In today’s edition of the Filipino artist spotlight: Tarzan and Korak, Son of Tarzan artist Rudy Florese, DC Comics horror anthology illustrator Rudy Gamboa, and Star-Lord co-creator Steve Gan. ALSO: A bonus Christmas-themed strip from Gan and writer Budd Lewis!
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.
A founding member and former president of the University of the Philippines’ Artists Guild, Rudy Florese was already a veteran of the local komiks industry by the time he graduated with a degree in advertising, having begun working full-time as a comics artist at the age of 17 to help support his family and pay for his education.
Florese’s American comics debut—a four-pager entitled “The Roaring Coffin”—appeared in DC Comics’ Ghosts #40 (July 1975):
Florese would go on to illustrate a small number of horror strips for Ghosts and House of Mystery, but it was on DC’s Tarzan and its spin-off title Korak, Son of Tarzan (later renamed Tarzan Family) that the artist would come to wider acclaim. One of his standout works from his stint on the Tarzan titles is “School for Slaughter,” the lead story in Korak, Son of Tarzan #59 (September/October 1975):
On Korak, Son of Tarzan and Tarzan Family, Florese showcased work that—along with that of more popular artists like Nestor Redondo and E. R. Cruz—I personally consider to be most representative of the traditional Filipino komiks aesthetic manifesting in American comics (keeping in mind, of course, that the definition of the “Filipino style” of comics illustration is quite loose and malleable at best).
Florese’s final American comics work, a six-page strip (”Bring Me Back to Life”), appeared in The Unexpected #213 (August 1981).
Florese continued to work as an artist and writer in the Filipino komiks industry through his time as a DC Comics freelancer and well after his exit from the US comics scene. After a number of medical setbacks (including two strokes), Florese passed away in 2003 at the age of 56.
Rudy Florese’s American comics bibliography (does not include reprints):
- Ghosts #40 (DC Comics, August 1975): “The Roaring Coffin”
- Ghosts #69 (DC Comics, October 1978): “The Haunted Gondola”
- Ghosts #84 (DC Comics, January 1980): “The Phantom’s Flock”
- House of Mystery #252 (DC Comics, May/June 1977): “Man Killers”
- House of Mystery #269 (DC Comics, June 1979): “Rope Burn”
- Korak, Son of Tarzan #57 (DC Comics, May/June 1975): “The Most Endangered Species”
- Korak, Son of Tarzan #58 (DC Comics, July/August 1975): “Cave of Darkness”
- Korak, Son of Tarzan #59 (DC Comics, September/October 1975): “School for Slaughter”
- The Tarzan Family #60 (DC Comics, November/December 1975): “Forbidden Tomb”
- The Tarzan Family #61 (DC Comics, January/February 1976): “Slave Ship” and “Incident at Tonos”
- The Tarzan Family #62 (DC Comics, March/April 1976): “Island of Lost Heads”
- The Tarzan Family #63 (DC Comics, May/June 1976): “Song of the Dolphin”
- The Tarzan Family #64 (DC Comics, July/August 1976): “The Gigantics”
- Tarzan #243 (DC Comics, November 1975): “Temple of the Virgins, Part 4”
- Tarzan #248 (DC Comics, April 1976): “Tarzan and the Champion, Part 1”
- Tarzan #249 (DC Comics, May 1976): “Tarzan and the Champion, Part 2”
- Tarzan #251 (DC Comics, July 1976): “Jungle War, Part 2” (inks only)
- Tarzan #252 (DC Comics, August 1976): “Life for a Life” (inks only)
- Tarzan #253 (DC Comics, September 1976): “A Death for a Death” (inks only)
- Tarzan #256 (DC Comics, December 1976): “The Final Quest”
- The Unexpected #213 (DC Comics, August 1981): “Bring Me Back to Life”
Romy Gamboa already had a number of years of experience illustrating comics by the time he broke through to the American comics industry in late 1972, having gotten his start in the Philippines’ komiksscene in the 1960s,
Most of Gamboa’s earliest American comics works were collaborations with fellow Filipino artists Rico Rival (on DC’s Weird Mystery Tales #4 and #6), Floro Dery (on DC’s The Witching Hour #32), and Ernie Patricio (on Pendulum Press’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea graphic novel adaptation, later reprinted in color by Marvel for its Marvel Classics Comics line).
