The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 284 | Filipino artist spotlight: Dino Castrillo, Vicatan, and Ernie Chan

Leaving Proof 284 | Filipino artist spotlight: Dino Castrillo, Vicatan, and Ernie Chan
Published on Monday, October 19, 2015 by
In today’s edition of the Filipino artist spotlight, we take a look at three of more underrated illustrators from the Filipino Wave: Dino “Madz” Castrillo, the mononymous Vicatan, and the prolific Ernie Chan (a.k.a. Ernie Chua).

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 most recent posts in the series.  

As with all the art I post in this blog, the images below are being shared in the spirit of fair use.

Dino “Madz” Castrillo

Unlike the majority of the early Filipino Wave artists, Dino “Madz” Castrillo’s American comics debut came by way of Marvel Comics instead of DC Comics. Castrillo’s first Marvel job was inking another Filipino artist, Sonny Trinidad, on the lead story (“A Taste of Mutant Hate, Part III”) in Planet of the Apes #25 (October 1976), published by Marvel’s magazine division, Curtis Magazines. Castrillo’s first solo illustration work, a 21-page story (“Assault on Paradise, Part V”) would appear in the very next issue.

Through most of 1977, Castrillo worked on the Marvel Classics Comics line of comics adaptations of classic works of literature. He inked Yong Montano on Marvel Classics Comics #14 (an adaptation of Wells’ War of the Worlds), was the sole illustrator on Marvel Classics Comics #15 (an adaptation of Stevenson’s Treasure Island), Marvel Classics Comics #17 (an adaptation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo), Marvel Classics Comics #20 (an adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein), Marvel Classics Comics #21 (an adaptation of Verne’s Master of the World), and Marvel Classics Comics#23 (an adaptation of Collins’ Moonstone); and supplied the pencil art for Marvel Classics Comics #24 (an adaptation of Haggard’s She) and Marvel Classics Comics #25 (an adaptation of Wells’ The Invisible Man).

Castrillo’s work on these adaptations was solid, if rather cramped, although this was partially due to the nature of the Marvel Classics Comics format, which boiled down novels to a fixed 52 pages, regardless of their original length. The standout work from this stage in Castrillo’s American comics career is the adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, where he was able to occasionally break out from the claustrophobic layouts that were a necessity in such an abbreviated version of the French classic.

During his stint on Marvel Classics Comics, Castrillo found time to contribute a pin-up to Marvel Preview #9 (Winter 1976), ink Ernie Chan’s pencils on Kull the Destroyer #24 (December 1977), and illustrate a 13-page Solomon Kane back-up story (“The Cold Hands of Death”) in The Savage Sword of Conan #25 (December 1977).

It would be over two years before Castrillo’s next American comics appearance, a six-page strip (“Out of Their Heads”) in DC Comics’ Time Warp #3 (February/March 1980).

Castrillo’s final American comics work was a ten-page strip (“Hell Can Wait!”) in Weird War Tales #87 (May 1980), although he did have a Conan pin-up—signed with a June 1978 date—appear in Marvel’sKing Conan #4 (December 1980).

Vic Catan, Jr. (a.k.a. Vicatan)

Already well-established as a premier talent in the Filipino komiks scene before he started working for DC Comics in the early 1970s, Vicente Catan, Jr.—better known among comics fans by his professional alias Vicatan—was perhaps not as well-known among mainstream American comics readers as the more celebrated Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, and Rudy Nebres, but he could certainly hold his own against the best of the Filipino Wave in terms of sheer rendering skill.

Vicatan’s earliest DC Comics work bore the unmistakable Redondo influence (he worked as one of Redondo’s art assistants early in his career), expressed in meticulous linework and fairly conventional page and panel design. Below are sample pages from his first US comics work, “Goodbye, Nancy” (from House of Secrets #99, August 1972) which was co-illustrated by fellow Filipino artists Frank Redondo (Nestor Redondo’s younger brother) and Abe Ocampo.

Vicatan worked sporadically for DC Comics through the 1970s—his remaining contributions for the rest of the decade consisted of two inking jobs for Tarzan Family and illustrating a short story each for The Unexpected and Ghosts—as he spent that time focused on Filipino komiks work.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that he started getting regular American comics assignments. By the time Vicatan retired from the American comics scene in 1987, he had penciled and/or inked some 60 strips for DC’s war and horror comics anthologies, including “The G.I. Who Quit the War” (from G.I. Combat #228, February 1981), which is especially notable because it’s a DC Comics strip set in the Philippines, drawn by a Filipino artist.

