JOE SINNOTT: I was in World War II. I was seventeen years old when I joined the Navy and I wound up on Okinawa with the Seabees, we were a construction outfit. I had no choice, thatís where they put me but it was a great outfit. I lost a brother in World War II in France, he was twenty years old, an infantry sergeant and my mother didnít want me going into the army. She was afraid that Iíd be drafted to the army so she asked me if Iíd join the navy. I disliked the navy very much but I joined for my motherís sake.
DANIEL BEST: Going to Okinawa, you saw a bit of the world then.
JS: I did see the world. Thatís the problem. Of course I had my training here in New York State. We had our Seabee base at a place that was called the Finger Lakes. Then I was sent to Rhode Island, I learnt to drive a truck there. I couldnít even drive a car when I was at home because I was only seventeen years old. Then they sent me to California, which was great, but I was only there for about two months and Iíd go to Hollywood every weekend. I met Bing Crosby there on the streets in fact. I got his autograph and I still have it to this day. Iíd see all the celebrities and the radio shows and then they sent us overseas to Okinawa. The battle for Okinawa was just starting then, itíd only been on for a couple of weeks, of course it lasted until June the 22nd 1945, and then in August they dropped the atom bomb. Okinawa was supposed to be the jumping off base for the invasion of Japan. When I was discharged and came home I was still only nineteen years old. But I drew all the time, even when I was in the service. The guys would ask me to draw sailors on their envelopes to home and things like that. I didnít do anything in the service other than draw for my friends. I drew pictures for the families of the Okinawans. They were lost over the years and I wish I had them today. They were crude for that period of my career, but Iíd love to see them now.
DB: Youíre well known as an inker, but you started out as a penciler.
JS: Itís funny because Marvel was my biggest account and all through the Ď50s I penciled and inked for Timely and in the early Ď60s Stan asked me to ink a couple of Jack Kirby books because Jack was really not an inker.
At other companies I worked for, Treasure Chest, Dell and whatever, I continued to do own pencils and inks and I preferred it that way but Stan wanted me to do a lot of the superheroes and he liked my inking style. So that was a lot of my bread and butter, the Marvel stuff, and I really appreciated it. However I got a lot of satisfaction doing the stories for Dell and Treasure Chest especially.
I penciled 2,700 pages at Charlton for Vinnie Colletta. I did those after I was through working for Marvel all day long. Iíd have supper and Iíd do a page or two for Charlton. That was fairly simple stuff and you could knock it out, but even so I was amazed when my son Mark told me Iíd done 2,700 pages.
DB: itís a lot of work.
JS: It certainly is. Especially after hours. That was over-time work.
DB: How many pages could you do in a day?
JS: if I was to ink Jack Kirby, for example, I could ink three pages a day. I worked eight hours a day. I didnít work much longer than that, but I started to work at about 7:45 in the morning and worked until about 4:30pm. I worked continually and I didnít miss a days work for twenty six years. I worked all the time and thatís the only way to get things done.
DB: Today people miss deadlines and donít worry about it all that much.
JS: I know that. I never missed a deadline.
DB: Yet the classic artists, such as yourself, John Romita, Jim Mooney, always hit the deadline no matter what it took.
JS: Thatís right. I always tell kids when I go to the schools and talk to them, that the main thing is to pace yourself to know that you can meet your deadline. Some fellows knock themselves out on the first five or six pages and then they start petering out. They canít finish the book or whatever and they miss the deadline. But everybody canít pencil as fast as Jack Kirby, for example. John Buscema was very fast. I was fairly fast too, so I was fortunate there. My good friend Jim Steranko was very slow and he often had trouble with deadlines and there were people like him.
DB: Was it daunting to ink Kirby?
JS: No, Jack was very easy to ink. He had a very cartoony style and, of course, he had everything in there. You didnít have to re-draw anything, whereas I did a lot of things with John Buscema, who was probably the best draftsman we had in the business, but towards the end of his career his work was extremely loose and it required a lot of drawing on the part of the inker. You drew as you inked with the pen and brush of course. But Johnís work was extremely loose. John Romita was an excellent penciler. He didnít require any fixing up or re-drawing or whatever. You had to pick up a lot of the pencilers so to speak, especially the younger ones.
DB: Because you started out as a penciler and didnít start inking until later in your careerÖ
JS: About 1961-62.
DB: Did you find that youíd look at some pencils as they came in thought, ďIíll fix this in the inking process,Ē and stamp your style on it? Because you have a very distinctive style indeed.
