The Dick Giordano Interview (Part Three of Three)

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

GROTH: Well, the only thing we really haven’t talked about much is writers. Do you keep up with the writing in comics as much as you do the art?

GIORDANO: For the last few years, no. I had before that. The last couple of years at Continuity and the first few years in my own business here I just didn’t have the time to read every comic book that came out. I kept up with those writers who I consider significant. I like working with Roy, I will always like working with Roy. And I know the reason for it too: despite anything about Roy that is “professional” and despite what some people perceive to be cockiness and a bunch of other things, Roy likes writing comic books. and that’s the important thing as far as I’m concerned. He doesn’t look down his nose at it: he still enjoys it. He came to DC prepared. He’s got a full set of all of DC’s books on microfilm and he’s going back to the beginnings and bringing himself up to date on anything that he might have missed. He’s very thorough and he’s a comic-book person and to him DC and Marvel and anybody else are interchangeable: they’re comic books. It’s that attitude. Roy is very perceptive. When he’s working he evidently has nobody to talk to and when he’s not talking he does everything a writer is supposed to do. Everything that I’ve done with Roy — if I draw a story for him and there’s a little subtle thing in the art, he sees it and uses it. It happened with the Bram Stoker Dracula adaptation — everything I put in there that was worth referring to, there was a piece of copy to enhance it. He didn’t miss anything.

Denny O’Neil can be, and on occasion is, one of the best in the business. I think both he and Archie Goodwin have their most serious problem not liking to sit down at a typewriter, but once they get there they do their job and they do it well. Most of the things I’ve seen of Denny’s I’ve enjoyed, everything I’ve drawn of his I’ve enjoyed working on. I haven’t drawn enough of Archie Goodwin’s stuff to make a comment that way, but Archie is in my mind one of the best writers in the field.

GROTH: Do you keep track of the new guys?

GIORDANO: No, that’s why I started out by telling you that I the last four of five years I haven’t been really into it much. I guess I left off with McGregor, if I had to find a point in time. I saw his stuff several years back at a convention, before he became a professional, and I was very impressed with what he showed me, so that when he became professional I kept up on the things he did. He’s a maverick. He’s another one of those guys that has to get out of the field because there’s no place for that for that kind of person in the field. Maybe there’s a way to change the field so that there will be a place for a McGregor and for Neal Adams and for a bunch of other people that had to walk off — or even for Marshall Rogers: he’s still around but he really doesn’t belong here either and he’ll be out in a while, because there hasn’t been any way to reconcile the difference between the industry’s needs and the needs of the people like Marshall Rogers. They’re not all financial, despite the fact that they’ll tell you they’re all financial, they aren’t. There’s questions of recognition and involvement, emotional involvement in what they’re doing, which comes back to points of ownership and so on. The structure of the industry would have to change in order to accommodate it. Within the scope of what the industry does now and can do, it can’t accommodate the Marshall Rogerses, Don McGregors… I don’t have to go down the whole list. You know who they are.

GROTH: You tried to do an alternative comic strip in Sojourn. What prompted that and how did you view it?

GIORDANO: What prompted that was simply being asked to do it by someone who I respect a great deal. I had been working with Joe Kubert at his school at the time when he told me about it, and I’m always interested in doing things other than conventional comic books. I’ve worked with Mike Friedrich on Star*Reach. I did a 20-page story [“Stephanie Starr”] and there was really no money involved. The same can be said of Sojourn. I wasn’t paid a whole lot for it. If somebody offered me something similar tomorrow I would, again, do it. In both cases I had editorial control. In both cases I was able to do something that I wanted to do and retain the rights to the character. In the case of the thing I did for Mike Friedrich, we were able to realize additional income by selling secondary rights to Europe, so that it turned out to be not as unprofitable as it might’ve been otherwise.

From Star*Reach #2, co-created with Mike Friedrich and drawn by Giordano. ©1975 Mike Friedrich & Dick Giordano

The same might’ve been true of “The Smooth” for Sojourn. Had we gone further along and there was more material to sell — I had part of a third issue done — foreign sales were a real possibility, but obviously two episodes wasn’t enough. Even given my new job, if an opportunity like either of those came along again I would do them again. The same thing with Kym in Witzend.

GROTH: Given the opportunity to do stories outside the commercial comics, what kinds of stories are you most interested in getting involved in?

From “No Hope in Crime Alley” in Detective Comics #457 (March 1976), written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Giordano. ©DC Comics 1976

GIORDANO: Good stories. You’re talking about what type? I suppose I prefer science-fiction themes to others. possibly because there are fewer limitations on what I might and might not draw. But, I really like a good story, a story I can get interested in, a story I believe that I find excites my interests so that I can sit down and draw 10 or 12 hours a day. I just drew what I thought was a fairly good story for Detective #500. Alan Brennert wrote it. It was a good story and that’s why I did it. I’ve done a lot of stories that I’ve thought weren’t good stories and I do a workmanlike job but I think I did something a little better. “No Hope in Crime Alley” was another good story I drew. To my mind, those are the best jobs I did. I don’t care about how technically good the artwork was or any of the other technical aspects of it. I try to do the best storytelling jobs I can with a good story. They were good stories, they were worth reading, they were worth drawing. Generally speaking, if I’m going to do something in or outside the comic-book industry, I’m looking for something that plays, something that people can relate to, maybe get a little something out of.

GROTH: What do you think of Epic?

GIORDANO: I think it should have been done. [Laughter.] I can’t comment any further on it. I haven’t found anything that I could really say was different than anything else that’s been done.

GROTH: Do you follow Heavy Metal?

