20 Questions with Comic Artists: Eric Salinas of Something About Celeste

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We are back once again True Believers with another entry into our world famous series.  20 Questions .  Today we have invited Eric Salinas of Something About Celeste to the palatial Root Beer Party compound for an interview.  As we sit overlooking the Sassafras fields, we sip on a frosty mug of A&W and welcome our new member into the ancient and venerated society that is the root Beer Party.  

You can find Eric’s comic on his webpage here: http://www.somethingceleste.com/

So let us begin and welcome our newest member into the party.  

Question 1. What got you started in doing a comic series?

When I was 11, my older brother had a birthday party at our house, and one of his gifts was a Calvin & Hobbes book. I wasn’t invited to participate in the birthday festivities, so I pilfered the book and read the whole thing within the weekend.  After that, I knew I wanted to become a cartoonist. My first comic was about a bratty, spiky-haired kid named ‘Kevin’. Yes, I know, not very original. 

I drew my ‘Kevin Comics’ throughout middle school and high school, showing only my family and friends. In college, I submitted my comics to the university student publication. Because I was too emotionally invested in ‘Kevin’ at that time and I knew I couldn’t handle any sort of constructed criticism, I created a new comic with a bunch of throw away gags that I could draw within 15-30 minutes. That way if the editor didn’t like any particular comic, it wouldn’t be a crushing ordeal for me.  It was weeks after I created the comic that I decided to finally give a name to my protagonist. I thought ‘Celeste’ was a nice sounding name. But I was embarrassed that it was a ‘feminine comic’ so I used the pseudonym “Paige Zuniga”. Later I did other comics under my own name while in college, but ‘Common Ground’ (the comic with Celeste) was the most popular comic. Ironically, I was jealous of Paige because her comic was so much more popular than the comics under my name. 

My last year in university, I created a new comic strip ‘Soliciting Celeste’ (I have no idea where I came up with that awful name) that I planned to send to all the major syndications. After two years of failure, I revamped the strip with the new name of ‘Something about Celeste’. But by 2005, I gave up trying to get syndicated and by 2007 I stopped drawing comics all together. I only restarted drawing my strip when I started to post my comic to Sherpa GoComics in 2015. So long story short, I have been cartooning for over two decades but I have been an amateur webcartoonist for only two years. 

Question 2. Who was your greatest influence?

Oddly enough, I hated reading the comics section in the newspaper because there were too many syndicated comics that I hated, and reading the newspaper only made me angry. Instead, I would just buy the books of my favorite artists and read them and reread them at my leisure. I had all the ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ books, most of ‘Bloom County’, and a smattering of ‘Foxtrot’, ‘Mutts’, ‘Zits’, ‘Rose is Rose’, ‘For Better or For Worse’,  ‘Get Fuzzy’ and ‘Sinfest’ books. 

But by far, the greatest influence was Bill Watterson. I would emulate his work so much during my teenage and early adult years. I think that, now in my 30s, I have finally found my own voice. My favorite thing about the comic was how Calvin escaped into his fantasy world and I often have Celeste doing similar things in my comic. Another thing that I liked was how a mischievous 6-year old (a boy always playing pranks, playing in the mud, and collecting bugs) also had a lexicon of a grad student. I thought that was funny. A comic that I would laugh at when I was a kid because it had a visual gag, I would revisit as an adult and find that the joke really had a play-on-word pun.  Watterson’s comic worked on so many levels and that was the thing that I have tried to emulate the most. 

Question 3. What is your favorite root beer, and why?

I rarely drink any sort of soft drinks, but when I do have an ice cream float, I drink A&W. Also, there is a root beer called ‘The Best Damn Root Beer’. I don’t know if they sell it everywhere or only here in Texas. It is $10 dollars a six pack because it has 5% alcohol per bottle (I think it’s whiskey with the root beer). I have only had it a few times but it has an interesting taste.

Question 4. What do you hope to accomplish with your comic?

