Oldest Living Batman Artist: Joe Giella

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, July 15th, 2017

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TOM WARD
TOMPWARD@SBCGLOBAL.NET

Last summer legendary artist Joe Giella decided to retire after
drawing the nationally syndicated “Mary Worth” newspaper strip for the
past 23 years. Giella, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday,
thought it was time to lay back, sleep in late and take it easy.
Shortly thereafter Joe received the prestigious Harvey Award. The
President of DC comics presented him the award at a special dinner in
Baltimore.
“The award is kind of like the ‘Oscar’ of the comic book
business.” Said Giella.
Since that time Giella has been on the go and in big demand. He
is busier than ever with requests to appear at conventions, draw
special commissions for fans and more. It’s easy to understand why
there is so much interest and fervor over Giella. His impressive
credentials as both a penciller and inker in comic books and newspaper
strips for eight decades is mind boggling.
Giella recalled, “I switched from Timely comics (later changed
to Marvel), where I worked for Stan Lee, over to DC comics in 1949. My
son Frank was the one that informed me that I was part of both the
golden and silver age. During those golden age years I worked on
Westerns, War comics, Romance and Horror stories.”
Giella is best known for his long run at DC comics as one of the
most prolific inkers in history. I spoke with Joe last week after he
returned from a big Comic Con in Denver to congratulate him on his
recent 65th wedding anniversary and to hear about his trip to
Colorado. Giella said,
“I can’t believe how many people are inviting me to their
conventions and want me to do commissions for them. Somehow they found
out I retired and they’re coming out of the woodwork. I just got asked
to go to Australia for a convention.”
During our call Giella told me about a fan that drove a couple
hours to see him. Giella stated,“There was this one fellow I met at
the show who told me he drove over 200 miles with his wife to come to
see me. I shook his hand and I didn’t have time to talk to him because
the lines were so long. I couldn’t really have a conversation with the
guy, but when I got home I called him. I left a message on his
answering machine telling him I was sorry I couldn’t spend much time
with him. I’ve had kids from six years old to their parents and even
their grandparents coming up to me. Awhile back I had a Vietnam vet
who told me he was a fan of mine. Then his son and his grandson told
me they were fans of mine too. Also, I might add I get a lot of
letters from people from different countries.”
I asked Joe if he was surprised at the amount of interest he’s
been receiving from the fans? “Absolutely! It’s genuine Tom. When you
work out of your home like I did as a free lance artist for all those
years it’s like you’re in a cocoon. I had no idea what the fans were
feeling about me and my work.”
Fans should feel fortunate to see Giella as he hasn’t been a
frequent guest at shows over the year due to the work load drawing
daily comics strips.
Over the decades in the comic book and newspaper industry Giella
has drawn every superhero, but said his favorite was always Batman.
I asked Joe; “When you look back on Batman and all the other
great superhero characters you drew and inked can you believe the
popularity of those colorful characters still continues? “
Giella reflected saying, “From what I’ve seen doing these
conventions and all the movies it appears they aren’t going to die of
anytime soon. It’s truly unbelievable!”
These days Giella holds the current title as the oldest living
Batman artist. Giella mentioned, “Jerry Robinson was older than me,
but he passed a few years ago. My son Frank informed me that I was the
oldest Batman artist still alive. I told him to stop telling me that
because you’re scaring me. Of course I wasn’t the only artist doing
Batman as there were many of us back then. Some of those artists may
have done one job or two, but I did it for many, many years and sadly
a lot of them are no longer around.”
I had to ask Joe what his thoughts and remembrances were of actor
Adam West who suddenly died a few weeks ago. West was best known for
portraying ‘Batman’ on the popular 1960’s TV series.
Giella said, “An Anamazing Gallery in SOHO had a Batman art show
featuring Adam West and myself back in 1996. The show featured
drawings by Adam and me along with some animation cells. I remember
they closed off the street and parked the Batmobile outside and lit up
the galley with a Bat Signal. All of our artwork pieces sold out that
night. That evening Adam asked me if I would like to tour around the
country with him for shows like this, but I couldn’t do it at the time
because I was tied up drawing the “Mary Worth” comic strip for the
newspaper. I thought he was a really nice guy and he didn’t appear to
have any kind of inflated ego or big head either.”
Giella is a modest and humble man, but his work with fellow
artist Carmine Infantino on the Batman/Detective comic books in the
mid 1960’s had a profound impact on how the caped crusader rose from
the ashes of near cancellation and into pop culture history creating
