In today’s Filipino artist spotlight: the inimitable Rudy Nebres (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Vampirella), comics living legend Alex Niño (1984/1994, House of Mystery), and the oft-overlooked Delando Niño (1994, Creepy).
Author’s Note: Readers who have been following me on Tumblr will know that I’ve recently started a series of weekly posts highlighting the 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.
My personal Mt. Rushmore of the Filipino Wave consists of the four expected luminaries—Tony DeZuniga, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, and Alfredo Alcala—and one less well-known but no less talented artist in Rudy Nebres (yeah, this Mt. Rushmore has five heads).
A wizard with the ink brush whose talents were already recognized in the Philippines before his stateside debut, Nebres has garnered acclaim for his technique from some of the American comics industry’s best artists. John Buscema—who wasn’t particularly fond of Alfredo Alcala’s inking over his pencils on The Savage Sword of Conan—cited Nebres as his favorite inker and Neal Adams is on record in saying that Nebres “puts better lines on the page than any artist or inker I know.” Nebres himself credits Alex Raymond and Hal Foster as two of his biggest art influences.
Like many of the Filipino Wave artists, Nebres broke into American comics through DC Comics. He illustrated a handful of stories for the House of Mystery and House of Secret anthology series between 1973 and early 1975 but it wasn’t until he landed the lead illustrator gig on the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu comics anthology magazine published by Marvel affiliate Curtis Magazines that he really started wowing readers and peers alike.
Sample pages from Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #17 (October 1975)
Iron Fist pin-ups from various Deadly Hands of Kung Fu issues
Shang-Chi pin-ups from various Deadly Hands of Kung Fu issues
Nebres’ art on Deadly Hands of Kung Fu showed a marked departure from his earlier, more traditional DC Comics work. He exaggerated figures’ proportions and employed unconventional layouts to emphasize movement and the comics magazine’s martial arts violence.
Nebres would go on to contribute to several Marvel Comics and Curtis Magazines titles after his run on Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, both as a solo illustrator and as an inker, among them John Carter Warlord of Mars (where he inked Gil Kane’s pencils), Dr. Strange, and The Hulk! magazine.
Hulk portfolio from The Hulk! #16 (August 1979)
In the late 1970s, Nebres became a regular contributor to Warren Publishing’s family of black & white comics magazines, producing excellent work for Creepy, Goblin, Rook Magazine, 1984 (as well as its successor title, 1994) , and Vampirella.
Sample pages from Vampirella #88 (July 1980)
“The Starfire Saga” from 1994 #15 (October 1980)
Sample pages from Vampirella #96 (May 1981)
“Angel” from 1994 #28 (December 1982)
Nebres continued to freelance for Marvel through this period, and it was during the late 1970s and the early 1980s where he struck up a relatively brief but memorable extended collaboration with the aforementioned John Buscema on Marvel Super Special (for the Doug Moench-penned Warriors of the Shadow Realm/Weirdworld serial) and The Savage Sword of Conan. Their work on the former was especially notable for what was then the novel use by Nebres of colored inks to complement Peter Ledger’s painted colors (Nebres was credited as a “renderer” instead of the usual “inker” on the serial, to reflect his expanded role in the collaborative art process).
Three-page article from Marvel Super Special #12 (Summer 1979) and the demonstrated page from Marvel Super Special #13 (Fall 1979)
As the 1980s wore on, Nebres would eventually serve guest stints as the lead solo illustrator on Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan and Red Sonja, as well as an inker on a number of titles published by Neal Adams’ Continuity Comics. He also found time to work as a model designer for the Defenders of the Earth animated series.
Sample pages from The Savage Sword of Conan #107 (December 1984), as reprinted in The Savage Sword of Conan, Vol. 10 (September 2011)
Nebres remained active in comics through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, picking up one-off assignments and brief runs on various Marvel, Valiant, Harris, and CrossGen publications.
Variant cover and pin-up for Vampirella Strikes #5 (June 1996)
Sample pages from “Nonessential Personnel,” a back-up story from Sigil #26 (August 2002)
At the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, Nebres received an Inkpot Award in recognition of his four decades of superlative work in American comics.
