I was sorry to hear that acclaimed Japanese manga artist and anime creator Leiji Matsumoto had passed away on February 13th at the age of 85.
Matsumoto first worked professionally as an artist in 1954, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that he found acclaim, first for his work on the anime Space Battleship Yamato in 1974 and then for his creation of the popular manga series Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 in 1977.
The universe that Matsumoto conceived & designed was populated by a colorful, dynamic cast of characters: the swashbuckling freedom fighter Captain Harlock, his associate & fellow space buccaneer Queen Emeraldas, her enigmatic sister Maetel, and the young orphan Tetsuro Hoshino who travels with Maetel on the outer space locomotive train known as the Galaxy Express.
Matsumoto’s stories were space opera, and his distinctive design sensibilities are what would later come to be known as steampunk. In the retro sci-fi / space Western future that he conceived, Matsumoto’s characters frequently found themselves fighting against totalitarian forces, be they human-ruled dystopian regimes, alien invaders, or cyborg tyrants who sought to transform the galaxy in their image.
I first discovered Matsumoto’s work via the Galaxy Express 999 animated movie which was released in 1979. I vaguely recall seeing it as a child in the early 1980s on HBO, and I eagerly purchased it when it was at last released on VHS in the United States in 1996. The sequel Adieu, Galaxy Express was also released on video soon after. I really enjoyed both movies. In the early 2000s the four part serial Harlock Saga and the prequel Maetel Legend, the later of which told the origins of Maetel and Emeraldas, were released on DVD, and I got those, as well.
Matsumoto’s characters have, of course, appeared in comic books, movies and animated television series produced in Japan, but they have been popular enough to occasionally have new stories created for an English-speaking market. In the early 1990s American publisher Malibu Comics released several Captain Harlock series written by Robert W. Gibson and drawn by manga-inspired artists Ben Dunn & Tim Eldred. I found several of those comics in the back issue bins after I became a fan of Matsumoto’s work. More recently in 2021 Ablaze Publishing released a six issue Space Pirate: Captain Harlock miniseries by Matsumoto and French creator Jerome Alquie.
Leiji Matsumoto’s character & designs were truly memorable, his characters simultaneously romantic & larger than life and grounded in humanity, his stories a deft blend of dynamic action & poetic, philosophic contemplation. He will be missed by his legion of fans worldwide.
Henry Martinez is a penciler whose work for Marvel Comics in the early to mid 1990s really stood out for me at the time as a teenager reader. Considering how many new artists there were bursting onto the scenes during that period, that really says something about Martinez’s art that it lodged itself in my mind so indelibly.
Earlier this year I learned that Martinez was once again working in comic books, and still producing great art. We became Facebook friends, and he kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. I am very grateful to him for providing such interesting, detailed answers to my questions.
This interview was conducted by e-mail between September and October 2021.
Henry Martinez will be at Table O-5 in Artist Alley at New York Comic Con from October 7 to 10. If you’re going, please stop by and say “Hello!”
BH: Hello, Mr. Martinez. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start out with your background. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?
Henry Martinez: Hello Ben, and thanks for having me on. My parents fled Cuba in 1966 and I was lucky enough to be born here within a month of them arriving in New Jersey. We lived there for a few months then moved to Queens, NY where I spent most of my childhood. They were always very supportive of me, buying me comics and cheap art supplies at the local Woolworth’s (who have been out of business for years now). So I was always sketching, coloring and building things with Play-Doh. I remember the books I bought then were Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, I loved the rivalry between Spider-Man and the Human Torch as I recall.
The only other interests then were reading and all things Star Trek and Space: 1999. I loved Trek so much I actually wrote the paperback publisher a letter which they replied to! It was an embarrassing letter from a kid who asked about the phasers on the show. What the hell did a book publisher know about how phasers work? I don’t remember their response, but I was so excited to get that letter.
BH: What was your educational background? Did you major in an art-related field? Was the comic book industry something that you actively hoped to find work in?
