By Larry D. Powers
At the Spirit of 66 Bar and Grill on 2712 North Mesa, an artist works feverishly, painting a mural on the wall. Every few minutes, he steps back, looks at his creation, and then dashes forward to apply a few more brushstrokes. His movements are reminiscent of a basketball game played by the players he is painting; the 1965–66 Texas Western Miners basketball team. The artist, Nacho L. Garcia Jr. ought to know about the road to glory, he was there.
“As an 18 year old freshman at Texas Western College I never thought I would be part of such an experience,” he said. “As I watched the Miner basketball players play their tight defensive game, it was evident that these well-disciplined players were far superior to their opponents.”
Painting the Spirit of 66 mural was an opportunity for Nacho to relive a historical experience, and for Nacho Garcia, life has been full of experiences.
Nacho L. Garcia Jr. was born and raised in El Paso Texas. “Actually Nacho is a shortened form of Ignacio. Ignacio is my real name, Ignacio Garcia,” he said. “But people tend to make nicknames, like Bob to Robert, and so they started calling me Nacho. So I started signing my drawings with Nacho L. Garcia Jr.”
Nacho’s father was a World War II veteran, a waist gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. After the war, he came home and he joined the police force, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Nacho’s mother was an artist and a photographer. “She helped run the Achilles Studio during World War II, when Achilles Gonzales was in the war, and then when I started to come along, she gave up all that art and photography, and just became a housewife and raised five kids.”
Nacho attended local grade schools, Clardy and Henderson, and after graduating from Burges High, he attended a correspondence course, earning an Associates degree in commercial illustration before going to UTEP. “The first year I went, it was Texas Western,” Nacho said. “The next year, after they won the NCAA, Texas Western became UTEP.”
While attending UTEP, Nacho worked part time in a downtown department store, doing advertising layouts and pencil layouts, before going to work part-time for the El Paso Times. “At that time there were no computers so everything was pencil layouts, keyed in, typed, and copy was set by a composing room, and we had proofs that we would show to customers.”
After graduating from UTEP in 1971 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts, Nacho got married and was recruited by an advertising agency, where he did design and pencil layouts, as well as storyboards. He worked in advertising for several companies, including Cashway and Tony Lama, before going on his own in 1990, and working freelance for several agencies in El Paso. Then, in 1996, the El Paso Times published an advertisement, asking for anyone to submit an editorial cartoon. “I submitted one and they liked it,” said Nacho. “They asked for it every week and then they finally said, ‘Hey we have an opening, come on over,’ and I joined the newspaper again, one more time.”
It is Nacho’s work for the El Paso Times that many people are familiar with, particularly the sign-holding gecko wearing sunglasses that often accompanied his work. “When I was working at the newspaper, this guy came up with an idea, he said, ‘Why don’t you put a little figure, a little creature in your drawings, make it your alter ego, doing wisecracks and all that,’ and so I said okay. Well, at that time, an agency approached El Paso, and wanted to promote and use a gecko wearing sunglasses as their icon, instead of the Amigo Man. I don’t think it worked, but to be facetious, I did a little drawing of a little gecko with sunglasses, and he would hold a sign with a little remark, a short little thing, and it caught on and everybody liked it.”
In fact, even though he no longer works for the newspaper, Nacho continues to receive requests for his famous little friend. Whenever he draws commissioned cartoons or caricatures, people always ask him to put the gecko in the artwork. “So it was my little alter ego,” said Nacho. “A lot of people think I copied Geico, but this was like four or five years before they came out with it.”
After working for the El Paso Times for about 17 years, Nacho retired and started doing freelance work again, commission work here and there, and can usually be found on Saturdays, at the Rock House Café and Gallery, on 400 W Overland Avenue, drawing caricatures and showcasing his artwork. He has also appeared at other venues such as the “Boo at the Zoo” and has even taught a few classes at UTEP.
“Art has been my whole life,” Nacho said. “But I might as I get older try teaching and seeing if, you know, I can inspire other people.”
Just as the 1965–66 Texas Western Miners basketball team inspired others, so does Nacho L. Garcia Jr.