You have to be pretty damn good at what you do for someone to name you Joltin’. The name stuck to Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, of course, and is also part of the eternal legend of Joltin’ Joe Sinnott.
Unless you’re a comic book fan, you may not know Sinnott. But if you recognize the names of Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby, Joltin’ Joe will be forever connected to their accomplishments. Lee wrote the stories, Kirby drew them, and Sinnott inked them, starting with the fifth issue of the Fantastic Four in 1961 on through the first appearance of the Silver Surfer and beyond. He’s also contributed his talents to Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America, to name just a few.
You can see Sinnott’s work on three new Marvel Super Hero postage stamps – two Silver Surfers and a Thing — that were released in late July by the United State Post Office.
Sinnott is the subject of a new oral history called Brush Strokes With Greatness, compiled and written by Tim Lasiuta. It’s packed with illustrations from his fifty- plus year career, starting with a Timely Comics story called “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die” on through the development of the legendary Marvel universe.
JOE SINNOTT: Well, actually, it’s all I ever did. I drew from the time I was three years old, I can remember, and it’s the only thing I knew. All my brothers could build houses, they could do all that. I couldn’t drive a nail, but I could draw, and I drew all the time. I drew on paper bags, whatever I had. Things were tough growing up in the thirties, but we made the best of it, and it paid off in the long run, I guess.
ANDELMAN: What is the difference, for someone who doesn’t know, between someone who does pencils and someone who does inking?
SINNOTT: Well, there’s all types of penciling, Bob. Years ago, most of the artists used to pencil thoroughly and complete pencils, put the blacks in and everything, and it progressed down to the point where a lot of the artists would pencil very loosely like a thumbnail sketch, and the inker, if he was capable, was required to finish the art. So he really was a finisher. Not all artists can do this, but some can, and fortunately, I was able to. Of course, the first 12, 13 years I was with Marvel, I did my own pencils and inks, and that’s the way I used to like it. But that was a different world back then.
ANDELMAN: When did it change for you? When did you stop focusing on penciling?
SINNOTT: Well, I started at Marvel in 1950 with Stan Lee. It was Timely Comics back in those days. And around 1961, Jack Kirby didn’t do his own inking, and he asked me if I could fill in and do a Jack Kirby. He couldn’t find anyone to ink it, and so I inked it, and Stan liked it quite a bit. He liked the combination. So it progressed from there, and Stan just kept sending me more Jack Kirby stuff, and I felt I could make as much inking as I could penciling, so I proceeded to ink primarily for Stan. Of course, I had other accounts, Treasure Chest and Dell and whatever, and there I did my own pencils and inks.
ANDELMAN: I wondered if you could actually make as much inking as penciling. I would have guessed not, but from what you say, I guess you could.
SINNOTT: It seemed like I could, maybe because I was a faster inker than I was a penciler. A lot of times with penciling you had to research and do things like that that used up a little of your time, but it never seemed to be a problem with me. The inking came very easily.
ANDELMAN: How different is one man’s inks from another’s? Again, if we’re describing this for people who really aren’t that familiar with it, some people would just think oh, inking, you’re just taking an ink pen and going over someone’s pencils, but it’s more than that, right?
SINNOTT: Don’t I wish! No, I felt down through the years I’ve added a lot to whoever I was working on, and I’m sure a lot of my friends would tell you the same thing. Some inkers, I must say, do, so to speak, ink over the lines that the penciler has put down, and other inkers have to do a lot of what we call finished art. We have to finish the art. Some pencilers don’t put any blacks in whatsoever or details, and the inker has to do that. He’s primarily, like I said, finishing the art. He’s completing it. He’s adding to it. He’s an embellisher.
ANDELMAN: What do you think is the difference between the art you were inking in the early ’60s, the start of the real Marvel Age, and today? Has it changed?
