Hot Streak: Nick Cardy’s Aquaman, Previously

« Suffering sea snakes! Can this really be happening, Aquaman? » — Aqualad has a query.

I just realised, a few days ago, that I’d left something hanging for too long: nearly two years ago, I turned the spotlight on a series of Aquaman covers, casually (in my debonair way) letting it be known that there existed another, earlier, and even longer (well, by one) run of exemplary Aquaman covers. The time has come to see whether I was talking through my hat… or not.

Now, at the risk of repeating myself, it must be stated that, since we’re dealing with DC’s late Silver Age, there’s more to any given cover than a signature. DC’s recently-ascended art director, Carmine Infantino, had a hand in designing virtually every DC cover between late 1966 and early 1976. How strong a hand varied from cover to cover, of course. A good designer sometimes knows when to hold back and be invisible, or just about.

Infantino always strove to improve himself and update and hone his skills. Well into his career (he’d started in 1940 at Timely), he pulled an unexpected (and very smart) move. As he recalled it in The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino (2000, Vanguard Productions):

« Around 1960, I went back to school again, this time to study under a gentleman named Jack Potter at the School of Visual Arts. What Jack taught me about design was monumental, and I went through a metamorphosis working with him. I’d sit there confused and he’d tear the work apart. But then it was a light bulb going off – bam! – and I’d understand everything he was getting at.

After studying with Potter at the SVA, my work started to grow by leaps and bounds. I was achieving individuality in my work that wasn’t there before.

I threw all the basics of cartooning out the window and focused on pure design. Everything I did was design-oriented. That was quite the challenging task. But that’s where Potter’s teaching took me.

… I started putting hands in captions, that was decorative. He taught us to do everything decoratively. I’d always found captions very dull. So I thought I’d break the captions into smaller paragraphs and use hands to get people to read them. I regularly pushed design and perspective to the extreme. »

And speaking of reinvention, I must also salute Nick Cardy’s own mid-career creative burst. Prior to the mid-60s, Cardy had always been one of those genteel, tasteful but entirely unexciting journeymen, the way most DC editors liked ’em. I can think of precious few long-timers that managed to convincingly reinvent themselves and greatly raise their game, well into their career, without utterly misplacing their original identity (that disqualifies you, Keith Giffen) in the process. Alex Toth, Jerry Grandenetti and perhaps Sheldon Mayer come to mind…

At any rate, when Infantino got together with Cardy on those covers, all hell broke loose, in the best possible way.

This is Aquaman no. 37 (Jan.-Feb. 1968, DC). The despondent walrus, bottom left, is family pet ‘Tusky’. Oh, and my apologies for ever-so-slightly poaching some potential Tentacle Tuesday material.
This is Aquaman no. 38 (Mar.-Apr. 1968, DC). I wonder what’s up with the redundant vertical logo, top left.
In case you’re wondering about Aquaman’s expanded regal duties (“and TV!“), they were showing repackaged reruns of his half of the previous year’s Superman / Aquaman Hour of Adventure. A Filmation production, so don’t expect too much if you haven’t seen it.
But back to the comic book: this dazzling scene announces the saga of “How to Kill a Sea King!”, as our amphibious hero seeks to thwart a hostile Venusian takeover of Earth and sea. Script by Bob Haney, art by Cardy. This is Aquaman no. 39 (May-June 1968, DC). Oh, and the hottie? That’s “Aliena”. A real bolt of ‘inspiration’ there, Mister Haney.
This is Aquaman 41, (July.-Aug. 1968, DC). Such dynamically-designed fun! This is where the new creative team of Stephen Skeates and Jim Aparo joins new editor Dick Giordano (his second issue), but Cardy remains on covers… because Aparo, who resided a couple of states over, couldn’t attend the cover conferences.
This is Aquaman 41, (Sept.-Oct. 1968, DC), a highlight among highlights from the redoubtable team of Infantino (publisher-designer), Cardy (penciller-inker), Giordano (editor), Jack Adler (production manager and colourist), and, inside, Skeates (writer) and Aparo (penciller-inker-letterer). There’s a texture to the colour work (most evident on the foreground piraña… a freshwater fish, incidentally) that’s unusual for comics of that period. I wonder how it was achieved…
This is Aquaman no. 42 (Nov.-Dec. 1968, DC).
This is Aquaman no. 43 (Jan.-Feb. 1969, DC). Face-first in a bed of mussels, with several tons of pressure? Yikes.
This is Aquaman no. 44 (March-April 1969, DC). I love how, despite the gravity of the situation, the mobsters are kind of cartoony. Cardy would most fruitfully mine this tragicomic vein in the brilliant but short-lived western Bat Lash (1968-69).
This is Aquaman no. 45 (May-June 1969, DC), concluding Skeates and Aparo’s two-parter, the self-explanatory “Underworld Reward”. An undeniably epochal cover by Mr. Cardy. To wit, so compelling and mysterious is this scene that it’s merited an astute blogger’s impressively in-depth analysis… well worth a peek.


