The Samurai Condemned to Live
From Elvira’s House of Mystery #2
DC Comics, 1985
Script: Robert Kanigher
Art: Angel Trinidad Jr.
Angel Trinidad Jr., is one of those cartoonists you may have never heard of . He created artwork for approximately ten short stories for DC Comics between 1981 and 1986.* According to Jerry Bails’ Who’s Who of American Comic Books, the only other artwork he is credited for are three “classics illustrated” type adaptations for Pendulum Press from 1974-76. Most likely though, Trinidad created a broader body of work in the Philippines.
His association with American comics began through the Redondo studio’s connection with Vince Fago in the 1970’S. Fago, an American cartoonist, known for his funny animal comics and editorial position at Marvel (proceeding Stan Lee) was impressed by the work of Nestor Redondo. Intent on compiling comics adaptations for adaptations of literary classics, he employed artists such as Alex Nino and Angel Trinidad Jr. For Pendulum, Trinidad illustrated The House of Seven Gables, Great Expectations and The Sea Wolf.
About five years later, Trinidad’s work began appearing in the DC war titles. He executed these tales (usually written by the prolific Robert Kanigher) with equal skill to a John Severin or Russ Heath. Still, there is a lush, decorative element to Trinidad’s work that makes it distinct from his American counterparts. Trinidad’s background details, cross-hatching techniques, well rounded and thoroughly rendered figures are more akin to Filipinos Alfredo Alcala and Nestor Redondo.
Of the three, I tend to like Trinidad’s work the best.
Trinidad’s page design is always interesting. He often makes use of a wide panel accompanied by three long panels on a single page. This structure brings to mind Japanese folding screens, which (perhaps just by coincidence) seems to work really well in telling this particular story of ancient Japan. Another way to identify Trinidad’s art is that he often rounds out the corners of his panels. His most exciting technique is his use of montage. In The Samurai Condemned to Live, he uses this technique numerous times (bottom of page 2, bottom of page 4, bottom of page 5, top of page 6).
The montage on the bottom of page three demonstrates Trinidad’s ability to show a variety of actions in a single panel. This might also be one of the most graphic depictions of violence in a DC comic up to this point. That’s five heads being chopped off! As complicated a scene as this might be to draw, Trinidad carries it off with ease. His almost humorous sound effects that are deftly incorporated into the scene, lend it an air of whimsy, so that we are not completely grossed out.
Trinidad always penciled, inked and lettered his pages himself. In compared to many other similar DC stories, these appear more labored over and in that sense, have more personality to them. There is a tremendous amount of variation in Trinidad’s line and this combination of heavy brushstrokes with scratchy crosshatching adds a heavy depth to his work. He packs a tremendous amount of detail into each panel. At the same time, the work is never extraneous. I particularly like his lettering technique with the use of a ragged scroll to incorporate the narration into the panel.
Page 8 shows Trinidad at his fantastic best. A dragon has never appeared so tremendous in such tiny panels. The whole composition of this thing really blows me away. Just take a close look at that third panel; there is so much going on. The horse is flying through the air, the samurai is stabbing the dragon in the eye with his sword, while the dragon is attempting to grab the horse and toss the dragon out of the air. Add to this the glorious, nonsensical sound effect of TZUUUNG, and the dragon’s tongue hanging out. What we have here is a totally confusing display of fantasy brought to life in the clearest sense. Most artists would attempt to show this in a minimum of five panels and not be nearly as successful.
Illustration technique aside, Trinidad is also able to tell this story with a stunning sense of drama. And there has never been a story quite as dramatic as this one in comics. It is basically a tale where every character involved dies. For DC, this was quite unusual. Fortunately, they chose the correct artist to illustrate it! As “Myobo left a trail of corpses bhind him like shattered fish tossed aside by the shore”, Trinidad has left behind a bloody good body of work that lends a great deal of mystery about this talented, though virtually unknown, creator.
*Comic Book Artist Magazine Volume 2, issue 4 lists Trinidad Jr. as having drawn 27 strips for DC, but I have yet to find this many.