Thursday, March 01, 2007

Carlos Ezquerra

Continuing our little dip into the history of 2000AD...

The scene: a crowded bar, The Bedford Hotel, UKCAC 1994. The action: an all too brief chat with Carlos Ezquerra. Early Saturday morning, Carlos and I had arranged to meet sometime over the weekend and it was by now late Sunday and he was due to leave in half and hour to catch a plane. I'd been talking to people all weekend, drunk too heavily the night before and had almost completely lost my voice, so it's a race against time... will my voice go before Carlos has to leave? Armed with a glass of orange juice and a dictaphone, I croak my first question. The clock is ticking...

Spanish-born, Carlos began working in comics at around the age of 22 or 23 having served his time in the Spanish military where he met some artists who had explained how to get into comics. Always an avid and imaginative reader since his childhood, sat in a dusty corners of shops where you could hire comics and read the latest instalments of Rip Kirby, Prince Valiant or Juliet Jones. Moving to Barcelona, Carlos began working via an agency for I.P.C., drawing romance comics. He moved to Croydon in 1971, ("for a couple of months. I lived there for nine, nine and a half years.") and in 1972 his first adventure strips could be found in D.C. Thomson's Wizard where he was drawing strips like 'Chained to his Sword' and 'Strongbow'. His work was spotted by Pat Mills who contacted him and invited him to work on a new I.P.C. title, to be called Battle Picture Weekly for whom he created the 'Rat Pack' and 'Major Easy' - still one of Carlos' favourite characters.

Having already proved that he could create the grittiest war heroes, Mills invited him to turn his pen to SF when 2000AD was being brainstormed in King's Reach Towers. Although his character designs were accepted, he wasn't the first artist to see his work in print: "I drew the first five episodes. Then I get very angry because the first one was one from Mike McMahon because mine weren't in his style."

Carlos would draw only two early episodes; his real bid to stamp his mark on the strip came in 1982 with the publication of 'The Apocalypse War', one of the key stories in Dredd continuity. Carlos' legendary speed and skill has made sure that he's been the artist of most of the key events in Dredd's life ever since, including 'Necropolis' in 1990, 'Judgement Day' in 1992, and the recent 'Wilderlands' saga (1994).

As well as creating countless characters, Carlos has also drawn some classics, the best-known being 'Stontium Dog', Johnny Alpha. "I've worked on Dredd for eighteen years, but for about nine years of that I was doing 'Strontium Dog', so for I've only really drawn Dredd practically for eight or nine years."

Originally created for Starlord in 1978, 'Strontium Dog' was easily John Wagner's most powerful creation behind Dredd. Carlos produced some emotional and frantic action driven six month epics in the days when 2000AD was at a peak: later stories by Alan Grant (solo or with Wagner) such as 'Portrait of a Mutant', 'Outlaw', the Max Bubba saga, and 'Bitch' were amongst the best stories published in the 1980s.

But all good thing come to an end... I say, to which Carlos groans: "I don't want to know anything about the death of Johnny Alpha! I refused to draw it. You cannot kill a guy who pays your wages for so long," and although he laughs, he's obviously bitterly disappointed. "I think that was quite a crazy idea. I said they should make Johnny Alpha disappear into space, that would be better than to kill him because to kill him when maybe one year after you want him in Young Dredd or you want to make him return... It's quite crazy. But anyway, that decision was editorial."

Carlos went on to create many other characters: "Maybe I am more creator than artist," he laughs. "I created Rat Pack, Major Eazy, The Stainless Steel Rat (based on the Harry Harrison novels), The Fiends of the Eastern Front by Gerry Finley-Day, Al's Baby, Third World War..."

The latter was Pat Mills foray into eco-war and -terrorism (the current 2000AD star 'Finn' was a spin-off) for the adult comic Crisis which started strongly, but steadily lost readers is a maze of right-on storylines: "The thing with 'Third World War' was that it was too clearly political and too black and white, good and bad - and it was like everything was black with the world around you...even Hitler was good to his wife," Carlos laughs. "You cannot make such distinctions and I suppose it was one of the failures of 'Third World War'. Also I imagine that to put a black girl with left wing tendencies as the main character even in the eighties was a little too much because I got this kind of experience back in 1977: I created this character called El Mestizo for Battle. He was black and right in the middle of the American Civil War. He was quite a good character but I suppose he wasn't very successful because of his colour."

But Carlos' creation and continued activity on Dredd is still his greatest delight, very much the anti-hero, very much a bully boy... But, as Carlos explains, "Even then he has this humour, he's more like a caricature of a lawman. He's more like a taxman than anything."

The latest epic was his first to use a new computer colouring system, although he has always coloured his own episodes. "You have to move with the times, and I imagine in five or ten years time that everybody will be doing the computer stuff because it's more clean and more easy and you can do exactly the same as you do with your hands. So I try: if I have to jump on the train better be the first one on or you can lose the train. It's still only six months since I've been using it and it's only now that I'm seeing how it's printed, and also I see no reference at all because I am the first one in England, so I was working blind. It's very expensive. This is the main problem." Added to which, he's teaching himself as he goes along:

"I had no idea what computer was before. Nothing. What is very frustrating, my two kids -- one is nine, the other is eleven -- they sit in front of the computer and they never read a single book about anything and they know how to use it! They look like they are born now with this facility, so this is the reason why I started with computers before the next generation of British artists comes up. I thought I'd better be there first."

He's also currently working on various series for DC, the first recently released called Bob the Galactic Bum, also written by long-time collaborators, Wagner and Grant: "It's about a pair of galactic tramps. One, Bob, is very philosophical, and about fifty. I don't know exactly what it is, but I don't know whether he's very stupid or very intelligent. The only thing is that he has a very long nose and he can smell for miles and miles, and the guest in the series is Lobo." He's recently heard that he'll be drawing the adaptation of the movie, too.

So, life seems to be treating Carlos well. He lives in Andora, "a very small country and I am very, very wealthy living in Andora," draws, paints and colours strips for Britain and America, and can count himself as the creator of one of Britain' most famous characters. "One of the things I'm very proud of with Dredd is that it has seen several generations of British artists and I feel like a father," he says. "You feel more proud that you've been helping other artists as well."

At which point the clock ran out. The above was written in January 1995 and originally appeared in Comic World 37 (March 1995). It's an amazing achievement that Carlos is still working on Dredd 12 years later.

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