Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Interview With Horror Legend Nicola Cuti by Ken L. Jones

An Interview With Nicola Cuti

by Ken L. Jones

 

Introduction



Ever since I first was a fan of and then a creative professional in the world of popular culture Nick Cuti was everywhere I turned. I always admired both his work and my various contacts with him. As was the case back then he could do many different things and do them all well and he still can.  Currently it is my pleasure to have my work appear next to his in the many indie horror and science fiction books that I both publish and appear in. So here in presented to you with great respect is a conversation with Mr. Nicola Cuti both a true original and a truly nice man.


Ken L. Jones: Tell us about your younger days --  did you always want to be an artist?

Nick Cuti: I always drew but I think all kids did. It was a simple way to express our feelings first about our family and then about our fantasies. Perhaps I did drift away from all the other kids in my obsession with comics. When DAN BARRY'S "Flash Gordon" first hit the American Journal I copied panels from it and then later I copied CARMINE INFANTINO'S work from "Adam Strange" but my favorite sci-fi artist was, and is to this day, WALLACE "WOODY" WOOD. I thought nobody drew starships, alien worlds or alien creatures like WOODY. He had been my earliest inspiration. 







 Ken: Your connection with Wally Wood was something that has always interested me. I met him only once at the San Diego Comic Con many years ago because I was the assistant back then to the late Alfredo Alcala. Alfredo hated most every other comic book artist but Mr. Wood who he treated with respect and even adulation and I’ve always totally agreed with his opinion on that. There must be some interesting stuff you could tell us about Mr. Wood?

Nick: I knew WOODY for over ten years and he was such a colorful character it would take volumes to tell you my experiences with him. I was always a great fan of his ever since I was a kid so when I ran across his portfolio at one of PHIL SUELINGS’s Comic Book Conventions, I bought it and called the phone number on the back label. He answered and agreed to look at my work. 


He was kind but said if I would do a single page on my character “Moonie” he would publish it in his “Witzend” magazine. I did but when I went to give it to him he informed me he had sold “Witzend” to BILL PEAERSON. BILL hated “Moonie” and she was never published in that magazine, however, BILL and I became friends and some of my stories were eventually published in “Witzend”. 



Later, Woody and I discovered we lived near one another, I lived in Valley Stream and he lived in Woodmere Long Island, so he hired me as his assistant. We used to work over at each other’s house but WOODY found this a poor way to work and asked me to locate a studio. I found an office in Valley Stream right between our two homes. SYD SHORES and JACK ABEL joined us and thus Wood Studio began. We produced strips for the “Overseas Weekly”-- “Cannon” and Sally Forth”. We had great times at the Studio where guys like LARRY HAMMA, WAYNE HOWARD, TONY TALLIRICO and RALPH REESE would drop by to help. WOODY said I would look back at my days at the studio as the best time of my life and he was right.

Ken: Was there any defining moment when you were young that made you say I'd like to do that too?

Nick: I suppose my defining moment came while I was in the service working as an Air Policeman. Most of military police work involves guarding and that can be pretty boring. So, I read a lot to pass the time and one of my favorite magazines was JIM WARREN'S "Creepy". I decided I could write a "Creepy" story and so I did. It was "Grub" drawn by the incredible TOM SUTTON who did it in the WALLY WOOD style. My career was fixed when "Grub" was published. I wasn't much of an artist then so I worked in comics mostly as a writer/editor. I met and became WALLY WOOD'S assistant and learned a great deal working in his studio. I found I didn't have much talent as a continuity artist but I wasn't bad at illustration and so I did black and white illustrations for the pulps, "Analog", "Amazing Stories", "Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine," including a few paintings. Later, at the urging of a friend, BILL DUBAY, I moved my family to California and worked as a background designer for the animation industry. I worked for such studios as "Universal" "Disney" "Paramount", "MGM" and "Sony Pictures".

Ken: Which artists do you wish had illustrated some of your stories that didn’t?

Nick: My favorite artists were WALLACE WOOD, AL WILLIAMSON, FRANK FRAZETTA and BERNIE WRIGHTSON. Technically WOODY did illustrate some of my stories but they were part of his “Cannon” and “Sally Forth” series and he gave me credit for writing “Prelude to Armageddon” but it was just his way of giving me credit for the un-credited “Cannon” and “Sally Forth” stories. I didn’t write “Prelude…” he did. FRANK did sort of illustrate one of my ideas. 



