Manuel Santo: You're a graphic novelist, animator and illustrator born In Croatia with a singular and original art technique. Can you tell us what is the raw material that you use while doing your artworks?
My technique for drawing comics and most of the illustrations is black ink and white acrylic on a heavy paper. I use brushes of various sizes and sometimes sponge, and originals are around A3 size.
For big paintings I use acrylic paint on wood, and often use small rollers as well as brushes. The sizes are anywhere from 50 x 70 cm to 300 x 150 cm.
You're quite popular in Italy published by Grifo Edizioni and other publishing houses, also in France by Mosquito and for U.S.A for DC, Image, Marvel among others.
Do you feel yourself as a complete and recognized artist in the world?
I don’t see myself as widely recognized and I definitely do not feel as if my learning and exploring has been completed. There are many techniques of visual storytelling and painting that I still want to dive in.
It’s the necessity of communication, of connecting to others, that triggers the creativity, and I hope to keep communicating.
In ritmo del cuore published by Grifo Edizioni In 1993 Federico Fellini made an introduction to your book. I find it fascinating your work being aknowledged by one of the best movie directors ever. What drove Fellini to write an introduction to this book?
Federico Fellini was part of the creative team behind the magazine Il Grifo, and he really liked the comics I sent to the Grifo publisher at the time. I actually didn’t even know that Fellini has seen my work, but when my first graphic novel "Il ritmo del cuore" was about to be published as a hardcover book, Vincenzo Mollica, one of the publishing directors at the time, told me that Fellini wanted to write a few introductory sentences. Which was an immense honor. I grew up with Fellini’s films, and Amarcord is still one of my favorite movies ever.
In 1998, you made a literary adaptation of "The Plague" by Algerien Writer Albert Camus and In 2000 a book about russian Writer Vladimir Mayakovsky.
What sort of influence their writings have on your work?
I read a lot and constantly, i find huge power and inspiration in good writing. Writers are lost souls, lonely warriors, they create worlds out of dead letters, I can relate to their despairs and hopes. Right now I’m working on a wide series of portraits of writers which I hope to eventually collect as a book and an exhibition. The working title is The Savage Detectives (an homage to Roberto Bolano).
In 2004, you made a book called "small hands" as a sort of homage about American musician Thelonious Monk. Can you tell us something about the Impact of the music In your work as well?
Music is another important inspiration for me and Small Hands was an attempt to capture the feel of Monks creativity, and the way he used the time, the rhythm, the pause, the silence, in his music. He was also a peculiar character, verbally almost incomprehensable, but his composing and piano playing shines with sharp intelligence and sensitivity and deep understanding of the time and space, and human condition. Monk’s music was a complete and authentic language. Graphic novel Small Hands is not at all a Monk’s biography but an attempt to tell the story through the use of syncopation, silence, different time levels, bending the traditional narrative line.
In 2001, you made the art work for Corinthian-Death in Venice published by DC Comics/Vertigo, USA , written by Darko Macan, that was a spin off of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. How did you feel drawing this fascinating character from Sandman's universe?
Corinthian is one of the darkest Sandman characters, and Macan did great job creating the story set in Venice and exploiting the ambiguity of Corinthian. And Venice, as an old fascinating sinking metropolis was a perfect background for his diabolical decadence.
In the same year you also did artwork for EL DIABLO, written by Brian Azzarello, DC Comics/Vertigo, USA, 2001. What can you tell us about this work.
El Diablo is still one of my favorite graphic novels. It is a traditional western story with a modern twist and Azzarello made a powerful remake of an old DC character which he resurrected in his very own original way. Azzarello is always fresh, provocative and smart, and one of the greatest dialogue writers in today’s literature.
In 2015, you started working for Image Comics in a series called Starve with American Writer Brian Wood. What made you do this series with Brian?
Brian Wood and I wanted to do an original series for a long time, and as Brian sent me few proposals the one I liked the most was the story about a desperate, wild, aging, self-distructive chef Gavin Cruikshank.
So we started a 10-episode series Starve. Story also explores the excessive power of the modern media, the collapsing social structure, vulgarity of reality television and social media, all of it mixed with some extreme cooking. It’s been a long journey (212 pages) but I’m really proud of the final result and I hope it will get published in countries besides USA.
Industrial, Babylon and your version of french Writer Charles Perrault "Red Riding Hood" are masterpieces in my opinion and were published in Italy, France and Croatia from 2012 to 2015.
The silence in it is a scream. How was it for you working in these graphic novels?
Industrial, Babylon and The Red Riding Hood (entitled The Forest) are all wordless graphic novels. In part they are a homage to the tradition of wordless graphic novel which started with authors like Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward in 1920-is. But it was my desire to tell stories without words that triggered work on those books. I do find combination of words and images fascinating, but the absence of words opens up another dimension of storytelling, the focus on the visuals creates an unique rhythm of the storytelling. These books are a sort of a trilogy, connected with the absence of text but mainly with the exploration of individual destinies in the post-industrial world.
Red Riding Hood is one of the oldest european folk stories and Charles Perrault just copied it and polished it to make it nicer and more acceptable to moral standards of the time. However, the story is deeply embedded into the texture of western culture and morality (as every myth is) and I always wanted to do my own interpretation of it.
You also did several animations from 2010 to 2015. What's the difference in your opinion creating something in movement like they're compared to a graphic novel that is a static artform?
I did four short animation movies so far and right now i’m working on the fifth one. Big inspiration for me were animations by William Kentridge and seeing them triggered an impulse to try to create a story in a similar technique. So far I experimented with a couple of animation techniques but in every case the difference from the graphic novel’s narrative language is big because animation uses time as a primary element of storytelling, as well as the movement and sound. The creative process it’s long and it requires huge amount of patience and concentration, and I find it way too slow and tedious. But when successful, the final impact is immense.
In 2009, you did artwork for Luna Park with Writer Kevin Baker that's was published by DC Vertigo and will be published later this year In Portuguese.
What can portuguese fans expect from this particular Graphic Novel?
Readers can expect a dense and multi-layered story, a trip through several cultures and time periods, a contemplation on the continuity of political disasters through the history. As Kevin said at one point, the Luna Park, in part, is about never learning from our mistakes.
As an artist and a person, your life seems divided in several countries such as your birth country Croatia, Italy, France and the U.S.A.
Do you consider yourself not only a Croatian artist but a citizen of the world?
I never considered myself as only Croatian artist, and I don’t think that creativity and art could or should be confined within the national borders. I spent half of my life living in England, Italy and USA, and I owe as much to all those places as I owe to books, paintings, movies, graphic novels, music… that I came across. And I owe the most to people and friends I met and worked and lived with. There is a common thread connecting all of us humans, and that is not some poetic illusion but a very concrete and necessary connection. We are social animals and the time is what binds us as much as a space. We all share two fundamental facts: love and death. Sometimes you turn love into hate but that only means that you are dead before your time is up. But you cannot escape love or death.
What's your vision of comic book artform, do you think that it will collapse with digital comics and all this new technology available In the XXI century?
It will not collapse. As long as there is one girl or guy creating a good graphic novel it will not collapse. Nothing good dies.
Can you tell us about future projects that you're working on?
Right now I’m working on a 10-minute animation movie based on the story of my latest graphic novel The Forest (The Red Riding Hood). I have to finish it by September.
There are also two graphic novels I’m preparing, one based on a short movie script entitled The Fagots, and the other would be a wordless graphic novel based on Kafka. There are also few upcoming Live Painting + Live Music performances in Italy and an exhibition in Bruxelles.