Jose Ortiz in 2012, with the Grand Prize of the Barcelona International Comic-Con
Jose Ortiz, whose sixty years as a comic strip artist encompassed a thirty-year span working for British comics, has died on Monday, 23 December at the age of 81. Feeling ill, he had been admitted to La Fe hospital in Valencia a week before he died of heart failure. Of all the Spanish artists who found themselves working for British publishers during the British comics' boom of the 1950s and 1960s, José Ortiz was one of the longest survivors. Such is his longevity, that he has fans for each of the decades he worked in the UK: those who grew up in the 1960s will remember his as the artist of countless war libraries as well as “UFO Agent” and its sequel “Smokeman” in Eagle; fans in the 1970s are more likely to remember his work in nursery or girls comics or his eight month run as the artist of "The Persuaders" in TV Action; in the 1980s he helped relaunch the Eagle with fantasies "The Tower King" and "The Fifth Horseman" and went on to draw the long-running horror series "The Thirteenth Floor" and various tales of the genetically-adapted warrior "Rogue Trooper".
At the same time, Ortiz is widely recognised as one of the masters of comic art in his native Spain as the artist of "Hombre" and "Burton y Cyb" and one of the most popular contributors to the American horror magazines published by James Warren.
Ortiz worked extensively for Editorial Maga for the next decade, working on El Capitan Don Nadie [Captain Don Nobody] (1952), El Principe Pablo [Prince Paul] (covers only, 1953-54), Coleccion Comandos (1954), Sebastián Vargas (1954), Don Barry, El Terremoto [Dan Barry, Earthquake] (1954), Balin (1955), Pantera Negra [Black Panther] (1956), El duque negro [The Black Duke] (1957), Apache (1958), Bengala (1959) and Johnny Fogata (1960). Of these, Ortiz was probably best-known for the western adventures of Don Barry, which ran for 76 issues and 3 'annuals' in 1954-57; Ortiz also drew the first 31 issues of another popular western, Johnny Fogata.
By the late 1950s, Ortiz was also establishing himself with other publishers, such as Toray, with such strips as Sigur el Wikingo [Sigur the Viking] and stories of the wild west in the anthology Hazañas del Oeste; for Bruguera he produced stories for Bisonte Extra Ilustrada, distributed almost exclusively in Argentina, and adaptations for Colección Historias such as "Los Viajes de Gulliver" [Gulliver's Travels] and "Las Cruzadas" [The Crusades].
Ortiz had made his British debut in 1957 with "In Love's Trap" in D. C. Thomson's early romantic pocket library Love and Life; other early sales to Golden Heart Pocket Library, Thriller Picture Library and Top Spot followed, but it was 1960 before he established himself as a regular in Ted Bensberg's war libraries department, producing three dozen stories for War, Battle, War at Sea and Air Ace libraries between 1960-67. In 1962-63 he drew the short-lived "Caroline Baker, Barrister-at-Law" for the Daily Express, preparing for the task of illustrating the adventures of a female lawyer by coming to the UK and making sketches at a magistrate's court.
In 1964, Ortiz took over the character of John Brody for Boys' World and produced "The Green Men" in colour on the rear page for seven weeks. He later took over the adventures of "UFO Agent" Major Grant in the original Eagle, which, exploiting the popularity for American superheroes that followed the appearance of the Batman TV show, became the superhero "Smokeman", then, when that bubble burst within the year, became a member of the C.I.D. When "Grant (C.I.D.)" came to an end, Ortiz continued to work for Eagle on the aerial pirates yarn, "Sky Buccaneers".
Ortiz's agent, Josep Toutain of Selecciones Illustrades, created for publication in Spain and in the US in the early 1970s and - like many of his contemporaries - Ortiz saw the American market as a way of escaping the strictures of the British comics' market and earn a better return for his efforts. With James Warren's horror comics Vampirella, Eerie and others, he found the market he was looking for and, as David Roach records in The Warren Companion, "At Warren he embraced the 'new look' with relish to produce a succession of superbly-drawn stories such as "Coffin", "Jackass", and his masterpiece, "The Apocalypse" (which ran in Eerie #62-65). This looked like it wasn't so much inked as feverishly scratched out of a morass of black ink and seething textures." He was named Warren's Best All Around Artist in 1974.
