Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: I’m here with Jason Copland and Fabian Rangel, Jr. They’re the creators of Santos, a new book from STELA, although book isn’t quite the right word for it, is it?
Fabian Rangel: Infinite canvas.
CB: So, Fabian, what’s the story?
Rangel: Santos is a small town crime thriller. I can’t really talk too much about it without giving away certain story limits, but it is about a woman who returns to her hometown to help solve her father’s murder. So it’s crime and it is kind of noirish.
CB: They’ll see a lot of Mexican Book of the Dead elements.
Rangel: Yeah, it takes place in a small Texas town very close to the Texas-Mexico border. So most of the characters are Hispanic and there’s some Spanish in there. I mean, it’s pretty much based on where I live.
CB: Must be fun to create a book that has such a unique place and design elements to it.
Copland: Well, it’s pretty fun to a Canadian.
CB: Where are you from?
Copland: Vancouver, Canada. I’ve never been to Texas or even close to the border of Mexico. I have been in Mexico. I don’t know a lot.
CB: How did you guys get hooked up then? Did STELA hook you up?
Rangel: No, actually at this convention back in 2011, we met. We were tabling with Ed Brisson and some other people who I can’t recall. But yeah, that was when we first met. Right away I was like, “Man, I want to work with you.” No, I’m serious! You don’t remember? I said that.
Copland: Oh, I remember something like that. We’ve actually done a short story together.
Rangel: Yeah, a couple years later we did a short Fubar story. Fubar is a wartime zombie anthology. We did a seven-pager or something. And that was awesome. So Jason said he was looking to hook up with some writers for some pitches a few months back. We actually worked on a different pitch. I showed it to Jim over at STELA and he was like, “Well, it doesn’t really fit with our format” because it was more like a traditional comic. So I was like, “Well, how about new ideas?” So I sent Jim hree new ideas. Santos was one of them. He was like, “Yeah, we don’t have anything like that right now,” like a noir crime thing. So yeah. But me and Jason have known each for years.
CB: Okay. I’m trying to figure out the Texas versus Vancouver thing.
Copland: That’s the beauty of the Internet, though. You meet people from all over the place that you can work with. You can shoot emails or you send scans or Dropbox or whatever. Files get moved around throughout the world so easily now.
CB: See, I live in Seattle so I think of Seattle/Vancouver/Portland as being the center of the world and everything evolves around us anyway. So I figured Vancouver’s got to be the connection. So how did you approach creating this thing? You were first talking about a book that was very traditional, but this is a really different format.
Copland: Yeah. Well, I got to tell you the first chapter of it made my mind go a little bit wonky trying to figure out exactly how to lay it out and format it and that sort of thing. It was interesting, definitely. There is a learning curve involved. But I think I’ve figured it out now.
Rangel: Yeah, it definitely was an adjustment.
CB: What was the toughest thing to deliver from the noir standpoint?
Copland: One of the big things is that you can’t have widescreen panels. The width of the phone is only as wide as your screen is ever going to get. You don’t tilt your phone; it is always in a portrait orientation. So you’re never going to get a widescreen shot. It’s more of an infinite canvas kind of up-and-down scrolling thing that you have to set your mind towards, as opposed to a wider sort of…
Trying to use the space and the format to create a pace and a sense of rhythm and that sort of thing. I’m used to a wider page where I can work left to right, whereas this is mostly just up and down. I’m not struggling with it, but it’s definitely something that I am still learning to use.
CB: One of the things I talked to a couple other artists on STELA about is how it changes the way you approach the big payoff moment, the revelation, but also scene setting because you don’t have something unfolding across the vista. You can do a reveal in a totally different way. There’s this whole theory about reading through the comic page that at the end of each page should be a payoff. That’s now all gone. Does that change the way your work on the story?
Rangel: When I’m laying it out like before I script, I’m still very much like that last panel has to give the reader a reason to turn the page. But now that there’s no turning of the page, I’m hoping that feeling still comes across, you know, the reason to keep scrolling. But, yeah, it is not really that different. It’s definitely an adjustment. But once you figure it out, you’re like, “Okay.” It’s still storytelling. It’s just a different format.
CB: And in a way, the printed page is completely an artificial thing anyway. Scott McCloud has been writing about that forever.
Copland: Yeah. It is a format of convenience at this point. What a traditional comic book format is just… that is why everyone appears to because that’s what comic book stores are comfortable selling. There is definitely different formats, the widescreen format like the Kill All Monsters book that I did. It’s a landscape format. And there are different sizes. Top Shelf does tons of books that have unique sizes.
Copland: So it’s one of those things where it’s an artificial set up as to the size of the format. It’s just that we’ve all decided by default that one format is better than other formats.
See, that’s what is cool about it though is that I feel like they are changing with the times. You know, everybody is always on their phones. Everybody is scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. So it is like they found a way to make comics fall into the line with how everybody reads media now.
