This is Part 2 of a 2001 interview that I did with Dick Giordano who passed away today (March 27, 2010.) This posting contains excerpts not included with the interview published in Last Kiss #2 and contains references (among other things) to “Widow Miss Muffet” the story Dick and I did for that issue.
2001 interview transcribed by Christopher Irving. All art is by Dick Giordano. ©2010 Last Kiss Inc.
Why Do Romance?
LUSTIG: When I talk to more mature artists–people who didn’t start out drawing superheroes–there’s a kind of regret that there’s nothing but superheroes to do these days.
GIORDANO: Most people from my generation had to draw romance comic books in order to survive: John Romita, Sr., Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and so many other people [like] Gene Colan… they all spent so much time on romance work… Artists and writers who entered the field after 1970 had very few genres other than superheroes
LUSTIG: People have discussed this before, but do you think part of the comic book industry’s current problems is that we just have superheroes? It’s such a narrow subject. I just don’t see the general public being interested in comic books as long as it’s just superheroes.
GIORDANO: Yeah. Another thing, to give you a further clue as to my doing this material for either free or close to it: I was dying to do a Western, and Roy Thomas hooked up with Cross Plains, a company that…had the rights to use the Robert E. Howard stuff. [Editor’s Note: Howard is best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, but also wrote fiction in other genres.] They had a couple things that resembled Westerns. I drew one of them: a 12 pager that will probably never be published. It’s penciled and inked, Roy wrote the dialogue, and then the publisher disappeared. I did that without any promise of money. It was going to be paid for upon publication, and it was never published. I did that for the same reason [as “Widow Miss Muffet.] It gave me an opportunity to exercise another portion of my brain.
“Widow Ms. Muffet”
LUSTIG: I’m feeling a little guilty. I had intended to give you a story with more romance. In “Widow Ms. Muffet” (in Last Kiss #2) we’ve got a beautiful woman and she’s in two wedding scenes, but there’s hardly any romance. Did I throw you a curve with this story? Were you surprised by what we ended up with or were you prepared for it to be weird?
GIORDANO: Don’t feel guilty. It wasn’t exactly what I [originally] thought it would be, but I knew it [was going to be different] when you sent me your plot ideas. What I thought it was going to be was what you were already doing in Last Kiss: taking a romance story and writing new dialogue to it. Instead, this was people doing funny things, rather than people doing standard romance things, but saying funny things.
LUSTIG: I had wanted it to be like that, but…
GIORDANO: That was fine! As soon as I understood that was what you were trying to do, I changed gears a little bit. My approach to drawing comics is to tell the story at hand, not the story you’d like to tell, or the story you wish this was, but the story you have in front of you. It’s not just for you, John. I do this with every job that I get. That’s what I consider to be professional. If you want to talk about that, talk to Denny O’Neil, Brian Augustyn, or any of the others that I’ve worked with, who always thanked me for following their story lines and telling their stories. There are too many people in this business who decide “This is not a good story. I’ll draw my own.” (Laughs) I’ve never done that.
I don’t think [“Muffet”] was weird at all. Nor did you throw me a curveball. You went in a different direction and I went with the flow… You might notice that I did sneak in a few things that were more appropriate to romance stories than humor stories.
LUSTIG: I’ve written a lot of Disney scripts. And strange as it may sound–when I was writing “Muffet” I started falling into a Disney mode. I was writing funny visuals into the script. I suppose it was because I was writing the story from scratch instead of my usual Last Kiss approach of redialoguing artwork.
GIORDANO: There are only two ways to go: you could either just write a regular romance story with regular romance dialogue and I’d draw it. When you’d get it back, you could redo the dialogue. That’s what you’ve been doing. The other way is to do more like the early issues of MAD, where it’s a take-off. Just covering the elements in a romantic story, but skewed a little bit. That’s what you did in “Muffet” and I don’t have a problem with that.
I’m Not a Writer!
LUSTIG: Have you ever written any of the stories you’ve drawn?
GIORDANO: I think I’ve written two…and a third one that was adopted for “The Life and Loves of Lisa St. Claire” which was a regular feature that I had in Young Love. It had been written originally, by me, as a newspaper strip. I turned it over to Jack Miller at DC to write. He wrote the series for me, based on the first couple of weeks of my comic strip. Then (after those two weeks of material) he deviated a little bit.
Another story I wrote was a stand-alone Sarge Steel story in the last issue of Judomaster. I found out after I’d finished (drawing) part one of a two-part Steel story that the issue part one came out in was going to be the last issue. I didn’t think it was a good idea to put out a two-part story that nobody could read a conclusion to, so I wrote and drew a new story over the weekend to get it in on time. If you can find the last issue of Judomaster that had a Sarge Steel back-up in it. That one was done by me.
