Dick Giordano: Memories of a Legend

Fri, April 2nd, 2010 at 10:58am PDT

Comic Books
Marc Patten, Guest Contributor

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A Dick Giordano Batman cover for "Comic Buyer's Guide"

Damn damn damn. I've been kicking myself hourly since the news hit on Saturday. My mentor and friend Dick Giordano was gone.

Dick’s career in comics spanned over 50 years. 50 years – most of us are lucky to get ten or 20 good years out of a career, and lord knows if it’s a job we even like. Dick never claimed to be a trend setter or a record breaker. He led a simple honest life with a work ethic like no other professional in modern comics. He was up at the crack of dawn nearly every day spending several hours at the drawing board before most of us were even awake. Dick did this before going to work each morning at DC Comics where he traveled over an hour and half each way by train from Connecticut to Manhattan, and he continued this early morning ritual in his so called, “retirement” over the last 15 years since he left the company. He loved to draw, and he loved to tell great stories with his art. As DC’s Executive Editor, books were rarely late and he never sacrificed quality. He brought out the best in the staff and talent that worked for him. Dick’s art is his legacy, but his heart is what made him great.

I’d known Dick for nearly 20 years. We weren’t best friends by any means, but he basically started me in the comics business, and encouraged me nearly every step of the way. My career in comics and related products as a “behind the scenes” guy has been a fun and interesting ride and Dick was always a small part of each step. Whether managing a comic book store while in college and running conventions at the University of Connecticut where due to various circumstances Dick never could attend as a guest, his influence on my life as a leader in the comics biz was immense.

No matter where I was in my career, Dick always managed to have a friendly piece of advice or an encouraging word to share. When I became a purchasing manager for comic’s distributor Heroes World and later had stints in Marketing at smaller publishers he was happy that I was learning different aspects of the business. When I became a freelance journalist he gave me interviews that lasted hours and hours. When I finally got that job editing comics at Billy Tucci’s Crusade Entertainment he was no less than thrilled that I achieved a dream he helped create. And when I left Topps – home to Bazooka Bubble Gum and Baseball Cards – and left editing their Star Wars magazines and other projects as a brand manager for other opportunities, he was encouraging and wise. He led his creative teams at Charlton and DC with style and care. He was beloved by everyone and disliked by none that I know of.

A few weeks ago my wife gave me permission to fly down to Mega Con in sunny Orlando for a few days to hang out with old friends and relax. I haven't attended a comic con as a fan in years. There was always a professional agenda, be it as a vendor selling toys, or as a pro working for one publisher or another.

I was excited to see Dick who had relocated down to Florida years back from our common state of Connecticut. Friends told me upon arrival that he wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be coming, which disappointed me as I hadn't seen him face to face in a few years. A thought dawned on me after I came home – why is it that we never write tributes to our heroes while they are alive, only after they've passed on? For two days I talked to person after person to see if anyone could tell me how Dick was doing until I discovered that he was indeed very sick. I made it a point to dig up several old articles and interviews I had done with Dick to post a tribute to how great a person he is and what a monstrous career and life he's lead. I was determined to get something up for the masses ASAP. Then I got the news only a day after I began to write – it was too late. He had passed away.

I met Dick my senior year of college back in 1990. We had a small two-day comic con in East Hartford, CT each year in the fall which Dick usually attended. I was graduating in December with not a lot of career prospects and knew Dick would be at the show, so I blindly sent a fax to his office at DC requesting to meet with him to talk about starting a career in editing comics. I figured, what did I have to loose? Shockingly, the next day I got a phone call from his longtime assistant Pat Bastienne that he would be more than happy to meet with me at the show.

I was on cloud nine. Besides being DC's editor-in-chief or Executive Editor as they titled it, Dick was one of my favorite artists, greatly responsible for the classic look of DC's characters in licensed merchandise and comics in the 1970s and '80s along with the likes of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Neal Adams and Jim Aparo.


