Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Praise of Rocke

There were many talented artists in the Charlton line-up and Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio is one of the best and most underrated. Born on June 8th,1927 in Staten Island, Rocco exhibited an affinity for drawing early on, and by the age of 17 he began working in comics. Credits for Rocke include pencils and/or inks for ACG, Avon, Harvey, Hillman, Toby and Timely-Atlas. His longest association, though, was with Charlton Press, beginning in 1954 and running until his death in 1968.

This bio of Rocco appeared in Creepy # 16, Aug 1967 and included many interesting facts about the artist. Joe Orlando was a fellow classmate (and friend) at the School of Industrial Arts; Mastroserio enjoyed using different techniques when drawing; influences included Wally Wood, Jack Davis, and in particular, John Severin; Charlton editor Pat Masulli allowed him to experiment on stories and he had ambitions to work on a syndicated strip.      

Mastroserio's cover to Wyatt Earp # 18, Nov 1957 has a decidedly Joe Maneely-esque background. Maneely drew a number of stories for Charlton and some of Rocke's covers and stories in this period were clearly influenced by his work. Could the two have met and compared notes at some point? 

Image from the ever-resourceful Grand Comics Database, where you can view all the Wyatt Earp covers by Rocco and a variety of Charlton greats:

Rocke's cover art to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds # 8, June 1958. Mastroserio's art peppered practically the entire Charlton line, from covers to interiors. With the amount of work he turned out some jobs were clearly rushed and weaker than others, but much of his art stands out as above average.  

An explosive (pardon the pun) cover to D-Day # 5, Oct 1967. Covers such as these, lacking copy, draw attention directly to the art. Mastroserio pencilled and/or inked countless covers for Charlton's various war and western titles and the hits outweigh the misses. Image from the GCD.   

A powerful image graces the cover to Fightin' Army # 25, June 1958, with pencils by Charlton editor Pat Masulli and inks by Mastroserio. Rocke inked most of Charlton's artists from time to time, including Charles Nicholas and Bill Molno, usually adding a layer of depth to two of Charlton's workhorses. While both men have often been maligned by fans, sometimes with justification, I've warmed up to their work a little since seeing more examples at Comic Book Plus:

Molno and Nicholas were clearly capable of producing solid art when time and interest merged. Like many, I've probably been too harsh in assessing their talents, but I've grown to appreciate that they had distinct styles, even if they were not in the same class as Kirby and Ditko.

Mastroserio inks over Dick Giordano. The two produced many outstanding covers over the years. From Outlaws of the West # 61, Nov 1966. Image from the GCD.

Another exciting western cover by Rocke, with layouts possibly by Dick Giordano, from Outlaw of the West # 64, May 1967. Image from the GCD.   

When Ghostly Tales began with issue # 55, May 1966 (in actuality the first issue, which continued the numbering from Blue Beetle), Mastroserio was a major contributor, both as primary cover artist and on interiors. In this issue he provides the intro page, inks a Steve Ditko story and draws two stories of his own! This nicely designed page is from "A Powerful Tale!"   

Anyone for a game of cards? Rocke drew many attractive and inventive introductory pages for Charlton, this one featuring the host Mr. L. Dedd. From Ghostly Tales # 57, Sept 1966. 

Mastroserio was particularly suited to the mystery genre as this cover clearly illustrates. From Ghostly Tales # 60, March 1967.

As noted, Mastroserio inked many of Steve Ditko's stories when he returned to Charlton. Although he did a fine job on Capt. Atom, I believe Rocke's crisp, detailed inking on the mystery stories truly excelled. "If I Had Three Wishes", Gary Freidrich script, from Ghostly Tales # 60. 

Ditko and Rocke are again teamed in the same issue. This page features superb storytelling by Ditko, with each panel perfectly composed. The use of the host is an added treat, and Rocke's inking compliments Ditko's pencils as few have been able to. There are so many gems to be found in Charlton's 1960's comics. This is just one of them. "The Ghost Mover" Joe Gill script?

 Dr. Graves, who had a short feature in Ghostly Tales, usually written by Dave Kaler and drawn by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache, soon became the host and occasional star of his own title. As with GT, Rocke was again employed as main cover and intro artist on many of the early issues. Cover possibly from a Dick Giordano layout. Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 4, Nov 1967.

Another simple, effective Rocke cover, with lettering by Jon D'Agostino, from Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves # 5, Jan 1968.

And we close out our look at Rocke's Charlton work with a decidedly Ditkoesque cover, one inspired by the Ditko drawn "Routine" inside. All told, Mastroserio's fourteen year body of work at Charlton includes some extraordinary work.

 In 1966 Rocke, along with fellow Charlton artists Steve Ditko, Pat Boyette and Tony Tallarico, began getting assignments from Warren Publishing. Mastroserio's black and white work was effective, as this splash page to "Monster" clearly illustrates. Archie Goodwin script. Creepy # 10, Aug 1966.

While continuing to work for Charlton, Mastroserio drew stories for Warren and received his first assignment from DC editor Murray Boltinoff, a mystery story over Jack Sparling pencils (The Unexpected # 108, Sept 1968). Sadly, it was to be his only DC job, as he died in 1968, at the age of 41. 

Mark Hanerfeld's obituary of Mastroserio, from On The Drawing Board Vol 3, # 2, Apr 1968

Like the tragic early death of Joe Maneely, who knows where the future would have taken Rocco Mastroserio? Mastroserio was excited to be working for DC, and more jobs from editor Murray Boltinoff were pending (according to historian Mark Evanier, Boltinoff was ready to assign him a Challengers of the Unknown story). His command of the form was constantly improving and would likely have continued in that direction. Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio's life may have been short, but his accomplishments in the world of comic art cast a long shadow.

