The late 1950s and 1960s are what historians and fans call the Silver Age of comic books and Joe Giella is one of the creators synonymous with that era. In a career spanning more than seven decades (no that is not a misprint!), Joe worked extensively with many of the important figures of the industry, including Carmine Infantin, Gil Kane and Sheldon Moldoff. His skill was primarily as an inker, working at Timely, Hillman and other publishers, during his long career. Many of his years were spent at DC Comics, where he drew every major character and worked on some of the period’s most iconic covers.
Joe Giella was born in Manhattan and attended the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan. He also studied at the Art Students League in Manhattan, alongside future comics professionals Mike Sekowsky and Joe Kubert and took commercial art courses at Hunter College. As the oldest son in his household, he had to help his parents support the family and began working in graphics world at age 17. His first professional job was working on the comic strip “Captain Codfish,” a sort of 1940s ancestor of SpongeBob SquarePants.
The pay was horrible in those days and Giella later freelanced for Fawcett Comics, commuting by bus to C. C. Beck’s and Pete Costanza’s studio in Englewood, New Jersey, to ink Captain Marvel stories. In the late 1940s, he began freelancing for Timely Comics, the precursor of Marvel Comics and shortly afterwards joined the staff. His start was rocky. He needed a regular paycheck so he kept dropping by the offices with the hope of securing a job. Its editor, Stan Lee, rewarded his persistence with a tryout, having Giella ink a strip that cartoonist Mike Sekowsky had penciled. Giella’s elation on his trip home soon turned to panic. “The first job he gave me I lost on the train. No one slept at my house that night,” remarked Giella years later. “I went in the next morning and thought that’s the end of my job.”
He was nearly right. As a frantic Lee screamed at Giella for his carelessness, Sekowsky came to his defense. “Mike re-penciled the whole job that I lost on the train and I did the inking. Stan liked what I did and I got the staff position. I never left anything on the train again. I would do any work that they offered,” Giella recalled. “I started out doing a little touch-up work, a little background work, a little inking, redraw this, fix this head, do something with this panel.”
Later, he assisted Syd Shores on Captain America Comics, finishing backgrounds, making pencil corrections and inking occasional pages. Giella did similar duty on Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and humor stories. Inking soon became his specialty. The process involves tracing pencil lines in a literal sense, but it also requires interpreting and giving proper weight to the lines, correcting mistakes and making other creative choices. It provides much of the character to the drawing before adding in the color.
His friend, Frank Giacoia, began drawing for DC Comics in the late 1940s and eventually convinced Giella to join him at that better-paying company. Starting around 1948, Giella inked stories featuring the Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary and other characters. During the early 1950s when there was a lull in superheroes, Giella inked westerns, penciled by Alex Toth, including the feature “Sierra Smith” and Gene Colan on the series Hopalong Cassidy, splitting the work with fellow inker Sy Barry.
When the era now known as the Silver Age of comic books began with the resurgence of superheroes in 1956, Joe began inking science-fiction stories, including the feature “Adam Strange” in Strange Adventures and Batman stories penciled by Sheldon Moldoff and Carmine Infantino. In the 1960s, he prominently inked Gil Kane on the series Green Lantern.
Giella also assisted on such King Features syndicated comic strips as Flash Gordon and The Phantom, on which he worked for 17 years. In 1991, Joe succeeded Bill Ziegler as artist on the Mary Worth daily and Sunday newspaper strip. He retired from Mary Worth in 2016. Since then, he has been taking limited commissions and doing the occasional project, such as the recent variant cover for Archie Meets Batman ’66 #6.
Now 91 years old, Joe Giella is the recipient of many awards, including an Inkpot. He’s a member of the Inkwells Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame and was given the Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Harvey Awards. In 2017, he was the guest of honor at the 2017 Inkwell Awards ceremony at HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2018, Joe was awarded the Inkwell Awards’ Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award for his many years of inking. Outside comics, Giella did commercial art for advertising agencies such as McCann Erickson and Saatchi & Saatchi and publishers such as Doubleday and Simon & Schuster.