Gamboa’s first solo American comics illustration work was a six-page short story (”The Other Side!”) which appeared in House of Mystery #213 (April 1973).
Gamboa was most active in the US comics scene between 1973 and 1977, during which he worked exclusively on DC’s horror anthology comics. He is crediting with penciling and/or inking 14 DC horror shorts in all, including the cheeky “When You Wed a Witch,” which appeared in print in The Witching Hour #36 (November 1973).
Gamboa’s sole non-horror work for DC was also his final American comics gig, inking former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea collaborator Ernie Patricio’s pencils in a short story that appeared in G.I. Combat #273 (January 1985). The seven-page short had Gamboa employing a looser-than-usual ink line somewhat reminiscent of Joe Kubert’s classic war comics output.
Gamboa returned to illustrating Filipino komiks in the mid-1980s as stateside demand for the services of Filipino artists began to decline. He passed away in 1991.
Romy Gamboa’s American comics bibliography (does not include reprints):
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Pendulum Press, 1973): co-credited as artist with Ernie Patricio
- G.I. Combat #273 (DC Comics, January 1985): “Sitting Target” (inks only)
- Ghosts #53 (DC Comics, April 1977): “The Vengeful Phantom of Versailles”
- Ghosts #56 (DC Comics, September 1977): “The Case of the Spectral Sleuth”
- House of Mystery #213 (DC Comics, April 1973): “The Other Side!”
- House of Secrets #111 (DC Comics, September 1973): “Hair-I-Kiri”
- House of Secrets #138 (DC Comics, December 1975): “Snakebite!”
- Secrets of Sinister House #15 (DC Comics, November 1973): “Hunger”
- The Unexpected #167 (DC Comics, August 1975): “Murder by Mail”
- The Unexpected #172 (DC Comics, March-April 1976): “Strangler in Paradise”
- The Unexpected #178 (DC Comics, March-April 1977): “Slow to Strangle”
- Weird Mystery Tales #4 (DC Comics, January-February 1973): “To Live Forever” (pencils only)
- Weird Mystery Tales #6 (DC Comics, June-July 1973): “The Chosen One” (pencils only)
- The Witching Hour #32 (DC Comics, July 1973): “What Evil Taunts This House?” (inks only)
- The Witching Hour #36 (DC Comics, November 1973): “When You Wed a Witch!”
- The Witching Hour #49 (DC Comics, December 1974): “You Can’t Kill a Corpse”
Like the overwhelming majority of the Filipino Wave artists, Gan was already a veteran of the Philippine komiks industry when he was “discovered” by American publishers through the efforts of pioneering Filipino artist Tony DeZuniga. But unlike many of his peers—most of whom worked for DC Comics—Gan ended up working primarily for Marvel Comics as both a penciler and an inker.
Gan’s burst onto the US comics scene with “Dragonseed,” a nine-page back-up strip in Savage Tales #6 (September 1974), a series published by Marvel affiliate Curtis Magazines (the magazine format meant that Curtis could release material that did not necessarily have to adhere to the content restrictions enforced by the Comics Code Authority):
Gan would then illustrate a two-part Brak the Barbarian back-up strip in the next two issues of Savage Tales before getting the opportunity to illustrate the two-part lead story (featuring Ka-Zar) in Savage Tales #9 (March 1975), a work that is commonly regarded as one of the major highlights of his American comics career.
Gan worked primarily in the horror, adventure, and sword-and-sorcery genres that were associated with the Filipino Wave, although these days he is probably best known among readers for his collaborations with writers Marv Wolfman and Steve Englehart, with whom he co-created the hybrid sci-fi/superhero characters Skull the Slayer and Star-Lord (a featured character in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy film), respectively.
Marvel’s Skull the Slayer was a pretty far-out comic book even by mid-1970s sci-fi comics standards. In an article that accompanied the book’s first issue (cover-dated August 1975), Wolfman described the basic conceit of the title as “a cosmic dinosaur series” featuring a cast of Manhattan paper-pushers thrust into the prehistoric past. On Gan’s art, Wolfman wrote the following:
When the final art came in, I finally let out my sigh. Steve Gan had done a fantastic job—and more… exactly what I had wanted.
Despite the creative compatibility between Wolfman and Gan, their run on Skull the Slayer was short-lived. Wolfman elected to leave the title by the third issue because of his increased workload as both a writer and editor on Marvel’s books and he was replaced by Steve Englehart. Gan was dropped in favor of Sal Buscema.
