Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"
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for Monday, March 29, 2010
Dick Giordano 1932-2010.
The comics world is considerably diminished by the passing of this good man. So is my world. I am saddened for the loss of a man who was an inspiration to me in many ways, a creator whose work I loved, a mentor during the too few times we got to work together, and, above all, a dear, dear friend.
That I can recall, I first "crossed paths" with Dick when I was a 13-year-old kid in Cleveland, Ohio. I was waiting my haircut turn at the barber shop and started reading Sarge Steel #1, a Charlton comic dated December, 1964. It wasn't the kind of comic book I would buy for myself - no super-heroes or monsters - but it caught my eye with its realistic look and surefired storytelling. Dick was the artist, working from a Joe Gill script.
I didn't finish reading it before it was my turn to sit in the barber's chair, but I hid it under the newspapers that no other kid would have disturbed. After getting my Ace Morgan crewcut - by the way, not a good look for me - I swept the shop for the barber and, as he usually did, the barber told me to take a couple comic books in payment. I took Sarge Steel. I couldn't tell you what other comic I took that day if my life depended on it.
I don't remember if Dick's name was on Sarge Steel #1. My copy is buried somewhere in the too many boxes of comic books in my house and elsewhere. But I would definitely learn his name soon thereafter when he became the editor of Charlton Comics.
Dick called them "action heroes," because, with the exception of Captain Atom, most of them weren't super-powered: Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt, Judomaster, Peacemaker, and others. He staffed these comics with an amazing array of veteran and rookie talents: Steve Ditko, Jim Aparo, Pete Morisi, Frank McLaughlin, Pat Boyette, Joe Gill, Sam Granger, Gary Friedrich, Denny O'Neil, and many others. Most importantly, he used his letters columns to establish a real communication with his readers.
Hype and all, I loved and respected Stan Lee at Marvel. I respected DC Comics editors Julius Schwartz and Murray Boltinoff. I thought Mort Weisinger was a jerk, but it's probably impertinent of me to mention that here. But, Dick, I liked him, respected him, and knew he was playing it straight with readers, even when he told me something I didn't want to hear. Like that my beloved "action heroes" weren't selling as well as Charlton's horror, war, romance, and western titles.
I was thrilled when Dick moved over to DC. He edited some of my favorite DC titles of the late 1960s: Aquaman, Teen Titans, Secret Six, Strange Adventures with Deadman, and others. And his Witching Hour was as good as any of the Charlton mystery books he had edited with amusing hosts and surprising theme issues. I wrote to Dick's letters pages, spoke to him on the phone during the brief time when I was writing a news column for a fanzine and, impertinent as ever, sent him a plot for a Teen Titans story and full scripts for an entire issue of Witching Hour. Because I figured if anyone was going to give a young writer a fair chance, it would be Dick.
It was during Dick's first stint at DC that I finally met him. It was at one of those grand old New York City comics conventions that Phil Seuling used to hold. Knowing I was coming to the con, Dick invited me to join him at breakfast one morning. Needless to say, I was nervous. Frank McLaughlin also joined us, increasing my nervousness.
Dick put me right at ease. He didn't buy my Teen Titans plot or my Witching House scripts, but he taught me a lot about comics and how to pitch ideas in a short time. I actually sold one of the Witching Hour scripts later that year to a tabloid newspaper called The Monster Times.
I kept writing to Dick and was sad when he left his editor's gig to go freelance. I knew the DC gig hadn't gone as he'd hoped, but the comics industry and the fans were the winners there.
We got lots of great artwork. For my money, no one has ever inked Neal Adams better than Dick and that includes Neal himself. Their work on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, teamed with writer Denny O'Neil and editor Julius Schwartz, have to be on everyone's list for the best comic books of the 1970s.
Then Neal and Dick founded Continuity Associates, a comics art agency that trained dozens of artists who would go on to terrific careers in the comics industry. Continuity was a school and even something of a sanctuary for many of us. I rented an office there for a few months during my second and final stay in New York City. That I didn't stay long and learn even more from Dick (and Neal) is pretty much the only regret that I have about moving back to Ohio for keeps in 1977.
