Eric Salinas interview

Several readers have recommended Something About Celeste, which is also on Amanda El-Dweek’s reading list. I’m happy to present here the man behind Celeste.

BC: Who are you?
ES: I am Eric Salinas, webcartoonist for Something about Celeste. I have been drawing Celeste in some sort of fashion since 1997, but I have only been publishing the strip online since 2015.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
ES: I was born and raised in Texas. During college I was published in my university publication, my hometown newspaper, and surprisingly also in the University of Hawai’i paper. That was the height of my professional reach. Over the next few years I was rejected by every syndication multiple of times. Eventually I became a school teacher. From 2010-2015 I taught English abroad. I have lived in the Czech Republic for two years and Turkey for three during that time. I am constantly torn between wanting to stay at home & work long hours on my comic strip and between my wanderlust (which never really goes away).

BC: Where are you now?
ES: I am currently in Texas, in a suburb near Austin. I am going back to Turkey soon. I was supposed to be back there last summer, but I had visa problems (The failed coup may have had a hand in making everything so topsy-turvy). In a way, it was kind of good that I stayed a little longer, as I had my best year to date drawing my comics.

BC: Have your travels had much effect on the humor or settings in SaC?
ES: Not really. I wanted to add more traveling stories into my comics, maybe make Celeste and Paige ex-pats in another country, but I have had no ideas as up to yet. However, I do think living in other places has helped me decide to translate my comics into other languages. I get my friends to help me with the translations. I started with Turkish, but then I also made Dutch and Czech translations as well. Right now, it is just a fun side project that I do with them.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
ES: I guess I would call myself a cartoonist and a digital designer. I am not much of an artist; I don’t draw any better than my peers. However, I am able to use my skills on Photoshop to hide the limitations of my art (I have even taught myself how to make ‘oil paintings’ on Photoshop). I think I have an eye for layout design. I studied Advertising Portfolio as an undergraduate. Therefore, I am very conscious of the visual elements and I try to make my comic as visually appealing as possible. I consider the overall layout just as important to the comic as the artwork and wordplay.

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist? How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
ES: I started drawing comics when I was eleven after I stole my brother’s Calvin & Hobbes book. It was a birthday gift he didn’t really care for, so he didn’t notice me pilfer it. After that, I made it a Christmas tradition that I would buy myself a Calvin & Hobbes book. I would even wrap it and sign it to myself. My first comic was about a bratty, spiky-haired kid named Kevin (even then I wasn’t very original). I would show friends and family my ‘Kevin’ comics and even had an exhibit at the local children’s museum my sophomore year. Besides that, I didn’t really do much with that comic.

BC: What led up to your starting Something About Celeste?
ES: I created a new comic strip my freshman year in college, Common Ground, to try to develop my skill as a cartoonist and broaden my appeal. Common Ground was from a feminine viewpoint and had a more popular appeal than my high school comic. It was in this comic strip that I developed Celeste. Early on, I created her as an overly-imaginative person harassed by monsters under the bed, skeletons in the closet, drawings of stickmen coming to life, and talking viruses. Throughout my career I have been very much influenced by Bill Watterson’s work.

ES: After graduation, I knew that of all my characters that I had created, it would be Celeste that I would try to syndicate. So from 2001-2005 I tried to syndicate Something about Celeste. I don’t know if I would call it “my biggest break” but I would certainly say a pivotal moment was when I sent a packet of my comics to Lynn Johnston of For Better or For Worse in the fall 2001. She absolutely hated it, and told me in detail why. After a period of nursing my wounds, I came to see what Lynn saw and was in complete agreement. I restarted my comic from the ground up. I am grateful to her because without her honesty, I would have been stuck on that mediocrity plateau for a very long time. No one likes critiques, but it was the thing that I needed to hear in order to improve.

BC: How would you describe SaC in a way intended to draw in new readers?
ES: SaC is a light-hearted strip about a young 20-something woman who has retained her childlike sense of wonder. Celeste loses herself in elaborate fantasies and daydreams. Sometimes these fantasy stories even surprise me, and her palindrome mirror reflection, Seles, has unexpectedly become one of Celeste’s biggest ‘frenemies’ in the strip. There is a balance between word play, slighty sexual innuendo jokes, colorful pictures, and just plain silliness in the strip.

ES: Lately, I have been using another main character, Paige, to draw more serious introspective strips. Recently, a friend of mine, who I show most of my work before publishing, has said there is a certain ‘yin and yang’ thing with Celeste and Paige. Celeste strips are the silly and light-hearted ones, while Paige strips are more introspective, serious, and sometimes morose. I use Celeste to get rid of all the weird ideas swirling in my head, and I use Paige to help me in my own mental state.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
ES: Besides Something about Celeste, I also dabble with the webcomics Pennylicious and Celeste International on Tapastic.com. However, I work almost exclusively on SaC, and it is easy to say that it is SaC which I am most proud of.

BC: What can you tell us about Pennylicious?
ES: A Turkish friend of mine has showed an interest in comics. She fell in love with Calvin and Hobbes after I introduced her to the strip (They don’t have C&H in Turkey). I even mailed all my old C&H books to her for her birthday. Pennylicious is her comic that I help collaborate on. So far it is about a group of 20-something year-old friends who are in love with the concept of ‘love’ but have no idea how to have a real relationship. Unfortunately, my friend has been real busy with grad school, so we haven’t done too much on it on Tapastic.

