Comic book writer Vito Delsante has had a busy fall. First, his new comic, World War Mob, has just been solicited via Diamond’s Previews for an on-sale date of Jan. 8, 2014. He also launched a Kickstarter for his creator-owned book, Stray, which has reached it’s funding goal. Both projects have a personal slant; World War Mob is based on a story told him by his grandfather and might be true, while Stray represents how he dealt with his father’s death 25 years ago.
However, lost in the details is Stray’s artist and co-creator, Sean Izaakse. Based out of Johannesburg, South Africa, little is known about the artist. Vito and Sean had an intimate discussion on Skype. It was a long conversation but one worth eavesdropping on. It’s been shortened some and we’ve split it into two parts. Here’s where we left off:
Vito: When I was talking to people about you, at the New York Comic Con, I would keep saying that your art is basically the lovechild of Alan Davis and Jamie McKelvie.
Vito: Like, if anyone looks at Stray, and doesn’t see Alan Davis, I don’t know what they’re looking at.
Sean: (Laughs) That’s an awesome compliment. I could never be Alan Davis.
Vito: Well, yeah. Was he someone you studied specifically? Or even…the truth of the matter is it might not be Alan Davis that I see in your art. It might be his inker (Mark Farmer).
Sean: Maybe. I like very clean art, that’s the thing. I’m attracted to guys that have very clean lines. Only recently, have I started looking at guys that have more sketchy work, like, say, Sean Gordon Murphy or James Harren. Those guys, with scratchy, loose stuff. Now, I can see the appeal of loosening up a bit.
Vito: You’re so clean, though. (Laughs) I would love to see you do something scratchy, but…
Sean: The most scratchy I’ve ever done is the stuff I’m doing on (Dynamite Entertainment’s) Pathfinder.
Vito: And that’s still very clean, too.
Sean: Yeah, well…I’m still…
Vito: That’s not a bad thing, though.
Sean: That’s the thing. I’m drawing fantasy stuff. The cool thing about drawing fantasy stuff is you want… ‘cause when I think of fantasy, I think of highly detailed paintings. I mean, I can’t paint to save my life, but when I’m doing pencils and inks, I want that detail and that mood that a painting would get. So, I loosen up and do a lot of crosshatching, different shapes, and not defining anything in the backgrounds as much that your mind can fill in a lot of places. Whereas, when I do superhero stuff, to me, it should be clean and bright…very distinctive. With Stray, I’ll probably go a lot simpler, stylewise, than I am with Pathfinder.
Vito: You work almost exclusively with Manga Studio, right?
Sean: That, and Photoshop. I do my roughs in Photoshop and then import them into Manga Studio.
Vito: Right, right. So…obviously…ok, it’s not obvious…
Vito: But I’ve told a couple of people that you weren’t the original artist on Stray. You and I were working on something else when the opportunity came up. And actually, we were going to do Stray Volume 2 together, and possibly Volume 4, but we were definitely going to do Volume 2. And then, last year, something happened and it bummed me out, and my wife, Michelle said, “Why don’t you call Sean?” and we were going to do something else that ended up becoming I Am Black Viper. But we weren’t going to do that at first.
Sean: I think you were going to offer Stray to someone else at first. You had said that you were going to try someone and see if they take it and if not, that I was your second choice. And I was like (mopey voice), “OK, fine.”
Vito: So, we had the original artist, who was just, unfortunately, preoccupied with other things, and it had taken a long time to get the first issue of Stray…almost five years, from writing to getting the pencils down, to get it done. And I just said, “I can’t work like that.” I called you up…we were already working on I Am Black Viper at that point, and then we just jumped on to Stray, to redesigning a lot of it, ‘cause I didn’t want to take any of the old designs and have you use them. You read the script, way before you were working on the book. What, initially, appealed to you about the story?
Sean: Oh jeez. You know, you’re not picking any easy questions.
Vito: (Laughs) I’m good at this!
Sean: (Chuckles) I don’t know…Nas (Hoosen, a mutual friend and comic book writer/blogger) asked me to do a little write up for him this afternoon for him, as well.
Vito: Yeah, I did too, actually.
Sean: Yeah, I know. He sent it me the one you did, to give me an idea, and I was like, “Well, I’m not a writer.” I mean, I can rough stuff, but when I’m put on the spot, and it’s like, “Hey! Write about yourself!” I don’t know where to start or what to say. Once I get started, I talk a lot. I mean, I talk A LOT!