It wouldn’t be too long before Gan and Englehart’s paths would cross again. Gan was assigned to illustrate the featured story (“Starlord First House: Earth!”) in Marvel Preview #4 (January 1976), a heady space fantasy story written by Englehart incorporating astrology elements, quasi-religious overtones, and even some social commentary.
Strangely enough, despite jointly creating the character, Englehart and Gan would never work on another Star-Lord story again. Gan would spend the next couple of years working primarily as an inker for Marvel while still creating Filipino komiks on the side—perhaps due to the somewhat sporadic nature of his American comics assignments, Gan did not need to relocate to the US when he started working for Marvel, unlike many of the Filipino artists who caught on with American publishers during the 1970s.
Gan’s American comics career was cut short allegedly because of a dispute with Marvel over payments, and by the time 1980 rolled around, he was back to drawing Filipino komiks almost exclusively. It was around this period that Gan created, with writer Carlo J. Caparas, some of his most well-known material in the Philippines. At a time when many of his former associates in the “Filipino Wave” were struggling to make the transition to the emerging superhero-centric North American comics market of the 1980s, Gan was putting out some of his best comics work such as Ang Panday (translated as “The Blacksmith,” whose eponymous hero has become one of the most enduring Filipino pop culture icons) and the family drama Pieta.
Gan also contributed three short strips to Warren Publishing’s Creepy magazine during the early 1980s. Though hardly among his best American work, I think it rather appropriate given the current holiday season to share the bizarre Christmas-themed story he illustrated in Creepy #135 (February 1982):
Steve Gan’s American comics bibliography (does not include reprints):
- Conan the Barbarian #58 (Marvel Comics, January 1976): “Queen of the Black Coast!” (inks only)
- Conan the Barbarian #59 (Marvel Comics, February 1976): “The Ballad of Belit!” (inks only)
- Conan the Barbarian #60 (Marvel Comics, March 1976): “Amra, Part 1: Riders of the River-Dragons!” (inks only)
- Conan the Barbarian #61 (Marvel Comics, April 1976): “Amra, Part 2: On the Track of the She-Pirate!” (inks only)
- Conan the Barbarian #62 (Marvel Comics, May 1976): “Amra, Part 3: Lord of the Lions!” (inks only)
- Conan the Barbarian #63 (Marvel Comics, June 1976): “Amra, Part 4: Death Among the Ruins!” (inks only)
- Creepy #122 (Warren Publishing, October 1980): “The Perfect Specimen”
- Creepy #134 (Warren Publishing, January 1982): “The City of God”
- Creepy #135 (Warren Publishing, February 1982): “Yonder Star”
- Dracula Lives! #12 (Curtis Magazines, May 1975): “Parchments of the Damned, Part 3: Paper Blood”
- Dracula Lives! #13 (Curtis Magazines, May 1975): “Blood of My Blood”
- Marvel Premiere #38 (Marvel Comics, February 1976): “There’s a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!” (inks only)
- Marvel Preview #4 (Curtis Magazines, January 1976): “The Starlord: Who He Is and How He Came to Be” (text article illustration) and “Starlord First House: Earth!”
- Marvel Preview #19 (Marvel Comics, Summer 1979): “The Footfalls Within” (inks only)
- The Savage Sword of Conan #1 (Curtis Magazines, August 1974): “Conan’s Women Warriors” (text article illustrations)
- The Savage Sword of Conan #1 (Curtis Magazines, July 1976): “The Right Hand of Doom”
- Savage Tales #6 (Curtis Magazines, September 1974): “Dragonseed”
- Savage Tales #7 (Curtis Magazines, November 1974): “The Unspeakable Shrine, Part One”
- Savage Tales #8 (Curtis Magazines, January 1975): “The Unspeakable Shrine, Conclusion”
- Savage Tales #9 (Curtis Magazines, March 1975): “Dark Island of Doom” and “Beneath the Palace of Pain”
- Skull the Slayer #1 (Marvel Comics, August 1975): “The Coming of Skull the Slayer”
- Skull the Slayer #2 (Marvel Comics, November 1975): “Gods and Super-Gods”
- Skull the Slayer #3 (Marvel Comics, January 1976): “Tumult in the Tower of Time”
- Tarzan Annual #1 (Marvel Comics, 1977): “Tarzan’s First Love” (inks only) and “The End of Bukawai” (inks only)