RICH INTERVIEWS: Jorge Santiago Artist “Spencer & Locke”

First Comics News: How did you break into the comic book industry?

Jorge Santiago: Spencer and Locke is my industry debut. I’ve been drawing comics since I was 17, and I’ve been self-publishing them and selling them since I was 20, but this is my first book to be widely distributed.

1st: What is the story line of “Spencer & Locke”?

Jorge: Spencer and Locke is an homage mash up of Calvin and Hobbes and Sin City. The story focuses on Locke, a brash detective from a broken home, who is trying to solve the mystery of who killed his childhood sweetheart, Sophie. He’s aided by his imaginary panther, Spencer, and the two try to get justice for Sophie and not lose any more of Locke’s marbles.

1st: When drawing a scene in “Spencer & Locke” do you have to take into account Spencer is a stuffed animal even when Locke sees him as alive?

Jorge: I do in a sense, David and I would talk often about what Spencer was capable of or what he should be seen doing since he isn’t technically there. Spencer represents, ironically, the last bit of humanity Locke has left, so I tried to draw him with enough gravity and emotion that he feels normal and real, but also keep in mind that a 7-foot tall panther in a trench coat is a pretty specific delusion. I think for Locke, Spencer is definitely there, and as the book goes on, you’ll see that Locke leans on Spencer a lot, and is comforted to know his best friend is out there, even if he’s just a toy in reality.

1st: Would you say Spencer and Locke’s characters are at all based on Calvin and Hobbs?

Jorge: Calvin and Hobbes is definitely the inspiration for Spencer and Locke. The basis is there, but I would also say that they could not be more different. Locke is definitely inspired by Calvin, but the route his life and actions take would be really far out to imagine for the boy who makes snow man mutants. The fun of the homage and the parody aspects is to look at how a tonal shift can make a story with a new vantage point. The first example that comes to my head is how Seven Samurai was the basis for Magnificent 7 and A Bugs Life. Even with that same origin, they’re very different stories. My hope is that people who enjoyed Calvin & Hobbes (like I did as a kid) will enjoy this scenario as an homage but also as it’s own work.

1st: Will there ever be any other imaginary characters besides Spencer in this series?

Jorge: I’m not sure if it’s spoilers or not, but in this arc, it’s mainly Spencer. There are going to be times where things get crazy, but Spencer is the lead of the imaginary cast for sure.

1st: Is it difficult giving life to a stuffed toy and having it interact?

Jorge: It was tricky to imagine how Spencer’s actions would reflect in a world he’s not a part of, but I think we left enough clues in the art and story to show where Spencer’s acts are coming from in the action. Also, it’s pretty fun to imagine a guy as hard-boiled as Locke carrying a stuffed animal and talking to it.

1st: What is the fun part of working on “Spencer & Locke”?

Jorge: My favorite part of writing stories and making comics is the emotional play. When I write my own works, I want to make characters struggle and endure and fall apart, because a great story needs struggle (in my opinion). In Spencer and Locke, what I enjoyed the most was the pain and struggle of Locke, a broken man trying to do right by the woman he loved and be a force for good in a world that was so cruel to him. I also loved drawing Spencer as the figure holding him together. In all, the tragedy that a man like Locke only has a delusion to keep him from falling apart is my favorite part of the book.

1st: Will you be doing any other work for Action Lab?

Jorge: I would love to do more work for Action Lab! At the moment, nothing is in the pipeline, but I’m hoping I can pitch one of my original comics to them once I’ve gotten more material to show!

1st: In “Curse of the Eel” who is Connie and will we be able to sympathize with her?

Jorge: Connie is a chubby, goth girl who is bullied in high school. She has no real friends, partly because she’s not the most social person, and so she’s an easy target for bullies. I think most people who were nerdy can empathize with that feeling of being unwelcome or unwanted in a social setting. I wasn’t technically bullied like she was, but the feeling of being refused by society was one I understood and wanted to channel into a comic. But then I made it a horror comic, where I gave the girl what she wanted: she got to experience a horror like the ones she read about, but just like in life, it didn’t really pan out like she hoped. So that aspect of her life I think resonates with people.

