To generations of comic book fans around the world, the work of José Ortiz Moya was a constant marvel for decades, and a permanent piece of their comic book reading. Audiences in multiple countries across multiple decades were familiar with his lush ink work, at once flowing and scratchy — the result of a style that saw him employ a distinctive style of shading to imply shape and weight on the page — as he quietly built a career that saw him constantly find new spaces to work inside, new readers to bewitch, and new ways to push himself to even greater heights.
Ortiz — traditionally published under the name José Ortiz, or occasionally Jaimie Ortiz — started his career early; he reportedly started at the age of 16, working as an assistant to El Guerrero del Antifaz creator Manuel Gago Garcia before debuting as a solo artist on Editorial Maga’s El Espía. He’d stay with the publisher for a number of years, spending the 1950s on titles such as Capitan Don Nadie, Sebastian Vargas, Pantera Negra, El Duque Negro and Johnny Fogata, as well as Hazañas del Oeste, a history of Western gunmen.
It wasn’t long before he set his sights on international markets, after being taken on by the Bardon Art Agency, a legendary agency representing British and Spanish comic strip artists in multiple foreign markets, including the U.S., Africa, and Europe, founded by Barry Coker and Spanish artist Jordi Macabich. (Amongst the artists repped early in their careers by the Bardon agency were Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland, with Coker responsible for both working on 2000 AD in its first few years.) Working initially on titles like romance anthology Love and Life Library, it wasn’t long before Ortiz found his widest audience to date, illustrating the Daily Express newspaper strip Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law for two years starting in 1962.
Perhaps his biggest breakthrough came a decade or so later, though, when he started working for Warren Publishing in the U.S. — a relationship formed not through Bardon, but friendships formed with other Spanish artists in the beginning of his career and the Selecciones Ilustradas agency. Ortiz would become the publisher’s most published artist across the next nine years, illustrating everything from Coffin and Nighty of the Jackass in the anthology Eerie to the lead strip in a couple of issues in Vampirella, as well as the fan-favorite strip Pantha in the same title.
Even as he was finding fame in the U.S., Ortiz continued to work in both Spain and the U.K., teaming with writer Antonio Segura for projects including El Hombre, Las Mil Caras de Jack el Destripador,and Burton & Cyb, even as he was co-creating beloved British strips like The Thirteenth Floor, News Team, and The House of Daemon with writers including John Wagner and Alan Grant. As he neared retirement in the 1990s, he moved towards Italian publishers, working on historical dramas like Tex Willer and But O’Brien.
Throughout all of this, throughout his entire career, Ortiz’s art remained immaculately judged, and precision-focused in terms of where and how to concentrate the readers’ eye for the greatest effect. Whether working in black and white or color — and the color work he produced in the latter part of his career is stunningly beautiful — or at the start of his career versus the end, he unfailingly knew exactly what marks to make on the page to create artwork almost fractal in its beauty: it wasn’t just each page that felt exquisitely balanced and laid out, but each panel inside each page, and each brush line inside each panel. On every level, his work felt like that of a master.
To look at José Ortiz artwork is to see an artist who was, consistently, on top of his game; continually elevating material that — let’s be honest — was sometimes not the best, but briefly seemed as if it was purely because it looked so damn good. Shockingly, despite a career that lasted roughly half a century, it still feels as if Ortiz is underrated, somehow, despite the plaudits and praise he received during his lifetime. (He died in 2013, aged 81.) He deserves to be named alongside Toth, Moebius, and the other greats who brought worlds to life for readers throughout their careers. Perhaps one day soon, he will be.