An Interview With Ernie Chan - A Go-To Cover Artist For DC & Marvel

Written by Bryan Stroud

Ernie Chan holds up a Namor commission.

Ernesto "Ernie" Chan (born July 27, 1940) was a Filipino-American comics artist known for his work at both Marvel and DC Comics, including long runs on Conan the Barbarian, Batman, and Detective Comics. Ernie Chan was born Ernie Chua due to what he called "a typographical error on my birth certificate that I had to use until I had a chance to change it to 'Chan' when I got my [U.S.] citizenship in '76." Ernie received an Inkpot Award in 1980. In 2002, he retired from comic work except for commissioned art but returned to draw writer Andrew Zar's adult-oriented webcomic The Vat in 2009. Mr. Chan passed away on May 16, 2012 after a nearly yearlong battle with cancer.

Ernie Chan did scads of cover work for DC back in the day and of course nearly everyone knows it was a simple typographical error that for years identified him as Ernie Chua.  Whatever you may call him, his talent was indisputable.  He may have been a man of few words, but his work spoke volumes.  Just check out the gift from my life long best friend to attest to that (below).

This interview originally took place via email on May 23, 2009.

A Batman piece drawn by Ernie Chan and gifted to Bryan Stroud.

Bryan Stroud:  It looks like your career at DC began in about 1972, is that correct?

Ernie Chan:  You’re right. Those were the days.

Stroud:  What made you decide to go into comic illustration?

Chan:  That’s what I had been doing back in the Philippines, illustrating local comics for 8 years, before migrating to the USA in 1970. I always loved to draw since I was a kid. 

Stroud:  Were you part of Tony DeZuniga’s so-called Filipino Invasion?

Chan:  I apprenticed for Tony back in the Philippines for a couple of years. Tony came to the USA a year ahead of me. So I looked him up and apprenticed for him again for several months, then I went on my own. You can say the ‘Filipino Invasion’ was initiated by Tony and me.

Stroud:  Was the language barrier ever a problem?

Chan:  It’s not a problem.  We were taught English in school, and it is our second language.

Stroud:  Please tell me about your art training.

Chan:  It was mostly self-taught, observing and imitating other artist’s styles that appealed to me and a lot of practice and hard work.

Stroud:  You’ve got an impressive list of credits and worked on everything from Batman to Swamp Thing with stops in between on westerns, war books and superheroes.  Which was most enjoyable?

Batman Family (1975) #3, cover by Ernie Chan.

Chan:  Actually, I am challenged every time I encounter a new character assignment. But I enjoyed Batman the most

Stroud:  Is there a character you feel represents your work best?

Chan:  I guess Batman represents my work best.

Stroud:  Do you prefer penciling or inking?

Chan:  I prefer penciling. But I enjoy inking too.

Stroud:  Which tools do you favor?    

Chan:  I favor a mechanical pencil with 2B lead for sketching, a flexible pen and fountain brush filled with India ink for inking.

Stroud:  Did you have a favorite writer to work with?       

ChanDavid V. Reed was my favorite writer at that time.       

Stroud:  How about a favorite editor?

ChanJulius Schwartz. He was easy to work with.

Stroud:  How did Marvel and DC compare?

Chan:  For me, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. At DC, I am more of a penciller. While at Marvel, I am more of an inker.

Stroud:  Did you have a preference between full script and Marvel method?

Ghost Rider (1973) #28, cover by Ernie Chan.

Chan:  With a full script, the writer dominates the storytelling. With the Marvel method, I have more flexibility in the story breakdowns. I prefer the latter.

Stroud:  You worked on both Claw the Unconquered and Conan.  Was Claw basically a knock-off of Conan?

Chan:  Yes, I agree that Claw was a knock-off of Conan at the beginning. But if Claw had been given a longer run, I was pretty sure it would have branched off to something all its own. 

Stroud:  You worked on almost the entire run of the Joker book.  Was that an interesting assignment?

Chan:  Yes.  The Joker was and still is the best villain character for Batman.

Stroud:  You became the designated cover artist for DC for awhile and had a particular gift for them.  Did you like doing covers over interiors?