- A comprehensive (though incomplete) listing of Rudy Nebres’ American comics work can be found at ComicbookDB.
- A Robert E. Howard portfolio by Rudy Nebres featuring Conan, Soloman Kane, King Kull, and Red Sonja; from The Savage Sword of Conan #39 (April 1979).
- A comparison of Rudy Nebres’ original black & white line art and the final, printed, full color result; examples from Dr. Strange, King Conan, and Red Sonja.
Of the first generation of Filipino Wave artists, Alex Niño is arguably the one who has received the most international critical acclaim. He has been hailed as a comics visionary on par with Jack Kirby, Moebius, Kazuo Koike, and Alberto Breccia; an artist whose singular creative vision redefined comic book art for everyone that came afterward.
Niño’s critical appeal may partly be due to the distinctness of his rendering and figure work. In some ways, it can be argued that his is a more indigenous style of Filipino comics illustration compared to that of Alcala or Redondo. He is much younger than either artist and unlike the popular illustrating duo, wasn’t directly exposed to any great extent to the pre-WWII American magazine and comic strips that helped shape the predominant art trends of the early Filipino komiks scene until he had already started working as a professional comics artist in the late 1950s. Niño generally credits Jess Jodloman as the single biggest influence on his approach to comics art.
Like many of the first wave of komiks artists who worked for DC during the 1970s, Niño was largely restricted to working on the publisher’s horror titles. Niño continued to work in the local komiks industry while sending in work to DC’s offices in New York. He soon attracted attention stateside for his highly-detailed work on various back-up strips in Rima the Jungle Girl, Tarzan, and Adventure Comics and he eventually rivaled Alcala and Redondo in popularity, something he never expected given his somewhat modest success as a comic book artist in the Philippines. He became the featured artist in numerous issues of House of Secrets and Weird War Tales.
“The Last Battle” from Weird War Tales #9 (December 1972)
During this period, Niño also did some work for Pendulum Press, the adult-oriented Heavy Metal magazine, Marvel Comics, Marvel’s magazine affiliate Curtis Magazines, and Warren Publishing (where Niño was unleashed to show off his facility with constructing double-page spreads).
“Painter’s Mountain” from 1984 #8 (September 1979)
“The Whatever Shop” from 1984 #10 (December 1979)
Niño’s characteristically bombastic style caught the eye of alternative/adult animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi, and in 1976, Bakshi offered to fly him to the States so that he could contribute to the production of Wizards, a sword-and-sorcery animated feature film. Unfortunately, Niño was unable to secure the necessary documentation to leave the country and work abroad.
Niño was finally able to make the move to the US in 1983, though the timing of his arrival was somewhat unfortunate: DC and Marvel began to phase out their horror, western, and military comics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Niño, like so many other Filipino artists at the time, was unfairly cast as an artist whose style did not lend itself to superhero comics, although he still managed to produce stellar work in the dwindling catalogue of DC sci-fi and horror projects publications, such as on the 1986 graphic novel Space Cluster.
Sample pages from Space Cluster (1986)
Niño continued to work for Warren Publishing through this period, producing some of the best comics work of his career on the 1994 magazine (the successor to the earlier 1984 magazine).
“East of Euthanasia” from 1994 #11 (February 1980)
“Young Sigmund Pavlov!” from 1994 #22 (December 1981); published as a 14-page story, Niño designed it so the individual pages could be laid end to end and read as a single scrolling panel! (click to view in larger size)
With Warren Publication’s declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent sale to Harris Publications in 1983, Niño lost his only regular source of comic book illustration revenue. By the mid-1980s, his comic book work was sporadic, consisting of covers, fill-ins, pin-ups, and inking jobs for Marvel, DC, Archie Comics, and numerous small publishers. He tried his hand in the animation industry in 1987, working for Sunbow Productions as a pre-production artist for the short-lived Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light cartoon series. Ironically, it would also be around this time that artists such as Art Adams, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, and Marc Silvestri, all of whom had incorporated (in ways direct and indirect) elements of Niño’s distinct rendering style, became the comics industry’s first real superstar artists, with Lee, Portacio, and Silvestri commanding contracts in the high six-figures by the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Niño went back to the Philippines in 1990 and spent the next four years on hiatus from comics. He returned to the States in 1994 and worked briefly for Dark Horse Comics and Marvel before taking another break from a comic book industry that, for some reason, didn’t seem to be interested in his talents despite his obvious contributions to the contemporary styles of the day.
