By Bon Alimagno
It’s always difficult to explain to people the allure of Vampirella. What about her has allowed her to survive for 40 years, all the while garnering new fans? I almost always start with the art of Jose “Pepe” Gonzalez, who passed away March 16 at the age of 70.
Gonzalez was the greatest Vampirella artist of all time. There’s always debate about who’s the greatest to ever draw any comic book character but for Vampi there’s no argument necessary. His was and will forever be the definitive rendition of the character. I like to tell my writers and artists that Vampirella stands on the crossroads of sex and death. She is at her best a character rooted in horror, yet one who could turn you on just as easily as she could scare the piss out of you. The give and take between seduction and danger has attracted fans to her for four decades, whether they understood it in those terms or not.
Gonzalez’s work epitomized that approach. Together with the legendary writer and editor Archie Goodwin, Gonzalez brought Vampirella to life in adventures that walked the fine line between horrific thrills and titillation. His Vampirella possessed a natural body and thus a natural beauty perfect for this style of storytelling. Coupled with his attention to detail and smooth, seemingly effortless storytelling, it made these pulpy fictions feel realistic. In the hands of Goodwin and Gonzalez, executing what should’ve been a difficult creative vision somehow worked and worked beautifully.
Nowadays audiences have been conditioned to expect female comic book characters who look like Sports Illustrated swimsuit models at best and porn stars at worst. I’m not going to blame anyone for that, not the artists, not the fans and not the publishers. The market has directed the female anatomy in that direction and frankly it’s kept many characters and companies, including mine, alive.
The trade-off is a lack of believability in the storytelling and incredulity when talking about how a character like Vampirella can be anything more than eye candy. But the proof is there: in every panel that Gonzalez drew – a Vampirella who is beautiful, strange, deadly and alluring. I hope over time his work will receive greater recognition, long deserved yet too rarely given. In the meantime though he has a legion of Vampirella fans who mourn his passing, and an editor indebted to him for reinventing and enriching the character in his charge.
Bon Alimagno is Director – Publishing & Editorial for Harris Comics, publishers of Vampirella.