Jesse Santos, R.I.P.


Another day, another damned obit of a veteran comic book artist. This time, it's Jesse Santos, who died April 27 at the age of 83.

Jesse Santos was a superstar of Filipino comic books. He began drawing professionally at the age of 14 and during World War II, spent much time as a "sidewalk artist" drawing portraits of American servicemen stationed in the Philippines. They caught the attention of Tony Velasquez, who was regarded as the "Founding Father" of the Philippine comics industry. Before long, Santos was drawing for Halakhak Komiks, which was the first serialized comic book published in his country. He was soon in many of them — an amazingly prolific artist who was often entrusted with the all-important job of designing and rendering the covers.

In 1969, Santos has the opportunity to emigrate with him family to the United States, which he did, settling in Los Angeles. He was glad to be there but he was unable to connect with the U.S. comic book industry and wound up returning to his roots in a poor-paying job: He sat all day at Farmers Market, the famed local landmark, doing drawings of tourists.

One day, two men stopped at his little booth and admired several science-fiction paintings that Santos had on display to show the world what else he could do. The men, impressed with what they saw, asked him if he'd ever considered doing comic books. He told them in his flawed English, yes, he'd drawn one or two comic books per month for twenty years in his homeland. Within a matter of days, he had quit the caricature job and was drawing comic books again.

The two men were Chase Craig and Del Connell, editors for Western Publishing Company's line of Gold Key Comics. They assigned Santos an educational comic that required diligent historical research and soon, he was drawing a new newsstand comic the company had decided to launch — Dagar the Invincible, created and written by Don Glut. It was successful and was soon joined by another Glut creation, The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. On the latter, he replaced Dan Spiegle and proceeded to make the character quite his own.  The editors at Western loved Jesse's work and he was one of the few artists on their adventure-type comics who was engaged to paint the covers of comics he illustrated.  His paintings were especially striking.

Even before Western shut down its comic line in 1984, Santos drifted into animation design. He worked on many programs but his artistry especially dominated the Legend of Prince Valiant animated series produced in 1992. The list of other shows where his art could be seen include The Bionic Six, Jem, Blackstar, Dino-Riders and Tiny Toon Adventures.

I always enjoyed seeing Jesse's work and also talking with him, though the latter could be a bit difficult as his English never got to be very good. He was a jolly man who clearly loved to draw and I think that's evident in his work, much of which has recently been reprinted by Dark Horse Comics. I'll bet it's around for a long time. Sorry we didn't have Jesse for even longer.