2012-04-25 / Front Page

Fans can’t get enough of comics great Rudy Nebres

Iconic artist gearing up for crowd of 200,000 at San Diego Comic-Con this summer
BY CHUCK O’DONNELL Correspondent

Rudy Nebres Rudy Nebres Rudy Nebres’ drawing table is nestled in the corner of his Colonial-style home in Edison, insulated from the banging pots and running water coming from the kitchen.

Pencils and brushes stand at attention at the side of his table. Rows of art books, graphic novels and reference materials line shelves behind him. Batman, Superman and the rest of his beloved collection of 10- inch scale Justice League action figures watch vigilantly from the top of a nearby display case.

Nebres is 72, sits here every day and diligently draws.

In fact, after more than four decades as a professional comic book artist, he’s as busy as ever. His spring and summer schedule is filled with comic book show appearances.

Call it the Rudy Nebres U.S. Tour. The Super WildPig show at Embassy Suites Hotel in Piscataway on May 5-6 is just one of the stops. He planned to attend the Pittsburgh Comicon onApril 20-22, then the Big Wow ComicFest on May 19-20 in San Jose, Calif., and from July 12-15, he’ll be at the San Diego Comic-Con — the biggest show in the country that attracts more than 200,000 fans.

Rudy Nebres with his wife Delores and sons Melvin (r) and Edwin. Rudy Nebres with his wife Delores and sons Melvin (r) and Edwin. Many of these fans collect the works of their favorite artists, so they will find Nebres at his table in artist alley at the shows. Some will commission him to draw a sketch for them, but others will buy one of the works he’s penciled in advance.

In order to meet the demand, Nebres spends most of his days at his drawing table, creating sketches of barbarians slaying serpents or ax-wielding warriors in mid-chop to sell at the shows.

“I still love to draw,” said Nebres. “And I love to meet fans. I can’t believe it when I meet someone and they tell me about something I drew in a comic book 30 or 40 years ago. But it stayed with them all this time.”

“They’ll come up to him at shows and have such wonderful things to say,” said Nebres’ son, Edwin. “He has a dedicated following.”

It’s not surprising that Nebres can still draw a crowd considering that he is one of the most gifted artists in comics history.

Growing up a prodigy with a pencil in the Philippines, he was able to attend art school because of the sacrifices of his parents. They sold their personal possessions to pay the tuition. He got his first professional work as a teen and was getting steady work before he could graduate.

In the early 1970s, he was part of a group of Filipino artists who blazed a path into American comics. Tony DeZuniga was dynamic. Alfredo Alcala was hyper detailed. Alex Nino was surreal. Nestor Redondo was realistic.

But Nebres says what set him apart was developing such a strong grasp of anatomy that even his teachers in Manila were impressed.

“I was able to make the people I drew exaggerated with a lot of muscles, but also make it seem realistic,” he said. “The key is the collarbone. If that’s off, the whole drawing will be wrong.”

Veteran writer Doug Moench remembers going up to the DC offices in Manhattan and being asked to look at a bunch of sketches submitted by Filipino artists. He stopped cold when he saw Nebres’ work and practically begged the editors to hire him.

“The first time I saw [Nebres’ work],” Moench said, “I think I called it both flamboyant and tight — like the same way you would say a band is tight.” Legendary comic book creator Neal Adams got in his corner, too, pushing the editors at DC to give Nebres and his countrymen more work.

“[Nebres] has got to be one of the nicest guys in comics,” Adams said. “He’s very humble, almost too self-effacing. He’s humble to the point that I want to hit him in the head and say, ‘You’re better than you think you are. You’re great.’

“He’s that humble, but he puts better lines on the page than any artist or inker I know.”

Nebres started working at DC in 1972, moved to the United States in 1975, became a U.S. citizen in 1978, and went on to pencil hundreds of comics for the biggest publishing companies. Soon, top-flight artists such as John Buscema and Gil Kane began asking to have Nebres as their inker — an underrated but vital job of the creation process that completes the drawings and makes images stand out when the colorist plies his trade. One of Nebres’ proudest moments was when Buscema told a room packed with people at a comic convention, “Rudy is my favorite inker.” Longtime Marvel editor Ralph Macchio remembers working with Moench and Buscema on a high-profile project in the late 1970s called “Warriors of the Shadow Realm.”

“We needed an inker to work on John’s brilliant pencilers who would bring his own flair to the pencils, yet not overpower the delicacy of what John had drawn,” Macchio said. “We were astounded at how faithfully he rendered John’s pencils yet added his own special touch.”

Although Nebres proved he could do it all, from traditional capes and tights (The Hulk, Spider-Man) to horror (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella) to martial arts (Iron Fist, Master of Kung Fu), his specialty was the strange and mystic beings that inhabited the sword and sorcery genre.

Nebres’ images of warriors with gritted teeth and bulging biceps leaping into battle against fantastic winged beasts or fierce fanged predators set in an other-world jungle seemed to leap right off the page. Even today, when fans approach Nebres for a sketch at conventions, they inevitably ask him to conjure up the images he created in the pages of Conan, John Carter or the Red Sonja.

So he goes back over to his desk and produces a handful of sketches he’s been working on.

“I want each one to be different, unique,” he said. “If I concentrate, I can finish one a day.”

The shows are a family affair for Nebres. His wife, Delores, and sons Melvin and Edwin are constantly by his side. Delores helps out when Rudy occasionally struggles to express himself, jumping in to finish his sentences.

The family grew even closer a few years ago after Edwin had a stroke while working in NewYork in 2007. Rudy remembers racing to the hospital in Manhattan, his mind racing with questions: Is my son OK? Is he going to live?

Edwin’s life was likely saved because he got immediate medical attention. He has gone through a grueling rehabilitation process after suffering damage to his right foot, and Rudy sometimes has to take time away from the drawing table to drive him around town.

But Rudy says he’s blessed to have his family around him at the shows.

“It’s amazing when these people come up to him and talk about some obscure stuff he drew years ago,” Edwin said. “His fans are diehards.”

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