At the start of this week, 2000AD sadly confirmed that we had lost the mighty Carlos Ezquerra. Many in the Brit comics community and worldwide fans will remember Carlos suffering from cancer several years ago, and the Get Well Soon, Carlos comic that a number of creators put together in secrecy so it would be a surprise for the recovering Carlos. It was a wonderful sign of how much love there was for him, and was a good tonic for his recovery.
Sadly, as all to many of us will know from bitter experience, cancer can come back, and Carlos had to go through further treatment. I think many of us thought the Spanish artist was as tough as old Judge boots and it would take more than a hi-ex to make a dent.
Like many Spanish artists Carlos was drawn to the then-booming UK comics market in the 1970s, a very different time in publishing, with multiple comics for boys and girls every single week, selling in their millions.
Starting with some girl’s comics work like Mirabelle, and, in the 1970s, work for DC Thomson’s Wizard, and a story for Powerman, the superhero comic for Nigeria produced in the UK, it wasn’t long before Carlos was approached to work on a new boy’s comic, Battle Picture Weekly. This brought him into contact with John Wagner and Pat Mills, a partnership which would prove nothing short of iconic in the history of British comics. The anti-hero strip “Rat Pack” saw him working with another creator who would contribute to later 2000AD, Gerry Finley-Day, and with Alan Hebden Carlos drew “Major Eazy“, visually inspired by actor James Coburn.
All of this impressive work saw Carlos asked to visualise a character for a planned new science fiction comic coming out in 1977, 2000AD. The character was, of course, Judge Dredd. Now arguably the biggest and most iconic character in the history of British comics, while it was a strip by Mike McMahon that saw the character’s debut in 2000AD Prog Two, Carlos was the first to draw him, creating designs for costumes, weapons, that astonishing bike, drawing in then-contemporary punk fashion influences alongside the sci-fi to craft what would become a totally iconic character who has stood the test of time, some 40-plus years and still going strong. And alongside those character and costume designs came something else – Carlos being the kind of artist he was he couldn’t help but include some backgrounds to these design sketches, and they showed a vast supersized conurbation – a mega city – with buildings which would dwarf existing skyscrapers, with busy aerial roads curving between them, high above the streets, hinting at the vast canvas this new character’s tales would take place against, and boy, did they run with that idea, giving us The Big Meg, surely up there with the cities seen in Metropolis and Blade Runner as one of the most visually rich cities in all of science fiction.
More was to follow, much more – a falling out saw him return to Battle (teaming up with Alan Hebden to create “El Mestizo“, a black gun-for-hire who played both sides against the middle during the American Civil War). But it wasn’t long before Carlos was again working with Wagner in the 2000AD sister comic Starlord, creating a character who has come close to unseating Dredd as one of the all-time most loved characters, the mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha in “Strontium Dog“. When Starlord ceased publication, Alpha was one of those strips who moved over to 2000AD, and there was Carlos drawing another character for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, another one who has also gone on and on. And then, many years later, when those two huge characters were brought together it was fan dynamite, and that final scene of Dredd and Alpha, battle-scarred, walking out after a very hard-earned victory and facing a long and dangerous walk back to safety, along with the line “who the hell’s gonna mess with us?”
I’ve used the term “iconic” several times already, but, grud dammit, that scene was iconic. Above iconic.
There are so many other works, for 2000AD and for other publishers and creators (Carlos famously enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the great Garth Ennis, for example), but you can’t sum up a career like Ezquerra’s just by listing some of his major works. No, it’s the personal impact that work has had one so many readers that is the real measure of his success. Some of us, myself included, have grown up reading work by Carlos. I read Battle as a wee boy, and I was there at the birth of 2000AD, and the first Starlord too. I doubt schoolboy me could have imagined that over forty years later those characters would still be going, that I would still be reading them. That’s a lifetime of reading, and the wonderful visuals of Carlos Ezquerra have been an enormous part of my reading life.
Carlos made me laugh with “Al’s Baby” for Judge Dredd Megazine, written by Wagner (a near-future Mob hitman whose wife refuses be the one who carries their child, leaving Al to be the first pregnant man), he brought the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation that we lived with during the Cold War to brutal life with the Apocalypse War (and even among atomic devastation he brought comic flourishes – who can forget the “Apocalypso” singing and dancing scene as the missiles fell?!).