The cover of Creepy with the giant blonde girl on top of the Empire State building with the tiny gorilla in her hand was my idea, but he never illustrated any story of mine. BERNIE did illustrate a single page I wrote called “Four Famous Martians” and a narrative poem, “A Martian Saga” but never a story. Except for BERNIE all the others are gone so I guess it will never happen, however, I have had the privilege of having my tales drawn by some of the finest comic book artists in the business like GRAY MORROW, TOM SUTTON and JOE STATON so I certainly can’t complain.

Ken:  Speaking of Joe Staton, who is a wonderful artist, I’m one of the world’s biggest fans of your work with him on the wonderful character E-Man. I haven’t had a chance to tell you before but E-Man was largely responsible for me breaking into comic book writing. I was at the San Diego Comic Con and I had a whole typewritten list of independent comic books that I would like to do a series about. I showed it to many publishers hoping something would catch their eye. Oddly enough what attracted them the most was a sort of comedy super hero I created called Hero Man. I had put it on the list as kind of a joke because at the time I had hoped to write “serious” comics like Green Lantern or something. When I saw what a reaction Hero Man was getting I quickly decided to get involved with the humorous side of comic book work.  Here’s where you come into all of this the man who originally wanted to publish Hero Man, Dean Mullaney of Eclipse Comics said that he loved my character because it was so cool like E-Man and then we had a long talk about your great character. Would you care to tell us more about E-Man and are there any plans to revive him in any format or media?

Nick: Charlton didn’t have much success with super heroes, not because they didn’t have good ones; the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question; but because they were up against the giants in the field, DC and Marvel. I suggested to my boss, editor GEORGE WILDMAN, that we give it another try. He went to a publisher’s meeting and when he returned he said he had convinced publisher JOHN SAINTANGELO JR. to take a chance. He told me he was going to encourage our writers and artists to come up with concepts and I should try to come up with one as well. I immediately thought about some of the more obscure super heroes I loved as a child. Captain Marvel and Plastic-man were my favorites, especially Plastic-man. I loved the absurdness and the humor. 

So I created E-Man based on the most famous equation in history, Einstein’s E= mc2. E is energy, m is the mass of an object and c is the speed of light. It is the equation for converting a solid object into energy or energy into a solid mass. I also wanted JOE STATON, who had done a bang up job on “Primus” and several horror stories I had written. JOE was also a very likable person, so I knew we’d get along. I called JOE and told him about the character. JOE thought the character was a winner except for the origin story. I had him being caught in an explosion while working in a factory. Then, one day, while reading a book on outer space I came across the Nova, a star explosion. There was my origin story, he was a packet of energy created when the star Arcturus underwent a nova or star eruption. He can change into a solid object or energy at will and can direct energy. JOE liked the origin and I told him to design the character. The only instructions I gave were he was to have the E= mc2 on his chest and no cape. JOE sent me an inked drawing and I overlaid the color. I stayed away from red and blue, the colors of so many super heroes, and went with orange and yellow, the colors of energy. I decided he was naive but with a strong sense of right and wrong and was devoted to his girl friend, the streetwise college student Nova Kane. She was also his guide to his adopted planet, the Earth. I kept the stories on the outrageous level because I felt super heroes had become too serious and the kids needed something light to contrast all the dreaded self-loathing of the others.

There will be a new E-Man story soon to be published by “The Charlton Arrow”. It reveals the story of Nova Kane aka Katrinka Kolchnski. We visit the home town of her parents and her kid sister, Anya, who both admires and is jealous of her famous older sister. When Anya gains super powers the big question is, will she use them for good or evil?


Ken:  I’m sure you remember the time when comic books were looked down upon and when the federal government investigated them and every time on TV that they wanted to portray an adult as a moron they would show them reading a comic book. Why do you think that has changed so radically and that now so many top TV shows and movies feature them and that when you go to Wal-Mart its wall to wall with everything comic book?

