As the Seattle Mariners embark on another season of despair and sordid revelations of players on performance enhancing drugs continue to grab headlines, cartoonist Wilfred Santiago reminds us why we love the game of baseball. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente documents the unlikely career of the Pittsburgh Pirates legend. Clemente's inspirational rise from the barrios of Puerto Rico to the highest levels of our national pastime was heroic enough. Not content with the fame and fortune brought by his baseball abilities, Clemente became a tireless advocate for social justice and the plight of the underclass throughout Latin America.
Over the course of his storied career, Clemente overcame the racial discrimination of the era to win awards in nearly every category, including the World Series MVP in 1971. Despite his success on the field, Clemente never forgot his roots, returning in the off-season to manage and play with minor league teams on the impoverished island.
For all his staggering athletic accomplishments, it was his unflinching humanitarianism that cemented Clemente into our culture's consciousness. While visiting Puerto Rico in 1972, Nicaragua experienced a devastating earthquake. Clemente immediately began a relief effort, sending planeloads of supplies to the beleaguered country. When he learned these shipments were being diverted by corrupt officials, he boarded a flight to Managua. The plane, overloaded with supplies, fell out of the sky after take off. His body was never found. Clemente remains a hero throughout the hemisphere. He has been posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among countless others. Major League Baseball honors the player that best exemplifies his commitment to public service with the Roberto Clemente Award.
Clemente's cartoon biographer Wilfred Santiago will appear at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery on Wednesday, May 4 at 6:00 PM. His sensitive portrayal of this amazing story is rendered seamlessly with cinematic verve. Santiago will discuss his graphic novel with bestselling author Rob Neyer, national baseball editor for SBNation.com, followed by an informal reception and book signing. Please join us for this momentous occasion.
Wilfred Santiago in conversation with Rob Neyer on 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente Wednesday, May 4, 6:00 - 8:00 PM Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery 1201 S. Vale Street. Seattle. Phone: 206.658.0110
An unexpected technical glitch has necessitated the splitting of today's Online Commentary & Diversions in twain, so part 2 follows immediately:
• Review: "Fantagraphics Books rolls on with their hardcover library collection The Complete Peanuts, with the latest installment spotlighting 1979 and 1980. [...] In Charlie Brown, one sees a character with life still left ahead of him, so the myriad indignities he suffers are tempered by the thought that things could only get better. Had it been an adult character, the question would have been, 'Why hasn’t this guy drank himself to death by now?' ...[T]he Complete Peanuts collection is highly recommended to anyone who is in love with not just this format, but to anyone who can appreciate the highest level of achievement." – Dw. Dunphy, Kirkus Reviews
• Review: "I always look forward to the latest collection of Peanuts strips from Fantagraphics and with the newest offering, the [Complete] Peanuts [series] moves into the 1980s. In general, Charles Schulz' strips can fit in any era. [...] There's something so simple and yet so complex about Peanuts strips. Not matter how many you read you can never tire of them. Grade A" – Tim Janson, Mania
• Review:iFanboy's Ron Richards selects 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente as their Book of the Month: "Filled with emotion and heart, this story presents what it meant to the world, to Pittsburgh, to Puerto Rico and ultimately to his family. A great baseball biography is filled not only with on field accomplishments but with off field heart and relationships and Wilfred Santiago captured that perfectly... Santiago's artwork is stunning, at times completely breathtaking... Santiago is able to paint a picture of raw emotion, both good and bad, with his illustrations that one cannot help but get lost in the tale. [...] I don't think there is a higher praise I can give to this book other than I wish I could go back in time and give the 9 year old version of me this book to delight over. [...] I can't think of a better way to start the baseball season this April than by enjoying this beautiful graphic novel achievement by Wilfred Santiago."
• Review: "In this emotionally moving biography, the Puerto Rican Wilfred Santiago magnificently chronicles the often tragic life of this icon. [...] Santiago expertly traverses Clemente's tribulations, losses, and success with ease and skill. His portrayal of the baseball games rank among the finest ever attempted in this medium. Under the masterful hands of Santiago, 21 evolves into far more than just a biography of a sports figure. It showcases a life worth emulating." – Rick Klaw, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Interview (Audio): Author Monte Schulz appears on the MarketingOurMuse program on BlogTalkRadio to talk with host Marla Miller about marketing novels in 2011
• Review/Interview:ESPN.com's Jim Caple looks at 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente — "Santiago has a stunning, cinematic style, and 21 is filled with gorgeous illustrations that capture the power and grace of Clemente as no standard book of black and white type ever has or could. […] By appealing to all ages, 21 is a wonderful way to introduce younger readers to one of baseball's most important players and a great way to introduce older readers to the story-telling power and sophistication of graphic novels." — and talks to its creator, Wilfred Santiago: "Clemente's appeal is exactly what you see in 21. He had many sides but the story of a young person from a humble background going against the odds, overcoming obstacles and challenges, the struggles, anger, injustice, the loneliness, while not losing himself in the process, was compelling. On top of it, he did not conform to being an average athlete or human being but excelling as both. And he did it during one of the most volatile times in America. This is a story that spoke to me, and I couldn't pass. I also got to dip into baseball; it was a great experience dissecting the sport."
