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Nick Cardy Talks Teen Titans & Aquaman

[From “The Art of Nick Cardy” published in 1999]

Coates: In the early 1960s, you began drawing Aquaman and have become the artist most associated with the character. How did this come about?

Cardy: At the time I was still doing eight-page stories for DC’s anthology books. Ramona Fradon had been drawing the character but was moving on for some reason. I remember being in Murray’s [Boltinoff] office with Ramona during the transition. These were the back-up stories, not the main series. Anyway, they must have liked my work because when the character got his own series, they made me the artist.

Coates: Now, George Kashdan was the editor on the Aquaman book, correct? I believe Murray was an Associate Editor, under Jack Schif on your Aquaman back-up stories for Detective Comics, while Jack Schif was editor on your World’s Finest Comics Aquaman back-up stories. These back-ups were prior to the monthly title.

Cardy: I think that’s correct. Murray and Jack worked with me on the character first but George was the editor on the Aquaman bimonthly book.

Coates: Did you like drawing the Aquaman character?

Cardy: I came to, yes. I loved to do research and found it fascinating to find what fish would be at this or that depth, what species were in this or that part of the ocean. Bob Haney wrote most of the stories, though I would develop the actual character look. For instance, they would write that Mera and Aquaman were holding the child. I would then draw the two characters embracing, holding the child, looking at one another, that sort of thing. I would add the romance and set the mood. I think these little things complemented the writing and illustrated the point more fully.

Coates: Were you involved in the plotting?

Cardy: No. I never sat down with the writers and plotted out the issues. What the writers would do, on Aquaman and Teen Titans at least, is go into George’s [Kashdan] office and propose a story, and have a plotting session. Once it was approved and written, I would receive the finished script. Early on at DC, the script would also include the panel layout, by page, and indicate what to draw in each panel. For example: In panel one, the man is holding a gun. In panel two, he is walking toward the heroine, etc. The layout was restricted to eight panels, then six. Later, they’d let the artist decide on what went in the actual panels. Depending on how competent an artist you were, the editor would let you deviate from this formula. As the years went by, DC allowed the artist more freedom in the actual page layout. I credit most of that artistic freedom to Carmine Infantino when he became Editorial Director, and later, Publisher.

Coates: In Aquaman #11, Mera, was introduced. Why give him a wife?

Cardy: I don’t really remember, but it was Bob’s [Haney] and George’s [Kashdan] idea. They both thought up a character called “Mera” and added her to the script. It was then up to me to design her look and portray the character. Other than her being a woman, the script left her look to me. I can’t remember who I based her look on but I used to look to movie starlets to find inspirations.

Coates: The characters eventually married in Aquaman #18. This was odd for a children’s super-hero comic to have a married couple star in the early 1960s.

Cardy: I know that to me, marrying the hero in any story is a death knell. Once you marry them off, you lose the possibility of any sexual tension between the main female and male character. That’s a major story component in an action feature.

Coates: Why make them have a baby? That seemed pretty risky in those days, don’t you think?

Cardy: Absolutely. I don’t think it had been done before and was unique to the medium. I thought it was very odd, though. With our audience being kids and teenagers, who would this appeal to? Who could relate to it? You know, we never showed Mera pregnant. At the beginning of the issue, the reader found out she was pregnant and, by the end of the issue, the baby was born. Poof Just like that! [laughter]

Coates: Did you know Bob Haney very well?

Cardy: We got along very well but never socialized. We worked together for many years and would always discuss the strips and exchange views or concepts. He was a very easy-going guy. As a freelancer, I never worked in the DC office. Also, in those days, the artists and the writers never really socialized; each had their own clique. Don’t get me wrong, we got along; it was just more of a business relationship.

Coates: In Aquaman #33, the character of Tula was introduced. Any particular reason?

Cardy: I think it stemmed from the idea that the Aquaman character had Mera, while Aqualad was sort of left out. So George and Bob wrote in a young girl character, Tula. Like with Mera, I designed Tula’s outfit and overall look. She was Aqualad’s companion, being of the same age, they could relate to one another, or oppose the elders. We played up the fact that she was this wild, “hip” 1960s modern girl and Aqualad was more reserved and introverted.

Coates: In your first two to three years on the Aquaman comic book, the covers seemed to always have a sea monster on them. I remember Julie Schwartz once said that he would always have a gorilla on the cover to sell his books.