Henry Martinez: I went to public school where I got to draw during art class. Like most pros will tell you, I was that one kid that could draw, and everyone would go to get drawings done. Later on in life as you move on to other schools you learn that you are not the only one! I learned that when I was lucky enough to get into the High School of Art & Design, whose alumni include Tony Bennet, Neal Adams, Larry Hama (who I later wind up working with) and others.
I’ve always wanted to be a comic book artist, and going back to my supportive parents, they bought me a cheap drafting table and the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which I still use today. It’s the comic book bible that I refer to as I always seem to learn something new every time I open it. I set up my room then as I imagined my art hero John Buscema had his.
BH: According to the Grand Comics Database, your earliest professional work was drawing the “Spider-Femme” parody in Spoof Comics Presents #1 published by Personality Comics in 1992. Is that correct? (Just double checking, since the GCD is sometimes inaccurate.) How did that job come about?
Henry Martinez: Yep, that’s right. That was a fun time. I was submitting to everyone while working a fulltime job at an ad agency and they responded first. They wanted to meet me in person and asked if I’d work in their studio for a day, which I thought was unusual, but what the hell it was a new experience. So I asked for the day off from work, went out to Long Island and worked in the studio with Kirk Lindo who would later become my boss when he formed Brainstorm, featuring his book Vamperotica. It was a fun series to work on and they gave me three books all with Adam Hughes covers. I also did a few covers for them. I didn’t realize those books still have a following until I found a group on Facebook. One of the publishers is trying to gather the art to do a Kick Starter of the covers, I think.
BH: A year later you were drawing Sparkplug and League of Champions for editor Dennis Mallonee at Heroic Publishing. How did you come to work for Heroic? Did you enjoy penciling those comics? Were they what you might call a good “foot in the door” for your career?
Henry Martinez: One of the publishers that got back to me was Heroic Publishing. To this day I am still very proud of the work I did for them. I saw the work as gateway books, a chance to prove my chops to the Big Two, as they involved long stories and in the case of League of Champions, a team book. I loved the story, written by Lou Mougin, who really should be getting more work, as he is a great writer who is well informed and researches everything. We’re trying to work together, but it’s been difficult. I still work for Heroic, but finances make it difficult. Otherwise I would work for them regularly, as I really like the characters; I’ve even designed a few.
BH: Later on in 1993 you did fill-in pencils on Morbius the Living Vampire #13 for Marvel Comics. How did you get that job? What was it like getting work from Marvel only a year into your professional career?
Henry Martinez: At that time, I was still working fulltime at an ad agency. The hours are insane, lots of late nights and weekends, and I was still sending out packages to the Big Two. One day I get a letter and a script from Bobbie Chase telling me I am being given the opportunity to do a fill-in on Morbius.
I flipped out! My dream of working for Marvel is coming true. I couldn’t leave my job on a fill in with no promise of future work, so I would work full days and OT, then go home and pencil until 3 AM, sleep 3 hours then go to work and do it all over again for a month. When I turned in the last pages, my pals took me to the Blarney Stone to celebrate. I had to pull an all-nighter to make the deadline though, so I was half-asleep during dinner, then slept for 2 days. Sacrifice kids!
At that point I was offered Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance with the promise of getting Blaze since SoV was being cancelled, along with a few other books. I then had a decision to make…do I try to keep this impossible schedule and turn in subpar work or take a chance on a dream that may only last a few months? Advertising offers security and good money, but Marvel! I took the plunge and have no regrets. I would’ve been very happy staying there on any book but that was when the industry bubble burst. So many books were cancelled, and so many people lost their jobs. For some this was all they knew and they spent alot of money thinking it would last forever, but all things come to an end. I was lucky, I had storyboards to fall back on, others weren’t so lucky.
BH: Towards the end of 1993 you became the regular penciler on Ghost Rider / Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance beginning with issue #16. The previous penciler on SoV had been Adam Kubert, with his father, the legendary Joe Kubert, even contributing to a couple of issues. Was it intimidating following in their footsteps?
Henry Martinez: Oh yes. Those were beautiful books that I appreciate even more now that I have been revisiting them. There is so much action, energy and the story is even better than I remember. I could only do my best and hope that the reader liked it. I’ve been fortunate in that the work was received well and I still get comments on how much readers enjoyed my run.