I'll close out with a rare treat: Rocco in his own words, writing about art and storytelling. A letter from Comic Comments # 19, June 1967. Rocke had contributed a cover to issue # 10, which I unfortunately don't have, but if anyone has a copy and would send me a scan I'd love to add it to this tribute.



Kid said...

A sad story, Nick. Just as a new door at DC was opening in his career, he dies. As you suggest, who knows what feats he might have accomplished had he lived. And only 41. Such a shame.

narfstar said...

Thanks for the article Nick. Rocko is my favorite Charlton cover artist. Submarine Attack 12 is my favorite of his.

Kirk Tingblad said...

You are right he produced many very good covers during his run with Charlton and he is very much ignored by comic fans. I always enjoyed the cover with his "Rocke" signature on them.54343992 48

Nick Caputo said...


It looked like Rocke's art was steadily gaining in maturity, and with better pay at Warren and DC he likely would have been able to take more time on each story. I could also see him working for Marvel, particularly as an inker. His inking style has a Severinesque quality and he would have done wonders on Don Heck or Herb Trimpe.


I've been enjoying so many of Rocke's covers both at Comic Book Plus and on the GCD. I just looked up the Submarine Attack 12 cover and it is very nice, with strong inks by Vince Alascia.


So many of the "non-stars" are neglected by fans. From time to tome I hope to turn the spotlight on them and give them a little attention.

Smurfswacker said...

I read a lot of Charltons back in the day, and I loved Mastroserio's inking on Captain Atom, but I mostly overlooked him until his Warren stories made me sit up and notice, "Hey, this guy can really draw!" I liked Mastroserio's use of dramatic black/white contrast, something he didn't do in color comics. And the "Morning Maid" story he did with Pat Boyette is a treasure.

In some half-forgotten interview Mastroserio cited John Severin as an influence. It certainly shows in his western and war work. Did the DC job with Sparling ever see print?

Nick Caputo said...


I clearly see the Severin influence in his inking.

Yes, at least one story that appeared in The Unexpected # 104, which featured one of DC's less popular hosts, "The Mad Mod Witch"

Mark Evanier said...

Murray Boltinoff told me that Mastroserio was slated to do an issue of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN but died before that could happen.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks for thw info Mark. I think that would have been an interesting strip for him to do.

Unknown said...

Nick, an early and important step in Rocke's career, often under-appreciated, is his collaboration with Lou Cameron at Ace when Lou was just getting started. This would be about 1951, I think, but Mastroserio was the better of the two at the time and added a slick ink line to Cameron's exuberant pencils. The two must have shared a studio or at least known each other fairly well to have done so many stories together. Peace, Jim (|:{>

Tony Isabella said...

A wonderful article, Nick, and fitting tribute to an underrated great. Thanks.

Nick Caputo said...

Jim, Thanks for the added info. Do you know some of the titles the two worked on together? I'd like to see some examples of their work if they are online, perhaps at Comic Book Plus.

Nick Caputo said...

Jim V, as always, has an astonishing knowledge of comics. Take a look at Cameron/Mastroserio in the first story of Weird Mysteries #8

I can see Mastroserio's style, particuarly in the way he inks eyes. Nice work and another area for me to learn more on.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Thanks for this lovely tribute to the great Rocco, whom I didn't know had died so young. Very sorry to learn as much. At my own more-or-less comic blog (mostly devoted to the pre-modern comics found in magazines, etc.), I just put up a post on the Feb., 1958 (No. 34) issue of Charlton's Hot Rods and Racing Cars, which features three Molno/Mastroserio pairings. (On that note, thanks for the kind Molno words!) The issue is without a GCD contents listing, so you may find my post, in which I include a number of sample scans, interesting. I might be the first person to give cyber-attention to this issue, a very fun one.

In case you're interested:

In various Charlton comics--Western and horror, esp.--I've spotted what very much appear to be Molno/Mastroserio efforts credited solely to the latter. Not surprising, since there are Molno/Alascia efforts credited solely to Alascia. I wonder if Molno was in too big a hurry to desire credit, or...? (As you know, Molno is famous for the speed of his output.)

Thanks for continuing to be one of the most thoughtful voices on Charlton and its underrated crew.

Nick Caputo said...


Thank you so much for all the kind words. I'm glad to shine a spotlight on creators such as Mastroserio who produced so much good work in a short period of time.

I love seeing obscure stories and glad to see what you've posted. I've been indexing many Charlton issues for the GCD and adding info from places like Comic Book Plus and have discovered many Molno/Mastroserio stories. I don't think Molno signed many stories but don't know the reason why.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and I hope you'll join in on future posts.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Will do! I'm an obsessive blogger, and this keeps me from being a good follower, hence I find myself commenting months after the fact. I need to remedy that by regularly checking out your site.

Great post on Marvel cover alterations by Alan Class. I have a few Class-reissued Charlton covers, and while there's no reason to expect any editing of/on those, you've gotten me curious. Re Class, while stationed in Scotland in the late 1970s, I would buy Class collections from small town newstands to read on the train to Edinburgh--never kept a single one. When I recently became interested in early Charlton history, turns out I was already familiar with same thanks to Class (though in b&w)!

I have a brief Molno/Mastroserio post nearly ready to go up--it includes three examples I believe to be Molno/M. but which are signed by Rocke alone. You're correct that Molno tended not to sign his stuff, and I wonder why, too. He's famous for working very fast, so maybe he simply didn't take the time! I also wonder if he worked at times on an as-needed basis, given his talent for fast work. That is, maybe he was an "at large" sort of artist. As you know, Charlton was famously seat-of-the-pants, so they were probably rushing to deadline more often than not.