Cardy: Yes. We felt they would sell books and attract kids. It did, too! The Aquaman book was a very strong seller at one time.

Coates: Around the mid- to late-1960s, the cover on Aquaman became very design oriented and less the basic DC Comic 1960s cover. Any particular reason?

Cardy: Well, that must have been around the same time Carmine Infantino took over as Editorial Director and later publisher from Irwin Donenfeld. Up until that time, DC’s cover policy was pretty set on what you could or could not portray. Those Aquaman covers you’re referring to were also influenced by Bill’s [Eisner] The Spirit- splash pages where I would work the title into the actual cover illustration;. Aquaman standing on top of the logo, stalagmites forming the Aquaman logo [Aquaman #42 -see pg. 102], with Aquaman on top, etc. I also did this for “Lady Luck” strip back in the 1940s. This again shows the influence of good movie direction, too.

Coates: It sounds as Carmine allowed more artistic freedom compared to Donenfeld

Cardy: Oh, yes! Carmine is the best. I have nothing but good things to say about him, either as a person or creatively. With Carmine being an artist, he understood my need to break out of the norm and take chances artistically. For the first time I felt like my work was appreciated.

Let me take this opportunity to speak for Carmine: As I’ve gotten involved in the industry again, I keep hearing disparaging remarks about Carmine when he was the publisher. I can only speak for my own experience but I think that’s unfair.

Carmine not only had to run the creative end of the business but also had to deal with employee issues, business affairs, Hollywood for the animation, merchandising, etc. Also, I don’t think people understand that he had to answer to his own bosses. Carmine was always a professional with me.

Coates: One of the trademarks of your comic art is your eye for page layout.

Cardy: I’ve always felt setting a page layout is like a movie. The design is so important. For instance, you get this story in plot format, and build a page up the last panel. First, I make a long shot to establish the scene, then pan in. When you pick up the characters, you introduce them through the visuals and dialogue. If the script didn’t do this, or was not paced well, I would work in the drama and use the art to balance the pages. Even with the actual figure within the layout you have design.

I once did a thing in Bat Lash where I showed the reader looking through a person’s elbow while someone is talking, with the other figure in the foreground. Another example: let’s say you have a character walking into the foyer of a two-story house and you have a long shot where you set the scene. If you know something is going to take place upstairs, you use the long shot from upstairs down into the first floor to set the scene, while the second shot is a close-up of the banister. Maybe you see part of a foot and the tiny people below through that banister. Regardless, you establish that something is upstairs by only alluding to it. You use these types of techniques to lead the reader to something relevant and not just place a layout there arbitrarily. To contrast, if you are going to take an angle shot from upstairs, and nothing is going to happen upstairs, you have no business taking the shot from upstairs. You are trying to be “artistic” and cute but it does not work because the shot has no purpose.

The same point can be illustrated with movies. If something, an event, is going to be very dramatic, to show the contrast you first show the people laughing or doing something where they obviously don’t know the event is about to occur. When it occurs, the drama is such a contrast to the previous scene that it enhances the shock. Take Beethoven and his music: When he wanted this effect, he would build up the music softly, then come with this huge sound that really took you away. If the music were loud to begin with, then it being loud again means nothing-no tension, or contrast. It’s the same with comics and pacing the story. If I know something violent is going to occur on page six, I try to have pages one to five peaceful; again, the contrast for impact. This is the main reason I had trouble with some of the writers at DC. Their stories had no continuity. They were putting scenes in unnecessarily just to have them in the story. If it does not progress the story or enhance it, leave it out.

Coates: With Aquaman #39, there was a change in editors. Did you regret losing the interior art assignment on the book?

Cardy: Not really. I had been doing Aquaman for seven years and was ready to try new things like magazine art. Also, I was starting to do Bat Lash and with the Aquaman and Teen Titans books, one had to be sacrificed. As far as Dick Giordano, he was like a breath of fresh air! He was one of the better artists of our time, without the arrogance of some. I consider Dick a very good friend. Like Carmine, he understood the medium and was a pleasure to work with and for. I think, under Dick, I really let loose on some Aquaman covers. Some of my favorite covers were during this time. I mentioned one earlier with Aquaman being held over a villain’s head who is standing on stalagmites that spell out “Aquaman [Aquaman #42]. Another shows the Mera character in full face with Aquaman hanging onto her hair as it flows through the air [Aquaman #40].

When doing a cover, I believe in taking a scene from the story. However, when a cover has to be dynamic and capture the eye, this is not always possible.

