Joe Giella, a comic book artist whose career stretched back to the mid-1940s, passed away on March 21st. He was 94 years old. Alex Dueben of The Comics Journal referred to Giella as “one of the creators synonymous with the Silver Age of comics.”
Giella was born on June 27, 1928. He grew up in Astoria, Queens. He attended the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan. Giella was only in his teens when he began working in comic books, as his family was experiencing financial difficulties and the extra income he could bring in was desperately needed. His first credited work was for Hillman Publications in 1946. Soon after he was one of the many artists assisting on the Captain Marvel feature published by Fawcett, as well as working on staff at Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel. By 1948 Giella was freelancing for DC Comics, where he would spend the majority of his career.
Giella was initially doing full artwork, but he soon began to specialize in providing inks / finishes over the pencils of other artists. In an interview with Jim Amash that appeared in Alter Ego #52 from TwoMorrows Publishing in September 2005, Giella how this came about:
“None of us started out intending to become inkers; we started out penciling. I was inking two to three pages a day, but I couldn’t pencil more than one. And you know, when you need money, you kind-of lean towards the inking. I could bring home $90 a week instead of $40. And after a while, you kind-of get typecast. To this day, I’m still slow at penciling, and I make up the time on the inking.”
Giella regularly worked for editor Julius Schwartz at DC. He was an inker on some of the last stories DC published featuring the original versions of the Flash and Green Lantern, and when the Golden Age superhero trend finally ended in 1950 Giella worked on a number of Westerns published by DC. He inked Gene Colan on Hopalong Cassidy, and inked Gil Kane on both the Trigger Twins feature in All-Star Western and the quite unusual The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog.
Another penciler Giella regularly worked with was Sid Greene, on the anthology titles Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. The later title also occasionally had Giella inking Carmine Infantino on the sci-fi adventure feature Adam Strange.
In the second half of the 1950s, when Schwartz spearheaded the sci-fi tinged superhero revival of the Silver Age, Giella was once again one of his go-to inkers.
The Flash was reimagined as police scientist Barry Allen by Schwartz, writer Robert Kanigher and penciler Carmine Infantino in the pages of Showcase #4, which was cover-dated Sept-Oct 1956. That initial tale was inked by Joe Kubert, but when the Flash returned in the pages of Showcase #13 in 1958 inking chores were assumed by Giella and Frank Giacoia, and John Broome took over as writer with issue #14. When The Flash became an ongoing series again in early 1959 (beginning with issue #105, as it continued the numbering of the original Golden Age series) Broom, Infantino and Giella were the regular creative team.
Later in 1959 another Golden Age superhero, Green Lantern, was rebooted by Schwartz, writer John Broome and penciler Gil Kane, who introduced test pilot Hal Jordan as the new emerald ring-slinger. Giella inked Kane’s pencils, first on the three issue “tryout” run in Showcase #22-24 and then on the new, ongoing Green Lantern series that began in 1960.
Giella had also been inking both Sheldon Moldoff on the Batman and Detective Comics titles, although as with everyone else involved with the Dark Knight at the time they had to work anonymously, with Batman co-creator Bob Kane receiving the sole contractually obligated credit. Due to his work on the character, Giella was hired to provide the full artwork for the Batman newspaper strip in the mid-1960s.
Giella found the Batman strip to be a simultaneously enjoyable and frustrating experience. On the one hand, he very much liked Batman, a character he himself had grown up reading in the 1940s. On the other hand, the pay was low, the deadlines were brutal, and once again Giella was working uncredited, with “Bob Kane” appearing on the strip’s byline. As a result, he remained on it for only four years.
Giella continued to work for DC Comics on a variety of titles until the early 1980s. He also did the occasional job for Marvel Comics during the 1970s. In addition, Giella assisted Sy Barry on The Phantom newspaper strip for 17 years.
Giella became the artist of the Mary Worth newspaper strip in 1991. As he explained to Jim Amash, one of the appeals of taking on the assignment was that unlike on the Batman strip a quarter century earlier, this time he’d be receiving a byline on the feature.
In 2001 Giella returned to Gotham City with issue #2 of the five-issue miniseries Batman: Turning Points. Written by Ed Brubaker, the series explored the evolving relationship between Batman and James Gordon throughout the years. As the second issue was set in an era analogous to the Silver Age, and Giella was one of the oldest-living Batman artists, it was a nice touch to have him illustrate that chapter.
After retiring from the Mary Worth strip in 2016, Giella continued to draw. He was very much in-demand for commission illustrations and recreations from fans.
At times I feel Giella’s work was underappreciated. Gil Kane, who was notoriously critical of the inkers he was assigned, was not at all fond of Giella’s work. I’ve also heard a number of fans over the years refer to his inking as “flat.”
However, I certainly have a great deal of appreciation for Giella’s work. He’s one of those comic book professionals who I like to classify as “a good, solid artist.” He knew how to draw, he always turned in work of a professional quality, and he could always be counted upon to meet deadlines.
I also feel it speaks volumes that during his lengthy career Giella was called upon to provide inks / finishes over a wide selection of pencilers with very different styles, and he demonstrated the versatility necessary to do so. In addition to the aforementioned Colan, Greene, Infantino, Kane, and Moldoff, among the various pencilers Giella inked were Bob Brown, Dave Cockrum, Jose Delbo, Dick Dillin, Don Heck, Irv Novick, Bob Oksner, Frank Robbins, Kurt Schaffenberger, Joe Staton and Curt Swan.
Looking back at the work Giella did over Infantino and Kane on those now-classic Flash and Green Lantern stories in the late-1950s and early-1960s, I quite like the tone & atmosphere his inking provided. I feel it gave a smoother look to the stories which John Broome & Julius Schwartz had imbued with a decidedly mid-20th Century “space age” sci-fi tone.
On those occasions when Giella was called upon to produce full art, he did very clean, polished work. His art on the Batman newspaper strip, Batman: Turning Points #2, the various commission illustrations he drew, and even a relatively staid soap opera like Mary Worth was all solidly done.
There are comic professionals who have expressed an appreciation for Giella’s work. On his Instagram account, the acclaimed, prolific artist Butch Guice posted a tribute to Giella that included this remembrance:
“Mr. Giella’s slick fluid ink lines graced many a favorite comic story from my youth, including a fond series of Batgirl stories (with pencilers Jose Delbo and Don Heck) he lent his inking skills in helping produce.”
June Brigman, who succeeded Giella on Mary Worth, also offered praise for the artist on her Facebook page:
“Joe was a consummate professional and an excellent draftsman. He did exciting, dynamic superheroes as well as the endless repetition of a syndicated comic strip and always maintained a high standard of quality.”
I am genuinely grateful to Giella for allowing me to interview him for the article I wrote about artist George Klein, which saw print in Alter Ego #179, released in December of last year. Giella was one of the very few contemporaries of Klein who was still alive when I was preparing the article back in 2019, and as such he offered some valuable memories of his friend & colleague. I also appreciate that in 2020 Giella was kind enough to autograph a few comic books for me that I sent to him via his son Frank, who I’ve known for a number of years.
That’s something I noticed in practically every remembrance of Giella that has been written in the past week, the fact that the people who knew him came away with a uniformly positive view of the man. He really was a good person, and he will definitely be missed by friends and colleagues, as well as the fans who grew up on his work.