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Jose Luis García-López Discusses Career, Influences & Superman’s Hair

by  in Comic News Comment
Jose Luis García-López Discusses Career, Influences & Superman’s Hair

By virtually every standard, Jose Luis García-López is a modern master of American comics. And though he’s been away from the regular, monthly spotlight for a number of years, 2014 saw the release of several collections of his work, including “Twilight” and “Cinder and Ashe,” one a science fiction story and the other a realistic, noir-fueled private eye yarn. García-López also illustrated “Batman ’66: The Lost Episode,” adapted by Len Wein from an unfilmed Harlan Ellison script for the Adam West-starring show. Together, the three books display the range García-López is known for. From realism to superheroes to science fiction, from gritty drama to comedic adventure, working in a variety of styles and approaches, he has always been able to tackle each in a unique way.

Of course, most fans know his work from his time illustrating Superman tales throughout the ’70s and ’80s, a number of which were collected in 2013 as “Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis García-López.” He drew “Metal Men” in the Eisner Award-winning “Wednesday Comics,” launched a number of series in the ’70s, including the iconic “DC Comics Presents,” illustrated the sequel to “Road to Perdition,” and drew hundreds of other stories along the way. And all of this is in addition to creating a massive portfolio of promotional and advertising work for DC, for which he is recognized by a generation — or more — as the definitive DC Comics artist, even to those who may not know his name.

CBR News: Last year, DC published “Batman ’66: The Lost Episode.” How did you end up working on this book and what interested you about the project?

Jose Luis García-López: [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio told me about the project on of my visits to the DC offices. He mentioned Harlan Ellison’s lost story and the plans to publish it in comic book format, with Len Wein doing the script. Later on, he offered me the art chores. Since I was familiar with the [“Batman ’66”] books already published — and I liked them all — I said yes, right away.

You’ve drawn a number of Batman comics over the years. Was there a particular challenge to this project?

The Batman I always did was not particularly dark and violent — in particular, the ones I draw for licensing — so it was relatively easy to approach the character in a light and funny way. That is, easy to approach but difficult to get. I think the preceding artists [on “Batman ’66”] got the feeling of the show a lot better than me.

So when you approach a comic like this, you’re thinking a lot about the old television show and its designs? 

Of course! Since the “Batman ’66” books are inspired in the TV show, the first step was to get all the stills I could get from the TV series. I was lucky to have a good amount of books already published, so it was easy to follow other artists’ steps. They were the ones who did the hard work of approaching and getting the spirit of the show. I just tried to work at the same level of excellence they imposed in those books.

DC published a few books in 2014 collecting some of your older work. One was “Twilight,” a book you did with Howard Chaykin years ago. What was it like collaborating with a writer who is an artist in his own right?

As you point out, Chaykin is an artist as well, so it was easy to work with him. He didn’t ask for impossible stuff. He writes as an artist. He knows the medium and what you can and cannot do with it. From the beginning, he had clear idea about the characters. He gave me some tips about what actors to look up to as models, not only in their physical aspect but also in their personalities. He made my job easier, and I guess he was content with the final work because he never asked nor suggested any changes. At the end of the day and after so many years doing comics, I only have a handful of works I still feel happy with, and this was one of them.  

Another collection that came out last year is “Cinder and Ashe,” a miniseries you worked on with Gerry Conway. That was more realistic story than much of the work you’re known for.

It was a refreshing experience. I didn’t grow up reading “Superman” or “Batman.” I never drew them either, until I came to the States. “Cinder & Ashe” was closer to my previous comic book experience in Argentina, where I drew various kinds of comics and different  genres. With Conway, I had the opportunity to really tell a story in a straight out way. I mean, simple and direct. This was a well-written, realistic story. The art just had to enhance the narrative and not obscure it with fancy layouts or eccentric poses that works so well in super heroes books. With a character that can do impossible things, everything is valid.  

You’ve worked with Conway on and off for years, on “Hercules” and many other projects. Did the two of you have a good working relationship?

Yes, my collaboration with Gerry has been the longest I have had with any writer, and I was lucky and happy to be working with him. Some of the books I’m prouder to say I did the art for, are those written by him.

DC also recently published a book collecting your Superman work, which was done over a number of years. I don’t know if you read it — or if you like to look at your older work — but you’re known for your work on Superman and Batman. Do you have a fondness or a feeling for those characters? Is that just what you were asked to draw?

Those were the first superheroes I ever did. It was what they had for me in my first visit at DC’s offices. I learned to like Batman and Wonder Woman. On the other hand, my relationship with Superman was and still is more problematic. [Laughs] I guess I was scared of the character from the beginning. At that time — in the 1970s — it was over-protected by editors and publishers alike. You couldn’t get any liberties with the big guy. I had his hair curl redone by an assistant editor more than once. This is just one example. Nowadays, they are more open to experiment with his looks. It’s a blessing for the artists, because they have more freedom to imprint his/her own vision on the character.

You mentioned that you hadn’t drawn superheroes until you came to the U.S. What kind of work did you do in Argentina?

In Argentina, I did a little of everything. Adventure stories, mostly. Adaptations of Spanish classic writers like Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, Lope de Vega. Several period pieces that mixed adventure and romance. Crime/detective stories. Even a couple of war stories. In the two years before coming to New York, I did a pirate series as well. There was a diversity of genres in Argentinian comics at that time. You had to do anything. You never knew what would you do in the next story. While still in Argentina I did more than a dozen short romantic comics for Charlton.

Everything but superheroes.

I’m sure that a lot of people remember “Metal Men,” which you drew for “Wednesday Comics.” Were newspaper comic strips a big influence on you and your work, particularly early in your career?

Yes, they were. I used to read them in comic book form — not having the luck to see them in the large format they were published in originally. I saw a couple of those pages in the King Features office in Buenos Aires, when I was a teenager — two glorious pages from “Flash Gordon!” When I left the building I thought: When I grow up I want to be like Alex Raymond. [Laughs]

Are there any artists who have inked you that you think really capture your work well?

Many — and they usually do better inks than me. I would say that even my bad inks may capture better what I want to convey in my pencils.
 
Is there a project that you’ve done which is your favorite? Or one you’re especially happy with?

I’m happy with a few of them, so I hate to choose one above the other. It’s like when you have several children — you treat them all the same way.

Do you have any favorite collaborators or favorite projects?

I have favorite collaborators, but I won’t mention any names so I will not run the risk to forget somebody, [Laughs]

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