‘The Hostage’ Creator Sal Abbinanti: The Conskipper Interview

Sal Abbinanti has spent a lot of time representing esteemed artists such as Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz, but he is also an artist in his own right and he’s about to share his passion project with the world.

Abbinanti’s original graphic novel The Hostage just launched on Kickstarter and is already generating a lot of buzz due to the unique nature of the story and his colorful artwork. His supernatural tale (based on a life changing personal experience Abbinanti had in Brazil in his twenties) is one that jumps off the page.

Abbinanti took some time out to speak to us about his new project and what it is like being in the business as an art dealer and artist.

Where did the idea for The Hostage originate? 

Sal Abbinanti: I went to Brasil when I was in my twenties and arriving there as a naive American college kid it was like I went to another planet. The Beauty and culture were intoxicating, but some things in life you can’t unsee. When I got a chance to really spend some time there I discovered the homeless children living in the streets of Rio De Janeiro. These were small children many under the age of 11-12 years old. It broke my heart, the look in their eyes spoke to me in a way that unsettled me especially as an artist. Seeing the tremendous variety of religions practiced in Brasil I felt I needed to explore the culture deeper and when I did, what I found blew me away.

You’ve worked on this project for over ten years.  How did you sustain interest in the material and why did it never leave you?

Abbinanti: The Hostage was always something that was on my mind. I just couldn’t put it away. What I saw in Rio was something personal as an artist that I knew was meant to be something I channeled my art through.

My style wasn’t what mainstream comics was ever going to consider. So, this meant that I better pursue a project that was personal to me.

The art in The Hostage is very unique and colorful.  How did you use color to highlight particular parts of your story?

Abbinanti: Look, having a style like mine is a blessing and a curse. I was rejected by every publisher known to man.

I knew that I had to push things a bit to convince myself that I was an artist or pack it in and go back to bartending. Use of color and composition in ways that pushed the subject matter forward and not pretty it up for the sake of pleasing a tight ass editor. Pens and erratic lines can give an energy to a frame , this and color should be a character in a book. It was something that I was inspired by from old black and white German expressionist films.

Why are the cultural/religious aspects of Umbanda and the Candomblé so essential to your story?

Abbinanti: They’re very evident in Brasil, from offerings that are on the beaches to darkened doorways throughout the city. Religion is everywhere in Rio, smaller ones especially. They’re not cults mind you but part of the culture and background of the people. I stumbled upon a few small street bazaars in the out skirts of Rio that were selling relics, this is where I discovered some carved icons from the tribes of the Amazon. I asked the sellers what they were and they explained that some were protectors from evil spirits and predators. So, I brought a few of them home with me to the U.S. I still have them and that’s where the roots of the Hostage plot sprouted.

In what ways has your years of experience attending conventions in your role as an art dealer for Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz influenced your own personal style as an artist? On the other hand, what kinds of outside influences have also contributed to your style?

Abbinanti: It’s a cold business, so if you want to do it you better not wait to be discovered or rescued by a publisher or option a deal from Hollywood. Companies want to own everything they produce and create. They’re never going to out your ambitions ahead of theirs or what they own, meaning licensed characters. Working with Bill Sienkiewicz and Alex Ross has taught me to be professional and go after things. Work hard at your craft, always search for ways to get better because the competition sure is. Making a living as an artist is a privilege and very tough to succeed at, so you better want it more than the next guy.  It’s like running off and joining the circus, the Circus doesn’t need you, you need the Circus.

One of the reasons artists have art reps is to separate the business side of collecting from the artistry of creating pieces. What are some of the things that work for you to help find the right balance between these two elements of the industry?

Abbinanti: They’re connected and they’re not.  There’s Art for Art’s sake and then there’s jobs, commissions.  A healthy balance can be challenging but very important if an artist is going to keep his or her batteries charged. What do you want to work on?   What hinders you? I ask those questions and then go from there. Not everything you love is going to make money or even be received well. It’s important to not always think of the outcome before you get started. Do cool work and it will always find a home one way or another.

In all of your years of selling original artwork, what is one piece you wish you could have kept for yourself? What was it about that piece that you’ll never forget? 

Abbinanti: Oh, there’s a piece here and there that gets under your skin once it’s gone but you find another. Way back when I was trying to break in the business with Marvel, DC, and Image and was getting nowhere fast, Alex Ross was painting an amazing run of Astro City covers and asked me to help him with some crazy Alien ship designs. All he wound up using them on was the cover. I didn’t own the piece, it was Alex’s but it sold and I regret not asking him for it.

Future projects? 

Abbinanti: Getting The Hostage to reach an audience is paramount and all-consuming right now. But I do have a few projects that I’m high on.

The Hostage is currently available through Kickstarter. Check out some of the premium prints below that are available during the campaign from Alex Ross, Bill Sienkiewicz, Sanjulián, Geof Darrow, Jeffrey Alan Love, and Eric Powell!

John Evans contributed to this interview.

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