Written by Bryan Stroud.
Joe Giella (born June 27, 1928) is a comic book artist, best known for his inking work at DC in the 1960s. He started working in the 1940s as a freelancer for Fawcett Publications and Timely Comics, where he got the chance to ink the Captain America comic book. Soon he started working for DC Comics on books like Green Lantern, The Flash and a few others under the direction of Julie Schwartz. He continued working for DC all the way through the '60s and '70s, during which time he was often collaborating with artists like Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, and Sheldon Moldoff among others. He remained a constant staff member at DC until the early 80s, when he moved away from comics and started working on commercial art and comic strips. He was the artist on the Mary Worth newspaper strip from 1991 - 2016.
If memory serves (this was over 10 years ago) Joe was the first creator who called me back when I initially tried to reach him. It's hard to describe the thrill of hearing the voice of someone you admire calling and leaving you a voice mail message. Joe was very gracious to me and I'm grateful that he's still with us and going strong, even though he's now retired from drawing the Mary Worth daily strip. Luckily for me, he's become more active in the convention circuit and after all this time I finally met him this last summer at the Denver Comic Con 2017. He's as great in person as he is on the phone and we've enjoyed many conversations over the last decade. I look forward to the next one.
This interview took place on May 3, 2007.
Bryan Stroud: You were involved in the Silver Age right from the beginning and indeed I see where you inked Black Canary in Flash Comics back in 1947. From there you've done everything under the sun, from the cowboy westerns to the Mystery in Space title; Girl's Love Stories, Rex the Wonder Dog, Our Army at War, Strange Adventures, and many, many superhero titles including the reintroduced Flash and Green Lantern in Showcase, the first Adam Strange in Showcase, a segment of the first JLA with Starro the Conqueror, the introduction of Kid Flash and I could go on. Was any genre better or easier than another?
Joe Giella: The JLA was rough because of the different costumes, and multiple characters. Julie would say, "You forgot this or that." It was a tough one. Consistency was important or you'd hear about it.
Stroud: Inking is much more than just coloring inside the lines. Can you tell me a little about the inking process?
JG: None of us started as inkers. We were all pencillers, but inking worked out better for me for monetary reasons. I could ink 2-3 pages a day vs. 1 page of penciling per day. To be a decent inker, you must know how to pencil. Corrections and changes are always necessary.
Stroud: Please tell me your memories of people and events at DC back in the Silver Age. I'll give you a name and ask your impressions: Gil Kane
JG: Good friend. He was one of the best layout men in the business. He really knew how to utilize space to the fullest. His artwork was very dynamic. He was also very articulate and interesting to talk to.
Stroud: Julie Schwartz (Did you work for any other editors?)
JG: Occasionally. Julie was one of my favorite people. He was tough, but fair. I worked for him for 45 years. Julie ensured I had a job every week and he always had a check for me upon delivery. That meant a lot to me. We became good friends.
The very first job in comics was given to me by Ed Cronin at Hilton Periodicals. I had to pencil and ink a feature called Captain Codfish, but I wanted a staff position in order to get that weekly check. The life of a freelancer is tough, financially.
Later on I worked with Stan Lee for 3-1/2 years. I liked the Marvel characters and worked on the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America. I got thrown into the bullpen, doing a little bit of everything. I pitched in and did penciling, lettering, inking, just everything. It was great training. I still needed a weekly check, and needed to contribute to the family finances. Three and a half years later I went to work for DC comics.
I penciled and inked the Batman comic strip for DC comics and Julie warned me I wouldn't like working with Mort Weisinger. All the stories about Mort are true. I wanted to do more than just ink, so I tried the strip. I quit twice over salary disputes. DC finally decided that they would pay for the lettering, coloring, and provided me with paper, unlike now where I provide my own supplies on the Mary Worth strip. After 4 years of working with Mort I got tired and went back to comic books. Julie welcomed me with open arms.
Stroud: Murphy Anderson
JG: Murphy Anderson is a good friend and a true southern gentleman, and his wife Helen is delightful. I have good memories. We worked together on a few assignments.
Stroud: Carmine Infantino
JG: Carmine Infantino's drawings were a little tough to work on. You had to know how to draw and decipher. He's a good layout man and a master of storytelling, but his pencils are loose.
I also paint. Carmine made a layout and asked me to paint it. I worked it out in a monochromatic black and grey set-up. Carmine trusts me, and knows I'll do a decent job. I enjoy being with him, and would like to invite him to our Berndt Toast lunch.
Stroud: Gardner Fox
JG: Gardner Fox was an excellent writer, but I wasn't really acquainted with him. We'd say hello in the hallways.
