5/1/2021 0 Comments
Folks, things are about to get kind of weird. Today, we bring you the latest from Andi Santagata, a comix artist whose work (“American Spirits,” “Jed the Undead”) is certain to give you the warm buzz that only a particularly pleasant root canal can provide. We sat down to discuss his latest work. We hope you enjoy- we certainly did.
J: Which Circle of Hell is your favorite and why?
A: Oh, shit! Okay… it’s been awhile since I’ve read “Dante’s Inferno,” but I’m a massive fan. Which is the one where everybody’s just kind of stuck in that pit and there’s that giant slab over them and there all tryna…? *gestures wildly*
J: I only read some of it. I’m going to read it in full, but as soon as he starts listing dead celebrities that he likes, that’s always where I tuned out.
A: When you get to the end, there’s like, “And everybody I hated was in the last Circle of Hell, especially this guy, who fucking sucked.”
J: There’s one with a slab?
A: Yeah, there’s one with a slab, where all atheists are shoved in the same grave, and then buried? But heathens and gays are in a giant whirlwind and they’re constantly horny and they have to chase each other but they can’t touch, which is Dante’s, like, weird *disgruntled sigh*. And then there’s the end of Hell, where there’s a bunch of heads just frozen, but they’re all people who’ve been pettily mean to him.
J: This sounds like the most passive-aggressive fanfiction ever written.
A: It’s as if there was Ao3 in his time.
J: You seem to be a big fan of “King of the Hill.” If you were trapped on a desert island with the entire cast of characters from “King of the Hill” and had to kill and eat all but one of them for sustenance, which would you spare and why?
A: Well, I feel like I would have to spare Bobby because he’s a sweet, precious angel boy, but I feel like, before I could do anything, Dale would kill all the other ones, then leave me alive to tell all his conspiracy theories (and possibly eat me, too). But if he kills Hank, then he wouldn’t be able to grill anything.
J: A lot of your work kind of seems to border on the edge of the weird, mysterious, spooky, et cetera. When in your life did you first become interested in this sort of beyond the pale?
A: Very young. I hate to say it now because she’s the worst, but I read “Harry Potter” and I was like, “Oh, shit!” Curse that woman for ruining my origin story! *chuckles* But I think I began just making shit up when I was little because life was pretty rough. It kind of got compounded in middle school when I first saw Invader Zim, which I blame for my aesthetic.
J: Some people look like their art styles. You just look like Invader Zim.
A: I think there’s a whole generation of kids who were like, “Oh! Turns out you can be angry!”
J: Other than being angry, why are you drawn to the weird, paranormal, et cetera?
A: I don’t know. I think in a way, it feels more comfortable than the real world. I took this class in high school that was called “Monsters and Morality” or something. The point of the class was that straight-laced authors write these monsters which are representative of the things that they are most frightened of, but a lot of times, people on the outside relate more to the monsters than anything.
I think a lot of the academic texts are written by people who may not see themselves in monsters. I went to film school and there’s this whole thing where, after the film code came out, you basically couldn’t portray queer things in cinema unless it was portrayed “negatively,” so queer filmmakers would just make the most amazing villains to subvert the rule. After a while, that kind of became your representation. I think that, probably while I was growing up, a lot of that shit was still going on, even if it wasn’t that obvious. You know what I mean?
J: How was film school for you?
A: It kind of sucked. I majored in game design in film school, so that part was fine, but it was during Gamergate, so that was probably the hardest time to be in games. But I met a lot of cool people. Film school was interesting. I went to USC and there’s a lot of privilege there. (I’m sure you’ve heard about our fun and exciting scandals.) The actual learning is incredible, but the environment is pretty nuts and really high pressure and not for everybody. I’m glad I went to cartoon school, but you’ll find people who say that about CCS, I’m sure.
J: How did your game design experience influence your approach to storytelling?
A: The main thing that I focused on in game design was systems design and the way that you could interact with virtual worlds by having an emotional impact and arranging things so that they would click into place. I think that that definitely translates into making comics. A lot of people think it’s just like you write it and then you draw the picture, but I think it’s a lot more like putting together a puzzle. You know these moments are going to happen but you have to figure out how to put them together and make the reader feel a certain way. It’s a lot easier to think in the abstract than in the literal-- a lot like writing a book, I imagine.
J: What’s your favorite video game?
A: Shit, ok… it’s “Fallout 3.” I know that it’s not everybody’s favorite Fallout, but it’s my first Fallout, so I’m a little bit biased. I think it’s the best environmental storytelling I’ve seen in a game. I remember there’s this room in Fallout where you jimmy a lock and it’s this closet under a highway. You go in and it’s full of fucking plungers and you’re like, “What the hell is going on?” As you walk along, it’s also full of mannequins. The plungers are in all these weird positions and you’re like, “What the hell was this guy doing?” You notice the plungers start going up the wall, and you’re like, “Oh, shit,” and you follow them up to the ceiling and you look down and there’s a blood splatter. Like… perfection.
J: I can see where you get it from.
A: Yeah, I blame “Fallout.”
J: Did you ever feel represented by the media you consumed growing up?
