SFX - - Contents - Nick Setch­field, Fea­tures Edi­tor

Nick pays trib­ute to the weird, won­der­ful work of zar­jaz 2000 AD artist Car­los Ez­querra.

Ifirst en­coun­tered the ge­nius of Car­los Ez­querra’s work dur­ing wartime. He was the artist on Rat Pack, a strip in Bat­tle, one of the rough­house Brit week­lies still fight­ing WWII in the psy­ches of ’70s kids. It was a steal from The Dirty Dozen – a squad of crim­i­nal lowlifes, en­listed for sui­cide mis­sions against the Axis – and Ez­querra’s ex­plo­sive, ugly-scruffy style suited it per­fectly. I soon knew his work on sight. Ez­querra’s art was alive on the page. It felt itchy, weird, ki­netic and loaded with griz­zled cool. He spe­cialised in out­siders, he­roes who ex­isted be­yond the tra­di­tional mo­ral com­pass of comics; lon­ers with hard-bit­ten faces, ev­ery line carved by a hos­tile and dis­tinctly scuzzy uni­verse. “My art has never been very clean,” he once ad­mit­ted. “Ev­ery­thing looks dirty with me.”

Born in Zaragoza in 1947, Ez­querra drew West­erns and war tales for Span­ish pub­lish­ers be­fore find­ing work on Bri­tish ti­tles. In 1976 Pat Mills re­cruited him for new SF launch 2000 AD. Ez­querra was tasked with vi­su­al­is­ing the world­scape and char­ac­ters of a near-fu­ture cop story called Judge Dredd.

The imag­i­na­tive verve of these de­signs spurred Mills to shift the strip even fur­ther into to­mor­row. Mega-City One was no longer New York the day af­ter next; now it was a san­ity-crack­ing ar­chi­tec­tural fan­ta­sia, full of strato­spheric struc­tures en­twined in high-rise free­ways, fu­ture shock in­car­nate. And Dredd, with his mon­strous boots and shoul­der-mounted bird of prey, was an equally star­tling, equally out­sized fig­ure, one who could never be dwarfed by his city. Ez­querra also gave us Stron­tium Dog, the ad­ven­tures of a white-eyed mu­tant bounty hunter named Johnny Al­pha. “I made his face hard, but not as cold as Dredd,” he re­mem­bered. “Johnny Al­pha was more hu­man.” Ez­querra clearly had a bond with Johnny, re­fus­ing to draw the story that killed him off.

Other he­roes fol­lowed, from the ABC War­riors to the Stain­less Steel Rat, but Dredd stamped Ez­querra’s name on a gen­er­a­tion. In one mem­o­rable image Dredd’s wall-shat­ter­ing Law­mas­ter bike al­most erupts out of the page it­self, its scowl­ing rider cling­ing to the han­dle­bars as a gi­ant wheel mows di­rectly into the brains of gob­s­macked read­ers.

Car­los Ez­querra lost his fight against lung can­cer in Oc­to­ber. Some­one once asked what kept him at the draw­ing board. “The de­sire to do some­thing bet­ter than the last job,” he replied.

Nick un­leashed the war’s dirt­i­est fighters on the en­emy.

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