Joe Giella, inker of Batman and other iconic comic books, dies at 94
That indelible comic book image of Batman and Robin, side-by-side, capes flowing as they bound into the never-ending fray?
Sock! Pow! Zok!
Joe Giella inked that.
That comic image of the Green Lantern, The Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man?
Giella inked those too.
For decades, Giella, a heralded artist from East Meadow, inked some of the most iconic comic book and cartoon images in the industry, working for Marvel and DC Comics, assisting on King Features strips like Flash Gordon and The Phantom, even recasting Mary Worth — causing the Los Angeles Times to ask if he’d given the character a face-lift.
Giella ran the streets with Tony Bennett as a kid in Astoria, Queens, and grew up to ink art for the legendary Stan Lee during the Golden Age of Comics in the 1940s, revamping superheroes with his modern, clean style during the Silver Age of Comics in the 1950s and 60s. He died March 21 at 94.
His son Frank Giella, of East Meadow, described him as “probably one of the most-prolific inkers in comic book history,” an artist who, “might be one of the most-seen comic book artists in history.”
Drawn to the arts
It was a career that almost didn’t happen.
Born June 27, 1928, to Italian immigrants Alfonso and Antoinette Giella, Joe Giella had three brothers and a sister. His father wanted him to become a police officer or a firefighter.
But Giella was drawn to the arts.
Childhood friends with Bennett, Giella studied at the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan, now the High School of Art and Design, later taking commercial art courses at Hunter College. He got his first job at age 17 working on an old Punch and Judy feature titled “Captain Codfish,” which Frank Giella described as a "distant ancestor" of SpongeBob SquarePants, then took a bus to New Jersey, where he dropped in to Timely Comics, forerunner of Marvel, to beg editor Stan Lee for a job.
As Joe Giella told it, Lee gave him a series of pencil sketches drawn by cartoonist Mike Sekowsky — telling him to ink them as his tryout. An inker is the artist who inks cartoon sketches; who finishes original pencil-drawn outlines, embellishes them with his own handiwork and style.
Giella took the work home — and promptly left it in a subway car.
“I went in the next morning and thought, ‘That’s the end of my job,’ ” Giella recalled in a 2012 story in Newsday.
Lee dressed down Giella. But, at the request of Sekowsky, who offered to redraw the pages, the editor also gave the kid another shot.
“Stan liked what I did, and I got the staff position,” Giella said. “I never left anything on the train again.”
That was 1946.
Inking superheros with a new look
In the years that followed, Giella joined the U.S. Navy as a reservist and served on a PT boat, once traveling to Cuba, Frank Giella said. He also met Shirley Pierrepont in Brooklyn, marrying her when she turned 18 in July 1952. The couple had four children.
Having inked comics for Lee at Timely, and later Marvel, working on the Human Torch and Captain America, Giella left for DC Comics in 1950. Before long, editor Julie Schwartz took note of Giella’s style — and asked him to revamp some of the line’s most iconic characters.
“My dad had worked on a whole bunch of things — the Green Lantern, The Flash, the old Flash Gordon strips, The Phantom, a Civil War comic strip called Johnny Reb and Billy Yank,” Frank Giella said. “And his work was a little more modern, a cleaner line, and when superheroes began to come back into fashion in the later 1950s, he was asked to redraw a lot of the characters. He inked the first new-look Batman. That yellow circle around the Batman logo on Batman’s chest? That was my dad."
“The sixties were the three Bs,” Frank Giella said. “The Beatles, Batman and [James] Bond. My dad was the guy who inked Batman during the height of 1960s 'Batmania.' "
“Eventually, what he did became known as the DC house style.”
Following the Caped Crusader, Giella inked scores of other comics, including the Justice League. He later was considered for Dennis the Menace before taking over Mary Worth from 1991 to 2016 — with Frank, who was an art teacher at Forest Hills High School, coloring the strip he drew and inked.
Taking wrinkles off Mary Worth
One of the first things Giella did was to remove age lines and wrinkles from Mary's face, a move that caused the Los Angeles Times to ponder if she’d had a face-lift.
“Take a line off here, a line there, you’re knocking off about 15, 20 years,” Joe Giella said.
In 1996, Giella received the Inkpot Award from Comic-Con International and in 2016 he received the Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award at the Harvey Awards.
In 2018, he was awarded the Inkwell Awards Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award for his achievements inking American comics.
In addition to his son Frank, survivors include his wife, Shirley, daughter, Maryann McCulloh, of Nissequogue, sons Joe Giella, of Dix Hills, and Daniel, of Stamford, Connecticut, and sister Clara Lodati, of Woodbury.
The funeral Mass was Saturday at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Westbury, with burial at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn.