I didn’t know Carlos Ezquerra, but I met him once at a con. He autographed the comics I held, and then I moved on and he preceded to do the same for the next hundred people in line.
I didn’t grow up on his comics. I was well into my teens when I got into serialized comics and deep into my twenties by the time I became invested in 2000AD.
I write this just to make something clear. This is not about personal investment (this was not someone who shaped my life from early on), this is pure objective assessment of a comics fan / scholar who tells you plainly: Carlos Ezquerra was one the greats. One of the all-timers. They made him, and then they broke the mold.
In his designs, in his character work, in his storytelling, in the frank brutality of his action scenes… I have read thousands of Ezquerra pages and he doesn’t seem to have make a bad one. Even if the story itself was a dud, such as the misfire Judge Dredd: Inferno (Grant Morrison’s major contribution to the Judge Dredd mythos and something even his biggest fans try hard to forget), you could be sure he did his best to bring them to life.
At first, getting into Judge Dredd, I wasn’t such a big Ezquerra fan. It’s not that I disliked his stuff, it’s simply that I always considered him “Ol’ Reliable.” He didn’t have the slickness of Brian Bolland, the dramatic weight of Colin McNeil, the over-the-top violence of Simon Bisley, or the comedic touch of Ron Smith. He was just… there. It was only in retrospect, deep into the read-through, that I began to understand that I took him for granted, because he never failed. Like a Stan Sakai or a Sergio Aragones – someone who is so good at being himself you set your expectations impossibly high. If Carlos Ezquerra ever failed as an artist, it’s probably such a distant memory, something from his early days in Spanish comics, it might as well never have happened.
The other great thing about reading his Judge Dredd work as corpus is realizing how good he was at adapting his style to different areas. An Ezquerra page is immediately recognizable, these jagged little edges that define every character, the way he shifts into a montage mode for scenes of massive violence (he loved drawing people shot down in a quickdraw), yet his work never appears old fashioned.
Consider The Apocalypse War with its post-‘70s aesthetic still in check – the strong lines, the black-and-white clarity of the storytelling and the straightforwardness of it all (which just makes the bleakness of the humor even funnier). Now compare this to ‘90s-heralding Necropolis with its sickly color palate and dark horror mood; totally different yet immediately identifiable as the same artist. The ‘90s brought down so many good 2000AD artists, trying to catch the lightning-in-a-bottle painted style of Simon Bisley, but Ezquerra adapted quickly – going a bit rougher and dialing up the comedy.
Of course, Carlos Ezquerra was much more than Judge Dredd. That might have been the character that made him famous, but you could see his heart truly lay less in the rigid personality and cityscapes of Dredd and more in the open plains and justice-minded protagonist of Strontium Dog (also co-created by John Wagner – the two were comics’ greatest double act). The strip, in many ways a spiritual descendant of his early Western and war comics work (such as the soon-to-be-printed El Mestizo), saw mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha gunning his way across a galaxy that despises his kind yet always needs them to do the dirty works normies refused to do. Unlike Judge Dredd, which could comfortably be passed from artist to artist, Johnny Alpha always felt like Ezquerra’s baby, and it was always weird to see someone else struggle with drawing him. (One of the reasons the strip The Final Solution falls short is the absence of Ezquerra, who didn’t want to kill off the character in such a manner.)
The original Strontium Dog run is one of the best overall in comics; it hits its stride early and never really drops. Special highlight goes to the “Rage” storyline which sees Johnny Alpha going on a murder spree across the galaxy, hunting down the people who killed his best friend. It’s a story that starts up hard and fast and just never stops – shockingly brutal in emotion and execution.
A personal favorite (and one you could see he really liked drawing) was Cursed Earth Koburn, a Judge Dredd spin-off which focused on the titular rough-and-tumble judge operating outside of the city. An obvious continuation of one of Ezquerra’s World War II comic strips, Major Eazy (the two share the exact laconic body language and stubble), the first story even saw Koburn taking on a bunch of Nazis just to make sure everybody gets the homage. It’s a particularly deep story, written by old 2000AD hand Gordon Rennie. He mostly gets out of his Ezquerra’s way, though, letting Carlos draw what he wants to draw: action scenes, open desert, a man and his metal steed.
Both of these strips got another story in 2018. Wagner and Carlos united for “Strontium Dog: The Son,” and Ezquerra teamed with 2000AD newbie Rory McConville to tell “The Law of Cursed Earth.” Though both offer the opportunity of continuation, as corporate strips must, their existence also feels like a proper epitaph; the last ride of the old generation.
There’s more, of course. So much more. Most of his pre-2000AD stuff is only now dripping back into print thanks to the Library of British Comics, though Titan press did have some short runs of Major Eazy and Rat Patrol in some expensive hardcovers). And there’s also some amazing work he did with Garth Ennis in America throughout the years. War Story: Condors is a personal favorite which shows how to do an all-talking comics well. And stuff like Al’s Baby or the early Judge Anderson stories. It was a lifetime of comics making, and quite frankly it would take a lifetime to properly appreciate all that he had done.
I did not know Carlos Ezquerra, but I knew his art – and through his art it feels like I knew the world better.