Ric Estrada: Grounded in reality

5.13.09 | | 6 comments

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    I love the form; I’ve always have a, always had a love/hate relationship with comics: I love the form, but some of the content are not to my liking.

    Yeah, I’ve read you’re not a big superhero fan.

    No, I’m not. I’ve done a lot of superheroes, but basically I’d rather have more uh, less fantastic stories.I  read — I read also that you, um, prefer war stories over other types because of the Cuban Revolution? Would you agree with that?

    Well, not really, what I said is I prefer war stories because having been raised in the 1930s in Cuba and having seen a lot of fighting, a lot of terrorism around me. The first memory of my life was my house being surrounded by a mob —

    Oh dear.

    — and shot to pieces by a mob.

    Mmhmm.

    When I think of war stories, of the children, I think of the grownups going through all that horror and it is very real to me; and superheroes flying in the air are not very real to me, frankly.

    I can understand that.

    Yes. So, you know, and, uh, also, during my teens, that was the time of World War Two, and the movies and the newsreels and the air just sizzled with the idea of winning the war against the Nazis.

    Mmhmm.

    And so so that’s very much in my consciousness. And the two kinds of stories that I like are either war stories where you see an ordinary person become a hero —

    Mmhmm.

    — or stories of uh human relations.

Samples of Estradas war and romance comics

Last time, Ric Estrada told us that his work, though not strictly “Mormon” in content, contained “a certain amount of compassion and a certain amount of . . . spirituality.” And he found that, generally, such were easier to do within the confines of real life, than, say, when inventing Power Girl.

Supermans cousin Power Girl (and her now-famous cleavage) arrive in time to save the day.

Unfortunately for Brother Estrada, this past century has been a century dominated by superheros. If the (admittedly incomplete) list of comic credits at the Comic Book Database is correct, his output was roughly two superhero stories to every more realistic outing. Of course, that ignores comics work like the New Testament Stories he did for the Church and his editorial cartoons and book illustrations (which a quick Google Book Search reveal to be quite literally voluminous), to say nothing of his journalism and prose fiction. His heart was always grounded in the real.

But real in content. His style has never approached the photorealistic, nor did he wish it too. In a 1996 essay I’ve not been able to track down (but which is quoted extensively here), Estrada said, “My so-called ‘lyricism’ stems from my approach to drawing as flat design rather than as three-dimensional bulk.”

Don Mangus, the author of the essay I lifted that quotation from, says that “perhaps because of [his] extensive fine arts training . . . Estrada continued experimenting and questing for personal and artistic growth” — all the while maintaining his distinctive cartoony style.

As Estrada told me, “Of course I have several styles: the comic-book style, the goofy style for books, the advertising style for advertising . . . .”

Below appear three examples of his work courtesy of blogger Daniel Best who owns this original art. All three are superhero-free, stories that take place in the real world, but all three are quite different as well. Behold:

This is the closest of the three to superheros. No questions that these helmeted musclemen will be superheroesque in their capacity for violence. But no flying, no running near the speed of light. This is violence that reflects reality. To lift another Estrada quotation from Mangus (this one originates from the essay “War, You Said?”), “I grew up in Havana in the 1930s, amid terrorist bombs, shells shrieking overhead and rifle fire cracking in the streets. My first memories are of bullets biting into the walls of my home and houses burning in the night. Memories of fear and imminent death, of men’s hatred and children’s dread.” Which does not sound that far removed from hordes of maurauding Mongols sweeping down from the steppe to leave death and destruction in their path.

I’m a little nervous to psychoanlyze myself, but this is, no question, my favorite Estrada drawing yet. Their hair hasn’t aged well, but two beautiful people in pain surrounded by some of the cutest pigeons ever put on paper — what’s not to like?

Yes. That is Weclome Back, Kotter. If you’re about ten years older than me, this was your favorite show and you may even have this comic in a box in your mother’s garage.

Ric Estrada’s oeuvre represents, more than anything, two things:

  1. His need and love for the act of creation.
  2. His willingness to take any job to support his family, even Batman.

This intersection between art and family will be the subject of the next portion of this series. But while I’m finishing it, that might provide a good point for discussion: For the professional artist, working to feed the family, which sort of jobs should be accepted? Which lines that the artist draws are reasonable? Which are moral? Which are artistically unacceptable? Which are merely petty snobbery? When your passion is also your day job, how do you know when you’re doing which?

Well?

6 comments: “Ric Estrada: Grounded in reality

  1. Katya

    Are you still interested in tracking down the Don Mangus essay, or has that ship sailed?

  2. Th.

    .

    The Magnus essay I have. It’s the Estrada essays he quotes I’m missing. (“War, You Said?” and something in the May 1996 issue of Robin Snyder’s The Comics)

    But yes, if you, with your Miraculous Librarian Powers can run them down, I would like them, yes, thank you.

  3. Katya

    Oh, I see. I didn’t properly untangle the references. But yes, I found a library which apparently has “The Comics.” I’ll see if our ILL department can snag a photocopy.

    As for “War, you said,” do you have any idea where it appeared? Was it in the same publication? Have you tried to contact Don Mangus?

  4. Th.

    .

    No, I was trying so hard to get these done before Ric died that I skipped over steps like that.

  5. Katya

    Very understandable. I’ll pick up the ball on both of those, then.

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