The Dick Giordano Interview (Part Two of Three)

Posted by on April 1st, 2010 at 2:13 PM

Previously: Part One.

From Dracula Lives #5 (March 1974), written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Giordano ©1974 Cadence Comics Publications, Inc.

GROTH: Rich Buckler was among your first choices for Thomas’s sword-and-sorcery title, and, for a while, was definitely supposed to do it. I assume you think highly of Buckler?

GIORDANO: I’ve had an opportunity to work with Rich here [at Dik-Art, Inc.] as well as at DC. In addition to whatever material of his I’ve inked at DC, he’s worked for me at Dik-Art, so that I’m aware of what he’s capable of doing and I know the kind of intensity he can bring to his work. There have been times when Rich has come under criticism which, very often, I thought was unfair.

Yeah, I suppose a lot of the stuff looks like it might have been done by Neal Adams some time ago, but that’s true of a lot of artists today. Neal Adams has had a great influence on the industry in the short time that he was in it and there were a lot of people who would like to be Neal Adams, and I suppose that at one time Rich felt that way, too.

GROTH: Do you think that Buckler has emancipated himself from Adams’s style?

GIORDANO: I think he will eventually. I don’t think he’s totally emancipated himself from it yet, but I think he’s heading in that direction. It’s very hard to stop doing something that works. And there aren’t any Neal Adamses in the field right now and people that can do a fair imitation of Neal Adams — Nasser and Buckler and Sienkiewicz and so forth — are going to be considered valuable assets to whatever company they work for because they’re the next best thing, they’re Neal Adams clones.

GROTH: Isn’t there a lack of artistic integrity when an artist copies another artist’s style so thoroughly?

GIORDANO: Yeah, but artistic integrity isn’t really all that comics are about. I forget who it was that said it, but a famous artist once said that all artwork is either revolutionary, or a plagiarist.

GROTH: Gauguin.

GIORDANO: Yeah. I suppose that’s really true of our industry. When a person like Neal Adams comes along and does so many things that are revolutionary, it’s hard for everybody else not to be influenced by it. The question really is one of degree. I’ve been influenced by Neal Adams’s presence, not only because of Continuity and my efforts at DC while he was there as an artist and I as an editor, but because Neal Adams has had such a positive effect on the industry that you can’t help but be influenced by it. The influence in my artwork may not be as obvious as it is in some of the people that I’ve mentioned, but it’s just a question of degree. I think Miller has been influenced by Adams. I think Jim Starlin has. Nasser thinks of him almost as a god. I think Buckler originally thought of him as, “This is the guy who’s selling today and if I want to sell I have to do something like that.”

I think all of them are capable artists. I know Buckler can sit down and draw pictures without Neal Adams pictures in front of him, and I think in time he will do that totally. Rich Buckler has never been made to feel welcome in this field, generally, but that’s another story.

GROTH: What do you think of the comics companies’ practice to encourage artists to copy other artists’ styles? Marvel, for instance, has had a tradition of promoting art that looks like Kirby.

GIORDANO: Yeah, I know that Marvel has encouraged artists to copy Kirby’s style. I don’t really think DC has done that and I’m certainly not. There are a lot of people at DC that draw like somebody else, but it’s by choice. I’m not aware of any company policy advising artists to imitate anyone. I guess, to a degree, that might be detrimental because Marvel does have a house-look because they push their people in one direction, whereas DC sort of lets people wander off on their own and you have 45 different styles. I’m not really sure which approach is best. But I will never advise an artist to copy somebody else’s style.

GROTH: Of course, neither company would discourage an artist from copying another’s style.

GIORDANO: That’s benign neglect. DC never says don’t do it, but they don’t really encourage it, either.

GROTH: Doesn’t that mean there’s a lack of editorial guidance or direction?

GIORDANO: [Pause.] I suppose it might. Very often publishers are blamed for things that they do when actually it’s things that they don’t do that are at fault. Publishers don’t take an active role in putting down artists or making sure they lose all their rights. [Laughter.] They just don’t say anything and artists give them the rights. Frankly, with regard to work-made-for-hire, the artists are at fault, not the publisher. Because if they just said no, it would be no.

GROTH: If who said no? The artists?

GIORDANO: If, in one way or another, all of them were able to say, “No, we won’t do that,” the publisher would say, “Yeah, OK.” Because, for the most part, when publishers have been faced with a situation where the artist had made a point on the ownership or artwork, reprint rights and so forth, the publisher has given in, without an artist’s union, without anybody threatening anything. Just by someone saying, “No! We’d like to have our artwork back. We don’t want it thrown away or given away,” we got our artwork back. There was no hassle involved.

