Wide World of Webcomics: Chill with Killer POLAR Tale

Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best of the web! Today, we talk with a Spanish creator who’s creating unique works of crime noir both in print and online.


Readers of print comics may have seen Victor Santos’ noir-tinged artwork on such books as Filthy Rich with 100 Bullets’ Brian Azzarello, Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters with Eric Powell at IDW, or more recently on Mice Templar at Image. Now he’s gone online with a wordless noir story that’s as ice-cold as its name.

Polar (www.polarcomic.com) is a wordless tale rendered in stark black, white and orange starring Black Kaiser, a one-eyed assassin from Santos’ 2010 graphic novel of the same name. In this gradually-unfolding tale, Kaiser finds himself in a situation filled with killers, beautiful women and international intrigue…though with no dialogue, it’s a situation that should be familiar to readers of any language. We spoke to Santos about Polar, which recently celebrated its 100th installment.

Newsarama: Victor, how did you initially conceive the story for Polar? 


Victor Santos:
I had finished my IDW Godzilla series and I was waiting for Mice Templar scripts. When I have a job break I use it to work in my own projects. I never go long without drawing.

If I have no job, I create my own job and after I search for a publisher. I really missed drawing something with noir style. Something simple and harsh, with a minimal story, created from my gut.

Meanwhile, I had enjoyed Moving Pictures by the Immomens, and somebody told me they had published it in a blog previously to the paper edition. Some friends of mine were doing the same, like my friend Jordi Bayarri, a Spanish artist (http://aliencollege.blogspot.com.es/) and they said they were a very good promotional tool. I thought it would be fun.

Nrama: Given your work in print comics, why did you decide to do this online? 


I found it fun to do a story weekly and see the readers’ reaction with every page.

Usually, I must wait until a book is launched to see where I did things wrong, and to learn how to correct them.

Because I was telling this story for fun, I could develop a lot of storytelling experiments without limitations. And of course, I love the widescreen format.

All the decisions about style, black and white with mininum color spots... were made in the beginning because of practical reasons: to make these two weekly pages must not take more than a few hours. It was more important as a concept and as storytelling than a precious art.

Nrama: You demonstrate a pretty impressive knowledge of noir stories and films on your website – how did you initially get into this genre? 


I was a teenage fan of Heroic Fantasy and manga comics, Moorcock stories were my favorite and action manga books like Dragon Ball or Bastard!! . I was a fan of Eastern movies like John Woo’s heroic bloodsheds and samurai films like Yojimbo.

A friend of mine told me that Yojimbo was based on an American book called Red Harvest. So I read it... and I felt in love, I began to read Hammet, Chandler, Jim Thompson like a man possessed.

Nrama: How did you develop the character of Black Kaiser?

Santos: I had written and drawn a noir/action story for Spain and Italy called simply Black Kaiser, published in 2010. I wanted to do something like Steranko drawing a S.H.I.E.L.D. book in the post-9/11 world. Something mixing classic Marvel books, Trevanian novels, Bourne movies and manga action.

I think the story was far from perfect but I created this pulp character. I envisioned Black Kaiser like my own Will Eisner´s Spirit, a tool for doing different stories: drama, noir, comedy...

Sadly, the publisher wasn´t interested in continuing the series so when I began to think about the story of my online noir, I remembered all the tales I wanted to tell with the Kaiser. 


What are some of the unique challenges in doing a wordless noir story?

The origin of the mute storyline was simple: I had no time to do an English translation. If I write in Spanish... must I do a two websites or a web site with two pages in every post, and letter them two times? The solution was easy: “Hey, if this story can be read by any reader in the world, let´s make it easy.”

At the beginning, it was simple because the story began with an action scene: A man hunted becomes the hunter. But afterward, when Black Kaiser begins to investigate, was really difficult. Even I must do mute dialogue scenes – only with gestures and face expressions or repeating some recurrent images.

Nrama: Tell us about your process for creating the art in the strip. 


The story is improvised, but I have always a direction in mind. Sometimes I want to tell something specific, but other times I only want to do a graphic experiment. I sketch the pencils, and with a red marker I point the places where I´ll place the red areas. I ink trying to use the minimum of elements: first black areas, after the lines. I scan it and with the computer I do the panel lines and the color areas.

You can see the process here.

Nrama: You talk on the website about possibly doing a print version of Polar – have those plans updated any?

Santos: This Kaiser story is an arc which finishes on page 120, more or less, in February. After this, a second season will begin with another main character, but the Kaiser will appear as supporting character.

With the previous 120 pages, I´ll check and make some corrections and surely will expand some scenes to do an “Uncut and Unabridged Edition,” and to send this stuff to the publishers or create a download option with extra pages, sketches, bonuses...

