The Dick Giordano Interview (Part Three of Three)

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

[In the Journal‘s review in #59] what was the thought about Marshall Rogers’s art in Detectives. Inc?

GROTH: That it was abominable.

GIORDANO: Oh. OK. I’m glad. You know. I looked through it at a convention a couple of weeks ago and then closed it and walked away and said, “I probably didn’t see the good pages.”

GROTH: You probably did.

GIORDANO: Yeah. And I went back and looked through it again and said. “If this is a reason for not doing Batman or getting away from commercial comics, it’s not a good enough reason.” It’s not as good as the stuff he’s done for [mainstream] comics. In terms of art, it’s certainly less artistic. I really couldn’t understand why he felt that was a good thing to do. It might be that he did the commercial stuff well accidentally, thinking he was hacking. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Well, he had a good inker on Detective, too: Terry Austin.

GIORDANO: Yeah. The best.

GROTH: And Rogers inked Detectives. Inc. himself. That contributed to it too, I think.

GIORDANO: But that’s not my criticism of it. It’s not even anatomical…

GROTH: The layout?

GIORDANO: Yeah, and storytelling. It’s either contrived or difficult to look at. As long as so many of the alternatives prove failures, it’s going to be very difficult to convince standard publishing that that’s what they should be getting into. That’s why, even though I think a lot of them are failures, I sit around clapping for Byron Preiss’s attempts because at least he’s trying to make it legitimate. It may not always be saleable, and there may be some editorial mistakes made in his presentation of the ideas that he has, but he was the first one really of any of the people that were in the regular comic books to go out and decide that comic books can be done in a different way and offered at a different price in a different place and went about doing it. I guess Gil’s first paperback. Blackmark, was a little earlier than Byron’s, but not by much, and it didn’t do well at all either, so there was no reason in that either for Byron to try what he tried.

I meet Byron on the street every once in a while, and he’s still as enthusiastic about what he’s doing despite the fact that people are knocking his head and he’s not making much money on the ones he’s sold.

GROTH: In comic books, commercial comic books, has there ever been what you would consider art?

GIORDANO: No. I guess some come closer than others, but my definition of art probably differs from yours. The first part of my definition, as I explained earlier, is that art is totally self-expression, and it’s very difficult to come up with a comic book — I think it’s probably impossible to come up with a comic book that’s just totally self-expression.

GROTH: Will Eisner?

GIORDANO: Closer than most, but still adhering to a particular schedule and a particular style that he created and then being stuck with doing it that way all the time. Will’s stuff showed no influence of any other cartoonist that I was aware of at the time, and yeah, it probably does come closer to art than most, and I would rather read the old Spirits than a lot of the stuff that’s being done today. And I’m always interested by the new ground he broke at the time, which is no longer new ground since everybody has done it and redone and re-redone it since then so that it became old hat. But at the time it was refreshing, and probably closer to real art.

But real art still means, “Well, today maybe I feel like drawing on a postcard and maybe tomorrow I feel like drawing on the side of a wall, depending on what mood I’m in at the time,” and it becomes a question of expressing yourself freely and without any outside influences. If you’ve got to draw on a 12 by 18 piece of paper and do three of them by tomorrow morning that eliminates that particular set of rules that is important in my mind to call it real art. Now we’re functioning in a way that someone else has determined for us. The newspaper goes to press on Saturday, and you’d better damn well have three pages ready — or else. Changes the whole thing as far as I’m concerned. A version of real art may exist, but it coexists with the commercial aspects. It can’t exist by itself. Commercial aspects have always to be the main consideration.

