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Belated word has come that comics great Jerry Grandenetti died February 19, 2010, at age 83. A comic-book artist whose career stretched from the early days of the medium well into the 1980s before he left to become an advertising art director, Grandenetti was one of DC Comics' most acclaimed war-story artists, alongside the likes of Joe Kubert and Russ Heath.
Renowned painter Roy Lichtenstein, who famously appropriated pop-culture images to reimagine and comment on them, based his 1962 drawing Jet Pilot on a Grandenetti comic-book panel (the cover of DC's All-American Men of War #89 - Feb. 1962; the lower-right panel is the source of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's drawing).
Grandenetti's death was confirmed by his daughter, Jennifer Pedersen, who said the official cause was "cardiopulmonary arrest, but he had cancer that had metastasized." He lived in Bellport, NY, on Long Island, and died at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in nearby East Patchogue.
"Growing up, we had no idea he was famous. He was just dad," she said. "Later on, I'd go with him to a comics convention and see people asking for his autograph, and that was just the neatest thing in the world. He was a great artist and dad."
Among his accomplishments, Grandenetti was an uncredited ghost artist on installments of Will Eisner's legendary 1940s and '50s comics series The Spirit, and he drew hundreds of DC war-comics stories, co-creating along the way the feature "Mlle. Marie," about a World War II French Resistance. He collaborated with such noted talents as writer Dennis O'Neil, with whom he co-created the sword-and-sorcery character Nightmaster, and Joe Simon, with whom in the early 1970s he co-created the not entirely successful but utterly of-the-times Prez, about the first teenaged U.S. president.
Grandenetti went on to draw stylized and exceptionally well-designed horror stories for the black-and-white, mature-audience comics magazines Creepy and Eerie, from Warren Publishing, and as art director he continued embracing new technology,becoming and staying adept at computer graphics even into his late 70s.
Pioneering TechniqueGrandenetti remained modest about his comics career, which ended before the field became a Hollywood-style phenomenon. "[T]o to be in the company of Russ Heath and Joe Kubert," he mused in an interview with comics historian Bryan Stroud in 2008. "My God, those guys are giants. I'm not one of these stars; at least I don't think I am. The only contribution I made to the comic book industry, I think, was that … because of my interest in doing magazine illustration I was one of the first ones to introduce halftones on covers," he said, referring to a complicated process, also called wash-tone or grey-tone, that creates a glazed, highly illustrative, painted look -- with his doing so in the 1950s and 1960s, long before such experimentation was common in what was then the 10- and 12-cent, newsprint-stock, disposable world of comics.
"He produced some of the most astonishing covers the field has ever seen. In washes, mind you. And that was 30 years ago," Robert Kanigher, one of comic books' most important writer-editors, who helmed the DC war comics line, said in 1983. "They're following in his footsteps today."
He was born Charles J. Grandenetti, said his daughter, who noted, "He always went by his middle name, Jerry." Though he would give his birth year as 1927, she confirmed the birth date that appears on his Social Security Death Index record: April 15, 1926. Born and raised in the suburban town of Bronxville, just north of New York City, he was the son of a masonry sculptor who "did a lot of the motifs that you would see on buildings years ago that you don't see too much anymore, like … gargoyles and things like that," he told interviewer Steven Fears in an undated interview on his now-defunct official site, which remains available through the nonprofit library site Archive.org.
Art and ArchitectureArtistically inclined and thinking he might become an architect, Grandenetti at age 15 became a junior draftsman at a firm called C. C. Combs: Landscape Architects, he told comics historian Richard J. Arndt in 2005. During this youthful period, "I had always liked to draw and I started to copy the art in the comics."
That combination of cartooning and draftsmanship helped keep him out of combat during World War II, when he entered the Navy. He told Stroud, "I ended up in the administration building doing these silly architectural corrections on porches and handball courts. … I started drawing for the base paper and that gave me the desire to want to draw for a living rather than doing this silly architectural stuff with triangles and T-squares and logarithms and all this other mathematical stuff that was boring as hell."
After his service ended, he attended college on the G.I. Bill. Though some biographies erroneously state that he attended Manhattan's Cartoonists and Illustrators School, now the School of Visual Arts, he confirmed to Stroud, "No, I never went to the Cartoonist's. I did go to the [Brooklyn-based] Pratt Institute."
Around 1948, he sought work in the burgeoning young comic-book industry, which was still then in the million-selling-issue era called The Golden Age of Comic Books. He wound up becoming an assistant to the legendary Eisner on The Spirit, a seven-page, comic-book-like insert in Sunday newspapers. In the standard multi-step process of comic-book art, Grandenetti eventually became an "inker," an artist who inks over penciled artwork to order to add depth and shading and to allow the "penciler" to move on, assembly-line style, to the next page. By 1950, Grandenetti had risen to become one of at least three assistants who drew the original pencil art, under Eisner's supervision -- "ghosting" it, in the manner of a ghostwriter, under Eisner's byline.
Roy Lichtenstein InspirationAmong his other early work, Grandenetti drew the Eisner-packaged feature "Secret Files of Dr. Drew" for the comic-book publisher Fiction House -- drawn, as per Eisner's instruction, in an Eisneresque style. He got his first published credit in Rangers Comics #47 (June 1949). Soon Grandenetti was freelancing for Lev Gleason Publications, American Comics Group, Prize Comics and finally DC -- where he would enjoy a 17-year run drawing everything but superheroes, tackling Westerns, crime fiction, science fiction and the supernatural, but most prominently war comics. The panel of a jet fighter that inspired Lichtenstein appears on the cover of All-American Men of War #89 (Feb. 1962).
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