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Sal Abbinanti discusses 'The Hostage'

Comic Books

Creator Sal Abbinanti discusses textures and chaos in new OGN ‘The Hostage’

The project explores the artist’s youth spent in Rio de Janeiro.

You may not be familiar with Sal Abbinanti, but that could all change very soon. He’s the art rep for comic book superstars Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz, but is also an artist with a brand new graphic novel currently available on Kickstarter.

For over two decades, the Chicago native has been working on The Hostage, a graphic novel about his time spent in Brazil in his early 20s. The 115-page, full-color original graphic novel is set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and features some weird, truly beguiling art.

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Ahead of the Kickstarter’s launch, I opportunity to speak with Abbinanti about the project, his career, and much more.

AIPT: Sal Abbinanti, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Your new Kickstarter is launching The Hostage, a graphic novel you’ve been working on for 10 years. Can you talk a little bit about the inspirations behind the work and what Kickstarter funders might expect?

Sal Abbinanti: The Hostage was a project I created when I was in college but never really fleshed it out. Through the years as I tried to chase down gigs in the mainstream comic industry, I quickly realized that my style was not what they wanted in mainstream comics. This was a blessing and a curse. I knew I had something that I wanted to say but clearly, self-publishing was the only way my work was going to see print. The Hostage was a gritty personal project that I could approach listening only to the voice in my head. When Covid hit I knew it was paramount that I think outside the box and try and reach comic readers in a more direct and personal way. Look, I have no delusions that my art will appeal to everyone, but trust me, The Hostage is unlike any comic that you’ve ever seen before. The book itself consists of three chapters over 100 pages of story and a ton of really cool extras.

Some amazing artists like Alex Ross, Bill Sienkiewicz, Geof Darrow, Eric Powell, SanJulian and Jeffrey Alan Love have also been kind enough to contribute pieces that will be offered as Lithographs.

Sal Abbinanti discusses 'The Hostage'

A page from The Hostage. Courtesy of Abbinanti.

AIPT: When working on a project for so long, is there an inclination to work on pages you tinkered with years prior, or when you’re done with a page are you done?

SA: It can be tempting to do that, and when I finally put the entire book together, I thought about it. But there is something cool about looking back at pages and just resigning yourself to the idea that that was who you were then as an artist at the time the page was finished and to let it ride. The biggest difference hopefully is that as an artist, you can see an evolution in your style and that you’ve moved on and to take it as a positive.

AIPT: Having had a chance to look at some of The Hostage, it’s really quite stunning. Can you talk a bit about what materials you use and why they work for you?

SA: I liked the idea of using any medium that gets you there. I love the idea of trying things that are outside the standard formal tools in mainstream comics. Bic pens are a tremendous way to channel the days when we drew in our notebooks as kids. I used markers a lot when I was an artist in advertising and they also can be an effective way to give your pieces a sort of kinetic energy with broad strokes and lines.

Watercolor paints are also a great medium that lends itself to improvisation in your art. I like to push the water around and lift things up a bit when you want to create subtle backgrounds and blends. The key for me was to not be afraid of trying anything.

Bill Sienkiewicz gave me some advice once as an artist and I never forgot it “Always try and surprise yourself.”

AIPT: I’ve been told The Hostage is inspired by a visit you made to Brazil and given most of us haven’t traveled in months due to the pandemic I suspect we’re hungry for a work like this. Would you call this a love letter to Brazil, a travel graphic novel, or maybe both?

SA: I went to Brazil in the ’80s when I was in college as a starry eyes college kid that thought it was going to be samba, beaches, and pretty girls. I fell in love with Brazil immediately, but there were things there that I could never unsee.

The gap between wealth and poverty was very stark. Kids were living on the streets, little kids sleeping in doorways and begging to survive. It was a colossal punch in the gut. The country’s beauty and culture was intoxicating, but when you turned the corner, clusters of small street children were sitting in their own s--t. I couldn’t believe what I saw and it broke my heart.  When I returned, it stayed with me.

As an artist I always felt there was something I had to do to channel the experience but not patronize the sorrow by drawing a standard American superhero comic book.

Sal Abbinanti discusses 'The Hostage'

A page from The Hostage. Courtesy of Abbinanti.

AIPT: As a Chicago native, which some might argue is a mecca for indie comics, can you talk about how living in Chicago influenced this work?

SA: I grew up in the city and its textures and chaos had a tremendous influence on my work. Chicago also has a great local cast of indy and mainstream comic creators that forced me to really raise my game.

I was fortunate enough to meet and hang out with some amazing artists.  I was able see their artistic process which inspired me but at the same time scared the crap out of me. I realized that I could self-publish and that Marvel and DC were not the only answer if you wanted to be a comic creator. But they also made me realize I better be ready to get in there and duke it out and work really hard to get better as an artist.

Sal Abbinanti discusses 'The Hostage'

A page from The Hostage. Courtesy of Abbinanti.

AIPT: As an art rep for folks like Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz, how would you say their work inspires you, and vice versa?

I saw how many possibilities there were and that I have a lot of room to grow as an artist. Working with Alex has pushed me to always think bigger and bolder and never settle for just ok.

He has always given me straight, honest and direct criticism. While at the same time, he has always encouraged and pushed me to get my work out there. Bill Sienkiewicz is from another planet.  As soon as you think you’ve seen what’s capable in the medium, I would get a box of originals from him and rethink everything. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz. Their work has never stopped inspiring me as an artist.

The Hostage is available via Kickstarter now.

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