Sean: But if someone puts me on the spot to talk, it takes me a little while and this is one of those questions. “So, why’d you like the script?” and it’s like, “How can you describe a feeling?” I mean, it started before the (Stray) script, when you and I started talking on deviantArt. “Yeah, we’re both such huge Nightwing fans!”
Sean: “It’s so cool! We like the same thing.”
Vito: I think we also came out as Aquaman fans, too. I think that was our other mutual thing. Nightwing and Aquaman.
Sean: Yeah. I think the first time I took notice of you was when I did a Nightwing redesign or something like this, and I was talking about sequentials in the description or in a journal or something, and you said, “Hey, I’ve got a Nightwing script that you can use to practice, if you want,” and I looked at it, and it was very cool. Like, we didn’t know each other from working together, it was more like, “Hey, we’re gonna be buddies, we’re gonna talk about stuff.” Usually when people come to me on any type of Internet platform and say to me, “Hey, I want you to draw some stuff,” I’m automatically like, “Listen, this is some kind of dodgy irk,” but you and I started talking like friends at first before we started thinking about doing any work together. Mutual taste and our discussions on everything, we were kind of already on the same page. So, when I started reading the script for Stray, you could see that we both like the same kinds of stories and characters, and the essence of Nightwing was there. Like, the protege, the mentor, the sidekick trying to grow into his own…and that appealed to me. I haven’t seen stories like that in a long time that were in the same vein, or the same feelings that I had when I was reading New Teen Titans and Tales of the New Teen Titans, and seeing Nightwing grow up and that. So, when I was reading the script, I kind of saw that which appealed to me, a lot. And then, like, I don’t talk about it, but I get the whole…I think only in this latest draft, that we’ve finally settled on, I really see a lot of the father issues I have.
Sean: Like, I don’t talk about it a lot, but I had a lot of issues with my father before he died. Like, we didn’t have the best relationship and it was a very sad parting. So, with Rodney, the way he had his falling out with his dad and it wasn’t on the best of terms…I can relate to that. It speaks to me.
Vito: It’s weird because, when I wrote it, I didn’t realize I did all that. It took…I have a friend of mine, the guy who did the theme song, Nick…like, he didn’t even say it to me. What it was…he wrote a song, based on my scripts. He noticed these things that were in the story that I didn’t make blatant or say outright, and he somehow put it in his song. And it was in his song that…we were listening to it in the car, and Michelle said, “He’s totally writing about you and your father,” and I said, “No, no.” And we listened to it again and I totally found it. And it’s like…it’s weird when you put so much of yourself into a story, and you don’t realize it. FCHS is very much me putting myself in the story…
Vito: And fictionalizing it, to an extent, because I’ve always said it’s semi-autobiographical. And Stray…I didn’t realize how much Stray was semi-autobiographical, too, based on just feelings and emotions.
Sean: But those make the best stories, if you can connect with them, though. A lot of people usually end up liking characters when they see slight reflections of themselves in them.
Vito: Yeah, but, you know…the whole thing with gSmack, you know, the drug that we use. I didn’t even realize…
Sean: For people reading, that’s not a real drug, that’s just a drug in the comics!
Vito: Yeah, we made it up.
Vito: The thing is…I made up this drug and…it had always been a thing that no matter what Rodney does, he can’t get high off the drug. And we made up powers…I hesitate to say powers, it’s more like abilities…that prevent him from getting high and stuff. It was a couple of days ago, that I realized the reason why that’s the way it is in the comic is because, when I was in my dark period, I would do different drugs, other than the gateway ones, and nothing would ever work. Like, I was always trying to get high, and I could not get high. At the time, when I was a heavy drinker and just trying to…I wouldn’t say trying to end my life. It was more like, stopped caring about it. I was just frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t get high on stuff. It’s weird because, in the new Issue #1, that’s happening to Rodney, and I didn’t realize that until the other day. Even though I know that that is a part of my life, I didn’t realize that I put that part of me in there.
Sean: I totally get that. That’s also the thing that I like about…that appeals to me about the character. You can see that in yourself, the drug angle and all that stuff. Me, I was never like that. The one time I smoked weed was during my last year of high school, during my matric(ulation) finals. I was a bit of a slacker in school, so I never studied or anything. (Laughs)
Vito: Typical artist.
