Words of Questionable Wisdom
Tim Lasiuta Talks About The Amazing Career of Joe Sinnott
By Paul Sebert
Chronicling the 56-year career of Joe Sinnott is no easy feat. In the early 1950s the man was nearly ubiquitous on Timley doing back-up stories on such diverse works as ‘Arrowhead’, ‘Battle Front’, ‘Journey Into Mystery’, ‘Two-Gun Kid’, and ‘World of Adventure’ just to name a few. Then in the 60s he would move on to inking much Jack Kirby art on his’s epic run on Fantastic Four, becoming one of the top inkers in Superhero comics until his retirement in 1992. Then there’s his work on educational comics like ‘Classics Illustrated,’ and ‘Treasure Chest.’
The new book “Brush Strokes With Greatness: The Life & Art of Joe Sinnott” from Two Morrows Publishing not only tells the story of Sinnott’s remarkable career but also features a vast collection of original comic art (some unpublished for decades) from Sinnott’s own personal collection, along with a testimonials from people who worked with the legend. Stan Lee himself also wrote the book’s introduction.
The man responsible for putting together this tribute was Tim Lasiuta who was kind enough not only to send me a copy of this book, but also took time out to answer a few questions about this wonderful collection.
WoQW: What made you decide to do a book about the life and works of Joe Sinnott?
Lasiuta: Originally, I had been introduced to Joe Sinnott through Tom Gill, longtime Lone Ranger artist/teacher. Joe was Tom’s student, and for that book, I had comments on Tom from Joe. We struck up a friendship, and one day, I shot John Morrow (of TwoMorrows) an email suggesting a book on Joe. He said yes immediately! I contacted Joe, and we were off on an adventure.
WoQW: Brush Strokes with Greatness covers a pretty remarkable career in the span of 130 pages. Was it daunting to cover the works of such a prolific inker and penciler?
Lasiuta: Yes. The magnitude of his talent and contributions to the top books of the last 55 years is pretty amazing. With his history going back to 1948 at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, we had a lot of ground to cover. Fortunately, his memory is pretty darn good so when we talked about a particular title, or story, he remembered something. However, time does erase some memories, and true to character, Joe always told about the good. Without going into his vast archives, and picking up a piece of art, then discussing it, we did the best we could, making this a readable book you could pick up and enjoy. This could easily have been a 400 page book, but we would have lost the charm it has. If reading this book leaves you wanting more, then we did our job.
WoQW: One almost could do a book entirely about his pre-Fantastic Four work. Is there any particular stories from his time at Atlas you would particularly like to see reprinted?
Lasiuta: There are many I would like to see reprinted, but I’m not sure Joe would! In one conversation he related how looking at his early work made him realize how much he had improved. I commented that the ‘old’ work looked pretty darn good! If I had to pick a selection of stories, not just Atlas, I would chose his first Kent Blake book, an Arrowhead tale or two, his Beatles (or Pope Pius) book, a horror story, Pildorr, and his Classics Illustrated assignment. But, the choice would be difficult. Perhaps it’s a topic for a great fan poll?
WoQW: There’s a lot of stuff in this book that haven’t been seen by many comic fans from the Lost pages of Marvel Treasury Edition #28, to the Johnny Hank comic strips, to Jack Kirby’s “The Cisco Thing” pin-up. While researching Sinnott’s career did you discover anything particularly surprising?
Lasiuta: The Marvel Treasury Edition #28 art is amazing. It’s always great to see lost treasure come to light, and then, to share it with fans. The comic strip art he did on spec is pretty amazing, and if he had ‘hit’ on the market, he would never have been the premiere inker on Kirby we know him as. My favorite piece of art is the Phantom strip. As a Phantom fan, I was thrilled to see the Ghost Who Walks done by Joe. That was probably done around the time Sy Barry took over, and once again, if Sy didn’t get the assignment, Joe would have. One of the fascinating things about Joe is his vast repertoire of skills. He did comic books, advertising, album art, Bing Crosby tribute art and radio show, coached baseball, and over his life, has done thousands of sketches. Through it all, he has remained humble, approachable, and amiable. I think Jim Amash said it best, “You show me a guy that doesn’t love Joe Sinnott, and I’ll show you a man with a heart of stone!”
WoQW: The two pages featuring samples from Sinnott’s work on the educational comic “Treasure Chest” are great. Has anyone talked about reprinting some of these stories? I think a Best of Treasure Chest collection would be fun.
