Ghostbusting, Drag Kings, and Video Game Design: An Interview with American Spirit’s Andi Santagata
Andi Santagata is incredibly talented. They used to be a game designer, for some games you might know, and now they create an amazing webcomic and stellar occasional drag performances. American Spirits is a quirky, good-looking nerd-a-thon of a webcomic. It’s about two independent ghostbusters, Allie and Jen, who help out those with otherworldly infestations, for a fee of course. The art is different each chapter (Chapter 3 just started!) and it’s always fun and gorgeous. The color theme is exactly what I want in my ghosty stories, sort of spooky Rugrats palette. Santagata hasn’t been at this comic for long, but it’s already on my weekly webcomic pull-list.
I am a MASSIVE Ghostbusters fan. Growing up, my dad loved Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and that whole group of National Lampoon / SNL guys, so we watched a lot of Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, and, of course, Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters was the first movie of my dad’s that I remember watching. It kind of stuck. I would have these super appealing nightmares where I was Rick Moranis in the scene where he’s trying to run away from that giant ghost dog, pounding on the windows of the fancy restaurant trying to get in. It was kind of awesome.
Oh! Reboots! Right! The first second I heard they were making a Ghostbusters remake, but starring an all-female main cast, I got super pumped – until I realized this probably means I’m going to be sued out of existence, but oh well. I will make as many comics as I can until then. I really love Kate McKinnon, and if I were to remake Ghostbusters I would absolutely cast her, so I’ll be first in line to see it.
I love the idea that Jen is going to get a tattoo for every ghost busted. Can you spoil it for me and tell me if eventually I’ll be able to purchase a pin-up of Jen covered in ghost tattoos???
That is an excellent idea. It would have detailed descriptions of each tattoo-adventure, and be printed on blueprint paper. I totally want to have a bit of merch for sale sometime soon. I have these bumper stickers that say “THIS MACHINE BUSTS GHOSTS” I need to share with the world.
People in real life directly ask me if the comic is based on me and my best friend, Suzanne. (Hi Suzanne!). The characters are definitely inspired by our self-destructive antics, but the real life Suzanne is much more tortured and animatic, and I’m a lot less ballsy and a lot more into Hawaiian shirts than Jen. The characters have kind of taken a life of their own. Jen and Allie’s relationship has a lot more emotional tension and moral grey areas.
Any romance brewing for the characters?
For sure. Allie’s emotions are not yet being torn hither and thon, and she’s going to get her fingers a little too deep into a little too many pies. That’s a great phrase, isn’t it? I’m sure whoever invented that idiom didn’t mean for me to make it into a clumsy sexual metaphor, but that’s just the magic of comix.
I really want Jen to be caught by surprise by actually feeling affection for someone, but we’ll see when this rears its head.
I started drawing comics because I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t express my awful, out of left field, not-safe-for-work self at my job. I’d only worked in AAA games and loved it, but my first foray into mobile gaming took a pretty bad toll on my mental health and job performance. I wanted to quit my job and just screw off and draw comics in the woods all day, but I also wanted to prove I was tough enough to stick it out, because that’s what adults do. Ironically, I got laid off, so I DID end up having all day to draw comics. I haven’t really gone back since. I kind of love having the time to finally devote to comics.
For that matter, how’d you get into designing games?
Short answer: Fallout 3. Long answer: When I was 14, and a listless, angsty individual, I had never touched a video game besides Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (it’s a 3D platformer, if you can believe it) in my life. One day, alone at the airport for whatever reason, I stumbled across a copy of PC Gamer at a store. The cover story was announcing Fallout 3, all its myriad features, and its atomic ’50s setting. Based entirely on this, I felt like I had found my video game soulmate, and bought the magazine, reading it a gazillion times. I bought an Xbox 360 just to play Fallout 3 when it came out. That was a gateway drug to playing more and more RPGs, then all kinds of games. When I was 16, I worked as a QA tester at a mid-size game company in my hometown, and that put me into full-on “this is my life’s calling” mode. I ended up getting into the game design program at the University of Southern California, worked on a few games, dropped out to work full time as a game designer, and, in an unexpected turn of events, started making comics instead. I still love video games, though. That’s hard to kick.
So, you’re a pretty great drag king (too much interneting on my end). How’d you get into performing? Does it influence the comic in any way?