what became known as Batmania. I asked Giella if he could take me back
to that period of time when he and Carmine Infantino began re-doing
the Batman image.
“Infantino would do the pencils and Joe would do the inking. Giella
recalled, “I vividly remember the first Batman book that Carmine
Infantine and I worked on was Detective comics # 327 back in May of
1964. It was called the “new look” for Batman.I remember our editor at
DC Julius Schwartz discussing the new look to me and Carmine wasn’t in
the room with us that time. He told me he wanted to change the look of
the character which was okay by me and Carmine. After we did that
first issue all we were concerned was how it did in sales. Julie
always based the design on the next cover to whatever happened on the
previous cover. If it worked out where we had an action scene he
thought let’s do the same thing on the next cover. I always remember
him dictating to the writers to give him something like this because
sales were good when you did this.” When the TV series starring Adam
West took off in early 1966 Giella was chosen to draw the daily
syndicated ‘Batman’ newspaper strip which he considered to be a great
honor.
While drawing the newspaper strip I asked Giella if there was
any change in the look of Batman compared to how he appeared in the
comic books? Giella elaborated saying,
“The only thing that concerned me about the Batman look was when I
had the syndicated strip which began in the newspapers in ‘66’ was
that originally I had a straight adventure style. Somewhere mid-stream
Mort Weisinger my editor at the time asked me to kind of change it a
little to more of a ‘campy’ style to simulate the TV show. At first I
was a little worried about it, but I got the hang of it and I started
to enjoy doing it that way.”
Tell me about Batman creator Bob Kane who you knew and worked
with on some projects?
Giella recalled,“I met Bob Kane before I did the nationally
syndicated Batman newspaper strip. I would see him up in the DC
offices once in awhile, but I didn’t know him. I think one the editors
told him about me when he asked them about who was the artist doing
the job in the comic books because we weren’t able to sign our names
then. I was told that he liked my work so he ended up contacting me
and we got together for lunch and he discussed with me what his
intentions were for the strip and it took off from there. A lot of
fellows bad mouthed him, but I personally never had a bit of trouble
with him. You know the guy that really deserved a lot of credit was
Bill Finger. He really was despondent and he became an alcoholic and
died penniless. Bob Kane could have helped him because Bill was very
instrumental in getting that look of the Batman character. The
original Batman the way Bob designed it he had him wearing a red
suit.” He continued adding,“Kane wasn’t a great artist and prided
himself on being a playboy. I would walk to his apartment and instead
of discussing what he wanted he would tell me about his female
conquests. I was thinking what are you telling me this for because I
didn’t want to know.”
What are your thoughts on the way Batman has been interpreted
and drawn in the comics after you finished doing the newspaper strip
and comic books with Carmine I inquired?
Giella said, “My opinion is I kind of liked the way it was done
in my period. The newer ones these day I don’t know what they’re
doing, but the distortion is something I just can’t see it because
maybe I’m a square. The reproduction they do these days is great. In
our days the reproduction had a lot to be desired.”
Before ending my call with Joe I asked him if he ever took time
to take stock of what he has accomplished in his long and
distinguished career?
“There are times when I sit down in my easy chair and nothings on
like the TV or radio and I think I can’t believe where the time went
and all the work that I did. I can’t believe that most of my friends
are gone now that I knew. I would estimate around 95% of my friends
and associates are no longer alive. I do think about it and it is what
it is.” Said Giella.
Fortunately, Giella told me he feels good and is in excellent
shape. I asked him if he had any tips or wisdom to living such a long
and vibrant life?
Giella stated emphatically, “I know I’m 89, but I feel great
because I work at it. I’ve always been interested in nutrition since I
was 17 years old. It’s kind of a hobby with me like carpentry that I
also enjoy. There’s no secret as I eat lots of fruits, vegetables,
seeds and nuts. I stay away from junk foods and I don’t eat too much
meat. I eat fish at least 3 times a week. Exercise is another
important part of it. I joined a gym a few years ago and I try to get
there at least 3 times a week. So you could say I’m very health
conscious. I thank God that I’m still here, but I do work at it. I’ve
always said that staying healthy is hard work.”
Giella told me before hanging up was he was heading over to the
gym for his workout and then back to the drawing board because he had
a lot of work to do getting those commissions done for his adoring
fans. So much for retirement and taking it easy.

Tom Ward can be contacted at www.teetimewithtom.com

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