JS: Stan expected that from me. There were a few times I was put on books with younger pencilers whoíd just come into the business and Stan knew Iíd pick them up so to speak. I remember Rich Buckler, I worked with him when he was young, and John Byrne and people like that and John Byrne was an excellent penciler. Rich Buckler, for example, he needed a lot of fixing up in his early days and a lot of the times my style would come through but that was only natural. It wasnít intentional, but you couldnít help it. What you did was really correct the work with your pen and brush. You didnít correct it with a pencil first and then ink it because you didnít have the time. But the older guys, we were experienced enough to draw direct and add to the penciler whoíd done the story.
DB: Back to Rich Buckler, when he started on the Fantastic Four he was doing very Kirbyish work.
JS: No question about it. Rich did a lot of swipes from Kirby, a lot of Kirby poses and the foreshortening. But he had a little Buscema in him too. Iíll tell you who I enjoyed working with very much. He was young at the time, when I first started working with him, and thatís Ron Frenz. We did some great covers together and we worked on the Fantastic Four and the Mighty Thor for a long time. He was really influenced by both Kirby and Buscema and it was a good combination. You could see where he had been influenced by Kirby but Stan didnít mind that. Stan encouraged that in fact.
DB: Did at any stage, to your knowledge, would Stan go up to an artist and tell them to draw exactly like Kirby?
JS: Oh, no question. Stan did that all the time. I remember back in the early Ď50s we were doing a lot Korean war stories. Iím talking 1951, 1952, I was very young at the time and Stan would always say, ďJoe, look at some of the EC books and study John Severins work,Ē because Johnís always been one of my favorites. John did great war stories and he was very authentic. If he drew a rifle you knew it was accurate. So Stan encouraged his young artists to look at other peoples work and draw in a similar style like John Severin or Jack Kirby.
DB: Would he tell you to look at John Severin or Jack Kirby and swipe them for example?
JS: No. No, no, no. Mainly he told us to look at John Severinís work for reference so to speak. If you were to draw an army tank for example, Johnís stuff was so accurate and he really researched his work. All artists did that. I remember Alex Raymond, Iíd see things that he took from Hal Foster, little things that helped his work. I donít think there was an artist alive who didnít borrow from somebody. Of course Alex Raymond was also influenced by an illustrator named Matt Clark. He did very good westerns and a lot of Alex Raymondís heroes were patterned after Matt Clarks, they had the same features, the rugged good looks. When Raymond did Jungle Jim and Flash Gordon he was very much influenced by Matt Clark.
I know that Hal Foster did use a lot of reference, but he had to while he was doing his strips.
DB: What was it like working at Timely in the 1950s?
JS: That was a fun period. We did short stories, five or six page stories and you were never bored. We would do a western one week, weíd pencil it and you didnít have to show Stan the pencils. The script was sent to you or Iíd travel to the city every Friday. Iíd bring my story down and Stan would give me another script, youíd bring it home, pencil it then ink it and then bring it back the following Friday. It was a good period to work in because we did westerns, we did war stories, science fiction, romance, we did the whole bit. As you know we started to go belly up in the late Ď50s because of the Comics Code. It was a fun time though because we did a lot of different types of stories. You did your own work, you did your own penciling and inking and it was just a good period to work in. When the superheroes came out in late 1961 we didnít expect them to be world beaters. We didnít know how popular they were going to be and we were really surprised at how the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man and Thor took off and became so popular. But then all through the Ď60s, Ď70s and Ď80s, all we did was superheroes. It was good for the business end of it but from an artistic standpoint you didnít have the variety that we used to have, so the satisfaction wasnít there as much.
DB: When Stan established Marvel in the early Ď60s you did a handful of stories and then left. Stan then went after artists that heíd worked with back in the Timely days and the main hold-outs that I can find are you and Jim Mooney. You both didnít go to Marvel full time until towards the end of the Ď60s. Jim was tied up at DC but what kept you away?
JS: I started at Marvel when I was in art school. Tom Gill gave me my start. He had an account at Timely and we were doing Kent Blake: Detective and Red Warrior, a variety of things. When I went over to Stan in the 1950s and showed him my stuff he knew I was working for Tom Gill. He gave me work right away and all through the Ď50s Stan gave me all the work that I could handle. I didnít work for anyone else until 1958 when we went belly-up. I went out and got work at Treasure Chest and Classics Illustrated, Dell and companies like that.
Down through the years, all through the Ď60s, DC always called me and ask me if Iíd come over and work for them, and Iíd tell them that Stan would give me all the work I wanted. Stan had always told me, ďJoe, whatever DC offer you, weíll continue to pay you more,Ē no matter what the rates were. In those days all the artists didnít get the same pay, we all got different rates. And I enjoyed the characters that we were working on. At that time I was working on Thor and the Fantastic Four with Kirby and DC didnít have the success that we did. They had Superman and Batman which theyíd revived, but when it came to new characters it seemed like we were ahead of them. We were setting the trend so to speak.
DB: Did you ever regret not working at DC?
