robably no artist to ink Don Newton caused as much controversy as Alfredo Alcala. It was hard to find anyone "on the fence" regarding Alfredo; you either loved his inks or hated them. I
was unusual; I did both!
In the mid-1970’s, DC went searching the globe for new artistic talent and found it in boatloads in the Philippines. DC liked that these guys were talented, fast, never missed deadlines and worked really cheap. The group included Alex Nino, Tony DeZuniga, Ernie Chan, Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, who was probably the premiere artist that DC brought over to America. Alcala was tops for two reasons: 1) he was a virtuoso with a brush, the owner of a lush inking style that was hard to ignore and impossible to duplicate, and 2) he was fast as lightning.
While Alfredo had many fans, he had as many detractors, who felt that his powerful brush overpowered the pencils they followed. There is more than a grain of truth in this criticism, it was sometimes hard to tell who penciled a page once Alfredo finished inking it; it looked like Alcala, not like the penciler. If a penciler was weak, Alcala could hide their weaknesses in thick outlines and heavy contour lines. For a weak penciler he was a godsend, but Don Newton was not a weak penciler; Don had a very unique style of his own and many times it clashed with Alcala’s inks.
When Alfredo first started inking Don's Batman pencil, in first Detective and then in a long, long stint in
Batman, I was one of those loud critics. The thing I, and I think so many others, loved about Don's work was that it was unique and Alfredo Alcala sucked that uniqueness right out of the pencils. Alfredo's heavy style obscured the Newton-ness of the artwork and I hated it. But after about a year working together, something strange began to happen: synergy.
Alcala began to back off a bit on the heaviness of the inks (I think he started being paid better and could afford to spend extra time on the pages he did) and you’d see this beautiful Newton anatomy, these extraordinarily expressive faces, these wonderful quirky Newton characters with these thick, rich inks, not at odds with the pencils, but caressing them, enriching them. Sometimes the results were pure magic. In some ways Alcala's inks harkened back to Don's own brushy fandom work. Alcala began to play with the blacks that can dominate Don's pencils, adding texture and depth; I began to enjoy the team.
While some debated the appropriateness of Alcala’s inks, there was one person who absolutely loved them: Don Newton.
Don's friend Jay Willson tells of a time when Alcala was going to a convention in California and stopped by a local Phoenix comic book shop to sign
Don stood in line with everyone else and waited his turn to get Alcala’s signature. When it was Don’s turn, Alfredo asked to whom he should sign the book and when Don said, “Don Newton” Alcala’s face lit up. “You are
the Don Newton, the man I ink on Batman?” Don nodded yes. Alcala came around the table and they hugged and they both began to talk at once about how much they loved each other’s work. Alcala talked about what an honor it was to ink Don’s pencils and Don returned the compliment, telling Alcala how much he appreciated the richness and beauty of Alfredo’s inks.
Don had suffered through many poor inkers during his career, but he never considered Alcala to be one of them. This would be the only time the two would meet, face to face.
On his wonderful website, Mark Evanier recounts one of my favorite Alcala
Alcala's transition to drawing for the American market began in the early seventies when an intermediary arranged for a group of artists in the Philippines to sell work to DC Comics. Alfredo often told the tale of going to a hotel in Manila to show his samples to Joe Orlando, one of DC's senior editors.
Orlando was naturally impressed with the quality of the work he was shown. He told Alfredo that DC would hire him and asked how many pages per week he could produce.
"Forty," said Alfredo.
The editor was startled. The least exhaustible DC artist would be hard-pressed to pencil and ink ten pages in a week. Then he realized that Alfredo probably assumed he would only pencil or only ink. "No, no," Orlando said. "We want you to do all the art...pencil, ink, even lettering."
"I see," Alfredo muttered. "I pencil, I ink, I letter?"
"Yes," Orlando nodded. "Now, how many pages per week do you think you can do?"
"Forty," said Alfredo.
Again, the editor was startled. Obviously, there was some sort of misunderstanding here. He figured that the artist before him was thinking in terms of very simple pages with only two or three panels on each and no detail. Fortunately, Orlando had brought along with him, several dozen pages of original art from past DC books. He showed Alfredo pages by Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan and others.
"We want work like this...these many panels per page, and this detailed," Orlando explained.
"Oh," Alfredo nodded. "You want me to pencil, ink and letter pages like this?"
"Well," Alfredo explained. "That changes things."
"I would think so," Orlando sniffed. "Now then...how many pages a week do you think you can do?"
"Eighty," said Alfredo.
Skeptical and disbelieving, Orlando put Alfredo down for 40 pages per week. Soon after, when Alcala pages began arriving at DC at that rate, it was assumed by some that "Alfredo P. Alcala" was the joint moniker of perhaps a half-dozen hands. Not so — as anyone who later saw Alfredo sketching at a convention can attest.
You can read Mark's complete biography of Alfredo, who died on Saturday, April 8, 2000 on his
website. While you're there you might want to look
around at all the wonderful columns Mark has written.
The Art of Don Newton
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