He terrified me with his collaboration with Gerry Finley-Day again in “Fiends of the Eastern Front” – disturbingly creepy, merciless vampires using the blood-letting of the Second World War to hide their own horrific blood-drinking (no Twilight or Anne Rice here, these were pitiless, fearsome, terrifying, brutal vampires). Working with Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos adapted Harry Harrison’s “The Stainless Steel Rat” tales of the galaxy’s greatest thief into comics form for 2000AD. For me as a kid, it was my introduction to the books and to the great Harry Harrison; Carlos didn’t just craft remarkable new characters, here he was introducing me to an existing one that, as a young lad, I hadn’t heard of, and to a writer I didn’t know but have loved ever since.
I re-read a lot of my old Stainless Steel Rat books just the other year, and again it reminded me that if not for 2000AD and Carlos I might never have known of these books, which have made me smile for so many years.
How many of us have similar stories? How many of us have grown up in a world where there was always another Ezquerra tale to read? We all have childhood favourites, but how many of them follow us on, right through into adulthood and who we’ve loved so much that the thought of another tale by them was still always an exciting prospect? All those decades, all those generations of readers young and old, who know how many of us Carlos touched with his work? Carlos’ art was baked into the very genesis of 2000AD, it grabbed the imagination of young readers, and as those readers got older he delivered the same high-level of visual flair and flourish to them, right across those decades; it’s little wonder we loved him. It’s hard to accept that Carlos has taken the Long Walk; the legacy he leaves British and world comics is remarkable.
Speaking to downthetubes, Carlos’ legendary fellow creator Pat Mills offered the following thoughts: “He was the ultimate professional and the most talented of artists. We all recognised very early on that he had a unique gift for creating characters. There are so many, not just the 2000AD classics, but also ‘Rat Pack’, Major Eazy, and Eve and Finn from ‘Third World War’. All iconic and all produced so effortlessly.
“He made an imperfect comic system work, which is a talent in itself. Others might burn out or walk away in despair, but not Carlos. He maintained the highest standards, was full of joy towards the readers and his colleagues and was a vital part of 2000AD always. We’ve lost a founding father of modern British comics and a great, great guy.”
Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra (12th November 1947 – 1st October 2018)
• The Organización del Cómic de Zaragoza has announced an initiative to publish a Tebeíco del Salón special edition in December in time for its annual festival, paying tribute to Carlos
Web Links: BRITISH CREATOR TRIBUTES TO CARLOS
“Carlos was a lynch-pin of 2000AD from the beginning,” Steve notes. “When the comic was in development, writer John Wagner had suggested it needed a futuristic cop and pitched a violent, Dirty Harry clad in black leather in near future New York. Carlos took the image of a helmeted David Carradine in Death Race 2000, and adorned him with chains, a huge badge, knee pads, oversized boots and an eagle shoulder pad to create the original look of Judge Dredd – the name borrowed from a rejected occult character Pat Mills had been developing.”
Lew’s post includes images of his early work for DC Thomson
“As far as comics go, Carlos wasn’t one of the biggest names on the largely American-dominated world stage, but he should have been,” feels Tony Ingram. “Certainly, the world of British comics would be a very different place today without him, and a much poorer one…”
Julius Howe interviewed Carlos Ezquerra back in 2014 about his process, career and artwork. He’s now collected all the interviews together in one tribute show.
NATIONAL NEWS LINKS
• The Guardian: Judge Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra dies aged 70
The Spanish comic book artist, who illustrated many 2000AD comics and designed the iconic lawman Dredd, has died after a lung cancer diagnosis
The Reporter notes that outside of his work in the British comic book industry, Ezquerra worked with Garth Ennis on a number of projects for American publishers, including Preacher spinoffs The Good Old Boys and Saint of Killers, as well as original concepts Bloody Mary, Just a Pilgrim and Adventures in the Rifle Brigade.
SPANISH NEWS LINKS
• His death has also been reported by several Spanish newspapers including EP Culture, El Espanol, El Mundo, and his local Andorran paper Diari Andorra (login required). Heraldo includes comments from Óscar Senar of the Asociación de Críticos y Divulgadores de Cómic de Espana noting Carlos love of his home country and generous support of young comic creators.
• The Organización del Cómic de Zaragoza has announced an initiative to publish a Tebeíco del Salón special edition in December in time for its annual festival, paying tribute to Carlos.