Saturday Reminiscing With a Master

by  in Comic News Comment
Saturday Reminiscing With a Master

That master being Mr. Nick Cardy.

When I was first starting to read comics, back in 1968 and ’69, Nick Cardy was just beginning his reign as DC’s primary cover artist.

I had just barely missed his glory days on Teen Titans and Aquaman (though the fans were still talking about his work there in the letter columns of the time) but man, those covers.

Over the next seven years or so, Nick Cardy’s cover work sold me a LOT of comics. Here’s a quick sampling…

I was mostly a story guy even then, I don’t think I ever bought a comic just for the art… but Cardy’s covers had the knack of posing questions I HAD to know the answer to. Who WAS the Creature that Devoured Detroit? What made that giant footprint? How the hell is that football guy hitting Superman without a hand?

Even after I’d drifted over to being a mostly-Marvel reader in the mid-1970s, the right Cardy cover could still bring me back.

But that was mostly unconscious. I didn’t really develop an appreciation for Nick Cardy as an artist until I discovered his actual penciled pages in reprints and back issues. Usually Teen Titans stories in the back of DC’s 100-pagers, stuff like that.

In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate how good he really was all over again, seeing his work in black-and-white in the Showcase Presents volumes featuring Aquaman and Bat Lash.

I got to meet Nick Cardy twice, both times at the San Diego Comic-Con. The first time was when he was promoting his book The Art of Nick Cardy, which is a wonderful book by the way. I was very poor at the time and could only sigh wistfully at the book, and then my friend Chris Kohler unexpectedly presented me with a copy, in a gesture of kindness that still blows me away whenever I think about it.

Mr. Cardy signed it, cheerfully patient with my tongue-tied nerdity. Here is a snapshot of Cardy and me that the book’s author John Coates took– that was Mr. Coates’ idea, I would never have dared to ask. You can see my look of starstruck disbelief at being right there with Nick Goddamned Cardy!!

The second time was a few years later, doing press for CBR. I had Julie with me and she had come with me to this panel, a reminiscence about the Eisner studio days. (Back when I was doing press for CBR at Comic-Con, I was usually the utility infielder covering the stuff that no one else wanted like CrossGen’s comics-on-DVD rollout, so Jonah would throw me a bone by letting me write up what my colleagues referred to as “Hatcher’s old-guy panels.”)

At one point, Mr. Cardy made a joke about how when he heard fans talking about manga, all he could think about was his Italian family and his mother’s urging the kids to Mange! Mange! The joke was lost on most folks — tough room — but Julie loved it, being from a large Italian family herself on her mother’s side. So afterwards, we sought out Mr. Cardy in Artist’s Alley where he and Julie immediately bonded, talking about their favorite Italian recipes for the better part of half an hour. (I suspect he was relieved at meeting someone who wanted to talk to him about something besides Aquaman or Bat Lash.)

I’m going on and on about all this because it exemplifies one of my favorite things about comic books and fan gatherings– we can actually talk to the people who were there at the beginning. That’s a real gift– consider comics alongside TV or movies or music, and think about an equivalent event. There’s never been anything comparable to a comic-con in other areas of the arts; the closest you get is nerdlebrity things like the Hollywood Collectors Show or Star Wars Celebration. Imagine a general-interest film-fans convention the size of San Diego, with a “Director’s Alley” where you got to casually chat with movie pioneers like Alfred Hitchcock or John Ford or Billy Wilder. That’s what we have with comic books. It’s an extraordinary privilege.

In recent years, we are losing more and more of these folks, and the thought that in another ten or twenty years they’ll mostly be gone is an incredibly bleak one. Mark Evanier has had to patiently explain, more than once, that he doesn’t host the “Golden Age” panels at the San Diego Con any more because there are so few pros left from those days that are able to appear on one. It often gravels me that, apart from specialty-press outfits like TwoMorrows, very little effort is made to talk to the pioneers of our artform and get them on the record about the old days… not just about the comics they drew, but also the history they’ve lived through.

Blessedly, someone’s done something about that.

Nick Cardy: The Artist At War is an amazing hardcover that faithfully reproduces all the sketches that Cardy did throughout his time in World War II. Renee Witterstaetter is the one that shepherded it into print, beginning almost from the moment Cardy showed the original sketchbook to her– she instantly realized what an extraordinary collection of work this was and determined then and there to get it out into the world where other people could see it. Together, she and Cardy have turned that beat-up old sketchpad into a lavishly-produced art book, including not just the drawings but also Cardy’s reminiscences about the circumstances under which each one was done.

There’s also a photo section with pictures Cardy took at the time, and those are filled with Cardy’s wartime memories as well. But the real star is the art.

I love this book because of the art and the history. Julie loves it because she says reading it’s exactly like talking to Mr. Cardy in person, who she remembers as “just the sweetest man, completely adorable.” And it’s true that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a history book, or even an art book, so much as it does like you’re just listening to a favorite old uncle telling stories.

But most of all, I love that someone took the time to do a book like this in the first place. It’d be a great read even if you weren’t a fan of Nick Cardy’s work at all, but if you are, then this will immediately become one of your favorite Cardy books of all time. Seriously. I can’t recommend it enough.

I hope it sells through the roof and starts a trend. I’d love it if this was the first of many volumes about the greats of comics and what their actual lives were about. These guys have great stories to tell, and we should get them told.

See you next week.