After the strip has been read online and people in the comic-book business know about it, I think it will be easier to talk about the project with an editor, instead of trying to explain what it is.

I see the series like the Brubaker´s Criminal books, with different characters connected, or the first 100 Bullets stories, with Graves as a driver or link between the stories.

Other ideas I have in mind is doing Polar graphic novels, or series only for paper or other formats like movie shorts or games. 


What are some of your favorite contemporary noir stories?

Santos: In comics, I am fan of all the series from tandems like Azzarello-Risso or Brubaker-Phillips, Paul Grist´s Kane, The Spirit, Frank Miller’s works of course...

In cinema, all the 1970s stuff, with John Boorman and Don Siegel, Peckinpah. Really, I love all the genre movies of that decade, it was the greatest…Yakuza movies of Suzuki in Japan, Shaw Brothers martial arts in China, Melville´s Polars in France, Leone Western films and police movies in Italy... I was too young – I was born in 1977 – but man, that was a good time to go to the cinema.

And talking about books, I prefer the old classics, but I buy all the works of modern masters like James Ellroy, John Connolly, Christa Faust, Neil Cross...

Nrama: How long do you see the story running ultimately? 


I don´t know... of course, my schedule priority are the paying jobs, but I love to do Polar, it´s a way to keep my work feeling fresh. And I´m learning a lot, all these discoveries will be translate to my current jobs.

By the time that we have this first season done, a second season will be available in February – I don´t know how long it will run. We´ll soon see what happens with that. If it´s fun for me, I´ll continue. If it becomes too strenuous, I´ll quit.

Another factor is the evolution of the net; maybe other formats will appear and I´ll translate the project onto them.

Nrama: What's coming up in Polar? 


This first season is like a sizing up, watching what can I do with these elements. But I want a second season to be more experimental. I want to play with the computer screen format and play more with the resources of the black and white with limited color.

Nrama: What are some of your favorite other creators, online and off?

Santos: I had not a big knowledge of the net because I´m working a lot and when I finish I prefer to keep away from a screen. I haven´t got an iPad, and just recently I bought an e-book.

And I thought there were only comedy strips on the net, I only knew comics of friends of mine like Bayarri (aliencollege.blogspot.es) or Fonollosa (mordiscos.blogspot.com) but while researching Polar, I discovered little jewels like American Barbarian or J. Bone´s Gokuban. There´s a big world out there.

Talking about paper comics, I love all the creator-owned stuff in the American comic-book world, more similar than the European market. Series like Fables, Scalped, Fatale, BPRD, Victories, Mudman, Walking Dead... I love superhero books, and I enjoy the reprints of all the Kirby and Dikto stuff, but I´m excited with this material.

Nrama: Something I'm asking everyone in this series – what new opportunities do you feel have been opened up for individual creators and larger companies as a result of new delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what can be done to better take advantage of these systems? 


Well, I still learning how to move in this field, but for my experience, Apple has a lot of problems with content, and when I say “content,” I want to say sex or violence, mature content. And if you are an independent creator, you will have twice as many problems with their measuring stick.

I wait for a new inteface revolution, like the blogs were in the net, easy to arrange, going directly to the reader, where everybody could create an online store fast and cheap without a big knowledge of the net. Now it still seems much too complex.

Nrama: Do you have plans for more Black Kaiser stories after Polar?

Santos: When I work as an author, all my stories are connected, maybe because of my youthful love for Michael Moorcok´s multiverse. For example, I have a script about a competition of killers and cops and some of my noir characters appear, Black Kaiser included.

I see him like a wild card. Do you know about “Moustache,“ Tezuka´s character who appears in all his works performing different roles? It’s like a director and his pet actor.

Nrama: What else are you currently working on? 


Just now I am drawing the fourth issue of The Mice Templar: Legend, the new and final series of this saga for Image. We want to have a lot of stuff finished before the solicitations and to prevent the delays of the previous series.

I have drawn the first of a serialized Neil Gaiman´s Dead Boy Detectives story for the Vertigo anthology Ghosts, with a story by Tom Litt and working over the Mark Buckingham layouts.

At the same time I have been very busy in Spain, just publishing this month two graphic novels as writer and artist: Intachable (Irreproachable), a noir chronicle about 30 years of Spanish political corruption in the style of Goodfellas. And Rashomon, a case of commisssioner Heigo Kobayashi, a classical detective series set in the feudal Japan.

Here’s some links!



Hit the ground running with Black Kaiser and Polar at www.polarcomic.com.

Next: It’s magic, adventure and nudity with Der-shing Helmer and The Meek!

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