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.