The Dick Giordano Interview (Part Three of Three)

Posted by on April 2nd, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Previously:  Part One, Part Two.

GROTH: In the past several years, you’ve been doing a lot of inking. There must be artists you enjoy inking and there must be artists you enjoy inking less. Can you explain the characteristics of each?

GIORDANO: I don’t enjoy inking me. My ink style is based upon being spontaneous. I can’t be spontaneous on my own stuff because I have a tendency to fiddle with it and try to fix it up. I can make other pencil artists look better, I can make their artwork look better by having a nice, crisp, spontaneous line on their drawing. I find that I can’t do that with my own material.

Ross Andru, inked by Giordano ©1980 DC Comics

As for who I like best, it will be different at different times for different reasons. At a particular point in time, I enjoyed doing Mike Sekowsky’s stuff better than anybody else’s. At another time it was Ric Estrada’s. Strange people perhaps, for me to like to ink. That was when I was developing this crisp style and what I needed were pencils that weren’t so tight that they would get in my way, so that I could sit there and sort of “slash” at it — the term that I used then and the term I still use. I could go very fast. Later, I started working with Neal, and I had to develop new disciplines because Neal’s stuff is so exact. His penciling is meant to intimidate inkers, so that they won’t deviate too far from what he’s done, and I had to find a way to accommodate my needs and his at the same time. I had to get a feeling of crispness and a feeling that I contributed something without losing any of the detail and the things that he considered important. It was a struggle, but I thought I was successful. At that time, I enjoyed inking Neal’s stuff. Today, probably Buckler, maybe because I’ve done more of him.

GROTH: Maybe it’s nostalgia. He reminds you of Neal?

GIORDANO: Perhaps I feel more comfortable with it on that point. I enjoy doing Garcia-Lopez’s stuff, but more his layouts than his pencils. His pencils are so good they’re intimidating.

GROTH: How much can you deviate from an artist’s penciled work?

GIORDANO: I’m allowed free rein, but I almost never deviate, surprisingly. A lot of people tend to think — particularly the people I work for — that I make big changes. I don’t. I make what I call “adjustments.” My attitude about inking other artists is based upon my own feelings of having my work inked by other artists earlier in my career. I have really spent more time penciling than inking, despite my recent preoccupation with inking, and I’ve had a lot of people ink my stuff, and I’ve had my stomach knotted over some of the results.

Only when I started working at DC as an editor did I really establish a reputation as an inker. I chose inking as my freelance assignments because it was the kind of work I could start and stop at a moment’s notice without having to get involved. The fact that it was going to be editing five days a week made it necessary for me to freelance in that fashion. I could start in the morning, stop and go to work, resume on weekends, stop and go out, whatever. So I changed to inking and during that period established myself as an inker. But my first thought was that I was not going to have these pencilers think of me as I thought about the inkers who inked my stuff — almost with hatred. And I’m a pleasant guy, but I hated them [laughter], and some of the pencilers I inked weren’t all that pleasant.

So my thought was that the way to circumvent this was to try and make sure that everything that the penciler did that was any good was still there when I finished inking it, and anything he did that was somewhat less than good would be just a little bit better, so that he would say, “Hey, my stuff is there; I didn’t like that too well before, but it looks OK now.” It’s those adjustments — it’s making a line a little crisper, it’s taking a little bit off the jawbone, this eye is higher than that one so I even them up. I never put a pencil down on anything, including layouts. I sit and draw with a brush and try to make sure that everything the penciler wanted to be there is there. It’s a question of reading the pencils more than inking them. You have to sit down and interpret each penciler differently, even though you’re going to have the same brush and the same brushstrokes.

I’ve inked Carmine Infantino’s stuff. I’ve really decorated his stuff. You can’t ink it in one sense of the word. He doesn’t draw real people doing real things, he does impressions… designs, which are very very fine to look at. Probably closer to art than a lot of other pencilers, because it’s his own unique style. He designs it, I sit down thinking in terms of design, right? I eliminate all thoughts of realism from my mind. If I work with a more realistic artist, I’m aware of the need to throw a shadow under the chin, to establish some sort of solidity there, or perhaps under an ear. You throw that sort of thing out of the window when you’re working with Carmine’s stuff. It’s decorations. It’s almost like doing wallpaper design.

With Garcia-Lopez, it’s realism. Everything he does is extremely realistic. I start inking with that frame of reference. I’m trying to ink people with real jawbones and real ears and real eyeballs, everything done the way things really look.

