Antonio Gil is a Spanish illustrator that specializes in historical graphic novels, a handful of which are being published in English speaking countries through The Naval Institute Press located in Annapolis, Maryland and their comics Imprint Dead Reckoning. So far, I have had the pleasure of reading The Flutist of Arnhem and Stalingrad: Letters from the Volga, both of which I loved. I was generously given the opportunity to conduct an interview with Antonio to discuss his background, influences and upcoming projects.
Be sure to check out the purchase links on the above reviews to show him some love!
Tell me a bit about yourself
“Well, I’m a simple person who likes to be “surrounded” by books and documents, and enjoys the normal things of life (now!!). I belong to the generation that started work very young (12 years old) and lived a lot, good and bad…and that taught me a lot. It’s time for me to be relaxed doing the things I like. I’m not so old, but I’m not a child. I was the typical “weird boy” that liked to read books, watch TV Documentaries, or draw what I saw instead of playing soccer in the street. My love for history was thanks to my dad, a very cultured man.”
To start things off easy, what made you want to start drawing comics?
“After doing a lot of illustrations of historical events, I decided to “give life” to those illustrations, from a realistic point of view, and give them a human touch.”
Any big influences?
“Cinema is my big influence. I try to draw a comic like a story board or “how you should see my film in paper”.”
What is your art training background? Self-taught, or did you go to school for illustration?
“Nothing!! Totally Self-taught.”
Being a big history fan myself, I have grown to love historical graphic novels, which is your favorite (other than your own of course)?
“Believe me! I Don’t have time to read other graphic novels! I had some overviews in other works, for example the comics drawn by Wayne Vansant or French comics about pilots… but I haven’t got the time!!!! I’m an absolute sinner.”
I assume WWII is your favorite time period. Am I correct or is there another period you enjoy more?
“Not really! WWII is not actually my favorite. I have a lot of knowledge in this period, yes. But other periods are really interesting and give me other visions and inspiration: WWI, 80 Years War (XVI-XVII Centuries) and modern conflicts.”
I have enjoyed your works The Flutist of Arnhem and Stalingrad very much. With you being Spanish, do you have plans for more works to be released in the English market?
“I hope, my friend!!! I have some upcoming projects that I’m starting to write and sketch… But when I get going, here comes an editor and Zap!!! other work… Nobody leaves me alone to relax and write!! Also, I have a project (three books “hanged” by a Spanish editorial with broken agreement) based in both history and mystery, but I do not have the contact to send to USA at the moment. It should be interesting… I don’t know.”
Are there any I’m unaware of?
“Other works I have are in the Spanish market: 1941 Voljov (Spanish Blue Division in the Russian front), 1921 El Rif (Spanish in Afghanistan in 1921), both comics sold out in weeks and re-print in 3rd Edition.”
What is the weirdest project you’ve worked on?
“HAHAHAHAHA…. One day I received a script based on Barbara Lamarr and other characters in “heaven”… but after reading and drawing it … I found explicit scenes of sex and nudes throughout!… hahahaha… I’m used to drawing “trenches” not bedroom action! hahahahahha… It was really weird and uncomfortable…. Now I can do it (except XXX or erotic, I don’t like it)”
With Flutist of Arnhem, what drew you to a story about Operation Market Garden?
“first thing, the Operation itself. I know it like the back of my hand and I love this battle. Dead Reckoning was choosing different options that I gave (I like to give ideas and they like to receive them). Gary Thompson (my “boss” and friend) told me “Antonio, think and give us something about Market Garden… and in 1-2 moths was ready to start to work on it. It was very easy!!!”
I especially loved the characters of Boekman and Corporal Kolecki, were any of the characters in Flutist of Arnhem based on real life people?
“Kolecki is a mix of different real Polish soldiers. My dear friend Pawel Lukazs (expert in Polish history in WWII) was researching and gave me options. We decided to mix in one and give a tribute to all the polish soldiers that fought. They deserve it.”
Boekman is another tribute to the SOE agents fallen in the hands of Giskes and Gestapo. Really, he doesn’t exist, but there were many like him.
In Stalingrad: Letters from the Volga, I enjoyed that you told the story from a viewpoint that we do not see too often (The Germans) what was your inspiration for this?
“My inspiration was a simple soldier trapped in that hell. Only one film was made from the German point of view: Stalingrad, 1993. I wanted to do something like that, but in comic form. Daniel Ortega (the writer) was knocking in my door asking me to do the history,. I accepted, but under my line.”
I appreciate the fact that you do not glorify war, you show both sides – good and bad, how do you feel about more one-sided or nationalistic approaches?
“For me, all the soldiers, the ground infantry men, the mass… they are winners and they are losers. The brutality is on both sides. I try (how I said before) to show the human side, the individual history. I don’t like to make something only in one side, those are all politicized and sometimes it is like walking on the edge of the abyss.”
It’s a problem in America that most war movies are basically propaganda, does Spain have similar issues?
“In Spain, we don’t have good films about our history (only some about the Civil War). Nobody knows the cruel conflict in Morocco in the 20’s (now, in July, it is the 100 year anniversary of Arruit, Annual, brutal battles in the north of Africa). Here we don’t teach, we don’t show… and if we do something, normally it isn’t accurate and we are the bad guys… it is a terrible. Policy.”
What is your favorite historical film?
“I have some, but one is for me a masterwork, “Cromwell” (Richard Harris, Alec Guiness). It is wonderful to see. For history and accuracy: “All quiet in the western front” (1979 version) Others?… Visually: Saving private Ryan and 1917. Another film you should see for details and the characters (another masterwork): The thin Red Line.”
Your least favorite?
“Stalingrad (2013) and Braveheart. The CGI, the massive extras and set: AMAZING. The characters and story… better not say anything.”
How did you get in contact with Dead Reckoning?
“I have a friendship with Mr. Peter Daly, the President and CEO of US Naval Institute. A long time ago, I gave him some illustrations about naval history: USS Enterprise, USS Idaho and the USS Monitor (Hamptom Roads battle, Civil War). Years later, he gave me the chance to work in Dead Reckoning.”
What is a project you REALLY want to do?
“Passchendaele 1917 and Montecassino. No doubt.”
Anything you are currently working on that you care to talk about?
“I can talk about one – I’m working on the history of the Duke of Alba between the years 1566-1573. The beginning of the 80 Years War. The Spanish history in Europe is amazing, and this man is the “black legend”, nobody really was researching and analyzing him. It will be a 4 books series.”
Finally, If you could travel back in time to see any historical event firsthand, what would it be?
“ALL of the XV century!!! I would like to see the most legendary and strongest infantry in history in action: The Spanish Tercios. The main concepts and names of infantry comes from there: colonel, sergeant, corporal, infantry, regiment… ooof! It would be incredible to see it.”
Thank you so much, and I appreciate the time!
Note: This interview was conducted in late June 2021, the responses have been edited a bit for things like punctuation or spelling.