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?Santos: 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?Santos: 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.Nrama: 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.Santos: 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.Nrama: 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?Santos: 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?Santos: 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?Santos: 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?Santos: 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!