Nicola Cuti has won many awards over his long career in comics, animation and film, but he only had a few moments to determine which ones meant the most to him today. That’s because the co-creator of “E-Man” was surprised with an Inkpot Award — a career-achievement honor given out by Comic-Con International — as he sat down to start his Spotlight panel Thursday.
Cuti was genuinely moved by the honor, which he quickly put on his list of favorites, but he also warmly recalled receiving Warren Publishing’s Ray Bradbury Award, an honor earned toward the beginning of in his 40-plus-year career.
Cuti first broke into the business with Warren as a writer when he was still serving in the Air Force in the mid-1960s, and continued writing for the horror publisher when he returned stateside. During this period he would also write and draw his own “Moonchild” comics, a character who, like E-Man, would pop up throughout his career. Before long, Cuti would fall in with the legendary Wally Wood, with whom he would share a studio in Long Island.
Under Wood’s tutelage, Cuti was involved in the production of both “Cannon” and “Sally Forth” — a period he calls “the best days of my career.” Working from Wood’s roughs, Cuti would track down photo references, spot blacks, and apply tones. He laughed as explained the biggest challenge with these strips, which were produced for overseas servicemen: There needed to be a naked women in every installment. “We had to figure out clever ways of divesting women of their clothes,” Cuti said.
While enjoying his work as an artist, Cuti’s would soon move toward more writing so his “wild imagination” could better provide for his family. That would bring Cuti to Charlton Comics, where the writer would co-create (with Joe Staton) perhaps his most popular character, E-Man.
Cuti was “never a big superhero person,” but was tasked by Charlton to create one for the company. His idea of mixing a Plastic-Man-type character with an energy-based being led to the creation of “E-Man.” Cuti would seek out artist Joe Staton to bring the character to life, and the two would become good friends. “Joe is a pleasure to work with.”
Other artists would get their big breaks from Cuti at Charlton, too. Mike Zeck, John Byrne and Don Newton were among those to whom Cuti assigned scripts. Charlton was a “great testing ground for new artists,” Cuti said.
Cuti would eventually return to Warren, and later worked as editor at DC Comics, where he created the popular “Spanner’s Galaxy.” By the mid-1980s, he shifted his interest to animation, where he produced background art for companies including Disney and Universal Studios.
His most recent success was “Captain Cosmos,” a comic-book and film property inspired by old-time sci-fi properties like “Captain Video” and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.” Cuti has a fondness for such pre-“Star Trek” sci-fi, and “wants to bring back people’s reverence for those old serials.” “Captain Cosmos” seems to be resonating with younger fans, too; the live-action version of the character earned the Kids First! seal of approval for excellence in children’s video.
Cuti is currently working on film projects and screenplays, and there just might be a “Moon Child” (now “Moonie”) animated project in the future, too.
As an artist who has been involved with several creative disciplines, Cuti is loath to pick a favorite. Regardless, he said, “I love what I’m doing.”
And it’s that love that keeps him going after four-plus decades in the business. “You’ll always come back to what you love. Once you’ve been published, you’re hooked.”