The life and work of Juan Giménez, an artist who redefined the science-fiction aesthetic in comics.
– Masters of comics: Juan Giménez
– Meeting Ricardo Barreiro: La Estrella Negra and Ciudad
– Temporal paradoxes and the use of colour
– The 1990s and The Saga of the Meta-Barons
– The enormous legacy of Juan Giménez
Juan Antonio Giménez López, known simply as Juan Giménez, was an Argentine comic book artist widely considered one of the greatest ever cartoonists and credited with visually redefining science fiction in comics. Born in 1943 in Mendoza, he started drawing his first stories at school when his family moved to the city of Rio Cuarto, in the province of Cordoba, in 1957. Not long afterwards, he began his career as a professional comics artist at just 16 with a story heavily influenced by the style of Hugo Pratt.
At the start of his career, Giménez’s style was minimalist, and black and white; his heroes, other than the aforementioned Pratt, were the masters of South-American comics, such as Alberto Breccia, José Muñoz and Francisco Solano Lòpez.
Juan Giménez was also inspired by Argentine magazines like Misterix and the comic Bull Rockett, written by Héctor G. Oesterheld, the great Argentine comics author who penned, among others, the masterpiece that is The Eternaut. Tragically, Oesterheld was murdered by the military in 1978 during Argentina’s dictatorship (he was one of the so-called “desaparecidos”).
Giménez set aside comics for a time while he studied industrial design at high school. It was to have a major influence on the way he drew comics, teaching him about ergonomics and how to apply them to what he drew. It also kindled his great passion for all things mechanical, which would be a recurring theme in his work.
“Suddenly, you learn how a machine works, how an internal combustion engine works, why an aeroplane flies… And you want to draw things based on what you know”, he would later explain.
After high school, Giménez attended the National University of Cuyo’s School of Art and Design, before heading to Europe to enrol at the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona.
Meeting Ricardo Barreiro: La Estrella Negra and Ciudad
Towards the end of the 1970s, while still in Europe, Juan Giménez met Ricardo Barreiro, a fellow Argentine and writer, with whom he would return to the world of comics with As de Pique (Ace of Spades). These war stories eschewed the traditional narrative of goodies and baddies. Each episode of As de Pique had a strong anti-war message and told of the horrors of the Second World War.
Success came with 1979’s La Estrella Negra (The Dark Star), his first full-colour work of science fiction. In it we see Giménez’s first experiments with colour, particularly through the use of evocative watercolours, as the artist gradually developed his signature style.
In 1982, working again with Barreiro, Giménez published Ciudad (City), in which main characters Jan and Karen attempt a seemingly impossible escape from a science-fiction metropolis. Blending elements of reality and fiction with nods to the Pied Piper of Hamelin and Borges, the story reads as an allegory for a society living under dictatorship, as was Argentina at the time.
In this work, which comprises a series of interwoven short stories, Giménez’s style gradually evolves with pages that are ever more complex in their layout and drawing.
Temporal paradoxes and the use of colour
The enormous expressive power that the Argentine brought to every page didn’t go unnoticed. In 1981, Giménez was approached by American comics magazine Heavy Metal, the sister publication of France’s Métal Hurlant, to create a storyboard for the Harry Canyon chapter of the animated film Heavy Metal.
At this stage in his career, Giménez was also working in other areas such as a costume design and advertising. When he arrived in Europe, he also started collaborations with comics magazines, from Spain’s 1984 to France’s Métal Hurlant and Italy’s L’Eternauta.
He began working on a series of short stories that would eventually be published under the title A Matter of Time. In it, the author showed a more mature use of colour, using only diluted primary colours which, mixed with other hues, enabled him to obtain all the shades he wanted.
A Matter of Time contains seven stories about time, exploring in particular the consequences of interfering with it, by using a time machine, for example. These seminal comics, undoubtedly inspired by The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, came out before the immensely popular Back to the Future saga.
With diverse settings spanning the Far West to the Second World War, these standalone stories are narrated in an ironic style reminiscent of Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) and are testament to Giménez’s incredible ability to draw practically anything.
Also noteworthy is the extraordinary Basura (Trash), with words by Carlos Trillo, published in 1988 but very much topical today: in this dystopia, the Earth has been reduced to one big rubbish dump by humans, who have become deformed through the resulting exposure to radioactive waste.
The 1990s and The Saga of the Meta-Barons
Towards the end of the 1980s, Juan Giménez also began writing the words for his comics with the series Leo Roa and The Fourth Power: the first is a science-fiction comedy, while the second is an extremely ambitious tetralogy with a complex storyline. At the same time, Giménez continued his experiments with design and colour, especially airbrush technique.
He would also work with great writers like Carlos Trillo and Alejandro Jodorowsky, creating thrilling drawings for the hit The Saga of the Meta-Barons series. This was a spin-off from The Incal, which was written by
Jodorowsky with drawing by Moebius.
Indeed, the Frenchman was a huge source of inspiration, especially early in Giménez’s career: “Moebius was like a shock to the brain. That variety of techniques, the daring with any subject, colour, black and white ”, said the Argentine.
And with The Saga of the Meta-Barons, Giménez continued to stun readers with his drawings, which literally exploded with science-fiction machinery.
Released between 1992 and 2003 by French publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés, it showed Giménez at the height of his powers, both in terms of page composition and colour.
The enormous legacy of Juan Giménez
Juan Giménez was a true master of comics, inspiring hundreds of younger artists and creating his very own science-fiction style. His diluted but highly expressive colours, his “dirty” pages dense with detail and the recurrent mechanical elements in his drawings have earnt him a deserved place in the comics hall of fame.
Over his career, he received a number of prestigious awards around the world. Between 1983 and 1985 and in 1990, readers of 1984 Comix Internacional magazines voted him best comics artist. In 1990, he also won the Gaudi prize in Barcelona and the Yellow Kid prize at the Lucca Comics & Games convention.
That wraps up our look at the life and work of Juan Giménez, who sadly passed away in 2020 from complications related to Covid-19.