Nick Cuti – a legend in the comic book industry stays busy
Cuti is, perhaps, best known for his work in the comic book world. He worked for Charlton Comics (developing the E-Man and Michael Mauser characters as well as scripting for some 200 comics), Warren Publishing and spent some time as an editor at DC Comics. Cuti has produced background and prop art for studios ranging from Disney to Universal and has worked in the live action genre, to boot.
What’s he up to these days? I’ll get to that in a minute, so stick around and keep reading.
In the 1960s, Cuti was in the Air Force and was stationed in Europe. He was inspired to submit a script to Warren Publishing and the resulting story, “Grub,” was accepted and ran in Creepy — the company’s horror-comic magazine. Upon his return home to New York, Cuti found work in the studios of Ralph Bakshi and Warren continued to publish his scripts.
In 1969 Cuti started producing comic books and some of his earliest works involved a space-age character, Moonie. She is a buxom space alien with large eyes that made it into three underground comic books and is still penned by Cuti today.
He spent some time was Wally Wood’s studio assistant and worked on the Sally Forth strip. In 1972, Cuti headed to Charlton Comics in Derby, Conn. as George Wildman’s assistant and worked, primarily, on horror and science fiction comics. While at Charlton, Cuti developed the E-Man character and has worked on comic books featuring that superhero since.
In 1976, he headed back to Warren, stayed there until the company called it quits in the early 1980s and then moved on to DC Comics as an assistant editor. In 1986, Cuti moved to California and landed work doing background animation for television cartoons produced by the likes of Disney and Universal (he worked on the 101 Dalmations cartoon and was initially accepted to work on animations for the Spongebob Squarepants series).
Cuti continued his background animation work – while still writing comic books regularly – until moving to Florida in 2007 to work on independent, live action films. And, yes, he’s still working on comic books.
Charlton and E-Man
By the time he arrived at Charlton, Cuti said the company had pretty well abandoned the superhero comics that were staples of companies like DC and Marvel Comics. Instead, the company was dealing in genres that other publishers pretty well avoided – and that was just fine with Cuti.
“I loved sci-fi and I liked horror,” he said. “”I felt like there was a lot more opportunity to come up with some good stories.”
The superhero genre, he said, is a bit limited. Cuti explained the format tends to get repetitive – a hero is confronted by a scheming villain, the hero defeats said bad guy and the formula continues. The villains may change, but the “wash, rinse and repeat” formula holds up throughout the life of the series.
“We weren’t doing any superheroes at Charlton at the time,” Cuti said. “All we were doing were war books, ghost books, romances and westerns – all the stuff that none of the other publishers would do.”
That was due to change as Charlton wanted to get back into the superhero genre (the company had been a player in that era in the 1950s through the mid 1960s with characters like Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle). Cuti was ordered to come up with a superhero so he developed the E-Man character.
E-Man was based in part on Plastic Man – one of Cuti’s favorite characters from his childhood. Plastic Man was able to assume various forms and Cuti worked that ability into his E-Man character.
E-Man, Cuti said, wasn’t human. He was a packet of energy that was born in an exploding star and floated through space until he landed on earth and took form. Why was he named E-Man? Cuti said the “E” represents Einstein’s E=MC2 formula – an indication that the character could convert from his native state and assume any form of matter he chose.
The character survived Charlton’s demise in 1986 and Cuti contributed to various “one offs” and short series featuring E-Man through 2007. A fascinating sidenote here is that DC purchased a good number of Charlton superheroes after Charlton folded, but E-Man was not among them.
Some of the characters that went with DC are the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question and Peacemaker. Why didn’t DC acquire E-Man, too? Joe Staton, an artist and co-creator of E-Man, had the option to purchase the rights to that character from Charlton. He did just that and took the series to First Comics in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, Charlton alum Dick Giordano had been the managing editor at DC since 1981. He jumped at the chance to acquire the rights to Charlton superhero characters for DC and purchased them with the intent of reviving them. Some of those characters were rolled out in DC comic books in the 1980s but are largely unused now.
An interesting aside to the tale of the Charlton characters involves Alan Moore who had an idea for a 12-issue series of graphic novels – The Watchmen (yes, the same series that was made into a movie a couple of years ago). Moore wanted to use the Charlton characters in the series but was refused, Cuti said. Moore then made characters based on the Charlton characters and that story was the one that was put into production by DC.
