29 Mar 2010

In Memoriam: Dick Giordano 1932-2010

By Rob N

Dick Giordano died on the 27th March 2010, aged 77, from complications arising from pneumonia. These days he doesn’t have the immediate fame of contemporaries such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Barry Smith, Gene Colon and John Buscema, but he was an integral and important influence on the look of many DC titles of the early Bronze Age. And to scrawny longhaired kids (such as myself) who grew up reading DC comics in the 1970s he was a vitally important figure, paradoxically so despite the fact that he had already left the company by 1971.

Dick’s career began quietly with Charlton comics (the runt of the American comic book litter at the time - if you haven’t read any Charlton comics, don’t worry, you haven’t missed much), first as an artist and then as an editor of its more action orientated titles. Joining DC in 1968 he worked on a number of low key titles on the fringe of the DC Universe (Teen Titans, Aquaman, Deadman) but it wasn’t until he actually quit DC in ’71 that he began the most memorable part of his career with that very same company as a freelance inker.

A word is due perhaps on the importance of inking in the comic art process, as sadly credit isn’t always given to the men who wield the Indian ink brush. In a rock band they’d be playing bass – perpetually in the shadow of the flash lead guitarist. Pencil artists by and large get the lion’s share of the praise from fans, so pity the poor inker who, by way of adding depth and substance to the rough layouts, is often responsible for the way the finished product looks on the printed page. This can enhance or ruin an artist’s work, depending on the skill of the inker. Compare and contrast, for example, the effect of Alfredo Alcala’s incredibly detailed inks on John Buscema’s pages in the early issues of Savage Sword Of Conan, with the less satisfactory inking by Vince Colletta on Jack Kirby’s art of the same period. Colletta of course was infamous for his practice of erasing much of the detail of Jack Kirby’s pencil work to cut corners and speed up the inking process. Alcala on the other hand added so much detail and shadow that you can barely recognise the art as belonging to John Buscema in the first place.

It is difficult to talk about the Bronze Age of DC without mentioning the Neal Adams/Dick Giordano run on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, in much the same way you couldn’t talk about early Marvel without mentioning Jack Kirby. In a career move that ranks as a superb example of being in ‘the right place at the right time’ Dick Giordano hooked up with rising superstar Neal Adams and his newly founded Continuity Associates Studio – then a freelance franchise of bright young artists who would work for comic companies outside the more traditional ‘in house’ system of the Sixties (the times they were a changing as the new decade dawned). As a pencil artist, Neal Adams at that time was had the ‘gosh, wow’ factor of Bryan Hitch when Hitch worked on the early issues of the The Ultimates. Giordano’s own style was essentially similar to that of Adams (a dynamic and stylised form of photorealism), so it seemed natural enough for the pair of them to partner up, and when they did, the end result was nothing short of astonishing. Batman, Detective Comics and Green Lantern/Green Arrow were the must buy comics whenever Adams and Giordano worked together. Sharp and modern looking, with dynamic perspective, the art was a million miles away from the cartoon style of comics in the 1960s. These titles set the standard for what other artists hoped to emulate and the page work defined a new age for the medium. That in itself is enough to earn Giordano’s place in history, but he then went on to promote a ‘look’ for DC comics by working on a vast array of covers. DC comic covers from the early Bronze Age stand as a high water mark in design. Eye catching at all times, with their dramatic scenes, and strange perspectives, kids often bought DC comics on impulse simply because the covers jumped out at them from the spinner racks. I certainly did. Giordano was probably the greatest influence on this in-house cover style, both as an inker on other pencil work and as a cover artist in his own right.

In addition to inking the true greats of Bronze Age DC, and promoting a design look for the company that was second to none, Giordano also produced first-rate pencil work of his own. His artwork on the final issues of the ‘new look’ Wonder Woman established him as one of the greatest artists (and in my opinion, the greatest, short of Adam Hughes) to work on that title. Again, often working on minor characters, he produced sharp, detailed and realistic work for a variety of features such as the Human Target, Rose & Thorn and Black Canary.

He returned to DC full time in the early Eighties, first as an editor on the Batman titles, and then subsequently promoted to Managing Editor and in turn Vice President/Executive Editor, which placed him just below the corporate pecking order of the Paul Levitz and Jenette Kahn monarchy. He was therefore one of the driving forces behind the relaunch of their characters post Crisis On Infinite Earths (for which he was an inker over the famous Perez pencils) and the launch of the fledgling Vertigo imprint. Stick a pin in any DC initiative during the Eighties, and you can be sure that Giordano had some part in it.

The death of his wife in 1993 and his own progressive loss of hearing were major factors in Giordano’s decision to semi-retire. Still devoted to the medium, he kept his hand in with occasional work as it suited him - in particular a graphic novel featuring one of my all time favourite characters: Modesty Blaise.

In many ways Giordano can be thought of as the George Harrison of 1970s comics: quiet, unassuming, but also a true craftsman, capable of enhancing the work of others and producing gems of his own. He will be sorely missed.

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