Sunday, December 16, 2012

Don Rico (1912-1985)

Aka Dan Rico, Danny Rico, Donella St. Michaels, Donna Richards, Joseph Milton, N. Korok
Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Comic Book Writer, Artist, and Editor, Novelist, Screenwriter, Teacher, Singer
Born September 26, 1912, Rochester, New York
Died March 27, 1985, Los Angeles, California

Donato Francisco Rico II was born of Italian parents in Rochester, New York, on September 26, 1912. As a child artist, he was something of a prodigy. At age twelve, Rico earned a scholarship to study drawing at the University of Rochester. At fifteen, he learned to make woodcuts under Henry J. Glintenkamp (1887-1946), a graphic artist and cartoonist who had contributed to the radical journal The Masses and who had exhibited at the famed Armory Show in 1913. And at twenty-one, Rico was listed in Who's Who in American ArtDuring the 1930s, Rico worked for the W.P.A. Federal Art Project under the supervision of Lynd Ward (1905-1985), who some believe to have created the first American graphic novel. Rico's Depression-era prints made their way into the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library. Then, when he was only in his mid-twenties, Don Rico became a comic book artist.

Woodcuts are of course a very old form and perhaps mostly for specialized tastes. On the other hand, in the late 1930s, comic books were new, exciting, and wildly popular, and if an artist could crank out four pages a day at $7.50 per page, he might put food on the table. Moreover, the comic book industry needed artists, and so Don Rico answered the call in 1939, almost at the outset of what is now called the Golden Age of Comics. Rico drew Flick Falcon (later Flip Falcon), Blast Bennett, and the Sorceress of Zoom for Fox Publications. He also contributed to Planet Comics and Fight Comics (Fiction House) and drew Silver Streak and Daredevil for Lev Gleason. During the 1940s, Rico worked for Timely (later Atlas, later still Marvel), Fawcett, MLJ, Quality Comics, and Novelty Press. He also sang in New York nightclubs and had his own radio show upstate. As one of the editors at Atlas (the stage between Timely and Marvel) in the 1950s, Rico, working under Stan Lee, wrote comic book scripts, and co-created Jann of the Jungle and Leopard Girl.

In 1958, Don Rico moved to Los Angeles and began writing paperback novels for Lancer, Paperback Library, and other publishers. His books eventually numbered more than sixty, mostly Westerns, mysteries, and a few others with very suggestive titles. In addition, Rico wrote stories or scripts for Adam-12, Godzilla, and Jana of the Jungle, as well as for a movie called Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975). He continued with comic book work as well, and in the early 1970s provided the illustrations for almost an entire issue of Sam Moskowitz's revived Weird Tales. Not counting the cover, there are seven full-size illustrations plus one spot drawing and a decoration in Weird Tales for the Winter of 1973. Of those seven, five are the work of Don Rico. I'm not sure how he found the time to do those drawings, for Rico must have been busy with far more remunerative work. In any case, he continued writing, drawing, and teaching into the 1980s and died on March 27, 1985, in Los Angeles, California. By the way, Rico's wife was the actress Michele Hart.

Don Rico's Illustrations in Weird Tales
(All are from Winter 1973)
"The Balloon Tree" by Albert [sic] Page Mitchell
"Chicken Soup" by Katherine Maclean and Mary Kornbluth
"The Cats of Rome" by Miriam Allen deFord
"The Mysterious Card Unveiled" by Cleveland Moffett
"The Splendid Apparition" by Robert W. Chambers

Further Reading
You can find out more about Don Rico and see some of his artwork here. Otherwise, his work is all over the Internet and you won't have any problem finding it.

Don Rico worked in comic books for more than forty years and wrote, drew, and even created many titles and characters. Here's a print from 1975 showing a few of them. 
In the 1940s, Rico drew the pictures for the Classic Comics adaptation of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Here's the cover, and when I first saw it, I had to admit, it looks a lot like . . . 
This cover by Margaret Brundage for Weird Tales, illustrating C.L. Moore's story "The Black God's Kiss." I guess there are only so many ways you can draw an idol.
Many years later, Don Rico provided most of the illustrations in Weird Tales for Winter 1973. This one if for "The Splendid Apparition" by Robert W. Chambers. Note the symmetry of these four drawings taken together.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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