The recent deaths of Tony DeZuñiga and Ernie Chan got me thinking about the long and fascinating legacy of the comics artists who have come to America from the Philippines. That small country has produced some of the finest cartoonists in the world, and my list below is woefully incomplete in listing all of the great cartoonists from there who have worked in American comics. Still, I think this list of ten great cartoonists shows just how great the Filipino legacy is in American comics.
10. Rafael Kayanan
After producing tons of work for the fan press (including one of my favorite old zines, David Heath Jr.'s No Sex (as in All Violence and…), Rafael broke into comics in the early 1980s, producing lots of world-class cartooning on series like Firestorm and America vs. the Justice Society. He hasn't stopped working since, still creating the occasional comic while working on movies like Immortals and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, not to mention the notorious Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark Broadway musical. Rafael is also a world-class martial artist and choreographer for movie action scenes, so don't fuck with this man!
9. Jonathan and Joshua Luna
The Luna Brothers came to comics late, but they came to them with a vengeance. The brothers entered the comics industry in 2004 with a blind submission to Image Comics of their exciting Ultra series, which they followed up in 2005 with the intense horror of Girls — the latter being surely the scariest comics series to ever feature dozens of naked girls in it. The Luna Brothers' art style was deeply influenced by animation and has a light and clear-line style to it.
8. Whilce Portacio
One of the most wonderful interviews I've ever done was with the great Whilce Portacio. Whilce may be best known as the great artist of X-Men, Punisher and Wetworks, or as one of the original Image founders, but I'll always remember my interview with Whilce as being one of the most interesting, heartfelt and thoughtful creators who it's been my pleasure to interview. He's one of the most sincerely nice creators I've ever had a chance to talk to. Oh, and Whilce draws an amazing Hulk, doesn't he?
7. Leinil Francis Yu
If you added up the sales for all of Leinil Yu's projects over the last few years, you'd find that he's made Marvel ridiculous amounts of money. This is only logical, because he has one of the slickest, most professional and most downright fun art styles of any cartoonist now working. Don't hate on the art on Secret Invasion, Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 or Superior, because Yu always brings his A game to the A-list titles that he's assigned. Leinil loves super-heroes and it shows in every line he draws.
6. Rudy Nebres
Some great artists have the chameleon-like ability to create great comic art that is thoroughly theirs while also fitting its subject matter perfectly. That's the skill that Nebres has demonstrated in his many years of working in both Filipino and American comics. During his career, Nebres has had the unique pleasure of inking such great artists as Steve Ditko, John Buscema and Gil Kane, as well as dozens of pencil jobs. His work has ranged from super-heroes to kung fu action to romance, and the man never skimped on the detail or the professionalism.
5. Nestor Redondo
Nestor Redondo may have been the most classically influenced of all the Filipino cartoonists who came to America. His clean line style, mixed with a gorgeous and impressive exoticism, made his work a wonder to behold. He drew some of the most beautiful women in comics history, and seemed to love them all, no matter their body type. His work on the Rima strip, one of the sexiest strips of the '70s, made that series truly special. Redondo drew hundreds, if not thousands, of comics in the Philippines before coming to the US, and it's tragic that much of that work may never see the light of day again.
4. Ernie Chan
It's hard to think of Conan in American comics without thinking about two artists. One is John Buscema, Marvel legend and a member of the Marvel Pantheon of great Silver Age cartoonists. The other is Ernie Chan, who belongs in the pantheon of great Philippine cartoonists. Chan's intense, thick line just seemed to scream action as his rough and manly characters thundered and rumbled across mythical landscapes and bizarre worlds. Chan's work was always thrilling — bold, tough and combative. This legendary creator died just last week, leaving a deep pain in the mind o
f any fan of barbarians and great warriors.
3. Alex Niño
Alex Niño was perhaps the greatest stylist to journey from the Philippines to America. This great cartoonist was a true visionary, a man whose singular and fascinating work was almost too good for the American comics of the 1970s and '80s. Niño's greatest work, like that of his great peer and occasional book companion Alex Toth, was sometimes hard to find but was always fascinating, thoughtful and innovative. Maybe his finest work was an adaptation of Harlan Ellison's surreal short story "Repent, Harlequin, Spoke the Tick-Tock Man", though his work on Captain Fear, perhaps the last pirate strip in American comics other than Watchmen, comes close.
2. Tony DeZuñiga
This list may not exist if it were not for the work of Tony DeZuñiga. DeZuñiga was working as a freelancer at DC Comics in 1971, and one day made the suggestion to his editors that the company abandon its vast reprinting project that was happening at that time and instead hire artists from the Philippines to work on new comics stories. DC would get new material at a bargain price, while artists who worked for the company would be paid well in comparison to their peers in the industry. If that sounds a lot like the software industry today, it's not all that different, really. DeZuñiga and his wife traveled back to their home country after the deal was made, and acted as agents for the artists. The DeZuñigas worked hard to build their relationship with the publishers and help creators as well.
The master artists is, of course, best known for his masterful work on Jonah Hex, one of the finest guns-a-blazing western comics of all time. Tony DeZuñiga passed away about two weeks ago but the guns in his work still blaze in his memory.
1. Alfredo Alcala
Of all the great artists on this list, none drew with the brilliantly intense, thoroughly detailed and fascinatingly compelling style of the great Alfredo Alcala. Alcala's art always seemed to have emerged, fully drawn from the pages of a book of classical illustrations. Every line in an Alcala comic was perfectly in its place, one building upon a next, in a classical style reminiscent of classic early 20th century artists like J.C. Lyendecker and Franklin Booth. It was a style unlike any other in American comics at the time, and it was the product of many years working in the Philippine comics industry. The man was a legend in his native land and a legend in his adopted land. Surely there's no better compliment for any creator.