SINNOTT: Oh, a great deal. Of course, being off in the old school, I prefer the old method. I feel things are too technical today and too slick, and they don’t look like a comic book should look. That’s my feeling. Of course, in the old days, everyone did this same type of art. Reproductions were basically the same, but it looked like a comic book. It had the classic look. I prefer the Kirby, the Buscemas, the Colan, the Romitas. It was just great. It was stylized, but it was realistic art, whereas today, it’s hard to say what the new method would be called. We’re influenced a lot by the Japanese today, as you know. Not my preference.
ANDELMAN: Have the changes had anything to do with improvements in printing technology? You get a finer printing today than obviously you did 40 years ago.
SINNOTT: I’m sure there has been a great change in printing obviously. Of course, we have better paper, but then again, here we go, the old comics had that old comic book feel to it. A lot of people that I know, especially people my age, certainly prefer the old classic comic style and reproduction.
ANDELMAN: I guess one of the things that I think of when I think of your work in the sixties is, particularly working with Kirby, was that it was a heavier line, it seemed like a thicker, heavier line in those books than maybe we would see today or maybe even in some other books. Is that a mistake?
SINNOTT: I think you’re correct in that regard. I know, looking back, when I worked on Kirby in particular, I used an awful lot of brush, and certainly with a brush, you’re going to get a heavier line. But Jack’s work, it almost demanded a brush because he had big, bold pencil strokes, and usually four, five at the most panels on a page. And you could really do big drawings, and you could get in there with a brush and let yourself go. It’s not like today when I’m inking the Sunday “Spider-Man” page for Stan and the King Features. I use an awful lot of pen. The drawings are so small, and they’re reproduced so small that you have to use a lot of pen because brush is just too big, and the lines would be too heavy.
ANDELMAN: You had worked in comics for ten or eleven years by the time that first issue of Fantastic Four came your way. You had seen the superheroes go away, Westerns come on, things like that. When the Fantastic Four came to you, what did you think? Did you think it was another monster comic? Was it a big deal at the time, or was it just another assignment?
SINNOTT: It was no big deal at all. When the Fantastic Four came to me at number five, I had never heard of the book. But as soon as I saw the characters, I said, gee, what great characters. Of course, in those days as you know, through the fifties and sixties, we were always looking for a new trend. We had the Korean War, then we had the horror comics, we had romance, we had science fiction, and then we had the monster books in the late fifties and early sixties. And then when Stan came out with a few superheroes, we didn’t think anything more of it. We thought, even Spider-Man, we just thought that was another character, that it would soon fade, and we’d be doing something else. Certainly, as you know, it caught on and took off.
ANDELMAN: I think I need to correct myself on something from something you just said. You actually came on Fantastic Four with the fifth issue not the first issue.
SINNOTT: That’s right. The introduction of Doctor Doom.
ANDELMAN: How did the whole perception of the industry you were working on start to change in the early ’60s as these comics took on a life of their own that they had not had?
SINNOTT: It was pretty obvious. Most of the comic houses — we were dropping houses at that time — really concentrated on the superheroes. DC, of course, with their Justice League and Batman and Superman and whatever. They brought them all back. The same with Marvel, only Marvel created more characters. Of course, we did have Captain America and a few like that, but basically, we had all new superheroes. I think Stan was surprised that they were so popular.
ANDELMAN: And Stan created kind of a culture personality around everyone who worked on those books, didn’t he?
SINNOTT: Yeah, he certainly did.
ANDELMAN: How was that different than the way the industry had operated a decade earlier?
SINNOTT: Well, that’s pretty hard to ascertain, Bob. I really wouldn’t know how to put a finger on it, to tell the truth.
ANDELMAN: Stan nicknamed you “Joltin’” Joe Sinnott, but there was a nickname before that, right?
SINNOTT: Yeah. He had called me “Jovial” Joe.
ANDELMAN: Were you surprised the first time that popped up?
SINNOTT: No, not really. I don’t know where he got it from, but Joltin’ Joe, I could understand that because I’m sure he was influenced by Joe DiMaggio. And I used to talk a lot about baseball with a friend of mine that worked in the office down there, Jack Abel, a very talented individual.
