Ric Estrada 1928-2009

Splash panel to "The 'Mormon' Battalion!" from
Our Fighting Forces #135 © 1972 DC Comics. Script,
Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Letters, Colors: Unknown.

I hope you'll forgive me for dispensing with the pithy post titles when it comes to memorials.

Ric Estrada passed away last Friday at 81. He wasn't among the best known or
most tenured comic-book artists, but he holds a special place in my heart for his work on the revival of All-Star Comics in 1976. It turns out that he holds a special place in the hearts of many others for quite different work: illustrating passages from what's popularly called the New Testament, plus The Book of Mormon, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

A trio of Estrada's illustrations for New Testament Stories, © 1980 Intellectual
Reserve, Inc.: Moses with the Ten Commandments; Jesus at the Temple;
Jesus and the Heavenly Father appearing to John Smith.

Estrada, born in 1928, left his native Cuba at age 20 for New York City, where he worked in advertising and dabbled in comic books — including a pair of stories for EC. After extensive traveling, he settled in for a not-quite-exclusive, nearly two-decade-long run at DC in 1967, shortly before converting to Mormonism.

Page from "Bunker!", the first story in Two-Fisted Tales #30, © 1952 EC Publications.
Script: Harvey Kurtzman. Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Colors: Marie Severin. Letters:
Ben Oda. Image swiped from Bob Heer's Estrada post at the
Four Realities blog.

As I wrote last month, my personal Golden Age of Comics was the mid-to-late '70s, and among the things that made it great were reprints and new tales featuring characters from the actual Golden Age, circa 1938-1951.

The Justice Society of America, first and greatest team of superheroes ever, was introduced in All-Star #3, and the end of their run with All-Star #57 is for many the very definition of the Golden Age's final curtain. When the JSA returned to its own title 25 years later — having been re-introduced as early as 1963, guest-starring in the pages of Flash and the newfangled Justice League of America — even the old numbering was picked up, although the Mike Grell cover and (short-lived) reference to the team's younger members as The Super Squad showed that DC wasn't interested in pure nostalgia. All-Star Comics #58 was everything a 5-year-old Blam could have wanted. While I get why older, alternate-Earth versions of familiar characters (grey-templed Flash, grown-up Robin, grandfather-like Superman) would appeal to me now, I have no idea why they captured my imagination like they did when I'd only just discovered the genre and medium to which they belonged; somehow, though, I understood them to be special.

All-Star Super Squad / Roll Call / gathering of Earth-Two Justice Society of America 'The All-Star Super Squad Faces Destruction!' / 'Brainwave Blows Up!'
Splash pages from All-Star Comics #58 & #59 © 1975 DC Comics. Script: Gerry Conway.
Rough Pencils: Ric Estrada. Finished Pencils, Inks: Wally Wood. Letters: Ben Oda. Images
taken from Roy Thomas' interviews of Estrada and Conway at the TwoMorrows website.

Estrada was inked on the first couple issues of the All-Star revival by Wally Wood;
the legendary Wood then inked some of future fan-favorite Keith Giffen's earliest pencil art and drew a couple more issues solo. I don't know whether it was the fact that Estrada was only providing loose pencils for Wood to finish, a desire to evoke the sturdy and simplistic Golden Age work of artists like Joe Shuster, or Wood's naturally clean, bold-lined style of inking, but the art was gorgeous and entirely evocative of the JSA's native era.

While Estrada did a lot of interior work for DC Comics in the late '70s, he drew few covers and they were almost all for romance books. Since I'm unable to reach my own issues for scanning right now, I hope my former fellow TwoMorrows editor Roy Thomas won't mind my copying the above splash pages to Estrada's All-Star issues for posting here; you can read excerpts of Roy's interviews with Estrada, writer/editor Gerry Conway, and others involved with the Justice Society revival at the TwoMorrows website. An interesting, undated essay at Comicartville quotes Wood as not caring for Estrada's work, with author Don Mangus well defending Ric and quoting him extensively from Robin Snyder's long-running historical fanzine The Comics.

'Dear Laura Penn, My name is Toni Anderson…' / weeping red-headed girl: '…Why do I feel my life is ending?'
Cover to Young Romance #165 © 1970 DC Comics. Pencils: Ric Estrada.
Inks: Vince Colletta. Letters: Gaspar Saladino. Script, Colors: Unknown.

