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 Rafael Jerard Norman Astarita  (1912 - 1994)



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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: comic book art, pulp fiction illustration, set design, advertising

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John Charles is primarily known as Rafael Jerard Norman Astarita

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Ad Code: 4
Rafael Astarita
from Auction House Records.
Planet Comics #22 Complete 7-page Auro, Lord of Jupiter Story, "The Frog People" Original Art (Fiction House, 1943).
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Rafael Jerard Astarita was born August 2, 1912 in Brooklyn, New York City. His father, Ralph Anthony Astarita, was born 1886 in NYC of Italian ancestry. His mother, Hulda Elsie M. Astarita, was born 1882 in Norway and immigrated to America in 1906. His parents married in Brooklyn in 1910 and had three children. His older brother Raymond Winthrop Astarita was born in 1911 and his younger sister Victoria L. Astarita was born in 1918. They lived at 1965 86th Street in Brooklyn. His father was a patrolman in the 80th Precinct of the NYC Police Department.

He attended public school. His natural talent for drawing was nurtured by his mother, who had studied art in Norway and was exceptionally creative. According to her own account,"I was always of an inventive turn of mind. You know, when I sew, I sew differently from most women. I think of little things to make the work easier, and when my clock stops I take it apart myself. Of course when you have children they take up so much of your time that you can forget about inventions." Despite such distractions she found time to invent a patented
automatic fire-escape device that lowered occupants from the windows of burning skyscrapers. The device was featured in the April 1918 issue of Popular Science.

In 1918 the family moved to 808 Bay Ninth Street in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn, where his father became a mounted policeman in the 172nd Precinct. His horse was named "Rack."

In 1928 his father was reassigned to the 88th Precinct, in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, which is the station house adjacent to the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn.

In June 1925 he completed the eighth grade of public school and entered the work force as a menial laborer.

In 1933 his older brother Raymond joined the NYC Police Department, and in 1935 married and moved to an apartment at 3111 Glenwood Road in Brooklyn. Soon afterwards he and his wife bought a home in Great Neck, Long Island, NY, where they raised three children.
In 1935 Raphael Astarita was twenty-three when he began to work for comic books. He drew a two-page strip about King Arthur for New Comics. He signed his work "Rafael Astarita" instead of using his birth name "Raphael." His friends called him "Raf."

On February 20, 1937 he married Anne Barof in Brooklyn Civil Court. She was born June 2, 1903, in NYC of German Jewish ancestry. She was nine years older than the groom. She had completed her sophomore year at college and worked as a stenographer in the New York City Law Department, where she earned a steady income. They moved to an apartment at 51 Poplar Street in Brooklyn.

He drew for the Chesler Shop (1936-1939) and Eisner & Iger (1939-1941). He joined the staff at Fiction House Comics in 1942 and worked there for two years.

In October 1944 he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. Frederick Blakeslee, John Falter, and pulp magazine publisher Harry Steeger all served in this same volunteer branch of the National Guard. Astarita was a member of an armed patrol that accompanied merchant ships in U.S. waters and through the Panama Canal. He was honorably discharged after the war in January 1946.

After the war his pen and ink story illustrations began to appear in pulp magazines produced by Fiction House, such as Jungle Stories, Lariat Stories, and Planet Stories. His work also appeared in pulp magazines published by Ned Pines, such as Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder.

In 1947 Rafael Astarita became Art Director at Ned Pine's Standard Comic Books.

By 1953 the publishing industry of pulps and comic books was rocked by political scandal, self-censorship, lost readership, and the growing popularity of television. Most pulp and comic artists were forced to find new sources of income.

During the second half of the 1950s Astarita contributed illustrations to a juvenile reference work, The Picture World Encyclopedia, published by Chalton. According to advertising, this was the "first truly modern picture book encyclopedia specially written for children 6 to 16 and offered at fifty cents for each of the 12 volumes. There's never been an encyclopedia so easy to understand, so thrillingly presented, so up-to-the-minute with the very latest facts! No long wordy explanations. No dull, confusing language. The Picture World Encyclopedia informs in a bright, lively way. Every subject is illustrated in full color, with over 6,000 pictures in all!" This ambitious project took five years to complete and included illustrations by many artists, such as Paul Jepsen, Gene Fawcette, Robert Jenney, Ric Estrada, and Bob Powell.

In 1954 he designed sets for The Tom Corbett Space Cadet TV Show.

In 1956 he opened an advertising art agency called "Astarita Associates" at 145 East 49th Street in Manhattan.

By 1958 he had closed his ad agency and accepted a job as art director at the advertising firm, Rossman Productions, which produced slide-shows and film-strips for sales presentations.
In December of 1968 his mother died in Brooklyn Hospital at the age of eighty-six.

He and his wife were happily married, but they had no children. She developed a chronic illness and he became her devoted caregiver. In August of 1977 his wife died in Brooklyn Hospital after a prolonged illness.

In his retirement years he lived at 140 Cadman Plaza West, a modern housing project that towers over the swirling exit ramps of the Brooklyn Bridge.

He was active in a senior citizens painting class organized by the Brooklyn Heights community service program of the New York Department of Parks and Recreation.

According to the artist's longtime friend, and comic book historian, Hames Ware, "Rafael Astarita seemed perfectly content to take his art supplies down to the shore and paint seascapes, which he seemed not to worry over whether they sold or not, just happy to be painting and near the sea. I can recall how he was always reading and would get excited about any new concept. He had just read Drawing From the Left Side of the Brain and he called to tell me how it had stimulated new ways of approaching art. Surely he is one of the top artists to have ever drawn for comic books."

In 1992 at the age of eighty he moved to live with his brother's family in Great Neck, NY, where he planned to create a bas-relief plaque of a boating theme for an vacant niche in the entry hall of the family home.

Rafael Astarita died in Great Neck, NY, at the age of eighty-two in December of 1994.

Written by David Saunders

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Rafael Astarita was known as a Golden Age writer and illustrator, and according to comic sometime worked with the pseudonyms of John Charles or John Martin.  He attended the High School of Industrial Arts in New York City, the Grand Central School of Art and the Pratt Institute.

A litographer, painter and illustrator, he has done comic book art from the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. He initially worked through the Chesler Studios on Centaur features like Ad-ventures, Daniel Boone, Boomerang, Trailer Triggers and Round Table Adventures.  He was also present in the early National/DC titles with Allain de Beaufort and King Arthur.

During the 1940s, Astarita's art appeared in Fiction House titles like Wings Comics, Planet Comics, Rangers Comics, Jumbo Comics and Jungle Comics, for which he did features like 'Captain Terry Thunder', 'Futura', 'Hooks Devlin', 'Ghost Squadron', 'Jan of the Jungle', 'Kaanga', 'Auro' and 'Tabu'.  He was the art director for Ned Pines' Standard line of comics in the mid to late 1940s. 

Additional credits are Fawcett's 'Captain Venture' and 'Hunchback' and crime, romance, horror and western features for Orbit Publications, St. John Publishing and Avon Comics.  Later on, he has illustrated the Picture World Encyclopedia, as well as pulps under the name John Martin.


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