One Fan's Opinion: Issue #67

Fri, December 22nd, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

As you might expect, I get a fair amount of mail. Much of it spam, but a lot of it in response to things I say in this column.

I screw things up. I don't know everything and sometimes I'll buy into published reports or information I've dug up and sometimes that information is incorrect. I know how that goes -- I've been interviewed hundreds of times and nine times out of ten information gets garbled in the process. I can't tell you how many times I've been misquoted or had information misstated in an article. I've offered to fact check or proofread articles, but I'm seldom taken up on that. And seeing how inaccurate articles are it makes me wonder, is the rest of the paper this bad?

I'm guessing yes.

In any case, those end up being the kinds of articles I rely on when I write one of these columns (at least in cases where I'm not simply stating an opinion -- I don't need to check with anybody about that). I don't know everything and I'm the first guy to admit it. Feel free to chime in if you feel like it.

Often discussions wander on certain topics. That's the nature of being a fan. Fans get enthusiastic about stuff. They're passionate. They're Opinionated and they're not always all that informed. I'll get into heated debates over which artist draws more realistic anatomy or has serious chops. There are some artists whose work I look at and am simply floored by, like the late great Nestor Redondo.

"Who?" You might ask.

Nestor Redondo. You know, the guy who followed Bernie Wrightson on "Swamp Thing." The guy that drew the first six issues of "Rima the Jungle Girl." The guy that illustrated DC's treasury edition of "The Bible." That Nestor Redondo.

Nestor kicked ass. His work was simply gorgeous. There's no better word to describe it -- the work was simply beautiful. The women he drew were beautiful -- flawless -- but perfectly realized and human -- his men were handsome and his work was lush and full and breathtaking. This guy was a master and chances are you've never heard of him. "Rima the Jungle Girl" was outstanding, but chances are you've never seen it and chances are it will never be collected into a trade paperback.

And Swamp Thing?

Swamp Thing has less to do with its roots by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson than it does the fruit that grew from those roots -- Alan Moore and Steve Bissette and John Totleben and Rick Veitch. And yes, Len and Bernie's run has been collected -- several times -- but the issues following were not. Redondo succeeded Wrightson and Wein wrote several tales with him before handing over the reins to David Michelinie. Those issues were gorgeous -- Redondo's work wasn't as raw as Bernie's or as creepy, but they were incredible nevertheless.

"Swamp Thing" continued and eventually fizzled out. It "jumped the shark" in high fashion when Gerry Conway took over. It got a not-so creepy logo that was completely inappropriate and Swamp Thing was turned back to Alec Holland and his brother was introduced. It was a total train wreck. So much so that the latter tales were ret-conned out of existence in later years. Redondo nearly made it to the end of the series -- stopping an issue shy of its concluding episode.

So, really, it's no wonder the stories have been relegated to the dung heap -- why remind folks of what you'd rather they ignore? It's no longer canon, after all. Why go there? Why spoil the fun?

But whatever. There were some cool comics there. Pretty at least.

The Bible, too. Redondo did a splendid job bringing those stories to life. Working from layouts supplied by Joe Kubert, the finished art was epic and sweeping and amazing. But it wasn't a big success. Bible stories in comic book form have never really performed that well.

I didn't know much about Nestor Redondo, so I dug around a bit to see what I could find. There's a Biography courtesy of Manuel Aouad that I stumbled onto that told me that he was born in Candon, Ilocos Sur, in the Philippines in 1928.

From that I found out that he drew comics from an early age and that American comics such as "Tarzan," "Flash Gordon," "Buck Rogers" and "Superman" influenced him.

Nestor drew comics in the Philippines prior to landing the "Swamp Thing" assignment. Nestor's elder brother, Virgilio, was also a comic book artist, but Nestor outshined his older sibling.

From what I've read, the younger Redondo's first professional work was with Bulaklak Komiks in the Philippines. His elder brother Virgilio turned his talent to writing comics after it became obvious that Nestor was a better draftsman of the two. The brothers teamed up and produced some of the best series ever published in the Philippines -- or at least that's what I've read -- but judging from Nestor's later efforts, it seems likely.

Nestor did a ton of work never seen in the states. He worked in the Philippines for years before lending his tremendous talents to DC's muck-monster. He co-created Diwani, with his brother. Diwani was Nestor's first jungle-girl and she appeared in "Hiwaga Komiks." And then there was the Filipino Wonder Woman, Darna! She was pretty hot stuff rendered by Redondo!

He worked throughout the '50s and '60s and was a popular favorite. I recall him drawing adaptations of a classic book or two. My school had a few digests and Filipino artists illustrated most of them. Nestor's was, typically, gorgeous.

In his later years he turned his talents to inking. As I recall, Nestor inked "Aztec Ace" at Eclipse comics. He died in 1995.

And it's too bad.

There are others like him. There are dozens of creators whose work hasn't been collected. Alex Nino, another Filipino artist, does amazing work. His stuff is far most abstract than Redondo's. Where Redondo strived to be realistic, Alex went for expressionistic and his work is amazing.

Alex drew the last few issues of the neglected DC masterpiece "Thriller," following Trevor Von Eden. I have a Kirbyesque drawing he did kicking around the office. Crazy, imaginative, awesome work. The guy is outstanding.

If you go looking for it, you can't help but stumble over one forgotten master after another. Few modern readers are aware of Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson.

Alex Toth has gotten more exposure following his recent death and there is a wealth of material to find from him if you wanted to do some digging.

There are times when I wish I could be put in charge and put together books that reprinted the best of the best, but my taste is not, unfortunately, universal. I can think of a few books at Image that I've green lit that weren't nearly the hits I had assumed they would be. It baffles the hell out of me that readers didn't flock to the racks to buy "Mora" or "Pigtale" or "The Amazing Joy Buzzards!" These were great comics by incredible talents and I'd love nothing more than to find a way to force them down your collective throats.

But it's hard to know.

Fans don't seem to see things the way I see them. I look at panels cluttered with irrelevant, distracting crap and fans marvel at the detail -- never mind that it distracts from the story attempting to be told.

Fans harp on backgrounds or lack or the same. But often backgrounds add clutter as opposed to clarity. Do backgrounds in a comic strip make the gag told any funnier? I don't think they do. And yet, in a similar vein, readers get bent out of shape when every available inch of a page isn't littered with detail. Often distracting details that do nothing to enhance the story overshadows the writer's intent, but readers feel cheated because an artist composed a page with a carefully chosen space where they can rest their eyes.

Most fans will take George Perez over Alex Toth any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

There's so much out there. So much to see. So much to read.

And you can find classics by the carload flipping through quarter or dollar bins at your local comic book store or at a comic book convention. Folks like to harp on the high cover prices of new comics, but there are millions of comics to be had for pennies a serving if you're willing to look for them.

I love comics -- I really do.

I love discovering new books to read -- and by "new" I mean new to me. Age is no obstacle. As long as it's great, I'm all over it (and even that isn't a prerequisite. A friend introduced me to a line of truly awful comics from the '60s that are so amazingly bad that they're entertaining as all hell). I take in as much as I'm capable of and my rooms are stacked high with my treasures.

I'll do what I can to tell you about some of them and I'll try my best to get my stories straight. I'm sure I'll be at least as accurate as your typical newspaper.

Give or take.

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