BH: On your first two issues of Spirits of Vengeance you were inked by Keith Williams, but for the remainder of your run, through the book’s end with issue #23, you were paired with inker Bud LaRosa. How did you find their inking? Any particular preference between the two of them?
Henry Martinez: Everyone contributes in a different way. So, when I say I liked them both I’m not trying to be polite, but I really do like them both. Keith’s inking is more organic than Bud’s if I were to differentiate between the two. At the risk of offending a friend, I prefer organic inking.
BH: Following on from Spirits of Vengeance, you penciled the first 8 issues of the Blaze solo title. How did working with writer Larry Hama on that compare to working with Howard Mackie and David Quinn on SoV? I do remember I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t stay on Blaze for the entire 12 issue run. Was there a specific reason why you left the series?
Henry Martinez: I loved penciling Blaze. Larry wrote in characters that hadn’t been seen in a very long time that I loved and I will always be grateful to him for that. Just working for Marvel was amazing, but to start a new book?
Howard, David and Larry are incredible writers, and have different styles as a writer should. I loved working with all of them. They are all great world builders who can tell large stories involving many characters while still getting very personal with individual characters. That’s a very specific toolset. I don’t have a preference since they all have a unique voice that I like. And since you mention David Quinn, I really enjoyed that issue, it was a break from the SoV storyline, a quiet break. Although this break involved vampires!
I reluctantly left Blaze frankly because I was burning out. My father was a hardworking man who put in long hours, rarely slept and never complained. I thought the same way and just kept working, barely sleeping and my work suffered as did my personal life. Comics are out there forever, so there is so much pressure to do the best you can, within reason. You still have to make that deadline after all.
What a lot of people may not understand is how much work is involved in creating a comic book. There are so many people involved who depend on each other to deliver on time. You are only as good as your last book, so if you miss a deadline or two, you may not get another issue from that editor and even develop a bad reputation. So when I read reviews or comments like “he/she sucks!” It hurts, knowing now hard so many creators work, how much they sacrifice to do the best they can under the restrictions of a deadline. So I decided to stop, take a break and go back to advertising, especially considering he industry was suffering. I do wish I could have finished the title, though.
Fortunately, right after Blaze, Malibu Comics offered me a fill-in issue of All New Exiles, where I got to draw the Juggernaut. That was followed by 3 issues of Mantra which I loved working on. It was looking like I was going to be the regular penciler on that book when Marvel (who had bought Malibu) shut them down, and those characters never saw the light of day again. In the meantime, I had 3 issues and a half-finished 4th when I was told the news. I had also designed some characters for a storyline they were developing. Thanks to Facebook, I’m still in touch with the Malibu folks today. I just finished a story with my editor then, Roland Mann. I also did a 6 page proposal with him to bring back his characters, Cat & Mouse.
BH: In 1996 you drew a few stories for Vamperotica for Brainstorm Comics. Any particular thoughts on those? I know in the years since a lot of 1990s “bad girl” comic books have been the subject of much ridicule. For myself, as a fan of sci-fi and horror B-movies, I find that sub-genre to be similar, entertainingly cheesy. I thought you did solid work on Vamperotica. Your aptitude for rendering beautiful women that you previously demonstrated at Heroic and Marvel certainly served you well here.
Henry Martinez: Thanks for the kind words. That’s another book I was very proud of, I did my best work (at that time) then, I always try to give you my best. As I mentioned earlier, I would be hired by Kirk Lindo the publisher of Brainstorm who was the studio artist at Personality Comics. That’s why it’s always good to maintain good relationships with people, you never know. I have never been opposed to doing any genre as long as I enjoy the work, and I had a good script to work from. I was looking forward to doing more wok for them, but I think they were struggling at the time and went under. It was a storyline that had great potential and could’ve gone on for a while.
BH: You left the comic book field in 1996. This was around the time when the industry unfortunately imploded, so I am going to guess that was the reason for your departure. What types of work did you do over the next decade?
