say you only get one chance to make a first impression. That's
why a comic's most powerful images usually appear on the cover.
After all, when a kid's standing at a newsstand (or today,
the comic book store) clutching his hard-earned quarter (or
today...what...twenty bucks?!), he's gonna go for the most
eye-catching cover he sees.
When I was that kid, the most
alluring, "gotta have it" covers always seemed
drawn by the same guy: Nick Cardy. In fact, Cardy was one
of the first artists whose name I ever bothered to learn,
after my idol Neal Adams.
Other kids collected every comic with a particular character,
or everything put out by a certain publisher, but I was
pretty open minded. I just had two rules: if Neal Adams
drew the story, I had to buy the book, and if Nick
Cardy drew the cover, even of a book I usually didn't like,
I was at least going to pick it up and check it out.
This was back in the early
70s, and Cardy had taken on -- officially or not -- the
role of DC's primary cover artist. He illustrated with equal
efficiency the terror-filled tableaus of the horror comics,
the "he doesn't even know I'm alive" misery of
the romance books and, of course, the supreme melodrama
of the superhero books.
Cardy had a particular flair for Superman,
possibly because in a genre populated by masked mystery
men wearing cowls, masks and helmets, Supes had a
recognizably human face, and a rather handsome one
at that. There was a degree of glamour and polish
to Nick's style that brought out Superman's good looks.
His cape, for instance, looked regal and dressy, fit
for a night at the Opera. But the bottom line was,
Nick was able to make Superman look like a real person
juggling locomotives or breaking the sound barrier
on foot. In contrast, Nick's Batman usually looked
like...well, like a real person wearing a silly Halloween
costume with big bat ears.
|Nick's mastery of facial expressions
and his carefully composed, uncluttered layouts helped milk
the last drop of drama out of all sorts of predicaments. On
one memorable cover, Kal-El's lower body was stretched out
like silly putty and sucked through the Earth while his arms
clung to the comic's masthead, the letters in "Superman"
crumbling in his desperate grip. Other covers captured our
hero in the ultimate moment of despair, fury or terror from
each story (or, in the time-honored tradition of comics, in
a situation that never really appeared in the story at all!).
Whatever the scene, the message was the same: Trust us,
kids, you can't live without this book!
Together with Curt
Swan, Cardy evolved a 70s "house style" for
Superman, Superboy, Action Comics, Superman's Pal Jimmy
Olsen and World's Finest. That "style"
was one of clean lines and understated good looks. None
of the muscle-bound freaks you find in today's books, none
of the dripping gore, hopeless clutter or copious prose
that ruined so many covers from Marvel and other competitors
in Cardy's heyday..
Nothing lasts forever, of course,
and by the late 70s Nick had left comics for the world of
advertising. Less inspiring artists (for my tastes, anyway)
took over the covers for Action and Superman,
guys like Ross Andru, Ernie Chua and Rich Buckler. Eventually
there was some interesting work from talents like Jose Luis
Garcia- Lopez and a short-lived return for Neal Adams, but
for the most part, my days of buying Superman comics based
on the covers was long gone. In fact, I think the lackluster
covers of the 80s accounted in part for declining sales
of the Superman books, hastening the character's now (in)famous
"reboot" by artist/writer John Byrne.
As far as I know, Nick never
did illustrate interiors on a Superman story in the 70s,
though he was invited back to DC in the 90s to draw a couple
of pages for the "Wedding Album" special wherein
Lois and Clark tie the knot. Today he's a regular at several
conventions and keeps busy recreating his covers for fans
who can afford them.
Of course the real bargains
were to be found all those years ago, when those splashy,
colorful covers, wrapped around 32 pages of story could
be yours for a mere twenty cents. Those covers kept drawing
me back into Superman's world month after month, and introduced
me to the 30th century adventures of Superboy and the Legion
of Superheroes. Fun stories I might have missed if it hadn't
been for the talents of Nick Cardy and his canny mix of
glamour and melodrama. You may not be able to judge a book
by its cover, but like it or not, its often the cover that
sells the book. By that reckoning, Nick Cardy has to rate
as one of the best salesmen DC Comics ever had.
BONUS: Nick Cardy
Decorate your desktop with my home-made Nick Cardy
wallpaper, featuring some of the best covers from
the Superman comics of the early 70s.
The Official Nick
Cardy Website: http://www.nickcardy.com