Around this time of year I get especially nostalgic about one of my old friends and my first professional mentor, Joe Orlando. Next week will be 44 years since he called me into his office as I walking the DC halls, digging up material for The Comic Reader, and offered me the assignment of compiling his letters pages, launching my freelance career. And it’ll be 18 years since he passed away, his heart giving out as he walked down the platform at Grand Central, heading home to join his family for Christmas. In between was over a quarter century of learning, collaboration, debate, and so much laughter. We swapped books, ideas and occasionally even skills: Joe knew far more about comics than I did, but there were some things I could help him with too.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know Joe was one of the great E.C. science fiction artists, one of the first artists on Daredevil, and the editor who spearheaded the revival of the mystery genre at DC. But he was an incredibly diverse creative spirit, working on everything from National Lampoon’s “First Lay” comics to Sesame Street books to a Henry Kissinger cover for Newsweek. And more, he was en enthusiastic and effective teacher, developing the talents of a generation of young artists and writers. If you enjoyed comics in the 1970s and 1980s, you benefited from his teaching and cheerleading, as so many of the generation of us coming up in those years were encouraged and developed at his hands.
But what I miss most is the twinkle in Joe’s eye, the elfin laugh as he planned his next moment of mischief, and his warmth. No situation was too grim for Joe to lighten up: when his old friend Bill Gaines passed away, Joe recalled a piece he’d illustrated for Mad, a deathbed scene with the man who was about to die reaching up and giving his friend “The Last Tag” with his last breath. It hung on our bulletin board for a long time afterwards.
If you haven’t finished your holiday giving, consider a donation to the Joe Orlando Scholarship Fund at the School of Visual Arts, where he taught for many years. Or to the funds at that school named after his mentor, the wondrous Wally Wood, or our colleague, Archie Goodwin. Even a small check to these funds is a nice way to remember these legendary creative people who gave us all so many great tales, and each taught so many other creators who to improve their craft. Their address is Visual Arts Foundation, 220 E 23rd, suite 609, NY, NY 10010, and it’s tax-deductible.
The best piece of advice for an inker I ever heard was from Joe. A young inker had his first assignment from DC and Joe was going over it with him. It was a short, 8-page mystery tale for one of the many books Joe edited. “You always get better with every page you ink,” he advised, “so when you do this job, start inking in the middle of the story so the first page and the last page are the final two pages you ink. This will mean that the readers will see your best page first and your next best page last!” I thought this was excellent advise and I passed it along, many, many times.