Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee talk Simon Says: Nazi Hunter

simon-saysSimon Says: Nazi Hunter tells the story of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor-turned Nazi Hunter. The comic is on Kickstarter, where creative team Andre Frattino and Jesse Lee are hoping to fund the printing and production of the first issue and expand the comic into a graphic novel-length story. We chatted with them about their project, and what we can learn from this politically relevant story.

Graphic Policy: Hi! Firstly, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your Kickstarter for Simon Says: Nazi Hunter. Would you like to introduce the creative team and tell us a little about yourselves?

Andre Frattino: Hi, I’m Andre Frattino, and I’m the writer of Simon Says: Nazi Hunter.

Jesse Lee: Hello! My name is Jesse Lee and I’m the artist for Simon Says. I’m a recent graduate who’s working on starting my professional career as an artist. Right now, I sling coffee at a local cafe. I like coffee. Like… a lot.

GP: Simon Says is live on Kickstarter right now. Could you describe the project?

AF: Simon Says is a comic inspired by famed Nazi Hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal was an Austrian of Jewish descent, who survived the war when the Nazi put him to work as an artist painting swastikas on train cars. Through hardship and torture, he survived, but unfortunately, most of his family did not. Wiesenthal spent the rest of his life devoted to hunting down Nazis who escaped prosecution after the war. Some called him the “Jewish James Bond” and I think that nickname fits the idea of our comic nicely.

JL: It’s a story about vengeance and justice, loss, and absolution. It’s about how one man decided to take a stand against individuals responsible for the genocide of millions. 

GP: Based on the Kickstarter previews, the art and storytelling vibe really well. How did this creative team come together?

AF: I’ve been mulling over this idea for years, and initially had in mind to illustrate it myself. However, I wasn’t convinced my style fit the level of precision and detail a project of this magnitude demands. Jesse and I had met a few years ago and discussed the idea of a collaboration. With his style, it felt like a no-brainer to get him on it, and I was very fortunate that he said “yes.”

JL: Actually, it was completely by chance. I met Andre working a night shift at the cafe. He was sitting by himself with his laptop and there wasn’t anybody else inside. I saw him drawing on a tablet and I asked him if he was working on anything. After chatting a bit, he tells me he works for SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) and that he also writes and produces comics. He gave me his card and I gave him my Tumblr to look at my art. Fast forward a few months later, Andre contacts me about a project he’s working on and asked if I would be interested in being his artist. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the first artist to work on this project. Andre had another guy working with him, but for reasons unknown, he left and Andre asked me to hop on the project. The rest is history.

GP: You mentioned that Simon Says is influenced by noir and pulp fiction and films like Schindler’s List and Inglorious Bastards. Were there any comics that had an influence on Simon Says?

AF: If I had to choose a couple that mostly influenced my storytelling, it would have to be Art Spiegelman’s MAUS and Frank Miller’s Sin City. Spiegelman had a very forward and frank way of putting his story. There was no glitz and glamour to his storytelling. He told it as it needed to be told. From Miller’s Sin City, I think the biggest influence is in Simon’s inner monologuing, which Sin City’s Frank did such a great job of doing.

JL: For me, I’d have to say Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I’ve always had it set in the back of my head while working on the pages. It’s raw, emotional, and dauntingly haunting. With an atrocity such as the Holocaust, everyone has the sensibility to empathize with an event so devastating and tragic. But, when you’re witnessing the horrors through the eyes of somebody who’s actually been through it, your senses are on an entirely different scale. 

GP: What would you say your biggest comic influences are as creators, and what sets your story apart from others?

AF: Quite by accident, most of my previous works are heavy handed in their pull from history. I think that I excel in storytelling that is grounded in historical roots and tries to educate while entertaining. I think that comics have a relatively untapped talent at that. Some of the best comics I know are based in reality (with a bit of a spin) and don’t rely on capes and masks. Don’t get me wrong, I love superheroes, but I think it’s something that’s widely overdone, and there’s too much great material in our own world that doesn’t get utilized.