GIORDANO: Again, overall, I’m not terribly impressed with the foreign material and I think they made some bad choices on what local material to buy. I’ve seen some things in there from American cartoonists who were capable of doing much better stuff. I don’t understand why they would have accepted some of the things that they did — from Gray Morrow, for example. There’s a lot of stuff that’s vaguely interesting, but I can’t jump up and down about most of what I’ve seen. I think it’s a noble experiment, and I think that this is the in-between step between the garbage that we’re doing in regular comics and what will be done 10 years from now. I’m hoping that’s what it is, that we’re showing young people that comic books can be done in a mature, sophisticated way, and if we can find an editorial approach for it so that it will appeal to mature, sophisticated people, we’ve got that next step. So far, you have to understand that the people who have been producing the material are offspring of the comic-book stuff that I’m talking about and they’re not going to be able to make that transition too quickly. They’re just not capable of doing it.

GROTH: Are the people doing comics what you would call mature and sophisticated?

GIORDANO: Personally, or their work? You’ve got to separate the two. I consider myself sophisticated but I don’t consider anything that I do as an artist sophisticated. I wasn’t trained to do that. I can’t get up every morning with that in mind.

GROTH: Do you think you’re capable of that?

GIORDANO: I don’t know, but if I am, it couldn’t be tomorrow or the day after. It would take another five years of training to get to something that different from what I’m doing now. It would be ridiculous for anybody to think that they could be doing 57 comic books today and then do the Great American Novel tomorrow with the same skills, with the same background, with the same frame of reference. You have to change all of those things first. You have to improve your skills, you have to take out of your mind the thought that you have to do 1,000 words today or 24 panels or whatever it is that you set for yourself, and then say to yourself, “What I’m going to do today is good stuff. It might be one caption, but it’s going to be the best caption I can write. I might write that caption 47 times before I get it that way.” That’s not the way I get up and start my day and it’s not the way anybody that’s in this business gets up and starts his day.

GROTH: So it would take a total readjustment?

GIORDANO: Yeah, total. It would be the kind of thing that couldn’t be done overnight. Your mindset would have to be slowly, totally changed, then you would have to get away from the thought of producing a certain amount of material in a given time, and get your mindset into “I’ve got to do the best possible thing that I can do. It’s got to be something that I’m proud of. Something that I know I can’t do any better.” We never do that. I never get up and do something I know can’t be any better. When I start working I know that the job I do next week will be better than this one — within the normal framework of what’s good within the comics field — but I’m not doing this one as my best one. The next one is going to be. I don’t know if it’s possible even for those people who think that they can do it to do it, even within five years. I don’t know that I would be better if I decided to change my mindset tomorrow. I’d like to think so. My ego would like me to think so, but I don’t know if that is what would happen. I might turn out to be a dismal failure five years from now trying to do something really good for Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated or something like that. I think there’s a much greater chance of new people coming into the field who don’t have a mindset to change, to get into that sort of thing.

GROTH: Do you think the business creates that sort of mindset, or do you think people with a mindset already like that come into the business?

GIORDANO: Well, you have to admit that most people feel more comfortable having some sort of a mindset. You have to adjust yourself to every part of your life. So yeah, you feel more comfortable knowing what you’re going to do this week or next week and the week after. That mindset is important to most people’s comfort in life. But if you start in this business before you develop a mindset. It’s much easier to sit down and say. “This is going to be the best work I’m going to do.” My mindset has been established for almost 30 years; I know exactly what I’m doing each time I sit down to work. What I’m doing is, I’m trying to provide some entertainment for our readers in one way or another, as an inker in one way and as a penciler in another way, as an editor in a different fashion, but it’s all aimed at some light entertainment, and that I’m trying to earn a certain income. I mean God doesn’t pay the rent on this place. Dik-Art does. I’ve got to generate a certain amount of income in order to get Pat’s salary paid and this place paid and all the furniture…  But if I started out in my original basement studio and didn’t have to consider those things and wasn’t told that I was going to be drawing a comic book that was going to come out every month or every two months, perhaps that mindset wouldn’t have occurred. It might have been a modified version of it, but that particular one certainly wouldn’t have occurred.

That’s why I think it’s going to be easier for the next step to be taken by people who are coming into the business now; they won’t have their minds cluttered by something like what clutters my mind and they can go into it in a new way. I’m hoping that alternative publications will at least continue to co-exist with regular comic books until someone finds a way to make them work as an artform or as a different, more mature method of entertainment. It might turn out to be the kind of thing where when a book is finished it goes to press and you have one book that will be out in July and the next one might be out in December and the one after that in February, with no regular production schedule. You could have a better chance of turning that into art. If Epic Illustrated or Heavy Metal continues to publish monthly they’re going to be faced with the same problems that comic books are faced with except they’re paying more money for it. You haven’t enjoyed this stuff any more, have you? I mean, honestly? Epic Illustrated and Heavy Metal?

GROTH: No, not terribly.

GIORDANO: You just spend more money for it and it’s prettier to look at, but it really isn’t more entertaining or more thought-provoking or anything else. It hasn’t been for me. As a matter of fact, the biggest piece of information I got from the earlier Heavy Metals was that the stuff I thought might have been sophisticated and intelligent when I saw it in the original French form and couldn’t read it turned out to be trivial when I could read it. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Epic especially is pretty dull, but Heavy Metal has had some interesting visual material.

GIORDANO: Yeah. The visuals are great, especially the European stuff, but it’s supposed to be story and art! Epic seems to lose out on both sides, because they’re still into the Jack Kirby/John Romita mentality in terms of what they consider acceptable art, and they still want to do the Silver Surfer. Not that I object to the character, but there are limits to its potential. I think it was a potentially good 50-cent comic book character, period. And leave it alone at that.

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