Spain Rodriguez, the illustrator of DIES IRAE, is considered one of the ten top cartoonists in the world by Robert Crumb. Born in 1940 in Buffalo, New York, Spain developed an early love of comics and was in particular entranced by EC Comics in the Fifties. After attending the Silvermine Guild Art School in Norwalk, Connecticut, he gravitated to New York in the mid-Sixties, where he began drawing for the famed underground paper, The East Village Other, becoming with his friend Kim Deitch one of the pioneers of underground comics. In the late Sixties, Spain became a contributor to Zap Comix, founded by Robert Crumb, and Spain and Robert Crumb are still collaborating on Zap to this day.
In 1968, while living in New York, Spain hung out with comics genius Wally Wood, the most brilliant illustrator in postwar America. Wally Wood was gifted with amazing versatility, able to draw everything from hilariously droll humor (as seen in his breakthrough work for Mad) to astonishing superhero stories. (Many fans believe Wally Wood deserves equal credit with Stan Lee as the co-creator of Daredevil, and the film clearly is shot to resemble a Wally Wood strip.) Since Wally Wood gained his fame drawing for EC in the Fifties, by visiting Wood's studio on 74th Street, Spain was returning to his EC roots. If you look carefully, you can see Wally Wood's influence on Spain.
That same year in 1968, Spain created his most famous hero, Trashman, Agent of the Sixth International, an urban guerrilla fighter of the near future who battles fascist cops and soldiers in a post-Bomb police state Amerika. In the late Sixties, Trashman became the Superman of the New Left, idolized by the Weathermen and admired by a generation of young people disillusioned with the collapse of the American dream.
It is widely known that the Mad Max movies of George Miller, starring Mel Gibson--Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrrior (1981), and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)--were, shall we say, heavily influenced by Spain's Trashman stories, especially "Route Zero, 'The Road That Knows No Law,'" from Subvert #3 (1976). Compare "The Origin of Trashman" (Subvert #1, 1970) with the opening of Mad Max, and you might be startled. Spain's Trashman stories are often cited as an influence on the look of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1984) and the style of Frank Miller's commanding graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight (1984), with its nightmare vision of a post-Reagan America.
Spain's powerful influence on Hollywood can be seen in the poster art for Walter Hill's Streets of Fire (1984) and Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy (1990). Spain himself was the subject of a segment of the documentary Comic Book Confidential (1989), and he was interviewed in Terry Zwighoff's Crumb (1995). When you watch Ralph Bakshi's The Cool World (1992) and marvel at Gabriel Byrne's sketches, please note that in reality they were executed by Spain.
Spain's influence can be seen in the world of book covers, as well. Take a look at William Reid's cover of the 1996 Tachyon Press edition of Ward Moore' apocalyptic masterpiece Lot & Lot's Daughter, and you'll see Spain's touch.
In 1970, Spain contributed original artwork to Jerry Rubin's bestselling counterculture manifesto Do It!, notable for its creative use of collage and graphic design. In the Seventies, Spain branched out into more autobiographical stories, collected in My True Story (1994), and began adapting literary classics, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and William Lindsey Gresham's classic noir novel, Nightmare Alley (2003), which he worked on for years. Today Nightmare Alley is considered by many to be the finest graphic novel ever created.
As American Splendor's Harvey Pekar wrote on his Website on August 14, 2003: "I think one of the reasons I like...[ ] Spain's work so much is that it has working class roots and is informed by left wing political ideas. A lot of younger cartoonists don't seem as politically concerned or aware these days and I think that's a shame, because this country's in a real mess, politically and economically. The underground cartoonists of the 60s and early 70s fought against the oppressor, but many of today's comic book artists don't seem to realize that there's one around."
As Spain would say: Fight the oppressor!
Links to Spain and his works
The Lamiek Comiclopedia has a good overview of Spain and his work.
In 1998, Jon Ascher conducted the best in-depth interview with Spain yet, "Sifting Through the Trash: Spain and Trashman".
An excellent representation of Trashman.
Comics on the Verge has an interesting page of Spain's art with a bio and a partial bibliography.
Trashman on the job: In 1980, Spain did a beautiful poster of Trashman in a moment of anticipation.
The cover of Spain's Nightmare Alley.
In the late Nineties, Spain began been drawing a famous online comic strip, "The Dark Hotel," for salon.com, now carried by the L.A. Weekly--here's a sample installment, with links to many more.
A jaw-dropping moment from "Murder At The Hey-Hey Club," a serial of "The Dark Hotel."
Spain's adaptation of Sherlock Holmes' Strangest Cases.
The Inheritance of Rufus Griswold, about Edgar Allan Poe's curious choice for a literary executor--a man who hated him.
Another interview with Spain--which requires a site subscription.
How To Order Spain's Work
You can order Spain's work through amazon.com or Bud Plant.
For his out-of-print work, you might want to try abebooks.com.