Now the truth can be told. Dean and I weren’t always the suave and debonair comics sophisticates you’ve come to know through this space (and Twitter and Facebook and the LOAC Forum). In our youths—before we knew Will Gould from Chester Gould, and when a mention of “EC Comics” could be interpreted as a mispronunciation of “DC Comics”—we were both Marvel Madmen. In the 1970s we each made regular appearances in letter columns throughout the line. What we would later find out (because while we read all the letters in those lettercols and were aware of one another’s by-lines, our first direct contact didn’t occur until the 21st Century) is that our preferences spanned the “core” of the Marvel creative spectrum.
Dean, you see, while appreciative of what Jack Kirby was laying down month after month, was most intrigued by the contributions of Steve Ditko—you know, a few characters with names like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. I, on the other hand, really liked Doc Strange and the wall-crawler, but was first and foremost a fan of Kirby-Lee’s magnum opus, The Fantastic Four.
The cover of the first-ever Silver Age Marvel Comic to reach a 100th issue.
I wasn’t with the FF from the beginning—in fact, I jumped on the bandwagon just in time for the last two years of Kirby’s fabulous run—but I was there from issue #77 until well into the # 200s, through the stellar work of Johns Romita and Buscema, through solid art provided by Rich Buckler and George Perez, through yeoman efforts from Keith Pollard and John Byrne during his first (penciling-only) stint, through the curious choice of Bill Sienkiewicz and the handful of occasional guest pencilers who stepped in to leave an imprint, however briefly, on “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.” Through all those years, one person was a mainstay: inker extraordinaire Joe Sinnott.
Joe’s wonderful linework brought a fluid consistency to the pages of Fantastic Four and to this day I remain convinced that no one but no one can render The Thing better than the man Stan Lee called “Joltin’ Joe.” My brother and the comics-loving friends I met in my early twenties all agreed: no matter who was penciling FF, as long as Joe Sinnott was laying down the inks, our eyes were happy.
The only constant is change, of course, and eventually Joe left Fantastic Four—and by then I was grudgingly OK with it, because my Marvel Madman days were on the wane, with more of my comics-reading time devoted to independently-published titles such as Cerebus and smaller, more eclectic companies with names like Kitchen Sink, Fantagraphics, First, Pacific, NBM, and yes, Eclipse. (The output from several of those companies began my love affair with newspaper comic strips and their creators—but that, as they say, is another story.) Still, it was a mighty big deal to me in 1999 when I attended a major comics show in White Plains, New York and met Joe Sinnott for the first time.
Until recently, that sentence would have ended,”…for the only time,” but in April of this year Joe was one of the guests at the Boston Comic Con held at the Hynes Convention Center, and I had the good pleasure to be at that show and make his acquaintance once again.
Here’s a picture of the Thing head-shot I bought from Joe at the 1999 White Plains convention. It hangs on my office wall to this day.
Joe is in his mid-eighties now, yet he continues to work, inking the long-running Spider-Mannewspaper strip. As I watched him draw a Thor-in-profile head shot in my friend Dave Peabody’s unique sketchbook, I realized I was seeing first-hand that his hand is still rock-steady, his line still as graceful as ever. As much as it was a treat to see Joe at work, the time I spent speaking with him was an even greater pleasure.
For a few moments I was a kid again, the guy for whom each new issue of the FF was at best a regular high point and rarely less than a familiar and comfortable entertainment. Just as I’m sure I did in White Plains, I told Joe that for me, he always was and always will be “Mister Fantastic Four.”
It was also a pleasure to discuss a shared interest outside of comics—both Joe and I are seam-heads. I am a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, last visiting that hardball Mecca in 2009, and I was able to tell him I had seen one of the three pieces he has contributed to the Cooperstown museum. The previous day I had attended the “100th Anniversary of Fenway Park” gala; I learned that from high atop their Boston hotel, the Sinnotts had been able to look down and see the Red Sox playing the New York Yankees, just as they had when the park first opened a century ago (“It wasn’t like we could see the catcher’s signs,” Joe joked, “but we could tell a game was going on”). With my allegiance to the Red Sox and Joe a lifelong Giants fan, we were both able to agree we could never, ever root for the Yankees.
But what I treasured most about the time I spent speak with Joe was handing him my business card and one of our limited-run Caniff bookmarks and telling him what we’re doing these days at The Library of American Comics, watching his eyes light up at the mention of names like Alex Raymond, Cliff Sterrett, and especially Milton Caniff. I asked him if he’d like a copy of our Eisner-nominated Caniff: A Visual Biography and he said he most certainly would. It wasn’t many days later that the good folks at IDW sent him a Caniff with all of our compliments, but if need be I’d have paid money out of pocket to make good my promise and insure we got this book into Joe’s hands.
And now, if you’ve stayed with me through this backstory, you get the payoff: Joe’s reaction, sent to us in a May e-mail:
Dean and Bruce,
I can’t thank you enough for the great Caniff book—it’s a masterpiece! I’m amazed that he did so much newspaper work before starting Dickie Dare in ’33 and Terry in ’34.
I was 8 years old in 1934—can you imagine how excited we kids were to follow these strips every day—it was all new to us! The 30’s were a great time to grow up for a young kid what with the newspaper strips. Terry, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, the Saturday serials like Flash,The Lone Ranger and then ’38 with Superman, etc.—just great!
Again guys, thanks—
The moral of this story, my friends? Giving back at least a little pleasure to the talented folks who brought so much enjoyment into my life is one of the best aspects of doing LOAC work.
And Joe Sinnott? One word sums up both the man and his talents—FANTASTIC!
(P.S.: You can find out more about Joe at his website.