I’ve been meaning to write about one of my new favorite cartoonists, Jorge Zaffino, for a while. The Argentinian artist started working in American comics in the late 80s and throughout the mid 90s. As a kid I only saw his work in comic book ads, being that my local bodega didn’t sell Punisher graphic novels or Epic Comics. I was reminded of his work when he contributed to the excellent Batman: Black & White anthology series [#2, July '96], and I’ve been a fan since.
Zaffino’s most frequent collaborater, writer Chuck Dixon, discovered him through Ricardo Villagran. Dixon immediately recognized Zaffino’s talent and began working on what was to become WinterWorld (originally published by Eclipse). The art in it owes more to Joe Kubert than Attilo Micheluzzi, but that changed in the span of an issue or two.
The main thing I love about Zaffino’s work is that his inking may seem very loose, but it’s actually quite thought out. Such deliberate application makes inking seem like a challenging and fun task. Keep in mind, when I mention inking, I do so in regards to the method in which the majority of the drawing is done in ink, not the traditional method of having a tight pencil drawing as a strict blueprint to work from. I’m not entirely sure if that was how Zaffino worked, but the end results suggest that inking (as a school of thought) was made to be bolder.
Despite his fancy inking (he was an excellent painter as well), it’s Zaffino’s naturalism that adds dimension to his art. It’s the kind of naturalism that Garcia-Lopez and Jaime Hernandez have, where even without photo ref their pure drawing ability makes the work more “realistic” than any traced drawing could ever hope to be. It’s a sensibility that is completely missing from comics today. Things are either super stylized or hyper traced. That’s less of a criticism and more of an observation. Maybe cartoonists aren’t hardwired to draw like that anymore. It’s the kind of drawing that only comes from rigorous, old school art training and study.
I want to express what I mean by “naturalism” without beating a dead horse, but I can’t quite pinpoint it. Zaffino’s work is not illustrative in the classical way yet it relies heavily on a solid foundation of actual drawing skill. What sets him apart from, say, a Bryan Hitch type of artist, is not only his strong design sense, but the subtlety of human body language expertly portrayed, never stiff, never traced, and always expressive.
It’s said that Zaffino wasn’t a fan favorite and it’s pretty easy to see why. Although his sophisticated, post-Toth sketchiness impressed his peers and editors, most of Jorge’s American work came within a period where fandom was eating up the hyper slick approach that dominated the stands. The style I’m referring to, a marriage of Manga and Michael Golden, was a widespread phenomenon in the 90s (and beyond) and left little to no room for artist’s like Zaffino to cultivate their comics voice any further. Zaffino didn’t work much for the big publishers past 1991, but what little he produced was always excellent, well worth taking note of.
Denys Cowan, who is largely influenced by Zaffino, has a great story about meeting him back in the day. Check out the Denys Cowan interview (the Zaffino and Alberto Breccia stories in the beginning of the lengthy interview).
IDW has released a reprint of Winteworld in black & white (with some extra unseen material). Funny how while Zaffino’s work seems to benefit from the black and white production, his work was mostly in color (sometimes transforming the rich black areas into muddled grays). With this new collection of older material, we’ll get to see his ink work the way it deserves to been seen.
But forget production values or industry trends. Zaffino’s work will always be amazing. It still holds up today and although he’s always been on my periphery, I’ve slowly developed a strong fondness for his work. I’ll have to trace back and look for his older material to fulfill the completist art geek in me, but the comics I already have of his will last me for a long time.