Monday, April 18, 2011
While Salinas and Reed can hardly be credited with Cisco's creation, their work ranks with the best adventure strips: Prince Valiant, Scorchy Smith, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, Terry and the Pirates, and Secret Agent X-9 (later reprised by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson as Secret Agent Corrigan). The Kid is a hero in the tradition of the early Hollywood Western. Although he wears a sidearm and is an expert marksman, fistfights are more common than gunplay. There are liberal doses of humor and romance in well-constructed stories spanning anywhere from one to three months of daily strips. It's an entertaining read, but nothing earth-shattering.
The art, however, is stunningly good. Salinas came from a fine-art background and had worked in advertising since the late Twenties, achieving considerable fame in his native country. His comics work is neither hurried nor condescending. Details like the embroidery on Cisco's shirt are always rendered with immaculate precision, but Salinas is equally comfortable with lavish panoramic views of the Southwest, dramatic horseback chase scenes, and subtle, keenly observed body language. Painstakingly researched and utterly credible to a degree that evokes Hal Foster's best efforts, the strip also has a hint of the dramatic flair and dynamism of Frank Frazetta's Johnny Comet (1952-1953).
Few artists are masters of both of these extremes, however. Salinas was decidedly more akin to Foster than to Frazetta. Over time, his drawing became more and more rigid. By the 1970s, when he returned to comics, naturalism and spontaneity gave way to the same stilted, lifeless quality that undermined Foster's own later work. Other artists of great promise suffered the same fate: Wally Wood and Reed Crandall are two of the most tragic examples.
Copyright restrictions do not permit me to reproduce more of his magnificent work, but some examples can be found below. Classic Comics Press will be publishing the complete run of The Cisco Kid at some point, making Salinas's work available to the public for the first time since the long out-of-print 1983 Ken Pierce paperback collection.
A nice high-resolution image of a Cisco Kid daily
Another spectacular strip
A single panel
Another single with gorgeous lighting effects
Painted Illustrations of military figures through history
Classic Comics Press page with Cisco Kid strips
Eddie Campbell waxes rhapsodic about the Kid's shirt (with more art examples)