When I was a wee lad, ed my parents bought me a DC digest which reprinted a handful of Christmas-themed funnybook stories. The one that really stood out to me was an old Teen Titans tale. The story was a weird re-telling of “A Christmas Carol” complete with Bob Haney’s woefully “with it” slang and massive leaps of plot logic, approved but it was the art that really stood out to my young eyes.
It was wildly expressive yet retained a realistic edge, health and unclassifiably timeless. I eventually discovered it was the handiwork of Nick Cardy, who drew and/or inked most of the 90s Teen Titans tales and had a decent run illustrating Aquaman and several western genre offerings during the Silver Age. I also discovered that Cardy’s work was held in pretty low esteem by my peers in the comics fandom scene.
I don’t know how widespread that opinion might have been, but it was symptomatic of an era — the late 1970s and early 1980s — where a new crop of creative pioneers striving to push the boundaries of the medium beyond the simplistic conventions of boilerplate superheroics and kiddie fare. Like most attempts to willfully assert maturity, the movement came with an eagerness to disavow and discredit the remnants of the older generation.
This didn’t really come from the creators themselves — though there were some notorious incidents in venues like The Comics Journal, where advocacy for broader horizons unfortunately resolved itself as shit-talking pettiness. Mostly it came from fandom itself, fourth-hand retellings of fanzine gossip and the urge to dispel the “kiddie” label combining into the peer-sustained dogma of received wisdom.
It was why the Batman TV series and Jack Kirby’s 1970s output were so long viewed as embarrassing skeletons in the comics closet. Cardy had the misfortune of being involved with the “goofy” 1960s version of a franchise which had recently been revitalized as a oh-so-sophisticated (and top selling) title where a former kid sidekick was supposedly bumping uglies with an orange alien fuckgoddess who looked like she just stepped off a mid-1970s pinball table. No room for goofiness here, folks!
The irony (and stupidity) of such an attitude becomes evident after taking a quick glance at Cardy’s Silver Age work. While DC struggled to stay hip vis-a-vis Marvel by adoping painfully dated beatnik ad lingo and go-go checks, Cardy was the real pop-art deal and his work still feels ahead of its time in so many ways.
The man could also design one hell of a funnybook cover, too.
We might still be a ways from completely moving past the crippling growing pains of thirty years ago (see: DC’s “Nu52”), but it warms my heart to see formerly unsung creators like Nick Cardy (and Pete Morisi) get their appreciative due from the younger set these days.
Rest in peace, Mr. Cardy. I’ve been meaning to write this tribute for a while now, but I wish there’d been a happier event to motivate me into doing it.