GROTH: So different artists require different approaches.

GIORDANO: Definitely.

My attitude is not rushed. The inking might be rushed, but not my thinking about it. I request that editors give me work far in advance so that I’ll have ample time to read it, to understand what the story’s about, so that I know how I might contribute something to the storytelling qualities, and then I decide what I’m going to do on the job before I start to work at it.

GROTH: How much of it is facility and how much requires…?

GIORDANO: To my mind, it’s all headwork. Facility is required only because you have to learn how to hold a brush or pen and move it over the paper. But that kind of facility can be learned totally in the first four, five years that you’re in the business. If you want to work for the next 25, you’ve got to have something besides facility. I think it’s the thought processes — drawing the correct conclusions as to what needs to be done. After a time you will have the ability to do those things once you’ve made the decisions. We hold an inking class here and one student comes over and says, “I’d like to watch you work for a while” and mentions something about “a magic brush.”

That’s nonsense! It’s your thoughts about the job before you sat down to do it. And really, that’s the fun. I prefer using my brain to my hand in any case, I have to use my hand because I haven’t found a way to put a brush in my brain and move it around. The brush is just an instrument that I need, an extension of my hand.

But I think that an inker, penciler, writer, artist, editor, anybody, does the important work within his brain. And the good thing about that is you can do that while you’re sitting on the toilet, or driving your car, or on the train. I consider that I’m working those times. When I’m sitting at a desk, it’s sort of monkeywork.

GROTH: One of our correspondents quoted you as saying you liked inking Don Heck’s work. Is that true?

GIORDANO: If I haven’t gone on the record before, I will now: I like inking Don Heck’s work.

GROTH: Do you think he’s a good draftsman?

GIORDANO: Let me say something about Don that maybe hasn’t been said. When Don Heck does a job, you know that it was Don Heck’s. You never confuse it with Neal Adams, Gil Kane, or anybody else. Now that might not be important to you, but to me that proves that Don has a feeling about what he’s doing and he’s not going to be swayed into the easy way. If he wanted to take the easy way he could swipe Neal Adams or somebody else and get instant recognition and approval. But Don decided on his method of working and he’s stayed with it. Don had had some immense personal problems. I know you can’t go along with every comic book and say, “Here’s a comic book drawn by Don Heck; it’s not really as good as it could be because he’s got personal problems,” I don’t mean that. But the fact that he’s been able to do as well as he’s done is, to my mind, amazing. I don’t like to see him personally criticized for sure, and I don’t find that much to criticize in his artwork. I find a lot of other artists whose material I like less. It could very well be that I’m influenced by the feeling that Don Heck did Iron Man and really nobody has done it in my mind since Don Heck did it… with the exception of Gene Colan. The early Iron Man was the definitive Iron Man. I can’t put that down. I can’t put that aside. If he’s on the other side of being good now, it isn’t through any lack of effort on his part, or lack of intelligence, or lack of commitment or anything else. And I like inking his stuff, and so does Frank McLaughlin.

GROTH: I was surprised that you liked inking Mike Sekowsky’s stuff too, because his stuff always seemed so stiff and anatomically bizarre.

From "A Time to Live, A Time to Die," written and penciled by Mike Sekowsky, inked by Giordano ©1969 DC Comics

GIORDANO: Yeah. That’s why I enjoyed it, because it was stiff, and because it was so… that’s a good way to put it, “anatomically bizarre.” It was a whole other set of disciplines to work with. It was something else to do. It was refreshing to do things with people that people can’t really do, and to make it credible. That was my end of it. And I think I did it. I frankly feel that in those Wonder Womans that I worked on, I succeeded in helping those books become credible. And I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. I really didn’t want to give it up when we finally had to. You can hold a brush two hands inking Sekowsky’s stuff — whoosh! whoosh! whoosh! — it was almost like being a swordsman. The first time I tried to fix a figure I found out I had to completely redraw the background because when I fixed the figure it wasn’t standing on the ground any more. So I had to raise the ground. So you ink the weird figures just the way they are, and you try to make it more believable. “I just want to convince you that that’s a real person. It looks a little strange, but it’s a real person.” [Laughter.] And to that end I thought that I succeeded and I enjoyed doing it.

