Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: Mr. Cardy, I wanted to begin by thanking you for your time. I’ve been lucky enough to speak with a couple of your peers and they had very fond memories of working with and spending time with you.
Nick Cardy: My pleasure. I guess you could say that Carmine Infantino is a fan of my work.
CB: It’s interesting that you mention Carmine. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with him several times and you’re 100% correct. He adores your work and it almost looks like he kind of passed the torch making you the primary cover artist at DC.
CARDY: Well, what happened was at the time I was doing Bat Lash. Any new books come out and if they feel it has a potential they would give it about a 7 month trial. Now I could be wrong on this. But generally Carmine said what they do is they give it a year and if it doesn’t make any money then they drop it. So on the last thing that I did of Bat Lash…did you ever see Bat Lash?
CB: I’m lucky enough to own three original issues of it and I really enjoyed the series a whole lot.
CARDY: Well, I wrote number two. That was the one with the tombstone.
CB: Yeah, in fact that’s one of the copies that I own.
CARDY: Well, Roy Thomas with Alter Ego is going to write a feature about Bat Lash.
CB: That will be wonderful.
CARDY: I had three magazines. The latest one was several years ago where I showed a painting or drawing, but I showed it would be on the top of the page and on the bottom I would show how it started with thumbnails. Little pictures with final tracing and color notes and then the painting. And I would do that with almost all of them.
So now there’s a new book coming out maybe the end of April or maybe early May about my war sketches that I had. (Nick Cardy, The Artist at War.)
CB: Yeah, that looks fascinating.
CARDY: Well, the thing is that during the war I carried…in your duffel bag was your luggage, your sleeping gear, you carried your laundry, everything. It was in the duffel bag. That’s where your possessions were. So I had about eight 3 x 5 little spiral sketch pads. And I always did a lot of sketching. And some of them are very rough, because it wasn’t safe to sit out there in a combat zone drawing. So I took notes and on some of them if I found a larger piece of illustration board or something I had a little box of…years ago they used to have these cough drops that had a lid on it like Sucrets or something like that. Well at that time I was about 21 or I don’t know, but prior to that I had a little something underneath with a wire that you could put your thumb through like a palette. And then I’d put little squares of water color in it. And I had a brush that was cut. I had one of these stationery things that had a spiral thing where you could spiral the brush into it and you could seal the brush inside and spiral it and you had a brush that was pushed around and bounced around, see. And that was my watercolor setup.
Whenever I did pen and ink sketches, I had a fountain pen that I took. It was a gold-tipped pen and I took the point and I reversed it. I rolled it over on its back. The point is what I’m referring to. Then I bent it very gently so the tip would go maybe a sixteenth of an inch. Just a little pressure and you bent it. So you could put that on its side and get a broad stroke. And then I used a lot of spit. (Mutual laughter.)
Now these inks weren’t waterproof. If I did a pen and ink sketch, and maybe there was a situation where I needed a little tone on the face, or maybe the sky or something, you put your finger in your mouth and wet it and just go over the ink and spread it out. But you could only do it that way five times. Because you run out of fingers. (Chuckle.) You don’t want to be talking with a purple tongue, you know?
Anyway, I had all those sketches in a box and then, oh, years later I didn’t want the pads to get mutilated, so I tore the pages out and put them in a loose leaf vinyl type thing. Then my agent, Renee Witterstaetter, she’s a fantastic woman, she’s the only woman I know who reminds me of when you get a movie star and the movie star is making a movie. This agent goes out and gets with all the publicity people and lets them know this girl’s going to do a fantastic movie, you know? And they call to review, and that’s where the publicity gets around and sometimes it’s been more publicity than what the movie’s worth. (Chuckle.) But every now and then you get a long shot that pays off. I certainly hope this book will fall into that category.
Getting back to my time in the service, in Germany they would use blackout shades. So that when the bombers came over no lights peeked out. Every now and then I would take one of those shades and do a little oil painting on it. Then one time I found out one of the drawings had been out in my garage for about 30 years. I tried to salvage it, but it still looks like an antique. (Laughter.)