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet?
ES: Not yet, even though I have been harassed by a few family members to publish a book. I guess I am waiting to build a larger audience on the various websites that I publish on. I hope to publish a book soon, that’s all I can say for now.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
ES: I usually get my ideas from hot showers, long walks, or surfing Facebook to look at silly memes that people post up. I jot every weird idea into my notebook. When I am ready to make a strip, I start with the text first. Again, I make sure it is visually appealing with the text being justified and not spilling into the adjacent panels. Besides making sure the text is symmetrical, I make sure I leave enough space in each panel to show the most optimal amount of artwork. I am conscious of the economy of words, or ‘brevity’, and try to tell my story in the least amount of text as possible without losing the meaning or humor. After that, I am ready to add the artwork. I could spend hours scouring Pinterest, Google Images, or other webcomics to give me inspiration or guidance to help me illustrate my strip. I used to physically draw my panels on separate pieces of paper, scan them in, and then digitally connect the separate pieces of art into a single comic strip. However, as of the past two years, I just do everything in Photoshop; I draw directly with my computer mouse.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
ES: Since SaC is a comic strip about a young, naive woman straight out of college, I would think that No Doubt’s ‘Just a Girl’ would be a great song on Celeste’s soundtrack. However, lately I have been drawn to the performer Grimes. I think her song “Kill v Maim” perfectly captures the erratic energy of Celeste and her daydreams.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers?
ES: I am a fan of the artwork by Tom Bancroft and Gisele Lagace. I study their sketches and character poses when I draw my own characters.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
ES: Besides Bill Watterson and Lynn Johnston, the few newspaper comics I read are Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and her Unicorn, Rick Detorie’s One Big Happy and Bill Amend’s Foxtrot to name a few. But I spend more of my time reading webcomics than the ones in the newspaper. I follow almost all of the Sherpa cartoonists like Amanda El-Dweek, Jordan Smith, Francis Bonnet, Jose Sepi, Jason Platt, Bob Murphy, Alan Archer, Andrew Pilcher, Ed Owens, and Val Wares. I am also a fan of DrawWritePlay, C. Cassandra and Lunarbaboon found on various places on the internet.

ES: I like C. Cassandra as the only slice-of-life comic which I don’t find trite and IS well-drawn. I also like Christopher Grady’s work Lunarbaboon in that it is a comic that isn’t always trying to tell a ‘joke’. Humor isn’t the only emotional response that a cartoonist should strive for and we shouldn’t limit ourselves by always trying to be funny.

BC: Any idea what’s going on with Comic Sherpa now? Has GoComics been keeping the artists in the loop in any way, shape or form?
ES: I’ve gotten one or two emails since January. Who would have thought it would be so hard to add a Sherpa page to the GoComics website. Unfortunately, I don’t know what is going on there, so I have been focusing on my reach with other websites.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
ES: Initially, I look for something short and sweet; something I can read in 30 seconds or less. I don’t want to read a whole novel when I view my comics. If there is too much text, I skip it. I want a comic strip to be clean and simple without too much text or overly busy artwork. I am very impatient so I look at the layout to see if it is visually clean and symmetrical before I continue reading. After I’ve invested in a comic strip for years (like with C&H), I am willing to spend more time looking at every detail and nuance in it.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
ES: I prefer character-driven comics more than simple visual gags. The thing that makes a great comic is Honesty. Sure they are silly characters in silly situations, but they have to be as real as possible for the reader to get emotionally invested in them. A comic must be more than a funny pun or silly picture; it must tell a truth in a way that we had never thought about but we can all agree with. A good stand-up comedian does the same thing; show us a mirror to our own follies and faults.

ES: What makes a very good comic strip? Be really funny. Simple as that. What makes a great comic strip? Be really, really sad so that the reader has no choice but to laugh. I have seen comics that I would put in that ‘great’ category. The cartoonist does not have to make the whole comic strip in this way but just have certain individual strips that are honest and profound (remember the dead bird in the Sunday strip of Calvin and Hobbes?) But, this should be done carefully. A cartoonist shouldn’t try to be melodramatic and try to pull the emotional heart strings. If the reader feels they are being emotionally manipulated, it would backfire.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
ES: No, not yet.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
ES: My website is www.somethingceleste.com. Besides having all my SaC comics in the archives section, I have also included every other comic I have made since 1997, so there is a lot of content to see there that a reader couldn’t find anywhere else. I am also a Sherpa cartoonist, but unfortunately the Sherpa page is down on GoComics.com. I am on Tapastic, BeComics, and Comx Box Syndicate.

BC: Do you have any other projects you are working on?
ES: My Celeste International comic on Tapastic is a multi-lingual comic strip featured there. I have some of my old SaC comics translated into Greek, Turkish, Arabic, French, Czech, German, and Dutch. I have my comics translated for no other reason than ‘why not?” Right now, it is more a conversation piece than an actual draw to attract new readers. Despite its lack of numerous subscribers, I am constantly looking for new translators who would help me with that side project.

BC: If Celeste were here, what would she say are her best and worst features? What else would she want to add to the interview?
ES: Haha…what a fun question! Let’s see, I would think her best and worst feature would be the same thing. Her bubbly personality brightens everyone’s day, but that same ‘bubbliness’ is the reason no one takes her seriously. She would say “I am not just a dumb blonde. I read books. I know Isaac Newton invented the fig newton.” Whether she was joking or not, even I don’t know, but she is fun to have around.

BC: Anything else you’d like to add?
ES: I just want to thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about my comic. Even though I have been drawing for decades, I am only a recent entry to the world of webcomics. I’m pretty much a small fry in a business that is very crowded with many talented artists and writers. Hopefully, as many people as possible would become aware of Celeste and see the same thing that I see in her. This interview has been fun for me.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Eric Salinas (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

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