|Edited by John Morrow||Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.|
Excerpts from the Joe Sinnott Interview
Interviewed by & © John Morrow (on 18 December 1995)
(These are only a few excepts from Joe's interview. For the complete interview, see TJKC #9)From Jack Kirby Collector #9
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: What was it like working for Marvel in the 1950s? How did you get your assignments?
JOE: I'd go down to the city on Friday, and Stan would give me a script to take home. I'd start on Monday morning by lettering the balloons in pencil. Then I'd pencil the story from the script and ink it and leave the balloons penciled. I'd pencil a page in the morning, and ink it in the afternoon. I never burned the midnight oil; I'd start work at 7:45 in the morning, and I'd work until about 4:30 in the afternoon. I always figured if you couldn't make a living in eight hours a day, you shouldn't be in the business. I'd bring the story back on Friday and he'd give me another script. I never knew what kind of script I'd be getting. Stan had a big pile on his desk, and he used to write most of the stories himself in those days. You'd walk in, and he'd be banging away at his typewriter. He would finish a script and put it on the pile. Sometimes on his pile would be a western, then below it would be a science fiction, and a war story, and a romance. You never knew what you were getting, because he always took it off the top. And you were expected to do any type of story.
TJKC: At what point did you become aware of Simon & Kirby?
JOE: Through the late 1940s, I saw a lot of the romance books. The Kirby romances really stood out because of Jack's unique style. It was a very heavy-handed style, and Simon did a great job of inking Jack. That was the first thing. But then I lost contact with Jack's work, because when you're working professionally, you're not really paying that much attention to other people. I would look at a few other comics. I bought the EC books, because of John Severin especially. When Severin drew an M-1 rifle, you knew it was an M-1 rifle; he was so authentic. Stan always used to tell us to buy John Severin's stuff, because he never draws anything incorrectly. Stan was really impressed with John, and I certainly was.
TJKC: How did you start inking Jack's work?
JOE: Up until that point, around 1961 or so, I had never inked anyone else's work. When Stan called me, I thought I was doing him a favor. I really didn't have the time to ink it, but I felt I was helping him out of a jam, because he didn't have anybody to ink it. So it was no problem. It was either a monster book or a western. I'm a little vague on which book it was, I'd have to look up my records.
TJKC: Were you ever concerned about getting pigeon-holed into doing only inking?
JOE: No. Work to me was work. I was long past the ego stage of wanting to see my art in comics; that happened twelve years before. It didn't matter, as long as the paycheck came in. From an artist's standpoint, I was doing my best stuff for Treasure Chest. The Marvel stuff was more of a production line type thing. We did the books quickly. It wasn't a piece of art, so to speak.
TJKC: After inking a few more monsters and westerns, how'd you get put on inks for Fantastic Four #5?
JOE: When Stan sent me the pages for FF #5, he didn't even tell me what it was. I didn't even know the Fantastic Four existed, because I didn't go to the newsstands and buy books. When you went to Stan's office to give him the work you'd completed, he had a rack on the wall with maybe 20 books in it. You'd look to see if your latest book was there, and if it was, Stan would let you take a copy. But you couldn't take anybody else's books, so I never looked to see what anybody else was doing. I wasn't aware the new age was coming. But I couldn't have been more impressed when I saw it. It knocked my socks off! It seemed like Stan was really hitting his stride as a writer. The characters were so great, even though you saw similarities between the old Human Torch and Johnny Storm, and Reed and Plastic Man. The way he put them together was just unbelievable.
TJKC: I've always wondered what you worked on between Fantastic Four #6 and when you came back to the book on #44.
JOE: It's funny. You do so much, you forget what you've done. I did a few Thor stories in Journey Into Mystery. (Editors Note: These were in #91, 92, and 94-96.) At the time, the rates at Marvel were terrible, and I was really rushing my work. Not that I wasn't trying my best at Marvel, but I did the best I could with the limited time we had. My main account artistically was Treasure Chest. Looking back I wish I'd done better work on Thor, but at the time it was just another job, and I certainly didn't think the character was going anyplace. At the time, I was probably penciling and inking one page of Thor a day, doing three or four pages of romance for Vince Colletta, and squeezing in some Archie after supper.
TJKC: Let's talk about your work habits, particularly during your work over Jack's pencils on Fantastic Four. How many pages did you ink a day?
JOE: I could ink three Kirby pages a day by 4:30. Kirby was easy to ink. A lot of times he would throw in a big machine, and it would take time, just the mechanics of doing it. But we did it on the big pages. I could use a lot of brush; I really worked fast with a brush. At one time I probably worked 90% brush, if not more, with pens only on small heads and hands and straight line backgrounds. Jack did these big panels, maybe four panels to a page. He didn't have the eight and nine panels that came later. Those early days with the big pages, each one of his panels was like a splash page, they were just magnificent. And Jack's stuff was fully penciled; I could really knock them out.