CB: It sounds like you were thinking ahead by holding onto all those sketches.
CARDY: No, it was just a matter of perhaps being a little bit of a packrat. For example, I still have some watercolor paper I bought when I went to high school. It’s tucked in some corner somewhere. And the pages look like they have freckles on it, because some of the pages weren’t cured, so some of them, after a certain period of time, you can see little spots coming up in the paper where it wasn’t completely acid free or whatever.
CB: When you were doing so many of the covers for DC back in the day, did you have regular cover conferences with Carmine?
CARDY: Yes. Carmine was very good at it and his covers were always a success. In fact there were some of his covers that brought DC back to life. It seems to me that there’s always a little friction. There seems to be an undertone of friction somewhere around. If one guy gets elected, the others get upset. But he used to make layouts and he’d show me the layouts. He’d say, “Nick, what do you think?” I’d say, “That’s great, but if you want to give it more power why don’t we tilt it this way or that way?” And we’d chat around until we came out with a cover. Because sometimes; I’d find this in drawing, too, when you have a good cover, like he used to have covers that were on a slant. He’d have the landscape on a slant.
CB: That seemed to be a favorite technique.
CARDY: Yeah, and then there was one scene where I had Superman on a slab and on the shoulders of these four soldiers. I remember it was raining. They thought it was like a dead theme. But then they had that same theme with Aquaman on a kind of slab and then they had someone else on a slab on another cover. So sometimes you go with the success. But then you stop and you go to a different angle. He liked me for the reason that we both enjoyed using our talent in whatever we were trying to create. So we got along and I think the work showed that.
CB: Carmine is probably your biggest fan, but you already knew that.
CARDY: You know I’ve often thought that had I been drawing Captain America or Superman for a long time, there would have been a lot of prestige with that. But when you draw characters that are secondary, they’re like backups. It doesn’t pack the puCardyh. People don’t clamor to see Aquaman. It’s just not as popular a character as Superman.
But when you read a lot and you’re a fan, you’re a fan. You like almost anything. And sometimes you become a fan and the people become a fan of the artist. He can even show an intermediate character and no matter what he does it will sell the book. For example if you have a story of Aquaman coming out drawn by Kirby, and an Aquaman drawn by Nick Cardy, Kirby is better known and it would sell better than one with Cardy.
So that’s why I say had I drawn…let’s see, I had started with…years ago, a police thing. “Wanted” or something, I forget. It was a detective story. Then I was going up the ladder with Tomahawk and then Daniel Boone and then Congo Bill and I went up. Then I did Aquaman and the Teen Titans and then Bat Lash.
Now with Teen Titans, I had done about 40 books both insides and covers. So when they wanted me to do Bat Lash, at that time Bat Lash came in at a time when all the Westerns were being deleted from TV. They were old hat. People didn’t want to watch them anymore. But at the same time in Europe the Spaghetti Westerns were being discovered. Bat Lash came out at the time of the Spaghetti Westerns. Then when they found out it wasn’t making any money here in the states because they were tired of that, but in Europe they couldn’t get enough. Carmine said, “My God, these guys are so hungry for your westerns.”
But, when I was doing the layouts for Bat Lash, they still wanted me to do the Teen Titans. So I had Neal Adams pencil one or two stories; Carmine penciled one or two stories and George Tuska as well. All the top guys were helping by penciling it and I inked it. Sometimes I couldn’t put the time into it because of course they give you deadlines and when you’re working against a deadline you can goof off the first couple of days, but you still have to make the schedule. (Chuckle.)
CB: Oh, yeah. Especially with two books I’m sure it was challenging.
CARDY: Yeah. So afterward Bat Lash was discontinued and Carmine didn’t want me to go to waste, so he put me on doing covers. I did most of the covers for the characters. I must have done about 400 covers.