While his DC Comics work was certainly noteworthy for its expert rendering, it was on Warren Publishing’s 1994 comics magazine that American readers finally got to see the full extent and breadth of Vicatan’s skills and his distinct artistic identity. 1994′s black & white format allowed Vicatan to show his ink wash skills and he made the most of the larger magazine page size with some absolutely gorgeous double-page spreads, elevating the stories—most of which were just poorly-constructed excuses for gratuitous sex and violence—to the level of visual masterpieces.

“The Mad Planet” (from 1994 #18, April 1981):

“The Ugliest Woman in Creation!” (from 1994 #24, April 1982):

When the American comics work started drying up for the Filipino Wave in the 1980s, Vicatan returned to illustrating Filipino komiks and mentoring the next generation of local artists. Vicatan passed away in 2004.

A comprehensive list of his American comics work can be found in the Vicatan Wikipedia article.

Ernie Chan (a.k.a. Ernie Chua)

The Filipino artist more popularly known in comics circles as Ernie Chan was born Ernesto Chua in 1940 to parents of ethnic Chinese descent. The story behind the discrepancy between his birth surname and the surname he would actually use personally and professionally is that his family’s surname was actually Chan (陈), but due to a clerical error, his official birth certificate listed his surname as Chua (蔡). When the time came for him to get a passport to work abroad in 1971, all his official Philippine government-issued documents featured the erroneous surname, so for the first five years of his new life in the United States, he had to use Ernie Chua as his name, and it was only in 1976, when he acquired American citizenship, that he was finally able to change his name legally to what it should have been in the first place.

Like many of the Filipino artists who worked for American publishers in the 1970s, Chan’s first jobs were for DC Comics, as an uncredited art assistant for fellow Filipino artist (and Jonah Hex co-creator) Tony DeZuniga, whom he knew from their days working in the Filipino komiks scene.

It wouldn’t be very long before he got his first solo work. In fact, Chan was just the third Filipino artist to have a solo DC Comics art credit, behind DeZuniga and Nestor Redondo. That credit was a pencil-and-ink job for the short story “The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro,” which appeared in Ghosts #4 (March/April 1972). [NOTE: This story appeared in print simultaneously with “The Grey Lady of Coburn Manor,” a story penciled by Chan and inked by Vince Colletta, in Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #4.]

But unlike many of his Filipino artist peers, many of whom worked almost exclusively for DC Comics, Chan also freelanced for Marvel and its comics magazine affiliate Curtis Magazines. One of his early works for Marvel/Curtis was the story “Nightmare Patrol” in Haunt of Horror #1 (May 1974), an overlooked gem in his bibliography which showcased his abilities as both a horror and war comics artist.

It was his ink work over John Buscema’s pencils on Conan the Barbarian and later, on King Conan and the Savage Sword of Conan comics magazine that really made his name at Marvel, however. The Buscema-Chan tandem was, for many fans of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian, the definitive Conan art team, taking the comics and the magazine through its commercial heyday (Buscema, however, has on at least one occasion publicly proclaimed that Rudy Nebres—another Filipino artist—was his preferred inker).

In an interview in Marvel Age #109 (February 1992), Chan described his working relationship with Buscema thus:

[Buscema] does the breakdowns, and I just do the finishes. We work fine on that arrangement, because that way, John gives me more freedom. He gives me more room to ad lib.

Chan was also great solo Conan artist in his own right, as proved by early contributions like “Black Tears,” the lead story in issue #35 of the black & white Savage Sword of Conan magazine:

But while he is primarily known as a Conan artist—former Savage Sword of Conan editor Barry Dutter has suggested that Chan has inked more Conan pages than any other illustrator—Chan contributed so much more to the American comics scene.

With writer David Michelinie, he co-created the character Claw the Unconquered for DC Comics and he was a prolific cover artist—a cursory search on the Grand Comics Database brings up an astounding 458 covers that Chan penciled and/or inked, for a wide range of titles that included the Conan publications (naturally), Batman, Ghost Rider, The Incredible Hulk, Justice League of AmericaSuperman, and Wonder Woman.

And while he was often stereotyped as a sword-and-sorcery comics artist, he was equally capable of drawing superheroes in a variety of settings, from the grimy urban landscape of Gotham City as seen in the following pages from Batman #283 (January 1977),

to exotic alien worlds, as seen in this back-up story from Superman #282 (December 1974):

Chan worked fast—he averaged up to three pages a day (pencils and inks) well into his fifties, when many artists half his age could only manage to pencil a page a day—without sacrificing detail, although time did eventually catch up to him. After a productive 30 years in the US comics industry, Chan retired from the monthly grind in 2002, and passed away from cancer-related causes in 2012.

A listing of his American comics work can be found here.

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