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Monday, March 20, 2017

Illustrators Special #1: Warren Magazines - The Spanish Artists

A bumper, 144-page issue of Illustrators has been releases alongside the regular issue 17 featuring some of the most stunningly gorgeous artwork from some of Spain's finest artists. The thread running through the whole book is Vampirella, who stars on the cover. In the late 1960s, Josep Toutein the founder of the Selecciones Illustrades artists' agency in Spain, went to New York to offer his services to James Warren.

Warren saw him out of courtesy rather than any desire to do business; his comics were struggling in an overcrowded market and hiring new talent was low on his priorities. Depending on who tells the story, Warren saw the samples Toutain had brought with him and immediately / a week later offered his artists work, most notably putting Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez to work on Vampirella. Over the next few years, Toutain became integral to Warren's success – the science fiction comic 1984 was his suggestion, for instance – and the artists of the S.I. agency produced some of their most memorable work for the company.

This special issue looks at the work of six artists in particular, with an introductory piece on Toutain setting the scene. Both Enric Torres-Prat and Sanjulian (Manuel Perez-Sanjulian Clemente), the first two subjects of this volume, never tackled comic strips (Enric was too slow, Sanjulian was too awful) but became famous as cover artists, using their skills as illustrators to create a formidable body of work. Enric produced 52 covers for Vampirella alone, and Sanjulian produced 60 for Warren, mostly for Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

Both artists eventually left Toutain as the latter concentrated on publishing and found employment doing book covers; Enric became notably associated with Harlequin where his beautiful women in long, flowing white dresses and virile young men were perfect for the romantic market; Sanjulian drew dozens of covers for the German western market and film posters.

Inside the covers of Vampirella, Pepe Gonzalez revolutionised the look of the strip. A precocious talent, Gonzalez bored easily and, having made Vampirella his own, he all but abandoned her, disappearing for days rather than working, leaving strips half finished. He could not paint: the iconic Vampirella poster published by Warren signed by Jose Gonzalez was only pencilled by him; the actual painting was done by Enric.

In later life, Gonzalez let himself go completely and was unable to look after himself, let alone work in any coherent way. It was Toutain and, after Josep died, his widow and family who tried to keep Gonzalez working and healthy until his death in 2009.

Luis Garcia was considered the new Pepe Gonzalez when he found his way to S.I. in 1961, aged only 15. He learned technique from those around him in the S.I. studio and soon became a prolific artist of romantic stories for Britain's comics for teenage girls. Visiting the UK a number of times during the Sixties, he embraced the hippy spirit, having then recently experienced life at an artist's commune a few miles outside Barcelona.

His London experience ended thanks to bad LSD and chronic flu, but his desire to not draw any more romances set him on the path to Warren's horror magazines where his ultra-realistic artwork soon became a favourite amongst fans. Garcia soon found work in Pilote, which maintained his Warren connections, as his French strips were reprinted in Vampirella. Garcia subsequently had a varied career as a comic artist (still recognised for his graphic novel Nova-2), as an advertising artist and as an illustrator and painter.

Garcia was a member of El Grupo de la Floresta, where artists would help out each other. One of his fellow artists was Esteban Maroto, four years older and another teenage prodigy. By the mid-Sixties, Maroto was experimenting with radical layouts for his strip 5 x Infinity and Wolff, and he would draw over 100 stories for various Warren magazines in the 1970s and 1980s. Maroto would also draw for DC in America and DC Thomson here in the UK.

Another prodigious artist, Jordi Bernet, is the subject of the final feature. Born into a family of cartoonists and scriptwriters, Bernet gained vital experience assisting Jordi Buxade before approaching Bardon Art, who put him to work on westerns and adventure stories for the British market, mostly for Victor, although also including work for Hornet, Smash!, Tiger and Lion.

He was introduced to Spirou in the 1960s and notably drew 'Paul Foran' for almost a decade. He went on to work for the American, German and Italian markets. When Josep Toutain began publishing magazines rather than agenting artists, Bernet created 'Torpedo' with writer Enrique Sanchez Abuli, which was a success around the world. Bernet has also worked successfully with Antonio Segura (Sarvane, Kraken) and Carlos Trillo (Cicca Dum-Dum, Calra de Noche) and has worked occasionally for DC Comics, most notably on Jonah Hex. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he continues to draw comics to this day.

The production on this special edition cannot be faulted. The artwork on show is spectacular, representing some of the best work of these immensely talented artists. Each essay gives context to characters and comics you may not have seen before and it is this discovery of whole new worlds of comics that makes the book so easy to recommend.

The Illustrators Special Edition is available directly from Book Palace, as are current and back issues of the regular Illustrators magazine.

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