CARDY: By the way, I looked at it, and this is a repeat thing, because on one of the books they had me write the prologue, one of the Teen Titans collections I think, and when I wrote the prologue I said, “I think I’ve done enough comics to cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and maybe one or two side panels.” (Mutual laughter.) Because you know you take those pages, and you put them side by side, and they’re something like 18” high and 11” wide or whatever, but you put them side by side, you can cover a whole wall with my Bat Lash work and after a certain length of time, I’d put them like cards. I’d tape them at the bottom and then when I was through I’d fold them up and put them away. (Chuckle.) But I had some hanging up. After a year of hanging up there they started turning yellow with age. So anyway a friend of mine bought the whole batch. In those days they didn’t sell for much, though.
CB: Right, no one had any idea that the art would be valuable later.
CARDY: Right. I remember one time I was someplace and I said, “Here, would you like a Batman cover for your wall?” They said, “Gee, Nick, I’ve got so much crap up on the wall now I don’t have any room for this.” Later on I used to get $60.00 or $65.00 for a cover. That’s pencil and ink at that time. Then I found out in 2001 one of them went for $19,000.00.
CB: Holy cow!
CARDY: I never got any of it. Whoever had it’s got it. And there’s one collector who collects everything of mine, and he put me on TV. If you look up Nick Cardy, maybe you’ll find it. He put up this thing cataloging all my stories that got put out.
You see I don’t have a computer. If I had a computer, I’d never get any work done. You go to the computer and say, “I’m going to look up sales on suits at this place.” So you look up the suits and they don’t have what you want, so instead of cutting it there, you say, “Well, let me look at J.C. Penney,” and you spend all day looking for these damned things and the next thing you know its lunch time. And you’d be surprised. Living in a day is sometimes like coming out of your bed and you get to one of these revolving doors. You go from one door and you go to the next door and you go to the bathroom, the next one you go to the kitchen, then you go to the studio and the next thing you’re back in the bathroom and you keep going and you get a phone call and then figure you’re making half a turn. (Chuckle.) And when you count the diversions that you have in a day and it’s amazing anything ever gets done.
I can get pretty absorbed in my work, too. One day I was sitting by my window drawing and I saw these people going by with a big package of things and they saw me and said, “Nick, aren’t you coming?” I said, “Where are you going?” They said, “What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you know there’s a hurricane coming?” So they said, “You’ve got to evacuate. Either go to a shelter, or take your car and drive.” I called someone and they said to drive 40 miles away.
I decided to take a trip after I spoke to this officer. You can’t overestimate the power of a hurricane.
CB: Yes. I can speak from some experience, unfortunately.
CARDY: It’s sad.
CB: It’s a very helpless feeling.
CARDY: I’m reminded of my tank story. It’s not a new story, but I was in an infantry division, and when I was going across the Atlantic I got pleurisy. We were on an English ship and were zigging and sagging all the way over in order to not give a perfect target for the German submarines. So when I got to England I was in the hospital for about a month and when I got out this Lieutenant Colonel was interviewing people. He said, “I see you got a promotion from the infantry to the motor pool.” I said, “I don’t know how it got there.” My General had said “We’re not going to send him over there as a private. Send him over as a step up. Put him in the motor pool.” When I got there I was a private first class and he said, “Oh, you’re from the motor pool. Can you drive a tank?” I said, “I can’t even drive a truck.” So I felt like the nails were being put on my coffin lid with this stamp he was using on some paperwork. He’d stamp here and stamp there and it felt like the nails being driven in. So of course they put me in a tank and as the time went by I kept saying if you’ve ever been to Belgium and seen any buildings that didn’t have corners you’ll know I’d been there. (Mutual laughter.)
You drive a tank with levers and not a wheel. You pull the right lever and it locks the right wheel while the other wheel keeps going, so that’s how it turns. Simple, child-like logic. Then we were moving positions, getting back to the original tank story, and my tank driver says, “Hey, Nick, I’ll let you drive. You see the tank ahead? Just follow it. If it stops, you stop.” So I did that and we were carrying an infantry outfit on the back of our tank. They would sit on the back where the ventilating system is. You’d be literally moving a whole infantry division with you.