Sean: And it was getting to the point where, “OkK we have to get ready for exams now.” And I haven’t studied and I’m stressing. I’m like, “How am I…I’m probably not gonna pass…I can cram now, but how much am I gonna get in?” I literally had days without sleep and then one day, I went across the street, to our neighbor, and I had a friend that used to stay there, and he was a big stoner. So, he rolled us a couple, got a big case of beer, and we literally sat on the pavement, drinking and smoking.
Sean: That evening, I stumbled back across the street, back to my house, and it was the best night of sleep ever.
Vito: This is like the movie, “Friday.”
Sean: That’s probably the most. You can count the times I’ve had really bad breakups and gotten completely trashed at a club and then drove home drunk. Just generally irresponsible. The drug angle I can’t really relate to. The thing is, especially with Rodney and with other characters that I like…if you look at the characters I gravitate towards…you’ve got Nightwing, Cyclops, Superman…
Vito: You like Arsenal, too.
Sean: Roy (Harper) appeals to my wild side, where I can be somewhat of a chauvinist, or, you know, I dig women and, he’s somewhat of a flirt…so that appeals to one side of me. But the other characters, they all have that really huge sense of responsibility and that’s what appeals to me about Rodney is…in Stray, he couldn’t make up for what happened between him and his dad. That was a rough time for him. He regrets it, and now, he’s got this responsibility…not necessarily to the name, but to his dad that he feels he has to take control and avenge him and find out who killed him. The reason these characters tend to appeal to me is, after high school, I had to look after my family. To give you an idea, since I was 20, I had to look after my folks. I don’t know if I told you this, but I think it was…1998…I was looking for reasons to get to the States so I could draw comic books.
Vito: You knew that early on that you wanted to draw comics?
Sean: Dude, jeez…I’ve wanted to draw comics…there were three things I wanted to do. I was either going to become an archaeologist. But then I found out that you couldn’t be an archaeologist with a bullwhip and fight Nazis and stuff like that. So I said, “OK, I can’t do that.”
Sean: Then I was like, “I want to be a photographer!” but the Daily Bugle doesn’t actually exist.
Sean: OK, so scratch that. That’s not a career choice for me. And then, the only other way to do this kind of stuff is to draw comic books. I’ve been drawing since I was 3 years old, and it’s been going since then. But anyway, after high school, I said, “OK, I need to get to the States, to a comic convention, and get someone to look at my stuff.” So, that’s the plan, so I started applying to camp counselor jobs. How it worked then was, you did an interview, and they sent it to the States, to one of the camps, and after six weeks or something like that, you’d get a reply and if you got the job, they’d pay for you to go overseas to a summer camp. And most people extend their visas so they can travel, so my plan was to hit cons in between camp season.
And, then my father ended up going to the hospital, ‘cause he wasn’t feeling that well. And that night, he came home and he said, “Sean, I need to talk to you.” He sat me down and said, “Listen, I’ve got lung cancer. I need to get an operation to get my one lung taken out and go on radiation therapy. I want you to take over my job and look after the family in case something happens to me.” I was like, “O-Ok.” Absolutely crushed. And it’s pretty much been, since that day, I’ve had to look after my family. So, he went for his operation and he got really ill. And there was months and months of therapy. All the time, I’m looking after his job, so if he got better, he’d be able to go back to work. I was working, doing that stuff, for like, two years before he got better, went back to work. And then he got sick again, and we had to move houses, ’cause we weren’t making enough money, and it went from one thing to the next, and eventually, he passed away. So, I’ve gone from odd job to odd job, doing some of the crappiest work. I’ve done cold calling (telemarketing) to sell gym contracts/memberships. That was the worst. I did that for a week and I walked out. I used to go to big office complexes and, in the parking lot, look for cars with chips in the windshield, and then walk inside…
Vito: That sounds like “Fight Club” or something!
Sean: It was terrible. I’d walk in and ask the people, “Would you like me to repair your windshield for $60?” Someone would run out with a gun screaming, “Get away from my car!” “I’m just trying to fix your windows!”
Sean: I did that for, maybe, two weeks and I just said, “I can’t keep doing that.” I worked in a sex shop for, like, two years.
Vito: Did you say, “sex shop?”
Sean: Yep. (chuckles)
Vito: What did you do there?