I'd make deliveries to the DC offices once or twice a month. It was an opportunity to have coffee or lunch with whoever was around, like Gil Kane or Julie. Sometimes the place was empty except for the editors. Working at home is like being in a cocoon. It gets lonely and you start talking to yourself. When that begins to happen, look out.
Joe Kubert was sort of on staff in those days, too. You just never knew who would be around.
Stroud: Mike Sekowsky
JG: Mike Sekowsky had a very bad temper. Anyone that crossed him had better look out. He drank. He had a great style and knew how to dress characters in up to date fashions. We called him "The Speed Merchant." Mike could pencil 5 to 7, even 10 pages a day. He couldn't ink, but he could pencil very, very fast. He was good and was a credit to the company. He was the go-to guy, but began to deteriorate later. One day he completed a story and I was asked to ink it, but it was very bad and I couldn't ink it. I was asked to re-pencil it and I did so gladly, because Mike really saved me once on a job and wouldn't accept a dime for his help. Wouldn't you know that when I delivered it, Mike was in the office, raging at Dick Giordano? I told him I had to re-do the whole job and expected him to be teed off at me, but he wasn't. He was really teed off at Dick Giordano for not giving him more work. He called about 6 months later from California asking if I had any work for him. Imagine the great Mike Sekowsky calling me for work. At the time I was working on the Flash Gordon strip, but it wasn't mine and I didn't have the authority to give him work and the editors didn't want to take a chance on him. It was sad. I liked Mike very much, but the drinking was really starting to hurt him.
Stroud: In the foreword to "The Greatest 50's Stories Ever Told", Joe Kubert wrote the following. Do you recall the incident?
"I remember a weekend up in Toronto, Canada, when Carmine, Joe Giella and myself (I was the chauffeur, since I was the only one with a car—the car was owned by me and the finance company) went up to our "northern neighbor" on a date. We got snowed in for a week. It's very difficult, indeed, to finish deadline work when you're up in Canada and the artwork's in Brooklyn!"
JG: We were caught in that snowstorm in Toronto partly because we were driving into the storm. We were fellow students along with Mike Sekowsky at the Art Students League. We learned the basics like figure drawing.
Stroud: John Broome
JG: John Broome was a nice gentleman who lived in Japan for a time. He was tall and slim and he reminded me of Gary Cooper. He was a good friend of Julie's and was devoted to his work. I guess that's what makes a good writer.
Stroud: Bill Finger
JG: I didn't know Bill Finger. I was closer to Bob Kane. For awhile Bob had a television show where he would sketch characters on a pad in front of a live audience. He'd do about a dozen drawings of each character. What many people don't know is that he was drawing over light lines I'd laid down, using his magic marker. I was paid by him, out of his own pocket, but my kids used to say, "Dad, that's not fair." I had to explain to my kids that I was assisting him.
A true story about Bob Kane: Bob asked me to go with him to the police station to recover his lost wallet. We walked to the desk and Bob said, "I'm Bob Kane and I lost my wallet." They didn't know who he was and that made him very indignant, so he practically shouted, "I'm Bob Kane, the creator of Batman!" I felt like crawling under a desk. The police gathered around him and started asking all kinds of questions and really rolled out the red carpet. I stood there in amazement, thinking, "These guys are nuts." Bob retained the rights to Batman and the characters for years until DC finally bought him out and so when I was doing the newspaper strip I had to sign it as Bob Kane. Sometimes, though, I'd put a truck in the background with something like Giella's Donuts or Joe's Donuts, just to get a little personal touch in there. After I left the strip my successor was able to sign his own name since DC got the rights to the characters.
Stroud: You've done mainly inking, but a fair amount of penciling, too. Which do you prefer?
JG: Between pencils and inks, I liked both, but when I was penciling I couldn't wait to do the finish. That's the drawback to just being a penciller is that you can never finish the job. The job is finished when it's inked. The reverse is true, too. If you could only ink, you could never have the satisfaction of completing a job yourself.
I did a lot of licensing work, penciling and inking for DC comics. Those jobs paid a lot more than the standard page rate and I also attended meetings with the client to discuss the assignment. As I recall, I'd go home and do the layouts and then get DC's approval and then deliver the finished product to our client, the National Biscuit Company.
I also designed 21 T-shirts for Walt Disney Studios through Alison Manufacturing Company and worked for many advertising companies. Diversifying is the name of the game.
Stroud: Have you seen the new Showcase Presents series by DC? The Flash, Volume I is coming out on May 16, 2007 and I believe includes stories you worked on. Do you think they lack something without the colors?
JG: No. I've been a little out of touch lately with the comics.