JS: No. I did ghost a few things for friends of mine over there and I did some pin-ups with Curt Swan and people like that. Occasionally a friend would ask me if I could help him and out and do something then Iíd ghost him, so I did do a few things for DC. But there was no need for me to go over because Marvel would have paid me whatever DC would offer and a little bit more and here again I liked the characters at Marvel and Stan was always a good friend of mine. I did tell Stan in 1959 when he started up production again, ďStan I have an account at Classics Illustrated and Dell and I just canít work for you exclusively because I just canít put all my eggs in the one basket.Ē We were freelancers in those days and I had four kids whom I was raising, we had no unemployment insurance in those days so I had to spread myself out. I didnít want to give up these other accounts in case Marvel ever went belly-up again. I wanted to have these other accounts to fall back on. Also I was doing the penciling and inking for Dell. I did the life of the Beatles for Dell, the history of the FBI and stories like that, 12 Oíclock High, which had been a movie with Gregory Peck, and they made a TV series out of it and they wanted me to do a comic book out of it. I did maybe four books and then the TV show was cancelled so they had to cancel the comic, but I enjoyed that very much because I love drawing airplanes and Iím a World War II history buff so I enjoyed anything connected to WWII. It was a very enjoyable book to work on.
It was the same with Treasure Chest. They gave me mostly biographical stories to do. I illustrated the life of Babe Ruth, John Kennedy, Eisenhower and MacArthur. I was fairly good at likenesses which is why they gave me all the biographical things. You get a lot of satisfaction out of doing that kind of work because as an artist thatís all part of the business.
DB: Did you work mainly from home during your time at Marvel?
JS: Yes. I used to go down every Friday during the 1950s, through to about 1957 and then once we ran into problems I did all the work from home. Even though I was a 100 miles from the city it took me hours to drive down there and I didnít go down there for twenty six years. They didnít see me in the office for twenty six years and everything was done by mail. I talked to Stan every week but I didnít see him for all that period. Twenty six years! Can you imagine? <laughter>
DB: I take it you didnít meet a lot of your contemporaries.
JS: No. I worked with Jack Kirby for probably fifteen years before I even met him and he lived right in the city. I just didnít go down to the city so I didnít see these people. I lived up in the mountains in upstate New York, in the Catskill Mountains. Itís a little rural town that I was born in. I lived in the city for about three years when I was going to school down there but, of course, I wanted to come back to my hometown.
DB: How was Jack Kirby when you finally met him?
JS: Extremely nice and congenial. Itís funny, we never once talked on the telephone and that was the only time I ever saw him. I went down to a convention. In 1975 Marvel had a comic convention and Jack was there and that was the first and last time I ever saw Jack. I never talked to him. Never once in all the stories we did on the Fantastic Four did he ask me to change this, or do this. He never left a note on the borders of the pages or anything. We had no communication whatsoever. Not once did he ever call me and I never called him to discuss the work we were doing. Of course Stan was always happy with what we turned out. <chuckle> It was a strange relationship, but then again a lot of artist combinations were like that. They lived far apart and they never saw one another, like when I worked with Jim Mooney for example. All the time Jim and I were working together I certainly admired his work but I never spoke to him and we never discussed the work or whatever. But we were a good combination I thought and we worked well together.
DB: Itís funny because when Richard Howell found out that Jim Mooney was going to ink his work at Marvel he sent him a note saying how happy he was and that heíd always admired Jimís work. I take it that never happened with you? John Romita didnít slide a note of appreciation in with some pages along the way?
JS: No, you never would do that. <laughter> Because of the deadlines they didnít have time to even call you. Stan admired my work a great deal and early on when I first started doing work on the Fantastic Four Stan did call me and said, ďJoe, whatever you do, donít leave us!Ē <laughter> Obviously he wanted me to stay on the Fantastic Four and he thought I was doing a good job. Years later I remember my good friend Sol Brodsky called me because I had just started work on Captain America with Gene Colan and said, ďJoe, I just had to tell you that the Captain America book looks great,Ē and I thought he was pulling my leg because he was a friend of mine. <laughter> At Marvel, Stan, nobody would ever call you to tell you you were doing a good job because you were expected to do a good job. You were a professional. When I look back I canít say it was better than my normal work, because I always felt my work was always the best I could no matter who I worked with. I put my best into everything. My work with Gene Colan was exceptionally good at the time. We did six or seven books together and Gene is a good friend of mine to this day. Here again I didnít meet him all the time we were working together. I didnít meet him until later in life.
DB: Iíve spoken to various artists who inked Gene and they all say the same thing, he was very, very difficult to ink.