Giordano's thumbnails for CSBG

I wore a suit to our meeting, which Dick laughed at, saying things were much more casual in the comics’ biz, but I apparently impressed him nonetheless. He brought me into DC to interview with several other editors, for a single assistant editor job that had over 50 job applicants. I came into New York a second time as the pool shrunk to six, then four then two. I was number two. My heart sank as his right hand man Michael Eury told me the bad news. But Dick really liked me and pushed me to interview for a marketing job at DC he thought I was qualified for. I asked what percentage of marketing guys ever transitioned back into editorial and was told, "not many." I politely declined the other interview keeping my hopes alive for another chance at an editorial job at DC. (It's ironic that my career has since straddled the line between creative/editorial and marketing over the last 15 years.) Dick tried one or two more times to get me into DC in the early 1990s, but soon after, he retired and went back to freelance work.

Years passed, and Dick and I became friends and kept in touch through email and at conventions. When I began writing for fan magazines like "Wizard" and "Comic Buyers Guide," Dick was a staunch supporter. When I got my first job editing comics at Crusade Entertainment, Dick was thrilled that I finally achieved my dream. At Crusade I eventually inherited a line of creator owned books and one of our projects was a Thor mythology book called Thunder God created by famed novelist Christopher Golden and penciled by a new guy named Albert Debnam. The comic needed a fine ink line, and there was only one guy I wanted to call. Dick's hearing has gotten worse over the years, but he could still carry on a witty conversation, and Pat now his assistant at his studio in Florida, helped him with all the logistics and coordination of pages. Dick said he was pretty busy, but if I could take four-five pages a week, he could squeeze me in as an old friend. The art came back stunning. Five pages a week is nearly a normal schedule for a regular inker, but Dick was a master artist and still at age 66 pumped out two or more pages a day of penciling or inking. At last I got to work with my hero.

In 1997, I met an artist who became of my closest friends, cartoonist Richard Maurizio. Rich had studied under Dick, Curt Swan and Frank Mclaughlin for several years and Dick is a constant topic of conversation between us to this day. His art, his editorial career, his ability to teach, all done with a smile from the most perfect gentlemen in all of comicdom.

In 1998 I was freelancing again for "Comics Buyers Guide" and I pitched an article on my friend Dick Giordano. DC Comics was doing a new mini series by Bob Layton and Dick based on the old Charlton Comics characters. At Charlton in the 1960s Dick had molded this random group of superheroes including Captain Atom and Blue Beetle into a mini line at the company to moderate success – decades before they were purchased by DC in the mid 1980s. I wanted to tie it all together with a retrospective on Dick's early pre-DC career. To date it's one of my favorite interviews or articles I've ever written, and I've reprinted a version of it below for all of you to read.

I got to work with Dick the artist one final time in 2007 as the cover editor for the newly revamped monthly "Comics Buyers Guide" magazine. DC was re-launching "The Brave and the Bold," their original team up book, and I had a unique idea for the cover of "CBG" #1627. I was having many of the "CBG" covers digitally "painted" by a wonderful colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and I wanted to show fans how cool an "old school" artist could look with modern coloring and production values. There was only one artist I wanted to use that could pull off a cool cover for us – Dick Giordano. DC didn't exactly agree with my choice, as they wanted me to use an artist from their current roster of talent. But I pushed for Dick, and in the end I won the argument and DC was thrilled with the final result.

This piece of art was very special to me as Dick penciled and inked it. It featured some of my favorites, Batman, Green Lantern and Supergirl, and I just loved it so much, I asked Dick if he might sell the original art to me. As a present he practically gave it to me. A year later we reused the same image on the cover to CBG's annual price guide book, "2008 CBG Checklist and Price Guide," a tribute to the man once again.

I can't tell you how much I'll miss seeing Dick at shows or how it saddens me that I'll never get him to do a cover for the creator owned sci-fi comic, Khrome I'm currently producing. He will be incredibly missed, but his legend will live on. Rest in piece big guy, you will never be forgotten, or as Dick might say, (from his popular "Meanwhile..." columns in hundreds of 1980s DC comics,) "Thank you, and good afternoon."

