The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 15 | Filipino Art in American Comics: Nestor Redondo

Leaving Proof 15 | Filipino Art in American Comics: Nestor Redondo
Published on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by

Last we met, we took a quick look at the origins of komiks in the post-war 1940s, the komiks Golden Age of the 1950s, the virtual collapse of komiks publishing in the mid-1960s because of labor disputes and pressure from morality groups, and Filipino artist Tony DeZuniga’s groundbreaking 1971 foray into DC Comics. This week, we take a look at the work of another Filipino “first waver”, the legendary Nestor Redondo.

Lingguhang Dyagan, a bomba (soft-core porn) title from the 1960s

Lingguhang Dyagan, a bomba (soft-core porn) title from the 1960s

Filipino komiks (barely) survived the print industry labor and union issues of the 1960s through artists and writers banding together to form their own short-lived publishing concerns such as CRAF Publications and Nestor Redondo’s Ares Publications. While neither CRAF nor Ares had the popularity, commercial reach, and professional publisher experience of Ace Publications, they provided a forum for the best ex-Ace Publications artists to remain active and maintain the friendly (but nonetheless intense) rivalry that drove the leading illustrators to push the boundaries of technique. Unfortunately, CRAF, Ares, and many other artist/writer-owned publishing ventures failed commercially given that few, if any, of the artists and writers who founded and ran these companies had any practical experience or formal training in business. In what can only be called a delicious twist of irony, despite the best efforts of religious organizations to stamp out komiks during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the most commercially successful komiks of the late 1960s and early 1970s were the bomba (soft-core pornography) komiks published by unregulated fly-by-night one-man operations. The significance of the timing of DC publisher Carmine Infantino and DC editor Joe Orlando’s visit to the Philippines in December of 1971 to recruit local artists such as Redondo and Alcala can’t be overstated. It would only be a scant nine months later that Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos would install himself as dictator-for-life and declare martial law, severely restricting travel and correspondence to and from the country, shutting down non-government media outlets, and do what a decade of print industry union disputes and moral crusading couldn’t do: kill traditional komiks dead.

Nestor Redondo, for many enthusiasts of the medium, is the quintessential komiks artist. He may not have been the most popular or commercially successful komiks artist of the 1950s and 1960s (that would probably be Francisco V. Coching), but he was, along with Coching and Alfredo Alcala, perhaps the most influential and respected artist in the industry. When American and European comic book historians talk about a “Filipino style” of comics illustration, it is usually Redondo’s work that they hold up as an exemplar primarily because of its quality and because many younger Filipino artists absorbed and emulated (with varying degrees of success) elements of his style. Redondo was strongly influenced by the work of “pulp” magazine artists like Alex Raymond and early 20th century American magazine illustrators like J.C. Leyendecker but by the late 1950s, his work, characterized primarily by painstakingly detailed rendering, the masterful use of the ink brush and solid, if conventional, storytelling, began to take on a distinct and identifiable look.

Redondo art for the adaptation of the MGM film Quo Vadis

Redondo art for the adaptation of the MGM film Quo Vadis

Redondo actually attracted the attention of the American art industry almost a full two decades before his fateful 1971 meeting with Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando at the National Press Club in Manila. In 1953, Ace Publications was commissioned by MGM Pictures to do an illustrated preview of their 1951 film Quo Vadis, to be distributed in time for the film’s release in the Philippines later that year. So impressed were the executives at MGM with Redondo’s work that they offered him a position as a designer and house artist at MGM’s studios in Los Angeles, an offer that Redondo (then just 24 years old) declined. Redondo would become one of Ace Publication’s most prolific artist-writers in the 1950s, creating  numerous original characters and producing scores of  highly detailed pages on a weekly basis. With the closure of Ace Publications in 1963, Redondo would join forces with former Ace artist-writers Virgilio Redondo (Nestor’s older brother), Alfredo Alcala, Amado Castrillo, Tony Caravana, and Romeo Francisco to form a wholly creator-owned self-publishing venture that they would call CRAF Publications (after the founders’ surname initials, I’m sure the humourous implications of the name escaped them at the time). CRAF would put out some of the most impressively illustrated komiks ever published up to that point but its founders, perhaps because of their innate competitiveness and desire to one-up each other, had a tumultuous working relationship. Despite their limited success with CRAF (one of their serials, Pedrong Hunyango, would be made into a feature-length film), the Redondo brothers would split from the company and form their own publishing house called Ares Publications.

