Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Artist Spotlight - Tony Abruzzo

Tony Abruzzo Cover Pencils
Falling in Love #95 (November 1967)

Writing about comic book history wouldn't be nearly as fun or gratifying were it not for the amazing community surrounding it. There are so many wonderful people studying comic books who are willing to share their time, knowledge, and expertise in a field which we are all collectively trying to understand. In the grand scheme of things, it is still a very new field of study and we all benefit from one another's research. Anyhow, one such fellow scholar, Steve Rowe,* contacted me a while back and gave me some information on the iconic romance comic book artist Tony Abruzzo. It came at a time when it was most appreciated; quite a few other people had been asking me if I had any information about Abruzzo, and at the time, I was pretty much at a loss. So, thanks to Steve and his generosity, I now have some more information on Abruzzo to share for all our benefit!

"Mad Mad Modes for Moderns"
Heart Throbs #107 (April/May 1967)

Before I dive in to what I've learned about Tony Abruzzo, it is important to understand the reason why Abruzzo is so darn important. Besides the fact that Abruzzo was an extremely talented artist in his own right, he is in need of remembrance because his work in large part, is what Roy Lichtenstein built his fame on. Now, the whole Lichtenstein thing is a topic for another post, but I don't think anyone can deny Abruzzo's significance in the history of not only comics, but in popular culture and the arts in general.

Abruzzo and Lichtenstein -- Side by Side
from David Barsalou's Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein

The coolest thing Steve dug up was a 1942 Long Island Daily Press newspaper article about Abruzzo. The article was a great help in tracking down Abruzzo's census information, since the article gave his civilian address at the time. Utilizing the article, the 1940 census, and the United States Social Security Death Index, I was able to come up with a few tidbits. Born June 21st, 1916, Anthony Abruzzo was of Italian heritage. His occupation on the 1940 census is listed as "Fashion Artist" for a dress house. After a career in both the military and the arts, he passed away December 30th, 1990. Though it appears that Abruzzo remained unmarried and without children, he left behind a prolific body of work. The newspaper article is a really great read, and gives us a snapshot of Abruzzo as a young artist:

Dress Designer's Doing Swell Illustrating Lines of Jeeps

     It wasn't so long ago Tony Abruzzo of Ozone Park was designing dresses and his creations were eagerly snapped up by many of Park Avenue's best-dressed women.
     Now he is at Fort Knox, Ky., drawing tanks, scout cars and jeeps for special training manuals prepared for members of the Army Armored Force.
     The ex-dress designer, now Corporal Abruzzo, is doing a swell job at his new assignment.
     One of his superior officers, describing the military sketches, said:
     "They are a far cry from the old style diagrams. Abruzzo's drawings have perspective. They show the reader exactly what happens under given military situations."
     Until he was called to service on Jan. 28, Corporal Abruzzo resided at 102-03 103rd avenue. He lived in Ozone Park for 14 years.
     Abruzzo studied at Pratt Institute and the Traphagen Institute of Design.
     In addition to creating dress designs, he did fashion ads for the big stores and sold free lance sketches.
     "I was all ready to go to Paris," he said, "when the Nazi war machine changed my plans. Then I was called to service so I'll have to forget about dress designing for the duration."
     His aunt was a dressmaker and, as a girl in Italy, his grandmother made trosseaus [sic] for the royal family.
     He sketches dress designs in his spare time and vainly tries to find copies of the current fashion magazines at the Post Exchange.
     "But I don't have much spare time," he grinned. "Every day, and quite a few nights, I'm making illustrations for the Army training manuals.
     "And I don't think the Army khaki needs redesigning. It's made for fighting and I can't think of any improvements.
     "Until the war is over, I draw tanks instead of dresses."

There really isn't a whole lot of concrete information about Abruzzo besides the previously mentioned items. I have not been able to find any details on how he entered into the comic book business, or what he did after, but his legacy remains in the pages of the romance comics. I will certainly do an update if I acquire any more information on this important artist and fascinating man.

