The Force of Delta
I don't hear much about Carlos Gimenez in the U.S. these days. Gimenez, now pushing 70, is still quite active in Spain. He's president of a society for Spanish comic artists and admired as a grand master of Spanish historietas. Much of his output during the last thirty years has been autobiographical or historical in nature, expressing his passion for Spanish history as well as his rather pessimistic view of civilization. Paracuellos, a long series of episodes based on Gimenez' youth spent in a Falangist orphanage, is at once a warmly human and chillingly dismal document of a shattered society. It alone would have guaranteed Gimenez' reputation as a master graphic storyteller.
There was another, lighter, Carlos Gimenez who turned many American fans' heads in the early 1970s. He appeared seemingly out of nowhere, illustrating an adventure-spy mashup called "Delta 99." Though it originally appeared as a series of Spanish digest sized comics, we Californians encountered Delta through Mexican reprints.
Gimenez, along with Esteban Maroto (reprints of whose s-f work popped up about the same time), were the first Spanish comic artists we'd seen. Many of us were blown away by their romantic, designy approach and their strong draughtsmanship. In years to come, Jim Warren would fill his black-and-white horror mags with Spanish cartoonists. Our enthusiasm waned as the Spaniards' weaknesses became apparent, notably a tendency to prefer flashy drawing to clear storytelling, and a strong house style (especially in the case of women's faces) that gave everything a generic look.
I loved Gimenez' work from this period. On one hand he filled Delta 99 with Carnaby Street flash and Art Nouveau ornament; on the other he gave modern expression to the grand tradition of newspaper adventure strips. The influence of his primary non-Spanish influence, Frank Robbins, is strong in the Delta strips. Gimenez was a master of spotting blacks and high-contrast composition. Here are two typical pages from a Delta story set in a mythical San Francisco, where 1950s motorcycle hoods make a racial attack on a lovely "mulatto." They're reproduced from decades-old xerocopies from an original Spanish comic (the translation is mine).Though Delta 99 seemed to me the work of a newcomer, Gimenez had actually been working in comics for several years. Starting as an assistant for established artist Lopez Blanco, whom Gimenez named as his "mentor," he assisted on a number of strips for foreign markets. His first solo work appeared in Spain during the early 60s. I know some of their names ("Buck John" is often mentioned) but I've never seen any of this early work. The young artist joined Selecciones Ilustradas, the legendary Barcelonan agency (a shop, really) which packaged comics and illustrations for foreign and domestic publishers. It was there Gimenez realized his first "mature" strip, a western called "Gringo." Here's a page lifted from Gimenez' website:
We can see the components of the Delta 99 style are almost in place, particularly the balance of black and white and the vibrant brushwork. That brush was a key ingredient of Gimenez' style during this period. When he left Delta 99 and began the youth-oriented science fiction strip Dani Futuro, Gimenez' brush reached levels of expressiveness it never reached again. The strokes danced and whirled. Below is a cover Gimenez drew for the Spanish comics prozine Bang to accompany articles on Gimenez and Dani. Look at the strokes on Dani's shirt: those are the work of someone madly in love with his his tools and with the art of drawing. There's no way someone could have inked that without a smile on his face; the vigor and enthusiasm in Gimenez' drawing is palpable.Dani Futuro is a story for another time. Gimenez' decorative tendencies moved to the fore while the cartooniness that evolved into his Paracuellos style began to show. When Gimenez changed style radically in 1977, moving into the Giraud orbit, he seems to have abandoned his brush for a pen. Fine as his later artwork may be, the youthful zest of Delta and Dani make those strips my favorite Gimenez work.