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Heavy Metal Interview by Sergio Rincon and Joshua Sky - HEAVY METAL

Juan Gimenez:: A Sci-Fi Master of Masters

A detailed account of Juan Giménez’s artistic journey and legacy, highlighting his major projects such as metabarons or Leo Roa, the impact of his work, and his personal life. 

 

Below, you can access the interview we conducted with Josh and his summary of that event. I hope it will be to the liking of many of Juan’s followers.

Josh Sky is a writer, screenwriter, and journalist specializing in Pop Culture and Sci-Fi. Josh lives in California, and we met a few years ago while both collaborating with Heavy Metal magazine. Josh personally contacted me upon learning that I was, through Corner4art, at the express wish of Juan Giménez’s family, managing all his artistic heritage, as well as the estate management of the authorship rights that rightfully belonged to his widow, Silvia.

I remember that we had a video conference lasting about two hours where we briefly distilled details of Juan’s life, accompanied by Silvia, his widow. Silvia’s intervention was crucial to understanding some aspects of Juan’s life that had never been revealed and which she kindly shared for the knowledge of the followers of the great master.

The Immortal Fantasist: JUAN GIMENEZ

“In my unconscious, Juan Giménez cannot die. He will continue on, drawing like the master warrior that he was.” - Alejandro Jodorowsky

Juan Giménez:: More than an Artist

Juan Giménez is an artist whose name belongs in the same breath as Frazetta, Kirby, and Moebius. His artwork is lush and mesmerizing, deserving recognition as a pillar in the pantheon of the medium’s greatest talents. Each of his breathtaking panels is a masterwork of awe-inspiring inventiveness. Lauded for his technical ability to illustrate anything mechanical; Giménez not only rendered vehicles and futuristic technology with sleek design but strove to convey how it would plausibly function. Further, he was adept in all aspects of illustration, from beautiful figures to landscapes, creatures, gadgetry, environments as well as the most gripping action and drama. His work is something anyone will admire, all one has to do is behold it. Born on November 26th, 1943, Giménez was an Argentine comic book artist and writer who began publishing stories when he was sixteen years old. His work was featured in local magazines, Frontera, Misterixx, and Hora Cero. His early career was in advertising, but the type of work he was most passionate about, he at first did in hiding; science fiction comic stories. Up until the late 1970s, the genre was looked down upon. By the time he reached his thirties, Giménez transitioned into being a comic artist full-time.

Sad days are coming...

Giménez passed away in April of 2020, a victim of Covid. It was an emotional blow to the international comics community and a tragic loss to the art world. Now, over a year after his passing, his work is more widely craved than ever - which is why Heavy Metal has proudly begun to republish his works for new audiences. However, a challenge, particularly outside of Europe, is obtaining information about who he was as a person, as well as untold stories behind his career. Luckily, the manager of his estate, Sergio Rincón, kindly arranged an introduction with the person Juan was closest to in life, his widow, Sylvia Zeballos, who for two hours regaled us with tales of her husband and his incredible legacy. When they first met in Mendoza, Argentina, Juan told Sylvia that he worked in comics. Her response: “Comics. What’s that? I didn’t understand what a comic was. So, I was very shocked by his occupation.” Not long after, they became a couple and were together since 1978. Yet they had only been married 15 years ago. “Every year, he kept telling me that if we got married, it wouldn’t’ve been a great experience for either of us. It is much better if we just stayed together the way we were and not be married at all. He was always joking about that.”

Some of his inspirations included artists Hugo Pratt and Francisco Solan López. He attended the National University of Cuyo’s School of Arts and Design followed by the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona.

1978 wasn’t just a big year for Juan in terms of his love life.

 He had moved to Spain and it was less than a year after Star Wars had been released, which changed the face of science fiction and media across the globe. Genre fare, once seen as lowbrow entertainment, had become mainstream. There was a sudden explosion of comic publishers and magazines, all of whom were hungry for original stories in that space. For Giménez, doors began to open. Many doors.

It was during this exciting time that he was brought on board to work on the Heavy Metal (1981) film, which was in production in Canada. Juan primarily did character design and backgrounds on the Harry Canyon segment. Set in a gritty futuristic New York, it’s about a cabbie who gets caught in a web of criminals while trying to protect a femme fatale. This was considered Juan’s big break. The way he landed the opportunity was through showing his work to French publisher Dargaud, particularly one story, Dark Star.

“They were absolutely astonished by what he did and showed all the material to the Canadian production company who were overtaken by the quality of his stuff. Everyone knows that he was a collaborator on the Heavy Metal film, but nobody understands how important it was and the exact path of how it all happened.”

Sylvia and Juan went to Ottawa, Canada, to work with the producers. In order to bring more realism to the project, Giménez was soon flown to New York to live there and study the city for better reference. Meanwhile, he would continue to

 get stories published, and those same stories were localized by publishers across Europe. A recurring issue that he had, like many fellow comic artists at that time, was that publishers were often not returning original artwork, which became a difficult point of contention that he fought against. Giménez rarely sold any of his original art, preferring to hold onto all that he could.

As his stories continued to be printed by the international market, Giménez began to take on as many assignments as he could across different mediums, for the simple fact that he and Sylvia had just bought a house and needed the money. Juan completed approximately twenty covers for popular video games in Spain, he also did artwork for toys, animation and storyboarded four films.

