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Obituary: Alfredo Alcala, 1925-2000
posted May 30, 2000


Alfredo P. Alcala, the Filipino-born illustrator, newspaper strip and comic book artist, died in California on Saturday, April 8 following a long battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.

Alcala was born August 23, 1925 in Talisay, Occidental Negros, in the Philippines. He dropped out of school as a teenager to pursue his artwork. He started out in various commercial venues, first painting signs and then moving into a ironworker's shop where he designed household implements such as lamps, garden furniture, and a church pulpit. Another childhood artistic endeavor became the source of one of Alcala's most-loved anecdotes: how he used to draw cartoons as an amateur spy against Japanese occupation forces in World War II. As he told Mauel Auad in a 1974 interview in Cartoonist Profiles, "I had a bicycle in those days, you see, and everyday I would peddle around the city [Manila] and try to spot hidden Japanese pill boxes. I would remember these and as soon as I got home I would draw a detailed map with the locations of the pillboxes and turn this over to a guerrilla leader. Then he would turn it over to the Americans." Alcala said that at the time this activity made him feel like a comic book hero, so much so that the risks he was taking didn't occur to the teen. When asked what Japanese authorities would have done to him had he been caught, Alcala replied, "Simple, chopped my head off."

The cartooning Alcala did for the Allied cause and that which he did for himself drew from a number of examples, including newspaper cartoonists Alex Raymond and Hal Foster. But Alcala was particularly fond of American comic book artist Lou Fine, citing his work on Golden Age superhero characters as Black Condor, Dollman, the Ray, and Uncle Sam in addition to his prolific cover work as encouragements to move into comics. Alcala began working in comics in October 1948 with an illustration in the Filipino comic magazine Bituin Komiks. By the end of the year he was doing work for Ace Publications, the largest publisher in the Philippines. Ace featured a line-up of four comics, which came out twice a month: Filipino Komiks, Tagalog Klassiks, Espesial Komiks and Hiwaga Komiks, and Alcala was soon appearing in all of them.

imageLike many comics magazines of the period, the Ace Publications titles were anthologies featuring limited serials in various genres. Alcala drew for all genres in the early portion of his career, and developed the speed and work ethic for which he later become known amongst his fellow professionals. He told Auad his fastest page rate was 12 pages in a nine-hour sitting, while in one 96-hour marathon he produced 18 pages, three wrap-around covers and several color guides. During the portion of his career where he worked solely for Filipino publishers, Alcala worked without assistants and did his own inking and lettering. "I somehow always felt that the minute you let someone else have a hand in your work," he told Auad, "no matter what, it's not you anymore. It's like riding a bicycle built for two..."

As his career in comics progressed, Alcala started to draw from a wider range of sources in commercial illustration an in painting. Artists he admired included J.C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Joseph Clement Coll and Robert Dorne. He claimed that lessons learned from every artist he respected found their way into his work, from figure drawings to drapery. Alcala had a special place in his heart for muralists Cornwell and Frank Brangwyn, and expressed an interested in working at their scale.

Alcala eventually became one of the established stars of the Filipino comics scene, and his work was even eventually featured in a magazine named for the artist published out of Manila, Alcala Komix Magazin. His introduction to the world comics scene came through his fantasy strip Voltar, which Alcala created in 1963. An incredibly lavish, lushly-drawn serial that showcased Alcala's diverse interests and influences, Voltar dominated the awards of the Society of Philippine Illustrators and Cartoonists for the rest of the decade. The strip also introduced Alcala to fantasy fans in the United states, winning science fiction awards in the early 1970s. Art from Voltar was included in the 1974 book The Hannes Bok Memorial Showcase of Fantasy Art. In addition to serving as his usual one-man gang on art and lettering, Alcala wrote the Voltar stories. Comics scholars, including Orvy Jundis in the World Encyclopedia of Comics, cite Voltar as one of the earliest epic comic book series to result from a single creator's vision.

Alcala was one of the beneficiaries of DC's recruitment of Filipino artists in the early 1970s, signing a deal with artists such as Nestor Redondo and Alex Nino to provide work to DC as a group.. According to writer Mark Evanier, Alcala was able to provide up to 40 pages in a month under this deal, mostly for DC's horror and fantasy titles, such as House of Mystery. Continuing to receive work in America, Alcala moved to New York in 1976 (he would later permanently re-locate to southern California). When as the decade progressed Marvel hired away some of DC's artists, Alcala was used on their monster books, before being moved into various inking assignments and short-term runs with superhero characters -- characters now being done in a style that didn't conform to the entirety of Alcala's artistic influences.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Alcala took his speed and skill into several brief runs on adventure strips: Star Wars, Rick O'Shay and the Conan the Barbarian strip. He managed to build one of the more eclectic professional portfolios in the 1980s and early '90s, with work on titles ranging from Destroyer Duck to Hellblazer, and special projects such as a comic books celebrating the Statue of Liberty centennial, and a comic about the Apollo 12 mission (Moonshot). Alcala's career also included a stint doing pre-production drawings for animation studios and various commercial art assignments for toy companies.

Alcala provided art on one of the unique projects to see print during the surge of American graphic novel in the 1980s, a 1984 adaptation of the late black writer Donald Goines' hardcore street crime novel Daddy Cool. In a 19XX review in the Comics Journal, XXX wrote that "". One of Alcala's last long-term professional assignmenst was inking DC's Swamp Thing title, a throwback in many ways to the kind of work that introduced the artist to American audiences. Alcala also enjoyed a career as a painter, distinct from his professional comics and animation work. He exhibited in galleries in the U.S. and abroad, works celebrating past favorites such as Leyendecker and portraits of simpler times in the Philippines.

Alfredo Alcala is survived by a wife. A memorial service for the artist was held on April 22 in San Pedro California. Donations towards the funeral expenses can be made to the Alfredo Alcala Memorial Fund, c/o. PO Box 670, Lompoc, CA 93438.