So when the tank ahead of me stopped, I stopped. At the second point I stopped again and at that second stop more troops were coming up on the tank. They were coming up the side and coming in the back and I was wondering, “How the hell many more can we hold?” Then I went again through two more stops and finally they said to stop. The driver went out and said, “Okay, lock it.” So we locked it. There was a pause up ahead.
I got out and there were some woods where we’d paused and I went back there to relieve myself and when I got back these guys were arguing with my driver. I asked, “What the hell happened? What’s going on?” He said, “You know what you did, Nick?” “What?”
You must understand that when I drove, these roads were small, and these tanks were so wide that I put an imaginary white line, because if the traffic is coming the other way, I’d be blocking the whole road. Anyway, he said, “You were going so close to the trees, you brushed these guys off and they kept running after the tank to get back on.” But he got the brunt of it. They chewed him out because they thought he was the driver.
First of all, he shouldn’t have given the job to me. These guys start out by going into the tank corps. Believe it or not they go through a hell of a lot of training. In my case, some guy must have been killed or something. I was a replacement and they put me in there and I didn’t know what to do. I know I had a Tommy gun on the ground, a little machine gun that I could fire out of the tank, but I didn’t know where the hell the ammunition was or how to put it in. (Chuckle.) I know they would have showed me, but meanwhile I’d hear, “Nick, there’s a big fence we’re coming up to. Just hit the fence as we go along because sometimes they have enemy tanks waiting behind the fence.” So I’d do that and then when the ammunition ran out I just didn’t have any more to shoot. (Laughter.)
So I went through three tanks like that. Anyway, that’s the humorous part. Sometimes you’d have spots where you find we’d liberated one or two concentration camps. When they saw the American tanks come in, they’d leap for joy. They’d come running up to the front of the tank before it even stopped.
The rumor from headquarters was that some of these guys died right after the Americans came in and fed them. Their systems weren’t used to good food. You had the misery of seeing one house when we got to the Rhine and we went to this house and found a trapdoor and here are these women with babushkas on and oh, the terror on their faces. Women and children looking up at the trapdoor. It looked just like all heads. It was like a sardine can and they were terrified. Talk about getting someone scared like hell. We said, “Take it easy,” but the enemy always pictured…one side always pictured the other side as monsters. Propaganda.
Sorry for the tangent.
CB: I don’t mind a bit. I thought if you don’t mind I’d ask a couple of technical questions as far as materials and things.
CARDY: Go ahead.
CB: It looks like since you pretty much always penciled and inked your own work, were you fairly loose on the pencils? Was most of your artistry from the brush?
CARDY: Well, I’ll tell you, I used to, many years ago, when I worked for Eisner, there was an artist called Lou Fine. He used to work with a Japanese brush. A #1 brush. The point was so long and so fine that you could get a line that almost disappears on you. It was so fine, and I got influenced by him. I also saw the pen he had, so I bought one like it. The lines were so fine and my anatomy wasn’t that good. I was learning.
When I was a kid I had paintings that I did for the school that they published in the Herald-Tribune or one of those early papers. The teachers wanted one on sports. It was a 4 x 8 panel and another one did his panel. Mine was on sports and the others were on classroom activities. So that was published and quite a bit of the stuff was published, and boy, now I was a professional.
So when I got with Lou Fine I tried to learn from his detail, but he was a better artist, in my opinion, than Bill Eisner. Bill Eisner’s line was heavier and he was a better story-teller. Then I got some different brushes. In fact, at one of the conventions I was sitting next to George Tuska and he said, “Hey, Nick. Do you still use a #8 brush?” I said, “A #8 brush?” Are you familiar with brushes and their numbers?
CB: A little bit.
CARDY: A #1 is very fine and it goes up the line and gets a little thicker and I was looking for when the hairs come out of the ferrule, that’s the metal part, sometimes they have hairs that come to sort of a bulb and make a very sharp point and they hold a lot of ink. Yet you still have the fine point. So with the smaller brushes, they don’t have that big a bulb. You just have what’s on the tip of the ink pen and you get a sharp line. But when the ink runs out of one of those with the big bulbs, you have a thicker line. So I had a lot of brushes and at the time they may have been about $3.00, but in the past 30 years or so it’s gone up to about $18.00 for a good brush or more.