I’ve read people in your interviews and some in other magazines who’ve tried to make it sound like there’s something wrong with comics publishers taking a commercial view of their product and I’ve never quite understood why anyone would consider the possibility that someone would invest money and time in something without expecting some sort of money back in return for it. I’ve always wondered about artists who come into the business and cry rape about what’s happened to them when they were fully aware of what the business was about when they got into it. They were certainly able to just turn around and walk away from it. What it sounded like to me was that they’d decided to play baseball and when they found out they were behind at the end of the ninth they said, “Let’s make it a 13-inning game. Let’s change the rules now that I’m here so maybe there’s a better chance for me to win.” I much prefer people getting into the business and deciding. “No, it’s not exactly the way it should be. Let’s see what I can do to change it” but without crying “foul.”

GROTH: I think what’s lamented quite often in our pages is the low ambition that comic book publishers have, that other publishers in other arts don’t have.

GIORDANO: Explain that a little bit.

GROTH: Well, the publisher who imposes his idea of what’s to be done on the editors, so the entire atmosphere of the comic book.

GIORDANO: I don’t agree that that happens. I don’t agree that the publisher imposes his ideas on the editor. If anything happens, it’s benign neglect. Nobody says anything about anything. If there is a problem it’s that the publisher doesn’t get involved. If the publisher had a real point of view and really got involved we might end up with a better product because then he’d be concerned with the freelancer and with the creative people. That’s what I think Jenette is coming closer to than most people…

GROTH: But don’t you think Stan Lee has imposed a point of view on Marvel? Which is being furthered by his editorial staff?

GIORDANO: He’s not now. And when he was imposing his point of view on Marvel they were doing much better stuff than they are doing now, wouldn’t you agree to that?

GROTH: We-e-lll… I would say when he was writing…

GIORDANO: That’s what I meant. That’s the only way you can really impose your point of view to that degree. He was doing the stuff himself and he was imposing his viewpoint by doing it! And as an editor… not as a publisher. And he’s been promoted to the job he’s in now because he made them successful with that.

I think every successful publication — name any, including yours — depends upon an editorial point of view that’s apparent to anyone that reads that magazine. When that disappears or is watered down the popularity of the magazine declines. I think that what’s happening now is that comic-book publishers have no real point of view, not that the publishers are forcing their point of view on the editors. They’re not doing anything. In DC I have the feeling that most editors have probably more autonomy than they should. Certainly at Marvel I don’t see anything other than a watered-down version of Stan Lee’s points of view that have been passed down and sort of misshapen in the passing, so that they say there’s a house style but nobody can define what the house style is. “Do it like Kirby.” that’s as close as they can get to defining what their house style is. But the editors are making the decisions to keep Stan’s point of view. I doubt that it is policy.

GROTH: But what I would say then is that this sort of non-editorial point of view is limited, more so than in other areas.

GIORDANO: Yeah. I have no argument with that. I think that what’s missing in comic-book publishing today — and it’s going to sound a little strange — is a certain amount of joy, that the people who are doing it are just going through the motions instead of having fun. I think that’s the whole key. When Stan Lee was writing, I heard fans talking about how he was writing it at two levels, for the kids and for the more sophisticated reader. I don’t think he had that in mind at all. He was just writing what he thought was Shakespeare, probably, and what turned out to be just good comic books. But he was having fun doing it, and Jack Kirby was having fun doing it, and up to a point even Ditko was having fun doing it, and that’s what made the stuff click.

from "A Visit with the Fantastic Four," written by Lee, penciled by Kirby, and inked by Dick Ayers ©1963 Marvel Characters Inc.

I think there were some interesting things coming out of DC at the time I was there as an editor for the same reason: we were all having a little bit of fun. If you walk into DC now it looks like someplace down in the stock market. It’s a very quiet, austere hall, and they run doors off it that are often closed. If more than two people congregate someone will poke a head out of a door and say, “Will you guys keep it quiet?” [Laughter.]

GROTH: Sounds like a hospital.

GIORDANO: Yeah. really. What I’m hoping is that I’m going to be able to make a little noise. I don’t know if I can, but I really want to try and get some people happy about what they’re doing. I think that’s the key. Who’s going to guarantee you a good comic book? But if you have people who are enjoying what they’re doing, you’ve got a much better shot at it. It worked the first time that I was down there and I’m hoping we can do it again. I already had Joe Orlando smiling yesterday. That might be a good sign. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Is that an unusual occurrence?

