Sunday, May 27, 2012

Taps for Jerry Grandenetti (1927-2010): Greytone Cover Innovator

By Don Mangus, comicsnewsletter, 2010

Farewell to Jerry Grandenetti, one of the finest of the "Big 5" DC war comic cover artists. For the record, he was my personal favorite.

Grandenetti 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 Comics 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.

Before the arrival of Joe Kubert, Grandenetti could be said to have been the main war artist for editor Robert Kanigher. This period of Grandenetti's 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/DC he also pioneered the legendary greytone covers.

Perhaps my favorite of these greytone covers was Our Fighting Forces # 71, spotlighting Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch hidden in the jungle, in a tense close up, complete with sweat rolling down their faces.

Probably the first DC greytone cover was Grandenetti's All American Men of War # 35 (7/56). The art was executed as an ink wash drawing and then in the production process, a halftoned photostat of the art was made , the logo added, and finally, the color was laid in over this statted wash drawing during the four-color printing process. 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, DC war comic editor/writer Robert Kanigher wrote, "... and it was in this atmosphere that I created the rugged Tank Killer, 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 sixties Grandenetti's art did get a little "looser" and less realistic, some might even say surreal, perhaps due to fatigue from the continuing grind on Gunner and Sarge. When he began working for Warren Publishing, Grandenetti's interest seemed to be rekindled and his work returned to a much more expressionistic and experimental phase, building on what he had begun at Eisner's studio, or perhaps it was due to the freedom from Kanigher's realism edict. Maybe 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.

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 phased out of comics and made his living in advertising art at the agency of Young and Rubicam, but by then he had established himself as a major comic art innovator and a master at the use of wash tones. He was especially suited for stories in the war, mystery, and horror genres.

Jerry Grandenetti leaves a legacy of brilliant, innovative work, and "Big 5" and greytone cover fans everywhere salute him and mourn his passing.

-Don Mangus

Jerry Grandenetti Greytone Cover Checklist:

All American Men of War #35 (7/56)
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)

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