Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ric Estrada: "...quite possibly the kindest, most humble gentlemen I have ever known."

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, as I prepared and presented the long series of posts on Albert Dorne you've been (hopefully) enjoying, I've maintained an ongoing correspondence with my friend Kent Steine. Kent shared some tremendous stories about Dorne with me that came via his old art teacher Owen Kampen, who had worked for Dorne at the Famous Artists School. Kent also made passing reference to another friend, Ric Estrada, whom he said had been a protegé of Dorne's. "I'll save the Ric Estrada story for later," Kent kept writing at the end of each note.

Later finally arrived a few days ago. With Kent's permission, I'm sharing the entire thing with you here - and including some Ric Estrada material I also happened to find in the Summer 1964 issue of Famous Artists magazine.

From Kent Steine:

Hello Leif,

Along with my teacher, Owen Kampen, I have mentioned the name Ric Estrada to you several times over our correspondence. Ric is an old friend and great fellow. Please allow me to tell you a little about him before I get to the final Albert Dorne story Ric told me many years ago. It took me a while to assemble this, my apologies for being late on the draw.

Ric was born in Havana, Cuba, and came to the U.S through the sponsorship of his uncle, journalist Sergio Carbo, and his friend, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was a positive influence on his early life.

Ric attended the Art Students League from 1948-50, studying under Howard Tafton. He studied advertising design at the School of Visual Arts in'52 and '53 and had completed the FAS course in 1951. A number of years ago, I had encouraged Ric to apply for the position of Chairman of the Art Department of the school I was instructing at during this time. The following is part of his professional biography, sent to me and dated May 2, 1992:

"In New York, I was lucky enough to become a protegé of Albert Dorne, the highest paid illustrator in America at that time, and founder of the highly successful Famous Artists Schools. In subsequent years I illustrated many texts, brochures and publications for them, including: The Famous Writers Course, Famous Photographers Technical Manual, and co-art directed the FAS Course for Talented Young People, later adopted as an art text in Sweden."

Ric did a great deal of comic book work during the 50's and early 60's for Hillman, St. John, National/DC, Ziff Davis and EC. He drew roughly 500 pages a year of action adventure, romance and war stories for the better part of sixteen years.

He also ghosted for Dan Barry during the 50' and 60's after Barry had taken over Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon daily. He also worked for Topps doing card sets like "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Frank Buck", "History of WWII" and "Ripley's Believe it or Not". He also did a lot of work on the newly launched Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Manhunt Magazine.

In the sixties Ric moved to Europe working for publications writing and illustrating, but ended up in West Berlin doing film work HELLO WEBER . . . GMBH, an advertising film studio, storyboarding and co-directing T.V. commercials (including the first prize winning Kodak Instamatic commercial). He also wrote and did political cartoons for Spandauer Volksblatt during this time.

He returned to New York in the 70's and divided his time between advertising and editorial work. He wrote for Dance Magazine, and drew storyboards for Ted Bates Advertising Agency for clients such as Hertz, Breck Shampoo, Coors, Alpo... moonlighted comics for Warner Communication, DC Comics (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman Sgt. Rock, Kanigher's Gallery of War, Karate Kid, Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter, League of Superheroes, and others)... illustrated children's books for McGraw Hill, Holt Reinhardt & Winston- CBS, Franklin Watts, Continental Press, and Readers Digest.

He illustrated lavish brochures and LP covers and liners for the Longines Symphonette Recording Society... illustrated a campaign promoting historical silver coins for the Danbury mint. Around this same time Ric taught drawing, color markers, graphic storytelling and the business of art at the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning two days a week for two years.

In the early eighties Ric moved to California and started doing storyboards, layouts, BG designs, and presentation illustrations for Marvel Studios, Filmation, Hanna Barbera, TMS, Saban Entertainment, DIC, Film Roman, and Warner Brothers.

As a staff artist at HB much of the other studio work was freelance. Ric also illustrated for Disney's Adventures Magazine.

Time to get back to the story related to me, about Albert Dorne. Leif, I could go on for a week about Ric. It is easy to see why Mr. Dorne took a personal interest in him. I have attached some of his super-cool work for your perusal.