From "Night of the Sharp Horns" in Detective Comics #409 (March 1971), written by Frank Robbins, penciled by Heck and inked by Giordano ©1971 DC Comics

I’ve enjoyed inking every artist to one degree or another. I like Don Heck’s stuff more than I’ve liked a lot of other people’s stuff where the work might have turned out better. I’d rather ink Don Heck than Curt Swan. Curt Swan is a better artist. But I find I can contribute more to Don Heck’s stuff and that I can do the things that I find to be fun on Don Heck’s stuff. Curt Swan leaves me feeling frustrated. I have to ink what’s there. The pencils are so complete. and when I’ve finished I’ve lost something. They’re so tight that they don’t allow me any room to interpret and some of the stuff he puts in pencil looks good in pencil but can’t be inked and look as well. Now you’re faced with not inking it and giving the appearance that you chickened out, or inking it and it looks bad. Neither one of those is a good choice. With Don Heck you feel as if you’re contributing something and that you can inject your own personality over what he’s got there, because he gives you some room to interpret. Curt allows you no room at all. It’s there, baby, and you’ve got to get it. And that’s much harder to do and means a much greater commitment to being Curt Swan than inking Don Heck requires a commitment to being Don Heck. I can be Dick Giordano inking Don Heck. I can only be Curt Swan’s inker.

From "Blind Date!" in Superman #273 (March 1974), written by Elliot S. Maggen, penciled by Swan and inked by Giordano ©1974 DC Comics

To some degree that was true with Neal. and I had problems at the time that I was inking his stuff. I’ve enjoyed inking Gil Kane, but not as much as I’ve enjoyed doing some other people who don’t do anywhere near as well as Gil. I believe that Gil, for example, doesn’t like people. They’re all kind of cold and statue-like, and I try — I sit down and try to make real people out of them and I can’t. They are all well-constructed. He’s so well-versed, he has so much knowledge, there is nothing anatomically incorrect about what he does—they might be stylized, but it’s anatomically correct — but it’s cold.

I inked some stuff by John Celardo that I enjoyed better than Gil Kane. They both did Tarzan, that’s why that came to mind. Celardo pencils kind of odd-looking people, and they’re not anatomically correct, but there’s more life in his stuff somehow, I did one character with Gil, Iron Fist. I was beginning to get close to what I thought was acceptable inking by the time I finished, but at that point they gave it to someone else.

GROTH: From what you’ve said about inking different artists, would I be too far off to suggest that inking is largely a technical exercise, what you can do with shapes, forms…?

GIORDANO: To the degree that any kind of drawing is a technical exercise. I think inking is probably more of a personal expression in some ways than penciling is. A penciler is bound by more regulations than an inker is. A penciler is bound by the regulations governing perspective, anatomy, and so forth. An inker isn’t really bound by those. Those things have already been established. So I can express myself more as an inker, and I think that’s why I like the pencilers I mentioned more, because they allow me more leeway in being Dick Giordano, which is important. Ego is part of what we’re doing. Without ego, it’s very hard to sit down with a brush in your hand all day long. It’s just as boring as making widgets at the factory. And in some ways more painful. Until I figured out how to put tape on the brush I had calluses on my fingers…

Ego’s part of it, and feeling like you’ve contributed is part of that. If someone’s solved all the problems for you and you’re just doing the monkeywork… When pencilers get a little bit too heavy-handed in trying to force their ideas, I say, jokingly, “Look, why don’t you just press down a little harder, and I’ll pour the ink on the page and wipe off the excess and it’ll fall into the holes and you’ll have it just the way you want it.” [Laughter.] You don’t really need me if you’re going to solve all the problems. I want to feel as if I’m contributing something.

GROTH: Have you inked Kirby or Buscema?

GIORDANO: Oh, Buscema, a lot. I’ve done Buscema Thor, I’ve done Buscema Conan, I’ve done Buscema’s Red Sonja — I’ve done a lot of Buscema. I love inking his stuff. Especially the layouts, for the same reasons I was just pointing out — he left a lot of things for me to do. He does good solid drawing in a very light way and then leaves me to make up the difference. And all of the best stuff I did was done in layouts for that reason, that I had more chance to work with the stuff.

But Kirby, never — that’s one of the few people I’d like to ink and never have. I don’t know if I’d want to now; I’d love to have inked Kirby when he was in his prime. The stuff he did most recently for DC has left me a bit cold. It was good comic-book stuff, and the storylines were OK, but the artwork by that time was kind of pedestrian. He was sort of going through the motions of doing Jack Kirby. As a matter of fact, he looked like he was imitating Jack Kirby.

GROTH: This is an incredibly broad question, so I don’t know if you can answer it briefly, but: How do you judge artwork in comics?

