Comics: Sal Abbinanti Previews His Rogue's Gallery Comic Art Show

The man behind Alex Ross Art and Comic Book Pros reveals his unique heroic visions.

By , Columnist

It would take a lot of folks who attend the major comic cons around the world but a moment to recognize today's guest. Most would remember him running into him while he was overseeing operations at the always-busy Alex Ross Art table at those shows, while even more might know him through his association with the Alex Ross Art site or its virtual sister, the original art sales outlet Comics Book Pros.

But what a lot of folks don’t know about Sal Abbinanti is that he is a remarkable artist in his own right. However, as the works showcased in this article—as well as those appearing in a major exhibit of Abbinanti’s art at the Rogue’s Gallery that is opening this Friday—will attest, he’s anything but your typical mainstream comics artist.

But, truth be told, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sal with Atomika statue.jpg

You’ve got a fairly major event coming up, don’t you? Why don’t you tell us a little about the Rogue’s Gallery exhibit and what kind of work will be included in that show?

Rogue's gallery here in Chicago is a great spot that primarily highlights comic artists that are not necessarily part of the mainstream. It’s in a very artsy part of town—Buck Town—known for some tremendous cutting edge, grassroots galleries. I am incredibly honored to have been asked to have been asked by Patrick and Dal to display my craziness.

Doctor Doom kirby crackle sketch by SA.jpg

Well, how’d this all come about? And did you have to think the offer over, or was it a no-brainer kind of decision?

Patrick at the Rogues Gallery starting seeing some of the pieces I was posting on Facebook—I do a 'sketch a day' thing on my Facebook page—and asked if I'd ever consider a show. I jumped at it and said, "Of course!”

I know that you’re fairly prolific, generally, and have been doing a lot of very fine sketches this year. So, how difficult was it to choose the images to include in the show?

Not too hard, many of the pieces I do are experimental.

And thank you for the kind words, but quite a few pieces don't work out and that’s fine, they serve a purpose to help me improve and flesh out characters that Marvel and DC will never let me draw.

Bomber attack by Sal Abbinanti.jpg

Do you have any pieces in the exhibit that you’re particularly happy with? Why? What about those works, or perhaps your experience of creating them, makes them special for you?

There are many special pieces in there.

For odd reasons, some were done at 4 a.m. when I was up with a sick kid, or when I'm having a rough time sorting out my life, etc. I always go back to the work. Those pieces up there really capture a moment in my life where the creative outlet was there to be my shrink.

Others, just me with a hard on for characters from my youth that I don’t think need to be drawn from over and over again with a tight, photorealistic company style.

Captain Cold [batmanrough352 (3)].jpg

Will you be doing a catalogue, virtual or otherwise, for the show?

Anytime anyone’s interested, they can go to my site and blog, and see everything I'm working on. All the pieces in or out of the show are up there.

How about events? I know the show’s opening soon, and you’ll be celebrating that. Is there anything else on the schedule at the moment?

That’s it until after the holiday season.

I'll be set up with my work at Emerald City Con in Seattle, and Anaheim for Wonder Con, and C2E2 in my home town Chicago (no one calls it Chi-town).

Atomika ala Rivera from SA facebk pg.jpg

On a related front, you recently finished your first creator-owned series, Atomika, so I was hoping you could bring us all up to speed with any new plans you’ve devised on that front?

I've started working on my next creator-owned book. It’s something I started working way back when I was at USC.

I spent some time in Brazil in the '80s and it changed my life. I experienced the street children there and it broke my heart and sent me home a much more educated kid than the spoiled college American that got off the plane. The book will deal with the Umbanda religion and the street children.

The Hostage image 2.jpg

And, yes, the second Atomika trade was solicited through Diamond, but regretfully the orders were very low. That was my fault. I took too long to get it out.

The cost of printing trades is quite high, as well you know. I will have it this year, though, and throughout 2012 in Seattle and all the other shows. I promise!

Well, what about some of your other creations like Dagos on the Moon? Will we get to see any of those new properties anytime soon?

I can’t wait to do Dagos, and I have a few people asking for Dagos. However, The Hostage, my book about the street children in Brazil, is near and dear to my heart and I really need to get that done before I do anything else. But Dagos on the Moon is coming soon for sure, I promise.

Besides who else could do it better than me?

Dagos on the moon pg 5.jpg

Not one person that I know of, my friend.

Now, I know that you were once intent on working with DC or Marvel on a couple projects or series. Do you still harbor any hopes on that front, or are you happy publishing your work on your own?

I would love to do something for Marvel and DC. I've pitched over the years, but was hit with a dead fish. Not complaining, just realistic that I'm not what they’re looking for.

That being said, some artists I feel are meant to go it indie. I'm very happy and artistically rewarded with what I'm doing. It's a shame, though. The Luke Cage proposal I sent Marvel was better than anything they've done with the character in a long, long time. You can see it on my site in the gallery section.

Like Cage cover_full.jpg

I also know that you’ve more than enough to keep you busy just meeting the daily demands of the Alex Ross and online art sales business alone, which makes me wonder why you still choose to carve out a few precious hours to work on things like Atomika, and do all that sketching and design work.

In other words, what do you get from it all?

I got in this business to be an artist. I've worked as an artist before I started the online business with Alex. I love Alex Ross and what we've established together with Alex Ross Art and traveling to all the shows etc. But what stirs my soul is my work. Without it I would die inside.

I'm sure you feel the same way, Bill, about your writing. We don’t want to be artists, we have to.

Nietzsche said there are only two types of people, creative and non-creative, and those that are not creative don’t understand that our work is like our children.

Batman under full moon sketch by SA.jpg

I can totally relate to those sentiments, Sal. But given that, what do you hope that gallery patrons get from your work? How about your readers?

That my work is a product of my imagination, and that it is a very personal thing.

I know that my work isn’t for everyone and that’s cool. Because when it comes to anything artistic, it’s all up there to be talked about, good or bad. That’s what art is for. I also hope none of my cousins get too drunk at the opening.

Sal's starburst Spidey +.jpg

Anything else to add before I let you get back to it?

Bill, I want to thank you for taking the time to let me talk about my exhibition and my work. It means a lot to me and I'm very grateful to you.

The pleasure’s mine, my friend. Hope that the opening and show go just spectacularly for you and the folks at Rogue’s Gallery.


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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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