Comics’ loss would be animation’s gain, as Niño was hired in the late 1990s by Disney to work as a pre-production designer on Mulan (1998), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), and Treasure Planet (2002).
Niño returned to comics in 2004 with the irreverent three-issue mini-series, God the Dyslexic Dog and in 2008, at the age of 68, he made his Image Comics debut as the artist on a horror mini-series entitled Dead Ahead.
Sample pages from Dead Ahead #1 (September 2008)
In 2013, he returned to DC Comics to illustrate a Jeff Lemire-penned story for the Batman: Black & White anthology, showing that despite his advancing age, he still has the skills that made him a comics legend in his own lifetime.
Sample pages from Batman: Black & White #2 (December 2013)
- A comprehensive (though incomplete) list of Alex Niño’s American comics works can be found at ComicBookDB.
- A Filipino monster gallery by Alex Niño
- Alex Niño sketching at Wondercon Anaheim 2015
- Pre-production concept art for Disney’s Mulan by Alex Niño
- More pre-production concept art for Disney’s Mulan by Alex Niño
- “The Gruagan Adventure” (1971) by Alex Niño
- “The Dark Suns of Gruaga” (1976) by Alex Niño
- “Tap-dancing on a Tender Cerebellum” by Alex Niño from Heavy Metal #14 (May 1978)
- A selection of black & white illustrations by Alex Niño from Satan’s Tears: The Art of Alex Niño (1977)
- Conan illustrations by Alex Niño
Brother of Alex Niño and a talented artist in his own right, Delando Niño’s American comics career unfortunately stands in the shadow of his older sibling’s towering reputation. The younger Niño worked exclusively for Warren Publishing, producing 21 black & white strips which featured his skill with ink-wash techniques, mostly published in the Creepy and 1994 comics magazine anthologies.
“Lone Wolf” from 1994 #18 (April 1981)
“Love Among the Ruins!” from 1994 #22 (December 1981)
Delando Niño’s American comics bibliography:
- “Over Four Billion Served”: 1994 #12 (April 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Cyberman!”: 1994 #13 (June 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Coming Out Party”: 1994 #15 (October 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Dog Star”: 1994 #16 (December 1980), Warren Publishing
- “Lone Wolf”: 1994 #18 (April 1981), Warren Publishing
- “The Holy Warrior!”: 1994 #19 (June 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Love is a Many Tentacled Thing!”: 1994 #21 (October 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Love Among the Ruins!”: 1994 #22 (December 1981), Warren Publishing
- “The Star Queen”: 1994 #24 (April 1982), Warren Publishing
- “Small World, Isn’t It?”: 1994 #25 (June 1982), Warren Publishing
- “The Big Dollhouse of Space!”: 1994 #27 (October 1982), Warren Publishing
- “Farmed Out”: 1994 #29 (February 1983), Warren Publishing
- “The Last Labor of Hercules”: Creepy #115 (February 1980), Warren Publishing
- “The Greatest Editor Alive!”: Creepy #116 (March 1980), Warren Publishing
- “The Nut”: Creepy #131 (September 1981), Warren Publishing
- “Guardians of the Universe!”: Creepy #134 (January 1982), Warren Publishing
- “Lamb to Slaughter”: Creepy #138 (June 1982), Warren Publishing
- “The Big Itch!”: Creepy #140 (August 1982), Warren Publishing
- “I Created…the Gargoyle!”: Creepy #141 (September 1982), Warren Publishing
- “The Iceman Killeth!”: Creepy #145 (February 1983), Warren Publishing
- “The Big Shot!”: Vampirella #94 (March 1981), Warren Publishing