• Review: "While there was clearly a lot on his mind, Trondheim is still first and foremost a gag man. He imbues every page with his dry wit, creating an authorial voice that allows him to get away with all sorts of slapstick and nonsense (without seeming too silly), while also allowing him to write about personal and serious matters (without seeming too ponderous). In later years, Trondheim would return to autobio comics as a way to revive his interest in drawing, but he’s truly at the height of his powers in Approximate Continuum Comics." – Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
• Plugs: At Comic Book Resources, Alex Dueben's report from last weekend's MoCCA Festival includes praise for Peter Bagge & Gilbert Hernandez's Yeah! ("The book isn’t on sale yet, but this should be in demand by anyone who like all-ages comics and those who, when they read that it features a section penciled by Gilbert and inked by Jaime, know they need to own it") and Leslie Stein's Eye of the Majestic Creature ("charming and fabulous") as well as mentions of some of our other debuts
21: The Story of Roberto Clemente is reviewed by Alex Belth on page 16 of the April 18 issue of Sports Illustrated: "…Wilfred Santiago captures the physical grace of baseball and creates a story of visceral and emotional force… Santiago… has produced a rich and surprising work. The compositions and framing are intricate and varied… Santiago captures Clemente's relentless vitality as a player, frames the story around the historical and religious traditions of Puerto Rico, and handles Clemente's tragic death with restraint, all with a gimlet eye and the sensitivity of a true artist. It is a classic story given new life in this fresh, innovative telling." The full review can be read online here, and for SI's iPad subscribers, there is an additional Q&A with Wilfred.
Catching up on several days' worth of Online Commentary & Diversions:
• List/Plugs: In an article titled "Fantagraphics: The Greatest American Comics Publisher," GUY.com's Rob Gonsalves says "What the Criterion Collection is to DVDs, Fantagraphics is to comics. Any self-respecting collection of graphic novels, any library public or personal, needs to sport at least one Fantagraphics book," and recommends a nicely idiosyncratic top-20 list of our publications which includes some of our more obscure releases
• Review: "While there definitely were some hardships, Clemente’s life was as unique and joyful as his persona and ball playing skills were, and Wilfred Santiago’s 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente reflects this uniqueness and joy through its own unique retelling of Clemente’s life. [...] The simple joy conveyed in this book is universally appealing... Baseball is a game that is full of life and story, and every year the game blooms in the spring with the trees and flowers of the season. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente celebrates life, and new life, as much as it does baseball." – Andy Frisk, Comic Book Bin
• Interview: Pittsburgh City Paper's David Davis, who says "In his new graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, the author of 2002's In My Darkest Hour uses Clemente's life to explore issues on and off the diamond. These include the thorny politics of Puerto Rico (statehood or commonwealth status?) as well as the racism Clemente faced in America as a dark-skinned Latino. The result is both a superhero cartoon and a lyrical time-machine, rendered in the regal black-gold-and-white of the Bucs' uni," has a brief Q&A with Wilfred Santiago: "I began my career working on superhero cartoons. That's the look I wanted to get -- somewhere between a cartoon and a painting. I wanted to get the camera right there with him and you're experiencing the action up close."