5 thoughts on “Hot Streak: Nick Cardy’s Aquaman, Previously

  1. Krackles January 4, 2022 / 14:21

    I have to disagree with your comment on Keith Giffen.
    From the start of his career, he had been nourished by artistic mimicry, with Kirby then Maguire and, of course, later with José Muñoz which earned him a reputation as a plagiarist and king of the swipe.

    I’ve enjoyed his artistic surfing over the years, and yes, especially the much-maligned Muñoz era that led to the sweet spot of the Legion reboot in 1989 that I’m still particularly fond of (Muñoz crossed with Kirby and Maguire!) .

    I must add that I was, from the start, fully aware of Muñoz’s sudden influence on his work.
    See? I’m not gonna make any excuses, you like what you gotta like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 January 4, 2022 / 16:10

      I guess we’re doomed to disagree on that one! I do think you’re taking some liberties with the sequence (and, I’d argue, the facts), though.

      While I got a real kick out of Giffen’s Kirbyism schtick on Defenders (especially when inked by Mike Royer), it was an artistic dead end. With the work that followed, he tried to integrate the Kirby influence into a style of his own, but the results were painfully stiff and poorly-staged, most of all when he tried to play it straight. I find that Ambush Bug was his most successful work of that period.

      Then came his Muñoz fascination (or should that be ‘fascinación’?), used most effectively for his and Robert Loren Fleming’s graphic novel adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Hell on Earth. With some attempts at a bit of an Alex Toth flavour here and there (though these could possibly have been contributed by inkers Greg Theakson and Bill Wray, or even letterer Gaspar Saladino).

      From the look of it, by the dawn of the 90s, the Muñoz had largely receded — and what you call a Maguire influence leaves me baffled. Aside from adopting the affectation of giving everyone mid-speech ‘duck faces’ (and using Maguire’s regular inker Al Gordon), that’s — a bit of a stretch, especially compared to the pervasiveness of the earlier borrowings. In other words, it’s a tic, not a full-blown ‘influence’.

      For a long time, I was rooting for Giffen. He was trying to achieve something different. But by now he’s shown his painful limitations: forever juvenile, taking asinine potshots by re-dialoguing romance comics, and going against the express wishes of Sheldon Mayer with a cheap and pointless ‘update’ of Sugar and Spike… that last one is a hanging offence.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Krackles January 4, 2022 / 17:41

        Ha yes, I put it in my sequence order so it’s the wrong timeframe: that should have been Kirby first, then Muñoz then Maguire but it is no a surprise since I discovered his Muñoz period right after that of Maguire (and that was more 30 years old).
        Regardless, I maintain that Maguire had an influence on Giffen and helped shape his cumulative style even if on the most superfluous level.

        I agree on the dead end in aping Kirby’s style but it is often quite fun when he revisits Kirby (it’s conforting coming back to a familiar place).

        As for Giffen’s artwise limits, he’s obviously aware of them (as we are) and I take it that it’s why he put quite some efforts to find his own way in a succession of copycat styles (sometimes with back and forth) and that it finally took shaping in the 90s.

        I won’t discuss the work he did in re-dialoguing romance comics as I didn’t read more than a couple of pages before I put the book back on the shelf.

        One can’t fault a guy for trying and for a while it has been good while it lasted.

        Liked by 2 people

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