Ric Estrada, R.I.P.
Comic book and animation artist Ric Estrada died this morning, the result of a long, losing battle with cancer.
Ric was born February 26, 1928 in Havana, Cuba and began selling his work at age 13 to a popular Cuban magazine called Bohemia. He attended University of Havana where, he always claimed, another student was Fidel Castro. Via a relative, he developed a friendship with Ernest Hemingway, who took an interest in the young artist's work and encouraged him to relocate to New York. Ric moved there at age 20 but never stayed in one place for very long, travelling the world and living briefly in dozens of other cities. Whenever he was back in Manhattan, he managed to work in comic books, including two of his proudest jobs…stories for the EC war comics edited and written by Harvey Kurtzman. Other companies that were glad to have his art included Hillman, Western Publishing, St. John and Ziff-Davis.
Ric occasionally dabbled in newspaper strips, including assisting on Flash Gordon and drawing some of the Flash Gordon comic books. Most of his comic book work was done in the sixties and seventies for DC, primarily on romance and war comics. But there was a period where (against his preference, he said), he was assigned to super-hero titles, primarily as a "rough penciller." Ric didn't like super-heroes and didn't feel he had the flair for them, and he also didn't like producing anything less than finished artwork. Still, that was where he was told his services were needed so he pencilled comics like All-Star Comics, Freedom Fighters and Karate Kid.
He did not feel capable of producing the kind of tight pencil art that most other artists did for such assignments so, on mutual agreement with his editors, he did something looser. He was paid less than if he'd done complete pencil art and his understanding was that the other artists who finished the work would be paid extra. Years later, Ric was extremely upset to learn that several of those artists weren't paid the higher rates, and that they resented Ric for not doing his portion of the work. A sensitive man, he apologized to at least one of the "finishers," who accepted Ric's explanation and declined an offer of money right out of Ric's own pocket.
Despite the grief it caused him and his own dissatisfaction with the work, it was often quite wonderful…though not as grand as when Ric was allowed to be Ric. Besides, Ric was never satisfied with his own work. In the seventies, he did several war stories for DC's combat titles that garnered great praise, particularly from his fellow artists. It was hard to tell Ric how good you thought they were without him blushing red and giving you an honest, humble argument.
Though Ric drew several of my scripts for DC in the seventies, we didn't really meet until the eighties when he moved to Los Angeles and worked for the Hanna-Barbera studio as a designer and layout artist. He was much-loved about the building…and repeatedly flattered as younger artists sought him out to praise his comic work. We did one non H-B project together (a super-hero story, despite his preferences) and talked often of doing others which, I'm sad to say, never reached fruition. After leaving H-B, he relocated to Utah but managed to make it several years to the Comic-Con International and to occasionally sit on panels I hosted there.
Ric was married three times and had eight children. One son, Seth, is currently producing a documentary on his father. You can find out more about it at the Ric Estrada website and view some of the raw footage on this page. I hope to add my voice to it because Ric was one of my favorite people and one of my favorite artists. It's amazing how often those two things go together.