With a signature tilted neck, Abruzzo's characters
are equal parts sweet and sassy
"Mad Mad Modes for Moderns"
Young Love #63 (September/October 1967)

Abruzzo frequently used floral motifs in his work
Young Romance #144 (October/November 1966)

Steve suggested I get in touch with Robin Snyder** and see if he had any information on Abruzzo from Robert Kanigher's files. When I contacted Robin Snyder he wrote to me in an email,

"I have been looking for this fellow for over 30 years. He is the great lost mystery man of the comics. Tony worked for National for about 20 years and no one could tell me his name when I uncovered a huge number of pages of his original artwork during my tour of duty there. I advertised for help and asked everyone at the company. No one knew or cared. You may have noticed most fans dismiss love unless it is in a so-called super title... 

"Love 'Em and Leave 'Em!"
Pencils: Tony Abruzzo
Girls' Romances #131 (March 1968)

...Robert Kanigher walked into my office one day, glanced at the pages, and asked me what I was doing with so many pages by Tony Abruzzo. Several years later I was sitting on a convention panel with John Romita and mentioned this mystery. He not only remembered Tony but told me he had inked some of his stories. That is just about it. How is that for a tragic love story?"

"Too Late for Love!"
Pencils: Tony Abruzzo
Young Romance #153 (April/May 1968)

Tragic indeed. So today, let's remember and celebrate this amazing artist who doesn't get nearly enough credit for his contributions to modern culture, and hope that someday, more clues on the life of this talented man will surface. 

*You can find Steve Rowe's blog, A History of Comics here. He also was a columnist for the old The Comic Reader, and served as a senior editor of Jerry Bails' Who's Who.
**There's still a little bit of time (just a little over 24 hours) to help Robin Snyder's project with Steve Ditko, Mr. A, via Kickstarter! Click here to help!

34 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this Jacque!!! I have been trying to find out about Tony Abruzzo for ages! I had a feeling that Romita may have crossed paths with him! Have you relayed this info back to David Barsalou (the Deconstructing Lichtenstein guy)? We should spread the word about this wonderful artist! I really admire his work. Thanks so much!

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    1. I know you have, Indigo! I was so happy to be able to finally get this post up, because I hadn't forgot that you had asked me a while back if I knew anything about him. Hopefully the word does spread about Abruzzo, and others will take an interest! Thank you for reading and your feedback!

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  2. WOW !! - Congratulations, Jacque… Amazing research on artist Tony Abruzzo.

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    1. Thank you! I had a great time with it! Thank YOU for all you do!

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  3. His style reminds of Carmen Infantino. Great.

    Wes

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    1. Yes, there are a number of artists like this who worked at National in the late 1940s and early 1950s: Infantino, Sekowsky, Kane, Toth, maybe Andru and Novick as well. They are difficult to tell apart until the 'sixties (well, for me at least).
      And of course the romance comics had more of an imposed house style than DC's other books in the late 'fifties: to me, Romita, Sekowsky, Abruzzo and Sachs are difficult to tell apart at times (I can usually do it with Sekowsky, and sometimes with Romita).

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    2. I can see it, Wes -- especially in the nose/chin area.

      I also have some difficulty telling the DC artists apart due to the house style. I usually can always pick Abruzzo and Sekowsky out, but the others, I have to do a little thinking on! I think one of the reason I enjoy the later '60s/1970s romance comics so much is the greater diversity in art styles!

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  4. Thanks from me, as well, Jacque: very interesting and informative. And indeed, it makes you clamor for more information about the guy.
    And I know this may not be the place to bash Lichtenstein, but it's so sad that we know almost nothing about an accomplished and prolific artist like Abruzzo, while someone who basically just copied the work of others is virtually immortalized in the art world.

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    1. You are welcome, Edo!

      Yeah, the Lichtenstein issue is definitely a contentious one. Though my stance on the subject is probably apparent from this post (Go comic book artists!), I've been slowly collecting my thoughts about him and his "appropriation" of the comic book artists' work. I hope to one day share a rational, well thought out argument. All in all, it seems to be one of those things where I think we will all just have to agree to disagree on!