Nick: I believe the change began with STAN LEE'S "Spider-man". Here was a super hero with problems. He has teen angst, girlfriend problems, problems at school, problems with bullies. Teenagers could relate to him. Without shame they read Spider-Man and all the other super heroes which imitated those problems. Later, when those High School kids became college students, they made it seem accepted to read comics. Better artists and writers were drawn to comics and comics became an art form instead of just "...throw-away culture...", as JIM STERANKO once called them. JIM, by the way is one of those better artists who was attracted to comics and created a strong following.

Ken:  I know that you are a very cultured man who is widely read and very knowledgeable about the fine arts how has this effected your work?

Nick: Thanks for the impressive characterization. Of course, I read a lot. As a writer you have to fill your head with stories and facts you can draw on for when you write your own stories. Fiction is good, but I also read a lot of science and history books. As an artist you have to do the same thing. The classic artists do exert some influence, nobody does shadows like REMBRANDT, but mostly contemporary artists have the greatest influence. SYD MEAD and WALLACE WOOD for design, MOBIUS for subtle story-telling, ALEX RAYMOND for his fine illustration, BERNIE WRIGHTSON for mood and horror and FRANK ROBBINS for creating art with bold lines and shadows. I've only touched on a few but I've been influenced by hundreds of writers and artists.

Ken:  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the current state of literacy and books and rather or not you think they will be important in the future.

Nick: I'd like to think that in spite of Kindle the book will always exist. There is nothing like being able to open a hard book and ruffle through the pages in your hand or go to your library to find information. When television came along everyone said it would be the end of radio and movies but both are still around and, hopefully, books will continue. As for literacy, I believe we are the most educated people in history.

Ken:  First of all tell us about your many accomplishments and which ones you most enjoyed being involved with.

Nick: My list of jobs; Jack of all trades, master of none; starts with comic book writer, pulp magazine illustrator, cover painter, background designer for animated cartoons. Lately, I've started producing sci-fi and horror indie movies. I've worked for such comic book companies as Warren Publishing, Charlton Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics and such studios as The Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, Marvel Films Graz Entertainment and Sunbow.

Presently, I write, produce and now direct movies, which my company Ni-Cola Entertainment LLC and Moonie Productions DBA create. My partner, NIKOMA DeMITRO and I are putting all our efforts into raising the funding for a big sci-fi thriller called "Too Many Moons."



I've been awarded the Ray Bradbury Award twice (1970 and 1984) for writing and the Ink Pot Award (2009) for my work in Comic Arts. So far, none of my movies have garnered any awards but I have my eye on an Oscar.

 As for what I enjoy the most, they are writing Moonie, the Starbabe novels and in the past, working for the studios designing backgrounds. I think my love for drawing backgrounds is because I am a frustrated architect. I love designing buildings and cities but I hate the math involved. In animation I can design to my heart's content and never have to add two numbers together.

Ken: One of the earliest memories of my married life is how I would buy the DC Digest Comic Books that you were the editor of and which both my sons and I loved Was it interesting going through all that stuff to put together those well thought out volumes?

Nick: I enjoyed editing the digests quite a lot. I had been working for JOE ORLANDO in Special Projects, which consisted of working on Superman peanut butter buckets and Batman coloring books, and I desperately wanted to get into comics. I loved working with JOE but asked DICK GIORDANO if I could transfer to comics and he put me on the digests. They pretty much gave me a free hand, so their success or failure was entirely mine. Eventually they did die so maybe the decisions I made weren’t the best, but I had fun.


Ken: I’ve been involved in putting together movies myself both independent and studio in the past and was wondering what you can tell us about your experiences in that realm?

Nick: I got into producing Indie Movies while I was in Hollywood working for the big Studios. I just decided, after working in animation for sixteen years, it was time to create my own movie. Animated cartoons would be too expensive and time consuming so I decided on live action. I wrote a script, “Captain Cosmos and the Pirates of the Forbidden Zone” and drew on the talents of my friends in the industry to do the movie. One friend gave me plastic space ship walls from the set of “Lois and Clark” another, CLARK LANGDON, built a control console and two of them, CLARK and MARTY WARNER, created a wonderful space ship model. We set up a green screen and shot the ship and gutted my dining room for the ship interior. The Mojave Desert became an alien planet and, in another episode, Mars, by using a red filter. We even built a tiny futuristic city and placed it in the desert. We shot it in a couple of weeks. Then DAVID RAIKLEN composed the theme and we had it done.