• Review: "Slavishly documenting and lavishly illustrating through band flyers and set lists and rare record sides and marvelous photography, along with first-person textual accounts, this strange, excited dialogue between misfits in America through bands, venues, zines, and lives and how it was all done punk and how punk was done. [...] Taking Punk to the Masses’ gallant bridging of universal punk history with our own in Ecotopia is a reason to celebrate. Your eyes can gnaw on decades of delicious artwork while you read and watch stories you may have heard of, but after this, will never forget." – Chris Estey, The KEXP Blog
• Review: "In Hate Annual #9, Buddy returns to Seattle to meet the dysfunctional family of his wife Lisa who he has never met despite having been with Lisa for close to 20 years. In a tension-filled 72 hours, Buddy is subjected to senile parents, criminals, and drug addicts. Each page is filled with the sardonic humor and high drama that are staples of Bagge's work. [...] Read this issue slowly because once you're done laughing your head off, you are sure to be sad that you'll have to wait another year to check in with one of the best characters of alternative comics." – Rip Ransley, Stray Riffs
• Review: "The particular fascination in this early work [The Arctic Marauder] is seeing one of the unique individual styles in cartooning at a formative stage. [...] As for the subject matter: It’s an example of parody that continues on when the thing parodied has long faded away. [...] Part of the appeal is feeling superior to an earlier age, and another part is being engaged in the traces of the earlier form embedded in the parody, which you would normally feel yourself too sophisticated to enjoy." – R. Fiore, The Comics Journal
• Plug: "At once a parody and a tribute to late 19th, early 20th century mystery/adventure Jules Verne-esque fiction, this gorgeous one-shot [The Arctic Marauder] is masterfully drawn scratchboard style, as to echo the woodcuts of the era. The result is sumptuous, and look at those elegant art-nouveau panels! [...] Fans of concentrated mysteries, steam-operated machines, dramatic adventures and over-the-top vilains should be all over this!" – 211 Bernard (Librairie Drawn & Quarterly)
• Review: "With Woodring’s skill, I never found myself confused, at least, more than you’re supposed to be. I’ve never read a statement by Woodring saying this, but I always got the impression he wanted you to work for the meaning behind his stories. Even if it’s not the case, I highly enjoy the process. In one graphic novel [Weathercraft], I got what I think may have been a love story, a treatise on spiritual enlightenment and sometimes just a whole lot of fun." – Joe Keatinge, Joe Keatinge's Comics & Stories
• Review: "Weathercraft... [is a]nother volume of nightmarishly beautiful wordless comics by the remarkable Mr. Woodring. Even for those accustomed to his work, there is page after page that makes you say, 'I’ve never seen anything like that before!' And then hide under your bed." – M. Ace, Irregular Orbit
• Interview:Book By Its Cover's Jen Rothman, who says "Ray Fenwick has created yet another masterpiece. His second book, Mascots, hit shelves in the beginning of this year and it’s quite a beauty. It’s filled with his signature style that mixes ornate hand lettering and imagery, creating amusing little narratives," has a Q&A with Ray: "I thought of the idea of mascots because they’re these outrageous, often ridiculous figures, but they’re symbolic of something else. The thing they’re there to represent isn’t ridiculous at all. I thought that was similar in a lot of ways to the work in the book."
• Interview:One Two One Two Microphone Check has a cultural Q&A with our own Kim Thompson: "There is no movie I love but would be embarrassed to talk about in a serious, intellectual conversation, because if I love it, it is worth talking about by definition. (I concede this could be taken as arrogant.) That said, I am mildly embarrassed at how much I actually love Love, Actually."
• Interview: Alex Dueben's great interview with Daniel Clowes at Comic Book Resources touches on Dan's design work for our upcoming series of Crockett Johnson's Barnaby collections: "It's probably the best written comic strip of all time. The artwork is disarmingly simple. It's the kind of thing that I would normally not be attracted to. He uses typography instead of hand lettering and very simple diagrammatic drawings, yet they are perfect, and work beautifully in a way that anything added to it would detract from it. My goal with the design of the book is to follow his very severe minimal design style and try to live up to that."
• Interview: At TCJ.com, Sean T. Collins also talks to Clowes: "I was always baffled that people who liked mainstream comics seemed to really gravitate towards [Eightball #22]. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about that one, specifically, that made them like that so much."
• Commentary:Tim Kreider pens an essay on the state of the cartooning industry for TCJ.com: "When you’re young, it’s exciting and fun just to have your work published in the local alternative weekly, or posted online, “liked” and commented on and linked to; but eventually you turn forty and realize you’ve given away a career’s worth of labor for nothing. What’s happening in comics now is what happened in the music industry in the last decade and what’ll happen to publishing in the next. Soon Don DeLillo will be peddling T-shirts too."
• Commentary:Robot 6 polled Gilbert Hernandez for their weekly "What Are You Reading?" feature: "The new comics I always enjoy are by R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, Richard Sala and Charles Burns. I haven’t seen Burns’ and Sala’s new books yet but I did read The Bible by Crumb, which I found tedious only because of the subject matter and Wilson by Clowes. That was hard to get through because the protagonist is so supremely hateful. Well executed, though."