A: I feel like I probably felt more represented for my personality than my identity, you know? Nowadays, there’s a lot more examples of characters that I identify with than there really was growing up, but I think the case (in a lot of American media, at least) is that, whenever there were marginalized characters, they were never allowed to be the bad guy, y’know? There were goth characters, but there were never goth characters of color. There were bullies, but not bullies of color. Not like I was a bully or anything, but I was a little weird kid. You just couldn’t overlap at the time, which is kind of strange to think about now.
J: How did you get involved with making comics?
A: Well, I got laid off. When I was like 21, 22, I got a job at a game company. I was working full-time. They handed me this mobile game with eleven million players and just told me to make them money. I was 21 and it was my first big game job, so obviously, I did a terrible job. They were like, “You should leave now,” and gave my job to the intern.
I had a little bit of savings (because I require very little resources to stay alive), and then I went on unemployment. I was trying to find another job in game dev, but then I started working on my comic a whole bunch. I just kind of kept doing it. I quit when I had a job, and when I got laid off, that was the only thing I had that made me happy anymore. The more I did that, the more I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
The thing about comics is that you get complete control over the process, they’re way faster than making games, nobody else takes credit for your work, which was a big thing for me in game dev… Comics is amazing because of all the reasons listed above. I just kind of dived into it and went whole hog. It was kind of going better than games was, so I went to CCS.
J: Regarding “Jed The Undead”... how did that very specific idea come about?
A: I don’t remember the origin story of Jed, but I kind of invented him one day. My best friend came over and she invented Freddy, who is his incredibly shitty little cargo-shorts-wearing friend. For the next four or five years, we made this super elaborate Jed world. After I moved out here, I wanted to keep working on Jed. Suzanne was still into it, but she had a real job at the time and said, “Go forth! Bring our boys to life!” So I just kind of ran with it. Over time, Jed and Freddy became little tools for me to tell my own story through this framework of teen friendship.
J: How has your transition and experience with it changed your approach to storytelling?
A: I really wanna tell stories about masculinity from a trans perspective, or at least not from a normally straight, cishet perspective. Especially in comics, the straight, cishet perspective looks a little different than it looks in movies and TV. I remember reading a lot of those stories in college and being like, “All these boys are complaining about how they have a dick that they don’t know how good they have it. Can they just shut up?” Maybe that’s where that particular Jed story came from… I don’t think you need to have the “correct” set of whatever to be fully trans, but I think it’s interesting how a lot of straight dudes portray it as a burden.
J: How did you get the idea for “American Spirits”?
A: Allie is actually based on my best friend from high school who is super into the paranormal. She is not psychic, but that’s kind of where I got the idea. What’s a more useless thing to major in than game design? Paranormal research. Which is a real thing I thought I could major in as a child and I am bummed that I could not.
J: Do you have any plans to continue or finish “American Spirits”?
A: Probably. Yes. I feel like they deserve an ending and I also have the rest of Chapter Three finished. There’s a very clear ending to this that I need to just finish drawing. If given time and if things work out, hopefully I’ll be able to turn it into a graphic novel somewhere down the line and actually finish the whole thing.
J: For a while, you used to work on the drag scene. Do you still engage in drag or any form of drag performance?
A: I actually very, very recently got back into it. It’s fun again now. For a while (and I think I kind of blame ‘Drag Race’ for this), drag wasn’t fun anymore. It was really competitive on the internet and in real life. Now, you can be goofy on the internet and do drag and people have a good time. It’s perfect in a certain way, I guess.
J: How did doing drag change your perspective on things?
A: That probably solidified that fact that I was trans, if anything, but that happens to a lot of people who do drag. After a while, I think it was realizing that me, as a trans person, was different from my drag character. After a while, I just wanted to work on the character, y’know?
J: What would you define as being ‘punk as fuck’?
A: Punching Nazis? No, (but) that’s a big part of it. *chuckles* The most punk rock thing you can probably do is not caring about how punk you are. Just being violently yourself. A lot of times, the world is telling you to take up less room, and if it makes you comfortable, that’s one good thing, but you should also be entitled to take up just as much room as everybody else, y’know? A lot of times, queer people and AFAB people are told to sit down and shut up, and that blows because all that happens is you let somebody else take up that room that could be shared by everyone.
J: What’s next on the horizon for you?
A: Hopefully very exciting things! I have three pitches for graphic novels. One of them is “The Complete Jed,” one of them is a secret, and one of them (fingers crossed) was just sent to a publisher this weekend, so that one I can talk about! It’s called “Soulbound.” Basically, the plot is there’s these four friends and they play an MMO together all throughout high school in this small town. They eventually lose touch and find out that one of them’s actually been playing the MMO the whole time and ends up getting stuck in the game, TRON-style. They have to gather their old guild back, reconvene, and save them, except they’re all in their thirties and really bitter. One of them’s a trans streamer who’s super e-girl and edgy, the other two got married and hate each other. Through the magic and power of video games, they learn independence, self-respect, and that sometimes, being an adult is about making your own choices and not about pretending to be an adult. *