A NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES birthday salute to an incredible artist who deserves far more recognition…
By PETER STONE
Rudolfo D. Nebres, who is turning 87, was a huge part of Continuity Studios as well as a huge part of my comics career. He penciled and inked comic books, advertising storyboards and animatics while I was working with him. He was a consummate professional in every sense of the word. He would arrive every morning at exactly the same time, take off his coat, and get to work. Then, when his day was done, he put on his coat and went home to New Jersey and his family. He was never one of those young, single artists who stayed all night to finish a job. He knew it would be there in the morning.
Rudy, born Jan. 14, 1937, was quiet and somewhat intense because, in the end, he was there to do a job. He was there to ink, or sometimes to pencil. It didn’t matter if he was inking a woman holding a product in a kitchen or a demon trying to kill a superhero. He gave every single piece he worked on the same intensity and skill. Sometimes Neal Adams needed a storyboard penciled and Rudy was available. So, Rudy would pencil it and Neal would ink it. Based on an art director’s rough sketches, Rudy could turn a standard storyboard into something real and wonderful. This from a man who used to draw Conan, the White Tiger, Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and so many more.
In the years that Rudy worked with Neal, they were well-suited for each other. Neal needed an inker who could draw and Rudy was definitely that. He had studied Fine Arts in the Philippines and worked extensively at DC Comics, Archie and Marvel Comics. He had even worked in the Tony DeZuniga studio for a time. So, Rudy and Neal could create finished pieces of exceptional quality no matter who did what. Neal could pencil or ink and Rudy could ink or pencil. They could not be more different as men, but they were perfectly suited for each other in terms of art.
Neal’s wraparound cover for Issue #4 of 1987’s Baxter edition of The Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul was inked by Rudy and it was a glorious piece of art. Did fans like it? No. Because it wasn’t the clean, clear Giordano inking or Neal’s precise, sharp, intense inking. It flowed like water, it was filled with living lines, it was organic in a way that Western eyes could not truly appreciate. Batman was filled with crosshatching and curved lines made by a brush, the Arabian robes looked like fabric, and the pillows were soft and rounded. It may not be what the Western eye wanted, but even Talia was soft and perhaps too voluptuous. Neal was happy with the result, but even he knew that the common fan base would be upset. So, to make the cover memorable, Neal threw in the razorblade technique on the “RA’S!” balloon, adding to the rage from Batman. In the end, Neal and Rudy created a masterful piece.
Rudy, during his time at Continuity he became known as the Armor inker. He inked almost every issue of Armor that we printed. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part, he was the guy that fixed all those pesky knives and blades that made up Armor’s costume. A brilliant unknown artist (Brian Apthorp) wasn’t the right fit for Rudy, so we tried different inkers on him. They were solid but Rudy’s style was missed. He gave Neal’s hero a sense of consistency.
Rudy’s true love, as all of us who know him know, was monsters: lizards, dragons and terrible creatures. So, Neal laid-out a Shaman story for him. As Neal was wont to do, it started as a 48-pager and quickly turned into twice that. Rudy penciled and inked the entire first 24 pages before other commitments took him away from it. (Actually, I think he got through about 28 pages.) There is a spread of a dragon flying over Shaman in the past that is breathtaking. Rudy’s pencils seemed rough compared to other artists, but then his brush would touch the paper and the images would spring to life. He was a master with that brush… which I will get to in a moment.
As a barely-teen, I remember seeing Rudy’s work on Master of Kung Fu. He elongated figures, the legs that shot out ten feet to strike an opponent in the face, the two figures launching themselves at each other as if rubber band men shot from the fingers of impetuous boys. Then there were the dragons and lizards that seemed to be in every story. I asked Rudy to sign my omnibus of the Master of Kung Fu and I cherish it like it was an X-Men #94.
If you are around artists for long enough, you will discover something odd. Some artists are fun to watch ink or pencil. There is something about how they work that is interesting and you’re compelled to observe them. Neal was one of those artists. I could watch the magic pour out of his pencil or pen for hours onto a blank page. I could watch him ink for days, listening to the skritch of his pen point on plate finish paper. Rudy, however, was the full Las Vegas show.
Rudy would start with a white Pental fountain pen. He’d snap the top off, leaving only the back end. Then he’d pop off the bottom peg. Now he had a tube, but it was a tube he liked holding. Then, he’d take a brush and slide/jam it through the tube until the bristles were a good space out of the top. He’d smooth the bristles out and form a precise tip. Now, with this jury-rigged instrument, he would make magic.
With a lizard/monster/werewolf image that needed a good deal of linework, he would dip his “brush” into an ink bottle he hadn’t shaken in years and start on the outline of his creature. As he worked, he’d turn the page slowly, adding crosshatching to the figure’s form as he went. Before long, he would be inking the page from upside down. Then without missing a beat, he’d spin it back and forth to accentuate the areas he felt were not yet complete. I watched him ink a dragon, spinning the page in a circle so fast I couldn’t understand how he could even see the pencils. The lines were perfectly spaced. It was truly magical. I would stand on Neal’s “Bridge” (an elevated space where Neal could oversee his front room) and watch Rudy work. It was truly enlightening. Neal created magic as he penciled but it was intellectual and understandable. Watching Rudy was like watch David Blaine doing a trick that made you say, “How… how… how did he just do that?”
