barbiere on a Boom! Studios superhero miniseries, Black Market, and in a story for Marvel Axis event, and we worked together really well. We chatted about our love for noir and crime stories and created Violent Love with total freedom, inspired by romance books, 70s culture and Coen Brothers’ movies. Right now I’ve finished the 10th issue of the story we initially planned for our character, Daisy. Now we’ll stop and think about what we´re going to do.

You marked Inktober by doing a Jack Kirby character or drawing every day. Why did you decide to do that?

Kirby is one of my biggest influences. His energy, creativity and moral integrity marked me. Kamandi was my favorite book when I was a child and he was the first artist I could recognize, even so young. This inktober I wanted to make a thematic month and this year was his 100th Anniversary so I didn’t need to think more.

I know that you have at least two books coming out next year – Sukeban Turbo, which is out in Europe already and coming out from IDW, and then Bad Girls. 

Both books have common points. First, they are my first collaborations with two awesome writers. Sukeban is a teenage drama and crime story about four gang girls involved in the New York underworld, written by Sylvain Runberg. And Bad Girls is a great noir story about different women and their relationship with a heist in a casino in revolutionary Cuba, written by Alex de Campi. Both are strong and dramatic crime stories leading by women. In these projects and Violent Love I have been the colorist too, so the final art in every book is different and personal.

Can you talk about how you use color? Because you make beautiful pen and ink art, which often I don’t think needs color. 

Well, I must admit my favorite comics are in black and white, but sometimes the market is the market. But I find color is a very powerful emotional tool, even more than inking. You can play with the vibe of the story only choosing colors wisely. I always tried to adapt my color, as I adapt my line art, to the mood of the story and offer something different in every work. Violent Love, Rashomon and the upcoming Bad Girls have different chromatic treatments and every approach refers to different cultures and emotions linked to the story.

But I would definitely love doing a new comic in pure black and white like my inktober drawings.

You also have a new webcomic, Guts. Do you want to say a little about what it is?

It’s a survival story about an Afro-american teenager kidnapped by neo-Nazis in a manhunt game, striking back and kicking their butts. This story happens during the 1986 Reagan’s “Irangate” controversy, so it has a political subtext but overall is an action and adventure story. My plan is update every month with an 8-12 page chapter, very influenced by Will Eisner’s Spirit stories.

Why did you want to make Guts differently and what do you like about this new format?

The inspirations comes from The Spirit because I want to use every chapter as a storytelling artifact. I love how Eisner in Spirit chapters used a page for the title and later a few pages to give us a lesson about storytelling and composition. Inkwash comes from his graphic novels too, I love using ink and water. I colored my last works with computer, and love it, but sometimes I miss doing something more handcrafted.
I like the “widescreen” format. Not only because influences like Jim Steranko’s Outland or 300 by Frank Miller. I found this format more “natural”. You know, usually the human sight is horizontal, you see from left to right, not from up to down. It´s more fluent. I began Polar in this format because I was thinking on computers and I know I could return to vertical formats thanks to the smartphones and tablets but I really feel comfortable with the horizontal page.

Guts is your second webcomic after Polar. What do you like about the form and about working this way?

When you are working in the “pro mode” sometimes you forget the fun part of making comics. I enjoy working on them, of course, but I’m aware of my collaborators, or editors or the readers. I created initially for me. Doing Polar and Guts I’m only thinking of me as a reader and my pleasure writing and drawing it. But at the same time, the internet gives you feedback day by day with the readers of the story, so I feel I’m doing something fun without market concerns. It’s not something I can do all the time but it’s my “tittle caprice” – and Polar showed me it can be profitable, too.

There’s also news about a Polar movie. Do you want to say a little about that? Are you involved at all?

Constantin films and Dark Horse Entertainment announced three years ago they were going to bring Polar to the big screen, written by Jayson Rothwell. Recently they confirmed that Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal, The Hunt, Rogue One: A Star Wars story) had signed for a production directed by videoclip and movie director Jonas Akerlund (Small Apartments, Horsemen). I couldn’t be happier with this, specially Mikkelsen who is one of my favorite actors ever. My involvement right now is very informal, I read the first script and wrote some notes, and now I have been drawing some design art for a future promotion. But my final involvement depends on the director. Let’s see when the real production begins. I would love it, of course.

What is the comics scene like in Spain like right now?

That is complicated. We have a lot of great artists and the variety of publications is huge but there is not a market supporting the artists. Spanish publishers publish a lot of foreign stuff, superheroes, manga, French BD, there is very little space for the authors. We have not that “national pride” about our own artists as France has, sadly it´s the opposite. If you want to live from comics you need to work for USA or France.

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