Hot Streak: Nick Cardy’s Aquaman

« Who’s Aquaman? I never heard of him! »
« He’s one of the super-beings from the place called Earth! He lives at the bottom of the ocean! » —  Steev & Jimm, rubberneckin’ in Aquaman no. 51

Some may have wondered at the deep, abiding affection held, by a certain savvy contingent of comics aficionados, for sea king Aquaman. After all, he’s a bit of a second-stringer, and he’s had a pretty spotty record for decades. Well, I’d say one has to have encountered the erstwhile Arthur Curry at his peak, in the hands of the Stephen Skeates, (writer) Jim Aparo (penciller-inker-letterer), Dick Giordano (editor-poacher), Nick Cardy (cover artist), Carmine Infantino (editor-in-chief/art director), Jack Adler (colourist) and Gaspar Saladino (cover letterer) set.

Fond as I am of Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon‘s work, the series’ Skeates-Aparo period is more my speed. I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s a whiff of the end of the world, something ominous and immediate about it, despite the fanciful settings. I guess it was « relevance », but with a lighter touch and without the cringe-inducing bathos of the concurrent Green Lantern-Green Arrow series. Because of Aquaman’s aquatic nature, environmental doom seldom seems far. The Skeates-Aparo rampage lasted from issue 40 (June 1968) to number 56 (April 1971). Aparo returned to the character just a few years down the road (Adventure Comics no. 441, Sept. 1975), but by then, he’d already begun his long, painful artistic deterioration.


But back to the covers: this represents, in my view, Cardy’s second hot streak on this title. From the beginning of his career (in 1940 with the Iger/Eisner shop!) Cardy had always been a reliably competent artist, but rarely a very exciting one. That all changed in the mid-Sixties when newly minted art director/editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino made him his right-hand man and co-designer of DC’s covers. This greater latitude gave Cardy wings. Cardy’s first Aquaman hot streak opens on issue 37 (Jan.-Feb. 1968) and closes with issue 45 (May-June 1969). Issues 46 to 48 are nice enough, but short of transcendence… beyond that bump in the road, we’re set for a smooth run of splendid covers.

This is Aquaman no. 49 (Jan.-Feb. 1970). Cover pencils and inks by Cardy, colours by Jack Adler, Aquaman logo by Ira Schnapp, title lettering by his worthy successor, Gaspar Saladino. Edited by Dick Giordano, directed (and likely laid out) by Infantino.
This is Aquaman no. 50 (Mar.-Apr. 1970), sporting a Cardy cover that couldn’t have been more evidently designed by Carmine Infantino, with more Saladino magic on the titles and Deadman logo. Gestalt: it’s what great collaboration is all about! It seems fair to assume that the title is a nod to the Harlan Ellison-scripted 1967 Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever.
This is Aquaman no. 51 (May.-June 1970). I don’t usually pilfer Tentacle Tuesday material… but I’m inclined to make an exception for a (sea) worthy cause. Design-wise, Infantino and Cardy took full advantage of the aquatic action settings. Up, down, sideways — anything goes!
This is Aquaman no. 52 (July-Aug. 1970). A wistful, disorienting experiment in colour and design economy. You’d never see such a *hushed* cover chez Marvel.
This is Aquaman no. 53 (Sept.-Oct. 1970). A fine instance of the notorious “Infantino tilt”. Michael Kaluta on Infantino’s cover design input: « My approach to a cover, when I got to do my own ideas, was to show the picture straight on, staged, unless it was a dramatic perspective view. Almost every time I’d bring one of these sketches in to Carmine he’d turn the paper about 30 degrees to the right and demand that that made the composition 100% stronger, more “grabby”… and I’d have to agree about 50% of the time… »
This is Aquaman no. 54 (Nov.-Dec. 1970). Did I mention that DC’s books of the early ’70s had a general predilection for the macabre and the moody? Fine by me, then and now.
This is Aquaman no. 55 (Jan.-Feb. 1971). The fact that this complex idea works so well on the page is evidence of some first-rate design work, with some heady colouring mojo sealing the deal.
This is Aquaman no. 56 (Mar.-Apr. 1971). Would you believe that this story was continued over three years later in Marvel’s Sub-Mariner no. 72 (Sept. 1974). Seems sneaky Steve Skeates slipped something past sleepy editor Roy Thomas. In an interesting bit of coincidence, it was each of the competing oceanic monarchs’ final issue. On another note, I presume that the title is a takeoff on Norman Greenbaum‘s 1967 song The Eggplant That Ate Chicago (popularized by Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band), itself likely an homage to Arch Oboler‘s infamous 1937 Lights Out radio episode, The Chicken Heart (That Ate the World). Phew!