TJKC: You've mentioned that with Jack's Fantastic Four pages, you got the whole book at once. Did you read the entire story before you inked it? Were the pages already lettered when you got them?
JOE: In most cases, yes. Once in a great while, they wouldn't be, but that was very, very rare, because Stan was such a professional. He always got the work done. Later, I did a lot of work with people where the dialogue wasn't there, and that made it difficult because a lot of the art was vague. You didn't know what expression was supposed to be on the faces unless you had the script, and they didn't always send the script. But with the Kirby and Lee combination, they left nothing to be desired. Everything was there, and it was so easy for you. It was just the mechanics of doing it. Of course, you had to be careful. I always felt that I at least did what the penciler put down, but in most cases I probably added to it and made it a little bit better than it actually was originally. Certainly in Kirby's case, you didn't have to do any drawing. I did occasionally, but you really didn't have to.
TJKC: When the pencils came in, did the covers come with the stories, or were they sent later?
JOE: The cover was generally done first, because it required more production at Marvel than the actual artwork.
TJKC: Did you ever use assistants on any of the Kirby stuff?
JOE: Never. Not one line.
TJKC: I've always wanted to know - when you ink an explosion, do you use a ruler for those straight, tapered explosion lines?
JOE: Oh, sure. I always used a ruler for those. Originally I used a 659 pen and a #3 Windsor Newton brush. They were the only tools I used other than a compass and a ruler. I never used a french curve; everything I did was freehand. After quite a few years, I discarded the 659 pen because the paper got so bad, and it would dig into the paper so much. I went with the 201 Hunt pen, and I was able to really press down on the Hunt without it splitting or breaking.
I had a certain technique for doing those lines; I would really press hard. I was able to get these really thick and thin lines, and I always went from the border-in, and flick it, so to speak. I would do it quite rapidly; I was quite fast with the ruler. And I'd use the Speedball pen for those little black dots you saw in galaxies and fireballs, and things like that. I had a couple of different size Speedballs.
There were a few things I did that I felt were innovative back in those days, that were picked up by other people. There was a certain way I used to treat dirt and rocks, which I loved to draw and render. I used to love it when Jack did an erupting volcano, because I loved getting in there with a brush and doing some heavy inking. I put a lot of detail into stuff like that. Of course, Jack had a lot of detail, but I probably even added more to his buildings. Jack was so great with those bricks he used to put in, and I'd put little cracks in the bricks and things like that. Sometimes I may have overdone it, but I think it was creating a style kids loved in those days.
TJKC: As a kid I always wondered why his art didn't look that good in the other books! (laughter) Now I know it had a little to do with you. But how much "fixing" of Jack's work did you do when you inked?
JOE: Well, Stan told me anytime I wanted to take any liberties with Jack's work, to do it. Originally, I thought I was "fixing" his ears, or making his women a little prettier, or a little leaner in the hips. But I realized later, that was Jack's style, I shouldn't be doing it. Even when Jack's eyes weren't on the same plane, this was Kirby. So I reverted back, but probably not soon enough. Instead of drawing my Alex Raymond ears, I'd draw Kirby ears. But there were things that I really did spruce up, like Reed's hair for example. I really got in there and made it nice, fine, wavy hair. Jack was a little heavier on his pencils. I used a little more finesse than Jack used in his pencils. I fine-tuned him, so to speak. Everything was there certainly; I just made it a little slicker.
TJKC: Being as objective as possible, compare other inkers' work on Jack to what you did - for instance, Colletta, Giacoia, and Wood?
JOE: Certainly, Wally Wood was a great inker, and a great artist. But I think he overpowered Jack too much; it came out looking too much like Wally Wood. It looked great, but it wasn't Jack Kirby. I thought that Frank Giacoia was a real professional inker. I thought he did a tremendous job on Jack. I especially liked the way he did Captain America. Giacoia was a little heavier than I was, but I think we used our blacks very similarly. If you look quickly at some of Giacoia's work and some of my work, maybe in the late FFs, they were fairly similar. Mine was maybe a little finer, with a little more technique, but Giacoia was real professional.
Everybody always brings up Colletta, but Colletta was a real professional. He certainly didn't enhance Jack's work, but he got the work done, and that's what Stan wanted. A lot of times, the main criteria was to get the work done. When I go to schools to talk to kids, I often tell them, "If you ever want to be a professional cartoonist, make sure you get the work done first, and then secondly, do it as well as you can in the time that you have." Have it consistent. Don't have the splash page a real master-piece, and by the time you get to page ten, it looks like you're doing it left-handed. You've got to be consistent. And Colletta did get the work done. I don't think he ever missed a deadline in his life.
TJKC: In Fantastic Four, was there one character you particularly liked inking more than others?
