John G. Fantucchio. Some of you may remember his amazing and beautiful covers on such comic fanzines of the 60's and 70's as Rocket's Blast Comicollector (RBCC), The Collector, The Buyer's Guide for Comic's Fandom (TBG), Fantastic Fanzine and Comic Crusader. His style was utterly unique and instantly recognizable, and added a huge measure of professionalism and elegance to those fanzines of yesteryear. And that distinctive signature, autographed on each illustration, was a work of art in itself! Up until his death on August 4th 2016, John Guy Fantucchio worked from his studio, constantly challenging himself to explore new artistic horizons. His work was executed from a wide variety of media on various surfaces. It consisted of realistically rendered portraits, paintings and murals; comic book oriented illustrations and pen & ink drawings; or even three dimensional abstracts.
This tribute site will focus on John's fandom artwork from the 1960's through early 70's, simply because of the enormous amount of material available from comic book fanzines of this era. The ultimate goal is to enable old and new fans to appreciate John G. Fantucchio's mastery of the illustrated form ... Welcome and Enjoy!
Editor's Note: This memoir was written in 2012, long before John's death from a stroke on August 4th 2016 at 78 years old. John was very active and healthy up until a few days before suffering the stroke, and thus his passing was a shock to everyone. I can only hope my recollections give fans a glimpse of John's stunning talent, and vibrant personality ... and that he finally receives the accolades that he so sorely deserves.
My name is Aaron Caplan, and I am the proprietor of this fan-site. I have amassed a collection of 4000 comic book fanzines from the 1960's and early 70's. So I guess that qualifies me as a serious collector of fanzines … ok, I'll admit I'm a fanatic. While I have an interest in many 70's and 80's fanzines, my passion is for the fanzines of the 60's and early 70's, the period of time that Bill Schelly has termed "The Golden Age of Comics Fandom." I don't really collect anything else. And John G. Fantucchio is a big part of my passion for these comic book fanzines – he got me started! Let me explain (get ready for a very long diatribe) …
In 1967, I was a 13-year-old voracious comic book reader. I would pick up the latest comics at a drugstore, and bought older issues from one seedy neighborhood tough who would sell me his ratty back issues for a couple of cents. My hunger for comics was a deep, dark secret. I downplayed my obsession with friends and never talked about comics in school. Comics were too juvenile.
So sometime towards the end of '67, I responded to one of those ads in the back of Marvel Comics for "The Illustrated Comic Collector's Handbook." I received the Handbook a month later along with a copy of Rocket's Blast Comicollector (RBCC) 55, which we all know as GB Love's premier comic book oriented adzine of the 60's. The Handbook was intriguing, but the RBCC was a revelation! As I opened up that brown manila clasped envelope and flipped through the pages, I suddenly realized that there were others out there like me… comic fans who openly loved comics. There were dealers who sold old comics. And there were fanzines.
The cover of RBCC 55 – it was a rendering of The Fly clinging to a wall of lettering with a cityscape in the background. I was enthralled. Never had I seen anything like it. The design, the fine detail, the lettering, the zip-a-tone, the montage of the city … Who was this comic fanzine artist? His signature was illegible, I couldn't read it. I only knew that whoever he was, he was fantastic, unique, and a real illustrator, maybe better than many comic artists of the day.
I quickly discovered the secret identity of that mystery fandom illustrator – it was John Fantucchio, or as he prefers to be known ... John G. Fantucchio.
I must have looked at that RBCC 55 cover a thousand times. To this day, The Fly remains my favorite Fantucchio piece, with possibly the cover of Fantastic Fanzine 13 or Panorama 1 coming in close seconds. Perhaps one of these days I will convince John to pull the original art out of storage, as I would kill to see the real article up close (yes, JGF still owns the majority of his fanzine cover art)!
After subscribing to the RBCC, I discovered that John G. Fantucchio was a prolific fandom illustrator and generous contributor to many fanzines, which I sought out vigorously. Once bitten, I was totally infected!