Stroud: What was with DC and gorillas?
JG: Covers were based on previous sales, so if a cover included a gorilla and sold well, Julie Schwartz would say, "That book sold, do something similar." They used this as a barometer for future covers.
Stroud: Let me ask you a question I asked of Joe Kubert. Do you think inking with a brush, as opposed to inking with a pen, is becoming a lost art? It seems few people do it anymore.
JG: I do 90% of my work with a pen. It gives a better effect. Brushes are difficult and can ruin your eyesight after awhile. I only use a brush for filling in large black areas and I use a flexible pen like a brush. People often think I use a brush to ink.
Stroud: Your credits list is extensive and I see where you worked on Elvira's House of Mystery in 1986. Was that the last time you did any comic work?
JG: My son keeps up with all that, but I think my last comic work was penciling and inking a 23 page memorial story on Julie Schwartz for DC Comics.
I still do an occasional job for DC, but it takes time. I do slow, careful work and if I can have, say, 3 months - I can do it. My strip keeps me very busy.
Stroud: Mary Worth isn't your first foray into comic strips. You penciled and inked the Batman comic strip in particular and also worked on The Phantom and others. Do you enjoy strip work? How far ahead do you have to produce them?
JG: I've worked on the Mary Worth strip for 16 years and I really like it. I was told when I started, "Joe, you won't be happy with this. You don't have superheroes flying around and crashing through walls. Mary Worth is a low-key soap opera." Initially, they were right. It was a little boring, but I soon found I could do interesting things with facial expressions and such.
I get 10 to 15 fan letters a month. Some drove me crazy. One guy wrote in and took me to task by saying that Harvard never had a lion on its crest. Well, that's true except that I was depicting the crest for Harvard Medical School, which does have a lion and I know that because I got it from my nephew, who graduated from Harvard Medical School. I should write that guy back and set him straight. I also got a note once saying I'd put six fingers on one character and sure enough when I went back to the strip I'd done it, but when you're working until 2 or 3 in the morning to beat a deadline stuff can happen.
Doing dailies and the Sunday strip gets hectic sometimes. Once I got behind and the syndicate fined me $1,200.00! I thought it had to be a mistake, but they said, "Joe, didn't you read your contract?" Well, sure, but I figured the fine was much less. As you can see, I’m very conscious of deadlines.
Stroud: I understand you still do commissions. If someone wanted one how would they go about contacting you?
JG: I do 2 to 3 commission jobs a month. I paint, do black and whites or color, or pencil, whatever they want. I enjoy an international fan base and have sent work to the UK, Belgium, Germany and other locations. I tell them all the same thing when I get a request: I'll put them on the line. The line moves slowly, but it moves. I work to the client's pocketbook. If they've got a set amount to spend I work with them. Regardless of whether it's a painting or a simple pencil sketch, the quality is the same. I'm often asked if I can do a specific character. After 50 years I've done them all, so it's not a problem. I'm a freelance artist and I've got the experience. If someone asks, give them my number.
Stroud: June 27th is your 79th birthday and you remain very active with the daily strip, your involvement in the Berndt Toast Gang (the Long Island chapter of cartoonists) and other activities. Do you see yourself retiring any time?
JG: I have no plans to retire. I have given up deep sea fishing, but I still do carpentry and lots of walking. I'm into nutrition, too. Those of us who are in sedentary jobs can do themselves the biggest favor by getting exercise.
Stroud: Do you appear in any comic books? Thanks to a reference in the All-Star Companion I discovered Strange Adventures #140, which contains a story by Gardner Fox where he, Julie, Ed Eisenberg, and Sid Greene appear. I just wondered if anyone ever depicted you.
JG: I don't know that I've ever been depicted in a comic, but thanks to one of my former students, a silhouette of me is in an episode of The Simpson's. It shows a group of kids going by an art studio and Matt Groening sometimes likes to poke good-natured fun at Mary Worth. So, they're going by the office where Mary Worth is produced and they all just walk right by. My silhouette is shown collapsing on the desk. I thought it was hilarious and when I recently met Matt Groening in Manhattan I said, "Matt, I love the way you make fun of Mary Worth."
Stroud: Was there any satisfaction in finally being able to sign your work in the mid-60's?
JG: Neal Adams was probably due some credit for our being able to sign our work starting in the mid-60's. It was nice to be able to do so.
As you can see, Joe is a knowledgeable, wonderful man and he paid me a compliment that still has me grinning: "You really have a way of putting people at ease." Frankly, I don't know how anyone could have a difficult time sharing a conversation with this fine man. I'm very grateful for the opportunity, and I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did.