Thursday, December 4, 2014

Me and Old John Constantine by Ken and Kevin Jones

Me and Good Old John Constantine


Ken L. Jones with Kevin L. Jones


            During a recent stay in the hospital I had many enjoyable conversations with my nurses and other technicians that worked there. Since it was almost time for the new TV shows to start that subject came up often and while we agreed on Gotham, The Flash, etc. as being worthy new entries into TV land almost everyone was surprised at my interest and enthusiasm for a similar new show called Constantine until I explained that I the reason I liked the character so much was because I was one of the few people who first knew about him and that to me it was like watching one of my children grown up and finally make good.  Way back in the 1980s I was very involved in comic books both as a creator and as a historian of it too and because of that I knew many of the great creators back then personally and none more so than the master artist Alfredo P. Alcala.  

            Alfredo had long lived alone since he had come to America and was very dependent on other people to help him get simple things done like grocery shopping, getting his clothes washed, etc. Early in my relationship with him my family and I soon started helping him out with things like that to the point that he came to call us his American family. Besides this I soon graduated once he got to know me into doing a lot of work for him to help him get his comic books out.  Among other things I would handle all the business phone calls on his constantly ringing telephone and would keep track of and properly store his original art when it was returned to him by the postman and I would do some cleanup  work on his pages such as erasing lines that weren’t needed and applying whiteout here and there and god help me because one of my so-called friends had told him that I had inked a lot of the backgrounds on my first published comic Hero Man he for a time wanted me to do that on his stuff too but luckily Alfredo soon realized that as an artist I was a good comic book writer and general secretary for his business affairs.

One thing that fascinated me about Alfredo was that he never read any contemporary comics most of which he dismissed as …well I won’t quote exactly what he said about them since my young grandchildren will probably be reading this but anyway he absolutely didn’t care anything about the modern comic book scene and so I was soon drafted to explain to him who these people were that he was drawing as well as everything about them such as their powers, their weaknesses, and their backgrounds.  Now fortunately I was at the time very well versed in the entire history of the comic books and could accurately quote all about them off the top of my head which is why I guess I worked for several years at Amazing Heroes, The Comics Journal, and Comics Interview where I was one of the editors for awhile.  This part of my responsibilities to Alfredo often proved to be somewhat funny to me especially when he would call me late at night on the phone to ask me about this and that character. Luckily I was usually able to help him out once he gave me a few simple hints about them such as their names and he was very grateful for it too because it meant he never had to look at any of the many free comics that were delivered to his door every day and which he routinely gave to my more than enthusiastic grade school age sons and instead would spend his time studying all kinds of artists from the Renaissance and before.

Now what does all this have to do with John Constantine one might ask and his brand new TV show? Plenty, a moment ago my wife and I did some preliminary research online about Constantine in preparation for this article and in my opinion much of it was inaccurate to the events as I recall them. For one thing Alfredo’s art and the genesis of Constantine is barely mentioned and it should be mentioned because I recollect he had a large hand in jelling the final look of Constantine as we know him today. 

Here’s the way I remember it. Alfredo was working on embellishing Swamp Thing around the time of Constantine showing up there which excited me greatly because it was one of my favorite comic books as was anything written by the great Alan Moore and poor old John at first didn’t seem to have any kind of a iconic look about him until Karen Berger called up one day and asked if Alfredo might give him a specific look to which I replied that “Oh you mean you want him to look exactly like Sting instead of occasionally like him as he does now?” and she enthusiastically agreed with my guess.  To that end I dropped into a local newsstand and was able to procure several fan magazines that had really good pictures of Sting in them and I took them with me the next night when I came to see him.  At first Alfredo didn’t want to listen and didn’t care and since he hated all modern rock and roll he tried to tell me that people wouldn’t like the character if he looked like this Sting guy and that he should perhaps make him look more like Robert Mitchum instead. Luckily I was able to talk him down on that and the fine drawings that Alfredo did of Constantine set the standard for the book and probably account for the reason why he did the embellishment on John’s first couple of solo issues over in Hellblazer as well.  Oddly enough while Alfredo never did take to Batman where he also did a lot of work as he came to know and understand Constantine he actually liked the character which I guess isn’t strange because everyone involved with the original version of this character was deeply into the occult including yours truly and so how could Alfredo help but fall under the spell of this rough hewn but lovable exorcist?

Years flew by after this and eventually I moved on to other popular culture projects that didn’t involve Alfredo and then in April of 2000 Alfred died. There’s something almost shameful about how little he is remembered or respected today not only for his great artistry but for his forceful and unique personality which earned him the nickname “the Elvis of the comic books” and whenever I’m given the chance I try to see what I can do to correct that.  While Alfredo was involved in lots of movies and television shows his name was deeply buried in the credits and so he felt disconnected from much of the work that he was so well paid to do but I strongly suspect that he would have been very proud of the new Constantine TV show where once again his name is nowhere to be seen. As for me I quite like the show and think that  Matt Ryan,  the great Welsh actor that plays John is a perfect choice and when people ask me why I’m so excited about all this I tell them how could I not be I was one of the first twenty people in the world to ever meet Constantine.




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