41 Favorites: #6
DC covers by Nick Cardy have long been among my favorite things.
I didn’t always know him by name.
More than one of the few books about comics accessible during my childhood in the ’70s, on which I’ve written before, referred to “The Good Duck Artist". Past generations who read tales of Donald, his nephews, and his Uncle Scrooge in Disney comics before most creators were credited — and before admirers, collectors, and scholars could
easily share information far and wide — didn’t know him by name. Yet many of them found his contributions so obviously head-and-shoulders above other artists' that the appellation “The Good Artist” became an acknowledged shorthand in fandom. When context was needed: “The Good Duck Artist”. "The Good Duck Artist" turned out, I learned from these same books, to be a gentleman named Carl Barks.
Also during those years, I noticed that certain DC titles sported covers that were so distinct and so appealing to me I could only think of the fellow who drew them as “The Good Cover Artist”. He turned out to be a gentleman born Nicholas Peter Viscardi, by then known professionally as Nick Cardy.
I’m not calling every other cover artist bad. Several appealed to me — Jim Aparo,
Ernie Chua/Chan, and Bob Oksner readily come to mind — although I didn’t know all their names at the time either. But covers by Cardy, in particular on issues of Action and World’s Finest Comics featuring the Super-Sons, were actively searched for on spinner racks as well as in the longboxes of back issues set out at flea markets. As luck would have it, Cardy’s tenure as one of DC’s go-to cover artists peaked shortly before my comics devotion kicked into gear.
I can’t say exactly when I discovered his name, because I was still so young that I lack
a good grasp of how long it was before I did so; time passes slowly at five, six, seven years old. Most of Cardy's covers weren't signed, and if they were signed 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 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 actually there in one of my most cherished artifacts: Limited Collectors' Edition #C-34, a tabloid-sized anthology presenting 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; it's entirely possible that I didn't make the connection at first through some combination of not really noticing the cover signature and not particularly caring about associating a name with "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 bazaars hosted by local shopping malls 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, besides which — as I’ve probably driven into the ground by now — I wasn't amassing covers done by "The Good Cover Artist" because of an inherent value attached to his name but due to visceral, personal aesthetics.
Once I did start visiting comics shops and going to conventions, Nick Cardy covers
were pretty much my only creator-related interest regarding back issues in the early days. I tended to prefer DCs, and of those I had a special zeal 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 penciling and inking Aquaman and Teen Titans during the ’60s was rounder and rougher than the crisply delineated covers of his that captivated me in the early ’70s. 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, owing not only to nostalgia but to the flat-out excellence. Carmine Infantino — DC's publisher at the time, renowned for era-defining runs on Flash and Batman — often provided artists with cover-design sketches; his approach is identifiable on many of Cardy's most iconic covers, although Cardy was able to compose scenes beautifully in his own right.
I loved and still love Cardy's technique, from its general look of precision 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 in the next turn in the kind of striking wordless illustration that made him, in my estimation, the Norman Rockwell of superhero comics.
Much later I would realize that Cardy had contributed covers to DC's supernatural
titles as copiously as he did to its line of costumed crimefighters. Back then I was unaware of those efforts, just as I was of his work on romance series and the idiosyncratic, short-lived but highly acclaimed Western Bat Lash. I largely ignored such fare as Ghosts, The Unexpected, and Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion on the spinner rack in favor of Action Comics, Batman, and Justice League of America.
Right now I have a loose moratorium on adding to my collection — partly because I’m still cataloguing and getting it all in order, partly because dearths of both space and funds mean that I simply can't in good conscience keep taking in more old comics than I sell off. I hope over the coming years to pare down my hoard to a choice selection of treasures. So long as issues exhibiting the telltale talent of "The Good Cover Artist" remain out there, however, I know that my collection is almost thrillingly incomplete.
Covers to (in order of display) Action Comics #425, Justice League of America #102,
Secret Origins #3, Limited Collectors' Edition #C-34, 100-Page Super-Spectacular #DC-20,
Justice League of America #107, World's Finest Comics #215, Superman #266, and Action
Comics #429 © 1972, 1973, 1974 DC Comics. Logos and characters TM/® DC Comics.
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Related: DC in '76 • Shelf Obsession • Nick Cardy 1920-2013