So I learned to get a heavier line to get away from the fine line because everything I did I figured you could hardly see the legs. I wanted more power. Then I got too powerful. (Chuckle.) Then gradually I worked my way and say I’m going to do a cover or any designs in a story, I would go to make an abstract figure. I would put a circle for a head for example. First I would put a design on the page where I would design where the picture’s going. What I wanted to tell. If it’s a motorcycle, I’m not going to put it in a compositional line that’s vertical, like a church cathedral or something. You want to put it where the horizon shows and you get the speed of the vehicle or the action you want to do.
So you make all these designs in the beginning without figures or anything and put a bar or something to indicate the figures. But you don’t show a lot of legs and all that. You work it that way and then you do the black. If it’s too heavy on top you go with a little darker spot on the bottom to work out a balance and all these things. That I did mainly for the covers.
Then it was a free for all. When they get a print it will be a black and white print and there are certain artists in there that do the coloring. At least that’s the way it was before computers. (Chuckle.)
I hate to knock anybody, but every now and then they had a group of artists that did the coloring and it wasn’t like with the computer. You had to do it with ink dyes for your colors. They would do that with each page. So sometimes you’d tell them, if they don’t have any artists there to tell them, sometimes some of the covers came out as if they called the janitor to say, “Here, finish this job up.” But the majority of those guys worked hard to do that. It still wasn’t like the computers, though.
In the beginning, when I was working for Eisner, for about five pages I was getting $25.00 a week. This is in 1940. At that time if anybody made $100.00 a week that was a hell of a lot of money.
CB: You bet.
CARDY: And if you bought a home for $20,000, it was “Oh, my God!” Everything is relevant, you see.
Things changed over the years. I was born at the time of the Great Depression where you were just living from hand to mouth. I didn’t go to college or anything like that because I couldn’t afford it. So instead I went to the library and I lived in Manhattan on Third Street. I would walk to 82nd street to the modern museum of art and spend a day looking at the paintings. I would take a little notepad and things like that. You would have some guys who would copy the paintings with paint. They would never let you copy the same size as the painting. It had to be either larger or smaller. Never the same size. Because they were afraid people would start selling them. But that was my education.
CB: So you’re mostly self-taught and natural talent.
CARDY: Yes and if I wanted a life class I’d go to the Art Student’s League and for $1.50 you could spend the time drawing with your own pad and there was an instructor that came in who would walk around and check things out.
I used to know a guy who would sit next to me and whenever you had these models I would draw the figure and everybody else would draw the figure. Anyway it was some time later and I got a call from him and he said, “Hey, I’m having a one man show, do you want to come down?” So I came down and he had his paintings on the wall. Little abstractions. So we were leaning into the edge of the door. We had some line or something like you have at these parties and this little short man was showing these two beautiful girls around and describing what the painting was. “You see what the artist is trying to do? He’s trying to come from this direction.” And he’s trying to build this thing up and we’re both listening to him and these girls were enthralled. So my friend looked at me and he says, “You know Nick, I wish to hell I knew that when I was drawing it.” (Mutual laughter.) This guy was going on a fantasy of his own and it was impressive. It sounded great.
CB: What a line.
CARDY: One time I was drawing and I heard this guy on the television and I stopped. Everything he said was fantastic. He was talking about composition and what the impressionists went through and oh, it was great. And then there was a little commercial break and they came back on and he said, “Look, I’ll show you what I mean,” and he got down and he started drawing and what he was doing was awful. He couldn’t draw at all. I think he’d have done better if he’d just continued talking. His talking was great, but his drawing was lousy. It was like a Picasso. Did you ever see Picasso’s work?
CARDY: He used to have these women in profile with both eyes on the same side of the head. So they had these two people, a man and a wife and he says, “Honey, there’s a girl that poses for Picasso,” and you see this girl walking down the street with both eyes on the side of her head. (Mutual laughter.)
But anyway, I feel I’m monopolizing this with a lot of oddball stuff.
CB: Not at all.
To be Concluded Next Week…