JL: Too many to list but these guys really know how to lay the ink down and they’re just some that come to mind: John Paul Leon, Borislav Mitkov, Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Andrew Mar, and Jorge Zaffino. Aside from there not ever being a comic about Simon Wiesenthal, this project stands out among a saturated market of superheroes and muscle heads. While I thoroughly enjoy mainstream comics, this is a story about a hero without a skin-tight suit.

GP: This comic is based on the life of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. Could you tell us a little about Simon’s story and how this impacted you as creators and how it has guided the direction of your project?

AF: Simon’s story, like everyone who survived the Holocaust, is a story of immense sorrow and heartache. It’s absolute hell on Earth, and anyone who hasn’t lived it (including, obviously, myself), could never seek to imagine what it was actually like. All we can say with certainty is that it changed people. In Simon’s case, it transformed him into a crusader for justice, as it did many who decided to take up the role of Nazi Hunter. This story aims to spark the recognition of those heroes in the next generation and the next generation. The farther we grow from the generation that actually experienced the war, the more likely people will forget, or start seeing it as “an unfortunate part of history.” I’m not talking about Jewish descendants, I’m talking about EVERYONE. We can’t let society forget that people who suffered didn’t fade into obscurity afterwards, they fought.

JL: I really admire the fact that Simon didn’t just seek revenge, he sought justice. He never killed any of the Nazi war criminals he captured. Instead, he made sure they stood trial for their crimes. That speaks volumes of his character and his code. Essentially, he was a real-life Bruce Wayne. It’s cool to know that you get to work on a story of a man who is pretty much Batman!

GP: Comics have always been decidedly political, and Simon Says is no exception. Was its development reactionary to current politics?

AF: Like I said, I actually came up with this idea back in 2008. I think that the current political environment is frighteningly coincidental, but also frighteningly similar to what happened to Simon Wiesenthal and millions of people. Part of me wonders how I held onto this project for so long and how RIGHT NOW, became the time we acted on it. Jesse and I have actually been collaborating since early last year, so the timing…it’s scary, but it makes our project 100x more potent and necessary.

JL: As much as I’d love to say we planned this all around the current state of affairs, this project was in development a significant time before any of the chaos here in the U.S. started breaking out. That’s not to say that it isn’t any less pertinent. I find this project incredibly relevant as it connects readers personally to a victim of Xenophobia, which is so prevalent in our country today. We can’t ever forget the past and the lessons it’s entailed. Hopefully, this project can remind us of that. 

GP: This Kickstarter is for the production of issue one, and it’s clear that this is a passion project. What led you to develop Simon Wiesenthal’s story?

AF: I quite honestly cannot tell you. I rack my brain trying to remember how I learned about Simon Wiesenthal. I know it happened sometime in 2008, but I can’t remember how. I have been fascinated by World War II and the Holocaust since I was in high school, since I read Elie Wiesel’s Night. How could there be a scarier series of crimes and events against humanity by a people who claimed to be pure and superior? Only to transform themselves into the monsters of legend?

JL: I’ll let Andre answer that one!

GP: That being said, what do you hope readers take away from Simon Says?

AF: To quote Simon Wiesenthal: “For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not written law that the next victims must be Jews.”

JL: History must not repeat itself. It’s like Simon’s famous quote, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

GP: Is there anything else you would like to discuss that I didn’t ask?

AF: Roughly 500,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive today. Most of that number lives below the poverty line. We want to exceed our fundraising goal of $5,000, and if we do, we’ll donate a portion of that excess to charities that support and care for survivors who still need help. I never knew him, but I honestly believe that’s something Simon Wiesenthal would’ve wanted us to do.

JL: Thanks for your questions! You guys rock!

GP: Again, thank you so much for your time!

This project is up for funding on Kickstarter until February 28.

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