The Dick Giordano Interview (Part One of Three)

Posted by on March 31st, 2010 at 11:35 PM

GROTH: Returning to the question of merchandising for a moment, do you think it’s a healthy trend in comic books?

GIORDANO: I can’t find anything negative about seeing the image of Superman on 44 products when you go down to the store. It’s a way of advertising that character. It certainly can’t hurt in terms of encouraging people to go down and look for comic books. And once they buy Superman, presumably now that they’re at that point-of-sale, they’ll look at other titles, including our competition. But I think it’s generally healthy to have the atmosphere that is prevalent today: that comic-book people are kind of fun. There are movies, there are television shows, there are cartoon shows on Saturday morning, there are a lot of things now based on comic-book characters that didn’t exist 15 years ago. To my mind, that has to be healthy.

The only way I can think of to make it healthier is to have the newsstand sales of comic books increase appreciably so that there are more people reading comic books which will make the licenses more valuable and it will make the products that these people pay good money for more valuable. How many people read Superman a month? Three million. That means my license is worth X. If we make it nine million, it’s worth three times X. And the product displaying the licensed character has its value enhanced by the increased sales. And so on and so forth.

I have a direct and personal interest in seeing comics become more successful because I’m hoping that when my time comes I’ll die with a pencil or a brush in my hand [laughter]. I don’t expect to get out of it, I enjoy what I’m doing, I have no desire to do anything else, and I’m anxious to see comic books be as successful as they can be so that Dick Giordano can be as successful as he can be.

GROTH: In his interview with us [Journal #38] Gil Kane talked a lot about DC’s editorial content. I’d like to read you his comments on DC’s editorial point of view and ask you to comment on that. He said, “… DC has no meaningful content. What’s wrong with the company is the fact that they don’t have an original editorial point of view any more. They used to have a lousy editorial point of view, but it was an editorial point of view.” He went on to say, “Each one of the DC editors keeps producing the same material he’s always produced with the same point of view in it or imposed on it and I believe that no matter what sort of material, whether it’s science fiction or Western, will always come out the same. I think unless there’s a reassessment and an understanding of a new point of view, they’ll keep sliding.”

Do you think there’s any validity to what Gil said?

GIORDANO: Yeah. But I don’t feel that it’s an exclusively DC problem. I think that’s a valid statement to apply to any other publisher, including Archie and Marvel and Western when they were around, and certainly Charlton. Comics sort of feed on themselves and you do the same things over and over again, particularly if it’s been proven successful. If Julie Schwartz does 15 Westerns, he’s probably going to come up with the same point of view on each one of them, since it’s Julie Schwartz’s point of view. To that degree, I can disagree with it.

Gil, though, does have a manner of looking at everything negatively, perhaps more so than I do. I think that’s probably the only place that we will differ in that I seem to have a more optimistic viewpoint than Gil does. I can’t argue with the fact that comic books aren’t always as exciting or that if DC were to do 10 Westerns that they would have a similar look to them.On the other hand, Jonah Hex was kind of interesting. “Scalphunter”… well… Jonah Hex in my mind was a departure from the average DC comic book. Jonah Hex is more of an anti-hero.

GROTH: Gil said something else that may be more relevant to your new position at DC. This was at the time Ross Andru was hired by DC as an editor. Gil said, “I think Ross Andru is at least as intelligent as anyone I know at DC. He’s also very creative” — which I think could describe you — “I would be absolutely staggered if Ross’s point-of-view manifested itself in the magazines or whether he isn’t forced into simply duplicating what everybody else is doing.”

GIORDANO: You’re not forced by anything but an atmosphere to suppress your point of view at DC. But the atmosphere is something that’s nebulous. You can’t really put your finger on it or hold onto it or do something to fight it. You either get into it or you struggle with it and try to get a little bit away from it. But, again, that’s probably true almost anywhere. That atmosphere at a publishing company is not unusual.

GROTH: Is DC’s atmosphere amenable to change, to innovation, to new ideas?

GIORDANO: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Nobody is standing around saying, “Don’t change anything. Don’t do it better.” It’s just that nobody’s found the way to make everybody change and do it better. It is very benign. The atmosphere isn’t one that says, “You can’t do it any other way but this way.” DC is, in its way, almost too professional. It’s a very professional operation in that everything is worked out so that no one will be late, so that no one will be unhappy, so that everyone gets paid well. That’s part of the game. Marvel pays more money, but sometimes you may not get paid on time. I’ve had experiences with vouchers getting lost or shuffled off a desk somewhere. That never happens at DC. I don’t know how important that is, but if someone is making a very comfortable living every week and no one excites him or incites him to do something revolutionary, if he gets an offer to make a little less money this week but take a chance on the future, maybe he’ll take it. There are a few bright spots, but for the most part, comics have generally stagnated in the last five or six years. There’s nothing new or exciting happening anywhere. Anytime someone tells you that something new or exciting is happening, you generally find out that what’s new and exciting is what was new and exciting 10 years ago and they’ve rehashed it again.

