Comics artist Eduardo Barreto died yesterday, December 15, 2011. He was 57.
Despite a pretty nasty bout with meningitis that he had recently, this was still quite a shock. Anyone who ever knew Eduardo would have trouble picturing him as anything but a vivacious personality full of joy and love. He was kind to everyone he met and I never knew him to work on any art job with anything less than passionate gusto.
And trust me, I worked with him on maybe one of the worst gigs he ever had. I first got to know Eduardo in the mid-1990s. I was an assistant editor for Diana Schutz at Dark Horse Comics. At the time, Eduardo was drawing a book called Aliens/Predator: The Deadliest of the Species. I was the third editor on the book. Diana had actually been the original editor, but she had passed the series on to someone else, who then left the company, and she had to take it back. Since I was still green and hadn’t had to deal with this nightmare prior, she told me I was responsible for it.
Eduardo wasn’t the first artist on the 12-issue miniseries either. The thing with this book was that it was being written by a superstar comics writer, one of the biggest there has ever been. You might note that it was called Aliens/Predator, and not Aliens vs. Predator, a franchise that actually originated in the comics. That’s what a big deal this writer was. He didn’t have to use the same title as everyone else.
This writer--I won’t name him, even though it will take you all of two seconds to figure it out--would be my first encounter with a big creative ego. Aliens/Predator: The Deadliest of the Species was meant to be a bimonthly book, but it had already been running for two years and it still wasn’t done. This was entirely the fault of the writer. Things were so bad, the original artist basically disappeared off the face of the earth while he was drawing the series. He later resurfaced and is still drawing comics. I never found out what happened to him. Has anyone ever faked his or her own death just to get out of finishing drawing a crappy comic?
Eduardo, who was an industry veteran of more than 15 years at this point, was hired to replace this particular Houdini and finish the series out. Looking at the collected version on my shelf, it looks like he took over at issue #4. So, the bulk of this tour of duty really was undertaken by Eduardo. I think I joined the team midway through. It was pretty amazing for me. I had read books by all of the members of the team when I was a teen. Even cover artist John Bolton was known to me as the artist of Black Dragon from Epic Comics. Eduardo Barreto had drawn New Teen Titans, and I still had the issues in a long box in my apartment. Holy crap!
Anyway, I am not throwing around the phrase “tour of duty” lightly. The art team and I definitely felt like we were in the trenches. We were hunkered down with all of our tools, and somewhere out there in No Man’s Land was the writer, sneaking around with the remnants of the script, withholding the material and threatening our livelihood. If this were about that gentleman, I would tell you the most outlandish lie a freelancer ever told me in my ten years of editing comics, a story so elaborate that the time it took to concoct it could have just as easily been spent writing the script. The son of a bitch even had the audacity to tell me he owed me a drink after it was all done. Guess what? I’m still waiting.
But no, it’s not about him. It’s about Eduardo. Who I spoke to regularly over a crackly phone line, spending a big chunk of Dark Horse coin to talk to my artist down in Uruguay, who was sitting on his hands and waiting for script pages, cheerful as can be, never letting on how much of his time was being wasted or how desperately his bank account might have been hanging in the balance. Eduardo and I formed a friendship in those empty days. I suppose it partially came out of that war mentality, that we were embattled under a common threat...but that really sells short the bond we established. Judging by Eduardo’s gregarious personality, I believe this was a bond he forged with everyone, I wasn’t necessarily special. Except to him. Eduardo was a fellow with hundreds of friends, and by my assessment, we were all exceptional in his eyes. No one human connection was more or less important than another. This was a guy who met you on an even playing field and would grab a shovel and start digging himself a hole if he thought somehow the earth would shift and he’d end up standing above you.
Ironically, the writer, for all the havoc he wreaked upon us, eventually provided us with one of my fondest memories of working with Eduardo. One of the scripts he finally turned in featured the main character going through two distinct virtual reality scenarios. One was in the old west, the other was on a faraway planet, in a science-fiction setting meant to mimic classic Flash Gordon comic strips. Eduardo was tickled pink by this opportunity. Though most comics readers know him for his work on Superman and Batman and the Teen Titans, what Eduardo really loved was genre fiction. To pay homage to Alex Raymond and Al Williamson was a dream come true for him, and even while 20th Century Fox was freaking out over Ed’s rendition of the Predator in a school marm’s dress in a saloon, Eduardo was enthusing about drawing gunslingers and rocket ships. These two short scenes were an oasis for him. Somehow, those few pages made all that time wandering in the creative desert worth it.
