JUST HOW underappreciated are many inkers?
I’m looking at my well-worn copy of “Essential Silver Surfer” (Vol. 1), and there, beneath the names Stan Lee and John Buscema, is listed the man who would ink the first three Silver Surfers — a legend in his own right. Only one problem. Each of the three times, his name is spelled: “Joe Sinnot.”
Even in this Marvel Comics publication, the great Joe Sinnott is getting shortchanged on the page.
Sinnott, though, doesn’t single himself out; he believes most all the ‘50s and ‘60s artists have got less credit — and cash — than they should have.
“I have to say it: We are all underappreciated … ,” Sinnott, speaking from him longtime home in the Catskills, tells Comic Riffs. “Everyone knows this.”
So, just how underappreciated are many of comic history’s inkers? Well, late last year, a few industry colleagues and I were surprised to learn that Sinnott — whom many consider to be one of the greatest inkers of all time — hadn’t yet been inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.
On Friday night in San Diego, during Comic-Con, that omission was corrected. Sinnott and a range of five other greats — Al Jaffee, Trina Robbins, Lee Falk, Mort Meskin and Spain Rodriguez — entered the Hall of Fame. (Those last three were inducted posthumously.)
The Eisners noted that “during his 60 years as a Marvel freelancer and then salaried artist working from home, Joe Sinnott inked virtually every major title, with notable runs on Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Defenders, and Thor. He is considered by many to have been Jack Kirby’s definitive inker.”
Sinnott makes a point of noting: “I was in on the beginning of Thor and Silver Surfer.”Looking back, Sinnott, now 86, remembers much about those times — and those creations — very fondly.
“Jack created it — the Surfer — in one of the early Fantastic Four books, as you know,” Sinnott tells us. “I still think, even though Jack put so much [into it], John Buscema did a great Surfer. John and I worked on the first three books, when the Surfer had his own book. John drew anatomy so well. He wanted to work with brother Sal, and Sal did a great job on [inking Issues No. 4-7], and then he was burdened [and moved on] — too much work.
“But the early ones were great. And the No. 3 cover was great.”
Sinnott also remembers Marvel/Atlas (what once had been Timely) barely surviving long enough to even get those glorious ‘60s. “We were in bad shape,” he says. “We almost went belly up in 1958.”
But through it all, Sinnott says that Stan Lee, as editor, aimed to do right by him.
“You wouldn’t believe what we worked for in those days — the page rate,” Sinnott tells Comic Riffs. “Stan was generous. We were up to 44 dollars a page — for pencil and ink. I could pencil two pages and ink one [each] day. I was pretty well off. But then the late ‘50s hit. … Stan had to keep cutting the rates, and it [became] 21 dollars a page — pencil and inks. But they expected the same quality that we were doing before.
“Where else could you go?” he continues, emphatically. “We were comic-book artists! That’s what we did.”
He hung on, survived, and then came flusher times for Marvel, as the Fantastic Four spawned a revolutionary decade. Even then, however, Sinnott thinks the artists didn’t get all they should have. “Once the books started selling,” he says, “we never reached the [financial] zenith that we deserved.”
But Sinnott continued to pour his dedication and world-class talent into his work, from the comfort of his Catskills. In the early days, he would make the weekly trip into Manhattan — to get scripts from Stan — but after a while, even that trek was no longer required. “During one stretch, I didn’t get to Marvel for 26 years,” Sinnott says, “even though it was only two hours away.”
Sinnott eventually left Marvel — his historic run on the Fantastic Four lasted till 1981 — but that didn’t mean he was leaving the industry. Not with old friend Stan around. (For Marvel artists, Lee once said, getting Sinnott to ink your work was like grabbing the brass ring),
“The comics deadlines were always tight — I never missed a deadline, but I always had to keep at it,” Sinnott says. “So I told Marvel I was just going to retire. So Stan called and asked me if I could help to do the daily [Spider-Man] strip” for King Features.
“ ‘Stan, that’s the reason I retired — I’m just burned out. But I’ll agree to ink the Sunday,’ “ he recalls telling Lee. And so he joined the team — including a changing roster of pencilers, and writer Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother). To this day, Sinnott inks the Sunday “The Amazing Spider-Man” strips — and proudly so.
“I’m 86 years old,” says Sinnott from Upstate New York, not far from where he was born in Saugerties. “I can do as well as I did back in 1962. Many comic-book artists have good times and bad times. .. Some can’t do it anymore and ‘lose it’ [artistically], so to speak.”
It’s clear from Sinnott’s line — and confidence — that he’s lost nothing. And after six decades of working with Stan Lee, he still enjoys that working relationship, too.
“Stan’s still a big kid at 90,” Sinnott says. “He’s got a great sense of humor. I mailed my ‘Spider-Man’ Sunday this afternoon, and I always write him a little note. I must have 500 notes from him. I’ve kept them through the years — every one is funnier than the previous.
“I enjoy so much talking to him,” he continues. “Sometimes he’s not feeling well, but you’d never know it. He’s always so joyful.”
These days, Sinnott is gratified that many of the characters he inked have connected with new generations, including through blockbuster films. But even their Hollywood success brings a sense of mixed blessing.
“Think of what the movie studios make on this these days,” Sinnott says about comic-book films. “Jack worked seven days a week. I worked six. We had steady deadlines all the time. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes the work didn’t come out the way you wanted to. But we loved it so much — doing the drawing.
“But there isn’t a one of us that feels like [we’re being fairly] compensated now. And we’re not getting any younger. ...
“You would think Disney would throw us a bone.”
Sinnott thinks, too, of those colleagues who have died and deserved more. “Gene Colan, Jack, Don Heck — we were in on the beginning of these characters.”
As another means of compensation, Sinnott wishes, too, that he could get back much of his original art.
“The return of the artwork — that’s another [story],” Sinnott tells Comic Riffs. “In the ’50s and ’60s, they destroyed [so much of] the artwork.”
Other art from that era, Sinnott says, was lifted straight from the Marvel offices. “I did over 100 covers with Jack Kirby,” he says, “but we got back hardly nothing. ... Even when they started giving the art back, co-workers took [other] people’s art. ... It was laying around the office — early Spider-Man and Fanastic Four. Guys would come in and they had these big portfolios, and when no one was watching, they put the artwork in them.”
Sinnott says someone once gave him a magazine that spotlighted the sale of an original Silver Surfer page. “When I did that page, I was probably paid around $40 for inking it,” Sinnott says. “It sold for $125,000.”
“We did get some art back,” he notes, “but when we think of what was stolen — what we didn’t get back.
“I probably did a thousand pages with Jack Kirby.”
Sinnott sighs for a moment.
“Not to take anything away from Jim Lee and Frank Miller,” the Hall of Fame inker says about profiting from one’s original art, “but they came along at the right time.”
NOTE: Comic Riffs was a judge for this year’s Eisner Awards..