Chan:  I like doing covers way better than working on interiors. In interiors you have to deal with the 6 panels on average and tons of captions and dialogs; while in covers I just leave a third top portion of the space for the logo and stuff. And sometimes, if I am lucky, I can overlap my design over a part of the logo.

Stroud:  Do you paint?

Chan:  I love to paint. But back then, my opportunity to paint is limited, because I could only paint in between a long span of black and white jobs. Nowadays, I have more time to paint.

Stroud:  According to your website you did some T.V. and movie animation.  Which projects?  Was it an interesting change of pace?

Conan the Barbarian (1970) #75, cover by Ernie Chan.

Chan:  I went into TV, movie and video animation for the sole purpose of being able to learn to use the computer tools. But I found it difficult, because I went in at a late age. It would have been a different situation if I had started it earlier in life.  But I left with enough knowledge in computer tools for me to utilize the internet, e-mails, Photoshop, etc.

Stroud:  You do lots of commission work these days.  Are you involved in any other projects?

Chan:  At present I am not involved in any projects. I do lots of commission work, and I enjoy it.

Stroud:  Did you ever try writing stories?

Chan:  I dabbled in writing and creating my own characters. The fun in doing these personal projects is that I am not pressured to finish in any scheduled time. I just do them whenever I feel like it. And I don’t have to reveal it till I am good and ready.

Stroud:  Do you produce work on the computer or is it still all by hand? 

Chan:  I can produce work on the computer but it is very frustrating when I don’t have the latest software and a more powerful computer. Besides, fans prefer art that is hand made.

Stroud:  Do you hit the convention circuit much and if so is it fun for you?  

Chan:  I enjoy very much attending comic conventions. I am a regular at the San Diego Comicon, SF WonderCon and the SJ SuperCon. I never turn down an invitation to any Conventions around the country or overseas, if there is no scheduling conflict. 

As we sometimes do on the shorter interviews, Nerd Team 30 has added a gallery of Ernie's cover work to compliment the article. Enjoy!

Batman (1940) #283, cover by Ernie Chan and Vince Colletta.

Captain America (1968) #216, cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan.

Claw the Unconquered (1975) #5, cover by Ernie Chan.

Crypt of Shadows (1973) #6, cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan.

Defenders (1972) #61, cover by Ed Hannigan and Ernie Chan.

Detective Comics (1937) #461, cover by Ernie Chan.

Frankenstein (1973) #12, cover by Ron Wilson and Ernie Chan.

Godzilla (1977) #7, cover by Herb Trimpe and Ernie Chan.

House of Secrets (1956) #132, cover by Ernie Chan.

Incredible Hulk (1968) #210, cover by Ernie Chan.

Joker (1975) #6, cover by Ernie Chan.

Justice League of America (1960) #124, cover by Ernie Chan.

Kobra (1976) #1, cover by Ernie Chan.

Marvel Classics Comics (1976) #23, cover by Ernie Chan.

Master of Kung Fu (1974) #17, cover by Ernie Chan.

Secret Society of Super-Villains (1976) #5, cover by Ernie Chan.

Savage Sword of Conan (1974) #34, cover by Ernie Chan.

Secrets of Haunted House (1975) #3, cover by Ernie Chan.

Strange Tales (1951) #173, cover by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chan.

Supernatural Thrillers (1972) #6, cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan.

Super-Villain Team-Up (1975) #10, cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan.

Swamp Thing (1972) #23, cover by Ernie Chan.

Tales of Ghost Castle (1975) #3, cover by Ernie Chan.

Weird Mystery Tales (1972) #17, cover by Ernie Chan.

What If (1977) #13, cover by John Buscema  and Ernie Chan.

Ernie Chan in May of 2009.

Worlds Unknown (1973) #6, cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan.


Bryan Stroud

Bryan Stroud is a longtime fan of DC Comics, particularly the Silver and Bronze Ages, and has been published in a number of places over the last decade plus, to include the magazines Comic Book Creator andLurid Little Nightmare Makers and websites like The Silver Lantern and Comics Bulletin.  Bryan wrote the afterword to “Think Pink,” is a frequent contributor to BACK ISSUE magazine, Ditkomania and co-authored Nick Cardy:  Wit-LashHe and his indulgent wife have dined with Joe and Hilarie Staton and Jim Shooter.  He owns a comic book spinner rack that reminds him of his boyhood.