In today’s column: We look at examples of American comics work from Dell Barras, Edgar Bercasio, and the late Mar Amongo.
Author’s Note: If you have been following me on Tumblr, you’ll know that I’ve recently started a series of weekly posts highlighting the works of the “Filipino Wave” artists who worked on the horror, sci-fi, western, war, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery comics published by DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Warren Publishing, and other outfits in the 1970s and 1980s. Today’s column is a collection of the first three posts in the series, with additional art samples, so there’s something new here for you, even if you’ve already read the original Tumblr articles.
I’ll be going in alphabetical order, using the list of artists compiled by UK artist and comics historian David A. Roach in his article “Philippine Comic Book Artists in U.S. Comics” (Comic Book Artist #4, vol. 2, September 2004). Note that Roach’s article lists a “Juaquin Albistur” as an artist of unconfirmed Filipino origin, but I wonder if perhaps the few references to “Juaquin Albistur” in the credits of DC’s comics were actually misspelled references to Argentine artist Joaquin Albistur, who had previously worked for a number of American comics publishers in the 1950s.
As with all the art I post in this blog, the images below are being shared in the spirit of fair use.
An alphabetical list of Filipino Wave artists would rightly start off with the legendary Alfredo Alcala, but seeing as how I just did a post on his work on Rook Magazine’s Voltar serial a few weeks ago, I hope no one objects to me skipping Alcala and going straight to the late Mar Amongo.
Amongo’s style has been described by award-winning graphic novelist Gerry Alanguilan as “meticulous and realistic,” and that approach is exemplified in the work I’ve reproduced below, a cheeky little “silent” story entitled “Graveyard Shift” (from DC Comics’ House of Mystery #277, February 1980) written by Bob Toomey:
Amongo’s straightforward no-nonsense style was equally suited to the war comics genre. Below is a three-pager from G.I. Combat #244 (August 1982) entitled “Body Count”:
Amongo passed away in 2005, at the age of 68.
Mar Amongo’s American comics bibliography:
- All-Out War #3, “Last Ace for a Gunner” (February 1980, DC Comics)
- G.I. Combat #221, “The 9 Lives of Pvt. Glover” (August 1980, DC Comics)
- G.I. Combat #225, “Finale for a Frogman” (January 1981, DC Comics)
- G.I. Combat #244, “Body Count” (August 1982, DC Comics)
- G.I. Combat #272, “Code-word: Treachery” (December 1984, DC Comics)
- Ghosts #86, “The Ferry Boat Phantom” (March 1980, DC Comics)
- House of Mystery #277, “Graveyard Shift” (February 1980, DC Comics)
- House of Mystery #282, “I’m Off to My Funeral” (July 1980, DC Comics)
- House of Mystery #289, “The Comeback of David MacDannon” (February 1981, DC Comics)
- Monsters of the Movies #6 (April 1975, Curtis Magazines)
- Weird War Tales #99, “Divine Wind” (May 1981, DC Comics)
- Secrets of Sinister House #6, “Brief Reunion!” (inks only, Aug/Sept 1972, DC Comics)
There’s probably some room to debate whether Dell Barras (a.k.a. Del Barras, a.k.a. Delfin Barras) qualifies as a member of the Filipino Wave or if he should be considered a post-Wave freelancer. After all, he didn’t start working for US publishers until 1984, when the recruitment of new Filipino artists by US publishers and editors had all but stopped—as non-superhero comics declined in popularity, so did the florid, illustrative rendering and relatively naturalistic style associated with traditional Filipino comics art. It wouldn’t be until 1995, when Filipino-American artist Whilce Portacio went to scout talent in the Philippines, that editors started looking across the other side of the Pacific again (but that’s a different story, and a different Filipino Wave altogether).
Anyway, Barras was quick to adapt to the more homogeneous inking style editors preferred on superhero titles. While many of his older peers were gradually but steadily pushed out of the American comics industry mainstream, Barras found himself penciling and inking all sorts of titles in the 1980s and 1990s for a wide variety of publishers and imprints, with variable results, depending on what each comic called for. Barras continues to work well into the 21st century, albeit on somewhat lower profile titles than the ones he worked on in the 1980s and 1990s.
Below is a six-page excerpt from “All in the Game,” a Red Sonja back-up story that appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan #208 (April 1993):
“All in the Game” is perhaps the best published example of what Barras can really do given the same creative parameters as the earlier Filipino Wave artists, and it’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to see him do more comics like this, as the market for similar material was no longer as big as it used to be by the time Barras had fully come into his own as an illustrator.
Indeed, for most of the 1990s, Barras was stuck following the artistic trends of the period. It’s a testament to the Filipino artist’s versatility, as well as an indictment of the state of mainstream comics art at the time, that the month of The Savage Sword of Conan #208’s release, another Dell Barras-illustrated comic—Dark Angel #9, published by Marvel UK— was also on the stands, showcasing a radically different aesthetic:
Barras also maintains a career in animation, where he has long toiled as a storyboard artist, character designer, background designer, and model designer. Sharp-eyed viewers may recall seeing his name in the end-credit sequences of many of the most popular cartoons of the 1980s and 1990s, including The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem, The Spiral Zone, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Pirates of Dark Water. His more recent animation work includes stints as a storyboard artist on two episodes of G.I. Joe: Renegades and 15 episodes of The Octonauts as well as storyboarding the “Ultimate Deadpool” episode of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Anyone who knows their comics history should be familiar with the work of Tony DeZuniga, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, and Rudy Nebres, Filipino Wave legends who penciled and inked scores of comics for DC, Marvel, Warren, and other outfits. And then there was the unbelievably prolific Eufronio Reyes Cruz, who drew almost 200 individual issues or shorts in just his first ten years working for American publishers.
The majority of the Filipino Wave artists made more modest contributions to the American comics industry, however, with many working only sporadically due to any number of different reasons (a lack of assignments, scheduling conflicts, the lure of better-paying work in animation, etc.). This doesn’t mean that they were any less capable than their more popular peers, though. One of these overlooked talents is Edgar Bercasio, an artist who honed his craft under the tutelage of Redondo and Nebres.
Below are the first five pages of “The City of Shifting Sand,” Bercasio’s DC Comics debut, featuring the Golden Age Flash and published in Four Star Spectacular #1 (March/April 1976). This short is particularly interesting since it is a remake of a story (written by John Broome and drawn by Martin Naydel) originally seen in All-Flash #22 (April/May 1946). I’m presenting the sample pages from both stories side-by-side, with the Naydel original on the left, and the Bercasio remake on the right:
Bercasio would work on only eight more DC Comics issues: he would serve as a penciler-inker on All Out War #2, G.I. Combat #s 224, 229, and 241; House of Mystery #287, and Time Warp #5; and as an inker on Ghosts #68 (over Nardo Cruz’s pencils) and The Unexpected #187 (over E. R. Cruz’s pencils).
Bercasio immigrated with his family to Canada in 1990, and he worked briefly for short-lived US publisher Revolutionary Comics, illustrating unofficial comics biographies of various athletes. Below is a five-page excerpt from Baseball Superstars Comics #16 (April 1993), featuring an unauthorized biography of baseball slugger Mark McGwire:
Bercasio currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he is an active member of the local Filipino-Canadian community.