Black Orchid story art, Phantom Stranger #32

Black Orchid art, Phantom Stranger #32

The Brothers Redondo would collaborate on a number of titles but by 1971, the younger Redondo had had his fill of playing the role of publisher-artist and he was ready to branch out of the local komiks scene, go abroad, and focus on illustration. Nestor, along with older brother Virgilio and younger brother Francisco (also an accomplished komiks illustrator), would move to the United States in 1972 to work full-time in the comic book industry. Nestor Redondo’s first work for DC Comics would actually appear a few months before his face-to-face meeting with Orlando and Infantino: a short story he wrote, illustrated, and sent to DC appeared as a back-up on the horror title House of Mystery #194. Redondo would go on to create stunningly detailed work for Phantom Stranger back-up stories featuring Tony DeZuniga creation the Black Orchid. He would be assigned the unenviable task of following horror comics art legend Bernie Wrightson on the Swamp Thing comic book in 1973, but Redondo held his own, and his run on the title is now considered by many to be equal to Wrightson’s stint.

But it would be his six-issue 1974 run on DC’s Rima The Jungle Girl that Redondo would gain wider recognition for his skills. I can imagine the emotional roller-coaster many readers and Joe Kubert fans probably went through, buying the early issues of Rima based on the cover art, only to be disappointed to find out that the interiors were illustrated by a relative unknown, and then that disappointment turning to elation as the power of Redondo’s art, easily the equal of Kubert’s own, taking them to an exotic otherworldly place populated by silver-haired feral women and intelligent jungle creatures. Redondo’s work on those first six issues of the title quickly established him as one of the premier illustrators in the industry.

Splash page, Rima #1

Splash page, Rima #1

Redondo would do work for other publishers besides DC as well. He became an artistic director for Pendulum Press’ Illustrated Classics line and he would illustrate a number of the volumes. These comics would be re-printed by Marvel in colour a few years later, and those comics are perhaps his most well-remembered work for DC’s crosstown rivals.  Alongside industry giants like John Romita, Sr. and Marshall Rogers, he would receive an Inkpot award during the 1979 Comic-Con International.

Redondo's Illustrated Classics Dracula

Redondo’s Illustrated Classics Dracula

By the 1980s however, reader interest in horror, adventure, military, and romance comics was on the wane. As ridiculous as it sounds, Redondo, who could pencil, ink, and letter a full comic book with his level of technique and polish in as short as a week couldn’t find any comicbook work in the early 1980s, as editors turned him down one after another, each one claiming that his style of illustration was out of fashion and was ill-suited for the superhero comics that were becoming overwhelmingly popular and crowding out the horror and action/adventure comics Redondo was most associated with. His skills as an inker were still in demand however, and Redondo would spend most of the 1980s inking younger, more popular artists who had none of his draftsmanship skills, speed, his talent for clear storytelling, nor his patience for detailed rendering. His last mainstream comic book work would be doing the finishes for the second issue of the utterly forgettable Solarman comic book published by Marvel in 1990. Redondo would move on to animation, and consulted on the art for the cartoons based on Marvel characters that were broadcast on Fox networks during the early 1990s. Redondo died unexpectedly in 1995 at the age of  67.

Unpublished Redondo art for a cancelled 1978 King Arthur DC comic book

Unpublished Redondo art for a cancelled 1978 King Arthur DC comic book

It’s somewhat difficult to gauge where his legacy stands now. A lot of his American work has never been collected or reprinted by the superhero-biased publishers of today, who seem to think that comics begin with Superman and end with Wolverine. In the Philippines, a whole generation of artists and readers born and raised during the country’s Martial Law Era (1972 to 1981) missed out on his best work, since it was nearly impossible to get American comics (or any foreign media for that matter) past Marcos’ censors. Popular Marvel and DC comic book artists born in the Philippines such as Leinil Francis Yu, Philip Tan, and Carlo Pagulayan, who were all “martial law babies”,  all admit to not knowing much about Redondo and his work or only discovering his work after frequent Whilce Portacio inker Gerry Alanguilan started work on a website commemorating the pioneering work of Redondo and the other artists who paved the way for Yu and his generation.  Hopefully, DC or Marvel might see this oversight and put out a collected edition of his work at some point. To learn more about Nestor Redondo and and to see more of his stellar work, hit up the following links:

Next Time: Join us as we take a look at the work and career of Alfredo Alcala, Redondo’s friend and professional rival.

References:

  • Cooke J., (2004, September). A Touch of Class: A Chat with Publisher Manuel Auad. Comic Book Artist, 4, 31-37
  • Lent, J.A., (2004, September). Filipino Komiks: A history. Comic Book Artist, 4, 74-95
  • Ong Pang Kean B., (2006, October 19). Celebrating 120 Years of Comics in the Philippines. Message posted to http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=88232
  • Roach, D.A., (2004, September). A-Z: A Guide to the Filipino Comic Book Artists. Comic Book Artist, 4, 60-73
  • Santos S., (2009, January 14). Pedrong Hunyango. Message posted to http://unanglabas.blogspot.com/2009/01/pedrong-hunuango.html
  • Santos S.,(2009, April 10). Reyna Bandida. Message posted to http://unanglabas.blogspot.com/2008/11/reyna-bandida.html
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