Giordano cover ©1969 DC Comics

Now, there might be a little more hassle involved in the work-made-for-hire because the law was written improperly and it leaves publishers totally unprotected. But, individual artists, myself included, have been able to come to some sort of a deal on certain parts of that law. I can get exclusions on my contract. The law really makes it impossible for them to define what their rights are without writing an instrument for each job that would be 75 pages long. So, to protect themselves so that they can use the material for some subsidiary income that is absolutely essential, they write the work-made-for-hire contract and everybody gets upset by it rather than trying to find a way to let them give you what you want without giving you the whole world.

GROTH: This might be a good opportunity to talk about the Guild, such as it is.

GIORDANO: [Laughter.] Such as it is. It is nothing.

GROTH: I assume it would be correct to say that it failed.

GIORDANO: I can’t argue with that.

GROTH: Can you explain why it failed?

GIORDANO: Yeah. For the same reason that the Academy [ACBA] failed. The people who can make the Guild work are perhaps the busiest people in the industry. And the enthusiasm to get the Guild going and at the same time to do the things that need to be done to make it go is not there. When you’re faced with the need to perform, that is, to meet a deadline or to make a certain amount of money, that need becomes uppermost in your mind. So you have Neal Adams running one of the busiest art services in New York; Marshall Rogers, who has to work 48 hours a day in order to earn a living because he’s good but he’s slow; and people like myself who are 80 miles removed from where the action is.

It had been considered — and may still be done — that we would ally ourselves with another art Guild that already has an organization in place. We would give up a certain amount of autonomy, but at least we would be able to function to some degree.

The people who put the Guild into operation are the people who need the Guild least. Motivation simply isn’t there. And the people who are scrambling at the bottom and need the Guild the most haven’t got the clout to make the thing up.

GROTH: What about the artists and writers who are producing an awful lot of work, who do have the clout? People like Gene Colan, John Buscema, Sal Buscema? Why did they fold?

GIORDANO: John Buscema is one of the people I’m talking about. He needs the Guild less than anybody else. He’s got a gorgeous contract. He wrote it himself and they signed it. So, yeah, he’s in favor of the Guild and he’d like to see it work, but he’s not going to stick his neck out to make it work. He’s got a cost-of-living increase in his contract, for example. Today, that’s worth its weight in gold because of the inflation rate.

GROTH: Harlan Ellison said that he knows of no greater totems in any of the arts than in comic books, that comic-book people are basically cowards, and that’s the reason they couldn’t put a Guild together. Do you think that’s far from accurate?

GIORDANO: [Pause.] I can’t answer for everybody else in the field. I couldn’t help get the Guild together and I don’t think I’m a coward. I don’t think anybody on that board was afraid of facing down a publisher.

GROTH: But there were only about eight people on the board, yourself included.

GIORDANO: A Board of Governors of more than eight people would be clumsy, wouldn’t it? I mean, eight people is a lot. The people who contributed to the Guild — 40, 50, 60 — who sent in their $100 I don’t think are cowards. I think what it is is that it probably takes less effort to maintain the status quo than to get up and make a big fuss over something. Particularly since it’s rather obvious that the big fuss is going to amount to a very. very minimal improvement in your situation.

There are very few people who will face up to the fact that there really isn’t a whole lot that can be done to improve the lot of the comic-book artist or writer until you change the entire package and method of merchandising comic books, that a 50-cent item simply doesn’t provide enough cash in order for artists to do what they say they’d like to do. So, you know that if you’re going to influence anything it’s going to be a very, very meager step at a time. People like Neal Adams and myself are motivated to try, but at a certain point in time when there’s a little hassle from within, you have a tendency to just withdraw and go back to work. I don’t know if that can be evaluated as cowardly, but I don’t think there’s anyone who lacks the courage of their convictions. Neal has certainly been fighting for what he considers to be right for the field, as an outsider now. And I’ve certainly been doing it from the inside.

From "The Computer Game" in Witching Hour #5 (November 1969), edited, penciled and inked by Giordano ©1969 DC Comics

I have not found that there was any reluctance on the part of people in management areas to listen to complaints. While the Guild was being formed, the people at DC were certainly aware of the fact that the Guild was about to be formed, and I had a chance to talk to management people there about it. Their attitudes were very sane. They were willing to listen and if there was anything that could be done, they’d certainly be willing to consider it. One man said, “I don’t think it’s going to get off the ground because there are going to be too many people who need next week’s paycheck too much.”