That wasn’t all there was to Rudy. One day Neal was crooning a song, which he loved to do. Rudy sang along, which made all the commercial colorists in the room stop what they were doing and listen. Rudy was revealed as a singer. In a studio with a bunch of young male and female artists all vying for respect and money, you can’t just let that go. They hounded him until Rudy finally brought in a tape of himself singing Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett. We were all blown away. Rudy had a great voice! He could sing! And he was totally shy about it. It’s like finding out George Clooney is actually a good basketball player. It’s not what he really wants to do, but he’s good at it. Rudy could sing, but it wasn’t what he really wanted to do.
Not a single penciller Continuity ever worked with liked Rudy’s inks. (Even Michael Golden hated Rudy’s inking on his pencils.) “He is too overpowering”, was the common complaint. “He changes my line.” “Too much brushwork.” However, Rudy brought life to many a page, many a book. He was a master at what he did, much like the greatest inkers of the field. Like Kevin Nowlan or Bernie Wrightson. Did they make the story their own? Probably. But all three of those inkers are artists that you seek out for the stories they did on their own. Kevin Nowlan’s Outsiders Annual #1 or Grimwood’s Daughter or Jack B. Quick. Or the entire run of Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing. Or Rudy’s John Carter of Mars, or his Conan the Savage, or his Kull. Monsters, giant lizards, and swordsmen galore. His work on Warren’s 1984 was amazing. Without superheroes or characters from novels, he made me search out those issues month after month, desperate for more RUDY.
Rudy would never be a Scott Williams or a Tom Palmer or a Dick Giordano or a Joe Sinnott, but he is a legend. He is one of those artists that sees the world in a unique, fascinating way that no one else does. His brushwork is a beautiful combination of Eastern and Western styles. He overwhelms the pencils in many cases, but that can be a wonderful thing. I’ve seen many young, struggling artists inked by Rudy, taking a mediocre job to a moment of absolute brilliance.
Neal used to pencil FOR Rudy, knowing what would happen. He did Zero Patrol covers with monsters and aliens just for Rudy. A Revengers cover, laid out by Neal and penciled by Mark Texiera became a masterpiece in Rudy’s hand. Rudy was an artistic hand grenade. You throw it into the room and BOOM! It engulfs whatever is inside. But explosions can be beautiful. Like flowers of red and yellow and orange and black. If you want precision and tight detail, hire the Navy SEALS.
Rudy is the greatest inker I have ever worked with… and one of the best men I have ever met. He had a wonderful wife and two loyal sons. They would drop off pages sometimes and were always happy and cheerful. He came to the U.S. and made a name for himself. He was rarely not working. Even when Neal had to shut down publishing, Rudy immediately got work at other companies.
In 2017, Ruby Nebres was given an Inkwell Awards Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame slot for “an inking career in American comic books of outstanding accomplishment.” I could not be happier that I was able to work with a man of such outstanding talent and vision. Someone I know who collected comics (mostly Conan) once asked what I did and said I worked with Neal Adams. He was not impressed. He asked who was working at Continuity. I went through the roster of artists we were currently working with that included Tom Grindberg, Clarke Hawbaker, Mark Beachum, Trevor Von Eeden, Mark Bright, Keith Pollard and so many more and then I mentioned our Shaman graphic novel by Neal and Rudy. “Rudy who,” he asked. “Rudy Nebres,” I responded.
“Oh my frickin’ god! You work with Rudy Nebres?!”
“Ummm… yeah. He inks a lot of stuff for us. Why? Do you want to meet him?”
“He’s my… god. The best artist EVER.”
Two days later, my friend met Rudy and I swear his hand was literally shaking. I’d seen it with Neal… but Rudy deserves it just as much. If you’re a fan of monsters, demons, lizards, barbaric warriors and sexy, beautiful women, Rudy is the artist for you. He may be unknown to the current comic fan, but he is in the top three greatest inkers of all time. He and Kevin Nowlan can duke it out in a back alley some day if they want to prove who is the best… but neither one of them wants to do that. They are both geniuses. I’ve worked with Neal Adams, Michael Golden, Kevin Nowlan and Mark Beachum, and working with Rudy was a true luxury.
He deserves all the respect I can throw at him. He is a true master of his craft.
— TONY DeZUNIGA and the Deep Influence of Non-American Artists on American Comics. Click here.
— NEAL ADAMS’ BRUCE LEE: The Deadly Hands of Perfection. Click here.
Peter Stone is a writer and son-in-law of the late Neal Adams. Be sure to check out the family’s twice-weekly online Facebook auctions, as well as the NealAdamsStore.com, and their Burbank, California, comics shop Crusty Bunkers Comics and Toys.