Henry Martinez: As I mentioned I went back to adverting for security, but as a freelancer, so I had more control over my schedule and was able to tackle other things. I’ve been working for Heroic Publishing just to keep doing comics, I can never stop doing comics. I’ve also done some character design for them that never saw the light of day, and some editorial work for Muscle and Fitness magazines. There is also some commission here and there, you never know what people will ask for.
BH: In 2004 you returned to comic books, once again doing work for Heroic Publishing. What brought you back to the industry?
Henry Martinez: I wouldn’t say it “brought me back” as much as I pop in when I can. I approached Heroic because I always liked their characters and Dennis is easy to work with. I still get to draw superheroes, and as sophistified as I pretend to be, I really enjoy drawing superheroes, despite doing some serious stuff, here and there.
BH: Those covers and stories for Heroic gave you your first opportunities to ink your own work. What prompted you to switch from penciling to doing full artwork?
Henry Martinez: To be honest, it was finances. I always say I would never begrudge someone from earning a living, but I came to a realization that there are a handful of people whose inks I like over my work. And outside of those creators, I do like my inks, so I made the offer to Dennis which agreed. I can ink my own work and get extra income, so why not? There are still times that I want a certain someone to ink my pencils, so I always ask first. There are two people I would love to have ink my work, one is my friend from high school, Jose Marzan Jr., (for those that don’t know, Jose is known for inking a popular Flash run and Y The Last Man) and I am lucky that Dennis agreed to his rate, so Jose and I will be working together on League of Champions which I am currently penciling.
BH: As a fan of your work at Marvel in the mid 1990s it’s been good to see you back in the biz. I certainly enjoyed your variant cover for Tragedy #1, where you were once again inked by Keith Williams. What other projects have you been working on over the last few years?
Henry Martinez: I really loved Keith’s inks on that cover, and I hope we can collaborate again soon. I requested him and writer/publisher Phillip Russert made it happen. He’s a good guy, always looking out for the artists.
As for my most recent projects, I did the first two issues of Cult of Dracula which was well received, and as I mentioned before I am penciling a League of Champions story, wrapping up a storyline that will lead to a full-sized issue right after. The cover is already done. I am also working on a Kickstarter of my own and a book to submit to Ben Dunn @Antarctic Press.
BH: Finally, I know you’re available for commissions. How should people who want to get work done by you contact you?
Henry Martinez: Thanks, I’m always open to commissions. My social media links are:
Comic book artist Ernie Colon passed away on August 8th. Colon was a versatile artist. Among the numerous projects he worked on over the decades were Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich for Harvey Comics, the fantasy series Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld with writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn at DC Comics, and in collaboration with Sid Jacobson a graphic novel version of the 9/11 Commission Report titled The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. I cannot imagine a more diverse range of projects than that!
While I certainly cannot say that I was a huge fan of Colon’s work, I certainly enjoyed it whenever I saw it. I have fond memories of several projects that he illustrated on, so I felt it would be nice to offer a brief look at his work on those books.
Colon and writer Dwayne McDuffie co-created the superhero comedy book Damage Control for Marvel Comics. Damage Control offered a humorous look at a construction company that specialized in repairing the buildings that have gotten wrecked in superhero battles. The very odd & colorful staff of the Damage Control organization made their debut in Marvel Comics Presents #19, and soon after were featured in a trio of 4 issue miniseries published between 1989 and 1991. Colon worked on all but one of the issues.
At a time when superhero comic books were very steadily heading into “grim & gritty” territory, Damage Control was certainly a breath of fresh air. McDuffie’s scripts were clever & humorous, and the offbeat artwork by Colon was a perfect fit.
For a number of years I owned a page of original artwork from the first miniseries, which had Bob Wiacek’s inking over Colon’s pencils. Regrettably I had to sell it a while back, but fortunately it went to a good home.
In the early 1990s Colon worked on several issues of Magnus Robot Fighter for Valiant Comics. In addition to penciling & inking, Colon also provided the coloring on several issues, resulting in some very striking and unusual artwork. This definitely gave Jim Shooter’s stories an unsettling feeling, bringing to life a world that was more than slightly askew.
