The Dick Giordano Interview (Part One of Three)

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

GROTH: This would probably be an opportune moment to get some background information. You entered the comic-book field in 1951. Is that accurate? And you worked for the Jerry Iger shop doing Sheena. Can you tell me what that was like, 30 years ago?

GIORDANO: Have you ever worked in a factory?

GROTH: No.

GIORDANO: Damn close.

GROTH: That bad?

GIORDANO: It was kind of a strange situation and, looking back on it, it’s stranger now than when I was there. Being my first job, I didn’t know that it was any different from anyplace else. Somebody would pencil Sheena pages — not in the studio, we never saw him, I had no idea what he looked like until a long time later. It might have been Bob Webb, who was one of the artists for Sheena, or Johnny Thornton, or Ken Battlefield. There were a number of pencilers who would pencil pages and they would suddenly show up at the studio — the Jerry Iger shop — and the pages were literally passed from desk to desk. Dave inked the heads, Ruth Harris inked the female figures, Chet or Hal did the male figures, someone did the backgrounds, someone did the lettering.

GROTH: What did you do?

GIORDANO: I started out erasing pages and I ended up inking backgrounds. I was only there nine months, but I never got beyond background inking. I think I did back­ground figures from time to time but that was as far as I got.

GROTH: It was almost an assembly-line production?

GIORDANO: Definitely. Not almost. The desks were arranged so that the pages could be passed down the line. You pass it down and when it got to the last person it was finished, put on the pile face-down. Then the next page would come by. When things got busy, everyone was required to take work home and get paid on a freelance basis — an hourly basis, actually — and that was another amusing thing, because after the second or third week I was there it seemed that I was working a little faster than everyone else thought was comfortable and I had a few people come over to me and tell me to slow down. I didn’t understand why it would be a good idea for me to slow down and they said, “Well, because if it takes you two hours to do a page of background and you do it in three hours here, when you take this stuff home you can charge then for three hours’ work and only work for two hours.” I don’t know if Jerry ever knew about that stuff, but I actually had it laid on me that you worked slow here and fast at home.

GROTH: Did you enjoy working there at the time?

GIORDANO: An 18-year-old kid out of art school would enjoy anything that allowed him to do anything that looked like he was drawing pictures. Yeah, to that degree, but I was only there for nine months.

GROTH: You were in art school before that?

GIORDANO: Yeah, I went to the School of Industrial Arts in New York, which is now the School of Art & Design. It was, at that time, probably the best school in New York in terms of preparing for a commercial art career. Neal Adams went there, Joe Orlando went there, just about anybody who is anybody in the comic-book business went there.

GROTH: You worked for Lev Gleason.

GIORDANO: Yeah — gee, how did you know that? Actually it was Charles Biro. By the time I got to it Gleason was out of it.

GROTH: What was Biro like as an editor?

GIORDANO: Oh. That’s a good question too, because my experience there was so short. He was very hard to work with. He had a rigid approach to what he was doing; he had his own frame of reference and nobody could veer from it. And he was very brusque. His manner of expressing his displeasure was to take an eraser and erase the stuff that you did while you were sitting there, and saying, “This doesn’t work!” and [imitates sound of vigorous erasing] whoosh! whoosh! Well, maybe it didn’t work, but maybe I wanted my drawing. [Laughter.]

He decided in one story where I had someone consistently left-handed that “We can’t do that!” I said, “Why?” “Well, he’s left-handed if it says so in the copy. If someone says he’s left-handed, then he can be left-handed. If it’s not said, we can’t have him be left-handed.” I said, “Look, it doesn’t make any difference. There were three garden-variety hoods and I made one of them left-handed because the splash panel worked better if one guy was left-handed so I started it that way and kept it that way.” He erased the gun from his left hand and I had to redraw an entire story, I had to redraw this character for the entire story and make him right-handed, for no particular reason except that Lev Gleason didn’t want left-handed people unless it said so in the copy.

GROTH: Was this for Crime Does Not Pay?

GROTH: You worked for Lev Gleason.