GIORDANO: That is broad. I think the only thing I can answer that will make any sense is that I don’t consider that art is important for comics; I consider storytelling is important for comics. If I judge an artist’s work I judge it on its ability to tell the story that he’s required to tell. whether he’s written the story or someone else has. A person who doesn’t draw accurately, but who tells the story is more valuable than someone who has all the nuts and bolts down, but whose pictures are just exercises for him. He’s flexing his muscles showing you how well he can draw expressions on faces. but they’re the wrong expressions on the wrong faces facing in the wrong direction. I think of myself as a storyteller. and I think it would be a good idea for everybody in this business to think of themselves in that way because that’s what we all do. The colorist is a storyteller. DC ruins a lot of its decent stories by terrible coloring, not terrible in the sense of looking pretty or being reproducible, but terrible in the sense that color didn’t help tell the story. That’s what the colorist’s job is, the letterer’s job is, the editor’s job is, everyone involved in a comic book.

GROTH: How did you train yourself in storytelling techniques?

GIORDANO: Very late as it turned out. I was one of the people I just referred to as wasting their time. I was concerned more with pretty pictures when I first started. They weren’t so pretty, but that’s what I was aiming for. [Laughter.] Somewhere down the line, and it’s connected with my teaching — I’ve been teaching for 10 years now — I became aware of the importance of storytelling. I began to realize how a good story can be made better by someone who told that story as totally as it could be told, and a good story that was told badly by the artist was worthless. I began to think things like, “Show the reader. don’t tell him”— a basic point in storytelling. If you start with that, you end up drawing pictures that tell the reader, everything he needs to know: establish his sense of place, establish his sense of size relationships, establish his sense of character, establish his sense of mood, all of the things that are necessary to move the story along so that it goes from its start to its conclusion with each of the drawings contributing a piece of information that the reader needs to know in order to fully understand the characters, the motivation, the forces, anything that is an integral part of the story. Not to say the words aren’t important. Any artist who claims that is being a little self-centered and quite stupid. But, it’s that marriage of word and picture that makes that story work and it’s the artist’s job to marry the two since the writer is only working with the words and the artist is the first person who gets the chance to work with both. It’s his job and if he flunks it that’s as far as I’m concerned, the end of the story.

GROTH: How do you feel about the newest developments in storytelling, such as Frank Miller who uses a half-dozen panels to show a minute progression of action, and where Marshall Rogers designs the page as a whole?

Click to view larger image from Detective Comics #474 (December 1977), written by Steve Engelhart, penciled by Rogers and inked by Terry Austin ©1977 DC Comics

GIORDANO: I’m familiar with both approaches and I have to give you two answers. My first answer, as an artist, is that I love both approaches, but as an editor I’d be a little reticent to use them too often. I am convinced that the average comic reader isn’t as impressed by these approaches as the average artist is.

GROTH: Do you think those storytelling devices serve the narrative?

GIORDANO: It might in certain areas. To do it all the time, as both of them seem to do, might take away from its ability to tell the story because the approach then becomes the focus rather than the story itself, they’re imposing their point of view too strongly. Also, when you do it on the original page it has one appearance; when it’s reproduced in color on terrible paper, it often looks different.

In another way entirely I find that I enjoy looking at Alex Toth’s stuff immensely, but sometimes his storytelling gets confused because of his use of blacks, or some other technique which is terribly artsy-craftsy, but when it’s printed has no effect on the reader. So, I have to judge those two things separately. I don’t know who the best storytellers are in the field. I know in newspaper strips I don’t think there was anybody better than Lenny Starr. He told every On Stage story that he had to perfectly. I could never fault anything that he did. I think Joe Kubert comes damn close to being a perfect storyteller, and I think in his case it’s instinctive. I don’t think he sits around and thinks about it a whole lot or works at it a whole lot. It just flows and it comes out right almost all the time.

Of the new people, Garcia-Lopez is terribly underrated as a storyteller. He has the ability to establish a sense of place, of people, and get the story rolling right away from the first panel and consistently does the right thing throughout the story in terms of telling the story. It’s not always exciting, not always dynamic, but he tells the story he’s got to work with clearly. I object to an artist excusing his efforts by claiming that it was a terrible story. That’s not his job. His job is to tell the story that he’s agreed to tell so that the reader can decide whether it’s a terrible story, but only because the reader understands it and knows what was happening and what was supposed to happen, so that he can decide “I know what happened and it’s still a terrible story.” [Laughter.]