Artistically, I hope to learn how to draw one day and not be so dependent on my Photoshopping skills.

Professionally, I hope that I could garner enough readers and subscribers that I could finally open a Patreon account and have some sort of ads on my website. I’m not greedy, I just want enough money that I can pay off the expenses of operating my own website. 

Question 5. Do you have any other artistic interests outside of comics?

I have learned how to ‘paint’ (but only on Photoshop). I have done  few acrylic-like paintings and hope to learn how to make water color-like ones as well. As for the real thing, with real brushes and paint, I have very little skill in that. 

Also, I am not an adept polyglot, but I do like learning other languages. I am not proficient in any other language outside of English and still consider myself monolingual, but I do know the main words and phrases of several languages. Because of this, I have worked to make a few translated versions of my comic, such as Greek, Turkish, Dutch, and Czech. 

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Question 6: Do you see yourself as a professional cartoonist, or is this just something you do for yourself?

I don’t get paid to be considered a ‘professional’, but I work too hard and too long on my comics for it to be considered a ‘hobby’ either. I’m somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t mind becoming semi-professional and earning some money from my art.

Question 7: What type of subject or humor do you consider out of bounds for your strips and why?

Very little. When I was trying to get syndicated, I would self-censor my ideas. When I gave up on my syndication pursuits, I revisited ideas that I thought were funny but might have been considered taboo for the newspapers. Now, for the internet, I use any idea that I think is funny or interesting. My material is PG-13. I have done sexual innuendo jokes, but I try to make the joke as subtle as possible. I can show the same comic to my 10-year old and 16-year old nieces. The 16-year old will get the joke and laugh, but the joke is so subtle that it flies over my 10-year niece’s head; however she will still laugh at the visual gag (remember how I said I try to emulate Watterson working at multiple levels). But for the most part, my comic is not sexually obscene (I have done partial nudity but nothing too racy), overly violent (cartoon violence is fine), or have swearing (again with a few exceptions, but then I make two versions. The clean version goes to Facebook and other websites I am on; and the dirty version goes straight to my personal website.) I write for an adult audience.

The only thing I avoid is politics. I am not an apolitical person, but I don’t want to make anyone angry by reading my comic. Anything too polarizing, I think should be left for editorial comics. I do touch on religion topics, but I try to be as respectful as possible.

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Question 8: What kind of equipment or style of drawing do you use? 

In the early 2000s, I used to draw on paper and then scan it into the computer and finish it up on Photoshop. I would clean the lines, write the text, do the shading, creating the panels, placing and reorganizing the art into their proper place, and color my ‘Sundays’ all on the computer. It was a 20% by hand and 80% working on the computer. 

Now, I do everything on the computer and my drafting table is left messy in the corner collecting various items on it. 

I work solely on Adobe Photoshop, and I do research on Pinterest or Google Images to help me find simple sketches of body postures, backgrounds, and other visual effects. 

Question 9: what sort of training or academic program did you pursue to become a cartoonist? 

I studied Advertising in college. But besides my internship, I never worked a day in an advertising agency. However, I was required to learn Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Quark. It was in college that I learned to have a critical eye to layout. Most cartoonists are conscious about their art and their writing, but I think layout is equally important. I am consciously aware of all the little placements within my panels and I try to direct the reader’s gaze in a certain chronological order as it glances over my comic. 

But besides that, I am self-taught by reading all the comic books I collected. I don’t think there is an academic program out there that can teach how to be a cartoonist, but if there was, I would like to teach it. 

Question 10:  What has been the highlight of your cartooning career?

I have two high points. The first was when I was in high school. The local Children’s Museum had a month-long exhibit of my comics. I did two interviews with the local TV news stations on the day before and the night of opening night. The second was when I was in college. My hometown newspaper decided to publish my comic twice a week. They ran an article of the week I was about to debut. After that, it has been all down hill since. 

Question 11:  What has been the lowest point in your cartooning career?

