In a perfect world, Eduardo Barreto would not have drawn my Union Station graphic novel. He would have been far too busy with work that paid better. He would have been widely recognized as a fantastic draftsman and storyteller, and his talents would have been in high demand. He would not have been on the radar screens of a first-time writer, a young editor or a small press comic book publisher.
Of course, the world is far from perfect, especially where my friend Eduardo Barreto was concerned. As it turns out, Ed was looking for work - any work that paid - just as we were looking for an artist for my historical fiction graphic novel about Kansas City's gangster heyday. My editor Jamie Rich asked me what I thought of Eduardo for the book. I kinda lost my shit. I had loved a lot of Ed's work through the years, but none more than his work with Gerard Jones on the excellent The Shadow Strikes comic. That book was wonderful on so many levels, not the least of which was Eduardo's ability to convincingly depict the same era Union Station would deal with. Right after I told Jamie that he should, in my opinion, sign Eduardo if at all possible, and that I would kiss him right on the mouth if he did so, I ran to my comic collection and thumbed through my issues of The Shadow Strikes. The work was as fantastic as I had remembered. I didn't know how the hell we could get so lucky as to possibly land that same artist for our book, but I knew I would now be crestfallen if we ended up with anyone else.
We got Eduardo, and I began to hear rumors has to why. I won't go into much detail because it doesn't matter. Suffice to say, Ed had apparently had a tough couple of years. He had some things fall apart in his personal life, and focusing on his work became a challenge. I gather that he handed in some jobs that were not up to par. I always tell people that the comics business is, in a way, pretty fair. Generally, editors don't care where you came from, where or if you were educated, or much else about your background. They want to see the work on the page. If it's good, and if you're somewhat reliable and not a huge pain in the ass, you will probably get work. There's a flip-side, though. As soon as the work on the page is not what the editor was hoping for, they tend to lose your number (these days it's an e-mail address they lose... just doesn't have the same ring to it somehow).
So, the brilliant Eduardo Barreto was looking for a way to reboot his career. Jamie, Oni Press, and myself were the beneficiaries. Soon after receiving the script for the first act of the book, brilliant thumbnails started showing up from Uruguay. Here are the first two pages of my script as Eduardo brought them to life:
That first page is over-tight for a thumbnail. I imagine Ed was working things out- finding his comfort zone. Already, on the second page, things start to get looser. The storytelling is incredible. Solid without being dull. The characters live in their environment. They're not just pasted in over some photo-referenced backgrounds. The stuff is alive in every way.
Ed would go onto to do a stellar job on the whole book. I think it led to more work for him. I hope so. I know Ed eventually landed a comic strip gig, which he worked on until his health started to fail.
I only met Eduardo in person one time, at a San Diego Comicon just as we were starting work on Union Station. He was completely gracious. We signed some ashcans at the Oni booth and went out for a lunch. We talked about doing another book. He liked WWII, and wanted to draw something set in the war. I was sure we'd find a way to work together again. It didn't happen. We'd exchange e-mails from time to time. Ed was always gracious. Always a pleasure to hear from. Always a model for how to be act like a professional... a gentleman.
The news of Eduardo's passing hit the same day we learned of Joe Simon's death. Joe Simon's work meant a lot to me, but his death didn't strike me as tragic. Joe lived to the age of 98, well-respected as a legend in his field. Ed is gone at 57, having enjoyed nowhere near the career or accolades his talent deserved. Losing Eduardo Barreto is a tragedy, because he deserved more. We deserved more.
Eduardo left behind a lot of amazing work, and he left behind a legacy of grace and kindness for those who knew him. I will be forever grateful that the world was imperfect enough to allow me to start my graphic novel career with such an amazing collaborator. Although I see the flaws in my own execution, I will always cherish that book. I'm proud that Ed and I got the chance to make something good together. All thanks to Ed, Jamie Rich, Joe Nozemack and everyone at Oni Press who made it possible.
Rest in peace, Eduardo.