JOE: Far and away, I liked working on the Thing, no matter what he was doing. Even though he was time-consuming; the mechanics of doing the Thing took time. But he was fun to work on. I loved working on Dr. Doom. I like flowing things; I like capes and robes. I liked the Mole Man because of his flowing tunic. I didn't like Galactus for that reason - I'm only talking from an artist's standpoint. He took time to do, and he was so metallic-looking. I never liked Iron Man for that reason. I didn't like drawing those disks on his shoulders and his chest.
TJKC: What about the Silver Surfer, since he's so metallic?
JOE: It's funny, I liked drawing the Surfer, although you've got to be very careful with his egg-shaped head. He's like drawing Spider-Man. If you're not careful, you've got to use white-out and do it over. As an inker, you don't want to waste time. You've got to be careful with the Surfer, he's so smooth and sleek. The Surfer, I think, was one of Jack's greatest creations. I love the way he foreshortened the Surfer's arms.
I liked all the female characters Jack drew. I liked drawing the Invisible Girl. I never thought Stan did enough with her. I loved Crystal. I loved Lockjaw, in fact. I always felt Stan didn't take advantage of Lockjaw like he could have. I used to like Wyatt Wingfoot, I thought he was a good character. I liked those days when Johnny was in college. They didn't exploit that enough, I felt. I thought it was very appealing to the college crowd.
I loved the Mole Man. I loved doing the craggy caverns underneath the city, and the bowels of the Earth erupting. Jack was great at that. Just fantastic stuff.
But it's amazing when you think of the characters Stan and Jack created. Unbelievable! I'm talking about some of the incidental characters. The secondary villains, for example. The Monocle, and Diablo. You could go on and on.
TJKC: Was there one character you hated? For instance, did all those grains of sand from the Sandman drive you crazy?
JOE: No, I enjoyed the Sandman. The sand didn't bother me at all. It was the metallic things that bothered me, like Dr. Doom's mask. Jack drew him differently every time he drew him. In the early issues, he looked like he had a leather mask on with stitches. Then he went to the rivets. He'd have them around the eyes sometimes, sometimes around the mouth, sometimes around the nose. You never knew where they were going to be.
TJKC: Did you fix those kind of things?
JOE: Oh yes. I tried to be consistent, and keep them where I felt they should be. And as you probably know, a lot of times Jack used to put three fingers on the Thing, and sometimes four. (laughter)
TJKC: What did you think of Jack's collages?
JOE: I never liked them particularly. I just couldn't see the purpose in it. I always felt Jack could've done better penciling the stuff. Maybe I didn't like they way they reproduced.
TJKC: Is there a single issue of Fantastic Four that you're particularly proud of? Or is there one where you feel things really didn't click?
JOE: I don't think there were any that I felt were bad. There were a few covers I didn't like; I never liked Jack's montage covers for some reason. I always thought Jack was much, much stronger on his splashes than he was on his covers. Some of the splashes should've been covers. Maybe it was the way they were colored; Marvel had some troubles with their grays, especially on the FF covers. But I didn't feel any of the stories were below mine or Jack's standards. In fact, even when we got up in the 80s and 90s, I felt the work was still improving; at least the art was. We didn't have the opportunity to really show off the story like we could have with the old pages. We had the smaller art pages to do, and we had more panels to do. Jack still did a tremendous job, but he needed space for his dynamic layouts. I think going to the small pages hurt Jack a little bit.
Looking back, #51 was a great story. Of course, the Inhumans in #47 was a great story. You can start picking them out. Even up in the 90s, with "Ben Grimm, Killer," that was a good series. I think that's when Giacoia came on for the first time.
TJKC: I wanted to ask you about that storyline. After almost 50 issues, you missed inking Fantastic Four #93. Were you on vacation, or inking another book?
JOE: I needed a vacation. I wanted to go down to Phil Seuling's convention. I think it was the first convention I ever went to. I remember I told Stan I needed a week and a half off, and the FF was coming in. So he said, "No problem" and he got Frank Giacoia. But here again, they were just jobs to me. Looking back, I wish I would've done #93, but I didn't think of those things in those days. But I liked the two that I worked on. I loved the splash on #92 where the Thing has the collar, and he's in chains.
TJKC: I love the art in those issues. It's almost like a machine did them; I couldn't believe human hands were able to create art that perfect. (laughter) Every line is exactly where it should be.
JOE: People used to come to me and say, "Don't you think Kirby's not doing as well as he did?" Just look at #91 and #92 and tell me if Kirby was slipping at all. Wasn't that great stuff? I look at some of the originals today, and it's too bad they weren't still on the big pages. They look great on the small pages, but they would've looked tremendous on the big pages.
TJKC: Did Marvel's switch to small-size art as of #68 cause you any difficulties? I imagine you had to use more pen on the smaller size art.