Most of these publications in the early to mid-60's were considered crudzines. These were amateurish zines that were crudely produced by youngsters using a mimeograph or spirit duplicator (aka "ditto machine") process, usually with a maximum print-run of 25-400. Some were printed using carbon paper which produced a maximum yield of 6 or 7 copies – G.B. Love's first 4 issues of The Rocket's Blast were produced via carbon paper, so only a few copies exist. Crudzines were charming in their simplicity, honesty and zeal for comic book collecting. Rather than the slick, pro-zines that this article focuses upon, the crudzines are the very fanzines that I seek these days!
Amazingly, there are few examples of Fantucchio artwork in publications published via mimeograph or ditto machine, only 5 that I can think of offhand. His very first published fanzine work was the cover of Rocket's Blast Special 5 (dated Winter 1964/1965) produced via mimeographic photo-stencil. John had written G.B. Love a note on his Rocket's Blast subscription form and, always doodling, he sketched a small drawing at the end of his message. G.B. was impressed by this doodle and asked him to draw a cover. Knowing that the drawing would likely be reproduced via mimeo, John drew The Guardian with very thick, accented lines. The next illustration John did in mimeo was for the title page of Love's The Golden Age 1 (Spring 1965) featuring The Flame. My final example of Fantucchio's mimeograph work is the cover of The Rocket's Blast & the Comicollector 44 (1966), this time of the Fighting Yank. For some reason, this issue is frequently misreported as his first fanzine art.
Finally, a real anomaly: two Fantucchio illustrations in ditto! For the back page of Capa-Alpha 40, Bob Schoenfeld, inked (traced) over a JGF illustration of Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon onto a ditto master. See the published result at left. Nice. This resulted in one of the two Fantucchio illustrations I have ever found published via the spirit duplicator/ditto process! This is probably the same JGF illustration Schoenfeld used for the offset produced 1968 Gateway Con II Program and Memory Booklet in St Louis. For those of you who don't know, Bob Schoenfeld was the Missouri-based Editor/Publisher of Gosh Wow, one of the premier fanzines of the 60's, as well as On the Drawing Board and The Comic Reader. I recently showed this illo to John and he thought Bob did a fantastic job. If you watch the animated gif file at left, you'll notice a second ditto produced Fantucchio work: the Namor cover of Capa Alpha #43, also "inked" by Robert Schoenfeld. I just confirmed this cover existed recently, when Steve Ogden, fanzine indexer/cataloger extraordinaire, sent me the Namor scan - thanks so much, Steve!
Before The Buyer's Guide (now known as Comic Buyer's Guide), there was the RBCC. The Rocket's Blast Comicollector (aka RC-CC) was the largest and most influential adzine, and frequently the only avenue for fans to buy and sell comic books and fanzines during the 60's. But it was produced in a slap-dash fashion, complete with typos, crossed-out misspellings, upside down ad reproductions and generally poor production values. I don't wish to denigrate Editor/Publisher G.B. Love's early efforts as he was a truly amazing individual, practically jump-starting 60's fandom by producing the RBCC on time, every month, despite being afflicted with severe cerebral palsy. Love could not use his hands and typed whole issues with a pencil eraser to hit the keys!
Enter John G. Fantucchio. From the fan reaction to Rocket's Blast Special 5 and RBCC 44, G.B. knew that Fantucchio's work gave the adzine a huge measure of professionalism. So he solicited illustrations from John, who happily obliged. And not all were well received by G.B. - John recently told me that G.B. hated the all-typography, hand-lettered cover to RBCC #50 (see top right)! But Love still published it to excellent fan reviews.
Thus began a relationship that generated a series of stunningly gorgeous covers for the RBCC, lasting from issue 50 (Feb/Mar 1967) through 64 (Jun 1969), and establishing Fantucchio's reputation as the premier comic fanzine artist and fandom illustrator. Ten out of the fifteen issues of RBCC published during this period featured spectacular Fantucchio covers.
One of my favorite comic fanzines was The Collector, published by Bill G. Wilson. Wilson was only 12 or 13 years old when he started The Collector in 1967, and the first issues reflected his youth and inexperience.