ANDELMAN: In the late ’60s and early ’70s, comics developed a cult of personality. It was a changing time. People actually knew your name, they knew what you did, they knew other people. It wasn’t just a matter of buying their favorite comic, they were looking for people’s names, and they were recognizing people, right?
SINNOTT: Oh, I think so. I often hear from people that said, “I rooted for you,” so to speak, and “I looked for your work way back in the beginning of the superhero age, back in the early ’60s, ’61, ’62. I remember many years ago the first fan mail I ever got was back in 1953, I think it was, and this kid from Connecticut wrote me and said how much he loved my character, Arrowhead. He was an Indian renegade. The law was always after him, but he was always helping out those who were in trouble. The book ran for quite a few issues, and I really enjoyed it. This kid wrote to me and said how much he loved Arrowhead. They finally made a movie, and Charlton Heston played a character called Arrowhead, and here again, he was an Indian. It was a fairly successful book for the ’50s, and I kept his letter all these years.
The last letter I heard from him, he said he was going off to Korea. This was during the Korean War. Well, I never heard from him again. It was interesting because I thought maybe something happened to him during the war, and I had lost his address. But anyway, about two years ago, I got a letter from this woman from Connecticut, and she said she was this person’s wife that I had known when he was a kid and that he was very sick. He wasn’t expected to live any more. His illness was terminal so I got together some of the old Arrowhead drawings I had done many years ago, and I sent them off to Roland. Of course, he couldn’t respond to me. He was aware that he got them and everything, and he passed away about a week later. I’m sure I made his last couple days fairly happy because he loved that character.
ANDELMAN: What a wonderful story. What a great story. Now, I wanted to ask you, you’ve had a business relationship with Stan for 57 years. How different was Stan in 1950 from the man who, this year, is hosting a weekly TV show?
SINNOTT: I can’t see one bit of difference.
ANDELMAN: Is that right?
SINNOTT: Oh yeah. Stan was always the life of the party, so to speak. If Stan was in a room with a thousand people, he would stand out. Great sense of humor. His memory is a little bit off now, but even back in those days, he wasn’t known for him memory. Tremendous sense of humor. I wish I could tell you some of the stories because whenever I vouch for my work, Stan sends me a little note back. I’ve kept them all. I have hundreds and hundreds of Stan’s notes and letters. Someday, they’ll make a good book, I think. Really, you can’t believe the sense of humor he had. Always with a smile. If you ever see a picture of Stan, it’s with a great big smile.
Well, he could be tough too, though. He knew what he wanted, and he expected it. He certainly helped me in many, many ways. Right from the start, I remember when I was just a kid out of school, he said, “Joe, whatever you do, exaggerate everything.” He said, “I want everything exaggerated.” That’s what we lived by.
ANDELMAN: What about Kirby? Obviously, you got pages from him. And I know that while Stan developed this idea of the Marvel bullpen, there were some guys working on staff, but mostly guys worked from home so you didn’t see each other that often.
SINNOTT: No. Most of the guys who did the books worked at home. The staff, of course, involved so many people. Proofreaders, people who did corrections, things like that. Well, Romita, of course, worked there at the office, and there were a few others. Kirby, I worked with Jack, oh gee, must be 18 years, something like that, and I had never met him. Never talked to him on the phone, would you believe that? And so Marvel had a convention in ’72, and I went down and I was introduced to Jack Kirby by Marie Severn. And I didn’t see him again, I didn’t talk to him again until 1975. They had another convention, and I went down and we got together. We had a great three days together. After that, I never spoke to him again, would you believe that?
Of course, Jack moved to California, and he dropped me a note once in a while if he wanted something. For example, if he wanted his characters inked, and he’d ask me that way if I could help him out, and of course, I always did. We never talked about the Fantastic Four. He never told me he liked the way I did this or didn’t like the way I was doing that. We just never talked about what we were working on, which is amazing, I think.
©2007 by Bob Andelman. All rights reserved.