Ric Estrada 1928-2009
The original Flash in All-Star Comics #58 © 1975 DC Comics. Script: Gerry Conway.
Pencils: Ric Estrada. Inks: Wally Wood. Letters: Ben Oda. Colors: Unknown.
Artist Ric Estrada passed away last Friday. He was 81.
While he didn’t rank among the best known comic-book pros, Estrada’s held a place
in my heart for decades thanks to his part in the revival of All-Star Comics in 1975.
I’ve been learning that he holds a place in the hearts of many others for very different work: illustrating passages from what’s popularly known as the New Testament, plus The Book of Mormon, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as sampled below. Or perhaps not so different, given the superhero genre’s modern spins on ancient myth and legend, but that’s not the purview of this post.
A trio of Estrada’s illustrations for New Testament Stories, © 1980
Intellectual Reserve: Moses with the Ten Commandments; Jesus at the
Temple; Jesus and the Heavenly Father appearing to John Smith.
Ric, born in 1928, left his native Cuba at the age of 20 for New York City, where he worked in advertising and dabbled in comics — a couple of pieces drawn for EC, a few dozen for St. John. After extensive traveling, he began a long, not-quite-exclusive run
at DC in 1967, shortly before converting to Mormonism.
Panels from “Bunker!” in Two-Fisted Tales #30, © 1952 EC Publications. Script: Harvey
Kurtzman. Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Colors: Marie Severin. Letters: Ben Oda.
As I wrote last month, my personal Golden Age of Comics was the mid-to-late ’70s,
and a large part of what made it great were the reprints and new stories of characters from the actual Golden Age, circa 1938-1951.
The Justice Society of America, comicdom’s first superhero team, debuted in All-Star #3, and the end of their run come All-Star #57 is widely considered the Golden Age’s final curtain. When the JSA returned to its own series 25 years hence — having been reintroduced as early as 1963, guest-starring in the pages of Flash and the newfangled Justice League of America — even the old numbering was picked up; Mike Grell’s cover and the (short-lived) reference to the group’s younger members as The Super Squad were meant to add intergenerational sparks.
Splash page of the JSA in All-Star Comics #58 © 1975 DC Comics. Script: Gerry Conway.
Pencils: Ric Estrada. Inks: Wally Wood. Letters: Ben Oda. Colors: Unknown.
All-Star Comics #58 was everything a 5-year-old me could have wanted. I get why older, alternate-Earth versions of familiar characters — gray-templed Flash, grown-up Robin, grandfather-like Superman — would appeal to me now, but frankly I have no idea why they captured my imagination the way they did when I’d only just discovered the genre and medium to which they belonged. They somehow resonated as… special.
Estrada’s work on the All-Star revival was inked by the iconic Wally Wood. Whether it was a conscious effort to evoke the sturdy and simple Golden Age style of artists in the Joe Shuster mold or the fact that Estrada was providing loose pencils for Wood to finish in his own clean, bold-lined fashion, the art was gorgeous and evocative of the JSA’s native era.
Roy Thomas, himself a longtime chronicler of the JSA’s fictional exploits, spoke to Estrada and to writer/editor Gerry Conway about their All-Star collaboration in a set
of interviews available online. An interesting, undated essay at the Comicartville web-site [bad link] quotes Wood as not caring for Estrada’s work, the latter being well defended by author Don Mangus.
Cover to Falling in Love #99, the only one on which Estrada felt he had free
reign, © 1968 DC Comics. Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Colors: Jack Adler?
Although he freelanced steadily for DC from the late ’60s through the late ’80s, more prolifically in the first half of that span, Estrada was assigned relatively few covers. They were nearly all for romance series and often inked so overpoweringly by Vince Colletta or Dick Giordano that it’s hard to identify Estrada as the penciler. He told Roy Thomas in the aforementioned interview that he only did one cover for DC, in fact, possibly because he only produced the full art for one — Falling in Love #99, shown above — entirely as he liked, at the behest of publisher Carmine Infantino.
Until researching Estrada’s credits for this post, I had forgotten that along with All-
Star Comics he penciled some of my other lodestones from 1975: Freedom Fighters #1, reintroducing a batch of Golden Age characters previously published by Quality, inked by Mike Royer; Super-Team Family #2’s Wildcat/Creeper story, inked by Bill Draut, which memorably freaked me out; and Super-Team Family #3’s lead tale, featuring Hawkman transformed into a gorilla, also inked by Wally Wood. These likewise came out of Conway’s Corner, as Gerry Conway referred to his stable of titles. Draut later inked Estrada on the licensed Welcome Back, Kotter series, of all things.
Panels from “Showdown in San Lorenzo!” in Super-Team Family #2
© 1975 DC Comics. Script: Dennis O’Neil. Pencils: Ric Estrada.
Inks: Bill Draut. Letters: Ben Oda. Colors: Unknown.
Estrada’s organic style is far more evident in his many contributions to war, romance, and horror titles — particularly, as you’d expect, when he finished his own art. I’d love to track them down today, but 30 years ago I was almost exclusively a superhero kid.
The relative handful of comic-book stories that Estrada wrote as well as illustrated include at least two reflecting his chosen faith. I can’t help seeing the splash page below, from (believe it or not) G.I. Combat #169, as the Mormon equivalent of Jack Kirby’s Tales of Asgard. Kirby was Jewish and not Asgardian, granted, but that was preamble to the Biblical overtones in his cosmic Fourth World saga and his later Old Testament portfolio.
First page of the Book of Mormon adaptation “Peace with Honor!” in G.I. Combat #169
© 1973 DC Comics. Script, Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Letters, Colors: Unknown.
Among the material that I found online while preparing this were articles on, and interviews with, Estrada calling him if not the first LDS cartoonist then at least the first known to reflect his religion in his work. They’re listed in reverse chronological order as blog entries tend to be, starting with the most recent, and offer fascinating background — whatever your opinion or knowledge of Mormonism — if you’re interested in comics history, giving context to Estrada’s creative output all the better for being in his own words.
Mark Evanier remembered Estrada within hours of his passing. Steve Bissette, who learned more than illustration from him at the renowned Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, eulogized him yesterday. Daniel Best has shared a letter and funeral information from Ric’s widow Loretta.
Splash panel of “The Mormon Battalion!” in Our Fighting Forces #135 © 1972 DC
Comics. Script, Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Letters, Colors: Unknown.
As is noted in the various obituaries, Seth Estrada is producing a documentary about his father Ric. They both gave interviews to Mormon Artist for a recent issue, Seth about the documentary and Ric about his work in comics and animation as well as his conversion. Mike Catron, from whom I heard the sad news on a chat list, has uploaded to YouTube video of Estrada speaking at a San Diego Comic-Con panel moderated by Evanier in 2001, which Mark has now embedded on his blog.
Page from “Winter Soldier!” in Our Army at War #263 © 1973 DC Comics. Script:
Robert Kanigher. Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Letters, Colors: Unknown.