Marc Patten, occasional journalist, marketing guru, writer, and brand manager, will treat his love for DC Comics as an everlasting reminder of the legacy of Dick Giordano. He can be reached at marcpatten@aol.com

Charlton Heroes: Heroic Beginnings OR Producing 10 Pounds of Chicken Feathers Every Month

By Marc Patten

A matter of history:

In 1952, a promising young artist named Dick Giordano was making his way into the annals of comic book history. Giordano began freelancing for Charlton Publishing around New Years day of 1952 for Al Fago, the publishing house's first editor, and was living in New York in the Bronx at the time. In 1955, the owner of Charlton decided he wanted all employees working for the company to work on site in the suburbs of Derby, Connecticut, and Giordano began a run of ten years as a staff penciler and inker for the company's numerous publications. From 1959 to 1960 he worked as the assistant to then executive editor, Pat Masulli, after which he went back to freelancing. He also kept busy with many outside accounts including DC (then National Comics), ACG and Dell. However, in 1965 Giordano's life would change forever as he entered into the arena of editorial again only this time, he was the man in charge.

"I was all over the place and decided that I wanted something a little bit easier and a little more stable," Giordano said. "They offered me the position of executive editor (for the comic book division) and that's what I did for the next two years." Previously, Pat Masulli had been in charge of all of Charlton's magazines including its extremely profitable music division. The higher-ups at Charlton decided that they needed Masulli to nurture and take more control of the music publications, so they created a separate editorial position for the small comic book division. Giordano's experience as Masulli's assistant years prior, landed him the job.

"Pat started there the same time that I did," said Giordano. "He was a colorist at the time. He became the executive editor for the company after Al Fago left to pursue other interests."

How to create something with nothing

When Giordano took over the fledgling comic line, he was presented with more obstacles than he expected. "I had very little money to work with to pay freelancers. Most of the artwork at the time was being done by the same people I came up to Connecticut with." He said that most of the artists still came in and sat at their drawing for a full day. They would get paid depending on how much they accomplished per week. Creators like Charlie Nicholas, Rocky Mastroserio, Vince Alascia, Joe Gill, Jon D'Agostino and others sat in the Charlton bullpen and created page after page of material for extremely low rates.

"The comic books were pretty much being painted by the numbers so to speak at that time. The assignments were given to the writers, primarily Joe Gill. The scripts were given to the artists on staff like Charlie Nicholas or Rocky Mastroserio. No one was really checking any of it. The scripts weren't being read for the most part, and the artwork was rarely looked at. It was just turning out ten pounds of chicken feathers every month."

It became Giordano's prime responsibility to expand the action hero line. "We only had a few titles then. A few issues of the old 'Blue Beetle' had been published. I think 'Son of Vulcan' was still being published, and I believe a version of 'Captain Atom' had just been started. There was no real [superhero] line, only a few books here and there. The books that did well were the war comics, the romance comics, and the horror comics. Superheroes weren't thought of as someplace that we should get involved in, because Charlton didn't have the resources to do them right."

So where did Giordano find the resources and extra talent to expand the superhero line? "I did what Pat Masulli and the others before me didn't take the time to do. I just went through the files of everyone who was looking for work. I found people like Jim Aparo and Pat Boyette who had written in with samples and were just ignored. I contacted these people with the idea of starting seven comic book titles for a new action hero line." Giordano also began titles like "Ghostly Tales" and the music comic, "Go-Go" (early issues were done by Aparo). "Although my schedule was 34 titles, from the time I started to the time I left they were all bi-monthly. That meant 17 titles per month and my staff consisted of my secretary. It doesn't take much of a brain to realize I wasn't going to edit 17 books a month. I just edited -I mean truly edited- the ones that interested me and the ones that I started like the whole action hero line. For those titles, I wrote the ads and did all of the cover roughs with the exception of the Ditko books. I did whatever an editor or an art director needed to do. I redesigned the company logo to the red and white 'C.' Then I started looking around for ways to get more money to pay the people that I wanted to do the work, and came up with a plan that I sold my boss over a period of time."

The way Giordano did this was to buy work for the war, romance, and western books from creators in South America where the exchange rate was extremely favorable and he could afford to pay, "...even less than the poor rates we were already paying," Giordano said. He also reprinted text pages where possible and had staff artists produce covers to save money. "I used the extra funds to pay the Steve Ditkos and Jim Aparos and so on a little bit more for the work that they did."

