Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for your new graphic novel, The Hostage. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of this story set in Rio de Janeiro?
Sal Abbinanti: The Hostage is the protector or evil spirit that rises when the blood of a murdered child enters the soil of Brazil. Its origins are loosely based on some of the religions in Brazil (Umbanda and Ibeji). The origins of the character are also based loosely on some mythology carried by the slave cultures that arrived on the shores of Brazil over the centuries. The Hostage (graphic novel) was born from my experiences there as a college student when I saw the tragic reality of the children living in the streets of Rio De Janeiro. I fell in love with Brazil and marveled at her beauty and culture but was punched in the gut when I turned the corner and found countless children living in her streets. The experience changed my life.
BD: The story deftly depicts Brazil’s culture and religion alongside sociopolitical issues and the supernatural. What can you share with us about your approach to crafting this narrative, especially in light of your work on the project over the past ten years?
SA: Originally, I wasn’t sure what I was going for, but some things in life you just can’t unsee.
I never forgot the kids I saw and the reality of their situation. When I was trying to break into the comic business, I failed miserably because I was continually told that my art was “too disturbing,” “raw,” etc. When I realized that the only way I could channel my work was to self-publish, I knew it was very important to do a project that was personal to me. The important thing to me was to do some justice for these kids and not use the narrative in a patronizing way; no one in capes was coming to save these kids. I just couldn’t put it down once I got started. It was always in my head. It was important to use mediums that meant a lot to me like markers, Bic pens, and neon poster paints conveying an FU-type of kinetic energy.
BD: What are some of the backer rewards that are available to those who contribute to your Kickstarter campaign?
SA: I didn’t want to rest on this but knew it was important to bring in some names of artists that would help get some eyes on the project: Alex Ross, Bill Sienkiewicz, Geof Darrow, Eric Powell, Sanjulian, and Jeffrey Alan Love. All were generous enough to contribute mini lithograph pieces based on the Hostage. A sketchbook showing a ton of my early drawings and story boards, a set of bookmarks with a variety of images from the project, as well as hand-drawn postcards by me, because I felt it was crucial for supporters to be able to get a one-of-a-kind original piece of art. I’m also offering the entire project in a translated version in Portuguese, because it was important to me that the Brazilian comic readers could access it in their home language.
BD: In addition to your own work as a comic book creator, you also work as an art rep for industry greats Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz. How do you maintain a healthy balance between representing the work of other creators while furthering your own artistic endeavors?
SA: It can be a heavy load, especially when you have convention season. Being an artist isn’t really a choice, it’s something I have to do or I go nuts. I’ve worked with Alex and Bill now for over 20 years, and I’ve learned a lot about the business, as well as the craft from them. I owe them a great deal; however, in my heart, I’m always an artist first. It helps that Bill and Alex have always been tremendously supportive and encouraging of my work.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that The Hostage’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
SA: As artists, we all have a story to tell and a style that’s part of your DNA. Now that’s a blessing and a curse, especially when your style isn’t what the mainstream comic market is receptive to.
I promise you, love it or hate it, The Hostage isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen before. My style isn’t for everyone, but it’s the only way I can draw. I hope that it inspires other artists that have been met with rejection from publishers to go out there and create and publish their own book. The comic world needs new blood and lots of it. And there’s never been a better time to do it.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find out more about The Hostage and its Kickstarter campaign?
SA: The Hostage campaign went live on January 25 at Kickstarter, and they can find it here. They can also find me on all social media channels under Mercury Comics and, of course, Sal Abbinanti. I look forward to speaking with everyone, and thank you so much for the opportunity to speak about my work with you.