Longtime comic book writer, editor & artist Nicola Cuti passed away on February 21st. He was 75 years old.
Cuti, who was known to his friends as “Nick,” is best known for co-creating the superhero / sci-fi comic book series E-Man with artist Joe Staton at Charlton Comics in 1973. I’ve blogged about E-Man on several occasions. Although I did not discover the series until 2006, I immediately became a HUGE fan. The combination of Cuti’s brilliant, clever, imaginative writing and Staton’s animated, cartoony artwork resulted in a series that was exciting, humorous, poignant and genuinely enjoyable.
However, there was much more to Cuti’s lengthy career than just E-Man. He was a versatile creator.
A longtime science fiction and comic book fan, Cuti began self-publishing his own black & white comic book series Moonchild Comics in the late 1960s. The three issue series featured the outer space adventures of the voluptuous wide-eyed Moonchild the Starbabe.
Cuti was a huge fan of the legendary Wallace Wood, and on a chance telephoned the artist. Woody agreed to look over Cuti’s portfolio, and he asked the young creator to work as one of his assistants.
While he was at Woody’s studio Cuti learned there was an opening for an assistant editor at Derby, Connecticut-based publisher Charlton Comics. Tony Tallarico, an artist who was doing work for Charlton at the time, urged Cuti to apply. Cuti interviewed with editor George Wildman, who offered him the job.
In an interview conducted in 2000 by Jon B. Cooke for Comic Book Artist magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing, Cuti described his role at Charlton:
“Basically, I was the production department, myself and another guy by the name of Frank Bravo… The two of us handled the entire production department which meant that when artists would send in completed stories, we would look over the artwork, proofread it, and if there were any spelling mistakes, we corrected them. And if there were any pieces of artwork that had to be corrected for one reason or another, we would do that.”
Cuti also worked as a freelancer for Charlton, writing numerous short stories for their various horror anthologies throughout the 1970s. In addition to Staton, Cuti collaborated with a diverse line-up of artists that included Steve Ditko, Tom Sutton, Wayne Howard, Sanho Kim, Don Newton and Mike Zeck. Cuti was a regular writer on the licensed Popeye comic book that Charlton published, as well as penning several stories for their Space 1999 comic book adaptation. He also worked on Charlton’s romance titles. As he would later explain in the interview with Comic Book Artist, one of the highlights of working for Charlton had been the opportunity to write for diverse genres, to tell various different types of stories.
In addition to his work at Charlton, Cuti was also a regular contributor to the black & white horror magazines from Warren Publishing. Regrettably I am not all that familiar with Cuti’s writing for Warren, although I am sure that he did quality work there, just as he did for Charlton. I encourage everyone to head over to fellow WordPress blog Who’s Out There? Last year Gasp65 spotlighted the crime noir story “I Wonder Who’s Squeezing Her Now?” Co-plotted by Cuti & Wallace Wood, scripted by Cuti, penciled by Ernie Colan, and inked by Woody, the story was originally written & drawn in 1971, finally seeing print in the fifth issue of the Warren anthology title 1984 in February 1979. Cuti’s scripting on this tale, especially the ending, demonstrates what a thoughtful and intelligent writer he was.
In the early 1980s, following the demise of both Charlton and Warren, Cuti worked as an assistant editor for DC Comics. In 1986 he moved to California and began working in television animation, a field he remained in for almost two decades. Beginning in 2003 he worked on a number of independent films featuring characters he created such as Captain Cosmos and Moonie.
It is regrettable that Cuti was never able to establish himself as an especially successful comic book writer outside of Charlton and Warren, because he was, as I said before, an incredible writer. Fortunately he established both a creative rapport and a friendship with Joe Staton early on, and over the succeeding decades the two men periodically reunited at several different publishers to chronicle the further adventures of E-Man, his girlfriend & crime-fighting partner Nova Kane, and scruffy hardboiled private detective Michael Mauser. Cuti and Staton really did have a wonderful creative collaboration, and I definitely enjoy their work together.
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet Cuti, although I was able to correspond with him on Facebook. From everything I have heard from those who did know him, he was a genuinely good person. After his passing numerous heartfelt tributes were penned by his friends and colleagues.
I am going to quote in full longtime DC Comics editor Paul Levitz’s lovely tribute to Cuti on Facebook:
“You can learn something about a creator’s personality from their work, but it isn’t always a completely reliable guide. If you read Nick Cuti’s work you’d get the feeling that this was a man with a generally positive outlook on life. His characters were playful, joyful even. But you’d still be underestimating the cheerful glow that Nick broadcast.
“As an editor, he ignored the moribund state of Charlton Comics and recruited talent who would go on to be industry leaders—John Byrne, Joe Staton, even my buddy and prolific DC scribe Paul Kupperberg broke into pro ranks at Nick’s hand and encouragement. And he created—with Joe Staton —Charlton’s last great series, E-Man, a hero who charm reflected Nick’s own.
“At DC for a number of years he was a relentlessly cheerful presence, and a guardian of the old humor treasures from our vault, making them available to a new audience.
“As a cartoonist he could blend smiles with sexy, and give us his Moonchild.
“The announcement of his death today after a battle with cancer leaves the world with less smiles…and hopefully his spirit in the world of his starry children.”
On his own blog my friend Nick Caputo wrote a detailed retrospective of Cuti’s career which I hope everyone will check out.
If you are unfamiliar with Nicola Cuti’s work, I hope this will prompt you to check it out. A lot of the Charlton comics can be found relatively inexpensively in the back issue bins at comic conventions and shops that carry older back issues. Most of the E-Man comic books are also relatively affordable. The original Charlton series, which ran for 10 issues, was reprinted by First Comics in the miniseries The Original E-Man and Michael Mauser. Cuti wrote the final two issues of the E-Man run published by First in the mid 1980s. Between 1989 and 2008 various E-Man and Michael Mauser comics by Cuti & Staton were released through Comico, Apple Press, Alpha Productions, Digital Webbing, and Argo Press.
Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton’s final E-Man and Nova story was serialized in The Charlton Arrow vol 2 #1-3, which can be purchased through Mort Todd’s Charlton Neo website, along with a number of other cool titles. As I’ve said before, I am glad Nick and Joe had one last opportunity to reunite and bring the curtain down on these wonderful characters.
Thank you for all of the wonderful stories throughout the decades, Mr. Cuti. You will definitely be missed by all of your fans, friends and colleagues.