JS: He was difficult to ink because his lines were so fine. He did a lot of this shading but I could do that. I would go over it with the brush and the pen and I tried to follow Gene as much as I could and maintain the art that he put down on paper. It came out real good. If you were too heavy handed you couldnít work well with Gene. You had to have a fine touch so to speak.
DB: Were there any artists you worked with where you thought, ďThis is really difficult.Ē
JS: Oh sure. There were people where I knew it wasnít a good combination. Of course I worked with Kirby all those years, and John Buscema who I worked with on Thor and we did the first three Ms Marvels together, we did Nova and I did an awful lot with John but Stan would also put me on with some younger artists who were just breaking in. Iím talking about people like Jim Starlin, Val Mayerik, Rich Buckler, and John Byrne, some of them I wasnít sure what they wanted. Some of them were very indecisive so to speak. Maybe it was because they were young and they did develop no question about that. You always develop with the more work you do. But they were very tentative so to speak, so that slows you down when youíre inking someone elseís work. I never liked working with Gil Kane of all people. He was easy to ink because his stuff was a little cartoony but he put no blacks in his work and I had to put all the blacks in. After working with Kirby, Buscema and John Romita and people like that, Gil Kane was a departure. I liked working with John Byrne. John gave you everything. You didnít have to re-draw anything. His backgrounds were tremendous and there were so many people like that. Gene Colan was terrific. But every now and then Marvel would send me a story; someone couldnít meet a deadline or whatever.
I remember doing an issue of Fantastic Four with Ramona Fradon and it was very difficult working with her. There were people like that that I didnít feel it was a good combination but I always tried to do my best no matter whoís work I was working over.
DB: At your best youíre considered to be one of, if not the, best inker there was.
JS: Some people have said that, yes. <laughter>
DB: How do you find carrying that title when you started out as a penciler?
JS: Well itís funny. Looking back, when I read those things and if someone calls me on it, Iíll say, ďYou know, I was more proud of my pencils than my inking.Ē I did a good job with the inking but I did some pencils that I thought were pretty outstanding but no-one looks at my pencils. I think itís because I really didnít pencil the superheroes. I penciled everything else, like, as Iíve said, The Life of the Beatles. That was sixty four pages and the likenesses I thought were very good and I was quite happy with it. The Dell books, I got satisfaction out of them and I thought they were great. Treasure Chest and all of those biographies were some of the best work I ever did. But those books donít get the exposure that the Fantastic Four of the superheroes that Marvel did got. So people donít know the type of penciling that I did because theyíre not familiar with the work. It was a smaller market so to speak.
DB: The pencils that Iíve seen you do are much like your inks, in the sense that itís a very fine, deliberate line.
JS: Yes it is. I donít like to go to conventions anymore because I donít like to travel, but when I do go I can sit there and draw characters. I donít sketch. I can draw with one line, Iíll do the jaw, the eyes, the nose, where the fellow sitting next to me will do beautiful work but theyíll be sketching like theyíre in art class. I could knock out maybe five or six drawings in the time it takes them to do one because Iím so used to doing it that way. When I was doing my own pencils and inks my pencils were very light because I knew what I was going to ink. In other words Iíd do a lot of drawing with my pen and brush because I knew just what I was going to do. You could waste too much time with your penciling. You wouldnít certainly put any blacks into your own pencils because you knew where the blacks were going to go.
DB: Thatís unusual because the only other person Iíve heard of who did something similar was John Byrne, who used to do very rough lay-outs and guides and go straight to the inking stage.
JS: Exactly, like little loose layouts.
DB: That must be somewhat daunting because if you make a mistake you canít erase it.
JS: Yeah, but you could always cover it up somehow. <chuckles>
DB: You must be extremely confident with your work and abilities.
JS: Oh yes, I am very confident and as I said, when I was penciling this stuff it would be loose. Of course thereíd be times when Iíd do more detail, especially in the old days. Horses for example. Horses were very difficult to draw unless you had reference and you may have to struggle a little bit to get them right. I was very conscientious about doing everything realistically and I tried to draw the horse the way the horse really looked. So horses were hard for me but I did so many westerns I made them look good. Thatís the bottom line, to make it look good and to tell the story.
DB: Where to from here?
JS: I retired from the comic books in 1992. I just told them I was burnt out. I had worked for twenty six years without a day off. I was never sick, so when I retired in 1992 I retired at a good time because I was still on top. Afterwards comics started to go into the doldrums so to speak. They then asked me if Iíd stay on and work with Stan on the Sunday Spider-Man page. So Iíve been on the Sunday Spider-Man page for fifteen years actually. I do a lot of commissions. If itís something that appeals to me Iíll do it because I like to draw. Iíve done a lot of odd stuff since I retired from Marvel. Iíve done a lot of record covers, I laid out billboards and I did a lot of ads for advertising agencies, just about everything. I enjoy doing that stuff.