Although Ortiz could not maintain this intensity, he became Warren's most prolific artist, contributing 119 strips to the Warren magazines, abandoning the UK market but maintaining a presence in Spain and Europe with strips such as "El Cuervo" for Kung-Fu (1976), "Los Grandes Mitos del Oeste" [Great Myths of the West] (1978) and El Nuevo Tarzan (1979-81).
As the Warren magazines lost circulation, Ortiz found a new market in Spain where new comics aimed at an older audience such as Cimoc, for which Ortiz teamed up with Antonio Segura on the science fiction series "Hombre" in 1981. The series portrayed a post-Apocalypse society that has developed following the collapse of civilised society. The series, a futuristic twist on the Spaghetti Western, sees the man known only as Hombre travelling from city to city, encountering survivors often banded together as small communities for protection against the hostile environment and marauding bands.
In 1983 he teamed up with his nephew Leopoldo Sanchez who, with writer Mariano Hispano,was co-founder of Ediciones Metropol; Ortiz contributed a number of strips to their three titles, Metropol, Mocambo and KO Comics, including "Hombre" in the latter. Although Ediciones Metropol lasted only a year, Ortiz was able to concentrate on contributing strips to the new adult comics published by Toutain Editor, such as "Las mil caras de Jack el Destripador" [Jack the Ripper] (1984) for Creepy, and Norma Editorial. In 1987 he created, with Segura, "Burton y Cyb" for Zona 84 (and, later, Comix Internacional) and "Morgan", which debuted as "Ives" in Metropol before being revived in Cimoc.
Ortiz also contributed to 2000AD, mostly illustrating "Rogue Trooper", but also single episodes of "The Helltrekkers" and "Judge Dredd" (1987). His last strips in the UK were "Kid Cops" for Eagle (1988) nad "Kitten Magee" in WildCat and the merged Eagle & WildCat (1988-89). Contemporarily, he also briefly worked on Sabre for Eclipse and a number of stories appeared in Heavy Metal.
In the early 1990s Ortiz drew "Bud O'Brien" (for Torpedo) and "Ozone" (for L'Eternauta), and contributed two volumes to a lavish collection of books from Planeta-Deagostini with the overall title Tales of the New World: #2 La civilización Inca: Los Hijos del Sol (1991) and #25 Orígenes del hombre Americano: Los Primeros (1992).
“Hombre” had continued to appear in Cimoc until the 1990s but Spanish comics suffered a collapse in popularity in that decade following the Golden Age of the 1980s. Subsequently, Ortiz spent twenty years working for Sergio Bonelli on the famous Italian western Tex. He has also drawn episodes of "Ken Parker" and "Magico Vento" [Magic Wind] for their respective titles. The latter is currently being reprinted in Italy as Magico Vento Deluxe and in English translation by Epicenter Comics in the USA, with volume 1 published in June 2013 and volume 3 due to appear in January 2014 (volume two was by other hands).
In 1998, Ortiz was awarded the Parparajote de Oro by the Asociación de Amigos del Tebeo de la Región de Murcia.
Recently, Ortiz produced a colour episode, “La dimora stregara” [The Haunted House], penned by Andrea Cavaletto, for Dylan Dog Color Fest (2012).
In May 2012, Ortiz was awarded the Grand Prize—the Gran Premio del Salón—at the 30th Barcelona International Comics Convention in recognition of his brilliant career; a retrospective exhibition took place at the following year’s Comic-Con in April 2013.
The second volume of a complete collection of “Hombre”, was published by Editorial EDT Editores de Tebeos in November.
(* photo: http://www.ficomic.com)