I think the major part of the problem doesn’t come from editorial policy or from viewpoint of management. I think the problem comes from the fact that there are few exciting people coming into the business. There aren’t any Neal Adamses coming in, there aren’t any Roy Thomases or Denny O’Neils coming into the business. Those people may still be in place, but the excitement has been replaced by a sort of professional attitude about knowing what works and what doesn’t work and staying with the tried and true. I don’t know what will cause new people to come in. I do know that’s one of the things I hope to do. Paul Levitz said in another interview once that, long after the titles I edited were forgotten, people will remember me for the people that I brought into the business. I hope to do that again. I don’t know if they’re still out there. I don’t know if anybody cares enough to do something new and exciting, but if they’re around I’ll find them. I think that’s the salvation.

GROTH: Are there any writers or artists at DC who are really making an exceptional effort to do something interesting? For instance, at Marvel, you have artists like Frank Miller,  Marshall Rogers, Mike Golden.

GIORDANO: I can’t think of anyone offhand, to be perfectly honest. Marshall Rogers and Mike Golden made those same efforts at DC while they were there. They’ve just changed allegiances for the moment. The next time around they might be doing it for DC. Those are individuals, and in most cases the only thing I can fault the company for is, in Mike Golden’s case perhaps, not paying him enough so that an offer from Marvel became appealing. And in Marshall Rogers’s case, having problems with both deadlines and the fact that the nice Detective books he did didn’t sell too well, so that they weren’t all that anxious about Marshall Rogers. That might have been a mistake. I think the fact that they did not sell should not mean that they shouldn’t keep Marshall Rogers happy. This is a personal opinion, which I’ll put into practice while I’m there to whatever degree I’m capable of doing that. But don’t see anybody of that stature at DC at the moment. But. I suppose that was true of Marvel two years ago when Mike Golden and Marshall Rogers were at DC. These kinds of things fluctuate. There isn’t anything exciting now; that doesn’t mean next week there won’t be. I think at the moment DC is in a pattern of trying to produce professional work on time, sort of a holding pattern, waiting perhaps for the next Marshall Rogers or Mike Golden to appear.

J. M. CATRON: When you came to DC the first time as an editor, you brought that group of new people with you from Charlton, and I just wonder if you have any ideas of doing something along the same lines this time?

GIORDANO: As much as I can. I have one or two people in mind immediately and I expect that I’ll cultivate more as time goes on. Many of the people that you’re speaking about were working with me at Charlton and it was just a question of picking them up from there and putting them here. I don’t have that now. I have one artist that works here [at Dik-Art] with me that will be working at DC — I guarantee you — within six months one way or another, because he’s good and because he has an interest in what he’s doing and enthusiasm and skills that he improves daily. But that’s the only one that I’m sure of now. But I’ll be looking at other people’s work. I have already started that as what I consider to be part of my job. I think that this business more than any other requires regular new infusions of talents. It needs to have new people coming into it regularly, first of all because the people who are any good for the most part get out after a short period of time. I don’t think much that is really good is gonna be done by anybody that’s in the business right now — and that includes me. I’m going to be happy to do it better than it’s being done. I’ll consider that a great advantage. But I don’t have any delusions about it. I do have a mindset. I have certain restrictions that have been placed there by my 30 years of experience and by the people I’ve worked for, that I’m not gonna be able to get out of my mind simply because I would like it to be that way. You don’t get rid of things that easily.

GROTH: Of course the problem is, either they’ll get out or they’ll get the mindset. So it’s always a temporary solution.

GIORDANO: That’s why I said you need a constant infusion. You talk about a year or two — that’s all you’re going to get. How many of the Don McGregors or —

GROTH: Yeah, but if you had an industry that was more amenable to change and to different kinds of approaches…

GIORDANO: It’s not the industry so much as it is the mechanics of it. When you say “the industry” I have a feeling you’re talking about the people that control it. It isn’t the people that control it, it’s the fact that you’re producing a comic book every month that goes to a whole­saler and to a retailer. As long as you have that…

GROTH: Yeah, but the people who control it could change that system, couldn’t they? They have the power…

GIORDANO: So could we.

GROTH: But you can’t publish the books.

GIORDANO: No, but if I had a new way of doing it, they’d listen. You can’t come up with something new.

Panel from Batman: Turning Points (January 2001), written by Ed Brubaker, penciled by Giordano and inked by Bob Smith ©2001 DC Comics

GROTH: Well, how about doing it like Heavy Metal version of Alien, which was an 80-page full-color book that sold for $4.95.

GIORDANO: That’s being considered. Everybody is considering that. Even Neal Adams is considering producing material aimed directly at the direct-sales market or book­store market. But that isn’t a sure thing. Alien didn’t make a whole lot of money. It’s not that everybody’s saying, “Hey, man, we’re going to go out there and make a whole lot of money with this stuff.” It’s just a possibility, a place to experiment with. They’re considering that. It’s being considered at DC. They’re considering, as Marvel is, pro­ducing material strictly for the direct-sales market or for the bookstore market — the special projects thing that I’m going to be involved in is going to be examining those areas too. But that isn’t a guaranteed overnight way to success: it’s just the next step. It’s the next step after Epic or Heavy Metal and so forth.