Mind you, Ric Estrada is quite possibly the kindest, most humble gentlemen I have ever known. His admiration and devotion to Mr. Dorne seemed that of a son. He couldn't say enough about Albert Dorne's friendship and generosity over the years.

Ric once told me a story of unexpectedly attending a holiday party in the early 50's with Mr. Dorne. Not having been able to dress for the occasion, it had been pointed out that he wasn't wearing a necktie by one of the other attendees. Seeing an uncomfortable situation arising with a young unknown artist at a swank party, Mr. Dorne unknotted his own tie and gave it to Ric.

Quite possibly the most telling story that represented Albert Dorne's character and personality was also the the saddest. Ric was there with him the day he passed away. He had apparently been admitted to the hospital to perform a routine procedure. But something happened. A chart was misread, or something... that lead to him being given incorrect medication, or unnecessary action. Frankly, the facts surrounding this story were so enervating that I have long forgotten the specifics. They don't matter. He died unnecessarily.

To make matters worse. He knew. He knew before the doctors. According to Ric, Mr. Dorne accepted his untimely fate without resentment or anger. He had lived a rich full life to that point, and had touched a great many people.

Not sure how to end this one, Leif. Its a brick wall in the life and story of a great guy and superb illustrator. We should be thinking in terms of another 20 years of this man's life.

Hope you enjoy Ric's material. . .

With every good wish,


  1. This is wonderful. Ric was a hero of mine when I was growing up in the 70's for his DC artwork and to suddenly be reminded of how great the man is and to find out so much about him is quite mindblowing. Is there a biography of Ric or anything like that available do you know?

  2. I was a friend of Ric's in the last 12 or so years of his life. He really was a great friend and mentor. You may want to search for "Ric Estrada Movie" on Facebook. It's almost complete and being produced by his sons.

  3. You always manage to bring up the best work, artists and stories (although this one does have an abrupt and sad ending). Anyhow these guys were some of the best ever, a true golden era of illustration on this planet.

  4. Leif...i always like ric estrada's work...i had to look for his stuff mostly in war comics,because he did more of those...also he was his best when he inked himself...one of the most unique styles ive ever seen....i'd love to see a book on his stuff...

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  6. Those reportage drawings are little gems... thanks for posting.

  7. Leif
    I especially love his sketchwork. Hadn't seen any of that before. If there's any more where that came from, please post it up.

  8. Those "Hungry Eye" sketches from Turkey and Syria are among the most dazzling pen and ink drawings I have ever seen. Fantastic! (Also impressive is the amount of work he did for various clients. That's an impressive resume.)

  9. Just a credit note -- in that WONDER WOMAN art you show, the cover is drawn by Ross Andrdu and Dick Giordano. The Wonder Girl panels on the left are penciled by Estrada and inked by John Calnan.

    More nice Estrada comics work can be seen here:


  10. Huh, interesting... somebody commented on the Flickr page for that image that they thought that main figure looked like Ross Andru's work. Looks like you get the No-Prize, effendi ;^)

  11. What a wonderful reminiscence. Thanks for posting! I remember when Ric became ill and his family posted an address for cards; tho I never got to meet him I'm grateful to have sent him a card--so he was able to see the work of another "pro" who was influenced as a kid by his work, and hopefully made him smile.

    Very underrated and underappreciated artist. But WHAT A CAREER!! His comics work was but a drop in a very large creative bucket. He will live forever through his work, in many different forms. Thanks again!


  12. Ric's been traveling in spirit for over a year now. I just came across this post. I knew him personally, as many others did, and he was a great influence on me. As an artist, a nurturing father, loving husband, and natural mentor, I think Ric must have touched the lives of tens of thousands of artists throughout the years.
    The Al Dorne story is a sad one. Ric told me that his demise was caused by an allergic reaction to a medication, probably an anesthetic, that was administered to him. The notations were included in his medical file, but someone missed it. As I recall the tale, "I was sitting at his hospital bed-side, as this otherwise healthy man looked at me and said, 'I should not be dying. I'm not ready to go yet.' It was horrible."
    I think Ric spent the rest of his life sharing, as Mr. Dorne had with him, God-given gifts of creativity and personality with
    just about everyone that crossed his path.
    As Adrian mentioned, his sons, Seth in particular, have been working on a documentary of Ric's life and influence: