New York Comic Con is just around the corner. Comic culture — as well as the movies, books, TV series and the like which surround it — have really become mainstream in the past few years, giving exposure to a growing collection of graphic artists and storytellers the world over. And it just so happens that this explosion in popularity has helped out another key demographic — veterans.

Most of the time in the news, we only hear about the more negative elements of veterans issues — a failing VA healthcare system, PTSD and negative interactions with law enforcement, ungodly suicide rates, and plenty more. That’s why at Nine Line News, we do our best to really shine a light on the positives, too. And there are many positive stories out there that really show the amazing potential of our community.

One of those such stories is about a fan and friend of the Nine Line family. His name is Victor Castro, and he goes by “Vic”. Every unit had their artist at some level or another. That was one of the first ways that Vic explained his background over the phone.

“I was the guy, when the Sergeant Major asked who the artists were,” he began. Going on, he mentioned that after a while, he even tried to hide his ability, not wanting to get constantly pinned down into that spot, as often happens with lower enlisted who display talents outside of their normal job specialties.

“I also didn’t want to be the guy who drew stuff and then got killed — there’s always one of those guys in the movies,” he half joked. Indeed, that cliché is all over pop culture (like in Black Hawk Down). But it’s there for a reason. Artists are special historians who uniquely capture moods, subtle ideas and other aspects that regular historians and ourselves overlook. That’s why veteran art is so important — we have to tell our own stories in our own ways. That’s the only way that the public at large has access to our experiences.


Where it Began

Vic has been drawing all of his life and feels fortunate that his parents encouraged his work. His skill progressed over time, learning from an early age that consistency and practice led to great work — even with drawings he thought weren’t especially good. In school, back when students used paper grocery bags to cover their books, he would draw all sorts of comic book characters on his friends’ book covers at their request, which helped his reputation spread.

He also said that he stopped drawing for a while. Vic had just gotten tired of it. He learned the value of “staying put” for a moment, and that a lack of production wasn’t the same as failure.

This knowledge and these lessons, he says, have made him better at teaching and mentoring fellow artists who are trying to get a handle on the whole process. His experience with drawing throughout his life has also allowed him to pass on his knowledge to other veterans who would like to break into the industry.


Being a Pro

Fast forward to today and Vic’s doing great. He’s been a DOD civilian for a few years now and loves that h
e gets to still work with the Army — especially in an institution so storied and prestigious as West Point.

Initially a 13B Cannon Crew Member, he sustained an injury in 2001, right before 9/11, which resulted in two herniated discs and he ended up having to re-class to administrative work. But when his unit deployed to Afghanistan later and his chain of command learned that he came from a combat arms MOS, he was selected to man his truck’s .50 cal and was quickly moved into a truck commander position. He retained this role when later deployed to Iraq, but this time he was commanding the lead truck for QRF. This gave him some very up-close and personal view of operating in-country, which he has incorporated into his work in details that often times civilians will miss. It’s Easter eggs like those that he places in his work for his veteran audience — and they have responded in kind.



(Vic in Iraq)


Although he would love to do make illustrating his primary job, Vic mentions that he’s always known that it would require more of him than he’s willing to give. He has a wife and child to support which can be scary when trying to make a career out of creative work. Thus, he’s always pursued his art in addition to his job, which takes a lot of time, work and dedication.

“But it’s okay,” Vic said, “to people coming out of the military, their 75% is like a civilian’s 150%. The military just does that to people.” Vic takes this attitude into his work, and it shows. He puts everything he can into it and so do the people that work with him, like Patrick O’Connell who did the coloring of the print that he’s produced for New York Comic Con 2016. They are incredibly proud of the print — as they should be. It’s a remarkable tribute to the innate sacrifice required of all who serve.


This Year’s Booth

Vic will be showcased in the well-renowned “Artist Alley” this year, setting up next to other industry giants who he read and looked up to in his youth — such as Walter Simonson and Mark McKenna, the latter of which has also become a personal mentor. They even utilize Vic’s background as a combat vet as a means of providing a little bit of extra security for when certain fans get unruly in Artist Alley.


(TOP: Vic with Scott Adsit; BOTTOM: Vic with Walter Simonson)

The print that Vic is featuring for New York Comic Con this year can only be purchased there. There will be a limited number of prints and they will have certain details, such as the gold Nine Line and Comic Con logo along with the print’s number. What’s more — he’s donating 20 percent of his sales to the Nine Line Foundation, which gives financial aid to severely wounded warriors and their families.

But, Nine Line will also be releasing its own variant that will go online. Keep following us for more information so that you can get your own copy to celebrate veterans’ sacrifices for flag and country.

For those veterans attending New York Comic Con this year, make sure and drop by his booth in Artist Alley. Trust me — you won’t regret it!