Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Joe Sinnott's Unknown Charlton Work

You never know what you'll find when rummaging through old comics. My brother John and I recently visited our friend Barry Pearl, who had acquired a collection comprised of titles from various publishing houses. Barry allowed me to take several 1970s-era Charlton comics, aware of my fascination with the oft-ignored company. A perusal of the contents in Fightin' Army and Haunted Love revealed the usual contingent of talented freelancers: Don Newton, Pete Morisi, Sanho Kim, Charles Nicholas, Wayne Howard, Jack Keller, Vince Alascia, and, of course, prolific writer Joe Gill, but when I took a closer look at the cover of Career Girl Romances # 63 (June  1971) I was puzzled. I suspected the pencils were by Art Cappello, a long-time member of Vince Colleta's studio, who specialized in illustrating stories for Charlton's numerous love-themed publications. No surprise there, but it was the inking that threw me. The rich, precise line was indicative of Joe Sinnott's handiwork; renowned by both fans and professionals as one of the industry's finest talents. For years Sinnott added luster to Jack Kirby's pencils on the Fantastic Four. When Kirby left Marvel he continued on the FF, and was also assigned to The Mighty Thor (John Buscema, one of Marvel's top artists, replaced Kirby on both titles). 

(An aside for those of you unacquainted with the details of comic book production, and I know of at least ONE person out there! The rest of you can move on to the next paragraph! In order for pencil art to reproduce clearly it must be completed in black (or more commonly called india) ink, using tools such as a brush, quill or radiograph pen.The artist who draws the story may also ink it, but often, due to time constraints, a different hand completes the job. Depending on his skill set and compatibility with the penciler, an inker can either compliment or weaken the finished product. An excellent example of the former is this page from Fantastic Four # 49, April 1966. Jack Kirby's powerful pencils above and Joe Sinnott's exquisite inks below.)   

Career Girl Romances # 63 appeared on the stands concurrently with his Marvel assignments. Many fans were largely unaware that Sinnott was also a prolific artist for Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact (a comic produced for Catholic schools and published bi-weekly during the school year) at the same time he freelanced for both companies in the 1960s. As far as I knew his last work for Charton had occurred a decade earlier, penciling romance stories and several issues of Gorgo by way of Vince Colletta's studio.  

The cover that started the investigation. Sinnott's crisp inking is evident in both foreground figures and background foliage. 

I meticulously examined the details employed on trees, clothing and shrubbery. True, there were other professionals with similar styles, but this looked "exactly" like the best aspects of Sinnott's signature work as evidenced in Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain America and other Marvel titles in the early 1970s. I put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and began the search for an answer.

I first sought out one of the top experts in identifying comic art, my buddy Michael J. Vassallo (aka Doc V). In an instant message I detailed the info and sent a scan of the cover. Mike replied that he actually SAW Joe Sinnott and his son Mark that very day at a Convention in White Plains and was in agreement with my analysis. I mentioned that I was going to email Mark, who I had met on numerous occasions. I also inquired if he was on Facebook. Mike notified me in the affirmative and suggested I contact him there. I did both and waited patiently. A day later Mark replied to my email, confirming Joe's involvement. He explained:   

"My dad did a couple of covers with Art Cappello for Charlton in the early 70s. That is one of them. Art and my dad were very good friends."

Mark was aware of Career Girl Romance, and knew that Joe inked at least one other Cappello-drawn cover, Romantic Story # 111, and possibly more. All were signed "Art Cappello", leading many to assume he completed the artwork without assistance, but as I've discovered, a sole signature does not guarantee a one-man operation. With the likelihood of further undocumented contributions by Sinnott, my next step was to check every Charlton romance cover, beginning in late 1970 and into the entirety of 1971.

Charlton Press was the largest purveyor of romance comics in this period with DC in second place (Marvel's foray into the market at this time was minimal; only Our Love Story and My Love contended for sales). My first area of research was Mike's Amazing World of Comics, a website where you can search for practically every title published by either month or date of publication. The Grand Comic Book Database was my next destination; there I could study covers that were not in my collection. Alternate sites such as Ebay were also an invaluable resource tool due to the many dealers who provide enlarged photos for potential customers. This led to the discovery of eight more covers signed by Cappello in which Sinnott made contributions (with a ninth brought to light by Dennis F. Rogers). 

