Frank Giacoia: He Inked It All With A Bold Line And A Smile
Open up any dozen Marvel comics from the mid-1960s to 1980 and odds are you’ll see Frank Giacoia’s name and/or brushwork in most of them. He embellished a plethora of major characters and made the work stand out with a line as bold as his personality. From the 1940s to the 1980s, Giacoia amassed a body of brush-and-ink work that has earned the respect and admiration of generations of inspired inkers and entertained readers.
Born July 6, 1924 near Naples, Italy, Giacoia came to the US circa 1932. After attending the School of Industrial Arts and the Art Students League in New York City, he entered comics in 1940 with high school classmate and future legend Carmine Infantino. According to the latter, they went to Timely Comics (precursor of Marvel) looking for work and were given a script for a “Jack Frost” story which appeared in USA Comics #3, cover-dated January, 1942. In an ironic twist of future fame, Giacoia pencilled and Infantino inked. Both were offered full-time work by editor Joe Simon (co-creator of Captain America) and Frank quit school to accept. (Infantino’s father forbade Carmine to do the same.) Frank also co-created the character Captain Wonder with Otto Binder in Kid Komics #1 (1943).
After joining the famous comic-book packaging studio (Will) Eisner & (Jerry) Iger in 1941, Giacoia went on to fill the comics of publishers like Avon, Crestwood, Dell/Eastern Color, Fawcett, Harvey, Lev Gleason, and National Comics (which became DC), the last for whom he worked steadily from 1948-71, including stints on The Flash and various Batman comics.
While freelancing at 1940s Timely, Giacoia met staff artists Mike Sekowsky and Joe Giella (both future Silver Age giants). All became friends, especially Frank and Joe. Giacoia was Giella’s best man; the two lived anywhere from a few miles to a block away from each other and worked together on myriad jobs. During the Golden Age, Frank became more focused on inking, as it was faster/easier for him and therefore more lucrative than pencilling. As Giella explained:
“A lot of fellows like Frank Giacoia, Sy Barry and myself went to inking for monetary reasons. None of us started out intending to become inkers; we started out penciling [sic]…And you know, when you need money, you kind of lean toward the inking. I could bring home $90 a week instead of $40. And after a while, you kind of get typecast.” [Alter Ego, #52, p. 7, TwoMorrows.]
Giella also noted that when working on Sekowsky’s and some other storytellers’ work, Giacoia would have to tighten up their loose pencils beforehand; he was rarely a ‘line follower.’ Being a penciller helped inform the dynamism of his inking.
After Giacoia convinced Giella to join him at DC, the two worked on numerous side projects, including syndicated comic strips like Sherlock Holmes (1954-55) and Johnny Reb And Billy Yank, (1956-59), where much of the art was a collaborative effort with Giella and sometimes Sekowsky, Gil Kane and neighbor/friend Jack Kirby. Giacoia inked Kirby’s unpublished musician-accountant strip, King Masters, in 1956 and worked on the strips Thorne McBride (1960-63) and the classic Flash Gordon (1959-60, 1960, ’69 and ’86), plus a few issues of Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated.
Despite his nice guy reputation, Giacoia could be vocal regarding the integrity of his art. At a meeting with DC management, he once complained about the indiscriminate coloring on the titles. According to inker Mike Esposito, Giacoia stood up and said, “I’m sick and tired of the way you colorists color the books,” referring to the then-common practice of just using up whatever color was on the brush or most plentiful, resulting in “blue horses and red mountains.” That later changed.
When Frank began moonlighting for Marvel in the 1960s, he became one of Kirby’s most prominent inkers along with Joe Sinnott. Giacoia, still under contract for DC, was credited as “Frankie Ray” until 1966. (Another alias was “Phil Zupa.”) Frank even briefly served as Marvel’s Assistant Art Director 1972 and freelanced for Tower Comics’ T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents titles.
Later, Giacoia teamed up with Esposito under the moniker “Espoia” on many mid-to-late 1970s work. Some of the stories are credited to “Frank Giacoia with Dave Hunt,” where the latter was an assistant, inking detailed backgrounds; Giacoia was nice enough to share the byline. He and Esposito gave other ink artists their first jobs, including Klaus Janson.
Giacoia worked on every major Marvel character and several seminal issues, including first appearances of The Punisher, Morbius The Living Vampire, Captain Marvel, The Defenders and Whiplash, among others. He also inked many Kirby Captain America stories, from back up features in Tales Of Suspense up to Jack’s return to Captain America #193 in 1975. Frank’s bold brush also embellished The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Iron Man, Thor, The Beast, Power Man, Sub-Mariner, Conan, et al, from pencillers John Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Don Heck, Barry (Windsor) Smith, Ross Andru and many more.
In the latter ‘70s and into the ‘80s, Giacoia branched out, drawing and/or inking Marvel’s syndicated strips of Spider-Man (1978-81) and the Hulk (1979-80). He drew for Archie Comics and even opened up a Long Island diner with his brother, which lasted a few months. In 1974, Giacoia was nominated for an industry-chosen Shazam Award for Best Inker (Dramatic Division).
According to friends, Giacoia’s main problem was a mental block and high ambition. Esposito said, “Frank had that style and personality where he wanted to ink everything…He wasn’t happy unless he had 15 jobs on the floor.” An eternal procrastinator, Giacoia often waited until deadlines were imminent and would need help to finish, often overnight or on weekends. Though he was a good artist, emotionally he often found it difficult to draw on his own. Giella said, “He wanted to do such a good job that he wasn’t happy with the results.” Joe helped out on many jobs, but the main character faces were always inked by Frank.
The other issue was health. According to Giella, Giacoia didn’t smoke but he drank up to 17 cups of coffee a day, plus a couple shots of Jack Daniels (though he was not an alcoholic), “loved his steaks” and, though he played football as a lad, never exercised. His lifestyle finally caught up to him on February 4, 1988, when Frank passed away from heart-related problems at just 63 years of age.
A few peer quotes about Frank Giacoia, the man and the inker:
“Still [,] he was just a lovable guy. You would have loved him…he was still a great guy to work with.” (Joe Giella)
“The one thing that must be said about Frank is that he was an extremely congenial guy with a kind of infectious, ingratiating personality. He was a pleasure to be with.” (Gil Kane)
“Frank just enjoyed life. His pet expression was, ‘I love to indulge myself.’…He was always hugging and kissing people, and smiling all the time.” (Mike Esposito)
“He did work on Johnny Reb that was absolutely terrific…” (Joe Giella)
“Those pages Frank and I did together were very good. I paid attention to the drawing, and Frank slapped in those powerful blacks that tied everything together. He was very good at that. He could make a simple picture sing.” (Mike Esposito)
“He was an extraordinarily powerful inker…Frank had great flexibility; he could do anything you gave him.” (Gil Kane)
Earlier this year, historians at retailer Atlas Comics listed Giacoia at #5 of “The Top 20 Greatest Inkers of American Comic Books” and said, “Frank Giacoia’s smooth, thick line has been recognizable over a surfeit of outstanding pencillers. Gil Kane…Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan and Jack Kirby all benefited from his heavy, robust linework which always helped tell the story in a simple, direct way.”
Text written by and art images added by Inkwell Awards Assistant Director Mike Pascale (©2016 Mike Pascale and The Inkwell Awards.)
Sources for this article included Wikipedia, Lambiek Comiclopedia, http://marvel.wikia.com, Alter Ego #52 and 54 (TwoMorrows) and The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Companion (TwoMorrows) and ComicArtFans.com.