A Picture’s Worth #81: “Ernie Chua and Ernie Chan: A Lotta Lines Of Inspiration”
All contents ©2012 Mike Pascale. Visual content ©2012 their respective owner(s).
Barely over a week ago, we lost Tony DeZuniga, first Filipino graphic storyteller to break into the American mainstream.
This past week, his fellow Pinoy, Californian, Marvel/DC co-worker, and frequent Artist Alley neighbor, Ernie Chan.
If we made this up, it would be labelled a “contrived coincidence” and “morose”. Sadly, it’s just “life.” And in this case, “cancer.”
I’ll let the many other blogs and sites cover Ernie’s impressive history and career—and impressive they are—instead I’m going to focus more on the intangibles. (Especially since I’m writing this at the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay For Life ® outdoors at 1AM at a high school track field with no Internet connection!)
Like others of my generation, I first encountered “Ernie Chua” as a kid in the pages of a DC comic. Pretty sure it was CLAW THE UNCONQUERED #1 (basically DC’s version of Conan). His name soon started showing up on almost all the company’s covers., as well as the interiors of BATMAN. I then noticed a guy named Ernie Chan in Marvel comics. There were several but the title I remember most was CONAN THE BARBARIAN, where he inked John Buscema and later took over all the art chores.
But I wasn’t fooled. This Chan guy drew and inked just like Chua! (I didn’t find out till recently that Ernie changed “back” to Chan after becoming a US citizen around 1976.) I knew that style a mile away.
For my young adolescent eyes, the sheer technique was pretty amazing. Intricate linework, pen or brush, making Buscema’s already solid forms even more so, while adding dimension and gobs of texture. So much detail and depth, yet the storytelling remained clear. As a professional many years later, I found out that’s not an easy thing to achieve. But Ernie made it look easy.
When I was in my mid-20s, trying to break into the comics field, I contacted a local artist who happened to be a semi-regular penciller on Marvel’s SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN magazine. He came off as rather cynical, especially to a bright-eyed, optimistic, naive greenhorn like I was. This artist was grousing about everything from the new breed of editors, to industry politics and pay scales, to what he considered sub-par inkers on his work.
When he showed me some pages of his that were inked by Ernie, he said, “Fans like his stuff ’cause it has a lotta lines…so editors keep hiring him.” I chuckled at the over-simplified criticism, but he clearly meant it as a dig. I repeated it to my pal (and later cover artist) Dean Armstrong, we giggled, and it stuck. For a decade or more after that, every time we saw or heard the name “Ernie Chan”, one of us would say, “A lotta lines.” Somewhat dismissively, I’m ashamed to say.
But the older, more experienced I became, and the more work of his and others I studied, the more I realized how unfair that label was. When I finally had the pleasure to meet Ernie (in my 40s) at what would become one of many CA conventions, I bought his softcover art book (Wench & Co.). I looked over the many commissions and pinups for sale in his portfolio; and I realized an important distinction:
Yeah, Ernie inked with “a lotta lines.” But dammit, they were well-placed lines.
And that’s the difference between a hack and a craftsman. Ernie knew where and why he was putting all those strokes and what effect they would achieve. He wasn’t doing it to please anal, unsophisticated fans (or editors), and he certainly wasn’t doing it “just to get it done”, because it obviously took more time to put them in than leave ’em out.
That’s one of the things that made Ernie Chan’s work special to me, and inspiring. Like many of his detail-obsessed Pinoy colleagues, Ernie enjoyed that assumed obsession, and that helped make his artwork look so deceptively effortless.
The other thing that made Ernie special to me was, of course, Ernie. To anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting him, he was delightfully approachable, humble, easy-going, friendly, and full of humor and a quiet passion. As you can tell from his Facebook page and his web site, it was tougher to find a photo of Ernie not smiling than one with that delightful, slightly impish grin he usually wore.
That’s the Ernie I’ll always remember: the guy who drew with a “lotta lines”, a “lotta skill” and a a “lotta passion”–for a “lotta decades.”
And always had a “lotta smiles” for his fans.
Thanks again, Ernie Chan. California and conventions won’t be the same without you.