Eduardo and I worked together one more time before I left Dark Horse. He completed an Indiana Jones series that had been abandoned for various reasons and needed a good artist to step in and finish it up. It was a comic meant to, once again, evoke an older style. It had the look and the strict layout of classic newspaper strips. Eduardo used zip patterns to give it the appropriate retro feel, and he worked on a rigid grid-based panel structure. The series was Indiana Jones and the Sargasso Pirates. You should track it down if you can, if just to look at what Eduardo accomplished.
Of course, I left Dark Horse in 1998 and went to Oni Press. I didn’t talk to Ed much then. I never really imagined him working at Oni, he was kind of too big for us--at least in my mind. I had finally met him face to face at some point, he had made the trek up to Comic Con and it was an absolute pleasure to hang out. Sometimes I would meet freelancers with whom I had a solid editorial relationship and we’d find that it didn’t work in person, ours was a kinship meant for the phone. Not so with Eduardo. He was a man you knew would always be happy to see you, regardless of what kind of day you were having. Hell, regardless of the year you were having. To him, it was always good times.
Much to my surprise, sometime around 2002, I got a call from Eduardo. He was looking for work and wondered if I had anything he might draw. Are you kidding me? It just so happened that I had a project called Union Station that was being written by this guy that was until then known only as an inker, but it was shaping up pretty well. It was a true crime piece set in 1933. It had gangsters and G-men and a legendary shootout. The time period and the general feel of the book would be right up Eduardo’s alley. It was the kind of thing that would benefit from a journeyman of his skills.
Union Station couldn’t have been more opposite to that Aliens/Predator series. It was the kind of project where everything went right. Ande Parks writing and Eduardo Barreto drawing? It was a dream team! As an editor, I could put my feet up on the desk and watch the pages roll in. (Ande also has a nice write-up of the experience, along with some art, at his blog.)
It’s still a book I am enormously proud of, and I am glad it came along, because it gave my friend and I a chance to do a book that wasn’t embattled, to have a genuine good time together rather than gritting our teeth and smiling in the face of adversity. In fact, it went so smooth, I have no anecdote to share from it. The good ones often don’t have stories to go with them. It’s all there on the page.
I left Oni a year after Union Station was published and started writing. I still saw Eduardo at the occasional show, and we sent messages through various channels. Our communication wasn’t often--and not even close to being often enough--but whenever we did see each other, it was as if no time had passed. We never talked about collaborating, though, damn, I’d have loved to write for him. In fact, he never knew, but I imagined him on one of my books once.
This has been mentioned once or twice, but there was a period before I met Joëlle Jones when I was about to give up on ever finding a single artist for 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and so I proposed turning it into an anthology. 12 different artists, one drawing each reason. I would call in some favors and do some pleading, and I had a pretty good line-up planned. The idea was to mix and match a bunch of different styles, picking the artist depending on what the particular chapter demanded. I had Eduardo slated for Reason 6, the one where Evan accidentally proposes to Gwen and she freaks out. I envisioned Eduardo Barreto drawing it in the style of a 1950s romance comic. It was the center of the book and, no lie, getting Ed to do it would be the lynchpin, the whole justification for doing 12 Reasons in this manner.
Because to have him draw this section in his way would be proof of concept. He would provide the bonafide classic element that would offset all the young turks like Sean Murphy and Chris Mitten and Debbie Huey who I had slated for other chapters. For me, he would quite literally be the heart of that book.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. My editor and friend James Lucas Jones smartly talked me out of it and made me wait, reasoning that I didn’t want my first full-length graphic novel to be a mishmash like that. Clearly, that paid off.
Even so, to this day, if I am telling the story about how I almost did 12 Reasons Why I Love Her as a group piece, it’s Eduardo who I am thinking of, the one I can’t help but imagine as a “What if...?”
What if, pal. You make me wish I believed in something that said we could be together again and maybe make a comic with each other at long last. Or even just share another drink. What if.
Rest easy, my friend. I miss you like crazy already.
My thanks to the individual collectors who shared their Barreto pieces online so I could also share them here. Take some time exploring the Eduardo Barreto tag on Comics Art Fans to see more of his wonderful work.