Monday, September 30, 2013

Cartoonists Make Better Lovers : Ric Estrada

Ric Estrada is an artist that has flown under my personal radar. I first became aware of his name from seeing his DC work in the 1970’s. Frankly, I wasn’t enamored with his style and in my ignorance, I lumped him in with the wave of cartoonists with Spanish surnames exploding on the scene in that era. In the past several years I have been taking in more and more comics from the 50’s and was actually shocked to find his credit there. The guy that I wrote off as a young Turk of the Bronze Age was actually a veteran of the Golden Age.

His back-story is pretty interesting,. He was born in Havana, Cuba in 1928 and had a proclivity towards art. He started illustrating for magazines in Cuba at the tender age of 13. After attending the University of Havana, his uncle introduced him to the elder’s friend, the expatriate American author Ernest Hemingway. On the advise of these two men, Ric journeyed to New York City in 1949 for addition art training and the prospect of better commercial opportunities. One of these was drawing comics, which he did for publishers like EC, Dell, Hillman and Ziff-Davis. Another house where he found steady work was St. John.

While reading John Benson’s wonderful book “Confessions, Romances, Secrets And Temptations”, I was made aware of the story I’m posting today. It’s titled “His Fraternity Pin” and is remarkable in a number of ways. First off, it’s 12 pages long, much longer than was typically given to a love tale by that publisher. More over it’s the controversial subject matter of intolerance against people of Korean heritage in America in the time of the Korean War. Another fresh aspect is it’s somewhat balanced take on things. The male character becomes a communist partly due to his treatment by the white American faculty and students at his school. While this political decision is never condoned, it is at least explained. That was quite extraordinary for the times. It stems from WARTIME ROMANCES #16.

Ric worked in a more modern style, very much in the vein of Alex Toth, Harvey Kurtzman and Bernie Krigstein. St. John editor Marion McDermott was very taken with Estrada’s work and his recollections of his dealings there are warm. I found the artwork to this 1953 piece far more compelling that the things I saw by him later on.


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