I recently read in a fan's article that, “Wood claimed that the worst penciler he inked was Maurice Gutworth from Fox, with Ric Estrada and Jerry Grandenetti a close second.” “Is Wood crazy?!!!”, I exclaimed. Grandenetti and Estrada were two of the top innovators in comic books, especially when they inked their own work!” True, they were miscast for superheroes and perhaps Wood was a bad match for their sensibilities, but these guys were absolutely incredible at times. “I have to redress this terrible wrong in an article of my own".
The Campaign Begins! Grandenetti... take the point!
Let’s begin the rebuttal with Jerry Grandenetti. Jerry studied art at the School of Visual Art and Pratt Institute and his main field of study was architectural drawing. Upon making the rounds of the comic houses in 1946, Busy Arnold at Quality steered him to Will Eisner’s studio where he assisted on the Spirit. At first Eisner would rough in the composition and Grandenetti would create the environment and backgrounds but eventually he did more of the drawing. While in the Eisner shop he drew The Secret Files of Dr. Drew in a dead-on Eisner based style for Ranger Comics. In the 1950s, he drew Crimebuster for Lev Gleason’s Boy Comics and war and western stories for National-DC. In fact, before the arrival of Joe Kubert, Grandenetti could be said to be the main war artist for editor Robert Kanigher. This period of Grandenetti’s has produced some of my favorite art. He excelled at creating dramatic scenes from unusual angles and skewed perspectives while still maintaining a realistic style. While working at National he pioneered the legendary “wash tone” covers.
We now interrupt
this article for an important
Grandenetti Washtone DC War Cover Index:
American Men of War 35
G. I. Combat 44 (1/57)
G. I. Combat 51 (8/57)
G. I. Combat 69 (2/59)
G. I. Combat 75 (8/59)
G. I. Combat 76 (9/59)
G. I. Combat 77 (10/59)
G. I. Combat 79 (12/59)
G. I. Combat 81 (4/60)
G. I. Combat 82 (6/60)
G. I. Combat 83 (8/60)
G. I. Combat 89 (8/61)
G. I. Combat 90 (11/61)
G. I. Combat 92 (2 /62)
G. I. Combat 100 (6/63)
G. I. Combat 101 (8/63)
G. I. Combat 102 (10/63)
Our Army at War 57 (4/57)
Our Army at War 60 (6/57)
Our Fighting Forces 20 (4/57)
Our Fighting Forces 71 (10/62)
Showcase 3 (”The Frogmen) (8/56)
Star Spangled War Stories 45 (5/56)
Four Star Battle Tales 4 ( 9-10/73, Reprint of OAAW # 57)
Perhaps my favorite of these wash-tone covers was Our Fighting Forces # 71, with Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch hidden in the jungle, a tense close up, complete with sweat rolling down their faces. Probably the first wash tone (or gray tone) cover was Grandenetti’s All American Men of War # 35 (7/56). The art is executed as an ink wash drawing and then a halftoned photostat of the cover is made , the logo added and finally, the color is laid in over this statted wash drawing, thus the resulting effect has almost a three-dimensional quality. In the Amazing World of DC Comics #10 (1/76), Jack Adler, DC’s ace production man, confirmed, “It was suggested that we start doing washes for covers, and we were talking about doing it for so damned long, but nobody attempted it. I think Grandenetti did the first one, an army cover with someone floating in the water. I think that was the first wash cover that was done. That one ended up looking like a full color painting.”
In the October, 1995 issue of Robin Snyder’s The Comics , Robert Kanigher writes, ”.. and it was in this atmosphere that I created the rugged T[ank] K[iller], illustrated by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito and the change-of- pace Gunner and Sarge which they also drew. I chose Jerry Grandenetti to follow them. He managed to get the grime and the humor of the two Marines (and, eventually their wonderful Pooch) fighting in the jungle as no one else could. Jerry liked to experiment and I had to sit on him to get him to stop it. Especially in his covers, which were outstanding, when I forced him to draw as realistically as possible.”
