Sandbox Spotlight: GUSTAFFO VARGAS, Comic Book Artist / Writer

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THE CONVENTION COLLECTIVE: Thank you for joining us in the Spotlight, Gustaffo! How did you get into art and why did you want to become an artist?

GUSTAFFO: Hi, thanks for having me! Art has always been in my family – my dad is an illustrator/painter and worked as a creative director in an advertising agency. At home, there were art tools, handcraft books and art books everywhere. He was always very supportive and enthusiastic towards my and my brother’s art interests.

He would borrow comics from work colleagues or would photocopy them for me to read. He also used to take me into town, in Lima (Perú) to buy comics at second-hand magazine street-stalls, something I kept on doing as I grew up.

I studied fine arts and got distracted for a good while from making comics. After working for several years as lead designer and animator at a company my family and I created, I realised I was missing comics too much and went back to making things of my own. Best decision I’ve ever taken!

TCC: What was the first work you completed, where you stepped back and thought, “Yes, y’know what, I can do this for a living!”?

GUSTAFFO: That’s a hard one. I’m never sure if my art is good enough. The same pages can look good or bad depending on the day I look at them!

What I remember is that feeling I had after making the first pages I did after a too long lapse of not making comics, around 2012/2013, I was with my girlfriend (now wife) on the phone and told her: I don’t know if I’ll ever work or make any money with comics, but I just realised that I’ll never stop doing them.

Right now, I’m working full time making and drawing comics, so I guess there’s a couple of things I’m not doing wrong. 🙂

TCC: Which artists inspire you? And they don’t have to be in the medium you work in, either…

GUSTAFFO: That’s an answer that changes a lot. But, if I try to think of my essential ones, the ones that were my pillar inspirations… When I was a kid, I had a book about comics that I devoured over and over again, full of single comic panels from amazing artists, such as Windsor McCay, Alex Raymond, Milton Canniff, Peyo, Guido Crepax, Hergé, Robert Crumb, Esteban Maroto, Quino, and a long etcetera.

In my teens, I found pivotal influences from Argentinian artists like Enrique Breccia (Alberto Breccia’s son), Roberto Fontanarrosa, Horacio Altuna, Carlos Nine, Carlos Sampayo, Domingo Mandrafina and also some British artists, Mike McMahon, Kevin O’Neill, Carlos Ezquerra, Arthur Ranson.

In my university art years, I was in love with Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Antoni Tapies, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Joel-Peter Witkin, Tilsa Tsuchiya and also European comic artists, Enki Bilal, Beb Deum, F. de Felipe, Moebius, Sergio Toppi.

And after finishing University and coming back to enjoy comics, is that I discovered Mike Mignola, Paul Pope, Jeff Smith, Jeff Jones, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Rutu Modan, Lucas Varela, David Rubín, Frederik Peeters, Simon Roy, Andrew McLean and a long list that keeps on growing.

TCC: Can you tell us your greatest fan moment, interacting with a personal hero of yours where you may have gone a little weak at the knees?

GUSTAFFO: Hah! In 2016, my first year living in the UK, I went to Thought Bubble in Leeds. I was so excited to see Mike Mignola, my favourite comic creator EVER!!

As I was coming out of the toilet, I saw him waiting for his wife, and all happened very fast, like a drunken moment, I was thinking of going to talk to him, when all of a sudden I found myself in front of him telling him that I was in love with his work! I was not able to stop myself from telling him how cool Hellboy and his Universe was (very original, right?), but at the same time I was thinking to myself: stop telling him you love him, and please, try to come up with an interesting question!!

I managed to ask him of his following works, and how he expected his work to be taken in the future (I guess is not such a bad question, right? I guess…). Mike was really nice and patient. That moment was my realisation that even comic gods are normal people, and more often than not, kind people.

TCC: What is your favourite fandom? Who is your favourite comic book character/movie/tv character?

GUSTAFFO: Well, HELLBOY and all the Hellboy universe!! 😀

Other than that, I love science fiction, also fantasy and any kind of fiction. But science fiction is the big one. I tend to follow stories and not so much characters or specific titles, so I’m very much in a constant state of discovery of all kinds of artists and stories. 

TCC: Outside of the ones you create for a living, what characters/stories do you like drawing the most in your spare time?

GUSTAFFO: My favourite toy line is MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, He-Man, Skeletor and all those characters, a mix of sci-fi and fantasy that was so amazing at the time! So, in my spare time, I draw MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE characters, my most comfortable zone to draw, or any kind of sci fi, robots, monsters and weird creatures.

TCC: What’s your working routine? Do you work regular set hours and days, keeping certain days free for personal time, or do you find you create any time the muse takes you?

GUSTAFFO: I learned pretty early that if a muse takes you it is better that it happens while you’re working. I work Monday to Saturday, sometimes Sundays, from 8am till 7/8pm. 

I’m still trying and not being very successful at resting and finding free time to just relax and do nothing. A creator’s life can be very demanding, your brain becomes your own personal dictator, but it is because there are so many things to do!

TCC: When you’re creating, what do you use for background noise? Some artists use music or podcasts, some use a TV show that they just can listen to in the background. What do you use?

GUSTAFFO: All of those in different moments. This is a very lonely business, you feel that lack of real interaction with people. When I’m writing and making decisions for any story I’m working on, all the thumbnailing and planning stages, I tend to listen to melodic music, nothing with lyrics.

When I’m drawing, most of the decisions have already been made, so I keep on jumping from listening to music, to podcasts, to TV shows, to films, to interviews in the background, basically anything that fills the air.

TCC: What was the first comic con that you remember attending? And, indeed, what was the last?

