Victor Santos talks Polar, Furious, and the influence of The Spirit

We had time to chat with Victor Santos, the man behind one of the best graphic novels of the year, Polar.

Last month, I had the pleasure of reading Polar: Came From the Cold by Spanish native Victor Santos, a veteran of the European comic book world, collaborator on Mice Templar with Bryan JL Glass, and one of our 101 Comics Talents to Watch in 2014Polar, inspired by pulp noir series such as The Spirit, is a tour de force about a retired spy who must fight to survive in a world that has moved on and doesn’t want him along for the ride. Later this month, Dark Horse will premiere Santos’ new comic series, Furious, about the world’s first superhero. I had a chance to sit down with Victor Santos to talk about his recent success, his transition into the American comic book world, and things ahead.

Den of Geek: What comics did you read as a boy?

Victor Santos: My youngest uncle was a collector. When I was a child, I used to visit my grandmother. He had tons of stuff — from European classics like Tintin or Valerian to Mexican editions of DC Comics. My favourite comic-book was Kamandi. I will always remember issue 32 — evil gorillas, heroic tigers, a titan man, and the bodiless entity. “I like the guy who draws the punches as explosions!” I used to say.

Let me tell you something. The Dark Knight Returns was published when I was nine. I saw the second book in a store and straightaway I hated it: “Batman is fat and old, and very injured, what a piece of crap!” (ha, ha). That was a message from destiny.

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How did you come up with Black Kaiser? Did you base him off of other classic fictional spies?

Really my first inspiration was The Spirit. I wanted to create a “wild card character” I could use for a variety of stories. If you read The Spirit, you can read a Will Eisner noir story, a love story, a mystery tale… with the common element of a guy with an eye patch. I love the patches, scars, all these pulpy elements. You see him and his dark past. Very western movie-style, where the characters are defined by their outside.

A lot of novels and movies, too, like Robert Ludlum, The Day of the Jackal, ’70s films… even modern comic-books like Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country. And my favourite, the writer Trevanian and his masterwork, Shibumi, and his two Sanction novels.

Can we expect to see Black Kaiser again in the future?

Yeah, he’s part of my bigger cast of characters. I love using recurrent characters that jump from one work to the other, like Ozamu Tezuka’s cast of characters or the actors from the Johnnie To´s movies. Black Kaiser is the main star of Polar, of course, but even if he´s not the main character, he could appear in a supporting role in Polar or in other future works.

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There are a lot of pulp and noir elements in Polar. What are some of your favorite works of pulp/noir?

It was difficult to get pulps in Spain. Recently, I can read things like The Shadow or Doc Savage from the internet. But since university, I’ve been reading a lot of noir novels — Black Mask, Chandler, Hammett, all those fantasy/terror works by Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft.

In Spain, there are a collection of novels, really small size (4 inches in height, called bolsilibros or “pocketbooks”). They’re cheap and very popular. They were written by Spanish writers using English pseudonyms. We’re talking westerns, crime, martial arts, erotica… fast-paced stories, full of sex and violence. I love them.

What is the difference between writing for a Spanish audience and an American audience? Does each readership demand different things?

No, because I always write and draw what I love. But there is one big difference between the markets. In Spain, we have a lot of licensed titles from US, France, and Japan. My superhero and nor books are in constant competition with the Marvel/DC Spanish editions or the Vertigo/DH books. You don´t have very much foreign competition in the US, except maybe the manga titles.

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There aren’t enough of your books in the American market, in my opinion. Can we expect any translations of your Spanish titles? Intachable, for example?

I’d love to publish Rashomon, a noir title that takes place in feudal Japan. The Spanish publisher is trying to sell it to the US. I think, if you like Polar or Filthy Rich, this book will delight you.

Intachable (Irreproachable) is my most “local” story because it talks about the Spanish corruption. It’s a very useful book if American readers want to understand what´s happening in countries like Spain or Italy. But the story is universal. It´s like a Spanish Scarface or Goodfellas.

My Elf Kings series would work pretty well in the US, too. It was my “training work”, like Daredevil was for Frank Miller. I have been creating a tapestry of stories within that universe for the last twelve years. Now the editor has published a 500-page omnibus. It´s a adult fantasy story based on the Nordic mythology. It’s full of conspiracies, family sagas, battles, and romanticism. Reviewers have compared it to Game of Thrones, although I haven’t read those books.

Which comics are you loving right now?

I love superheroes, but I can’t keep up with all the continuities. Of course, there are little treasures like the Hawkeye series or Azzarello’s Wonder Woman… but I prefer original works like InvincibleMudmanAtomic RoboBlack BeetleVictoriesFatalePowersFables, and Hellboy. Graphic novels like the Parker books, American Barbarian or Battling Boy… the reprints of Kirby… I love some European series like Blacksad (published in US by Dark Horse) and old manga from Osamu Tezuka, Takao Saito, or Goseki Kojima, too.

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Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming series, Furious?

Furious is my first superhero book, written by my Mice Templar pal Bryan JL Glass. I have a theory: every art form has a star genre. If you’re a film director, you must shoot a western. If you draw comics, you must draw a superhero story at some point in your career. I love the genre, and the story is really cool. It has a lot of elements: main character’s coming-of-age tale, the world of social networks and their impact on our lives, and how we build and destroy our role models… It reminds me of some ’80s comic-books like The Question by O´Neil & Cowan — surely one of my favorite works. I’m coloring Furious, too.  It’s a lot of extra work   What else are you working on right now?

2014 will see the end of the Mice Templar series. I still have ten issues to draw.

I’ll be working on the second season of my Polar online book.

And of course, I hope Furious will continue with a second series.

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I would love to create new books with friends I´ve already worked with, like Mark Buckingham, Mike Oeming, Miles Gunter, Dara Naraghi or Brian Azzarello.

[related article: 101 Comics Talents to Watch in 2014]

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