Since the 1960s and ’70s, artist José Luis García-López has brought popular comic book characters to life with his talent. The dynamic artist has shared his work on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Jonah Hex, Deadman, and the DC Comics Style Guide, among others. Recently, he was interviewed by Scoop contributor, collector, and Overstreet Advisor Art Cloos. They talked about José Luis García-López’s roots as an artist, getting jobs after immigrating to the United States, working on the Style Guide, and more.
Scoop: José, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview for Scoop. Let’s start with your early days, where were you born?
José Luis García-López (JLGL): I was born in a little village in Galicia, Spain but my parents moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina when I was about 5 years old.
Scoop: When did you first realize you had such great talent as an artist?
JLGL: You don’t think about being talented for something, that’s what other people tell you. I just discovered I liked to draw when I was 6 or 7 years old. Nothing unusual since most of the kids draw their favorite cartoon characters at that age.
Scoop: What got you interested in comics as a kid?
JLGL: I suppose I was just having fun. Now, I realize that through that fun I was discovering the world was larger than the neighborhood street where I was brought up.
Scoop: What kind of comics did you read?
JLGL: The comics in Argentina, at that time, were very diverse: adventure, western, war, science fiction, illustrated classics literature, etc. Ah, yes, in particular, I read Donald Duck and an occasionally Batman.
Scoop: Did you collect or simply read comics?
JLGL: I just read, devoured really, comics. Everything was borrowed or exchanged in old comic book stores. I guess I was about 10, when I started to keep those books with the art I liked.
Scoop: Who were your early influences in the comic world?
JLGL: Many, besides the Argentinean artists we had access to newspaper syndicated strips with artists like Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, John Cullen Murphy, Roy Crane, Milt Caniff, Frank Robbins, etc. Plus, there was some material from Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and even Australia.
Scoop: Was it difficult learning the craft of drawing comics?
JLGL: It’s still difficult, believe me.
Scoop: Well you certainly make it look easy. Could you tell us how you first broke into the business as an artist?
JLGL: When I was 12 years old I began to visit all the publishing companies I could, and I mean all of them, including the small outfits with my samples. I guess I was 14 years old when my first work was published.
Scoop: Were you working on staff at this time?
JLGL: Well more or less, at this same time I got work inside in one of those small publishing houses where I did lettering, paste up, occasional illustrations like covers, and whatever they brought to my desk. And yes, I went to the corner cafeteria to bring coffee to the boss. Altogether, it was a great learning experience, believe me.
Scoop: What made you come to the US in 1974?
JLGL: I was finally working for the biggest comic book publisher in Argentina and doing well, but there was a limit of how far I could go there. Besides that, the political and economic landscape in Argentina was getting increasingly somber. Years before I did some work for Charlton through an agent. So, in thinking about what I could do I got this idea to come to New York and get work directly from the American publishers that were there.
Scoop: You went to work for DC in 1974. How did that come about?
JLGL: It was quite easy, I was lucky.
Scoop: I would say luck combined with talent.
JLGL: It was five days after I arrived in New York when I went to the old address of DC that was on Third Avenue in Manhattan. When I got there, I was informed they had moved to 75 Rockefeller Center. So, I walked over to Rockefeller Center but I couldn’t find the exact address. Everything was so big and I was clueless.
Scoop: Yeah New York can be very confusing for first time visitors. So, what did you do?
JLGL: I had the phone number of Luis Dominguez, an Argentinean artist whom I didn’t want to bother but I had no choice. I had his phone number and so I called him and explained my problem. Now this was on a Wednesday which was the day cartoonists did their rounds in the city, which meant he was coming into Manhattan. He told me to meet him in on Third Avenue ‒ yes, I had to go back there again ‒ at the address of the Western Publishing Company. Once there, he introduced me to Western’s editors and I was given a script to illustrate.
Scoop: So, you did not get to DC that day?
JLGL: When we were done at Western, Luis then went to DC, with me following right behind him of course and when I got there I was given a job by them too. Then we went over to Marvel. When we got there I told him, “Please don’t introduce me to anyone here, I have got enough work to do right now.”
Scoop: Do you have a favorite character or feature? One you enjoy doing more than any other?
JLGL: My favorites are the ones I co-created because it allows you to develop the characters without too much interference from the editors. It’s not the same for characters that already have a history. For example, with Superman I always found him over protected by Warner/DC, at least in the ’70s, when I used to do the character. They even used to retouch his “S” hair curl in those times. A memory that still haunts me to this day.
Scoop: You are not the only artist to have that done, so don’t feel too bad.
JLGL: Apart from Superman, my favorites and the ones I enjoy most working on are Batman, Wonder Woman, Jonah Hex, Deadman, Joker, and a few more. I was lucky that my experience with those characters was working with scripts from some of the best writers I ever had.
Scoop: You have done many of the DC style guides over the last 30-plus years for merchandise licenses around the world seen by millions of fans on so many products. How did it come about that you became literally the face of DC in the merchandising world for generations of collectors and fans?
JLGL: It was because of people like Joe Orlando who believed in my work and offered me the chance to do different things at DC and this included the DC Style Guide, modeled after the one Warner had for their animated characters. The guide is updated regularly until this date, but the first one from 1982 is still a bestseller due to the diligent work of the merchandising division and the fact that the characters were done in a particular way, let’s call it a generic style, that is rated for all kinds of audiences.
Scoop: How do you see the comic world today? Did you ever think it would have the worldwide impact that it does across the planet?
JLGL: I don’t see the impact the comics used to have in the past. Nowadays we have more entertainment options to choose from. If they have any impact today it’s by association to the Hollywood superheroes blockbusters. I see the comic books readers of today as a minority like the ones that are into postal stamps, vinyl records, butterflies, or whatever. Hey, it’s easy to see that comic book sales are not the same as 40 or 60 years before.
Scoop: What advice would you have for someone wanting to break into the business of drawing comic books today?
JLGL: Honestly, I don’t know how to break into comics today. But, I believe that a desire for it to be one’s vocation, a lot of hard work, and a great deal of perseverance are still the main requisites needed to open doors. And a little bit of luck will not hurt either.