Thursday, April 29, 2010

Interview with Sal Velluto!

Today, The Ghost Who Blogs is very fortunate to present an interview with "The Ghost Who Draws"- Mr. Sal Velluto! Sal graciously agreed to let me interview him for my blog. The first part of the interview appears here, and the second part will be available over at Sal's blog The Ghost Who Draws.

GWB: When and how did you first become interested in art?

SV: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doodling pictures in general, or superheroes in particular. My older sister happened to be my kindergarten teacher. I can still remember how she decorated her classroom with giant renditions of Disney characters she had drawn and painted herself. I spent endless hours watching her draw and color. As she encouraged me to help her out with some of her artwork, I gained more and more confidence in the ability of expressing myself artistically. When I was 10, I started drawing my first comic book series on notebook pages and trade them with my friends for a donought. I even tried to sell them by subscription. When I turned 12, the Italian Batman comic book published one of my little drawings. At that point I started dreaming of becoming a professional comic book artist, someday.

GWB: How long have you been a fan of The Phantom?

SV: I’ve been reading the Phantom (or “L’Uomo Mascherato” as he was known in Italy) since the late ‘60s, but I can’t say I was that big of a fan of the character as much as I was of the artists who drew it. At that time there was a substantial production of Phantom stories “Made in Italy” whose artists tried to mimic the Sy Barry/ Alex Raymond style. Since I already was a big fan of Raymond, I found myself attracted by the Phantom, just like I was for so many other comics, from an artistic point of view, no more, no less. Almost 45 years later, when I was faced with the task of drawing The Phantom, I rediscovered my appreciation for the character and for his lore; this time in a deeper, more consistent, more personal way.

GWB: How did you come to draw The Phantom professionally?

SV: Soon after Paul Ryan left “Team Fantomen” to work on The Phantom daily and Sunday strips, I learned that Egmont might have been looking for another artist. Consequently, I started exchanging emails with Gammelredax Ulf Granberg who gave me a chance to do a couple of try-out pages. Instead of interior pages, I decided to illustrate a couple of covers, which Mr. Granberg approved for publication and were later voted #1 and #2 Best Fantomen cover of 2007. Needless to say, I got the job.

Best Fantomen Cover of 2007

GWB: Who is your favorite Phantom artist?

SV: I can’t play favorites with my fellow-artists. In each one of them, with no exceptions, I find something that I like, respect and appreciate.

GWB: What's your favorite comics project you've worked on?

SV: This is a tricky question to which I always give this tricky answer “My favorite project is the one I’m working on, right now.”

GWB: You may be best known for your previous work on Marvel's critically acclaimed Black Panther.

†Since T'Challa and The Phantom are both jungle-based heroes with nifty thrones, did your admiration for The Phantom have any influence on your approach to Black Panther?

SV: Black Panther bears a few similarities with The Phantom: the dynastic line, the immeasurable wealth, and an incredible treasure cave. Besides that, there were big differences in narrative style (Both story and pictures), Nonetheless, I remember of drawing at one point a huge battle scene in which the Black Panther was flanked by some warriors who might have come from a Bandar tribe…

GWB: How much input does King Features Syndicate have in their licensed comic books?

SV: That is a good question to ask a publisher and/or an editor. When a script arrives on my desk, all the syndications concerns have been taken care of. The only thing I have to worry about is delivering good visual story-telling in a timely manner.

GWB: You've made passing remarks in previous interviews that you like Westerns- Tex Willer comes to mind- is that why you chose to move to Utah?

SV: Tex Willer is probably the best known character of Italian comics and I’ve expressed interest in illustrating one of his annuals. There have been several famous international artists ( i.e. Alberto Giolitti, Victor de la Fuente, JosË Ortiz, Colin Wilson, Joe Kubert) who have worked on these special issues, but so far, none of them has lived, like I do, in the lands where the adventures of Tex Willer take place. In the world of The Phantom, my situation would be equal if not better than Wilson McCoy visiting far off African Jungles and living with the Ituri pigmy tribe.
On the other hand, my choice of settling down in Utah was not comic-related, nonetheless it ended up being a great adventure. In Utah I met my wife , to whom I’ve been happily married for almost 25 years and raised my family, which consists of four wonderful kids.

