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.