This month's issue of Booklist brings a starred review for 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago and additional favorable reviews of 5 more of our recent releases, excerpted below:
"Nearly every page brings a new compositional marvel, setting energetic, limber figures against stylized photographic backgrounds washed in sepia tones and Pirate-yellow highlights. The in-game sequences, though, are show-stoppers, taking advantage of dizzying perspective shifts to capture the fluid, whirling nature of the game as it moves in fits and starts through huge moments of pause into cracking shots of sizzling drama. It’s not a comprehensive biography by any means, nor does it try to be one. But for a book that matches the pure athleticism, unshakable compassion, and towering legacy of its subject, look no further." — Ian Chipman (Starred Review)
Popeye Vol. 5: "Wha's a Jeep?" by E.C. Segar: "The fifth oversize volume collecting Segar’s vintage 1930s newspaper strip sees two particularly notable events, the introduction of Popeye’s lovable pet from the fourth dimension, Eugene the Jeep, who can foretell the future — a talent that Olive Oyl and Wimpy predictably exploit at the racetrack — and the seafaring quest to find Popeye’s long-lost father, Poopdeck Pappy, who turns out to be even more irascible than his cantankerous son. The out-of-continuity Sunday pages are more humor-driven, allowing Segar’s most brilliant comic creation, the rotundly roguish J. Wellington Wimpy, to take the fore." – Gordon Flagg
Prince Valiant Vol. 3: 1941-1942 by Hal Foster: "This period, with its far-flung story lines and lavishly detailed artwork, is arguably the acme of Foster’s four decades chronicling the bold exploits of his medieval hero. While the oversize pages don’t approach the expanse of the bygone broadsheet newspapers that were Valiant’s original home, this is the best showcase Foster’s epic creation has had since its original appearance more than 70 years ago." — Gordon Flagg
Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921: A Kind, Belevolent and Amiable Brick by George Herriman: "Although nearly a century has elapsed since these episodes first saw print, nothing that’s appeared on newspaper comics pages in the intervening years has approached their graphic and linguistic sophistication, let alone their brazenly idiosyncratic singularity. The bounty of Herriman’s fanciful masterwork is enhanced by a pair of informative supplemental essays and Chris Ware’s strikingly stark cover design." – Gordon Flagg
The Complete Peanuts 1979-1980 (Vol. 15) by Charles M. Schulz: "Although Schulz’s much-loved comic strip is considered timeless — the continued reprinting of decades- old episodes in today’s newspapers attests to its perennial appeal — it wasn’t immune to contemporary trends. In these episodes, Peppermint Patty advocates for women’s equity in sports and gets Bo Derek-inspired cornrows. In other anomalous sequences, Charlie Brown’s pals express uncharacteristic affection for him when he’s hospitalized, and Peppermint Patty falls in love with — of all people — Pig-Pen. But most of the strips here display the comfortable tropes, from Snoopy as a WWI flying ace to Linus awaiting the Great Pumpkin, that Peanuts fans grew to love during its five-decade run." – Gordon Flagg
R.I.P.: Best of 1985-2004 by Thomas Ott: "With Ott’s trademark scratchboard style affording the highest possible contrast, this is some of the most stunningly crafted work in comics today." – Ray Olson
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler. Thanks to Eric and Wilfred!
Wilfred Santiago has a striking cartooning style that he can mold to fit any of the diverse projects he has created or contributed to. He has worked on everything from Capes to XXX to the alternative In My Darkest Hour, his first graphic novel for Fantagraphics. His newest project, 21, is about one of the most inspiring individuals to ever play the sport of baseball: Roberto Clemente. Rob Neyer from ESPN.com said about the book: "Wilfred Santiago's 21 is brilliant and beautiful, challenging and lyrical...which seems exactly right, as Roberto Clemente was all those things and more." Santiago and Clemente are both natives of Puerto Rico.
ERIC BUCKLER: What is your personal relationship with baseball?
WILFRED SANTIAGO: As personal as any other sport. Growing up, you either did sports or you did not. You called a couple of neighbors and you played baseball, basketball or whatever.
It's been years since I played any sports at all, and it feels a bit weird not to have that today, so I got a kick out of "playing baseball" on 21.
BUCKLER: You are from Puerto Rico; what did legendary Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente mean to you as a kid, and how is he seen by Puerto Ricans?
SANTIAGO: As a kid, it was different. In Puerto Rico, he was more of a myth than anything else. Sure, 21 played great baseball, but it was his reputation as a good-hearted Christian that preceded his game: perhaps to the level of deity. And you get this sense, because that's all the adults talked about. I never saw him play; he had already died. For a time, I didn't get that I couldn't go to a game and watch him play, like he never left. But his image was almost everywhere: a coliseum with his name on it. I haven't been to the island for years so I couldn't tell you about his impact on the present.
BUCKLER: This book is a biography. How did you go about capturing what he was like when he was alive?
SANTIAGO: Dissection. Clemente was a private man. Once you go through the rudimentary written biographies and any available footage of the man, you can start shaping his presence.
There are two parts to Clemente: The athlete is one way on the field, and another way as a father and husband. Roberto doesn't have a secret identity per se. However, in order to write Spider-Man, you also need to depict his life as a regular teenager. Peter Parker in costume becomes someone else and so are athletes. And of course, the people that surrounded him, the period when he lived, these are things that shape all of us, which are the same things that shaped Clemente as a character. Many times you have to separate the myth from the person and sometimes you have to speculate within parameters. For example, it was a known fact that Clemente went to a certain restaurant, but you have to speculate about whether he had chicken or ribs.