But, if everyone stood up and said, “I want to be counted,” management would do whatever they could. It’s a good idea for them to keep their people happy just as it’s a good idea for the people to be happy. It’s to the mutual benefit of both the creative people and the publishers. They’re having just as much a problem as we are. There is no way to make comic books pay the way they’re currently being produced. The whole market concept has changed so much from when comic books first started.

GROTH: It seems that comic-book writers and artists are generally impotent when it comes to a concerted effort like this.

GIORDANO: You mean as far as standing up for their rights?

GROTH: Yeah.

GIORDANO: Yeah, I suppose. I’ve never been sure why that is. I know that individual people are needed to start things going and that very often the young people don’t rise up to the challenge. Neal Adams stands around screaming and people will go only so far and hold back. Is that cowardice?

GROTH: Could Neal be so courageous because he has a very lucrative income outside of comics?

GIORDANO: No, Neal has always stood around screaming. Now that I think about it, it’s probably more laziness than cowardice. It’s much easier to let things go the way they are when you’re not starving to death.

Panel from “Justice for all Includes Children 6” (September 1976), drawn by Neal Adams ©1976 DC Comics

This brings me back to what I was saying before: The concept of selling comic books. Comic books were originally conceived as inexpensive items to be sold in great volume, primarily through Mom and Pop stores, neighborhood outlets. Mom and Pop stores no longer exist. There are two big magazine outlets in this area, Martin’s and John’s, and that’s it. If you want to get every comic book, you have to go to one of those. There’s no Mom and Pop store in Stratford at all—not one. So, if you can’t do it in volume and you can’t do it cheaply and you can’t do it through Mom and Pop stores, you’ve got to start it off somewhere else.

But, the original concept, all of the original merchandising thinking is still in place. They’re still trying to sell 150,000 comic books. They’re still trying to sell it at a cheap price. They cut down the quality of paper to reduce cost, they cut down on the cost of printing plates to hold the price line. I don’t know if this is the solution, but one thing that should be considered is: “Let’s do a $4.00 comic book. Let’s print it on good paper, let’s make it 64 pages long, let’s throw out the ads, let’s sell 5,000 of them, let’s sell it through comics shops only!” I really don’t know what the package is. I’m just giving you one idea.

The fact is that the marketplace has changed and we have to change everything else before the comics artist can change his situation. The comics artist today has some pride in what he does. At the time that comics were first published comic book artists were failed illustrators. They were people who could not earn their living doing Saturday Evening Post covers or advertisements or anything else that was considered artwork at that time. So, being failed illustrators, they became comics artists because now they could sell their stuff for $6.00 a page and earn a living.

GROTH: This was in the ’40s?

GIORDANO: Thirties, ’40s. I mean, the kind of people who did comic books then thought of themselves for the most part as being unable to do anything else. Maybe they changed their minds later. It wasn’t until recently, really, from the ’60s on, that people decided to become comic book artists intentionally. They started out as comic book artists.

When I started out in the ’50s, I drew for the other professionals. I knew there was a reader out there somewhere, but I had no idea who he was and therefore I had no idea how to tailor my material to his tastes or needs. There was no feedback. I would just get a check indicating that the publisher made enough money to be able to pay me. Other than that, I had no contact with the reader. In the ’60s, the contact became more apparent, through fanzines, through a number of other things, that there really was somebody out there reading this stuff. And then you started drawing for your reader rather than for your fellow professionals, or certainly I did. And from that came a certain amount of pride. Now I wanted to sign the material that I did, I wanted to be criticized or praised for the stuff that I did, because there was somebody out there looking at it. And that changed my whole attitude.

Now, we have people coming into the business who never wanted to do anything else. The profile of the new comic-book artist and the new comic-book writer is totally different from that of the comic-book writer and artist in the ’40s, but the concept of publishing comic books hasn’t changed at all. The marketplace has, but the publisher hasn’t changed anything but his price, and only when he’s forced to. “My God, will they pay this?” He doesn’t feel his product is valuable enough to sell for 50 cents, he feels that he has to come up with another reason for you to spend 50 cents other than the fact that his costs have gone up. I don’t know if any or all of that will change, but I think it’s very healthy that Marvel has hired Mike Friedrich with the idea of pursuing the direct sales market, and that DC is now aware of the fact that direct sales account for some portion of their distribution, and that there are people who care to read this stuff and might even spend $4.00 to do so.

GROTH: Do you think it’s only the package that needs to be changed, or do you think the content should also be changed?

