Monday, November 26, 2007

An interview at The Comic Book Bin regarding "Holed Up"

When Holed Up was published I had an interview with LJ Douresseau for The Comic Book Bin.

Gonzalo Martinez is Richard Johnston's partner-in-crime on RICH JOHNSTON'S HOLED UP. Martinez, a Chilean artist, joined Johnston, the creator of the popular "Lying in the Gutters" column for the website Comic Book Resources, for a three-issue mini-series that Avatar Press began publishing in April 2004. Several weeks ago, I sent Martinez a short round of questions and his responses make up Mr. Charlie #31:

Would you mind giving us a little background or biographical information about yourself?

GM: I was born in 1961 and I've living in Santigo de Chile since that date. I'm married with children (actually two lovely kids). I studied architecture and I worked for 15 years as an architect, working on comics on my spare time but last year I decided to leave my job and try to do comics as a main job.

What were the first comics that you were exposed to, and/or when did you first see American comics? What were your favorites?

GM: I have read comics since I was a little child (3 or 4 years old). My family used to read Spanish language versions of American comics, and not only American but also French, Spanish, Argentinean and Chilean comics. I used to love the Sunday comics pages where I read PRINCE VALIANT AND JOHNNY HAZZARD, for example. I was exposed mainly to DC Comics titles because they were published in Spanish by the Mexican publisher Novaro (I'm talking about the 60s and the 70s). I loved all of them you know, SUPERMAN, BATMAN, the JUSTICE LEAGUE [OF AMERICA], but I used to have a lot of fun with the weird titles: METAMORPHO, ULTRA DE MULTIMAN, THE CHALLENGRS OF THE UNKNOWN, the characters from Earth 2. I was a big fan of BLACKHAWK and I loved the short life of THE SECRET SIX.

When did you decide to become a comic book artist? How did you educate or train yourself to that end?

GM: Actually I like to think that I was born as a comic book artist. I've been doing comics before I learned to read, you know, on the tables and walls. I learned by myself, reading a lot of comics and standard literature and going to the movies. It was not easy because the strong Chilean comic publishing industry died suddenly from 1973 to 1975.

Who are the artists and cartoonists who influenced you and continue to influence you?

GM: It's a long, long list, I can give you the names that right now come to my mind: Will Eisner, Mike Wieringo, Jim Steranko, Carl Barks, Michael Lark, John Bogdanove, Charles Schultz, the Hernandez bros, Jeff Smith, Mike Kaluta, Barry Windsor Smith, Pat McEown, Carlos Gimenez, Herge, Hermann, Edgar P. Jacobs, Hugo Pratt, Moebius, Max Carvajal, Martin Caceres. Uf! A long list. It doesn't mean that I'd like to draw the way they do or that only their artistic skills influenced my pencil. They have been an influence in a more important and deep meaning. I've been influenced by their storytelling and the love they put in their work.

Have you done any professional work prior to getting the assignment to draw Holed Up?

GM: I've been published in my country since 1987 in a wide range of media, from independent comic magazines to newspapers doing comics, illustrations and comic strips. My strip HORACE & THE PROFESSOR was published since 1989 to 1999 in the main Chilean newspaper EL MERCURIO and in the comics banner of the Opera internet browser. I published a short story written by Matt Starnes on Digital Webbing Presents. You can take a look at some of that material at my on line portfolio

How did you get the assignment to draw Holed Up?

GM: It was a case of the right submission email to the right publisher in the right moment.

Are you contributing anything to the story? How much freedom does Rich's script give you to experiment or make changes when you need to make some story element work visually.

GM: I like to think of myself as a storyteller, my mission is to tell the story the better that I can. My main contribution to the story was to get involved in the story that Rich wanted to tell through his script. I tried to feel and understand what Rich wanted to say and tell that story through drawings. Well I admit that part was kind of easy because I felt a connection between our twisted minds. So I did not feel the need of adding or changing things. Sometimes I added or took out a panel or so because the pace, but basically I drew the script. Any detail that I added to the panels was intended to reinforce the story and give it a supporting background.

How familiar are you with American pop culture or with the segments of American culture that Rich satirizes: the American middle class, the so-called nuclear family unit, the American love or some would say obsession with firearms? Are you having to do a lot of research?

GM: This question deserves a 3 hours of friendly and interesting conversation sitting around a cafe table... but in few words: U.S.A. culture is a very strong culture and I'm not talking about the subject of Holed Up. I'm sure you'll be surprised on how much we (South Americans, for example) know about U.S.A. history, culture, politics, art and social movements. The American movie, television, music, fashion and comic book industry is all over the world and those are strong cultural vehicles. So I am very familiar with the U.S.A. culture and I was very familiar with the specific subject of Holed Up. The research I did was based on the scenographic details. If you want to talk more about this point, just ask; I'll be glad to talk about it. I love the sociological stuff.

Rich mentioned in a post at Newsarama that you'd added a few elements to the cover such as a belt buckle with a Confederate symbol on it and a KKK jack in the box? Do you know anything about that American subculture that many people think of as White Southerners? What do you know about the Confederacy or the KKK's brutal history of murdering Black Americans?

GM: I think the last answer works for this too.

I ask because some people wouldn't think that the KKK would be an appropriate subject for cartoon gags, though I'd love to have one of those jack in the boxes. So is this stuff just grist for the mill - less about substance and more about humor?

GM: This is one of the issues that humor has to face. There is always some topics that are difficult to touch because a lot of delicate reasons. Uf!... this is another subject that deserves a cafe conversation. I'd prefer you read the book first and then I'd love to talk about humor and parody. Anyway this book is a "The Simpsons," "Married with Children," "The Addams Family" kind of stuff, well... just with semiautomatics weapons.

THANKS, GONZALO: You can find out more about Holed Up at, the home of the Holed Up Army. The series is scheduled to wrap in July.

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