Giordano said that Charlton was very unique in that everything from concept to shipping took place under one roof. "In the history of comics I don't know of anyone who had this kind of a set up," he explained. "We did the engraving, color separating, and printing in the same building that we did the editorial and much of that was my responsibility. So forgetting editorial for a moment, Charlton was producing comic books at far less than their competitors could afford to do so. I learned about scheduling, I learned about production, and I learned how to get three books edited in the time that most people edited one. It really prepared me for what followed e.g. his editorial career at DC). I've never regretted doing it. My only regret was that Charlton had an opportunity, if they wanted to take a little time and spend a little money, to be a real power in the business and they chose to be junk dealers. That's why I left, really."

"The superhero line wasn't going anywhere, because there was no promotion, no distribution," Giordano continued. "Nobody tried to do anything different with them other than throw them out there and see what happened." During that period, it was up to the dealer to decide what titles he filled his racks up with and Charlton had no sales people to go out and push the books onto the newsstands. "So, they didn't sell very well," he added.

The Charlton superhero titles were the only comics published in the industry whose letters columns actually contained mail on the previous issue. Giordano would have the plates made and on press for the color portions for the letter columns. Minutes before the press was set to run, he would write the letters page based on the mail that had just come in, rush it down to the typesetter who was also in the building, proof read it on the typesetting machine, get a plate made and bring the plate to the press to lay over the color. "On more than one occasion, the press was run at night, so I had to go back after I went home. Sometimes I'd be there at one o'clock or two o'clock in the morning."

Whose title is this anyway?

New titles continued their numbering from pre-existing series wherever possible. In those days titles with higher numbering were perceived as successes, where titles starting at number one were perceived as untried. (Hence why many #1s were conspicuously left off the covers of comics from many publishers). The other major reason was that in those days second class mailing privilages were needed to send copies to subscribers, distributors etc. Titles that already existed had these privileges already, but applying for second class permits for new titles was costly and titles had to have several issues published before the permit was granted. "Captain Atom" continued its numbering from "Strange Suspense Stories" and began with V2 #78 where the character's origin was retold from his previous appearances in "Space Adventures" #33-#42. In "Captain Atom" #84, the character was reborn with an altered origin and new costume.

While no crossovers or guest appearances actually occurred in any of the Charlton hero line, characters often had stories in each other's titles. Nightshade first appeared in issue #82, and appeared in only three more issues (#87-#89). The Question first appeared in "Blue Beetle" #1, but remained a back up and never made it into his own series. (Although the character did return in a one shot title, "Mysterious Suspense," with a story by Ditko.) Giordano said that while he always envisioned the Charlton heroes line as a shared universe, it was never formally stated. The company also never got to the point where guest appearances were seriously considered.

"The Fighting Five" took the title from "Space War" with V2 issue #28 (their first appearance). The Peacemaker made his first appearance in issue #40 of the same series before going on his own. "Peacemaker" #1 became the line's first official #1 ("Sarge Steel" which also started fresh, launched prior to Giordano's stint as editor). Judomaster first appeared in "Special War Series" #4 and then Sarge Steel before claiming the Gun Master title with issue #89. Blue Beetle first appeared in "Captain Atom" #83 and lasted three issues before moving into his own series. "Blue Beetle" became the second exception to began its short run with an inaugural number. Thunderbolt (Peter Canon) went the reverse route. He first appeared in "Thunderbolt" #1, and two months later he took over the "Son of Vulcan" title with issue #51.

The Magic of Creation

While Giordano oversaw the action hero line, he played less of a role in its creative genesis than either, Stan Lee or Julie Schwartz did for their respective companies. "My role as an editor was always more noodling than giving hard-core direction," he explained. According to Giordano, the new Blue Beetle, the Question, and Nightshade were all created by Steve Ditko. The original version of Captain Atom was created and written by Dave Kaler, but the later revamping was written by Ditko under a 'nom de plum.' "All of the material that Steve drew, he also wrote. He was credited as D. Glanzman or something like that." Apparently, D. Glanzman was someone who worked on the Charlton staff that liked to see his name in print, but he never actually wrote anything. "Ditko always seemed to have a handle on what he was doing," Giordano continued. "He created the Blue Beetle without ever having discussed it with me. He created the character and his costume, the bug, and the gun that only emitted light, and came in with it pretty much fully realized. All there was left to do was figure out what to do for a first issue, which he gave me a rough version of. At that point he was already doing some Spider-man stuff for Stan Lee, and he knew about co-plotting from that. (For subsequent issues) he would give me an idea of what the next issue was going to be about, and the next time I saw the material , it was finished. For the script, he would storyboard it with little pictures and the lettering written in. He would take that, go home and do finished artwork, pencils and inks, bring it back, and we'd refine the dialogue. Sometimes we'd just send it to the letterer as is."