But Wilson persevered, honed his editing/publishing/production skills and rapidly transformed a crudzine (sorry Bill) into a spectacular pro-zine with the highest quality art and article contributions. The Collector ultimately featured some of John G. Fantucchio's best work. Starting with The Collector 10 (featuring an awesome Ming vs. Flash Gordon wrap-around Fantucchio cover), John contributed to each and every issue until the final one, The Collector 29 in mid-1974. Note that Wilson also published the one-shot Panorama 1 which featured one of the best Fantucchio covers ever, and some of the highest quality printing and art reproduction in a fanzine of its time.
My personal favorite is The Collector #13 – about half the book is devoted to John G. and it includes an exclusive interview by Wilson, the only published one-on-one interview I've ever found. The interview contained a bombshell for me - Fantucchio was a full grown adult! Not only was he an adult, he had a full time job as an illustrator, and even worse, he was married to someone named "Mary" (and still is ... hello Mary)! There were several well-known BNF's (Big Name Fans) who were of the older persuasion and married, like Jerry Bails and Ronn Foss, but for some reason, I had always imagined JGF as an ultra-talented teenager, maybe a few years older than myself! To be fair to John, he was only 30 years old at the time. However, looking at the 1968 photo (see left) of John in the tie at the drawing board, I thought he looked like a gruff Shop teacher at school!
As a sidebar, my single contribution to 60's fanzines was an "article" that I submitted to Bill Wilson, and he had the audacity to publish it in The Collector 12! It was entitled "Tower Comics: The End of a Beginning" and it was a one-pager with a penciled illo of Menthor by my brother Phivel.
At the time, I felt proud to be in the company of such big name fans as Fantucchio, Bill Schelly, Martin L. Greim, Duffy Vohland, Steven Carlberg, Mike Robertson and Fred Hembeck, all of whom contributed to this issue. Today, the article induces a shudder and gag reflex whenever I try to read it! It was absolutely horrible - Bill, what were you thinking?!
During the 1969 New York Comicon, Phil Seuling invited JGF to set up an art exhibit at the show. One of his admirers was none other than James Warren, publisher of Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and Famous Monsters. John met briefly with Warren at the Comicon. Warren told him he had a script that he'd like John to draw, and this resulted in his first comics-oriented professionally published work. "Ghoul Girl" was published in Vampirella 5 (June 1970) and was written by Don Glut, with John G. providing art, including pencils, inks and lettering.
An interesting tidbit on this first story ... John secretly implanted his name onto a tree trunk. You'll have to look very closely to see it but it can be seen on the story's second page (44) in the very first panel at the top. Shhh. Don't tell John ... Here's a close-up:
John G. Fantucchio's second story at Warren was published in Creepy 34 a few months later (Aug 1970). John met with Jim Warren in early 1970 and Warren gave him his new assignment. Called "Minanker's Demons," the story was written by fellow fandom luminary Buddy Saunders of Texas Trio fame (Star Studded Comics!) and now owner of Lone Star Comics. Here's a sample from the first page:
Because of the incredible output of fanzine art he was being asked to submit, the fact that he had a full time day as an illustrator for the Government (more on this later ...), and his upcoming Fantucchio School of Art, this would be John's last professional work for a comics publisher.
I ended up selling my entire comic collection in 1973 to "Crazy Al's Comic Shop" near University of MD, College Park. I worked my way through college with very little financial help from my parents, so I sold them to finance two semesters of college. So there went my extensive collection of Marvels as well as my beloved fanzines, resulting in me dropping out of fandom and abandoning comics for about 12 years. Little did I know that comic book values would skyrocket in the ensuing years. Energized by Alan Moore's Watchmen, I re-entered the comic book arena in the mid-80's only to find the collection that I had sold 13 years prior for about $4,000 would now be worth $50,000+. ARGH!! It's a sad, sad story we've heard all too often - at least my Mom didn't throw them away ...
To be continued in Part 2!