GUSTAFFO: First one: LIMA Comics 2011 in Lima, Perú. I remember being very inspired by the convention, seeing for the first time international creators like Eduardo Risso, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Bá, José Villarrubia, Martín Canale, Horacio Altuna was a very surreal thing. At the moment I felt very disappointed in myself, I was still in my long lapse of not making any comics and that didn’t feel great.

Last one: Thought Bubble 2021! I just realised it’s exactly ten years after my first convention, and things have changed so much! I was missing so much going to Thought Bubble! I’m now part of the UK comic community, and being able to see friends again, meet new creators, and connect with readers was a total delight. A very emotional and rewarding experience.

TCC: How has your approach to attending conventions changed since that first one? And what’s the one big piece of advice you would give to someone tabling at a convention for the first time?

GUSTAFFO: That first time I went as a visitor, I was very lost but excited. Now that I table, I miss going only as a visitor.

To anybody tabling for the first time, just enjoy the experience as a whole. Take breaks and be kind and gentle with yourself. Tabling is about connecting with people whether they buy your creations or not, to meet people and all kinds of creators. Connection and conversation are very important. Try your best to inspire and to be inspired.

TCC: What’s your favourite element of a comic convention? And which bits could you easily leave behind?

GUSTAFFO: Definitely the connection with people, creators and readers. You feel the community alive when you’re there. I only wish I had the super-power to duplicate myself and to visit all the tables at the same time that I table!

TCC: At a convention, when you’re not behind your table or doing the things you have to do at a con, which corner of the show would we find you in?

GUSTAFFO: Anywhere, everywhere, I move very randomly. I want to know all these creators I admire, but I also love finding new creatros that I didn’t know anything about.

TCC: During pandemic, due to the lack of conventions, a lot of artists took to taking commissions online and mailing them out to people – was this something you did or did you find an alternate revenue stream to keep you going? 

GUSTAFFO: I’ve been incredibly lucky during these times. I just started working as lead artist for CRAYTA COMIC when the lockdown started, and my workflow has been going very steady until now. I’ve also been working on projects like Saxon Second-Hand books, producing SKRAWL with the SkrawlLordz, and working on my Peruvian Cyberpunk books.

TCC: A lot of creatives are also taking to crowdfunding – such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo – to generate income from their work. What’re your thoughts on that avenue?

GUSTAFFO: For the past years I was releasing my Peruvian Cyberpunk books as part of the new releases at Thought Bubble. That’s when I decided to launch PUNO through Kickstarter, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Kickstarter brought PUNO to a broader audience and was very well received. I just finished my second Kickstarter campaign for the last book of the ALTIPLANO saga, PILCUYO. It’s been a very positive campaign. I’ve also been involved in two other campaigns that were very successful experiences, SKRAWL and Saxon Second-Hand Books.

Crowdfunding is a great tool for creating and reaching your audience, and for new readers to discover your work.

TCC: The conventions are slowly but surely coming back, thank goodness! Have you attended one yet, do you intend to get back out behind a table soon? What’s your next convention or, if you’re holding off for a while longer, what’s your thoughts on cons right now?

GUSTAFFO: Yes baby, please! I was tabling in The Lakes Festival this past October and Thought Bubble this past November. If a convention is well organised, and it’s following safety measures, I want to be in!

I’ve realised that because of COVID, I’ve lost practice completely on looking forward to the ‘next’ convention. Now that I live in Scotland, I’m starting to look into conventions happening in this area, hopefully by Spring time!

TCC: But let’s get back to the important stuff: your work! What projects have you recently finished, what are you working on at the moment, what projects are coming up that you can talk about? 

GUSTAFFO: Of course! 🙂 At the moment, I’m working as lead artist on CRAYTA Season 2, a science fiction thriller that is a tie-in for the Crayta game by Unit 2 Games. It’s a stunning story, written by Dan Abnett, where I also share pages with fantastic artists: Paulina Ganucheau, Emma Vieceli & Neil Roberts.

I’m also working on my last Peruvian Cyberpunk book, PILCUYO. The third and last volume of the ALTIPLANO saga – it will tell the conclusion of the story that started with MANU and continued with PUNO. I’m so excited to finish this, my most ambitious project to date! I should finish it by May 2022.

SKRAWL #2 comix magazine will be launched on Kickstarter on the first quarter of 2022. We are preparing a very exciting second issue. We will have works from all the SkrawlLordz and very exciting names that we will announce soon! I will draw a short story called JUEGO, and it will be very different from my previous stories. 

I’m also working on the first stages of Saxon Second-Hand Books #2, the SuperNatural adventure set in a Neo-Victorian London, written by Ash Deadman and edited by Matt Hardy from Mad Robot Comics. SSHB should come to Kickstarter in 2022.

I drew the art for a nine-page short Cyberpunk/Steampunk story for Accent UK, written by Dave West and Drone. It will be part of a bigger book that should be on Kickstarter in 2022.

I’m also slowly preparing more Peruvian Cyberpunk stories that have me very, very excited!!

TCC: Phew! You’re quite the busy chap! How do you stay connected with fans? Do you use a mailing list or newsletters, are you active on social media?

GUSTAFFO: I try to stay as active as I can in social media, but I’ve been thinking for a while about creating a short newsletter where I’ll share some of my projects. I guess we will have to wait and see if it happens sooner or later.

TCC: Where can people see an example of your art online and find out about your rates? 

GUSTAFFO: People can find my work and ask about my rates at my webpage: https://artefactop.wixsite.com/gustaffo or through social media at Twitter @GustaffoVargas and Instagram gustaffovargastataje

TCC: Thanks, Gustaffo, for your time! 

GUSTAFFO: Thank YOU!! This was fun!

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