It’s not that these people aren’t interested in considering these changes, they recognize the fact that comic books as we now know them must die. The method of producing, distributing, and selling comic books has changed so drastically in the past 30-40 years that it’s no longer a viable method. They do it on reinforced toilet paper and send it to 40 shops, 30 of which send it back to you without unpacking it. I don’t mean comic shops: I’m talking about wholesalers. Comic books are considered fodder. If they’ve got that much room in the back of the truck they’ll put that many comics, and they don’t bother to check them by title. “Just grab a handful of comics, Charlie, and throw it in the truck.” Is that a way to sell a comic book? You’ve got to be lucky if you get anything on sale. A 38% sale probably is 90% of what was on the news­stands. When you’re dealing with those kinds of numbers you’ve got to know that you only have a few years to go. You’d better come up with something quickly or else you’re out of business. They’ll listen to it.

And attempts have been made to change that structure. You may be putting it down, but the attempts were there, more expensive tabloid-size magazines…

GROTH: Gil Kane tried to change it with His Name Is Savage…

GIORDANO: I remember other black-and-white attempts that were aimed at a more adult group, charged more money and changed the package size, but the fact is, you still relied on somebody putting it somewhere, and then the ability of someone to find it. One of the big problems with the tabloids is, they don’t fit in comics racks, so you put them somewhere else in a store, and if you put them somewhere else in a store the kids that come into the store looking for comics don’t go there; they go over to the comics rack. So you had an item that was probably attractive but couldn’t be found by enough people to make the nut, to make enough money to encourage more publishers to say, “Let’s try more of this.”

Because if you got one tabloid that sold well, the next tabloid might be done a little better and God forbid, the one after that might even be printed on real paper. In my mind, that’s a very simple thing to do, improve the quality of the paper; that would improve the enjoyment of reading even the same stories you’re reading now.

GROTH: Tell John Byrne that.

GIORDANO: Yeah. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Do you think that this mindset imposed by the demands of the industry has ruined the potential of some people who’ve come into the business?

GIORDANO: Oh, yeah — most assuredly. I can mention Jim Starlin as an example who I think probably had more potential when he came in than anybody else, and then he finally decided, “I’ve got to be professional about this and do this stuff.” And Jim works at two levels. He’s totally professional when he’s asked to be and turns out a job in three days and collects his money. It’s sort of a take-the-money-and-run kind of attitude, and he looks for those occasional odd jobs where he can really do Jim Starlin. There really isn’t any other way to be. He came to this realization — almost all of us have. The alternative that you talked about before, the kinds of things that I get emotionally involved in, are what you enjoy; the rest of it is literally take-the-money-and-run. I’m lucky that I enjoy even the take-the-money-and-run jobs and get something out of it: a learning experience, something besides just the money. But I don’t delude myself that that’s an emotional experience for me. It’s mostly take-the-money-and-run.

I’ve finished something now that I found interesting. I’m putting together a coaches’ manual for the Special Olympics-brain-impaired children. It’s a worthwhile cause and for me it’s a fun project intended to be given to volunteers — people who have the time to spend with kids but have no particular expertise in the sport that they’re going to be coaching — and finding a way to give them enough information in each sport to pass on to the kids so that the kids can get into the program. The whole reason for the program is to have mentally handi­capped children gain a feeling of accomplishment and participation. To perhaps win a race, or an event at the Special Olympics meets.

So I find enjoyment in projects that make me feel that I’m contributing to something worthwhile. Then I’ll do three Ross Andru covers and earn a living. That’s two parts of my professional life. I enjoy both of them for different reasons, but my emotional work is the kind of things where I feel I’m making some sort of contribution to society, or contribution to comics art generally, as when I’m doing something I like a little more, like Sojourn. And if you want to stay in comics and you want to enjoy yours you have to get that kind of attitude.

The alternatives are really just two: you do what I’m doing, or Starlin, or a number of other people — I’m not saying any of that as criticism, just realistic attitude — or you get out, because you can’t stand the gaff. If you really have an emotional interest in everything you do and you can only approach your work in one way, you can’t function as a comic book artist or writer, and it’s not because an editor or a publisher said so, it’s just there. There’s no way to change that until comic books become something like Superman gets published when the writer feels like writing a Superman book and the artist feels like drawing a Superman book, and it might be once a year or it might be once every seven years. Until that happens, a cartoonist can’t afford the luxury of wanting to do his best work at times and becoming emotionally involved with every job. I wish it could be other than that, for other people more than me, because you see, I started at a time when there were no jobs to enjoy, it was all take-the-money-and run, so for me this is a step upward. I’ve improved my status: I’ve improved my ability to enjoy what I’m doing. People coming in now expect more than I expected, so it’s almost impossible for them to cope when they find out you really can’t do it that way.

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2 Responses to “The Dick Giordano Interview (Part One of Three)”

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