By the time Staton started working on a new E-Man series for First, Cuti was at DC and declined the chance to work on the title with Staton. The earlier issues of the First series reprinted some Charlton stories and Cuti said he received permission to work with Staton on the book near the end of its run.
Cuti and Staton have teamed up on comics featuring E-Man from time to time during the years – smaller publishers have brought the hero back for single issues and small series from time to time.
Cuti said part of the E-Man story includes Michael Mauser (who hates to be called Mickey, by the way). He was originally a minor character, but the gruff detective gained a following and was spun-off into a series of his own.
Another character that has been with Cuti through the years is the
aforementioned Moonie. Cuti said that character is a direct result of his fascination with science fiction tales.
“I’ve always loved space opera,” he said. “Anything having to do with outer space and ray guns.”
In addition to producing Moonie comics from time to time, Cuti has put together two books featuring the character. The first, Moonie and the Spider Queen, collects the three comics that Cuti produced as a trilogy back in 1969. He produced a second one called Moonie in the Slave Market of Opuul and is in the middle of producing a third Moonie novel – Too Many Moons.
In addition to witnessing an awful lot of the history of the comic book industry, Cuti has some insights as to why things are the way they are. He pointed out that comic books have gotten considerably more expensive over the years, but that can’t be completely blamed on the economy.
“It wasn’t the economy that did it,” he said. “The real reason (prices) jumped is because the comic book industry was fighting magazines for space on newstands.”
Back when comic books cost around 10 cents and issue, vendors tended to put more expensive magazines in prominent spots because they made more money off of them. The increases in price, then, came in part as the result of the comic book industry’s attempt to pay vendors more money with each sale so they would place those publications in more high traffic areas.
Comic book distribution has changed over the years, too. They used to be in newsstands, grocery stores and pharmacies – places where magazines were typically found – but that’s changed. Most comics are now sold in comic book stores and finding them in newsstands has become increasingly difficult.
Oh, and one more thing – comic book artists absolutely hated the UPC codes that were slapped on covers after those codes became prominent. Dedicating part of the cover of a comic book to a UPC code means there’s less room for artwork. Besides, Cuti said those codes are just ugly and can interfere with the “flow” of cover art.
The decline of the animation era
Cuti said he left DC because he grew uncomfortable there after a time.
“I never really was a superhero fan,” he explained – a problem if you happen to work for a company that focuses heavily on those titles.
He got the chance to work in the animation industry in California and jumped at it. For 15 years, he did background animation and worked on props for Marvel Films, Disney, Sony, Universal, MGM and Warner Brothers.
He said animators back then would move from studio to studio – finish one project and get to work on another one. Universal was one of his favorite lots as the studio keeps a lot of its movie sets around, so roaming around a village where Frankenstein’s monster prowled or standing in the town square featured in Back to the Future was a thrill.
“I really, really got a kick out of that,” he said.
In the 2000s, however, the animation industry started to change. Studios were sending more work overseas and companies that had hired as many as 500 people suddenly shrank to 30 or 40 employees.
“A lot of artists were out of work,” Cuti said.
At about the same time, computer animation came in vogue and that was a problem with artists who learned their craft by putting pen and paintbrush to paper.
“They were recruiting kids right out of college,” Cuti said of animation studios. “These kids had grown up with computers. Those of us who had done everything by hand were suddenly confronted with ‘now you’re going to learn to work with computers or you’re out.’”
Cuti, not liking his prospects in the animation industry, gained an interest in live action production. He did some work with Creature Productions – an independent outfit – and got the chance to put out a film version of the aforementioned Grub comic that was published in the 1960s by Warren.
Cuti said he enjoys the creative end of the business and has done everything from a bit of acting (he wasn’t a huge fan of that) to gutting his kitchen to build a set for the Captain Cosmos character (check out the Captain Cosmos and the Gray Ghosts DVD for more information).
These days, Cuti owns his own independent film company – Ni-Cola Entertainment, LLC – and is working on a movie called Tagged, the tale of a girl obsessed with the game of laser tag. He said independent companies like his certainly aren’t getting rich as they’re challenged with the obstacles of finding mainstream distribution, low budgets and other problems.
He said his company relies on distribution through outlets such as Amazon.com and actors who don’t mind working for free.
“Everyone does it for the love of making movies,” he said.
As I said at the first of this article, Nick Cuti has done a lot. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down a bit, either.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.