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    2. Do post, please! I have strong views about Lichtenstein's "art" myself, I'd be interested to see your thoughts.
      But now I have to ask—why did his kisses spoil her love? Was he just a sloppy kisser or was it ... something more?

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    3. I started compiling information about Lichtenstein and my thoughts about him regarding the comics a few years back in hopes to write a paper for an academic conference. But heck yeah! I'll get around to posting something here on the blog instead, eventually!

      And RE: the kisses... all the other guys before were just mere plebs! The boy she chose to give her kisses freely to turned out to be the keeper. Kind of a misleading headline, but aren't they all?!

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    4. Ah, got it. Yes, those Silver Age grabber cover images/headlines didn't always catch the inside accurately. But they really do scream Buy Me, Buy Me

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    5. Ever think of a "5 most misleading romance covers" post? I think that would be fun.

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    6. That's a pretty great idea! That would be a fun post. I'm not blogging as much these days (trying to get the book done!) but I'm sure I'll get to it eventually! Thank you for the input, I'll put it in my handy dandy Evernote file :)

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  5. Great stuff, Jacque -- I hope you keep digging into his life, as well as the Lichtenstein connection. Love the art.

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    1. Roy Lichtenstein swiping artist Tony Abruzzo
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/deconstructing-roy-lichtenstein/8577438195/

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    2. Thank you, Brad! It is definitely an ongoing topic of research and idea collecting! As always, a work in progress! Thank you for reading!!!

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    3. Thank you for the link, David!

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  6. Dear Jacque: Thanks once again for an interesting and informative article! I checked the Comics Data Base on Abruzzo and found that all of his identified work was done for DC romance titles. His was a relatively long career, too, from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s.

    Based just on stereotypical assumptions about Abruzzo's interest in fashion design and choice of career, I wonder if he may have been a gay man. That might account, in his day and time, for some of the scarcity of information about him.

    His work is wonderful, especially on the fashion featurettes (I find his work on narrative stories a bit stiff on occasion, but still enjoyable). And you're right--one way to identify his work is those distinctive long (and sometimes unnaturally twisted) necks!

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    1. He did have quite a long career, David -- something I neglected to mention. And I'm with ya on the fashion featurettes. I do like his sequential work, but wow, those fashion pages just astound me every single time with their beauty!

      I do wish we knew more about his personal life! If only we had some personal letters to further investigate. Overall, he sounds like he was a wonderful and humble man. I will be sure to do an update if I find anything else out! Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful feedback, David!

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    2. I wonder if there's an Obit in a newspaper somehwere that may have listed relatives who may have inherited his personal belongings?

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    3. That is good question, Indigo. I gave a cursory look and came up empty handed. If I do find anything, I will be sure to update!

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  7. Hi Jacque,

    A great post. Thanks for shining the spotlight on a very talented artist.

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  8. Nice coverage of Tony Abruzzo's career. I don't read many romance comics, just those I've picked up off download sites, but have seen the occasional story by him. It's nice to know a name to put with the images. I can usually tell if work is done by Romita, or Sekowsky, but not much else. Of course Toth is highly recognizable, too.

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    1. Thank you! I do think that as a reader, when you know the name of an artist and can connect it with the other stories they have illustrated, the work takes on a bit more meaning. I hope this will encourage you to read more romance tales! ;)

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  9. Thanks Jacque (and Steve). As Abruzzo rates as one of my top four Romance Comic artists, I have also been keen to know more about him. I'd be particularly interested to know what his thoughts on Lichtenstein were! Strangely enough, the romance comics by Abruzzo and his peers seemed to become more 'Pop Art' stylized after Lichtenstein's success, almost as if they were trying to create panels which were perfect for plagiarism. Perhaps this was an editorial decision?
    Speaking of which; are there any of the editorial staff from Abruzzo's tenure at National/DC who are still with us and could be interviewed?

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    1. I would love to know his thoughts on Lichtenstein as well! I don't know how much of a cool head I could keep about someone making a whole bunch of money off my art, that's for sure!

      I don't know what exactly accounts for the more pop art driven spin the romance comics took, but I have a feeling that the general cultural climate and an increase in pop/psychedelic art in commercial and advertising art had an influence.

