We’ve visited Frank Santoro’s studio. Santoro is the author of Pompeii, soon to be published in Italy by 001 Edizioni.
What projects are you currently working on?
Thankfully, I am in between projects. I just turned in my memoir about my parents entitled “Pittsburgh” to my publisher, Editions ca et la. The book took me almost three years to make. I had been planning it since 2013 when I finished my previous book, Pompeii. I still have plenty of things to work on. I run a comic book residency program and I tutor students whom I host in a different house on the same tiny street. They come down to my house to show me the comics they have been drawing. My studio is in an old worker rowhouse and I have my drawing table in the dining room. This used to be my mother’s parents’ house. My mother’s father grew up here. I am certain my grandparents are frowning on me from heaven as I am not very tidy.
Which instruments and tools do you use to draw?
I do not use a computer. I do not know how to use Photoshop. Why teach the machine how to do my job? Everything is analog. I draw on conventional office paper and use conventional office supplies essentially. Pentel rolling writers which were the first rollerball pen. Alex Toth told me to use that pen. And I use color pencils and markers. Mostly Berol Prismacolor brand. As Art Spigelman says “it is more like writing” in that sense if one uses “dry” media. One of my jobs as a young man was to be an assistant to oil painters and I enjoy not having to have a separate studio in which to make art. Cartoonists are lucky that we can be relatively clean in that way. I do use the airbrush. That’s fun. But it is water based. I use the airbrush mostly for background paintings that I am hired to do by Dash Shaw. But I also did a Silver Surfer story for Marvel with the airbrush. The airbrush is fun because it is like drawing with colored air. And it is water based paint.
Do you have any peculiar habits or routines before starting to draw?
I try to do drawing warmups. I like to copy Archie comics. It lets my brain draw without thinking, without inventing. And Archie comics have a type of cartoony realism which I think is perfect to copy. Ideally, I warm up for 30 minutes or so before beginning to work on my own comics. Although as my comic nears completion, I warm up less because I feel confident about my direction. Also, I obsessively make coffee on the stovetop with my Bialetti caffettiera. I have to drive far away to find Lavazza coffee at the Italian grocery in a different neighborhood. American coffee is crap.
Do you have books or comic books you keep close by when you draw?
I am surrounded by books. Comic books and all kinds of books. I have a crazy collection. However, I do not use them as references but more as inspiration. The comics I like are very different than my own. I consider myself an experimental cartoonist yet I like genre comics. The dumber the better. There was a moment in time in America after the Tennage Mutant Ninja Turtles became popular that every 16 year old kid who wanted to do comics made and printed their own comics. This in turn cultivated the mini-comics scene of the 1990s. Arguably, they are terrible but I find them fascinating. Fanzine culture is very important to me.
Are there certain objects in your studio which you’re particularly attached to?
My cuckoo clock which I got in Switzerland. It is the genuine article. It is like a metronome and I feel like it gives my actions a particular rhythm. It often drives people nuts when they visit but I enjoy it. Beyond that I gather devotional objects on my worktable. Letters from friends. Photos of family. The objects are less important than the grouping of things. The pile changes. Anything important that I cannot lose goes in the pile. I feel like there is a gravitational pull there and It is all within arms reach when I work. I would say the house itself is also important. It is hard for me to work in a cafe for example. I think it has something to do with memory and family but really it is because I have to make coffee all the time and cafes are expensive and filled with people staring into computer screens.