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Kendal Calling: An Interview with Visionary Storyteller Frank Santoro

Frank Santoro

Last year, in partnership with the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, downthetubes brought you a number of interviews with creators attending the event – and we’re delighted to be able to run a series in the run up to their eagerly anticipated 2015 event in October, continuing the series with an interview with ground-breaking comic artist Frank Santoro.

Born in Pittsburgh, Frank Santoro is well known for his visionary colours and evocative sense of place. In the early 1990’s, he dropped out of art school to pursue comic book making, and first became known in 1995 for Storeyville, a “perfect match of form and content” that was re-released in 2007 by Picturebox.

More recently he has collaborated with Ben Jones on Cold Heat where the two storytellers are “applying Jones’s surreal, biting prose to Santoro’s elegant yet dynamic renderings”. Many folks will also recognize Santoro for his rather passionate opinions about comics and storytelling in general as shared at the group blog, Comics Comics.  He lives “on the road”.

“I consider reading Storeyville for the first time one of the touchstones of my life as a cartoonist and the book itself one of the landmarks of comics’ development.” enthused  Chris Ware in his introduction to the Picturebox edition of Storeyville.

downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?

Frank Santoro: I am working on a new book about my hometown, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, for the French publisher Editions çà et là called Carrie Forneau or Carrie Furnace in English. It’s about my family who worked at the largest blast furnace in the world and the collapse of the steel industry here in Pittsburgh. It will be published in the fall of 2016.

Blast Furnace Funnies by Frank Santoro

Blast Furnace Funnies by Frank Santoro

downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?

Frank: I think I’m most proud of the story I did for the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh called Blast Furnace Funnies. It’s about growing up in an industrial town and seeing it turned into a type of classical ruin in my lifetime. It was published as a tabloid newspaper and the museum goers could take a copy home as well as read it on the wall in it’s original form. It is available here from Copacetic Comics.

downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)

Frank: It’s important to try and make time for one’s own art early in the morning before one lets in the outside world via the computer or cellphone. So I make a point to compartmentalize the day’s tasks so I might be able to gain momentum on any art projects which need attention before noon. Afternoons are spent answering emails or checking homework for my comic book correspondence course which I offer online. (http://franksantoro.tumblr.com/course)

downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?

Frank: I think that being a comics creator is to be an artist of the 21st century. Despite the form being tied to newspapers and print—comics is really just words and pictures and so is the internet. So I think that being a comics creator is being in tune with the current form of communication which relies on images and words together.

To me, comics promotes visual literacy and I think that is an important compass to have for the 21st century.

downthetubes: And the worst?

Frank: Explaining to people that the type of comics I do are not Garfield or Batman.

downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?

Frank: I have to say it is clicking on those silly cat videos that everyone posts online everyday everywhere. It’s hard to escape them or to resist them. Quite a distraction.

downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?

Frank: I think it’s much harder to get noticed by a respectable publisher. There are just so many comics makers these days. Twenty years ago I could count all the good comics on one hand. Now I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count. There has been a great renaissance of sorts in comics however the publishers have not really been able to keep signing new creators up for book contracts simply because the market for comics is still small. They say that the number one consumer of “art comics” are art comics makers.

Art by and © Frank Santoro

Art by and © Frank Santoro

downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?

Frank: I have never been. I’m expecting King Arthur type backdrops and hopefully there will be some knights riding around on horseback.

downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?

Dave McKean. I want to ask him about his seminal comic series Cages form the early 1990s. That book meant alot to me as a student. One of the first books I could show my teachers to use as an argument that “comics aren’t just for kids anymore”.

downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?

Frank: Comics is still really an underground sub-cultture. So it’s important for us to connect at these festivals. We don’t have the same support like the art world does with museums and galleries. It’s more like a grass roots movement of some sort. The festivals in America for “art comics” are like flea markets really. So I am looking forward to attending a more respectable event than what we are used to across the Atlantic. We haven’t figured out how to get the local museums and libraries and other civic institutions to help us spread the news that comics aren’t just superheroes.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

Frank: Don’t get frustrated and leave. We need you. The industry often suffers massive brain drains because the money isn’t good enough to stick around. So advertising or the gallery world offers a more stable situation. But for those of us who stay we get to enjoy feeling like a big family because we didn’t give up on each other or the form or the industry. The form and the industry are not the same thing. That’s the advice, I’d say.

downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?

Frank: My favourite comic right now is my new comic from Breakdown Press out of London. It was made to debut at the Lakes Festival and is called Escape to the Unfinished Volume Two and will be available at the festival or from the Breakdown Press: www.breakdownpress.com

• Find out more about Frank Santoro: http://coldheatcomics.blogspot.co.uk – if you’re a comic creator, really really should bookmark it, it’s a fascinating recourse 

• Watch a 2008 two-part interview by Dan Nadel with Frank about Cold Heat and his creative process – and read Cold Heat online at: http://coldheatcomics.com

• Read an in-depth 2010 interview with Frank on the Daily Cross Hatch

Events at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 featuring Frank Santoro:

Comics as Music: The Architecture of Time and Space: A Frank Santoro Masterclass (Workshop)
Saturday 17  10.15-12.15 pm  Brewery Arts Centre Art Room Two  Tickets £15
FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK TICKETS

Pushing Boundaries: Frank Santoro
Sunday 18  12.30-1.30 pm  Brewery Arts Centre Screen One  Tickets £8
FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK TICKETS

About John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative" who is currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 25 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary, including DEATH'S HEAD II and WARHEADS. At Marvel he wrote strips for THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, THUNDERCATS, DOCTOR WHO and co-created SHADOW RIDERS with Brian Williamson and Ross Dearsley. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. He has written comics for Marvel UK, Judge Dredd Megazine, Lucky Bag Comic, CGL (an Italian publisher), STRIP Magazine and ROK Comics; and edited some of Titan's British comics collections including Dan Dare and Charley's War. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.
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