Later, when I moved to Florida, I got together with JOHN LEWIS of Creature Productions and we shot my first published story, “Grub”. Eventually I broke away from Creature Productions and created my own company Ni-Cola Entertainment LLC and Moonie Productions DBA. I have also worked on friend’s productions in various capacities. Some of the filmmakers I’ve collaborated with recently were JOHN LEWIS of “Dark Dimensions”, RYAN WORKMAN of “The Inevitable”, GARO NIGGOHSIAN of “Dangerous People” and RICK STEVENSON of “Missing Time”(in production). JOHN, RYAN, GARO and RICK have also worked on my productions. In the spirit of friendship we help each other, pool our equipment and respect each other as bosses or crew depending on whose turn it is to produce a movie.


Ken: I’m very interested in your Moonie character and have enjoyed what I’ve seen of it so far. Why don’t you tell us something about that?

Nick: I hate talking about Moonie, however, I will force myself for you. :0)

I created Moonie the Starbabe in the late 1960’s. I had read about a French space heroine called “Barbarella” and I was intrigued. I pictured her as a voluptuous space maiden but when I finally saw Barbarella I was disappointed at how skinny she was, so, I decided to create my own space heroine. I based her form and hairdo on the Playboy models CHINA LEE and GWEN WONG and illustrated several adventures as Moonchild Comics. I self published them and sold them on the Underground, a very big venue in the sixties. Eventually I did her as a three issue comic, shortening her name to Moonie, written and illustrated by me and inked by my friend DAVE SIMONS. I then decided it was time for her movie but the concept was too expensive for a low budget Indie Movie. My friend BILL BLACK told me I should do Moonie as a short and use the short to finance a full length movie. I cast for the lead and NIKOMA DeMITRO was hired as Moonie. She was perfect in the role but proved to be much, much more. She had an uncanny business sense and after completing “Moonie and the Spider Queen, Episode One” she developed a prospectus for a full length movie called “Too Many Moons”. I signed her on as my partner and presently we are searching for investors for our movie, scheduled to shoot in early 2016.


Ken:  I can tell by certain comments that you’ve made that you are a fan of classic old movies like I am. Is there anything that you think the public doesn’t know about in that realm that they should?  Also I would be interested to know what your favorite all time movies are?

Nick: Surprisingly, it isn’t just all those great sci-fi and horror movies. My favorites are the film noir such as “Double Indemnity” and “D.O.A.”. They have such complex stories with outrageous plots. I believe, today there is an emphasis on blockbusters or movies heavy with special effects and light on character and plots. The old movies emphasized plot and character because they knew how ludicrous the effects would look to an audience of that era.


Ken: Obviously you love science fiction. Which movies and TV shows in that genre are the most inspiring to you?

Nick: Of course I also love “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “The Thing from Another World”, “It Came From Outer Space”, “The Terror from Beyond Space”, “The Monster who Challenged the World”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “Invaders from Mars” and “Forbidden Planet”. In spite of their lurid titles, they were fantastic movies and I spent many a Saturday Matinee with my buddies at the Highway Movie Theater in Brooklyn.

The most inspiring TV shows were “Captain Video and his Video Rangers”, “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet”, “Rod Brown and the Rocket Rangers”, “Captain Z-Ro” and “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger”. I also enjoyed the BUSTER CRABBE serial adventures of “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rogers”.


Ken: Finally in closing is there anything you can say to younger folks about following their creative dreams?

Nick: To quote my boss/mentor WALLY WOOD “Don’t do it.” You will be poor for most of your life, and if you do achieve a certain amount of success, it won’t equal all you have sacrificed to get there. However, I look back on my achievements and when you come to the end of your life those who said:  “Whoever has the most toys wins” are liars. Those who have lived a life of fulfilling their dreams really are the winners.

How do you break into the field? Ask a hundred artists and writers and you will get a hundred different stories.

All I can say is believe in yourself, study, improve and do not accept negative results. Those who succeed are those who never give up.




(Ken L. Jones has worked in many different creative capacities in popular culture in the last several decades. Still doing just that he is most proud of how well his poetry is being received today.  Years back he broke into all of this by doing major interviews in The Comics Journal and in Comics Interview magazines where he was also West Coast Editor.  Still doing an occasional interview when he thinks the subject worthy he has always approached all of this as a conversation between two friends and he still sees it that way. )

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