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Comicbook Legend Joe Sinnott Talks About Working with Stan Lee for Almost 70 Years

“Sixty-nine years I spent with Stan. He was something. If there were a thousand people in a ballroom, he’d be the one people would gravitate to. He was just that type, he had such charisma.” – Joe Sinnott

Joe Sinnott is a legendary artist, penciller and especially admired inker in the comicbook industry.  He worked with Stan Lee, as well as many other famous writers and artists, for nearly seven decades, inking titles including The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Thor, and The X-Men, among others. I had the privilege of working with Joe on The Amazing Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strip pages that I edited for Stan, and he’s always been a delight to know and speak with. I interviewed him in April 2019 about his long history with Stan and to find out what Joe’s been up to lately.

Joe and Stan at New York Comic Con in 2012.

When and how did you first meet Stan?

I already knew who he was. We were doing Timely books at Tom Gill’s cartoonist school [where Joe worked]. I was ghosting a lot of the work for Tom. I worked with Tom for about nine months and had gotten married at the time, so I said to Betty [Sinnott’s wife], “I’m going to go over to ask Stan about some work on my own,” which I did, and that was the first time I met Stan [at the Timely offices]. Of course, I was about 23 or 24 and Stan was about 26 or 27. So we were still both young men at that time. We were full of enthusiasm, that’s for sure.

Do you recall what your first project with Stan was?

Yes, I do. It was a [four]-page pencil and ink story called “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die.” [This story appeared in Apache Kid #8, cover dated September 1951.]  It was a Western. In 1950, as you would expect, we did a lot of Westerns. That was my first story with Stan and I’m proud of it, even today.

What was your favorite title or character that you worked with Stan on?

Oh, that’s easy. The Fantastic Four, by far. It was the most popular thing we worked on. Spider-Man hadn’t built up any following at that time, or any of the other big sellers like The Incredible Hulk. The Fantastic Four was their top comic. We had never seen anything like that before. When I first saw The Fantastic Four, it was [issue] number five, I said, “Gee, what great characters.” They were all unique. The Thing was certainly unique.

[Joe Sinnott inked Fantastic Four #5. He then became the regular inker starting with issue #44.]

How did you come to be the long-time inker of The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip Sundays?

In 1990, I had worked since 1950. I called Stan and told him, “I’m really beat, I’m tired and I want to retire.” He asked me, “Joe, would you do the Spider-Man newspaper strip? I’ve had trouble getting someone to ink it on a steady basis.” That was 1990 and I took it over. He wanted me to do the whole thing [Sundays and dailies] and I said, “Stan I’m quitting because I’m tired and I’m just beat. I’ll do the Sunday [strips].”

[Penciller] Ron Frenz was doing the Sundays at that time, and of course Ron and I were a good combination. After that I went through about five or six pencillers, and they were all good.

[Sinnott inked Sunday penciller Alex Saviuk for over 20 years until the last original strip came out in March 2019.]

Your payment vouchers for your work often had a quick, friendly note to Stan, which Stan always tried to respond to. When did you start corresponding with Stan in that manner?

That goes way back. I kept everything that Stan and I did together. As you know, Stan had a great reputation as a humorist. He was always on. He should’ve been a gag writer. I’ve got stuff going way back into the 60s even. Right from the beginning Stan was always humorous in his answers to me. Actually, they’d make a great book.

Stan proudly hung this signed photo of him and Joe in his office.

Is there a moment which you shared with Stan that particularly stands out in your memory?

Up until, I’d say, 1960 I used to go down to the city once a week on a Friday and bring [my work] and Stan would look at it and then give me a script and it could be anything [Westerns, monster stories, science fiction, etc.].  He thought I could do anything no matter what type of story. The only time I ever saw Stan was on a Friday, [but] in the early 1960s I didn’t go to the city. I was losing a whole day working, so everything was done by mail, special delivery. I didn’t see Stan personally for [fifteen] years.

In ’75 or 1976 they had one of those big conventions. I think it was held at the hotel in Grand Central Station [the 1975 Mighty Marvel Comic Convention at the Hotel Commodore]. In those days we had a meal at the opening ceremony and when Stan saw me come in, he said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I want you to meet Jack Keller!”

Jack Keller did a lot of good Westerns for Stan in the 50s.  Stan hadn’t seen me in so long that he thought I was Jack Keller, seriously. And I thought he was kidding me, I thought he was teasing the audience. Stan said to me, “Jack, how come you don’t come over to see us, you know, like you used to?” I said to him, “Stan if you’d pay me a decent rate I’d be over there.” I was pretending that I was Jack Keller. Anyway, John Romita was sitting next to me. I told John, “John, Stan [really] thinks I’m Jack Keller.” So John told Stan who I was. Stan came down to me and apologized and he told the audience the story. And they got a kick out of it, actually.

Joe’s note to Stan for his 75th birthday.

You recently inked a Patrick McDonnell “Mutts” Sunday strip, how was that?

I thought it reproduced pretty well. I saw it in our local paper. It’s a take off of The Fantastic Four #51 cover, “This Man This Monster.” It looked pretty good.

It’s great to know that the work of this legendary artist and inker is still being published and enjoyed today. To learn more about Joe Sinnott, please visit his website for further historical tidbits and to see samples of his extraordinary artwork from the past seven decades!