GROTH: Don’t you think the artist should take part of the blame for the terrible story insofar as he agreed to tell the terrible story in the first place?

GIORDANO: Well, an artist has the right to say, “I’m not going to draw this. It’s a terrible story.” And I think that, not only should he be allowed to do that, but it shouldn’t be held against him. I don’t know if that’s always true. I think a few artists might be considered prima donnas if they did that. I think if Joe Kubert or if I did it, it would be accepted, but if some of the younger people said, “This is a terrible story,” you would hear, “This is another case of a young guy thinking he’s more important than he is.” But, once you’ve agreed to do it, your obligation is to tell the story, and it’s not to change the story unless you’ve been given the authority to do that. If you agree to do it, you tell that story and you do it as well as you possibly can, and you leave the criticizing of the story to the editor or the publisher.

GROTH: What are some of the major problems that have to do with storytelling?

GIORDANO: I’ve never been told, “Gee, you did a terrific job of storytelling on this story.” If you’ve done your job right, no one is aware of the fact that you’ve done your job. What will happen, conversely, if you haven’t done your job is that someone will stop at a particular point in the story, not understanding what’s happening and looking for a clue, in the balloons, the captions, or the artwork because he really doesn’t understand what’s going on. Perhaps he won’t be able to articulate why he feels uncomfortable at that point, whether it’s the story or the artwork that makes it confusing to him. It might also be something entirely different. It might be a drawing that’s too good at a particular point in the story, which encourages the reader to stop and look at that groovy drawing instead of continuing with the story.

The main idea in my mind is to suck the reader into the storyline immediately. He has to get involved with what’s happening, the people, the plot line. That’s Battle One. You can’t wait until later because he may not get to panel three unless there’s something in panel one that excites his interest. Then, to keep him involved in the flow of the story, he understands what’s happening, he understands the people that are in that story and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. He doesn’t have to stop at any one point to either understand what’s happening or become so engrossed in a little piece of nonsense in the background that has absolutely nothing to do with it. You have to catch him immediately and make him flow with the story, so that he understands and enjoys what’s happening.

I don’t know that there is any way to say what is correct and what is incorrect. This is one of those unfortunate times when you know what doesn’t work when you see it, but you can’t always decide in advance what’s going to work or what’s not going to work. You have to sit down and work it out.

GROTH: Have you considered doing with your Batman books what Harvey Kurtzman did with his war books and that is laying out the pages for your comics?

GIORDANO: No. I couldn’t consider doing that. I’m not sure about Harvey Kurtzman’s reasons for doing it. I wasn’t aware that it was an across-the-board thing. Perhaps he just wrote his stories that way. You’re talking about the stories he wrote?

GROTH: He wrote them and laid them out.

GIORDANO: If you write the material, you might be inclined to do the layouts, too. I know that Steve Skeates does that a lot — or did at one point — he would lay out his storylines in picture form and put balloons in it. Not being the editor, he wasn’t able to insist on his layouts being followed, but he felt more comfortable writing his stories that way. That might be part of the reason with Kurtzman, and he’s such a good storyteller that perhaps artists seeing what he did didn’t want to change it too much. I don’t know enough about Kurtzman and that particular operation to know why he did it.

I know I couldn’t. I prefer to have people do their own thing. I prefer to work with people whose work I admire and let them do what they do best. I am not interested in having them do my book. I’m not interested in having them write it my way or draw it my way or do it anything else my way. I’m interested in creating an atmosphere in which a freelancer — an artist, writer, letterer, colorist will feel comfortable doing things the way he feels they should be done. It doesn’t always work out exactly that way, but I think it should. I’m going to have a minimum of four writers and a minimum of five or six artists working on the books that I edit. That means we’ll have maybe 10 different viewpoints that we can present rather than one. No matter how good that one viewpoint is it is still one viewpoint. I would like to think of myself as a cohesive force to make sure that all of these viewpoints do not interfere with each other so that Batman, for example, is the same person no matter who draws or writes him, that all of the things Batman does are consistent with each other, that Batman exists in all three books with three different writers and three different artists in the same universe in the same chronological order. So that if Detective comes out on the first of the month, and Batman in the middle, and Brave and Bold at the end, that’s the chronology of the three stories. It’s going to be thought of that way by me. I will tell the writer who does the one in the middle of the month that the earlier one goes this way and you can’t do anything that’s going to screw that up. This story is going to flow from that one, as nearly as I can make it happen that way. That’s my job.

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