JOE: Exactly. And I think it affected Jack. He might not have said so, but it had to. Before that, he had bigger panels and fewer panels. I don't know why there were more panels on the smaller pages, but it had to restrict him a little in his layout.
TJKC: When the office made art changes to Jack's work, were they generally on the pencils for you to ink? Of did they paste them on after the inking?
JOE: They could've made a change to Jack's pencils, but I don't recall any particular incident. I do remember we did the cover of #98, with the story on the Moon. The cover was beautiful when we finished it. We had a lot of blacks on the Thing, and it looked real good. That was one of the rare covers I got back that Jack and I had done on the FF. They whited-out the chest of the Thing, and then outlined some of the stones. They didn't want it as black as Jack and I had put it. I was really disappointed that they'd done that.
TJKC: What can you tell me about Fantastic Four #108? Were the pencils all pieced together when you got it?
JOE: It was all pieced. That story was really mixed-up. (laughter) At the time, I said, "They'll never replace Jack Kirby. The FF will never be the same." And with as many good artists as they had on it, it never really was the same. Never. It couldn't be. Of all the books Jack did, the Fantastic Four was incomparable the way Jack did it.
TJKC: Did you follow Jack's DC work after he left Marvel in 1970?
JOE: No, I really didn't. I'd see New Gods occasionally. Marvel used to send me the books, and a lot of times they would send me DC books too. I used to browse through it, but it didn't impress me as much as the FF. But I didn't study it really; it might've been more impressive if I had. It just didn't look as good as some of the Jack I had seen, or at least that's what I believed at the time. It had nothing to do with my working on it; I'm talking about Jack's original pencils. But I so associated him with the FF, that I felt nothing could compare with that.
TJKC: When Jack went back to Marvel in the mid-70s, did you ever request to ink his work?
JOE: I never called Stan and said, "Why don't you put Jack and I together again?" Stan often told me I could have any book I wanted, but I never asked for anything. I did whatever they sent me. It could be a guy just starting out, or a real experienced guy like Gene Colan or Neal Adams. I did whatever they asked me to do. A lot of the time, I did characters that I wasn't happy with. I didn't like the books, I didn't like the characters. I did them because I was doing a job, I was a good company man. But I never understood why they didn't put Jack back on Fantastic Four. I don't remember what I was doing at the time, but it certainly wasn't as important as what I could've been doing with Jack.
TJKC: You did work together on the Silver Surfer Graphic Novel. How'd you feel about that book?
JOE: At the time, I didn't think it was Jack's best work. I didn't think it was up to the usual great Kirby standard. But when I look back at it now... gee, there was some nice stuff in it. There were a lot of pages where there really wasn't much going on story-wise. It could've been much more impressive.
I'm sure Jack lost a little enthusiasm when he came back to Marvel. Maybe he felt he wasn't being treated the way he should've been. And I agree to a great extent. Why not put him back on the FF? That was still their big book. X-Men hadn't come along yet, I don't think. But whatever the case, I always felt there was no combination like Jack and the FF.
TJKC: Who is your favorite inker?
JOE: I've got to say Frank Giacoia. And I loved the way that John Severin inked his own work. I loved the way he inked his westerns especially; that gritty style. Of course, Dick Giordano has always been a favorite of mine. Tom Palmer's another favorite of mine. Terry Austin's a good friend of mine and a great inker. And a protege of mine, Charles Barnett, is doing wonderful things and I expect him to have a great future. But you can go on and on. You hate to mention names, because you're going to overlook somebody.
TJKC: Why do you think you're so many people's favorite Kirby inker?
JOE: You hate to say it, but if it's possible, I think I added a little bit to Jack's work. If he had any rough edges at all, I think I smoothed them out. I was slick. But I think it was because I could pencil myself. I think that's the reason his work looked better, because I was able to make things look better, no matter what it was. If it was a car, or a piece of clothing, or a head, or backgrounds. And I never slighted Jack; I tried to do as well as he had given me. I never did fault him in any way.
TJKC: How did Jack's work compare to other pencilers you've inked over the years?
JOE: No one was ever as consistent as Jack. Jack never left anything to my imagination. There were little things here and there that I did change over the years, but I didn't have to. Everything was there. Every little button had the thread, you could see the thread holes in the buttons. Everything was so perfect. Kirby, consistently, was the same on every story; it was so detailed. Every black was in there; I never had to add a black unless I felt it needed it to balance the page a little more. It was loose in a sense, but detailed in another sense. You can't say enough about Jack's work.
TJKC: Lastly, what are you most proud of from your years of inking Jack's work?
JOE: The thing that I'm most proud of is the fact that I worked with Jack. He was the greatest comic illustrator of all time, and I was able to do so much work with him. To be associated with him, to be part of his art, is compensation enough for me. I couldn't ask for anything more.
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