1st: What or who is Cthulhu and how does this Eel tie in with him?

Jorge: Cthulhu is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft, a renowned horror and sci-fi writer. His works, of which Cthulhu is his most well known, feature around vast alien or cosmic presences that, when humans are aware of them, appear as gods or as monsters that drive you insane. The idea of humans having a small part in a vast and ugly universe of indescribable horror is the core of Lovecraft’s work. When I was reading his works and thinking of what to do for my SCAD Atlanta Master’s thesis, I wanted to write a horror story with that type of theme, but that has some weird irony to it. So in Curse of the Eel, Connie finds a house in the woods that some cultists lived in years ago. She hides inside it to escape her bullies, but she accidentally opens a portal to a cosmic water realm and this Eel-like creature emerges from it. But instead of it being like Cthulhu and being a symbol of horror and madness, the Eel acts more like being on Earth is a vacation for it. It wants to eat the “local foods” like Mongolian Beef and it wants to help Connie peacefully settle things with her bullies. So she was accidentally summons a nice monster aunt, that gives unwanted advice and is the only person Connie can talk to. I guess in a way, Curse of the Eel echoes Calvin and Hobbes too, although I didn’t set out to make it that way.

1st: What is your “Wolves of Sariel” about, why should people read it?

Jorge: Wolves of Sariel was a comic I wrote when I was 19, when I was first thinking “I should try to make comics for a living!” It was about a sect of religious Vampires called the Wolves of Sariel, who became vampires but instead of preying on the innocent, they only hunted people they deemed to be evil. They were in a constant and violent feud with another sect of vampires that were victims of society so they were more about anarchy and chaos. It was a weird, violent comic, but it was my first real story, and it remains unfinished. One day I’d like to think more about bringing it back, I only made about 500 pages of it but it’s also 11 years old at this point.

1st: Which comic that you have worked on are you most proud of?

Jorge: That’s a tough one. I’ve been drawing for so long, I’m proud of all of them for different reasons. I think the first book I made that made me think “I can do this!” was a book called KCNO, that I self-published in 2010. It was a 264-page self-contained story where several of the readers told me they cried at the ending.
It’s been my goal to make works that move people, so that was the first one to have succeeded, so it’s probably the book I’m most proud of.

1st: What steps do you go through to create a finished page of art from a blank page?

Jorge: I usually start with thumbnails to plan out my actions and panel layouts. I want each page to have a specific feel and the panel layout is an often-underappreciated aspect in comics I read today. Once I have those, set up, I’ll start drawing the pages but I don’t lightbox my thumbnails like a lot of artists do. I find that makes my art stiff, and the act of drawing is more fun when I’m not trying to chase my thumbnails. Once I have my pencils in, which are pretty loose, I’ll start inking the pages in with various tools. I prefer looser pencil art so my inks have room to play. I want each aspect of the comic to be fun, expressive, and interesting, so I’m always trying to let each tool do what it does best. Making comics, to me, is like conducting an orchestra, which is a weird metaphor, but I want my pencils to be the best pencils they can be. I don’t want to limit them by making them be like inks. It’d be like a violin playing the brass section of a symphony, it wouldn’t have the same feeling and might loose out on what makes the violin special. Sorry for the weird metaphor, but that’s how my mind works.

1st: Which character from comics would you most want to draw in a comic?

Jorge: My ultimate goal is to make my own comics, so I’d say any of my original characters first. If I had to choose a mainstream franchise to draw, I’d choose Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel. Kamala’s story intrigues me, and I love her character and I really loved learning about her culture, so I would enjoy working on her book a ton.

1st: Did you have a favorite stuffed animal when you were a child?

Jorge: I did! He was Mr. Bear, and he was my best friend until I was going to school. My parents still have him too.

1st: What would you like to say to all the fans of your art?

Jorge: I would say “Thank you for your support and for your time! I’m hoping I can keep making art that will brighten your day or entertain you for the rest of my life!”

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