There is no one defining low point, just several small low points. So many. Lately, I have channelled that dark energy to make comics of a different nature than what I usually do. Instead of silly, light-hearted comics, I have made a few introspective, philosophical, and bittersweet comics. I don’t use Celeste for those comic, but instead, I use my other main character, Paige. These are a sort of spin-off comic within a comic that I call ‘Something about Paige’.

Question 12: Are collections of your work available beyond the web? If So where?

No, not yet. I have created some pdf files that I will use someday to self-publish a book. 

Question 13: Are there any other web comic artists that you really admire?

There are so many webcomic that I read. Mainly, I just follow on Facebook the rest of the other Sherpa cartoonists. Let me name a few: Gravy, Amanda the Great, Pridelands, Speckticles, Candace and Company, My Son is a Dog, In-Security, C. Cassandra,  Smith, Draw Write Play, and so many others. I apologize if I forgot to mention some. 

But I do want to focus on one, as it has influenced my current work.  Christopher Grady’s ‘Lunarbaboon’ is interesting. It shows that you don’t have to try to be funny all the time. His is a bittersweet take of mental illness and depression.’ Lunarbaboon’ has influenced my making of ‘Something about Paige’ to a small degree. 

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Question 14: What kind of impact has cartooning had on your life and could you ever see yourself not doing it?

I gave it up for 8 years. I thought it was a chapter in my life that I had filed away, but wanting to tell stories (however silly as they are) is something that comes back. I know now that even if I never became syndicated, this is something I would do for the rest of my life.

Question 15: Do you have any advice for the trolls out there who harass content creators?  (no need to keep this answer clean.) 

Where are these trolls? I must be so minor league that I don’t have any trolls. I would welcome the harassment of trolls as it means that my comic has reached a wide audience as it has aroused the jealousy a few. If I had trolls, then I can finally tell myself that I have “made it”.

Question 16: Do you set yourself any deadlines or other tricks to keep yourself motivated?

I try to make comics between 2-3 months in advance. But I have taken a few sabbaticals in order to catch up. I try to be ‘quality over quantity’ (since I am not paid) and I try not to sweat over my own personal deadlines. Of course, I would have a different attitude if my income was derived from my comics.

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Question 17: Apart from root beer, what is your favorite drink?

I like fruit-flavored water. Dobra Voda is my favorite, but they only make it in the Czech Republic. I also drink a lot of sugar-free energy drinks, like Monster, to help me focus while I spend hours at a time sitting and working on my computer.

Question 18: Are you already a member of the root beer party and if not, what is the matter with you? 

I’ve been a member of this shindig for about a week now. I’m just waiting for my cases of root beer to come in the mail.  (All root beer is made on site by our root beer monks and never shipped, you must visit the palatial estates that house the Root Beer Party to enjoy all the root beer you can drink, but you are a member now, so stop on by anytime.  The Root Beer Party never stops.  -Editor)

Question 19: What is the most challenging aspect of cartooning for you?

Sitting for hours at a time while working on the computer. 

Also, I try to tell my story in as few words as possible while still being funny or keeping its meaning. It is called ‘The Economy of Words’. I think many new inexperienced cartoonists tend to get overly wordy, and I think with more and practice I am able to edit my writing to make it as ‘streamline’ (for lack of a better word) as possible.

Question 20: What are your future plans involving web comics or anything else going on in your life?

Like I said earlier, I hope to self-publish a book or two sometime in the near future. I just hope it is not too expensive as all my ‘dailies’, and not just my ‘Sundays’, are all in color now. I worry about production costs. I have enough material to make two books, but I don’t know if there are enough readers out there willing to pay for a ‘Something about Celeste’ book. So we’ll see. 

And there you have it True Believers, another member has joined the world esteemed comic community that is the Root Beer Party.  Welcome to the party Eric, get yourself another root beer, and the butler will fetch you another frosted mug.  So check out his webpage and check back every now and again to join the party.  Until next time True Believers, may your mug always be frosted and your root beer always foamy.  

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