In today’s article: We take a look at comics legend Alfredo Alcala’s original comic Voltar, a creation that anticipated his more well-known sword-and-sorcery work on The Savage Sword of Conan, the Masters of the Universe minicomics, and Arak, Son of Thunder.
Author’s note: The comics pages reproduced in this article are from comics that are, to the best of my knowledge, currently out of circulation. They are presented here in the spirit of fair use for the purposes of demonstration and commentary.
Returning readers will no doubt be familiar with my longstanding interest in American comics’ so-called “Filipino Wave”—that period during the 1970s when an influx of illustrators from the Philippines consisting of the likes of Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Alex Niño, Rudy Nebres, Steve Gan, Romeo Tanghal, Ernie Chan (a.k.a. Ernie Chua), E.R. Cruz, Noly Panaligan, and dozens of others brought a distinct brand of detail-oriented rendering to DC’s horror, western, and war comics, and eventually, to the sword-and-sorcery, martial arts, and superhero titles published by Marvel Comics and its magazine affiliate at the time, Curtis Magazines.
Understandably, it is their work for the two major American comics publishers that they are best remembered for today. DeZuniga’s legacy is inextricably tied to his status as the character designer and co-creator of DC’s Jonah Hex; Alcala is perhaps most well-known for his work on DC’s Swamp Thing and Curtis/Marvel’s The Savage Sword of Conan*; Redondo for his tenure on DC’s House of Mystery and virtuoso six-issue run on DC’s Rima the Jungle Girl; the inimitable Niño for his numerous brilliant contributions to DC’s family of horror anthology titles; and Nebres for elevating Marvel/Curtis’ Deadly Hands of Kung Fu above and beyond the usual chopsocky fare.
A number of comics historians and older comics fans would probably argue, however, that some of the Filipino Wave’s best American comics work was found outside of the DC/Marvel ecosystem. One such example is the case of Alcala’s Voltar, a sword-and-sorcery serial that appeared as a back-up feature in Warren Publishing’s The Rook #2 (cover dated February 1979), in the first of an eight-part eschatological tale entitled “Voltar: Comes the Endtime.” (Alcala wasn’t the only Filipino artist whose work was featured in that particular issue—there was another back-up serial entitled The Fighting Armenian that had Rudy Nebres and Romeo Tanghal as the art team.)
Below is that first serial installment—scripted by Will Richardson (one of the pen names used by Warren Publishing editor Bill DuBay) and illustrated by Alcala—reproduced in full:
Voltar’s appearance in The Rook wasn’t the character’s American comics debut—a Voltar story penned by Manuel Auad and illustrated by Alcala was the lead feature in Comics & Comix’s Magic Carpet #1 (cover dated January 1977). But Alcala’s Voltar actually pre-dated Magic Carpet, and even the 1971 arrival of the first Filipino Wave. Inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan short stories, Alcala created the eponymous character in 1963, and the barbarian’s adventures—written, illustrated, and lettered by Alcala—would become a popular recurring feature in the Tagalog-language Alcala Fight Komix anthology series published in the Philippines by CRAF Publications. The Voltar serial would win numerous awards from the Society of Philippine Illustrators and Cartoonists and Alcala’s Voltar art was even selected for inclusion in The Hannes Bok Memorial Showcase of Fantasy Art, published in 1974.
Will we ever see the original 1960s Voltar material reprinted, perhaps even translated for an international readership? It’s difficult to say. A quick search on Google turns up nothing as far as any reliable word on who owns the rights to the character these days (although online images suggest that copyrights to some of the Voltar images are held by Alcala’s son, artist Christian Voltar Alcala), and I’m not even sure how much of the original art still exists and is in a condition fit for reproduction. What we do know is that Dark Horse Comics’ book division has done an exemplary job of reissuing Warren Publishing’s Eerie and Creepy magazines in archive-quality hardcover collections, so perhaps we can hold out hope that The Rook, and by extension, its “Voltar: Comes the Endtime” back-up serial, will get a similar treatment down the line.
* Alcala worked both as a penciler and an inker on The Savage Sword of Conan. He had a long run inking over John Buscema’s pencils—the results were a big hit with readers at the time, but Buscema bristled at the license Alcala often took in interpreting his pencils. As Buscema recalled in a 2000 conversation with The Savage Sword of Conan writer Roy Thomas:
I remember the first time Alcala inked my Conan. I went up to Marvel and ran into one of the editors—Len Wein, or who’s the other guy, Marv Wolfman—in the hallway, and he said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to see it, John. It’s beautiful.’ Alcala was a good artist, but he destroyed my drawing. He would make these girls—now, I draw a pretty good-looking broad—and he would put these eyelashes from 1930…