Ernie Chan, R.I.P.

I am back, alas, with an obit. Ernie Chan, one of the most prolific comic artists in American comics of the seventies, has died at the age of 71. His death (from cancer) comes right after the passing of his Filipino colleague Tony DeZuniga just last week.

As mentioned then here: In the early seventies, DeZuniga opened the door for the many comic artists in the Philippines to work for the publishers in this country, starting with DC Comics. Due to the different economy, DC found themselves able to get professionally-drawn comic book pages for a fraction of what they paid American artists. The work also was often quite excellent and work by Filipino illustrators filled DC's ghost, war and western comics. To the great frustration of management, those artists rarely seemed to be able to produce what the company wanted for its mainstay, the super-hero titles. Time and again, DC tried those artists out on Superman, Batman or other such features and the result was usually unsatisfactory. Ernie Chan, whose name then was Ernie Chua, was a rare exception.

Ernie "got" the style that was wanted. In fact, he did it so well that when he relocated to the United States — for personal reasons and to earn American rates — he wound up doing hundreds of covers for DC and drawing the Batman feature for several years. Readers also knew him for his long association with Conan the Barbarian at Marvel, finishing the pencil work of John Buscema and sometimes drawing stories on his own. He was fast and dependable and very much in demand.

I believe I met Ernie at the San Diego Comic Con (now the Comic-Con International) in 1976. He and Alfredo Alcala were doing wonderful color sketches for fans at bargain rates to raise money to help an ailing artist-friend back in the Philippines. I commissioned one from each and as Ernie worked on his, he told me proudly how he'd just achieved U.S. citizenship and had taken the opportunity to change his surname from Chua to Chan, restoring the original family name that had been changed against their will — I don't recall just why.

I asked him if he was going to start signing his comic book work as Ernie Chan. He said he was trying to decide that. People knew him as Chua and there was the thought that one should keep one's "brand" intact.  As he was very close to finishing my piece, I asked him to sign it "Ernie Chan" and he did…and before the con was out, he decided to sign all his drawings that way. So I think I have very first drawing by Ernie Chan. I'm sorry to hear that now someone someplace has the last.