In the 1960s Grandenetti’s art did get a little “looser” and less realistic, some might even say surreal, perhaps due to fatigue with the continuing grind on the DC war characters Gunner and Sarge.
When he began working for Warren his drive seemed to be revived and his work returned to a much more expressionistic and experimental phase, building on what he had begun at Eisner’s studio, or perhaps due to freedom from Kanigher’s restraints. Perhaps it was the subject matter or the fluid nature of the wash medium but whatever the case, he produced brilliant work at Warren in the late 1960s and early1970s. Interestingly,. Joe Orlando had developed a similar looking style at this point and the two teamed effectively on several projects at DC such as on Tomahawk #118.
For Warren, Grandenetti produced, among others, these memorable stories, all in dark wash tones: “In Close Pursuit” (with sound effects and a mood very reminiscent of Eisner), “The Art of Horror”, the Washington Irving adaptation “The Adventure of The German Student”, “Type Cast!”, “House of Fiends”, the Poe adaptation “Bernice”, “The Carrier of the Serpent” and “On the Wings of a Bird”. Grandenettti was profiled in Creepy # 42 and rendered a self portrait for Vampirella # 16.
Jerry Grandenetti ultimately left comics for advertising art but by that time he had established himself as an innovator and a master in the use of wash tones, and was especially suited for stories in the war, mystery, and horror genres.
And Along Hitchhiked... Ric!
Ric Estrada (1928- ) has written in his essay, “War, You Said?”, “ I grew up in Havana in the 1930s, amid terrorist bombs, shells shrieking overhead and rifle fire cracking in the streets. My first memories are of bullets biting into the walls of my home and houses burning in the night. Memories of fear and imminent death, of men’s hatred and children’s dread. I took to war comics like a shell to a pistol..” and later in this essay, “Ernest Hemingway and his wife encouraged me kindly. They said of my sketchbook, “These figures are like soldiers, with their wrinkled clothes seeking shelter in the soil”.
Estrada’s training came through the Landon School of Cartooning correspondence course at age 12, study under Howard Trafton at the New York Art Students League at age 21, and at the Famous Artist School in Westport Connecticut, first as a student and later as a junior art director, where he worked with illustrating legends Austin Briggs, Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett, Peter Helck, Bob Peak, and Harold Von Schmitt.
In the Winter of 1947, Ric left Havana, Cuba and lived at the Bible House, 45 Astor Place Studio in Greenwich Village across the street from Cooper Union. It was at this studio he met Dan Barry, Andre LeBlanc, Meskin, Roussos, Perlin, Toth, Frazetta, Sy Barry, Morisi and Lee Ames.
After working for Joe Oriolo, Estrada broke into comic books at Hillman Comics, working on crime stories for Ed Cronin. Working through influences as diverse as Albert Dorne, Bill Mauldin, Frank Robbins, Milton Caniff and Roy Crane, eventually Estrada assisted “the hard task master” Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon strip. Through Dan Barry, Estrada met Kurtzman , who was dropping off some Flash Gordon scripts, and he subsequently gave Ric two EC war stories to illustrate, “ Bunker” (Two Fisted Tales # 30, 11-12/52) and “Rough Riders” (Frontline Combat #11, 3-4/53).
Between the 1950s and the 1960s Estrada traveled extensively through England, Denmark, Greece, Palestine and Germany. Quoting again from “War, You Said?”, “ For me war comics were real. I had demons to exorcise. (Super heroes left me cold) War represented the struggle for power, political ideals and human survival with its pathos, stupidities and grandeur. That’s the philosophical angle. The work however was just a welcome means to pay the rent.... Ironically, even though I have drawn comics all my life, I never considered my self a comics artist. My career has been checkered with advertising, children’s educational books, art directing, teaching, and TV and film work, not to speak of journalism ( which is a three generation tradition in my family). I’ve also devoted a lot of time to writing short stories, novels and more recently, screen plays and animation. (Storytellers at heart, most cartoonists are frustrated writers).”