GIORDANO: Yeah — gee, how did you know that? Actually it was Charles Biro. By the time I got to it Gleason was out of it.

GROTH: What was Biro like as an editor?

GIORDANO: Oh. That’s a good question too, because my experience there was so short. He was very hard to work with. He had a rigid approach to what he was doing; he had his own frame of reference and nobody could veer from it. And he was very brusque. His manner of expressing his displeasure was to take an eraser and erase the stuff that you did while you were sitting there, and saying, “This doesn’t work!” and [imitates sound of vigorous erasing] whoosh! whoosh! Well, maybe it didn’t work, but maybe I wanted my drawing. [Laughter.]

He decided in one story where I had someone consistently left-handed that “We can’t do that!” I said, “Why?” “Well, he’s left-handed if it says so in the copy. If someone says he’s left-handed, then he can be left-handed. If it’s not said, we can’t have him be left-handed.” I said, “Look, it doesn’t make any difference. There were three garden-variety hoods and I made one of them left-handed because the splash panel worked better if one guy was left-handed so I started it that way and kept it that way.” He erased the gun from his left hand and I had to redraw an entire story, I had to redraw this character for the entire story and make him right-handed, For no particular reason except that Lev Gleason didn’t want left-handed people unless it said so in the copy.

GROTH: Was this for Crime Does Not Pay?

GIORDANO: Yeah, probably. I did the last Crimebuster story that was ever published, and the very last one I did was never published and I got it back [laughter]. And you know what I did? No one in the story was in costume; at that point, Crimebuster wasn’t in a uniform any more, he was just a teenager. They gave me the artwork back and told me I could do with it what I wanted, and what I did was, I wrote another story for it and sold it to Charlton. They never used it — well, they didn’t use it at the time, and it was lost in one of the floods they had up there, and it was never reproduced anywhere as far as I know. But I was doing Crimebuster when Biro went out of business.

GROTH: You were about 23 at the time, then. How old a man was Biro?

GIORDANO: Fiftyish? I don’t remember, but he was considerably older, of course, than I was. I couldn’t dis­agree with anything he said or did. I didn’t know if he was right or not, I just knew that I felt bad about his sitting there erasing my drawings while I was watching. [Laughter.]

Cover to The Flash (December 1979) by Dick Giordano ©1979 DC Comics

GROTH: So he was sort of a dictator?

GIORDANO: Yeah. I found out later — I didn’t know much about him, except that I had read Crime Does Not Pay and enjoyed it — that by the time I had got there he’d softened his attitude, that he’d been harder earlier [laughter]. At that point he probably realized that it didn’t matter any more.

GROTH: What were the working conditions at Biro’s like? They weren’t the sweatshop-type arrangement?

GIORDANO: Oh, that was freelance assignment. I wasn’t working on the premises. I did the stuff at home and brought it in.

GROTH: Were deadlines tough? Was there more than enough time to finish the stories?

GIORDANO: Oh, sure. I’ve never found deadlines much of a problem. I still don’t. Occasionally someone will give you a deadline that’s unreasonable, but of course through the years I’ve come to the conclusion that unreasonable deadlines are almost always open to change. Some people give you unreasonable deadlines as a matter of course because they know some artists are habitually late. I have a tendency not to pay too much attention to “I gotta have it in on Monday.” I say OK, and Monday I call up and say, “I’m not finished. Can you wait until Wednesday?” “Yeah, sure.” I don’t recall anybody not having “until Wednesday.” Occasionally every client of mine — Marvel, DC — has come up with deadlines that were totally impossible, but the fact was that they recognized that fact as well as I did. They weren’t really saying it had to be in on Monday — because they knew that couldn’t be done. By saying a job they gave me on Friday — which was obviously a six-day job — had to be in on Monday, they made their desperation known, so maybe it would take me five instead of six days.

cover by Dick Giordano ©1980 DC Comics

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

  1. […] covers to mark the artist's passing, while at The Comics Journal, Gary Groth resurrects a 1980 interview with Giordano (part one of […]

  2. […] work (and its impact on Carlson) — The three-part 1980 Gary Groth interview with Giordano (one, two and […]