GIORDANO: One begets the other. If you start printing on good paper, and being careful about what you do, and hoping to get $4.00 for your product, it behooves you to start thinking about the editorial content. If you’re going to ask $4.00 for it, you have to presume that only a reasonably mature person, has access to $4.00 to entertain himself and that his tastes are going to be considerably different from those of a kid who manages, somewhere, in the mess to find a comic book to buy for 50 cents.

GROTH: But the fact that movies cost $5.00 hasn’t improved the quality of films.

GIORDANO: That’s true… Well, maybe it’s not true. Lately, anyway, there have been some pretty damn good films. I have to admit that there was a period of a few years ago when I wouldn’t go to a theater unless I read a review that said it was absolutely terrific by someone whose opinion I respected. I wouldn’t leave the house: I’d say, “Fuck it, I’ll stay home and watch television.” I’d be bored, but it didn’t cost me money. Only recently have I felt a little better about going to the theater to see a film. It’s more of a problem for me because I don’t hear all that well and if I’m going to go there and work at hearing the soundtrack I have to be reasonably sure that I’m going to enjoy myself or I’m not going to go.

GROTH: Well, the reason I brought up the analogy is because Marvel is getting into the album business, but all their albums are basically large, expensive Marvel comic books. They’re the X-Men, Daredevil, etc. There doesn’t seem to be a change in content, there just seems to be a change in packaging.

GIORDANO: Well, perhaps one thing at a time. I think if you first change the package, the next step has to be to change the content of the package.


GIORDANO: Yeah, I know what you mean, and I think Marvel would probably have more problems with that than anyone else because Marvel sort of does have a one-viewpoint approach to what they’re doing. “The Silver Surfer is great, so he’ll be as great at $5.00 as he was at 15 cents”—that kind of mentality. Perhaps they haven’t the ability to change gears in five different areas at the same time. The fact that they’re doing a better package, the fact that they’re doing Epic Illustrated, the fact that they’re doing some albums is, to my mind, a step in the right direction. Hopefully, it will lead into a different or better editorial approach.

From The Silver Surfer: Homecoming, written by Jim Starlin, drawn by Bill Reinhold ©1991 Marvel Characters, Inc.

You and I are two adults sitting here talking to each other about comic books and we’re talking about the improvement of the editorial content, and there really are an awful lot of kids out there that love them just the way they are.

GROTH: The number of kids who buy them is dwindling.

GIORDANO: I think the decline of sales is as much due to the point-of-sales problem as it is to a lack of interest. I haven’t noticed any kids who read comics being any less interested in them than when I read comics, or you did. We’ve let our matured tastes influence our attitudes somewhat, and in some ways that attitude has been detrimental to comic books generally. A lot of us in comic books have decided, “Gee, Batman and Bruce Wayne, and Robin and Dick Grayson are stupid this way. Let’s throw the whole thing out and start somewhere else.” And where they start isn’t as good as what they had. In trying to bring Batman and Robin up to the ’60s and ’70s, they threw out the good stuff. They threw out the baby with the bath water.

GROTH: Do you think that what may have happened in the last ten years or so is that comics creators have tried to make essentially adolescent material adult and sophisticated and by doing so have drained the material of its appeal to young people? They’ve bastardized children’s literature.

GIORDANO: Yeah. I agree with that. I don’t know a way out of that.

What has happened is that we adults have said. “Gee, I’m tired of writing Bruce Wayne the fop, let’s make Bruce Wayne the head of Wayne Enterprises and make him sort of a superhero, too.” But, kids identify with Bruce Wayne the father figure and they identify with Dick Grayson, his ward, not so much as a teen wonder but as a boy wonder. You can get some information about what I think of the characters from what I’m saying. The fact that Bruce Wayne and Batman were two different people at one time and now are virtually the same person is due to our desire to be more sophisticated. We’re older people and have a different viewpoint. But, I think the kids prefer the older version.

We’re not really interesting either group.

GROTH: We’ve really given a veneer of maturity to comics, which isn’t mature, and which isn’t accessible to kids either.

GIORDANO: I wish I could say that can be changed. I don’t really know that it can be. But, it’s something we should think about and address ourselves to. We’ve either got to do kiddies books… but it’s being used as a cop-out. A lot of the people in the industry say, “Oh, we’re entertaining 12 year olds,” but really they’re trying to entertain adults and when they fail they say, “We’re trying to entertain 12 year olds.”

GROTH: Entertaining 12 year olds is nothing to be ashamed of.

GIORDANO: Yeah, really. You can’t read comic books and be a 50-year-old person. It just doesn’t work. [Laughter.]

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