The Defining Look Of DC Comics: A Birthday Tribute To Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
If you don’t know who José Luis García-López is by name, that’s actually pretty understandable. Despite a 40-year career in the comics industry that has seen him drawing virtually every major DC hero — a career that’s still going strong every time he puts pencil to paper — he’s very rarely enjoyed the kind of long, definitive run on a title that makes an artist a household name among comics fans.
But even if you’re not familiar with him, you’ve definitely seen his art. For years, he was not only the primary artist of DC’s licensed art, providing the versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman that exist on lunchboxes, t-shirts and other pieces of pop culture merchandise — a trend that continues even today on t-shirts that feature the classic designs — but he also drew the in-house style guides that defined the look of the DC Universe in the wider world. In other words, when you think of DC Comics, there’s a pretty good chance that the image in your head is one of his.
The thing about García-López, though, is that he’s far more than just a pinup artist. His figures always have a sense of dynamic action to them, and even when he’s drawing them in a simple turnaround, it looks less like a reference document and more like Superman himself just stopped in to have his picture taken before rushing off to go save the world again.
And when he gets into sequentials, that sense of motion and dynamic action carries through in a truly incredible way, with the action and humanity punctuated by big moments and splash pages that take the kind of over-the-top, action packed premises that you can only get from superhero comics – like Batman taking on an international crime syndicate holding an “Underworld Olympics” in Gotham City (Batman #272), or Lex Luthor using a growth ray on Superman to make his body giant-sized while keeping his brain relatively small to send him spiraling out of control (Superman #302) — and giving them all the energy and action that they need to work.
But even though it seems like a shame that García-López never got the kind of long run that would really showcase his talent — with the exception, of course, of his run on Atari Force alongside Gerry Conway, a comic that’s way better than a licensed book loosely based on video games like Asteroids and Centipede had any right to be — it’s easy to see why DC would keep him busy with the model sheets that they’d give to licensors to show them exactly how these characters should be drawn.
When you look at a Superman drawing by García-López — or Batman, or Green Arrow, or Wonder Woman, or Black Canary, or the Joker, or any of the other characters that he lent his skills to in the official in-house Style Guide — it looks like Superman. The clean lines, the heroic proportions, the confidence that comes through in the way they stand and smile at the reader. It’s all there, the DC heroes as they’re meant to be.
That, more than anything else, is what makes García-López so memorable. It’s not just the prominence of his work, the fact that you’ve seen his Justice League a hundred times without ever realizing it whenever you walk through the t-shirt section of your local department store, and it’s not just that when he gets the chance to lend his skills to a comic, he packs it full of adventure and motion — although if you want to see how good that can look, check out Batman Confidential #26-28, where he’s inked by the equally incredible Kevin Nowlan — it’s that everything he draws looks right.
So happy birthday, José Luis García-López, and here’s hoping for many more — and that DC finally puts that Style Guide out for the public to enjoy!