Friday, February 19, 2010

Technique Talk--4

The Need for Speed (continued)
In the last post we looked at speedy Frank Godwin fighting the Deadline Doom in some old Connie strips. We agreed that speed is king in the commercial art world.

In my day the undisputed kings of speed were the Filipino comic artists. Almost to a man they could produce quality finished work at dazzling speed. Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Fred Carillo, Tony de Zuniga, E.R. Cruz...the list goes on and on.

When these guys stopped working for comic books they moved to the better-paying animation industry as designers and storyboard artists. That’s where I got to know--and admire--many of them. One artist I especially enjoyed talking to was Abel Laxamana. Out of all the Filipino artists I knew Abel was the only one inclined to intellectualize about comic art. In one of our discussions I asked him how Filipino cartoonists came to be so damn fast.
Above, Abel Laxamana
He explained that during the heyday of Filipino comics (the 50s and 60s) there were plenty of comics published, but the pay rate was abysmal. To make even a modest living an artist had to produce lots of pages. You either learned to be fast or you sank.

Interestingly, this situation shaped the entire culture of Filipino comics. Though the pay was low publishers demanded a high standard of artwork. Face it: when you have to live up to guys like Francisco Coching and Alfredo Alcala, you’d better be good.
Above: The Man, Francisco Coching
This was the origin of the Filipino studio system. An established artist, eager to make more money, contracted with publishers to deliver more work than he could possibly do himself. To keep his commitment he hired assistants, often newer artists who hadn’t yet cracked the big time. The veteran artist paid his assistants from the income and took a percentage for himself. The assistants got plenty of experience and dreamed of the day they’d be good enough to approach publishers personally, overcommit on their own contracts, hire their own assistants, and take their own percentage.
Above: Nestor Redondo
The publishers didn’t care whether artists used assistants, but they did insist that the art delivered to them look like the veteran artist’s work. Thus it was critical that assistants learned to imitate closely the master’s style. Out of this system arose the Filipino National Style.
Americans often criticized Filipino artists for “all looking alike.” Like all generalizations this was simplistic; Filipino artists had individual styles just like all cartoonists. But like all generalizations, this one had a grain of truth. The similarity between Filipino artists’ styles was greater than that of artists in any country except perhaps Japan.

At the root of this phenomenon was, of course, the studio system. If you’re assisting Nestor Redondo, you learn to draw like Nestor Redondo. Later when you become a lead artist yourself and establish your personal style, you’ll still show a strong Redondo influence. Inevitably you’ll pass some of that influence to your assistant, and so on.
Above: Fred Carillo
Once I asked Fred Carillo for his Secret of Speedy Drawing. To him the key was visualizing exactly what you would put on the page, then drawing it directly with a minimum of wasted movement. While visualizing would mean a second or two spent not drawing, the time taken to make the drawing time would be cut dramatically. Fred pointed out how I (and so many other artists) wasted time figuring out what to do on the paper, sketching, scribbling and redrawing. His approach was like alla prima painting: visualize the stroke, put it down, and leave it.

As I said last post, speed drawing reveals just how good you really are. The downside is that no matter how good you are, to stay ahead of the game you make compromises.
Above: E. R. Cruz
Instead of researchiing a car you draw a generic car, or re-use stock characters. Perhaps all your characters start looking alike. This was the Achilles’ heel of E.R. Cruz, a speed demon among speed demons. He had one young-man face and one young-woman face; if there were two young men in a story it was difficult to tell them apart. And finally, as Abel once suggested, when you wanted to slow down and really take time on a piece you might find you don’t remember how.

All the same, if you want to see top-grade comic art done at speeds that would make an American’s head spin, check out the oeuvre of Coching, Alcala, Redondo and their brethren. It’s amazing.

The art in this post was found at the website This guy's collection is incredible; you mustn't miss his site if you appreciate great comic art.


Paul Chadwick said...

Nestor Redondo -- that's a guy who deserves a coffee-table book.

Manuel Auad, are you listening?

Smurfswacker said...


Joe Jusko said...