During the run of festivities at Glasgow Comic Con 2013 there were a number of artist and writer panels during the two-day creator driven event. Excitingly, one of these featured none other than Spanish Artist Carlos Ezquerra.
Carlos’s contribution to comics is immense in part due to being the artist who co-created characters like Strontium Dog’s Johnny Alpha and of course Judge Joseph Dredd.
During the Question and Answer section to ensure that none of you missed out we caught what was asked and what the responses were. So take a read and see just what the man himself thought about during the creation of such epic characters in British comics.
How did he get started in comics?
Aged 19, during his military service in Spain, When he met an artist who drew Christmas cards. The artist informed him that he knew people in England who were looking for comic artists. He always liked to draw, read and watch films, and saw this as a great way to put all of these interests together.
He picked up tips through reading, in particular authors like Charles Dickens who he felt had a very ‘cinematic’ style. He was inspired by the way he could visualise scenes solely from Dickens’ writing. He also learned through watching movies, particularly things like composition, and took character inspiration from Spaghetti Westerns. He never really read many comics growing up.
What was his first ‘gig’ as an artist like?
He was living in Malta at the time, drawing pages and sending them out to agents. He received a lot of rejections before finally getting one accepted. His first story was a 48-page Western for which he did the script, lettering and artwork. He was paid around £10 for it. Which doesn’t seem like much, but he was incredibly excited at being paid for doing thing he loved. In the early days, there were times where he had to live on sardines, but he actually quite enjoyed the ‘bohemian’ feel of “living his dream”.
How did he make the move into sci-fi, specifically 2000 A.D.?
Initially, he worked on ‘girls‘ magazines like Valentine. He was approached by another artist who came to him with an adventure story for DC Thompson. From there, he moved to Battle, then finally to 2000 A.D. John Wagner and Pat Mills had seen his work, enjoyed it, and decided to bring him on board.
What differences, if any, were there between working for 2000 A.D. and his earlier work at DC Thompson/Battle?
When he worked for DC Thompson, he was living in London and never met people face to face. Everything was conducted through his agent. Upon moving to Battle, he found himself visiting the offices more often, meeting with editors and artists. And when he arrived at 2000 A.D., he did so alongside many other talented young (or young at that time) artists, such as Brian Bolland, John Higgins and Kevin O’Neill, and it had much more of a ‘family’ feel to it.
Besides his work with 2000 A.D., he also created Strontium Dog for Starlord. Strontium Dog always seemed very ‘Western’ in style. Was that intentional?
Yes, it was intentional. He always enjoyed that genre, and tried to carry across a lot of the ‘dusty’ visual style. He never considered Johnny Alpha to be a western-style character though – he had *nothing* in common with, say, Clint Eastwood – as he was far more complex. He always found he could relate to the character, being a foreigner in a foreign land. Not so much now, but back in the 70’s there was definitely a noticeable atmosphere. He never felt discriminated against as such, but could definitely feel it.
From a character point of view, he always considered Dredd to be more like a tax inspector. It was always good or bad. No middle ground. Johnny Alpha on the other hand was far more human. He was a man who had suffered more, and was therefore more relatable.
He was also responsible for drawing a lot of other characters, such as Stainless Steel Rat. How did that come about?
Kelvin Gosnell had put together a terrific adaptation of the Harry Harrison books, and he felt that the character fit him well. That’s always an important thing to him, having a character where there’s an emotional resonance. If he has to draw a character where there’s no connection, he finds it extremely difficult.
Of the three (2000 A.D., Starlord, Stainless Seel Rat), which work was he most proud of?
He was very happy with all of them. He considered himself very lucky in that respect. He always viewed them almost like ‘children’. He has to like them, or he can’t draw them.
Moving on to the extremely divisive death of Johnny Alpha. Was there a reason he didn’t draw that?
He refused to do it. That particular storyline doesn’t exist, as far as he’s concerned. He found it crazy they would kill off such a popular character, then continue with the story without him. Sadly though, that’s how the comic industry works. The creators don’t own the copyright, so the editors can continue with the story however they see fit. And while he admired Colin MacNeil’s artwork, he never accepted the storyline.
He’s also done some work alongside Garth Ennis. Does he find himself working particularly well with Celts? (Alan Grant, John Wagner, Garth)
Works very well with Garth, but he never considered the link before. They’re all foreigners to him (laughs). It’s important to him to have a bond between artist and writer, where both parties know what’s wanted and expected from the other. He’s been fortunate to have spent his professional life working alongside writers with whom he shared that connection.
Any differences working with Garth?
No differences at all. He doesn’t even know who he’s working with, a lot of the time. Its a seamless transition between all. He reads, absorbs, then draws, using the same process for everyone. He needs to be motivated, so his process is important. If he isn’t motivated, his art looks ‘soft’ and takes ages.
The floor was then opened up for questions.
He as a very unique style. When did he pick that up, or was it something he’s had since he started?
He has no idea, it just comes out (He laughs). In his younger years, he sometimes tried to take things from other artists he admired, but found it only usually lasted a page or so before he reverted back to his own style. He also noted that he felt the work of a comic artist has nothing to do with illustration, and has everything to do with storytelling. When someone opens a book, it should be like a film.
What is it about westerns/anti heroes that he particularly likes?
When he was young, westerns were extremely popular. It doesn’t hurt that most sci-fi stories are essentially westerns in different clothes. He loves the characters of those genres, along with the visual style. People who haven’t had an easy life have more defined personalities, and are more like caricatures. And, as a result, they’re more fun to draw.
Was there a moment when he’s turned a script down then gone on to regret it when it did well?
He doesn’t think about his work that way. It’s about himself, and whether he’ll enjoy it. H wishes the best for whoever ends up with anything he turns down. That said, he did turned down an Alan Moore script back in his 2000 A.D. days, when he just couldn’t get a feel for it. Moore then went on to be an icon, with almost everyone who every worked worked with him making loads of money. He never regretted it, though. The most important thing is for him to be happy with himself.
That’s also one of the reasons why he never went to the states. Superheroes weren’t icons to him, so he had a hard time drawing them. He also found it very restrictive following in the footsteps of other artists, adhering to continuity rules, etc.
How did he come up with the visual style of Judge Dredd/Johnny Apha?
It’s difficult to describe. He works a lot through intuition. For example, he always felt Dredd should be protected, which is why he added the shoulder pads. He also felt he should be recognisable from a distance, so he added the eagle on one of the shoulderpads – symbol of fascism in Spain. He does a lot of it subconsciously.
For Strontium dog, he originally wanted to go with yellow and black stripes, but it didn’t work in the comics. In the insect world, the most dangerous insect has the brightest colours. It doesn’t go camouflaged. .
The face was also intentionally not handsome. Broken nose, etc. He wanted the look of a man who has been tortured, a man who had ‘lived’ and gone through more than his share of bad moments. He always tries to show piece of the character’s personality through their physical appearance.