The work by Colon really suited the 41st Century setting of the series, a seeming hi-tech utopia of gleaming steel possessed of a dark underbelly. The two part “Asylum” story by Shooter & Colon that ran in Magnus Robot Fighter #13-14 certainly contained a very palpable atmosphere.
In 1994 Colon teamed with writer Peter David on a revival of Jim Starlin’s incredible space opera Dreadstar. Published under the Bravura imprint of Malibu Comics, this six issue miniseries leaped forward a number of years from the end of the previous series. It featured Vanth Dreadstar’s teenage daughter Kalla, who has been raised from infancy by none other than her father’s arch-enemy, the genocidal Lord Papal.
The Dreadstar miniseries was very dark & serious… except when it was not. David has always proven adept at deftly blending drama and comedy in his scripts, and his work on Dreadstar was no exception. Colon adaptability as an artist was very well suited to illustrate such material. He powerfully rendered scenes of grim violence. He also ably illustrated some genuinely wacky characters and ridiculous laugh-out-loud moments.
Looking over the artwork from just these three series amply demonstrates the versatility of which I previously spoke. Colon was a very talented artist who was at home in a variety of genres.
Colon was 88 years old when he passed away. I had no idea he was that old, and that he’d actually begun working in comic books back in the late 1950s. Colon certainly had a long and prolific career. He leaves behind an impressive body or work featuring some stunningly beautiful art.
It has been observed that someone’s favorite Batman artist is often determined by when they first began reading comic books. That’s certainly the case for me. There have been numerous talented artists who have rendered the Dark Knight’s adventures over the past eight decades, but two hold a special fondness for me: Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle. When I began reading DC Comics regularly in 1989, Aparo was the penciler on Batman, and Breyfogle was the penciler on Detective Comics.
Jim Aparo, who had been working in the biz since the late 1960s, was what I refer to as a good, solid artist. His penciling on Batman was of a more traditional bent, but his style perfectly suited the character.
And then there was Norm Breyfogle, the new kid on the block. Breyfogle utilized a very dynamic approach to his storytelling. His artwork in Detective Comics was filled with dramatic, innovative layouts that were possessed of both explosive energy and brooding atmosphere.
Breyfogle had broken into the biz just five years earlier, in 1984, with a pair of contributions to DC’s New Talent Showcase. Two years later, in 1986, Breyfogle penciled several issues of Steven Grant’s series Whisper for First Comics. Following that, Breyfogle first entered the dark, moody world of Gotham City, becoming the regular penciler of Detective Comics with issue #582, cover-dated January 1988.
The following month, with issue #583, Breyfogle was joined on Detective Comics by the talented British writing team of Alan Grant & John Wagner. Issue #584 saw the arrival of the last member of the now-regular creative team, inker Steve Mitchell.
Grant, Wagner & Breyfogle very quickly made their impart on the Bat-mythos, introducing new adversaries the Ratcatcher, the Corrosive Man, and the Ventriloquist & Scarface, the last of whom has become an iconic member of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery.
Although Wagner soon departed, Grant remained on Detective Comics, penning a series of stories that were expertly illustrated by Breyfogle & Mitchell. With issue #608, Grant & Breyfogle introduced yet another memorable denizen of Gotham City, the radical anti-hero Anarky.
Breyfogle’s depiction of Batman was incredibly dramatic, and is now regarded as one of the iconic interpretations of the character. His Dark Knight was muscular but also lithe, grim & imposing but also human & vulnerable. Breyfogle’s fluid layouts depicted a dark yet dynamic Batman acrobatically swinging across the skyline of Gotham City, massive cape billowing about. It was absolutely incredible. Breyfogle’s depiction of Batman was *the* definitive one for me during my teenage years in the early 1990s.
The team of Grant, Breyfogle & Mitchell remained on Detective Comics until issue #621 (Sept 1990) and which point they were rotated over to the Batman series with issue #455. Their first storyline, “Identity Crisis,” ended with the new Robin, Tim Drake, debuting his brand-new costume. Breyfogle stayed on Batman until #476 (April 1992), at which point he switched over to yet another Bat-title, the new ongoing Batman: Shadow of the Bat.