Haha, why thank you! Being a drag king is pretty much the most fun thing I have ever done. The only problem is, you get to do it, like, four times a year. Drag kings are not a top commodity. (In my drag character’s case, he’s a bottom commodity.) When I was in college, I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race religiously (still do), and lived in a house full of drag performers, and was eventually dragged onstage to assist in my roommate’s performance of “It’s Not Gay When It’s In a 3-Way” by Lonely Island (Hi Glenn!). I figured I didn’t want to be a male impersonator, I wanted to be a drag king, and so, Zed Septic was born.
I had three goals: 1. Frighten conservatives 2. Give boners to ladies 3. Fulfill my destiny of being a radioactive trashy rockabilly heartthrob.
Being a drag king and getting to know so many awesome, fascinating people, learning to perform, tell a story, and make over-the-top, trainwreck characters is definitely something I couldn’t have done without drag. I got into drag through romanticizing particular parts of the male experience, like small-town teen fear and self-loathing over the inability to act on your own horrible feelings (or, as I like to call it, “Hamleting”), but I ended up learning a whole lot about people as a whole. It is a great way to study the concept of the fearboner (noun: Being weirdly fascinated and kinda turned on by something you find either terrifying, disgusting, or both. Thanks, Mark Duplass!), which is, like, my primary artistic focus. You can take that to the bank.
Shit, this is probably why I got fired.
The first page of the new storyline already looks so different! Do you feel your sense of style changing as you work on the comic?
For sure. I’m like a kid with ADHD at a candy store. I see all these different styles and emotions I want to portray and I just greedily shove them all into my gaping maw. I try to have the self control to stick with one coherent look per chapter, since I like having things look nice and modular, but I love matching up specific branches of a style to moments in a story.
What are some comics that you read online?
Kill 6 Billion Demons has some of the most amazing art I have ever seen, and I love the world it’s set in. The level of detail is incredible, and I could stare at it for ages. I also read Gunnerkrigg Court, Oglaf, anything KC Green writes, and the occasionally-defunct, maybe-coming-back “world’s first punk rock webcomic” Nothing Nice to Say, which has been my favorite since I was 14. Mitch Clem, if you’re reading this, your comic is responsible for far too many major life and artistic decisions on my part.
God, if I could draw any faster, I would be cranking out chapters left and right. There’s so much of this world I have yet to commit I feel like I’m gonna puke. I want to show more of Jen and Allie’s past, there’s a storyline where Cody, their ghost roommate, has his parents come back to “fetch” him – it’s good shit. Also, more elaborate backgrounds. I love drawing backgrounds so much.
Any advice for artists just starting out?
The requisite “just draw! Start drawing! Draw more! And practice!”, but also, almost as important, don’t let people talk you out of drawing the subject matter that you want. If you want to draw nothing but members of the L.A. Kings, and your heart bleeds black and silver, and you’re at your most emotive when you’re rendering Jonathan Quick’s angel-face, do that. If you want to make a comic about two rad chicks busting ghosts with the tonal equivalent of a third wave ska band, do that. If you love and want to draw comics about vampires, model plane construction, magical girl adventures, do that. Or else, you’ll end up with nothing but years of work you won’t feel like showing to anyone, because it’s not yours. When opportunity comes, you won’t have anything to point to that you can definitively call your own. And you will be kicking yourself for it.
Uh, I mean, “follow your dreams”.
The first booze-drink I liked was a Singapore Sling. I moved to Singapore when I was 11, and my parents immediately decided to sample the country’s favorite trashy tourist cocktail, which I demanded to have a sip of. It was bright pink and tasted like grenadine and was the first in a long, long road of overpriced, delicious cocktails that would drain my wallet in the future. I looked up the recipe online and apparently it’s a guarded secret, as in, the bartender at Long Bar in Singapore traded and parlayed and took the recipe to his death, with only a few people knowing of its components. I also never bring this up because it makes me look pretentious as hell, but damn, that shit is delicious.
Any last thoughts?
Er…. let’s see… Thanks a ton for reading my comic! Posting work online can feel like yelling into a void a lot of the time, so I love hearing when people got something out of something I made. Oh, and this is probably where I should plug my comic! American Spirits. I also have a Twitter (@SuitedDevil) and a Patreon!
Also, I made this ridiculous Spotify playlist you can listen to while you read Chapter 2 of my comic! It’s mostly ska, just a warning.