Imitating Order – An Interview with Sally Cantirino

This time around I got to have a chat with one of my favorite up-and-coming comic book artists hustling out there today, the super cool and always delightful Sally Cantirino. Sally’s definitely someone to keep an eye on, with a lush, distinctive style and a great eye for shots and setting. So let’s dig right in.

Matt: Your style is so distinctive, particularly the lines and way you compose your figures. It feels simultaneously animated and painterly. What influenced its direction? What inspires and informs how you create your art, and how you’ve developed your style?

Sally: I don’t know? The first comics I picked up as a teenager were the Case/Morrison Doom Patrol run, the Hernandez Bros’ Love & Rockets, Mignola’s Hellboy, and my style and tastes stayed somewhere right in the middle of that. Artists like Ryan Kelly and Becky Cloonan made me want to ink with a brush, and then my mentor and friend Justine Mara Andersen at Sequential Artists Workshop taught me how to actually ink with a brush. As for schools, I ended up going to state schools in Jersey instead of art school— which filled the well and informed my style in its own way too, probably more than going to my dream school of SVA would have. I spent my time outside of classes going to shows and driving around North Jersey with my best friend.

It’s impossible to separate music from comics for me, because I got into it all at the same time, at the same age. I tried playing guitar and I was terrible at it, and terrible at making enough friends to start a band, so making comics is what stuck. The music I listen to has always influenced the stories I wanted to tell, my style both narratively and aesthetically, the energy— I don’t want to call my stuff punk or say I’m trying to make punk comics, because I’m not punk at all, I’m an old emo kid, I’m a mall rat, I’m a huge poser. I’m influenced by that level of catharsis and emotion that drew me to my favorite bands, I’m constantly trying to capture that energy in my work.

M: Following the theme of inspiration and influence, how much have the places you’ve lived impacted your art and the stories you tell?

S: I only kind of hate that I’m one of those people from Jersey who never shuts up about Jersey. I grew up going to Asbury Park before it started to be rehabilitated— there was something specific about that beautiful architecture and decay and the shore that I never let go of. I love brick and steel and glass and power lines and train tracks and bridges. I love the shore in the summer and the winter. I love Tick Tock Diner and how you see the city skyline going east on Route 3. I love the early sunsets in fall and driving at that time of day. I’m always worried that when I try to draw other places, it just looks like the east coast.

When I lived in north Florida, in the swampy part of Florida, it was beautiful and spooky, totally alien and prehistoric. I got much more into tarot and magic while I lived there, it was conducive to that. But even when I was living in Florida, I was telling stories set in New Jersey. I live in northeast Philly now— I missed living in a city, I missed the architecture up here.

And while this isn’t strictly somewhere I lived, but I’ve done drives across the Southwest twice now. I got to go out to Albuquerque, to White Sands, to Joshua Tree and Salton Sea, East Jesus and Salvation Mountain—I fell in love with the landscape and the act of crossing it. We drove out to Salton Sea while listening to Earthling by David Bowie, one day I’ll make a comic that feels surreal like that experience was.

M: What are you listening to right now? Your current musical obsession. And how much does what you listen to affect what you create?

S: I’ve been listening to Pictureplane and HEALTH’s newest albums, and Drenge’s new album Strange Creatures is brilliant. I saw Thursday again at the beginning of March so their whole discography has been on shuffle while I work (more than usual). The weather is getting nicer so I’ve got stuff like PUP, The Front Bottoms, Saves The Day, The Menzingers, Alkaline Trio on my playlists. When summer comes around I’ll end up listening to The Gaslight Anthem and early Springsteen all the time.

I love music with strong narratives or aesthetics. My favorite bands when I started reading and making comics as a teenager were Murder By Death, My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Saves The Day, The Dear Hunter, Alkaline Trio, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Rowland S Howard. I like folk music and Appalachian murder ballads. Sometimes I’m directly influenced by a narrative in a song, sometimes I just want to capture what that song evokes for me. I make playlists for all my projects.

M: Let’s play pretend, I’ve got a couple weird and fantastical questions. First, try this: a magical benefactor wants to pay you to adapt any licensed property into a comic. What do you pick? Why? Is there a movie or book or something else you’ve always wanted to turn into a comic?

S: I don’t know how much these count as “licensed” but I would want to adapt either of these albums: Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left Of Them or The Other Shore by Murder By Death. Who Will Survive… is about someone shooting he Devil in a small desert town, and how he Devil gets revenge on the town and slowly destroys it. I may or may not have an outline for how I’d write that album as a comic already. The Other Shore is a little less grim, it’s basically The Odyssey but set in space—I’d love to draw more sci-fi and use some different muscles.

M: Round two. This question’s one of my favorites. You’re “stranded” on a deserted but tropical island, and won’t be rescued for a week. Luckily, food and shelter are provided—but there’s no internet. At all. You only have one backpack full of things. What’s in it, and what do you do for a whole week?

S: My three current knitting projects, so I can finish them all. That’s it, I just want to catch up on sleep and knitting projects, and take a break from comics. Bug spray and sunscreen too.

M: Last things last, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to talk about something you’re working on right now that you’re passionate. Or, something of yours you’d like to plug. Also, what about something of someone else’s you’d like to plug, something you think is awesome?

S: I’m very excited to work with Jordan Alsaqa again— we’ll be in Iron Circus’ YOU DIED anthology. I sent Jordan a seed of an idea that I’d had on the shelf since 2016 or 2017, that needed the right co-author, and Jordan was absolutely that person. He did a beautiful job, I got really emotional when he sent me the script. I’m also working on a piece with Matthew Erman for the “Dead Beats” anthology from A Wave Blue World— same thing, I had a seed of an idea and Matthew expanded it into a great little story. The kickstarter for that launches April 9.

As for other people’s stuff? I think it just wrapped up, but I’ve been a fan of Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle’s Long Lost. I also just picked up the trade for Euthanauts by Tini Howard and Nick Robles, which might be my favorite comic that came out last year. Oh! I also want to plug two things coming out soon: Queen of Bad Dreams by Danny Lore (our editor on We Have To Go Back) and Jordi Pérez, and She Said Destroy by Liana Kangas and Joe Corallo.

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