LUSTIG: Did you enjoy writing it at all?
GIORDANO: I’ve never particularly been interested in writing my own material. What little writing I’ve done has been confined to two or three stories (including a hot rod story), and a lot of columns for DC, which were basically just letters. I used to think–when I wrote my letter columns–that I was writing a letter to my mother, or a friend. That was to keep it loose. I didn’t get paid for any of those columns because I didn’t want to get paid for writing… That’s why I’ve never had the title editor-in-chief–because that would imply that I was a word guy! And I’m really a picture guy. (Laughter.) So I resisted that title. They were trying to give that to me for quite a while. If you go back and look at the DC books, you’ll see I was executive editor, editorial director, everything but editor-in-chief.
Superheroes? How boring!
LUSTIG: If you could draw comics in any genre totally disregarding the current needs of the comic book business what sorts of comics would you do?
GIORDANO: Given my druthers, I’d draw most of the things I mentioned earlier–romance, Western, mystery, and private eye. I love all those genres because I grew up on them. To me, the superhero was a Johnny-come-lately. I never did any artwork on superheroes before I moved to DC in ’67. I was in the business 16 years before that. I did movie adaptations and the other things I mentioned–all pretty straightforward stuff. Superheroes were never my favorite thing to do and, frankly, I’m bored out of my skull after all of these years of just doing superheroes. You benefit a little bit, and the publisher from England would have benefited if he’d paid me for the Western story that I did. (Laughter)
LUSTIG: I could think of somebody who might be interested in publishing that.
GIORDANO: Maybe somebody will come along. Jon Cooke (editor of Comic Book Artist magazine) also mentioned that his publisher (TwoMorrows) might be interesting in [printing] the Dracula material that Roy and I did for Marvel. It’s nothing definite, but we’re supposed to talk about it when we meet again. I kept most of the artwork and, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing that Marvel would have a hold on. It’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and they don’t own my pictures.
LUSTIG: The only person I can think of that is publishing Westerns right now is Bill Black at AC Comics and that’s just reprints I believe.
GIORDANO: Vertigo is doing a Western and it’s a weird Western, and they did romance but it was a weird romance. Vertigo doesn’t do things straight. I’ve always hinted, but nobody at DC listens to me: I’d rather work for Vertigo than anybody else up there, because they’re brushing all the genres we discussed. They have a private eye, sort of, with 100 Bullets, and science fiction with Transmetropolitan, and the weird Western… all of the things I’ve done in the past and am still equipped to do, they’re doing. Somehow, I’ve never managed to get the work I’ve wanted to from them.
I penciled an issue of American Century for Vertigo. That’s the one Howard Chaykin is writing. It’s sort of an adventure story… although it’s really more like an extended movie script. It takes place in the ’50’s, and it’s fun for me to do. It’s just people in regular clothing, characters that are interesting, and people without powers or weapons, really. Those are the things I’d like to do.
Charlton Artists: The Men Behind the Brushes!
LUSTIG: Of the artists who did sign their work, Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia are the ones who show up the most in First Kiss. They apparently worked together a lot. Is there anything you can tell us about that team and how they worked?
GIORDANO: Nicholas and Alascia did work together a lot for the simple reason that they sat next to one another at Charlton’s offices in Connecticut. (Laughter) If you take a close look at Vince’s inking style, you’ll find it bears a close resemblance to Alex Raymond’s style on Rip Kirby, that was very popular at that time. He kept a couple strips in front of him because that style was fast, and he did a lot… using the side of the brush. Almost all of us used a brush then. Nobody used a pen then because it would take too long for the ink to dry. If you’re inking four pages a day (which is what I think Vince was doing, you start with a brush in the morning and keep it hot.
They were both interesting people. Charlie had the ability to smoke a cigarette without it ever leaving his mouth. (Laughter) Down to the end, there would be an ash as long as the original cigarette. I don’t know how he managed to do it, but when he talked, he’d talk with the cigarette in his mouth, not moving the cigarette. He’d talk out of the side of his mouth. It was funny.
Vince used to have these Rip Kirby strips in front of him, looking at them while he was inking. But what he was inking had nothing to do with the strip he was looking at. I don’t know what he got out of it except inspiration. (Laughter)
Both are gone now. Nicholas died quite a while ago. Vince Alascia was well into his eighties. Three years ago, I bumped into him in a restaurant near Bridgeport, and he said “Let’s get together and talk about the old days.” I said, “Sure, give me your number,” and he did. Before I had a chance to call him, he passed away.
Note: To read Part 1 of this interview, click here.