Artist José González Navarro, better known as "Pepe" Gonzalez, died on Friday, 13 March, having fallen into a coma following a long illness.
González began working as an artist for British comics as a teenager. Born in Barcelona, his was introduced to the world of comics by Javier Puerto, who had spotted two portraits drawn by González which were hanging in the window of a tailor's shop where his mother worked. Puerto presented him to Josep Toutain, the manager of the Selecciones Ilustrades agency, who tested the young artist by having him copy some "Cisco Kid" artwork by Jose Luis Salinas. The result was an exact reproduction (down to the stains on the paper) and González was immediately hired to draw Westerns such as Yuki el Temerario for Editorial Valenciana.
Selecciones Ilustrades had then recently broken into the British market, supplying work to Len Miller and Westworld Publications. González found himself working on "Doc Holliday" which appeared in Miller's TV Heroes and Young Marvelman Annual in 1959.
González also showed a talent for drawing girls in the pages of Rosas Blancas, Susana and Serenata for Editorial Toray. Toutain introduced his new recruit to Reginald Taylor, editor of Boyfriend, and Mike Butterworth, editor of Valentine, and González found himself drawing romance strips for the British market for the next decade, contributing to the aforementioned papers as well as Serenade, Marilyn, Love Story Picture Library, Trend & Boyfriend, Jackie, Mirabelle, Romeo, Judy and Mandy.
In 1963-64, he also drew a strip adapting the TV show The Avengers, syndicated to various TV listings magazines and newspapers in the UK and abroad.
His talent for drawing sensual, curvaceous women found a natural home in the pages of James Warren's Vampirella magazine. In 1970, Toutain travelled to New York at the request of his artists who hoped to break into the American market (or rather, perhaps, break out of the British market) and, over the next few months, a trickle of S.I. artists, including González, began contributing pin-ups to Martin Goodman's cartoon humour magazines. James Warren also began offering many of the best of the S.I. artists regular work on his horror magazines.
González made his debut with "Death's Dark Angel" in Vampirella #12 (Jul 1971). González and other S.I. artists had an incredible impact on Warren's various titles; González's debut strip was voted the Best Art in a Story for 1971 and he received the same award in 1974 for his story "The Sultana's Revenge" in Vampirella #33. During this early period, he also produced, as a cover for issue 19, the definitive full-figure painting of Vampirella which found its way onto posters, book covers and merchandise.
Having drawn the strip continuously from issue 12 to 34, González began to slacken his pace in the mid-1970s but continued to drawn for Warren (primarily for Vampirella but also for 1984) until 1979. David Roach, in The Warren Companion, has opined that González's early strips showed the artist illustrating scenes rather than telling the stories through his artwork. The problem was partly resolved when episodes became shorter and other artists began to fill in. "The episodes' shorter length allowed [González] to bring a more realistic, illustrative approach to the strip. Many of his mid-'70s strips contained beautiful pencil, wash, or intricately cross-hatched penand ink drawings of almost photographic realism, garnished with his usual cartoon flavorings. The mix was occasionally jarring but it was among the most appealing material material Warren ever published."
González all but departed Warren's publications in 1979 when work on portfolios and pin-ups took up most of his time. He returned in 1982-83 for a final six appearances, after which he concentrated on work in Europe. In the 1980s he drew Chantal and Mamba for Editions Norma but drifted away from comics in favour of fine art and illustration, primarily in pencil and charcoal. His works were widely exhibited in Spain but González himself lived reclusively in Barcelona, his address known only to a select few.
González had a photographic memory and could draw portraits without reference; Marilyn Monroe was a particular favourite. He also drew that other famous blonde celebrity, Barbie, for Egmont. Although his work was always popular, he was somewhat Bohemian in his outlook. Robin Whale has commented: "he never worked to achieve artistic fame or fortune, merely for the love of the work. This has led him to times of extreme poverty and times of comfort, but never to wealth."
(* column header based on photos from a 1982 interview found here; photographs probably © Toutain, Vempirella © Harris Publications Inc; an excellent gallery of Vampirella art can be found here; Avengers strip © unknown; artwork from Valentine © IPC Media; Marilyn artwork probably © Estate of José González )