By Tom Ward
Holy 75th anniversary Batman! That’s right, the caped crusader hits a milestone birthday this year and to commemorate the grand occasion IDW Publishing has just released Batman: The Silver Age Newspaper Comics Volume 1 (1966-1967). The Silver Age Caped Crusader comes to IDW’s Library of American Comics! In partnership with DC Entertainment, the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning imprint gives the deluxe treatment to the classic 1960’s Batman newspaper strip. The complete series, which ran from 1966 until 1972, has never been reprinted and will be collected in three definitive volumes. The strip debuted in May of 1966 on the heels of the Batmania craze resulting from the hit TV program starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The first volume, reprinting all black & white dailies and color Sundays from 1966 and 1967, features an all-star list of Batman and Robin villains including the Catwoman, The Penguin, Joker and Poison Ivy. It also features an appearance from Batgirl. The series boasted stories by longtime editor Whitney Ellsworth and artwork drawn by legendary DC stalwarts Joe Giella, Shelly Moldoff and Carmine Infantino. This beautiful hard cover bound book is available at www.idwpublishing.com or www.amazon.com for $49.99 and has 256 pages of magnificent artwork and exciting story lines featuring the dynamic duo in action.
The first person I contacted after I received my copy of the book courtesy of IDW Publishing was my friend, artist Joe Giella, who is one of the artists that drew the majority of the Batman artwork for the newspaper strip that is prominently featured in this new book. I asked Joe what was his first reaction when he opened up the package and saw the book. Joe said, “First, when I saw the book I thought, ‘Wow! what a beautiful book.’ Then, as I was thumbing through it and looking at the work, I’ll tell you Tom, it brought back so many memories. When I looked at those pages I stared at one page in particular and I remembered at that time when I drew it my dad was very sick. I looked at another page and I thought of something else that happened in my life back then. So looking back at the book brings back a flood of memories, such as Julie Schwartz, my DC comic book editor, telling me doing a syndicated strip would be rough. The head of the Ledger Syndicate, John Higgins, choosing my artwork over a number of other well-known artists because Julie Schwartz took my drawings over to them and he told them it was my work. I actually enjoyed drawing the Batman strip and working with Whit Ellsworth and a few other people, only Mort Weisinger was a little rough to deal with, mostly because of monetary issues.”
I told Joe I had an opportunity to review the book sent to me by the good people over at IDW Publishing. While reading it I could see a difference in the drawings from his Batman compared to the other artist that worked on the strip, Shelly Moldoff. Joe replied, “Our styles are opposites, as he was more of the Bob Kane look. In those days Bob Kane did very little drawing. Mine was a little bit more up-to-date, but Shelly was a good artist and a really hard worker and a nice guy.” Giella continued saying, “I haven’t seen some of these drawings since the day I drew them back in the 1960s, other than a few originals my son Frank purchased for me for my birthday or Christmas. The last strip he bought for me he had to pay $500 for it.” I asked Joe if DC let him have his originals back. “Yes,” he answered. “They had a warehouse and they stored all the artwork for the artists and after a while they were mailing it to the artists. Even then, between the comic books and the syndicated strips it was getting to be too much. Eventually, they took all the artwork and dumped it up in the office and they told us artists to come up and pick up the strips. Now I only went in once or twice a month to the office. By the time I got there a lot of strips disappeared. People probably just walked by and took them and went home. They did send me a few strips because my wife insisted on a couple of Sunday pages because she told me, ‘We don’t have anything to hang up on the wall.’ Plus, our pediatrician at the time asked me for an original,” Giella said.
“Did you ever read the Batman strip that you drew in the newspaper?” I inquired. Joe said, “It wasn’t in the New York paper, but Whit Ellsworth, who wrote the strip, sent me a few of them because he was based out in California. One of my relatives in Pennsylvania would accumulate about 10 or 20 of them and send me some as well.” Before I ended my call with Joe I had to ask him, “Now that you’ve had an opportunity to see your Batman artwork in the new book after all these decades, how does it feel to be acknowledged as one of the main artists that drew the newspaper strip during the height of the Batman television show frenzy?” Joe laughed when he said, “Nothing like this has ever happened to me to be able to see my work done this way in such a nice book. The layout, everything is wonderful. The people who put this book together did a terrific job. I’m so happy and pleased with the finished product because it’s just great! Oh my God! Everyone wants a copy. So I’ll have to get them a copy. I want to get one for everyone in my family. I know my sister is going to drive me up a wall because she’ll want one.” These days Joe Giella, at age 85, has continued working in the comics, drawing the popular “Mary Worth” strip for the past 23 years that is seen in over 400 newspapers worldwide. But wait! Hold on Citizens! That’s not all. Stay tuned for more news later this year as I’ll keep you updated when the next book of Batman: Silver Age Comics Volume 2 comes out. Remember: same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.
Tom Ward can be contacted at www.teetimewithtom.com