Metabarons - The Masterpiece

Success continued as the years rolled by, and then, in the early 1990’s, what many consider to be his greatest project landed on his desk. An opportunity to work with Alejandro Jodorowsky on Metabarons. An epic space opera, with characters from Jodorowsky and Jean Giraud’s (Moebius) “The Incal”. It adapted elements Jodorowsky had been planning to use for his never to be completed film version of Dune. The book, written by Frank Herbert, is considered science fiction’s answer to Lord of The Rings, and is one of the greatest novels ever written.

Juan Giménez was tapped as the artist of choice. Immediately, he cleared a special place in his studio that would inspire him to produce his best work. “He was ready to show the world what he was capable of. He left his other projects to concentrate all his strength on creating Metabarons with Jodorowsky.”

 

In terms of process, Jodorowsky and the publisher, Humanoids, were based in France, while Giménez remained in Barcelona. Though they met from time to time over a meal, for the duration of the project, Jodorowsky would handwrite the script and fax pages over. In terms of their relationship, they were both professional, though Jodorowsky would say that Giménez had added much more to the world than his mind was able to conceive in the script.

 

It was in-between the illustrations of the eight volumes of Metabarons, that Giménez was taking notes and working on his own stories. Each volume had a gap of a few years, and during that time he was creating such works as Choose Your Own Game, The Fourth Power as well as short new stories.

 While Metabarons was being rolled out internationally, Juan Giménez was also doing special work for each localized version, adapting the contents to the Chinese and American markets. 

After laboring on the saga for ten years, it afforded Giménez the freedom to do any kind of work that he wished, whether it was commercial or not.

Giménez yearned to jump to new kinds of projects that were absolutely different than what he did in the past. Knowing that he had technical issues illustrating horses, he decided to overcome that challenge by basing a story in a medieval world, I Dragon: The End of Genesis, featured in November, 2011’s issue of Heavy Metal.

When asked about his feelings toward Heavy Metal, Sylvia explained that without a doubt, Juan was extremely proud to be published by the magazine in the United States. He was a reader and often commented that there was no better avenue for his work. He had a personal relationship with the publication as an artist and a fan.

 

Juan would continue to produce stories, art and even childhood dream projects, such as exclusive variant covers for DC on Batman and Green Lantern, some of which remained incomplete by the time of his passing. He also accrued an incredible library of his own work, an archive of thousands of original illustrations. Many of which have never been seen by the public. But there is one final collection which remains an absolute mystery.

 

In the last week of his life, Giménez was placed in a hospital in Argentina, combatting Covid. With him, he had a notebook. Nurses and doctors vividly recall him illustrating in it throughout the days. Yet when he was moved to a different room, the book disappeared, and soon after he passed away. To this day, no one has been able to recover Juan’s last works. Did he give it away to a friend, patient, or a nurse? Perhaps it was stolen or mistakenly discarded? No one knows and it remains the greatest question mark of his career. Sylvia hopes to speak to the nurses who aided him, to see if he may have given them any of his drawings. She yearns to see what he sketched to better understand what was on his mind during that time, near the end.

 

What is not a mystery, was the kind of man Juan was. Imaginative, inventive and funny. He had a youthful heart and soul. Fans at conventions would often be surprised to discover that he was much older than they pictured in

 

 their minds. Sylvia and Sergio recall Juan as someone who didn’t like parties but was often the life of one. He much preferred to focus on his work, or, on one of his many hobbies, which included recording music, playing video games and of course, watching American films and reading comics. Giménez never had any children, and though he saw through the completion of many works, there were others that were never finished. He had many ideas on his mind, Sylvia recalls. One was about a band of Argentinians who go to Africa to join the English to fight WWII. He spent days illustrating it, only to set it aside.

 

Today, nearly 95% of Juan’s original artwork remains in his estate’s possession, which Sylvia inherited. She wants to do right by his legacy and fans. Together, she and Sergio Rincón will go through each of the thousands of illustrations, watercolors, and paintings in the Giménez archives, deciding the fate of each. Some will be sold; others may be donated to a museum or towards the creation of a foundation.  Whatever is finally decided, Sylvia wants to ensure that future generations will enjoy his art. Afterall, “Juan’s work, each and every one, is one with himself.”

 

 

Giménez made his Heavy Metal magazine debut in the April 1981 issue, with a black-and-white story, “Goodbye, Soldier!,” written by Ricardo Barreiro. He published numerous installments of his “Matter of Time” series, starting in August 1983. Other Giménez stories included:

 “The Sleeping Princess” (August 1985)

“Top Secret” (September 1985)

“Timescooter” (October 1985)

“Primabell” (Fall 1986)

 “Garbage” (with Carlos Trillo, Spring 1987)

“The Naked Branch” (with Felipe Hernandez Cava, Summer 1988)

 “Leo Roa” (March 1989)

 “The Fourth Quarter” (January 1990)

“Apocalypse: Eyes of Doom” (July 1993 later collected in a hardcover edition). 

Beginning in July 1997, Heavy Metal serialized Giménez’s “Choose Your Game,” which played out over several issues. 

Other stories would follow.

Juan Gimenez Original Art Collection

Exclusive ditribution by Corner4art

Since 2021, Corner4art has proudly served as the exclusive distributor of the exceptional works of Master Juan Giménez.

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