Monday, November 4, 2013

Remembering Nick Cardy

Legendary work on Teen Titans,
Aquaman, and so many other
great DC titles.
I'm sure that there other tributes out there that have personal stories and anecdotes about the late, great Nick Cardy, and they will undoubtedly be better than this poor effort. However, I do have something to say about Nick Cardy, and while my story isn't about a face-to-face meeting with the man, it's no less personal to my development as a comic book reader.

I grew up in the 1970s. Pre-Internet, Pre-direct market, pre-everything. Comic collecting was a long, lonely chore, and it began at 9 AM on a Saturday morning. I had four convenience stores to check out, at nearly cardinal points on my internal compass, and limited funds--only a couple of dollars. But it was enough.

You had to do it that way. The Colonial store got slightly different comics than Skinny's, see, and if you didn't check them all, you could miss something. This was essential if you were looking for new comics and trying to follow the story. Nothing broke my heart more than picking up an issue and seeing that little "Screw You, Loser" in the corner of the splash page: "See Last Issue."

The last convenience store on my route was called Little Jewel Grocers. They never had new comics. What they had was old comics that they never sent back to the newsstand distributor for credit. While chasing down The Amazing Spider-Man cost me 35 cents, I could pick up older issues of Batman and Detective Comics for 20 cents. They were my comic shop, so to speak. And I bought everything on their racks, eventually.

Just seeing the ad for this comic inside
another title scared the crap out of me.
I did this for two reasons: I was just collecting--reading and digesting, figuring out what I liked and what I didn't like--and I was also learning. I didn't know the nuances of Wonder Woman's origin, nor did I know how Titano became Titano, or what made The Elongated Man stretch. I was fascinated by this huge, colorful world, and make no mistake, brothers and sisters, it was a world made all the more seductive and amazing by Nick Cardy.

Something about his covers just shot straight into my primate brain and rattled around in there like ball bearings in a Dixie cup. Especially those beautiful Nick Cardy covers. Oh, the stories they told! What wonders they promised! I was compelled to buy those comics, based on the sincerely dramatic covers alone.

Later, I became aware of what an amazing artist Nick Cardy
was; technically, I mean. He was a master storyteller, sure, but there was something so casual, and yet so specific, about his line work and his choices that gave his drawing so much expression and movement. Cardy art jumps off of the page, or alternately, draws you in, inviting you to look over, around, up and down. Not a lot of artists can do what Nick Cardy did, and in such small amounts of space, at that.

Don't you want to read this story?
I still do, and I know what happens!
When I was younger, I loved Neal Adams covers for DC. But I instinctively knew that, unless it was something very rare and special, the carpet wasn't going to match the drapes. Usually, an Adams cover meant nothing special on the inside (there were always exceptions, of course). But Nick Cardy covers communicated the contents of the story, sometimes better than the writer did. They were genuinely compelling, and they made me want to read the comic book to see what happened. Part of my journey into comics collecting revolved around knowing the secret origins of heroes and villains, and so whenever I could, I sought out those double sized squarebound anthology-style comics--frequently sporting Nick Cardy covers, because he could communicate those stories in panels half the size of the cover themselves--and eventually, I began to seek those covers out for what I knew the issues would contain.

It's very hard to explain to people under the age of 30 what it was like collecting comics prior to 1985. If you bought a comic book at a convenience store one month, there was NO guarantee the next issue would be there the next month. If you wanted to know something about the Flash's Rogues Gallery, you had to either write a letter (with a pen and paper) and hope that it got answered, or you waited for giant-sized editions of the comics to come out with reprint stories, and you prayed for a retelling of the origin of Captain Cold. That's it. Those were your choices. There MAY have been a real, hardcover book or two that MIGHT have some comic book history in it, tucked away at the local library, IF your library was hip. Mine was not. But I was a precocious reader, and I was able to sucker my family into buying me hardcover and softcover reprint collections as they were initially being floated in the bookstore market. I've still got my "Superman: from the 40s to the 70s" hardcover. But it STILL wasn't enough.

These books were my bread and butter.
I was DC's reprint book market.
Only the monthly trickle of cool reprint books like Secret Origins and Wanted and the Giant-Sized reprint issues could slake my thirst for knowing how X or Y got their powers. And those covers were almost always the exclusive province of Nick Cardy. Every time I saw his art on the cover of a comic, I just knew whatever was inside would be all right. He made bad comics palatable, and he made good comics great. I loved him before I ever knew who he was.

Over the years, Nick Cardy became one of my favorite cover artist for DC in the sixties and seventies, second only to Joe Kubert. His page art was just as good, and his painting was amazing. He was one of those artists like Jack Davis who could do anything--humor, horror, celebrity likeness, page art, cover art, drama and fine illustration. No, I never got to meet him, and I regret it. But Nick Cardy was instrumental in making me the comic book fan that I am today.

If there is a heaven, and I think there is, I'd like to think that Will Eisner is running the shop up there, with Kirby and Kubert and all the rest of them. It looks like their cover artist just showed up. I can't wait to read those comics. Rest in Peace, sir.

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