GWB: Having worked in the comics industry for almost 25 years, I'm sure you've witnessed many changes in the way things are done. For instance, you can do your art and then send it to New York and Stockholm electronically and never have to leave Utah. †Do you see this as changing the overall flavor of comics? Do you anticipate a greater global awareness of styles and artists in the near future?

SV: I think things have changed quite a bit already. The global awareness is already here and we are witnessing it.
The computer and internet revolution, like other revolutions of the past (industrial, transportation, communication, energy resources) can continue to affect not just the well being of the world of publishing, but the well being of the world in general, if it is allowed to thrive in a free market environment and a climate of continuous innovation. We are witnessing the times when comics (as well as other media) are expanding on the internet and the iPad. We are witnessing the times when comics are on the verge of being created, distributed and experienced -in a coordinated fashion- across different media platforms. This feels like that scene in the 1998 Godzilla movie where Matthew Broderick is looking for the monster’s footprints only to discover that he is standing inside of one.

GWB: What, if any advice would you give to aspiring comics artists?

SV: Here’s my secret formula:
  1. Choose to find a way to do it, instead of one hundred excuses not to do it.
  2. Bring yourself to the same level of talent, knowledge and technique of those who have already made it in the business. Demonstrate, practically, that you know how to do your job. If you want to play in the Pro-League, learn to play like a pro player!
  3. Study history, geography, science, technology… anything that pertains the stories you work on. Make yourself and your work credible.
  4. Act in an ethical and professional manner.
  5. Accept criticism with gratitude (especially constructive criticism) when it comes from someone who’s been successful in the business. Don’t listen to those who failed.
  6. Put first things first. Don’t sacrifice your family, your health or your ideals on the altar of your profession.
  7. Take two Aspirins and call me in the morning…

GWB: Will you be attending any comic conventions this year?

SV: Maybe San Diego, this summer.

GWB: What would you most like others to know about yourself?

SV: I’d like my neighbors to know that the fact that I spend all day around my house, unshaven, in my slippers and t-shirt doesn’t mean that I’m unemployed.

Sal was also kind enough to send over these beautiful samples of his work for Fantomen.


  1. Thank you very much for posting this wonderful interview. I feel lucky, I like his advice, useful to succeed as an illustrator.

    Thanks Mr. Sal Velluto and thanks Aaron.

  2. I grew up on Moore, McCoy and early Barry; these are the artists I know and love. I can be hard to please when it comes to alternative Phantom artists. But, Mr V., you don't need me to tell you that your comics art is very good indeed. I particularly like the last panel as presented in part one of the interview, ie. Guran with Phantom on hero. Also, you have a knack for portraying a spooky Phantom sitting in his creepy cave!

    Your professional attitude speaks for itself; but, more than this, you come across as such a gentleman.

    Nicely interviewed, Aaron – and it’s also nice to hear from a highly successful artist who has no arrogance or puffery.

    - Anthony

  3. Congrats on a great interview with Sal Velluto. I think his Ghost Who Walks is fantastic. Interviews would be a nice ongoing feature (if possible).

    BTW, regarding Mr. Velluto's comments about the neighbors: I totally understand that sentiment as being someone who works from home himself.

  4. Bengali Indrajal Comics: Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. And Mr. Velluto's advice was excellent!

    Anthony: I can attest from my contact with him, Sal Velluto is, indeed, a class act.

    Oscar: Thank you. Hmmm.. regular interviews. I don't know if I know anyone else who writes/draws the Phantom. Darryl Banks is signing autographs at my local comics shop today, he did a couple of Phantom covers for Moonstone, maybe I'll ask him.

    As to the neighbors... I have the same problem, except I AM unemployed ;)

    rob!: Thanks, I'm still in awe of your interview with Norman Alden.

  5. When and what will this artwork be published?