Friday, May 08, 2009

RIP Ric Estrada

Jacque Nodell has a tribute post up to one of the more important romance artists in comics, who passed away last weekend. I did some searching around and came up with a nice Ric Estrada story I'd like to share with you.

The tale is Portrait of Satan, from Eerie #12, dated November 1967. Eerie was an excellent magazine put out by Warren that must have paid well (or reliably), because the artistic talent was extraordinary, including many of the leading EC illustrators from the 1950s. In this issue alone, the artists include Jeff Jones, Johnny Craig, Joe Orlando, Al McWilliams and Estrada.

The story itself riffs off the basic "I'd sell my soul for..." premise. An artist is struggling to meet commercial deadlines but what he really longs for is to do serious art.

As you can see, there is a superficial simplicity to the art but the technique is impressive; it almost looks like he's working with watercolors there and not just pencil and ink. And sequentially, the art looks great:

So the deal is that if Hacker can paint a perfect portrait of the devil, then he doesn't forfeit his soul. When it's completed the devil acknowledges that the portrait is perfect, but he's still going to take Hacker's soul because of an admission that the artist made:

Comments: The story is just okay, with a not terribly surprising ending and a decent twist on the standard "Damn Yankees" plot. But the art adds atmosphere and menace. Interestingly, the style is very much different than the romance art that Jacque includes in her post.

I am trying to track down a Wonder Woman issue that Estrada did the art for (#176) and will update this post if I can locate it.

Update: I'll put a few examples from the WW story. One thing always to remember with superhero titles in the Silver Age is that when a guest artist filled in for an issue, he was expected to draw in the style of the previous artists. For most of the Silver Age that had been the team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, who had been pulled off WW after issue #171 (and assigned to handle the Flash at about the same time). The prior few issues had been done by Irv Novick, who went on to some success with Batman. To maintain some continuity, Esposito did the inking on the Novick issues and this one as well.

This was also at the moment in time of DC's silly experiment with coloring in the "pipes" (the normally white spaces between panels). Anyway, here's Ric's take on the Amazon Angel:

Oh, yeah, I should mention that this was the tail end of Batmania as well, which accounts for all the sound effects in the above panel. But a nice, dynamic shot of Wonder Woman like that was not all that common in the Silver Age.

The story... I haven't even the heart to try to discuss it. Sweet mercy, Wonder Woman's stories almost never made sense but this is horrific even for Kanigher. Three geeky brothers are stalking Wonder Woman, trying to get her to marry them. They have a secret formula that turns them into walking stud muffins:

A style more noticeably like Ric's romance artwork comes in in these little bits of Diana Prince:

I'm pretty sure I covered the other time that June 18th rolled around in Wonder Woman #106, but not finding it quickly in my archives. IIRC, the reason I remember it was because that same issue they used another "once a year" gimmick, this time a date that Wondy's various items of equipment--bracelets, lasso, glass plane--were unreliable.

Anyway, you can probably guess the next chapter. Wonder Woman is called on three separate emergencies where she is unable to assist because of her lack of powers, but the three "Star" brothers save the day. However, they also are a little overly aggressive in their approach to romancing her:

His technique reminds me of Muscles in the old BEM ad.

At any rate, Wonder Woman is flattered but cannot give up crimefighting for any of the Star Brothers, especially when it turns out their powers were only temporary.

Comments: As I discussed above, Estrada does well on Diana, but it seems to me that at times his fight scenes with Wonder Woman leave a little something to be desired:

I can appreciate that she's struggling, but it also looks like her neck is growing.

But overall Estrada does a fine job, arguably some of the best art during the otherwise almost uniformly wretched Silver Age Wonder Woman. It would have been nice to see him grow into the character, but fate had other plans, as this was Kanigher's last issue as Wonder Woman's writer and editor. The secret agent Diana Prince was just around the corner.