Rafael López Espí is an artist originating from Spain who during the seventies, illustrated some amazing covers for the El Hombre Enmascarado Spanish series and The Phantom series published by Bastei in Germany up into the 1980's.
With just under 300 covers to his credit he has left a huge imprint on the Phantom community especially to the European audience. If he is someone new to you and never heard of him before, we recommend you to look at his collection of covers which can be found here over at Phantomwiki.
Chronicle Chamber: Thank you so much for talking to us and for your time. To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What country and region are you from?
Rafael Lopez Espi: I was born in Barcelona, capital of the Catalonia region in Spain.
CC: Where did you study art?
RLE: Even though I studied at the Artistic Center of Fine Arts of Barcelona and received good grades with an A for grade on 1st year, and valid for the 2nd year. Most of my skills in the painting style was in a self-taught way.
CC: Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you and influenced your work?
RLE: Although being self-taught I was not self-sufficient, so what I learned was always accompanied by admiration of certain works of predecessor artists.
From these, interpretative inspiration arises, with which you are opening the way towards a goal of graphic expression. So there were no influences from anyone, except the spirit transmitted by those who liked my drawings.
CC: What made you want to be an artist?
RLE: In principle, it was not my main objective to be an artist. Being an artist implied a knowledge and a skill that I did not have. It was the admiration of works done by important artists that struck me, and it was then when I began to see it as a great challenge.
CC: Is it true that you were a published artist at the age of 13? Can you tell us how that happened?
RLE: Since I was a child, I knew that I wanted to be a graphic designer. I shared my school period with drawing practices.
After finishing my schooling and my time in Fine Arts, I sought the support of other successful artists, to be introduced to the world of comics. It didn't take long for me to do so and from 1950 on, I was able to see my first works published by the Editorial Symbol of Barcelona, in an almanac celebrating the new year 1954, called “Picolin” and in a comic series called “Disco”.
CC: You have such a long and distinguished career with credits for Commando Comics, Romance comics, Various Marvel characters, Masters of the Universe and published works for Spain, Germany, UK and Sweden publishers. Do you have any series that even today stands as a highlight for you?
RLE: Yes. A special collection entitled “Extra Humans”, composed of 4 episodes in Comic book format, of which I was editor in 2001.
CC: Did you know of the Phantom before you started work on those stories? Did you ever read the comics or newspaper adventures?
RLE: Indeed, since my childhood during the post-civil war in 1940 and the end of World War 2, the comic adventures concept in Spain was imported by some Spanish publishers, which have since disappeared. Among the many topics was that of Ghost, known as "The Masked Man."
CC: Did you like working on the Phantom?
RLE: I found it pleasant because the stories took place in the jungle.
CC: You drew just under 280 Phantom covers alone over a 10-12 year period. How long would one cover take for you to create?
RLE: Depending on the complication of the subject of the story, no more than three days for a painted or complex cover. Shorter for a simpler cover.
CC: How did you get the role of the Phantom for the “El Hombre Enmascarado” Spanish series between 1973 and 1978?
RLE: The Vertice Editorial publishing company commissioned me to do the job and I did it. As simple as that.
CC: At the same time you also did covers the German “Bastei” Publisher between 1974 and 1983? How did that come about?
RLE: At the same time that I was working for Spanish publishers, I received commissions from various agencies. One of them being the “Estudiortega” Agency from which the order for Bastei came. Normally, agencies look for the most suitable artist for the job, but some other times it is the Editorial itself who select the artist they wish to contact.
CC: What was the format you used for these Spanish and German covers? A lot of the earlier Spanish “El Hombre Enmascarado” comics seem to be painted.
RLE: During those years, the reproduction workshops perfected the intaglio system, using the new system known as "offset". This system has been working because it has a high definition similar to photography, facilitating direct painting on the original inked in black of the drawing on the cover.
CC: Do you have a favourite format that you used back then and what about now?
RLE: Taking into account that the published format was similar to that of the magazines, I probably should have made them on A-3 paper size (29.7X42 cm.), leaving blank margins on all four sides. I always made the drawings or paintings with 50% added to the size of the reproduction for which it was intended.
CC: Can you tell us the difference between doing covers for the two publishers?
RLE: There are no differences, each Editorial decides what they want. My style is the same, with slight adjustments depending on the publishers preferences.
CC: Do you have a favourite or a number of favourite Phantom covers? (link to look at your amazing covers)
RLE: Yes. Some of the early El Hombre Enmascarado covers and Bastei issue #100.
CC: Did you ever get offered or were close to doing a Phantom story with interior art?
RLE: No, never.
CC: Do you prefer covers or interior work and is there a difference in the way you work with a cover / interior story?
RLE: Having reached a more complete level of the graphic art of comics with painting, I have not done interior comics since the publication of the “Extra Humans” series.
CC: Can you explain to us your process for creating a cover?
RLE: I can, but there are many details to mention. In short, it is first draw the idea to represent while thinking about the colors that are going to intervene depending on whether the scene takes place inside a room, or outside. Rain or sun. The theme to represent, adventure or horror, science fiction or romanticism, is what sets the tone for color.
CC: Are you still doing covers or commercial art today?
RLE: No, I retired in 2007, and since then I have not attended professional assignments from publishers or agencies.
CC: Do you accept commissions and how can they contact you?
RLE: Yes, you can contact me through the Internet, but always privately.
CC: Do you have a place where fans can see your work?
RLE: They can visit my official website: www.lopezespi.com, or they can just type my name in Google: Lopez Espi
CC: Thank you for your time sir. It was a great pleasure to learn more about you and your extraordinary career.