The Peacemaker and Fighting Five were both created and written by Joe Gill who wrote most if not all of the issues according to Giordano. Art for these two series was split between Pat Boyette and Bill Montez who were both friends of his at the time. Judomaster was written and partially drawn by Frank Mclaughlin. "It started out as a newspaper strip that Frank was trying to sell, and he wasn't getting anywhere with it. It sounded like a good idea for us, so we did it. He wrote, lettered and inked all of the issues and drew some of them. I laid out the rest of them for him." Giordano also co-plotted all of the Judomaster issues with Mclaughlin. "We both worked on staff at that time. We used to go down to the bank on Fridays to cash our pay checks, and we would either plot a new issue of 'Judomaster' or refine a plot we came up with last week." Sarge Steel was initially created by Pat Masulli, who wrote the first issue. Subsequent issues were written by Joe Gill, while Giordano himself supplied the artwork for all 8 issues of the series before it was transformed into a secret agent title (called "Secret Agent") following Giordano's departure.

Thunderbolt was created by a police officer named Pete Morisi (originally credited as PAM). Police offers in New York City where he worked were forbidden at that time to have any other source of income. Morisi created the whole character, presented it to Giordano, and also wrote and drew most of the series. "It eventually became a problem where Pete was so in love with the creation that he couldn't bear to sit down and work on it," said Giordano. He used to labor over every word and every drawing. I basically had to hold his hand and motivate him to get to the next part of the story. I only gave him help on the storyline when he requested it."

Most of the Charlton action hero titles ran under 10 issues during Giordano's two year reign. When he left the company for the greener less frustrating pastures of DC Comics, the line he spearheaded faded into existence. Although the titles had print runs of 200,000 plus, sales only averaged 40,000 to 50,000 copies per issue, which in those days was extremely poor. Each month a title or two was canceled with no one sharing Giordano's fondness for the characters. Final stories for "Captain Atom" #90 appeared in "Charlton Bullseye" in the mid 1970s. The characters made occasional appearances in the early 1980s before being purchased by DC a few years later.

In 1984, Paul Levitz, then DC Comics' vice president of operations decided to give Dick Giordano a present. Paul was familiar with the VP and executive editor's career in the 1960s at then small rival Charlton Publishing and as a young fan became fond of the heroes that Giordano had helped launch there. After consulting with Giordano regarding whom to contact, he secured permission to purchase the entire stable of Charlton comic characters. "He enjoyed reading those characters and thought we should have them," said Giordano. "He gave them to me and said, 'here, do what you want.'" The problem however was that DC was in the middle of its own revival, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" which Giordano was also inking and there was no time to consider another revival. So there the characters sat, making brief cameos in "Crisis" and "Who's Who" until one by one many were revived into ongoing DC continuity beginning with the Blue Beetle in his own title six months after "Crisis" ended in June of 1986. During the revamps of the Charlton heroes at DC in the 1980s Giordano involvement was fairly non-existent. His plate was full, and he had no time to head a new line of characters. "I didn't have much to do with the way they were used. In each case the decisions were made by the individual editor. Sarge Steel was put in as the head of a United States intelligence agency, which came out of his days as a secret agent at Charlton which I had nothing to do with. When I left off on Sarge Steel he was a private detective, and in my mind he's a private detective today," Giordano laughed. Now years later in his retirement (although he's awfully busy for someone who's retired) Dick Giordano finally gets to play with the characters he looked out for thirty years ago as he teams up with fellow inker and writer Bob Layton in the Charlton Heroes crossover event, The L.A.W.

This article is ™ and © Marc Patten. Portions of this originally appeared in "Comics Buyers Guide" #1305, November 20, 1998.

TAGS:  dick giordano, dc comics

 
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