By Mr. Eric Durr, New York State Division of Military and Naval AffairsOctober 26, 2011
NEW YORK CITY--Every good super hero has a secret identity that he/she slips back into when it's time to take the cape off after a hard day of besting super villains.
For comic book writer/publisher Jon Santana that alter ego is New York Army National Guard Lt. Jon Santana, Office-In-Charge of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard.
Or maybe it's the other way around?
Santana, who has been OIC of the 147 men and women of the Honor Guard since 2009, has embarked on a part-time job as a comic book script writer and publisher.
It's cheaper than setting up his own animation studio, an idea he played with in 2007, Santana explained, but it still lets him exercise his creative talent on the weekends.
Santana, who enlisted in the New York Army National Guard in 1999, studied screen-writing in college at The State University of New York at Purchase. He enjoyed it and did pretty well at it, Santana said.
"I had always wanted to be a writer, but I had already started a family--he and his wife Kelly have two kids now aged four and eight-- and I wanted to put food on the table so I couldn't go out to L.A. and lead the poor artist's life," Santana recalled.
He did a couple of screenplay treatments, but that wasn't enough to raise a family on, so he became a full-time National Guard Soldier, earning his commission as an officer in 2008.
As OIC of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard Santana oversees the full-time and part-time Honor Guard members who perform more than 10,000 funerals for veterans annually across New York. The New York Honor Guard is so proficient at their job that in 2010 a New York team took top honors in the National Guard's nationwide honor guard competition, a title they still hold.
Prior to taking over as Honor Guard OIC, Santana, a Poughkeepsie, NY resident, ran the Honor Guard's Newburgh, NY office as a Non-Commissioned Officer.
"He's very good at what he does, "said Mr. Don Roy, the director of the state's Honor Guard program.
At the same time Santana drills with the 101st Enhanced Signal Battalion, and is slated to take command of Company A and deploy with the battalion to Afghanistan in 2012.
He loves the Guard, Santana said, but he also likes the creative outlet that running his own, albeit small, comic book company--Iron Age Comics--gives him.
Screenwriting and comic book writing are similar, Santana said. Both the screenwriter and the comic book writer think in terms of visual scenes. While a screenwriter visualizes a scene that actors and a director can bring to life, the comic book writer is doing something that an artist, an inker, and a colorist can turn into a visual image.
Comic books normally take four people to produce, Santana said. The writer comes up with the story. The primary artist does the "pencils', the quick sketch of the scene. The "inker" then darkens those pencil sketches with a pen. The "colorist" then colors in the pictures.
Today's comic books are either totally or partially digital. The drawing's for Santana's comics are scanned into a digital image by the inker and then the colorist does the work using software.
Santana's latest effort, a comic series called "Jaded" is about the challenges that face his super heroes.
"I am using super heroes like Superman and Batman as a metaphor he said. "Whether you're wearing a cape of wearing an Army uniform, it comes with a certain responsibility and it is sometimes difficult to adhere to those standards."
"The characters in the book have a real tough time because of all the tragedy they see being superheroes," he explained.
In many ways, he said, it's similar to what a Soldier goes through.
"I see what friends who have deployed go through. It is a mix of the stuff that I have seen in friends of mine when they come back from deployment," said Santana, whose first deployment will be with the 101st Signal.
The Jaded Comics, which run about 22 pages each, are different from other books in that they contain two stories: one set in the present and one set in the past. Each story is drawn differently by a different artist to set them apart, Santana said.
Santana's comic book dream got a boost recently when his company secured an exhibit space at New York's Comic Con convention on October 15-16.
"The book did very well and we got exceptional feedback from other comic creators and fans," Santana said.
Putting together a comic book is not that different from executing a mission in the military, Santana said.
"I have to communicate with a team. I am working with a bunch of people I need to see my vision. It is like coming up with a mission, getting together the Soldiers, and having them share your vision of the mission," he explained.