Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Carlos Gimenez, the Early Years

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.

And yet...

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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great introduction to Carlos Gimenez's work, especially coming from an American. I doubt many people in America know who Gimenez is (he only had one or two stories published in the Warren magazines, if my memory doesn't fail me). I have a couple of originals from him and I always thought he drew exclusively with a pen (at least the originals I have are done with a pen) and having met the artist personally he always told me he hated brushes because he could never master the brush, lol! How do you know so much about him is just amazing!!!

Smurfswacker said...

He did all that stuff with a PEN???? Now I feel even more intimidated. And unworthy of your kind words about knowing so much about Gimenez. I've loved his work since I first saw it...he was one of the guys I stole from during my fan artist days.

I've seen originals from the "Paracuellos" years on Gimenez' website, but other than my pencilled Delta 99 drawing I've never seen other originals by him. What happened to all the Gringo, Delta, Dani, Odyssey etc. artwork? Did Gimenez get to keep it or did it just disappear like old American comic originals did?

Thanks for your kind words.

Diego said...

Hey, it's me the anonymous. From what I know, Carlos kept his work from the 70's onwards. What he did for the Barcelona Agency during the 60's might've disappeared. I asked him about stuff like Gringo, and he told me it was all long gone and that in any case it was crap. Oddly enough, Gringo has recently been reprinted in Spain, so my guess is that he was either ashamed of it or just didn't care anymore and gave it out to fans or friends through the years...

Another thing about Carlos; he's one of the few artists I know that already had his own "style" when he started out. Look at his early work and compare it to what he does now. Though he's better now, you can still see it's the same artist. Compare any other artists' early work to their most recent and you will see huge diffrences. All the other artists from the Barcelona agency were jealous that young Carlos already had his own personal style. Sure, there were the Frank Robbins influences and there's the Jack Davis influence in his humorous work. When Carlos once decided that he wanted to do humorous work, his editor told him he had as much chance of doing humor as he had of becoming a boxing world champion. Carlos would eventually become one of the main artists in Fluide Glacial, the best French humor magazine!