Jorge A. Santana: comic book author and retired professor
Making environmentalism a comic book issue
After 37 years teaching at Sacramento State, Jorge A. Santana was itching to try his hand at something new. Born 30 miles south of Tijuana in the coastal city of Rosario, Mexico, he moved to the United States with his parents when he was 4 years old. Now 74 and 12 years into his retirement, Santana has been getting creative.
He’s tried his hand at photography, exhibiting in solo shows. Then about 5 years ago, he started a comic book, an idea that had been percolating for some time: a super-powered, eco-friendly champion for ending global warming named Teslaman. Enlisting the services of a freelance graphic designer with the pseudonym Mimi Cortazar, that dream has finally come to fruition in the form of a 24-page, bilingual comic book called Teslaman Fights Dirty. SN&R chatted with Santana about the graphic novel, its creation and his own environmentalist proclivities.
Do you have a background with comics?
Well, when I was a teenager that was my dream. I wanted to be either a commercial artist or just a cartoonist. It was for a local newspaper, more of a political, get the vote out, go to the ballots and cast a vote. But I realized I love to eat, and I probably didn’t have the talent enough, so I decided to pursue teaching at college.
But at the back of my mind, I always had the inclination that I wanted to be a graphic artist or work with art.
How do you weave in the ecological philosophy?
The main hero is Teslaman, which I have copyrighted … Another superhero is Windmill Giant. … One of the main villain’s name is Paul Looter, which when you say it fast it becomes “polluter.” And we have Poison, who’s in charge of coming up with all kinds of pesticides that affect all the agricultural workers, you know, when they’re sprayed with this or having to breathe some of these toxics. …
Then we have, of course, Smog Man. Smog Man’s name, of course, refers to the cars that are emitting smog or the factories that are spewing smoke—and those are the main villains.
Do you live a Teslaman lifestyle?
I try to. Both my wife and I drive all-electric vehicles. I do composting, and I tried to see if I could put solar panels on my house. … You know, we try to make our lifestyle pro-recycle, re-purpose, reuse. So that’s part of our lifestyle, and I think we could do more.
The name—is he named after the car company, or Nikola Tesla?
Yeah, Nikola Tesla. In fact, in the comic book there’s one panel where his photograph is hanging up in an office. And also, Carl Sagan, his picture is up there as well.
Any events in your life that made you passionate about the environment?
I know when I was growing up and I went to some of these third world countries, people just tossed trash into the roadways. … I’ve seen the difference, I think that’s been the main influencer, on seeing how the different cultures of different countries regard, for example, waste and trash.
What do you think of putting the onus of ending pollution on consumers rather than companies that are producing the pollution?
It has to be teamwork. Not only the manufacturer but also the consumer. Things like getting rid of plastic straws … those kind of things, even though they’re baby steps, in the long run they can be very helpful.