GIORDANO: Well, he’s gotten a little caught up working there. Joe and I shared an office space when I first started at DC and we had a lot of fun together. We were sort of against the rest of the world. We were the first two editors hired under the new regime there and we were both artists — where all the other editors were writers, you know, the Jack Schiff group, and Miller and Kashdan and so forth — and we were both artists and we were both Italian, and so was Carmine Infantino. God! I mean, in a Jewish community we were really the outcasts. We sort of stood back-to-back in the middle of the room! [Laughter.] So we spent a great deal of time together, we came to respect each other, and we had that kind of fun.

Cover penciled by Orlando and inked by Giordano ©1978 DC Comics

And then somewhere down the line Joe got involved more and more in the job aspect even though he wasn’t very happy with everything that was going on and he finally became a company man. I think: very artistic, very creative, but unwilling to take too many chances. I’m not faulting him for it. Under the same circumstances I’d have done the same thing; he had more personal problems when he started than you could possibly hope for. He had this nice stable job and he wasn’t going to mess around with it, and I really can’t blame him. He was unwilling to go back to the freelance thing because he felt that was what had caused some of his problems in the first place.

My attitude was, “If I don’t like it. I’ll just split, go back to freelancing and I won’t even lose a week’s salary,” which is exactly what happened. I don’t really know this for a fact — but perhaps Joe was upset by the same thing that upset me at DC, but he wasn’t willing to take the chance and make that move, and the longer he stayed there the more ingrained it became that he needed the stability the job provided. So yeah, he does what he’s supposed to do every day, and he does it as well as anyone can do it. But he sort of doesn’t smile and laugh as much as he used to. I’ve seen him a lot in the last couple of weeks and I see we’re establishing that old contact, we’re having a little bit of fun with what we’re going to be doing, so I’m kind of hoping that we’ll get back to where it was before and maybe we’ll have some fun and we can pass it down the line. That’s what we did earlier too.

I remember Joe talking — I mean, Joe did some interesting books too at the time — and he used to get people caught up in his enthusiasm. He’d sit around and we were doing a humorous book and he’d get caught up in the humor of what they were working on and he’d start giggling, like a little kid, and it’s infectious! The writer he was working with would start giggling too, and before you knew it they were having a great old time about what they were going to do in the book, and the artist and writer would go home all charged up: “Hey, this is fun.” And that’s how you get the stuff that you’re supposed to get out of these people, by having them think it’s fun. We’re all going to get old and “professional” soon enough. In the meantime let’s have a little fun. I get the feeling you’re losing some of the joy with The Comics Journal too.

GROTH: [Laughter.] No… Well, I don’t know if “joy” is the right word. I’m not losing any enthusiasm.

GIORDANO: OK. But do you still have as much fun at it as when you started? Or has it become kind of “professional,” you have to get up every morning and do something?

GROTH: Well, neither, really. I don’t regard it as that much fun, but I don’t regard it as “professional” in the same way that we were talking about professionalism. I guess it is fun, to a certain extent.

GIORDANO: Better think about it.

GROTH: I generally have a good time doing it.

GIORDANO: OK. [Laughter.] I didn’t mean to push it off on you. I don’t know who’s interviewing who now. [Laughter.] I get the feeling by some of your remarks during interviews that you don’t enjoy comics as much as you used to. And if you don’t enjoy comics, then this thing becomes less fun.

GROTH: That’s true.

GIORDANO: I’m not blaming you for not enjoying them. Neither do I.

GROTH: Probably what you have to do if you don’t enjoy comics as much is to channel your energies into another area.

GIORDANO: Into something interesting, like sex.

GROTH: Right. [Laughter.]

GIORDANO: Why not: works as well as anything.

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