Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Those European Guys"

Early in my career when I was discussing my latest work with my editor Joe Orlando, he sighed, shook his head, and said, "You're looking at those European guys too much."  For anyone other than Joe I probably would have taken that remark as the ultimate ignorance, but Joe was a man who understood and admired the finest art and illustration in comics. An excellent cartoonist himself,  Joe had originally worked with Wally Wood, did several of the famous E.C. stories, was a mainstay at Mad Magazine before eventually working as an editor at D.C. Joe was the one who brought to American comics as entire school of brilliant Phillipine artists such as Tony DeZuniga, Alex Nino, and Alfredo Alcala.

The essence of what Joe was trying to say was what he had experienced  firsthand from the fans reaction not only to the Philipine artists, but also to the likes of Alex Toth: in comics, style was more important than substance. And the current style was exaggerated super heroes. Fortunately, I took Joe's advice with a grain of salt. I've told folks many time, as I wasn't the most popular  or skilled comic book artist, no one ever said, "Don't change!"  Success often has a way of stunting your creative growth, but consequently I was free to experiment and learn and move forward as an illustrator beyond just comics. In the other fields of advertising, animation and movies, the skills were more appreciated. 

What I've always admired is draftsmanship, clear storytelling, and dynamic composition. And lots of those European guys were masters at these qualities, because they started out studying the "old masters", as well as the current cartoonists. They were more influenced by the greats of the comicstrip (Foster, Caniff, Raymond) than the current Marvel style.

Two of the earliest examples I saw were two Spanish cartoonists. When my friend Augie Guzman came back from a trip to Mexico he brought back a book with art by an artist named Esteban Maroto; there was another strip called Delta 99 but it was unsigned. The Maroto story  was printed in blue ink instead of black and the work blew me away. His male figures were strong and muscular, but elegant and graceful. His women were just otherwordly beautiful. He was another Al Williamson. And all with an exquisite art nouveau  background. I was pleased in later years to start seeing his work regularly in the Warren books.

Howard Chaykin introduced me to the work of Carlos Giminez, via a wonderfully whimsical strip Dani Futuro. His work reminded me a bit of both Wood and
Eisner, but again with a definite art nouveau influence. And lo and behold this was the artist who had drawn Delta 99. My Starfire pages were full of little bits and pieces (we call them swipes) from Giminez. And I also found his work in Trinca, one of the many imported books Doug Murray gave me as payment for a poster I had did for him.

Trinca was one of Europe's best anthology books, featuring several strips ( among them The Smurfs) and it introduced me to another lifelong influence, Victor De La Fuente. The two strips that De La Fuente had in the book were Haxtur and Matia D'Or, both post-apocalypse barbarian strips. Victor's figures were skinny little wiry guys , but they looked like they could rip any Marvel superhero to shreds in the real world. His gutty penline and sense of realism gave the stories a vitality I'd never seen. Later, I discovered he also worked on any number of Western strips.

Another of the books that Doug Murray passed on to me was Paul Gillon's Les Naufrages Du Temps, an elegantly drawn sci-fi strip. Oddly enough, I didn't respond to the work much at the time, perhaps because it was in black and white with a single neutral tone on it. It was only in later years when I saw his work in full color (La Survivante,Le Plan Aspic) that I really started to examine and emulate the work. Chaykin had dubbed him the French Leonard Starr.

The regular artist on the Warren strip Vampirella was Jose Gonzalez. His work was stunning, and you never knew what to expect. His color work was as alive and vibrant as San  Julian, and his black and white work was always a conglomeration of charcoal, ink, pencil, marker and wash...but all brought together in a cohesive pattern.

When I started sharing a studio with Chaykin in the sleepy LA suburb of Montrose, he introduced me a number of other of my influences. One was Alfonso Font, who did several stories together with Carlos Gimenez about the Spanish Civil War. There was such  spontaneity and life in the drawings, and his use of spotting blacks was masterful.

If "Shanghai" was the only album Attilio Micheluzzi ever did in his short but brilliant career, I'd still have him as one of my favorites. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to competing with Caniff's early Terry and the Pirates work. The man definitely had a movie camera behind his eyes. I'm often amused, noting Micheluzzi's architectural background, to often find him choosing to place words balloons over people instead of buildings. His Air Mail strip is worth hunting down. His last work was on a series called "Afghanistan", and was printed in the European magazine Comic Art. The last story, published unfinished, shows his working style with a combination of pencil roughs, line work, and finished frames.

Ferdinando Tacconi did several of the Un Uomo Un'avventura books along with Sergio Toppi. Tacconi's work was light and breezy and whimsical like Gimenez, but with a wonderfully controlled looseness. Sounds contradictory, but it worked for him. And the use of blacks would make Toth and Kubert jealous.

You can see the influence of Tacconi in Walter Simonson's work, and even more so with Toppi, one of the great illustrators to come out of Italy. The design and penwork is of such facility and confidence. The graphic design breathtaking. I'm not sure if he was influenced by Brad Holland or the other way around.  Whatever, the man just makes me want to draw.

But all of these continentals made me want to pick up a pen or pencil and just doodle away. There were a number of others who were inspirational such as Moebius, Druillet, Palacios, Loisel, Bernet...the list just goes on. While I grew up on American cartoonists and they are my roots, certainly the Europeans were my step toward maturity. I've found a few links to some of these artists, but it would be well worth the time to google them all and study the images.

Carlos Gimenez:

Esteban Maroto:

Victor De La Fuente:

Paul Gillon:

Attilio Micheluzzi:

Jose Gonzalez:

Ferdinando Tacconi:

Sergio Toppi:


  1. Mike;
    Thanks for a very compelling presentation. Your descriptions ad much to the stunning work portrayed here.

  2. Mike, thanks for this post. Let me add (for those who don't know him) that Micheluzzi was really an architect, he had worked in Libya until 1972, then lose his job due to the raise of Gaddafi, and had to come back to Italy where he started doing comics at the age of 42.

  3. I read Gillon's La Survivante several years back and his style also reminded me of Milo Manara. Jose Gonzales brings to mind Serpieri's women. That color page of Tacconi's with the desert chase has a Williamson-esque flavor to it. I can see how Walt and Howard were influenced by these gentlemen. It's truly superb stuff. Thanks for compiling these links for us!

  4. Roberto, Thanks for that bit of info. I really knew very little about Micheluzzi, except that the work really stands on it's own.
    And Joseph, it's always a treat to find other people who have the same tastes and interests as your have. I think that by the time I discovered a lot of these folks, they were already out of "style"...however my own feeling is that true style never goes out of fashion. If it is good, it will last.,

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  6. I had a wonder time going over your images and text. I was familiar with some of the artists but found some new ones. Thanks for sharing. I have some new things to read.