Coates: Lets talk about your Teen Titans comic book work. Like with Aquaman, George Kashdan and Bob Haney were the writers?

Cardy: Yes. George was the editor, while Bob was the preliminary writer, though they both plotted out and wrote the book.

Coates: So you are not responsible for that “hip” 1960s dialogue in the book?

Cardy: No. [laughter] I remember we always tried to relate to the changing moods and clothing styles of our audience. Corny as it nay have been, it must have worked because that book was a solid seller. I enjoyed drawing the book because of the challenge in drawing children. If you recall, the characters were supposed to be fairly young, in the pre-teen years. Children can be difficult to draw because you run the risk of having them look like small adults, instead of children. You have to remember that at that age, a child’s body is not proportioned correctly. There are all these changes going on with their bodies, sometimes not all at the same rate! You have to illustrate that delicately to be effective.

Coates: Earlier I showed you some unpublished pages from the Teen Titans story, “The Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho.” The story was written by young writers Marv Wolfman and Len Wein and is a strong anti-racism story. It was rejected by Carmine [Infantino] after you submitted your completed pencils to be lettered The story that was eventually published was rewritten and penciled by Neal Adams, with you inking his work Do you remember the situation behind Carmine’s decision?

Cardy: After all these years, I really don’t remember the situation. Sorry. I do know that those were turbulent times and maybe DC felt the story was either not effective enough with the subject matter or too touchy a subject to deal with in a comic book. I was never involved in the editorial end of the business so I can only speculate. It does seem odd that a storyline would be approved up-front by the editor, only to have it rejected at such a late date in the production. From a business standpoint alone, it’s not very efficient.

Coates: What was George Kashdan like?

Cardy: George was mild-mannered, easy to talk to, and very friendly. As an editor, he was flexible. Anything I wanted to portray on the cover, he’d let me do it. Compared to some other editors at DC, working with George was like opening a window and letting the light in. [laughter] I was ready to quit the whole industry after an incident with [DC Publisher] Irwin Donenfeld incident but Carmine convinced me to stay at DC Comics.

Coates: What happened with Donenfeld?

Cardy: Well, Irwin was a pretty cold individual, at least to me anyway. This was the son, not the father [Harry Donenfeld, who died in the mid- ’60s, was one of the founding fathers of DC and served as publisher until his passing. Irwin Donenfeld, who left DC Comics in 1968, was Harry’s son]. By the late 1960s, I had been working at DC over 15 years, producing work monthly, and felt I should have a raise in my page rate. At this time DC was only paying about $40 a page. That’s not that much, even back then. Understand, I was never one to make waves or complain, and had always been a good employee, but I thought I was due. I spoke to George Kashdan and he agreed and later went to see Irwin. When George asked for my raise, Irwin told him, “Well, we were thinking about letting a few artists go, George, so…!” And that was the end of that! Basically, because I was asking for a raise, this guy was going to lay me off Because of this, the pencil and ink issue I did of Teen Titans #13, the Christmas issue, was some of my best. I was so upset with Irwin that I put everything I had into that issue just to show him. Then I said the heck with it and was about to leave for good. Fortunately, good compliments on that job from fellow artists I respected helped calm me down and carry me through. I think that was the beginning of the end, because that motivated me to get my non-comic portfolio together and to start prospecting for other work.

Coates: Creative individuals in the industry have a great deal more rights today.

Cardy: Yes. It’s also important to remember to differentiate from the corporation and the individual. Don’t get me wrong: There were some fine people at DC during that period. Overall, I enjoyed working at DC. I never would have stayed over twenty years if I didn’t. Today, the people running DC Comics could not be nicer, more professional, or more respectful.

Coates: You worked with Jack Adler?

Cardy: Jack was a production manger but had nothing to do with the creative process. His job was to get the books to the printer and published. He was very humorous and a nice guy. I liked him. He was the type of guy that if you wanted to buy a hot car, he had the connections. Anything you wanted he could get. He had me believing he owned the place! [laughter]

Coates: During this period there was a animated cartoon on CBS television called The Superman/Aquaman Hour. Were you involved in this?