About his work in comics, Estrada has written,” My two most satisfying war series have been Famous Battles in History written by Raymond Marais and Bob Kanigher’s Gallery of War , whose masterful twists of plot and characterization and the vagaries of war’s fortune, were a weekly challenge. I could have drawn these two series for a hundred years.”
Perhaps explaining somewhat Wood’s unappreciative reaction to his work, Estrada writes, ” ..A word on technique. I’m a line and composition man and I believe in storytelling through staging. Kubert and Toth were my masters.I believe in black against white, white against black or a combination of both. My basic formula for laying out each comic page is one close up, one long shot, one down shot, one up shot, one medium shot, one panel nearly empty, one crammed with activity. The reader deserves variety.”
Ambidextrous, Estrada pencils with his right hand , inks with his right or even, at times, switches hands as he feels. Besides war comics, Estrada also drew Flash Gordon #3 for King Comics (which provided the funds for his return to the USA), and for DC, Wonder Woman, Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter, Hot Wheels, Karate Kid , Amethyst and romance stories. Ric also did a story for Warren, ”Portrait of Satan” in Eerie #12. Of this period Estrada has written, “I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with comics. I love the medium but often hate the trite themes. And although it paid the rent, I always felt uncomfortable with the shortness of money.” In another passage from Robin Snyder’s The Comics, December 1994, Ric reemphasized,” I miss war comics; they were real whereas superheroes at least to a romantic realist such as myself are childish pap, sugar pops, junk food of the brain. I could never take them seriously.”
In the May 1996 issue of Robin Snyder’s The Comics, Estrada wrote, “.. Toth’s shadow followed me for years. Editor Murray Boltinoff, once told me, in a fit of anger, to sharpen up my work or just become “a poor man’s Toth”. I found it funny, but it stung. I’d become too sloppy spotting my blacks. My so-called “lyricism” stems from my approach to drawing as flat design rather than as three-dimensional bulk...Fans never cared much for my work. In fact, a fanzine in England once wrote American comics suffered from a deadly disease called “Estraditis”. That was in the seventies when I was drawing close to 500 pages a year.”
Interestingly Estrada himself also referred to his work with Wood, “ I did two years of Wonder Woman, inked by Vince Colletta, and one Sergeant Rock (Pieces of Time) inked by the great Kubert, and two years of Kung Fu Fighter, written by Denny O’Neil, inked by me and sometimes by the legendary Wally Wood. I loved that feature.”
Besides his comics work Ric has also illustrated Walter Gibson’s children’s books on magic and drawn history comic books for the Mexican Ministry of Education.
Isn’t it strange that Wood so disliked the pencils of two peers that came from similar backgrounds? Grandenetti and Wood both apprenticed under Eisner. Estrada and Wood both worked for the demanding Kurtzman. All three did fine work for DC and Warren. While Grandenetti and Estrada were still expanding their art development and careers, Wood was locked into his unfortunate, terrible, bitter and ultimately, myopic decline. Consider, while Wood was largely self taught, trapped in his style, perhaps because of their extensive fine arts training, Grandenetti and Estrada continued experimenting and questing for personal and artistic growth.
About the author:
Don Mangus is probably comic art fandoms greatest proponent of "genre art". Don attained his Masters of Fine Arts from Southern Methodist University in 1981 and in addition to teaching, he has an extensive resume as a writer on comic art subjects. As well as being the author of articles for Robin Snyder's "The Comics" and "Comic Book Artist," Don served as assistant editor at Vanguard Publishing for a time. HIs collecting interests center on non-superhero illustrative comic art circa 1950-1975, especially from DC and EC war comics. Don can be contacted at:
DC War Comics List