CB: That’s totally true. I take the train to work every day and everyone’s got their phones out and they’re scrolling up.
Rangel: It’s a natural evolution as far as the format and stuff. I’m really excited about it. Everybody has a smartphone. Everybody has those moments in their day when they’re just like, “I guess I’ll open up an app on my phone.” I have STELA on my phone, so I’ll be at work like, “I’ve got some time to kill.” So I will just jump on there and read a comic or two. It’s cool.
CB: Your potential audience is like essentially everybody . The reader doesn’t have to go to a comic shop.
Copland: Oh, yeah, that’s one of the biggest things. It’s so accessible. Once you have the app, new stuff gets put up every day and you don’t have to go anywhere. You just turn your phone on and away you go.
CB: Did you enjoy drawing the noir feel of it, too?
Copland: That’s sort of my forte. I like heavy black scenes. Anything that I can get kind of dirty and grubby, I’m totally there. So a noir sort of feel is definitely up my alley.
CB: Who’s an artist that you feel really influenced by?
Copland: Oh, Bill Sienkiewicz is huge to me. Early Frank Miller. A lot of the eighties Marvel people.
CB: Early Frank Miller is genius.
Copland: Yeah, I think that Ronin is one of the best comics that was ever created. Actually I wouldn’t even say one of the best; it is the best comic book ever created.
CB: Your love for Miller’s dark vision flows into this book.
Rangel: Jason’s stuff is perfect for the story that we’re telling. As soon as he started drawing the pages… I started writing this stuff back in October. So I think it was pretty much almost done or was done by the time Jason was able to get to it. To finally see it start to come to life in his style with all those heavy blacks and setting that mood and atmosphere is very moody. I love it so much. I’m so proud of it. I can’t wait for people to check it out.
CB: How many chapters is it?
Rangel: It’s going to be eleven. There’s going to be a break after chapter five. So it’s essentially a four issue mini-series, but spread out.
CB: Perfectly spread out.
CB: It was like we were talking earlier, it’s going to be hard for you to sell this book on convention floors. But hopefully you can get something out of it from that standpoint.
Rangel: Yeah. My only concern this whole time that I have been making comics is having people read my stories, whether they read it by buying a book at a con or reading something on Comixology Submit or now with STELA. At the end of the day, all I care about is that people read it. I think STELA is very accessible. So I’m excited. Like we were saying earlier, someone not having to go to a comic store or not having to hope they run into you at a convention. Anywhere in the world, as long as they have the phone, the app, they are able to read our story. It’s a really cool feeling. I’m really excited for it.
CB: A lot of it is just getting exposed to stuff, too. Like Pop is such a unique comic. When you flip through it, you immediately know if you are going to love it or hate it. If you’re not the right kind of a person, it’s just going to… If you never see it, you have no chance of getting into it, right?
Rangel: I think Santos might have more of a crossover appeal from a comic book reader. I feel like it would make a good TV show. It is very episodic in nature. So it’s going to be cool, man. I think there are going to be some people that don’t maybe read comics that are going to be picking this up or checking it out. I think it’s going to do good.
CB: So what’s next for each of you guys?
Rangel: What’s next for me and Jason?
CB: Yeah. What’s your next project?
Rangel: Well, I am doing some other stuff and he is probably doing some other stuff. But we are talking to another publisher about something that is going to happen after Santos. Jason and I are working together on another thing also around the same length. It is a sci-fi thing.
Rangel: He can stretch his Ronin loving muscles.
Copland: Oh, yeah. I am excited about it because I get to draw messy. I’m going to get a chance to draw a little more loose than people probably have seen from me, which I’m really excited about. I like to see artwork that has process in it. I feel like the last few things that I have done, I’ve stifled the marks that I make to make it a little more clean or whatever. I want to push my work more into a more expressionistic sort of way and let the marks sort of say a little bit more about the process.
CB: Fly your Sienkiewicz flag.
Copland: Yeah, essentially. I would like to put a little bit more of myself into it. I feel like I’m stifling that expression by trying to make something look more traditional. I’m realizing that by doing that not only is it a little less fun to draw, but doing it that way doesn’t set me apart from anyone else. Trying to homogenize my style so that I think people will like it more is counterproductive. I’m getting to that point now where I realize I need to draw more like I want to.
CB: I’m sure you feel that way as a writer. You want to stand out. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd when there are so many other books out there. It’s hard to get attention.
Rangel: Yeah, I think more in terms of which artists I want to work. Like I see an artist and I am like, “Oh my god, I want to do something with that dude.” So I actually will craft a story based around their strengths or the stuff that I feel like they should be drawing. I really don’t think about, “Oh, man, I’ve got to come up with a story with a certain hook that will stand out.” I just want to work with cool artists and make fun stories. Hopefully that comes across. I’m also doing another STELA book with Logan Faerber.