The artist on the Daredevil: Cutting Edge novel talks about illustration and the comics community in Montreal.
Kuljit Mithra: You did some comic work for Marvel in the early 90's, and a series with Caliber before that. Can you briefly describe how you first got interested in illustrating and how it eventually got you those first few jobs? Was comics your dream job?
Salgood Sam: Illustration as a field itself was never something that interested me; the illustration work that I have done was more for the money than out of any strong desire to do it.
I was never very focused on one form of art or another 'till my first year of art school (high school). Up until then I had doodled directionlessly. But on my first day I entered my home room and sat down next to this kid, George Toderoski. He was working on a page for what turned out to be his first published comic book, a B&W si-fi. We got to talking about what he was doing, and by the time I got home that day I had decided to try my hand at it. By the holiday break I was spending all my time at home and most of my spare time at school working on my art and trying to understand the mechanics of story telling, with the goal of eventually publishing in mind.
When I dropped out of school (gr11) I was getting ready to draw Nature of the Beast, a story conceived with Al Roy, one of the owners of my local comicshop (Planet Earth Comics). That was around 1987. Two issues came out of that but ultimately Al and I had very different ideas about where to go with the story and I left the project. I did some sample art for Karen Berger at DC in '89 or '90, and then I started working for Eclipse and Marvel. It began as a Dream Job, but I never was at home in the mainstream and clashed with my editors frequently. And meeting the deadlines was killing me, not to mention that I didnít meet them more often than not.
In time I had to leave - for my own sanity. But I have continued to work towards publishing my own stories. I would have published sooner, but itís taken me a longtime to get as much confidence in my writing as i have in my artistic skills and visual story telling.
Mithra: The impression I get from your bio in the DD Cutting Edge book, is that those Marvel years didn't appeal to you professionally. Were you just not getting the types of titles you wanted, or was the whole industry just not shaping up to what you thought it would be?
Sam: Both, though it was in part my own fault. I was only 19 when I started working for Marvel - and 23 by the time I burned out! I was too young and had no ability to communicate my feelings about the kind of writing I wanted to work around - the kind of stories I wanted to tell - I don't think I was even sure yet about what they were myself! I just knew it wasn't the stuff I was getting. And as for the industry, well the whole business has problems but Marvel...well let's just say - yes, it didn't shape up to what I had imagined.
Mithra: What title(s) would you have preferred to be on and why?
Sam: Well at the time I donít think it would have made much difference so far as burning out is concerned (too young!) but I would have loved to work on the Vertigo books. I was offered ĎAnimal Maní at one point, but the prospect of drawing a large ensemble cast scared me off the idea. In the end I should have done something of my own... some sort of B&W project where I could have learned my craft in a low pressure environment.
Mithra: By the mid-90's you began concentrating on other forms of art (animation, film). Were you trying to distance yourself away from comics for a while? What kind of work did you do?
Sam: At the time I don't think I had any intention of ever drawing comics again! So yes, you could say I was distancing myself, ha!
For four years there I did just about every thing under the moon - other than comics. Some art related, some not... and a lot of things that ended up with me stoned and drunk under someone's table. Art wise I worked for about three years all together for Nelvana Animation in Toronto and four months on the new Heavy Metal movie in Montreal. I was involved in the founding and operation of a creative space on Dundas St. called the We'ave (it's still there but its only a bar now) and I published a hand full of zines and eventually started drawing for fun again...
Mithra: You then came back to comics, doing your own and also doing some mainstream work, like Wonder Woman, and some of the Marvel novels. From the bio on your site, it appears all this happens as you make your move to Montreal from Toronto. Did the change of location do something for you creatively? Did it bring back some kinds of ideas of what 'comics' as an artform is capable of?
Sam: The change in location was mostly for the lower cost of living and the more friendly creative environment. It did do some things for me. But mostly it allowed me to relax and start examining what it actually was I wanted to do with my self and my work.
The mainstream work I have been doing lately has mostly been done to pay the rent but I have been picking and choosing more carefully now what I put my energy into, so it is work that I'm more or less happy with, though it is nothing like the projects I'm developing for myself.
Mithra: I also get the impression there is a 'comix community' in Montreal that helped out with your creativity. Am I right in saying that?
Sam: There is a strong Alternative comics community here, one steeped heavily in the European sensibility of what Comics can be - I have been getting involved in the organization of a local tradition called the Comic Jam and the community has helped me to find what I want to do by the many examples of artists here attempting to stay true to themselves in their work.
Mithra: Was it the change of location that brought about the name change to Salgood Sam? Any story behind that?
Sam: No, I started using Salgood Sam as a pen name before I moved here. I was using it when I did the Dardevil job, but the publishers messed up the credits... I started using it as a way to distance myself from my past work at Marvel, but now it has become a second skin. More me as an artist than Max [Douglas] is.
Mithra: How did the DD novel illustrating job come about for you?
Sam: They called, I did it...
Mithra: Did you have to do much background research on the characters etc.? Did you use any particular run, like Cary Nord's? Your interpretations of Karen and Rosalynd Sharpe look similar to Nord's.
Sam: I did do some research, but most of it was from material and comics supplied by Keith [DeCandido], my editor on the job. I'm not sure whose version of Karen and Rosalynd I was looking at. I don't read mainstream comics much any more, just a couple of Vertigo books. So Iím not up on the whoís who doing what where.
Mithra: Were you working more closely with Madeleine Robins, or editor Keith DeCandido? Were you given free reign on what you'd illustrate for each chapter?
Sam: On a job like that, in the comic biz, you frequently donít get to talk to the writers (this has always bothered me). In this case I worked almost entirely with Keith. What I drew was left to me somewhat, but he sent me photocopies with the text of the specific scenes that he wanted illustrated highlighted.
Mithra: Any reason for each picture in a circle?
Sam: Ask Keith, I drew them in squares. I think itís supposed to be DDís iconic Ďradarí.
Mithra: Did you design the cover illustration too?
Sam: Nope. Looks like something whipped up by the art dept. at Byron Preiss. Itís a shame they didnít ask me about it, Iíd have enjoyed painting a cover for the book... actually, come to think of it, I think Keith may have and I couldn't for some reason.
Mithra: So, overall, how was this job compared to some of your other novel illustration work for Byron Preiss?
Sam: About the same. It wasnít for the love of it but enjoyable enough, better than working for a living... :)
Mithra: Finally, what are you working on currently and will you be doing any more 'mainstream' work in the near future?
Sam: Well I'm working on three graphic novels of my own. The working titles are NUT'S, PIN CITY & BLISS, and I'm getting the art and plot outline for the first 6 issues of a B&W series together (I still haven't named it) to pitch to Fantagraphics or Slave Labour - someone along those lines. I'd like to have that out in six months or so.
Mithra: Thanks for the interview, and hope to hear from you soon.
Sam: My pleasure!
(c) Kuljit Mithra 2000
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
Black and White
Roberto De La Torre
Carmine Di Giandomenico
Tommy Lee Edwards
Elektra Hand Devil
Fall From Grace
Justin F. Gabrie
Devin K. Grayson
Alex Irvine & Tomm Coker
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Stephen D. Sullivan
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