Cardy: Not with the actual animation, no. I did do character profiles for the animators; full-figure drawings, right side, left side, drawings of the faces, profiles, etc. These were used as character guides when the animator would draw the character on the animation cels. Originally, Jack Leibowitz wanted me to go to Australia, where the animation was being produced, and assist with the actual drawing of the animation but someone else negated it. Just my luck! [laughter] It was thoughtful of him to think of me, though. In fact, I was disappointed with the animators in that they did not do the sea horses as I had drawn them. Maybe they changed it for the medium, who knows. There were also some Aquaman toys that came out about this time but I had nothing to do with them. The toy company did use one of my characters from the Aquaman comic book, “Mongo,” for a villain figure.

Coates: Those toys were the 3″ action figures by Ideal as part of their Justice League of America Playset. They’re very rare and sought-after by toy collectors. Though Aquaman is my favorite, I’ve always wondered why such a minor character was chosen for a national cartoon series.

Cardy: The character had quite a following at the time. Also, DC thought kids would enjoy seeing adventures in on the ocean and underwater. It was a different environment he than the other two DC heroes with cartoons then- Batman and Superman. You know, Batman has no powers, Superman is all-powerful, and Aquaman’s water-based – nice contrast of stories.

Coates: During this time there was a writer’s movement led by Otto Binder, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, and Bob Haney over health benefits which allegedly led to their being fired. Do you remember any of this?

Cardy: Not really, no. I had not heard that. As a freelancer I would only come into the office periodically and never kept up with any office politics.


Jon: What was at the heart of your artistic transitions? Did you feel you were turning stale at particular times?

Nick: I was looking for a certain perfection in style. Out of a hundred drawings, I may like maybe four or five. I was seeking out things pleasing to me; I would accept pictures that were nice and were effective in telling a story well. I was trying to draw the women prettier. With some comics work I didn’t get the opportunity to use many shadows and blacks, but with The Brave & the Bold, I had the chance to work on dramatic detective stories and I was able to use a lot of bold blacks.

With that Scrooge story [TT #13,I used a lot of pen and ink crosshatching. And I used that technique right on through to the Bat-Squad story [B&B #92]. With pen and ink, I can achieve a scratchy, foggy effect that is appropriate. (You just had to always hope that the colorist would recognize your efforts and color it right!) It was a continual process of learning.

Jon: Just prior to your B&B work, you seemed to extend your limits with TT-that job written by Steve Skeates, “Blindspot!” [TT#28] comes to mind.

Nick: As long as it was right for the script, I would love to play up the dramatic aspects of a story. I enjoyed emphasizing the mystery. Tenement buildings always fascinated me (probably because I grew up in one!), so I was very familiar with urban atmospherics-back alleys, laundry lines, crooked telephone poles, wet streets with streams running down the middle, street lamps glowing-and those are very dramatic! I liked to draw the old tenement buildings more than the new modern buildings because I hated drawing straight lines! [laughter] You could draw tenements crooked because they were a little crooked!

Jon: With the unpublished TT story, “Jericho,” the first two pages betray a new drawing approach for you.

Nick: With that story, I tried to express the city at night in a different way. You just see the patterns that the lights make through the darkness. We had three black kids hitching a ride on the back of a bus and I made the entire background pitch black, and I did the highlights with white paint. I made it look like a woodcut; it was different. I didn’t want to do the entire story that way but the beginning of the story called for that approach.
Again, I was experimenting.

I never did get to finish “Jericho.” Most of the copies I’ve seen of the pages show that I didn’t get a chance to fill in the blacks or add detail. Often, when I was composing the figures, I would block them in first with very heavy lines just to cast shadows. Later on, I would make the outlines. So it was, more or less, painting in black.

Jon: So the Jericho pages show an intermediate stage of the production process. Before you finished inking, the letterer would get the pages, and then you would fill in the detail.

Nick: I would write the copy in the balloons freehand and then I would pencil up to those areas of text, leaving a lot of space for the letterer. Some writers would use a more verbiage than others, but you need a balance between words and pictures to tell a good story.

Jon: So you had a jump in your creative approach with TT #13, then moved on to even more experimentation with Bat Lash, and, I would suggest, your storytelling ability really hit a peak with your B&B work-the final comic book series you regularly worked on.

Nick: I think I matured with my blacks. And I used them in the B&Bs because the stories called for heavy blacks- they were mysteries. Teen Titans were light and humorous, with kids flying through the air; you didn’t want them portrayed too heavy with moody lines.

Jon: Were you given B&B as a regular on-going assignment, or was it a temporary stint?

Nick: I think I just did one and they said, “Here’s another’ I just did what they gave me.

End of transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author