41 Favorites: #6

Back when I was a kid in the 1970s, the few accessible books about comics often mentioned "The Good Duck Artist". Past generations who read Dell's Disney comics had no way of knowing his name, in the days before most creators were credited and before fans, collectors, and scholars could easily share information far and wide. Yet so many of them found his contributions so obviously head-and-shoulders above other artists' that the appellation "The Good Duck Artist" — or, in the context of the Disney duck stories, simply "The Good Artist" — became an acknowledged shorthand.

"The Good Duck Artist" turned out, these same books revealed, to be a gentleman named Carl Barks. He is not the subject of this post.

Also back when I was a kid in the 1970s, there was a fellow whose covers for various offerings from DC — chiefly, in my experience, Superman, The Flash, and World's Finest Comics — led me to think of him as "The Good Cover Artist". He turned out to be a gentleman born Nicholas Peter Viscardi and known during his time at DC as Nick Cardy.

I'm not sure exactly when I found out his name, because I was still so young when I did that I don't have a good grasp of how long it was before I did; time passes much more slowly when you're five, six, seven years old. Most of his covers weren't signed, and when they were the signature was often what I now know is a stylized "NC" rather than the "Cardy" that he also used. The name didn't matter much anyway, since at that age my comics-collecting friends were understandably even less focused on the people behind the stories and pictures than I was — it takes a level of rational thought beyond most kindergarteners to leverage one's chances of enjoying an issue that one is buying (or trading for) based not just on the art or the characters involved but the credit of a writer who's written stuff one liked in the past. What does the name of an artist matter as long as you know on sight whether you like or dislike his work?

Everything that I needed to peg Cardy's identity was there in one of my most memorable childhood artifacts, Limited Collectors' Edition #C-34, a tabloid-sized anthology with the more poetic cover title of Christmas with the Super-Heroes

Dated Feb.-Mar. 1975 in the indicia but released in November of the previous year, its reprints included the 1967 Teen Titans classic "A Swingin' Christmas Carol!". Writer Bob Haney, artist Nick Cardy, and editor George Kashdan are credited on the splash page, and Cardy signed the cover clearly, but it's entirely possible that I didn't make the association at first through some combination of not really noticing the cover signature and not particularly caring about putting a name to "The Good Cover Artist". Especially in the days before I ever set foot in a dedicated comics shop, after all, none of the stores at which I bought new comics or the flea markets that I scoured for older ones were run by anybody who'd know if they had issues with Nick Cardy covers; I had to eyeball them on my own — and besides, as I've probably driven into the ground by now, I wasn't amassing covers drawn by "The Good Cover Artist" because of any inherent value attached to his name but due to gut-instinct aesthetics.

Once I did start visiting comics shops and going to conventions, Nick Cardy covers were pretty much the only creator-related criterion I had for purchasing back issues. I tended to prefer DCs, and of those I had a special affinity for issues with so-called Imaginary Stories, Earth-One/Earth-Two crossovers, and Golden or Silver Age reprints; finding a Cardy cover on one of those was a perfect storm of comics awesomeness.

The style that Cardy used in penciling and inking stories in Aquaman and Teen Titans during the 1960s was rounder and rougher than the sharp, clean covers of his that captivated me in the early 1970s. I admire his interior work a great deal, yet it's those covers that came to mind when I brainstormed a few dozen favorite things for these posts thanks to not only nostalgia but outright excellence in layout and linework. Carmine Infantino, DC's publisher at the time and himself a celebrated artist, often provided Cardy with cover-design sketches; there is indeed an identifiable Infantino aura to many of Cardy's most iconic covers, although he could also compose scenes beautifully in his own right. I loved and still love everything from Cardy's precision and relative simplicity in general to such specifics as the way he rendered Superman's insignia and spitcurl. He could draw the most enticingly absurd scene on one cover, a come-on to some featured story within the issue at hand, while on the next turn in the kind of lovely static, wordless illustration that made him, in my estimation, the Norman Rockwell of comics.

Only later would I discover that Cardy contributed covers to DC's string of supernatural titles as copiously as he did to its superhero line, just as I was unaware of his efforts on romance titles and the idiosyncratic, short-lived but highly acclaimed Western series Bat Lash. I tended to look right past such releases as The Witching Hour, Ghosts, The Unexpected, Girls' Love Stories, and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion on the spinner rack in favor of Action Comics, Batman, and Justice League of America. Cardy's tenure as one of DC's primary cover artists overlapped during my own personal Golden Age of Comics with the publisher's 100-Page Super-Spectaculars, which usually had a trove of reprints and fillers backing a new story, as well as with Bob Haney's enticingly kooky Super-Sons saga in World's Finest.

Right now I have a loose moratorium on adding new back issues to my collection — partly because I'm still cataloguing everything that I own and getting it in order, partly because thanks to deficits of both space and funds I can't in good conscience justify buying more old comics without first selling off a bigger chunk than I plan to take in. As I've written here before, I'm hoping 
over the coming years to pare down my hoard considerably to a choice selection of  treasures. So long as issues sporting the telltale talent of "The Good Cover Artist" remain out of my hands, however, I know that my collection is almost thrillingly incomplete.

Covers © 1973, 1974 DC Comics, featuring characters and logos TM DC Comics.
Pencils & Inks: Nick Cardy. Letters: Gaspar Saladino. Text, Colors: Unknown.

40+ Favorites: #1-3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7-9 | #10 | #11
Related Posts: Number One; DC in '76; Ric Estrada 1928-2009


Teebore said...

My 70s DC kung-fu is relatively weak (the Golden/Silver Age stuff I know better, thanks to stuff like the Showcase and Chronicles reprints, while the later 80s stuff is when I started reading DC in earnest back in the day), so I know Cardy best from his Aquaman/Titans interior work. Though judging just from the covers you posted, he does indeed do a nice spitcurl for Superman.

it takes a level of rational thought beyond most kindergarteners to leverage one's chances of enjoying an issue that one is buying (or trading for) based not just on the art or the characters involved but the credit of a writer who's written stuff one liked in the past.

That's a really intriguing idea. I'm trying to remember the point at which I became aware of specific writers/artists. There was certainly art I liked more than other art, but I can't remember the point at which I began to associate the respective art styles with specific individuals (I do recall, for as long as I've read comics, being irritated when a story was interrupted by fill-in art, no matter how good it may have been).

Blam said...

he does indeed do a nice spitcurl for Superman

Ha! I'm glad you agree. Frankly I've always been more in the tousled-hair forelock camp than the intentional-spitcurl camp, but when it's done right it's pretty snazzy — at least on the page; it's never really worked in live-action on screen.

I'm trying to remember the point at which I became aware of specific writers/artists.

You know, I can't really pinpoint it myself, other than that it must've happened young and it probably happened with covers first. Aside from Cardy, Ernie Chan (a.k.a. Ernie Chua at the time) was a big force on the DC covers, and while he was far more uneven he turned in a lot of nostalgic faves. The distinctive styles of a Kirby or a Jim Aparo or a Frank Springer were certainly recognizable before their names were, but since I was reading and not just looking at the comics so early I don't know when the association actually began.