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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Talking Romance with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is one of the acknowledged masters of comic book art and, like many top talents in the field, he got his start at Charlton Comics. Beginning in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, Jose drew stories for a variety of Charlton romance titles and his art appeared on countless covers...all of them using art re-purposed from the stories themselves. His cover for Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances #1 will, in fact, be the first time he's ever drawn an image specifically to appear as a cover for a "Charlton" romance comic!

Jacque Nodell conducted an interview with Jose about his time at Charlton which appeared in the November 5, 2010 installment of her excellent blog celebrating the lost (but hopefully reviving!) romance genre, Sequential Crush. It's with Jacque's kind permission that we represent that conversation here...but once you're done reading, we most definitely recommend you click on through to Sequential Crush and browse some of the other fascinating posts. Dare we say...you'll love it?
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Detail from JLGL's cover for the forthcoming Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances #1.
How did you get involved drawing romance comics for Charlton in the late ‘60s?

A friend who was an artist himself introduced me to an Argentinean agent taking art samples for Charlton. This was in Buenos Aires around 1965, and I was working in a small advertising company. Before that, I had just a handful of comics already published in short-lived comic companies (my first one I was 14 years old) but it was very hard to get paid and impossible to make a living. So, I guess my first really “professional” jobs were those done for Charlton after they saw my samples.

Did you draw the romance characters from models or other sources? What sorts of things inspired you when illustrating the romance comics?

Before the romance stories, my experience (or lack of it) was with western and war stories. So, when challenged to do romantic stuff I immediately looked at Juliet Jones by Stan Drake to learn how to do it. In those years we also had photo-novel magazines (like the foto-romanzo or fumetti in Italy) and they were very useful to design the characters and for the romantic scenes. Doing a good kiss without a good reference was very hard, honest. Besides, I was lucky to have two kindly girl friends that helped me with fashion advice and suggestions and even posed for me. That period was full of learning experiences – there is no better way to learn to draw than from a living model.
Love Diary #58 (October 1968)
Did you ever look at the romance comics being published by DC or Marvel to see what they were up to?

I had no idea of anything done by DC or any other company, including Charlton. I didn’t even see my own work published. The only one was in 1974, a Jonnie Love story, I think. Thanks to you I’m seeing those (and getting ashamed of them) for the first time. What I remember looking at were English love stories published by Fleetway. Also, and very important for me, was an Argentinean artist working for Charlton and on British comics -- Ernesto Garcia Seijas. I looked closely at everything he was doing -- he was working with the same agent so I got to see his original art. I’m sure you found him already in some of the books you reviewed. His work was the best.

Concerning the process of creating the romance comics; did you write any stories or have any input on the plots?

Oh no, I was guilty of the art only. Besides, I didn’t speak English yet (technically, I still don’t).

How much freedom did you have to mold the stories based on your artistic vision?
Splash page from Love Diary #74 (December 1970)

Complete freedom. The only thing I got from the agent was suggestions about how to do a “typical American girl!” He told me for instance, Natalie Wood was a good example. It was funny though because Natalie was Russian or of Russian parents.

Did you always ink your own work on the romance comics?

Yes, we would never have imagined splitting art chores in Argentina in those days. That was something I discovered here. Nowadays I guess, many South American artists (and elsewhere) have adopted this system. Without doubt it’s good to keep deadlines and strongly embrace the publishing companies. Personally, even if I was lucky to have superb artists inking my stuff, I’d prefer to do it myself.

How much did you keep the audience of young women in mind when you were illustrating the romance comics?

I was aware to whom the stories were intended, but never lost sleep over it. My real problem then was to do it right and that meant a daily struggle with each drawing. Wrong anatomy is going to be noticed, whether the reader is a girl or a boy. Lucky for me, I had those two girls I told you about who criticized my work in an intelligent way, and from a girl’s point of view. So, I was kept in line.

Were there any times when you felt that as a male you couldn’t convey these stories intended for a primarily female audience?

I never thought about it at the time. Now I'm more conscious (or more professional) when illustrating a story, but I don't think in terms of gender -- I mean a masculine or feminine audience, but in terms of age. I'm aware of the generational gap between my potential readers and myself, so I’m obliged to keep myself up to date.

Overall, did you enjoy illustrating the romance comics?

Yes, even with my lack of experience, I enjoyed every minute of it. It was an incredible learning experience I was going through. Even now, I consider romance stories the most difficult genre to illustrate properly.

Did you ever receive any feedback from the romance comic book fans?

Not that I was aware of -- remember I didn’t even have a chance to see them published. Anyway, my first fan was a girl :), but that because of a pirate character I did in the early '70s. It was for the Argentinean market but years later was reprinted in Europe.

Do you remember any stories or covers in particular that you liked or were especially happy with?

Well, I never did any of the covers. They used the first splash page from the story as such. And honestly, I don’t remember the stories. I suppose I was happy with the last three or four I did for them because I was more confident in my work.
The splash page for a JLGL story from For Lovers Only #68 (December 1972)...
...And the cover created from that interior art.
Do you feel that the time you spent illustrating romance comics prepared you for the superhero work you began to illustrate in the 1970s? In what ways?

I think so. I can say that before the romance comics I was an amateur artist, and I graduated to a professional thanks to them. Besides, when visiting the DC offices for the first time, I discovered that Dick Giordano had been Charlton’s editor and knew my work -- it was like a presentation card for me.

What projects are you working on currently?

Mostly DC character art for licensing, but I take any chance to do comic books if I can get them with a flexible deadline.

Anything else you would like to share with the readers of Sequential Crush?

I believe in diversity and I would like to see more romantic comic books besides the well known superheroes. There’s a market out there for this genre (and many more) and Hollywood is aware of it. The Twilight Saga is a good example, isn’t it? Gothic Romance, but romance anyway.
© Jacque Nodell

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