      Good question on the editorial staff -- I will have to look into that! I haven't done an interview in a while, and that could prove to be a good one.

      You've posed a lot of food for thought here, Darren -- thanks for that!

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  10. Thank you, Jacque (and Steve), for this info on Tony Abruzzo. “The finest artist in the romance
    field bar none,” Bob Kanigher once said, as quoted in Steve Duin’s 1998 book, Comics Between
    the Panels. From what little I’ve seen of his work, I’ve never been able to get a handle on his
    style. It seems that in addition to the long necks (mentioned by David Kucharski above), it seems
    Abruzzo draws women with long legs and large, expressive eyes.

    In addition to John Romita, Bernard Sachs inked a lot of Abruzzo’s romance stories. Bernie
    Sachs inks seemed to be omnipresent in the DC romance comics in the 1950s, making the
    penciler ofttimes difficult to identify. I suspect that Arthur Peddy pencils were hiding under the
    inked images in a lot of the stories where Sachs is credited as both penciler and inker at the
    Grand Comics Database. Thanks again for a superior piece of research.

    Jake Oster

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    1. You are so welcome! And thank you for the addition of the quote! I honestly do have a hard time identifying the some of the inkers, and where artists like Peddy and Sachs, thinks are a little murky for me. Luckily, there are lots of people such as yourself, Jake, who are well-versed in identifying them. Together, we will assemble the pieces of the puzzle! Thank you for reading!

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  11. Jacque, you blew me away by taking the time to post a thoughtful personal response to each of
    the commentaries. Two thumbs up!!!

    I know your (our?) focus here is on romance comics of the 1960s and 1970s (DC, Marvel,
    Charlton), but there a discussion that you might find interesting about ALICE AMANDA
    KELLY, a dimpled cutie who appeared on a number of romance photo covers for a number of
    comics publishers in the 1950s, going on at the link below:

    http://boards.collectors-society.com/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=7454078&fpart=45

    The discussion actually begins a few pages earlier and continues for a few pages more.

    On a somewhat related note there’s a blog post about MLJ/Archie Publications’ Darling
    Romance #1 (Aug 1949) featuring cover girl KEVIN DALEY (yes, a girl named Kevin) here:

    http://undercoverarchie.blogspot.com/2014/06/darling-romance-1-7-on-newsstands-in.html

    Ms. Daley was a Bettie Page look-alike BEFORE Bettie Page, and also appeared on covers and
    interiors of slick magazines at about the same time or shortly thereafter.

    Jake Oster

    PS: A while back you mentioned a “secret” project, which I assume to be a book. If such is the
    case, and if you have any input toward such a decision, would it be possible to make it 7-1/4" X
    10-1/4" (like Michele Nolan’s Love on the Racks) or 8-3/4" X 11-1/2" (like Mike Benton’s
    Illustrated History series)? In any case, I look forward to it. Keep on blogging!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Jake! I always try (emphasis on try) to respond to the comments. Sometimes I am better (and quicker) about it at certain times than others, but I genuinely do appreciate everyone who takes the time to stop by the blog and comment.

      Great links! I remember seeing the Darling Romance one a few months ago and put up a link to it on the Sequential Crush Facebook page and Twitter. The other one though! That is amazing!!! What a cool thread. I will go ahead and post that on FB and Twitter. I guess because I study the later period I don't give those photo covers too much thought, but obviously some people do, and thank goodness!

      The secret project is a book! :) I am very excited about it. I am just coming to the end of another bout of research, and am getting back to the writing. Once I get to the design point, I will definitely take those dimensions into consideration. I will be working directly with the designer I'm hiring, so we have some leeway. Either way, I hope everyone will dig it! And in the meantime, thanks for the support and patience! I promise it will be worth it!

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  12. This was a very informative piece. I don't recall if I had heard of Tony Abruzzo before now. His artwork was certainly very beautiful.

    Oh, and don't get me started on Lichtenstein!

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    1. I'm glad you are now in the know about Abruzzo! Thank you for reading!!!

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