As a kid, I loved seeing the different faces that artists would give to characters. I enjoyed the varying takes artists would have on each character, which is probably part of the reason I have never been “precious” about who drew different characters. And yes, I do have my favourite artists for different characters, such as Ron Smith for Hotspur‘s “King Cobra” and “Flying Fury“, Ian Kennedy for almost any aviation strip, Pete Sutherland for The Victor‘s “Alf Tupper“, Sandy James for Tiger‘s “Johnny Cougar” and Cam Kennedy for Battle‘s “Fighting Mann“.
However, this article aims to look at the inspirations for some characters. Some will have been deliberate. Others may be due to an unconscious influence on artists by popular culture and some may be down to the artist deciding he, she or some of their friends deserves to be part of the story.
Let’s start with probably the most obvious one to comic and non-comic fans, “Major Eazy” from the weekly war comic, Battle. The definitive artist for the “Major Eazy” stories is the much missed Carlos Ezquerra and that look was clearly defined by Carlos’ use of one actor’s likeness, James Coburn.
Carlos himself acknowledged Coburn as an influence in interviews, mainly from his role in the original version of the western, The Magnificent Seven.
Although it was not released until almost a year after Major Eazy’s first appearance, some fans feel Coburn’s role as Kurt Steiner in the classic war movie Cross Of Iron, which began filming in former Yugoslavia in March 1976, also contributed to the look of this laconic British officer.
I think we can all see the likeness here. As I never saw Cross of Iron until 1982, so I never got the connection until then and then it hit me like a wet kipper across the face! However, Carlos was not one to let a good character face go unused and he did it again in 1979 when he again used Coburn’s face as the face of Slippery Jim DiGriz that came from the pen of veteran comic writer Harry Harrison, when 2000AD adapted The Stainless Steel Rat for an enjoyable space opera comedy romp.
I am now going to jump back in time to 1977, to when the real comic fight on the British news stands was between Warlord and Battle. Both comics had their respective strengths, but Battle decided to go one better and come up with a hero from the American Civil War, who was also black. That might not seem like much nowadays, but this was cutting edge back in 1977 – and it didn’t hurt that Carlos decided to base the look of the character “El Mestizo” on Jimi Hendrix.Now before anyone thinks this is a party political broadcast on behalf of the Carlos Ezquerra Fan Club, let’s point out a few other comics where artists have used the faces of famous actors. One of the most obvious comics where this has been put to good use is DC Thomson’s Commando. As many of the covers were one shots, it was likely that this would not attract the attention of the acting fraternity, but if it did, it would be long after publication had occurred. So in no particular order, let’s have a look at a few of these beautiful covers.
First up is Commando issue 5072 which was first published in 1969. Former Commando editor Calum Laird pointed out the strong resemblances to Dirk Bogarde and Anthony Quayle that can be seen in the two characters featured in this beautifully painted cover by Jordi Penalva.A personal favourite of mine goes all the way back to 1963 and that’s “The Tiger Is Loose”, reprinted as Commando 4652, which is stunningly illustrated by Ken Barr. To my eye, it looks like the main character has been based on the great British actor Bill Travers. However, looking at it again, I now can’t get over the similarity to a more modern actor, Jonathan Frakes.The next one I am going to look at is one where I am 90 per cent agreeing with Calum (after all, who knows Commando better than a former editor?). Calum reckons both are Richard Todd, but I still see shades of my original suggestion of Richard Attenborough. The cover is from “Brothers In Arms” which was first published in 1965 and is another that is wonderfully illustrated by Ken Barr.I could go on with a lot more, but I find it best to leave the audience wanting more rather than overdosing. Therefore, I am going to close with one last cover and that is the cover from Commando 1452, “The Bamboo Cage”, which was originally published in 1970 and I first read in 1980.
When I first saw the cover, there was something vaguely familiar about the character that Jordi Penalva had illustrated and it was only last week that Calum gave my mind the nudge to identify who it was based on. This was Jon Voight and it makes sense as Midnight Cowboy was one of the biggest movies of 1969 – so Jordi would have had plenty of reference material to draw on…
• Have you spotted any famous actors influencing a British comic cover? Why not let us know, below?