This is the fifth in a series of columns I’m writing about select influential Filipino artists in the American comic book industry. Previous columns have looked at the early history of komiks (indigenous Filipino comics) and Tony DeZuniga, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, and Alex Niño. This week, we’ll be taking a look at the work of inker extraordinaire Romeo Tanghal.
Romeo Tanghal was born in 1943 in the town of Paombong, in the Philippine province of Bulacan. Unlike more senior komiks artists like Redondo and Alcala, Tanghal wasn’t directly influenced by the early 20th century North American pulp cartoonists like Alex Raymond and magazine illustrators such as J.C. Leyendecker. Instead, his earliest influences were the young Filipino artists of the fledgling komiks industry (which included Redondo and Alcala). His first significant exposure to American comic book art would be to a Joe Kubert-drawn Viking Prince story featured in a late 1950s issue of DC’s Brave and the Bold.
Tanghal worked for a number of local komiks publishers, most notably for GASI (Graphic Arts Service, Inc.), which was one of the largest remaining publishing houses after the collapse of Ace Publications in the early 1960s. Following in the footsteps of DeZuniga, Redondo, and Alcala, Tanghal moved to the United States in 1976 in pursuit of better-paying comics work. Tanghal didn’t have the fan-following of Redondo, Alcala, and Niño, but like many of the Filipino artists working for DC in the mid-1970s, he worked fast without compromising quality or consistency. He would pencil and/or ink about thirty lead or back-up stories for DC’s horror titles and by the late 1970s, he had started work as an inker on non-horror titles such as Jonah Hex and Unknown Soldier and he would also pencil a number of stories for Warren Publishing (his pencils being inked by the legendary Alex Toth on one occasion!).
A recurring theme in the careers of the “Filipino first-wavers” such as DeZuniga, Redondo, Alcala, and Niño is that for one reason or another, they fell out of favor with DC and Marvel at the beginning of the 1980s. That this happened alongside the decline of horror, western, and military comic books in North America is no coincidence. Most Filipino artists working in the US were associated with those genres, and somehow, editors at Marvel and DC had gotten it into their heads that guys used to drawing soldiers, cowboys, pirates, and swamp monsters wouldn’t be as good at drawing the tights-and-capes set. The Filipino artists were still valued for their speed and their meticulously detailed work with the ink brush however, so while the number of offers to pencil comic books declined, inking jobs were still available. Artists such as Redondo and Alcala had some difficulty adjusting to the change. Both were proud men who had, by then, almost four decades of experience writing, penciling, inking, and lettering comics (even doing all at once on the same book at times!) and felt that being restricted to inking other (mostly younger and less experienced) artists was a demotion of sorts. Alcala in particular would get into trouble with editors on occasion by following his own storytelling instincts and not following the penciler’s layouts.
This wasn’t a problem for Tanghal, though. Perhaps because of his relative youth and the fact that he never had much of a following as a “name” artist, he took to the inker’s role with much more enthusiasm than the older Filipino artists. But what does an inker bring to the comic book, anyway? Or as the kids say it these days, “fucken’ inkers, how do they work?”
There is a common (if mistaken) perception that inkers simply “trace” over the work of pencilers so that the penciled drawing can be reproduced by the presses (old printing technology could not reproduce pencil drawings). Inkers do much more than that, though. The penciler dictates the flow of visual storytelling and other visual elements such as character blocking in a comic book, he or she lays out the panel arrangements and renders figures and backgrounds. But the amount of detail that goes into their rendering varies from penciler to penciler. Some pencilers work very “tight,” that is, they draw figures, objects, and backgrounds with a lot of details, and there is an expectation that the inker accurately re-render these details in ink. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are “loose” pencils, which sometimes amounts to little more than panel layouts and rough figure outlines. In these cases, the inker is expected to fill in the missing visual details. A good inker can make even a poor penciler look somewhat competent, but a bad inker can ruin even the best draftsmanship and figure drawings.
While he worked on several DC titles over his career (including Wonder Woman, The Flash, Sun Devils, and Justice League of America), for many people, Tanghal’s career-defining work was his eight-year run as an inker on DC’s New Teen Titans. Teamed up with penciler George Pérez, the duo created some of the most enduring superhero images of the 1980s. Many lapsed comic book readers have only ever seen Pérez’ work as inked by Tanghal and it’s almost impossible to talk about one artist without touching upon the other. In my mind, their art on New Teen Titans is one of the most recognizable composite penciler-inker work of the last 30 years, right up there with John Byrne and Terry Austin’s early 1980s art on Uncanny X-Men and the John Romita, Jr.-Klaus Janson partnership that spanned across numerous Marvel Comics titles in the 1980s and 1990s (as a sidenote, I think Klaus Janson’s work over the young JRJr’s pencils is one of the best examples of great inking elevating workman-like pencils in print).
Like Niño before him, Tanghal would also branch into animation in the 1980s. He’s credited as a storyboard artist for 49 episodes (spanning the 1985 and 1986 seasons) of the The Transformers (including 1986′s Transformers: The Movie), all 30 episodes of the 1986 season of Sunbow/Marvel Animation’s popular GI Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon (as well as 1987′s GI Joe: The Movie), and he worked as a character designer and storyboard director for 21 episodes of the 1987 season of Jem.
Tanghal would soon follow-up his marathon run on New Teen Titans with an extended, multi-year stint on Green Lantern lasting over 80 issues. Starting as an inker, Tanghal would assume penciler duties towards the end of his tenure on the title. Tanghal also did inking jobs for other publishers during the 1990s, doing fill-ins on Marvel’s Fantastic Four and Barbie and contributing to 1990s publishing also-ran Valiant Comics.
Tanghal hasn’t officially retired from comics work, but his comic book output has been sporadic since the turn of the century. He now lives in New Jersey and is focused on painting, although he puts up the occasional fantasy/superhero-themed work on his blog (an excellent resource for artists and comic book art fans… he doesn’t write much, but the scans he posts are amazing).
- Casimir P., (2004). Romeo Tanghal Interview. Spooky: The Warren Fanzine, 2(4), 34-36
- Lent, J.A., (2004, September). Filipino Komiks: A history. Comic Book Artist, 4, 74-95
- Roach, D.A., (2004, September). A-Z: A Guide to the Filipino Comic Book Artists. Comic Book Artist, 4, 60-73