Star Wars Art: Comics, a new book from Abrams which showcases the best original artwork from the past three decades of Star Wars comic-book publishing, has just been released this week, much to the delight of Star Wars comic art aficionados. One of the artists prominently featured throughout the new book is comic legend Carlos Garzón, whose Star Wars illustrating career reaches all the way back to Marvel’s The Empire Strikes Back series in 1980. Friend, author, and StarWars.com contributor Ryder Windham caught up with Garzón during last year’s Celebration V to discuss his long and varied career in the world of comics —
The Star Wars Art of Carlos Garzón
by Ryder Windham
Longtime fans of Star Wars comics will recognize the name Carlos Garzón as the artist who worked with writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson on the Marvel Comics adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and several episodes of the syndicated Star Wars comic strip. I had the great pleasure of meeting Garzón and seeing his portfolio of original art at Star Wars Celebration V, and he graciously answered many questions about his life and work.
Garzón was born in Bogotá, Columbia, in 1945. A self-taught artist, he has loved comics since childhood, and read a wide range of humor, science fiction, and western titles. “I used to keep a box of comics under my bed,” he recalls. “There were many nights that I went to sleep with a comic on my chest.”
He created his own adventure comic strip, El Dago, in 1967. About the same time, he came across Flash Gordon comic books illustrated by Al Williamson, who was already legendary within the industry for his science fiction and fantasy art for EC Comics in the 1950s. After learning that Williamson had grown up in Bogotá, he sent some art samples to his idol, who was then living in New York. Impressed, Williamson eventually invited Garzón to work with him, and Garzón arrived in New York in January 1970. “It was a dream come true! Al’s studio was something awesome. He had the most incredible collection of original comics and [reel-to-reel] movies that you could imagine.”
Garzón’s 1972 artwork for Flash Gordon
In the early 1970s, Williamson drew the comic strip Secret Agent Corrigan, which was scripted by Archie Goodwin, and also assisted John Cullen Murphy on the strip Big Ben Bolt. Garzón almost immediately found himself working on both strips, and he assumed all art duties for Big Ben Bolt from 1972 to 1976. He also drew Flash Gordon for Gold Key comics, and proved he was equally adept at drawing such cartoon favorites as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
In 1976, Williamson learned he had another admirer, a young filmmaker named George Lucas, who hoped to enlist the famed artist to draw a comic book adaptation of a movie called Star Wars. However, contractual obligations and an already overwhelming workload prevented Williamson from taking the assignment. In 1978, he worked on a test run of Star Wars comic strips, but again had to decline because of schedule conflicts.
Fortunately, both Williamson and Garzón were available when Marvel Comics needed an art team for The Empire Strikes Back, which began in Star Wars #39. That issue included a message from editor/writer Archie Goodwin, who described the artists’ unusual method of collaboration. “Unlike most teams listed in comic book credits, Al isn’t strictly the penciler and Carlos strictly the inker. They each do some of both, switching back and forth, sometimes from page to page, sometimes even from panel to panel, or even within a given panel. The end result is one smooth, high quality style, and an adaptation we at Marvel are very proud of.”
For all the “back and forth” of the collaboration, Garzón clarifies that he was never Williamson’s inker, that they always inked their own respective pencils. “Usually, Al drew the figures, and I drew the backgrounds. Occasionally, I helped him out with some figures. He loved the way I draw space ships, and would say, ‘They look metallic!’”
Asked to distinguish his work from Williamson’s on specific pages and panels for Star Wars comics, Garzón admits that he and Williamson sometimes had difficulty keeping track of such details. “After years of working together, many times we did not know who had done the job. Sometimes we used to ask each other, ‘Did you do this? Or did I?’”
Now living in Orlando, Florida, Garzón has plans to write and draw his own children’s picture book and a graphic novel. He also hopes to attend more conventions. “I greatly enjoyed Celebration V. It’s unbelievable that thirty years have passed since we did the adaptation to The Empire Strikes Back. It was a nostalgic reunion with the past. And it gave me the chance to meet people that I have always admired by name but I didn’t know personally, like Jeff Carlisle.”
Garzón hopes to have the opportunity to create new art for Star Wars in the future. Meanwhile, fans can look forward to seeing more of this veteran artist’s work in Star Wars Art: Comics, available now at Abrams.
Visit the Star Wars Art of Comics panel at New York Comic Con featuring Executive Editor Jonathan Rinzler and artists Frank Quitely and Amanda Conner
Saturday, October 15
2:45PM – 3:45PM