Sean: I was the manager. I was 19 years old, and people just felt more comfortable talking to me than some greasy, older guy behind the counter. I did pretty good business, so they’d move me from one shop to the next to fix it up. One day, I’ll regale you with stories from that place.
Vito: Not for this interview.
Sean: No, not for this.
Sean: Then I worked in a CD shop, selling CDs and DVDs. And I realized that’s not working in comics, so I found a night school, and I’d work at the shop during the day, and did a graphic design course at night, for about a year. After I got my degree, I started to apply for graphic design jobs, and I got a job at a local newspaper, designing adverts, laying out newspapers, that kind of stuff. After about…five years. Then I went to another company, designing magazines, billboards, cards. I worked there for about three years. And then we got trenched (laid off). Everyone was pissed, but I started thinking positively about it, like, “The universe doesn’t want you here.” The funny thing though, about a month later, the same company phoned me up and said, “Hey, listen, it’s really busy and seeing as how let most of our designers go, we need some help.” So I was like, OK, this is my rate per hour now, so I ended up making my entire salary back in a week.
Vito: You and I have been talking for a while, and I go through these really depressing periods where I’m like, “I’m done.” With all that, with your father’s death and all these jobs you’ve done outside of comics, how do you stay interested in drawing comics? How do you stay in the game?
Sean: (Thinks) Appreciate the small things. The way it works for me is, you’ve got to change your viewpoint sometimes. Sometimes, you’ll look at the small things for way too long, and you’ll fixate on them and you won’t be able to get out of it. And at that point, you change your point of view and see the bigger picture, and you think, “It’s fine. It’s just a small thing inside this big canvas.”
Sean: And then other times, you look at something that’s just…it’s too big for me, I just can’t handle it. So you change your view and say, “One little piece at a time.” One little piece, and then the next little piece, and the next little piece…get through it that way, and before you know it, you’re over the hurdle. I appreciate the small things, like…the escapism. I’m all about escapism. Like, I pick up a comic, and I just want to escape into it. I find panels and people I appreciate online, like other artists and, like…I’m an avid listener of Kevin Smith’s “Fat Man on Batman” (podcast). I listen to Jim Lee’s story, and Greg Capullo’s story, and Scott Snyder, and how they had all these obstacles and all these hurdles that they had to get through just to get to where they are now. You know what? You’re not alone. It might be tough now, and it might be depressing now, but it’s not easy for everybody.
Vito: Do you know what’s funny? Every time I threaten to quit, something always brings me back. Sometimes it’s a snippet of dialogue, or there’s a scene that I want to see. What’s really funny is, during all this press that we’ve been doing for Stray, I was called, “comic book veteran Vito Delsante.”
Vito: I just couldn’t understand. Where? How? That doesn’t make any sense! And then I realized, as of December 17th of this year, it’s 1o years that I’ve been a published author in comics. I don’t know how these things work out. Some guys have it easier, obviously, and then some guys, like me, get it really hard. It’s a struggle, every damn day. I’m very fond of saying, “If comics were a woman, I would have left a long time ago.”
Vito: I wouldn’t have put up with this from an actual person. But it seems like…you’ve got a much better attitude about it.
Sean: I’m a firm believer in, “Things happen for a reason.” And in karma. I’ve seen people treat my family really, really bad and I see what happens to them, and you know what? It comes around. That’s why I pay it forward.
Sean: Like if I see an artist that needs work, I know of work out there, I pass it on. I say, “Look, I can’t fit it into my schedule, here you go.” I was never…I went through a really bad patch, you know? I was a firm believer that there was a black cloud following me everywhere. I mean, if something bad went wrong, I thought, “Oh, the cloud strikes again.” But then I realized I was in some really bad relationships with some awful women…
Sean: Like they ground me into nothing, like I had nothing left. And then one day, after a few years of being miserable, I just sat there one morning and said, “You know what? F— this s—.” My thought was, sometimes bad things happen, sure, but there’s never gonna be this happy ending, where you wake up every day and your life is going to be happy. You’ve got to look and say, “OK, something bad has happened. That’s fine,” and live, be excited for those moments when the good things happen. Because the good things are going to happen in between the bad times. You just revel in the good things and just, meh, when the bad things happen. Let’s just not think about it and just move on.
Vito: Yeah, no.
Vito: It doesn’t work like that sometimes.
Sean: Well, it does for me. (Chuckles)
Vito: Good for you!