Quick digression. If there's a better Batman story than the legendary "There's No Hope in Crime Alley!" [Detective Comics #457; March, 1976], a Denny O'Neil script that was pencilled and inked by Dick, it would be "To Kill a Legend" [Detective Comics #500; March, 1981], an Alan Brennert script pencilled and inked by Dick. Small wonder Dick is one of my four or five favorite Batman artists. Few artists ever mastered both the tragedy and underlying hope of the Batman's world the way Dick did.
Dick and I kept in touch. He had returned to DC Comics as an editor. I had bought a comic-book store in Cleveland and was also working for Capital City Distribution. We saw each other at comics conventions and I was always pleased to hear he'd moved up another rung or two at DC Comics. Publisher Jenette Kahn, a wonder woman in so many ways, knew talent when she saw it.
It was at one of those conventions that Dick asked me if I'd like to write for DC Comics again. He suggested I pitch something for Hawkman and okayed The Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series a few weeks later. He teamed me with Alan Gold, one of the finest, most organized, and most supportive editors I have ever worked with in or outside of comics...and agreed to my first choice to draw the new series: Richard Howell. Okay, Joe Kubert and Murphy Anderson were actually my first choices, but Dick and Alan lived in the real world most of the time. I think I did some good work there and I think Richard did some outstanding work that never got the notice it should have. But I digress...again.
This was my first extended period working with Dick and where I figured out some of his secrets, the most notable one being that he always tried to be fair to freelancers and that he did this for the simple and uncomplicated reason that it was the right thing to do. I didn't always agree with him, but I never felt he made any decision out of the arrogance and the just-because-I-can attitude of so many comics editors and executives. He was an executive with a freelancer's soul and he tried to balance the two as best he or anyone else could have.
When Dick left DC the second time, I told friends the company was losing its heart. That's not to say no one who remained there or came to the company after Dick left never again had and acted on their generous impulses or never again strove to be fair to their freelancers. But that kind of behavior never again seemed to me to be a core value of the company.
He was a good guy because he was a good guy. He wasn't a good guy because it was a smart way to do business, although it surely was a smart way to do business. He wasn't a good guy because the company mandated that persona. He loved comics and he loved comics people. He was a good guy and, yes, I know I'm repeating myself, but this is why I'm so sad today...and so happy that I got to know him as well as I did.
I saw Dick at several conventions over the years. I was glad to have the opportunities to spend time with him, always wishing there were more such opportunities. When he, Bob Layton, and David Michelinie formed Future Comics, I was thrilled for them...because these were three guys who do how to make great comic books. I was thrilled and honored when they asked me to join the company as its promotions director.
Even though Future had an undeservedly short shelf life, as it were, I wish I had taken that job. I can't remember the reasons I gave them for turning it down - they were honest reasons - but the real reason was that I was too beaten down by a lifetime of working for comics people who weren't Dick Giordano, who weren't all that concerned about freelancers, who weren't good guys. I was trying to regain my "mojo" so that I could again fully participate in the art form and industry I loved. If I kept a "regrets" list, passing up a chance to work with Dick, Bob, and David would be way the Hell up on it.
Looking over what I've written for today, what sticks out is that this piece is as much about me as it is about Dick Giordano. Which is kind of the point.
Type Dick's name into the Grand Comics Database search engine [www.comics.org] as a penciller, inker, or editor, and you will get a list containing thousands of great comic books. Ask a hundred of the thousands of people for whom he was a boss, a collaborator, a friend, and a mentor and you'll get a hundred replies telling you how much Dick meant to them.
Dick was important to more people than I can count. Over the years, he entertained millions of comics readers, helped thousands of his fellow comics creators, and produced fine work for countless clients in and out of comics. He was an agent of change in the comics industry...and he always strived, usually succeeded in being an agent of positive change.
My memories of Dick Giordano are only a very small part of the grand tapestry that was his life and career. Every one of us who holds their own small parts of that tapestry close to their hearts, even if they never met or worked with him, is surely blessed to have known him and his work.
Go with God, my friend, and with my thanks for your life and for being part of mine.
To the rest of you, thanks for spending part of your day with me. TOT will return on Tuesday, April 13.
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THE "TONY" SCALE
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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