Brief Bio for Wilfred Santiago
Wilfred Santiago is an illustrator and writer, born in Puerto Rico. Wilfred began his career at DC Comics’ Milestone imprint, penciling titles like Hardware, Icon and Static. He has worked on many titles for Marvel, DC and independent publishers over the years. He is also the writer and artist of highly anticipated graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente which will be released on April 13, 2011 from Fantagraphics.
When did you start drawing and was there anyone in your household that encouraged you?
As far as I can remember I have always been doodling. During pre-school years, my father’s mother occasionally baby-sat and she encouraged me to be any sort of artist. She got me musical instruments and all kinds of crayons, markers etc. She owned a twelve volume illustrated Bible, and I spent long periods looking at the pictures since I couldn’t read yet. Early on, I had an affinity for illustrations and paintings, 90% of which was religious. Early interactions with the arts came through a religious context. The other 10% were LP covers and dirty magazines. There was a sacred aspect to the religious paintings because the events depicted were holy, godly. Religious imagery tells you how things happened and what God will do next. It’s some serious shit!
By the time I was 12, the life of an artist started to really appeal to me--eating grapes, painting naked women. I got it in my head that I wanted to be famous painter. That lasted about a year.
What was the first comic book you read?
Though no particular comic comes to mind, as a child, comics were everywhere. A kid could get a haircut, and there would be a Donald Duck or another comic amongst the barbershop magazines. Visit your uncle and you might come back with a stack of old comics. Comics were cheap so they were for the taking once the original buyer read them.
What inspired you to professionally become an artist?
My aversion to manual labor.
You began your career in comics working on titles like Static and Hardware for DC’s Milestone line. How did you land your first job there?
Denys Cowan took time to look through my portfolio at the original Milestone offices on 21st street before they moved to the DC building. I met the Milestone crew once before at the New York Comicon. This was in 1992. A few test drawings later, the cover for Hardware #13 was my first professional gig as a penciler and then onto Static, beginning in issue #16.
Milestone was a great school. It was great to learn so many things about comics from the inside and to work with a group that was talented and trying to do something outside the norm.
You, and Zina Saunders, are credited as being the cover artists on Static #25; a cover that was banned by DC as being too risqué. What's the story behind this and what was DC’s major concern at the time?
I worked closely with editor Dwayne McDuffie to come up with an image that wasn’t gratuitous. It was understood that it could be a touchy issue because the subject was sex. The chosen sketch was turned into a beautiful painting by Zina.
The Static #25 cover was published with a black heart-shape cut-out cover over it after some talks with DC higher-ups because they didn’t want it printed at all. Why did DC censor it? Some said it could have been seen as promoting teen sex or promiscuity, with the book of sex, and condoms on the cover.
Although there were others who were sure DC would not have made such a fuzz had the youngsters on the cover been white. Back then, to see two black teens about to do it was not a welcome sight.
Up to that point, Milestone boasted that the partnership with DC was exclusive and that they wouldn’t interfere ever with Milestone editorial. Afterwards, it was obvious that DC Comics did in fact have editorial voice when it came to what Milestone did with its own titles.
Anything that you'd like to share about the untimely death of Dwayne McDuffie?
McDuffie's death is a terrible lost to the medium. Dwayne was a gentleman who was not always treated with the respect and deference he deserved.
You are putting together an ambitious graphic novel, 21, for Fantagraphics Books based on the life of Roberto Clemente. Start by talking about your inspiration for this project and what did Clemente mean to you as a youngster?
After the previous graphic novel, In My Darkest Hour, I wanted to do a biography. There were many reasons why Clemente was chosen. The richness, purpose-driven life, the inspirational life story are a few among many factors. The relevance of Clemente’s story to a youngster of today also came to mind. Roberto was a great and famous baseball player, and the baseball was a challenging aspect to the story. But, it was great to explore the sport in a comic book format.
What were Roberto’s major achievements on the field?
Clemente had a slow start; he didn’t explode until five years after joining the Pirates. He was awarded for all kinds of achievements in the field during a long career. He was a prolific player, a five tool player, not just a home run hitter or a fast runner or a great fielder.
* Clemente was the 11th player to hit 3,000 hits. That also happened to be his last game.
* Roberto’s fielding was considered to be the best ever, although some have argued that Clemente was just good and not “great“.
* Roberto was the first Latino to be inducted into the MLB hall of fame.
* Clemente also spoke on behalf of other players’ rights and brought to the sport a certain class and respectability that you don’t see any more by the way he carried himself on and off the field.
… and off the field.. for what should Roberto be best known?
Clemente always had time for the fans who approached him; he was very charitable with his time and money. As he traveled the country during baseball season, he visited children’s hospitals and gave baseball clinics to kids. Roberto’s apparent willingness to reach out to the destitute, the hungry, and the poor is something many admire about him. Most of this happened off camera, if you will, not much press about it. These facts are mostly known only after his death.
Talk about the research you did for 21.
There were a lot of details to keep track of through Clemente’s 38 years of life, and the baseball data in particular is very complex and vast and on occasion I would find contradictory information. Newspaper accounts were very useful when I had to build a sequence for a specific game, for example, though it was a very delightful challenge.
Had Roberto survived that plane crash, where do you think his life would have taken him?
I think he would have retired at the top of his game. And he certainly would have not paused afterwards.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?
The next project is still in the works--a 19th century story called Thunderbolt: An American Tale, loosely based on the life of abolitionist, John Brown. You can get updates on the official website.
Find Out More About 21 At:
If you enjoyed this comic artist interview, be sure to check out the dozens of other interviews with comic creators!