Under normal circumstances, this run of covers would have turned out quite differently for, as Steve Skeates told me a few years ago, « The only reason Jim [Aparo] didn’t do the covers was that he lived out of town, couldn’t come in for cover conferences! »


12 thoughts on “Hot Streak: Nick Cardy’s Aquaman

  1. Very nice selection of covers by the incredible Nick Cardy! Thanks also for pointing out where Carmine Infantino probably had a hand in the layouts / design.

    By the way, I really have to disagree with your comment about Jim Aparo’s “long, painful artistic deterioration.” As someone who started reading Batman in 1989, his work on that character in the late 1980s and early 90s was stunning. For me Aparo’s art is one of the definitive interpretations of the Dark Knight and his world. Just my opinion, of course.


    • gasp65 August 5, 2019 / 11:54

      Hi Ben! Barring vacations, I imagine Infantino had a hand in every DC cover of his reign, but the percentage of his influence varies. Sometimes it’s nearly all Cardy (or Kirby or Kubert or Dominguez), sometimes it’s easy to imagine that the result barely deviates from Carmine’s quick sketch.

      As for Aparo, well… sometimes there’s en entire essay implied within a handful of words. I wasn’t just dismissing Aparo. I mean, consider how he started out at Charlton doing pencils, inks *and* letters. Now, exact proportions vary from artist to artist, but I’d say what gave Aparo his essence was his inking. Case in point: Aparo ran into deadline trouble a few times on The Spectre in 1974. Joe Orlando, in his wisdom, cleverly solved the problem: he got two fast, strong pencillers (Frank Thorne and Ernie Chan) to provide breakdowns, which Aparo finished in his customary style. Most people wouldn’t (and don’t, frankly) perceive the difference. Same with Aparo over John Byrne (Legends of the Dark Knight #1, 1980).

      Now Aparo had a certain pace he was comfortable with, basically a page a day. Through most of the 1970s, he would work on alternating bi-monthlies. Then DC wanted more, and he had to step up production when Brave & Bold went monthly (if memory serves). Things got a mite sketchier, more automatic, bit by bit. Then it was decided, correctly, that he could work faster if relieved of his inking and lettering chores (save for covers). Pencilling is what pays more. It could have worked out, but no, they stuck him, for keeps, with lackluster Mike DeCarlo, definitely *not* in the upper bracket of former Giordano pupils (Terry Austin, Joe Rubinstein, Klaus Janson…). Between Mike Barr’s writing and DeCarlo’s inks, Batman & The Outsiders was nobody’s career highlight. I admit it, I wrote Aparo off at that point. His involvement with Jim Starlin’s nasty Death in the Family would add another blight to the tally.
      Unexpectedly (it surprised me, anyhow), though, there was still a spark in Mr. Aparo that a real inker could bring out: Bill Sienkiewicz’s bold, not to say radical, finishes on Aparo (and on Sal Buscema, by the same token) circa 1996 or so made for some fine-looking, visually bracing comics. And I don’t even particularly like Sienkiewicz!

      Oh, and I hardly think anyone would be so clueless as to deny Aparo’s solid standing and contribution to Batman’s saga. No one here and accounted for, at any rate.

      See what you’ve done, Ben? 😉


  2. Eric August 6, 2019 / 10:52

    Will you make an article about the inside artwork of Aparo ?


    • gasp65 August 6, 2019 / 23:32

      Well, since there’s evident interest… I’ve had something rattling in the back of my mind on that topic. Guess I should commit it to writing sooner than later. Thanks for the suggestion… such feedback is *greatly* appreciated!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s