Other material that I discovered while looking for interior art of Estrada's online surprised me with the information that Ric was if not the first Mormon cartoonist at least the first to reflect his religion in his work. Whatever your opinion or knowledge of Mormonism, these articles at a Mormon-focused website — the second listed on this page is the earlier installment; the follow-up, which is listed first, was posted only last Wednesday — are, to me, fascinating background on the man and provide a context of which I was entirely unaware, all the better for hearing things in Estrada's own words. The splash page below is from (believe it or not) G.I. Combat #169, released a month after All-Star Comics #58 and one of just a handful of comic-book stories that Estrada wrote as well as illustrated. I can't help but look at it as the Mormon equivalent of Jack Kirby's Tales of Asgard (Kirby was Jewish and not Asgardian, granted, but that was preamble to the Biblical overtones in his cosmic Fourth World saga and his later Old Testament portfolio).

Ether the Prophet confronts King Coriantumr in Land Bountiful / 'adapted from the Book of Mormon'
The first page of "Peace with Honor!", adapted from The Book of Mormon, in G.I.
Combat #169, © 1974 DC Comics. Script, Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Letters: Ben Oda.
Colors: Unknown. Ether the Prophet confronts King Coriantumr in Land Bountiful.

The majority of Estrada's contributions were to war, romance, and mystery/horror titles — likely all worthy, and today I'd love to see them, but 30 years ago I was almost exclusively a superhero boy. Until looking up Estrada's work while writing this, I'd forgot that he also penciled the first two issues of the Super Friends comic-book series, as well as some of my other favorites from Conway's Corner, as All-Star Comics editor Gerry Conway referred to his satellite of titles at DC: Freedom Fighters #1 reintroduced yet another group of Golden Age superheroes, acquired from a publisher called Quality and revived during one of the annual meetings of the JLA and JSA. The Wildcat/Creeper story in Super-Team Family #2 memorably freaked me out, and the Flash/Hawkman adventure in the following issue, with Estrada again inked by Wally Wood, is another childhood touchstone of mine.

camp prisoner gets revenge against commandant amidst pile of bodies during Holocaust
Page from "Winter Soldier!" in Our Army at War #263, from the celebrated Gallery of
War series, © 1973 DC Comics. Script: Robert Kanigher. Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Colors,
Letters: Unknown. Image swiped from Bob Heer's Estrada post at the
Four Realities blog.

You can read more about Estrada, who also worked in commercial illustration and animation, in the eulogy posted by Mark Evanier at his blog. Not that I naturally assume otherwise, but I'm always glad to hear that someone whose work I admire is a good guy. Steve Bissette, who learned more than illustration from Ric at the renowned Kubert School, shared memories on his blog yesterday; Daniel Best posted a letter and funeral information from Ric's widow Loretta; and Bob Heer has provided a lode of lovely Estrada art as well as pretty much all the links I'd already compiled.

As you'll learn from the various obituaries, a documentary about Estrada called Dibujante de Muñequitos is being produced by his son Seth; Ric and Seth were interviewed separately by the magazine Mormon Artist for its March 2009 issue, Seth about the documentary and Ric about his work in comic books and animation as well as his conversion. Mike Catron, from whom I heard the sad news on a chat list, has posted a video to YouTube of Estrada speaking at a San Diego Comic-Con panel moderated by Evanier in 2001, which Mark has now embedded on his blog.

I'll leave you with a chronological listing of Estrada's comic-book work at The Grand Comics Database.

Queen Hippolyta and Wonder Woman bound in front of assembled Amazons / 'The Jury of Death!'
Cover to Wonder Woman #207 © 1973 DC Comics. Pencils: Ric Estrada.
Inks: Vince Colletta. Letters: Gaspar Saladino. Script, Colors: Unknown.


Arben said...

Man, I never knew half that stuff. Nice tribute, Blam... Although you know those last couple of covers are kinda morbid, considering.

Blam said...

I did have second thoughts after posting them and seeing that big "Death!" word balloon, but the Young Romance cover (also just a coincidence, of course) didn't trip any alarms until you mentioned it. Should I take 'em down?