Lasiuta: I think such a collection would be fantastic. The artists who contributed to the books would WOW readers today. Jack Kirby even did some work for Treasure Chest! Is one in the works? I just might look into that.
WoQW: Sadly I don’t know of any plans for reprinting Treasure Chest, but well if a company like Fantagraphics decided to do a collection I would check it out in a heartbeat.
Chapter Seven is a pretty incredible collection of tributes by other people in the comics industry. Which ones do you think stand out the most?
Lasiuta: There are so many that did not make it into the book. Every professional he worked with has a Joe story. My favorites are the ones that highlight his mentoring nature. His old instructor, Tom Gill, taught him that lesson well. I like the tributes from Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, George Perez, and I got the best chuckle from Barry Winsdsor Smith and his bathroom introduction. He will always be #1 Joe (as per Joe Simon), and a good friend. While compiling the quotes, the sheer respect and friendship/appreciation for Joe Sinnott was impossible to convey. As they say, you had to be there, and I was honored to be part of this project.
WoQW: Joe Sinnott’s remaining active these days on Joejoesinnott.com and inking the Spider-Man Sunday comic strip. How much input did he have on the book?
Lasiuta: During the writing of the book, Joe was very important. Obviously, it was based on interviews with him from various sources, many private conversations, and the help of Mark, his son. How can you write a book on Joe Sinnott without an endless supply from the Sinnott museum? Joe picked some of his favorite art and gave his blessing for its’ inclusion.
WoQW: Were there any illustrations that you wanted to use but couldn’t due to either space constraints or copyright issues?
Lasiuta: No, we had no problem with copyrights. Joe is very careful (as was TwoMorrows) to recognize copyright holders.
Spacewise, yes. This could have been a 500 page book of art alone! It was tough to choose the pieces of art to include, and between myself and the designer, Jon B Cooke, we picked some pretty good images.
WoQW: What character do you think Sinnott had the most influence on? I noticed the Thing kept appearing throughout the book. ^_^
Lasiuta: Without a doubt, the Thing is his favorite character. Which one did he have the most influence on? Based on comments from John Byrne, George Perez, and others, it would have to be the Fantastic Four. You can’t work on a title as long as Joe did without leaving a legacy.
WoQW: You mentioned how much art Sinnott personally selected from his own collection. Just how much of his original work does Sinnott still own? I could imagine some of these pages sellingg for a small mint at a convention.
Lasiuta: Not having physically been in the archives, the pages would probably number in the thousands. The standard practice for artists/writers is to split the art, and even with a third of the art Joe was responsible for, the pages would be staggering. There would be Kirby, Colan, Steranko, Perlin, Howell, Barry Windsor Smith, Vince Colletta, and so many others represented. Any self respecting comic fan would probably feel like he was in comic book heaven!
WoQW: Your book includes samples of a proposed newspaper comic strip called Johnny Hank, All American. What direction do you think Sinnott’s career might have taken had this comic been a success?
Lasiuta: I think if Johnny Hank had taken off, it probably would have not lasted past a few years. The topic of a basketball player would have been lost in the early 1960’s and Joe would have either landed a different strip, or returned to comic books. Had Hank taken off, he would have missed out on a very important stage of his career, waiting to tackle the King during his lengthy Fantastic Four run. But, knowing some of Joe’s most obvious characteristics, he probably would have done both comic book work AND Hank, All American at the same time!
WoQW: You’ve written two other books. “Collecting Western Memorabilia” and “The Misadventures of a Roving Cartoonist: The Lone Ranger’s Secret Sidekick” which you co-wrote with Tom Gill. Could you briefly tell us a little more about those.
Lasiuta: “Collecting Western Memorabilia” came out an intense period of writing columns on various collecting topics at Suite 101. I had written on comic books, movie posters, props, weapons, and so many more types of items that when a publisher (McFarland) asked me to write a book based on those, I did. It received good reviews, but suffered from poor exposure to the consumer market. “Misadventures” is not out yet, and arose out of conversations with Tom Gill, the longtime Lone Ranger comic book artist/teacher whom I was introduced to through his agent. Tom and the rest of the artists in the National Cartoonists Society used to go on USO tours and do Chalk Talk for the troops. Tom, who had written a book about that years prior, had given up getting it published until I managed to find a publisher (Five Star Publishing). I added content to the book, and several features in the Addendum. Presently, we are awaiting publishing permission from Classic Media and it should be out very soon in stores.