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Wilfred Santiago

October 12, 2011

Wilfred Santiago, Author, “21” (August 30,  2011):

Tell us about your work and what attracted you at the start to a graphic novel format?  

21 is a graphic novel biography of Roberto Clemente.  To tell the story of the baseball legend and humanitarian is to also tell the story of Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh.  The graphic novel medium gives me the flexibility and range to tell all of these stories and to appeal to a wide audience.  

Where can readers find your catalog of your  work?  

Readers can go to my website, www.wilfredsantiago.com, for a catalog of work.

Why did you choose Clemente as a subject for a graphic novel?  

There were a few people that I considered as potential subjects before narrowing it down to Clemente.  

As a subject, he has a compelling story, and he means so much to people whether they grew up on the island or whether they saw him play in Pittsburgh.  No where was this more evident than on a recent trip to Pittsburgh when it became clear that Clemente was still alive for many people.  

I also enjoyed baseball as a kid and thought it would be fun to capture the action of the game.

How does graphic novel format change the approach to telling a story like this?  

The format allowed me to really open up the story so that Clemente’s World Series triumph was also the story of Pittsburgh’s triumph of the underdog, Clemente’s upbringing was also the story of the complex interplay between religion, race, and politics that is Puerto Rican culture.

How long does it normally take you from concept to finished product?  

For this particular project, it took around 6 years.

How long does it take you to work on a graphic novel and did this one take longer?  

The length of time varies.  21 did take a little longer because it was important to get the details right.  As any baseball fan will tell you, the sport is about the nuances, the stats, the details.  In addition to the wider audience, it was important to me that baseball fans enjoyed this book.

What surprised you most in your research of Clemente?  

That most of the things people associated with him as a legend turned out to be true to life.  

What were some of the major issues you attempted to address in the novel and why?  

Through Clemente’s experiences, we can also see the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.  The complexity of this relationship needed to be addressed because the challenges that Clemente faced off the field were an important part of his story, from institutionalized racism to learning English, to the politics of statehood.

What is your impression of how Clemente  was received during his playing days in Pittsburgh and how has that changed now?  

During his time in Pittsburgh, it seemed like Clemente had a close relationship to his fans and to the people of Pittsburgh, and that despite what the critics or press might say, for him, it was really about the people, the fans who went to see him, the kindness of people like the Garlands whom he lived with for a period of time, and the kids.  

And so, that is what people in Pittsburgh remember of him, in addition to the wicked arm, and why he is beloved.

Have you gotten any feedback or worked with the Clemente family or MLB on the novel?  

21 received positive feedback and was well received by the Clemente family which was very important to me.

There’s talk of a Clemente movie. What are your thoughts on how they should approach this?  

A successful Clemente movie would have to be like the man himself, accessible and complex.  

What other sports graphic novels are you planning?  

I am working on a graphic novel about John Brown.  Yes, that John Brown.  For more information, readers can go to www.captainjohnbrown.com

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