Although he only drew the first five issues of Shadow of the Bat, this certainly wasn’t the end of Breyfogle’s association with Batman. He would return for the occasional fill-in issue here and there. Breyfogle also worked on several Batman-related graphic novels. Among these was the acclaimed Elseworlds special Batman: Holy Terror written by novelist Alan Brennert.
One of my personal favorite issues from the team of Grant, Breyfogle & Mitchell was “Stone Killer” in Detective Comics #616 (June 1990). In this story Batman faces an eerie supernatural adversary. Breyfogle’s style was perfectly suited for this eerie tale.
Also noteworthy was Detective Comics #627 (March 1991). This was the 600th appearance of Batman in that series. To celebrate, this issue reprinted the first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by Bill Finger & Bob Kane, and a 1969 update of the story by Mike Friedrich, Bob Brown & Joe Giella. Additionally, there were two new interpretations of the story by the then-current Batman creative teams, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo & Mike Decarlo, and Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell. It was interesting to see the same basic plot executed in four very different ways.
Detective Comics #627 concluded with a stunning double-page spread drawn by Breyfogle & Mitchell featuring Batman, his supporting cast, and many members of his rogues gallery.
Beginning in 1993, Breyfogle began working on Prime, which was part of Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse imprint. He drew the first twelve issues, as well as stories for a few of the other Ultraverse titles. Regrettably I did not follow any of these series. At the time the comic book market had a huge glut of product on the shelves, and the Ultraverse unfortunately got lost in the shuffle.
I did finally have an opportunity to see Breyfogle’s work on the character a few years later, when the Prime / Captain America special was published in early 1996. It was an odd but fun story, with wacky artwork by Breyfogle. He appeared to be working in a slightly more cartoony, comedic vein. I definitely enjoyed seeing him draw Captain America, who at the time was my favorite character.
After a short stint on Bloodshot at Valiant, Breyfogle returned to DC. He penciled an Anarky miniseries, reuniting him with the character’s co-creator Alan Grant. In the early 2000s he penciled several issues of the Spectre revival written by J.M. DeMatteis, which featured the then-deceased Hal Jordan adopting the supernatural role of the Wrath of God. For Marvel Comics, Breyfogle drew the 2000 annuals for both Thunderbolts and Avengers, which in turn led to a three issue Hellcat miniseries featuring his artwork.
For a few years after the Spectre ended, Breyfogle unfortunately had some difficulty finding regular assignments in comic books. Fortunately in late 2009 he began receiving work from Archie Comics. Breyfogle was one of the regular artists on the wonderful Life With Archie series written by Paul Kupperberg. Here he was paired up with inker Josef Rubinstein.
Breyfogle’s work for Archie Comics really demonstrated his versatility as an artist. As I previously observed, Breyfogle’s art on Life With Archie was a very nice, effective blending of the company’s house style and his own unique, signature look. He certainly was adept at illustrating the melodramatic soap opera storylines in the “Archie Marries Veronica” segments.
In 2012 Breyfogle once again had an opportunity to return to the world of Batman, illustrating the “10,000 Clowns” story arc and several covers for Batman Beyond. It was a wonderful homecoming for the artist, who seamlessly fit back into Bat-verse, this time giving us his depictions of the dystopian future Gotham City and its denizens introduced in the animated series.
Batman Beyond would unfortunately be Breyfogle’s last major work in comic books. In December 2014 he suffered a stroke, after which he became partially paralyzed. Tragically, as a result Breyfogle was no longer able to draw. Nevertheless he remained connected to the comic book community, regularly communicating with fans via Facebook.
Norm Breyfogle passed away on September 24, 2018. He was only 58 years old. It was a tremendous shock, both to his colleagues, who always spoke very highly of him, and to the generation of fans such as myself who grew up on his amazing artwork.
For me Breyfogle will always remain one of the all-time greatest Batman artists. He will definitely be missed.