Listed below are the results of my findings, followed by some observations and commentary. If further unknown Sinnott embellishment surfaces I'll be sure to update the information here. All images are from the invaluable Grand Comic Book Database.

Mark Sinnott confirmed Joe's inks on Career Girl Romances # 63 and was aware of his involvement on the above cover from Romantic Story # 111, February 1971. He also noted that there might be others, so the search was on. 

The distinctive Sinnott style is most noticeable on hair and faces, particularly the man's ear. Teen-Age Love # 74, January 1971.

An awkwardly arranged layout doesn't give Joe much to work on, but his style is still apparent on faces and clothing. Love Diary # 70, January 1971. 

Thanks to the astute eye of Dennis F. Rogers, who pointed out this cover in the comments section. After finding a large scan to study on Ebay I agreed with him that Sinnott was the inker. There is very little to go by on the main figures, but the background sea, beach and sand have patterns that identify Sinnott's involvement. I Love You # 70, January 1971.   

Career Girl Romances # 61, February 1971. Charlotte Jetter lettering.

Just Married # 75, February 1971. The woman's jacket with its fluid lines, coupled with the building details confirms Sinnott's participation. Joe inked a total of four romance covers in this month.

Sinnott's details on buildings and trees display his craftsmanship. Teen Confessions # 66, February 1971.

One of Cappello's better efforts, it includes a soldier in the foreground, providing Sinnott with a figure he can embellish with gusto. Sweethearts # 115, March 1971.

With a title like "The Hippy and the Cop" what more needs to be said? Except that Cappello also drew the interior story, which was inked by Vince Alascia. Charlton should have assigned the art to Pete Morisi, who actually WAS a cop and moonlighted as a freelancer for the company! Just Married # 77, June 1971.

Cappello swiped other artists from time to time, such as the two background figures, whose poses are taken from a John Buscema panel or cover (possibly one inked by Joe!). Secret Romance # 13, June 1971

In a six month period (January-June 1971 publication dates) Joe Sinnott inked Cappello on a total of ten covers. After that period Cappello either did the inking on his own, or was assisted by Sal Gentile, who, in addition to being an artist, was also editor of the Charlton line.

One of the pleasures in researching comics is accidentally discovering something that has been staring back at you all along. Romance comics are often ignored by the superhero-based fan mentality, although historians such as Jacque Nodell on her Sequential Crush blog (highly recommended. Hi Jacque!) https://www.sequentialcrush.com/ have focused a sharper light in that direction. While comic book aficionados admire Joe Sinnott for his embellishment of Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four and
Captain America, along with enhancing the work of craftsmen such as John Buscema, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Barry Windsor-Smith and many others, and deservedly so, they often overlook his solid work as an artist going back to the Atlas era, on titles such as Kent Blake of the Secret Service, Arrowhead and countless war, western, crime, horror and fantasy fillers. Another area of Sinnott's oeuvre that escapes notice is his contributions to the pages of Treasure Chest. In an interview in Comic Crusader # 9, circa 1970, he explained: "I've also done the life stories of notables such as J.F.K. - Eisenhower - MacArthur - Pope John - Babe Ruth - Gene Tunney - Wright Brothers , and many others for Treasure Chest." Stories which he is justly proud of. 

Sinnott's beautifully rendered cover art to Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact Vol 25, #16, May 14, 1970. This was Joe's last cover for the comic, although he continued to illustrate interior stories until the company ended its 24-year run in 1972. While inking Fantastic Four, Captain America and other titles for Stan Lee at Marvel Comics from 1965 onward, Joe's true passion was in doing the complete pencil and ink job when crafting the "straight stuff," as he calls it. He was able to fulfill that ambition in the pages of Treasure Chest.

Joe's acclaim at Marvel comics is certainly justified, but his efforts go beyond the pages of superheroes. On a personal note, as anyone who has met him knows, Joe is one of the most sincere and humble professionals I've had the pleasure of spending time with; his warmth and charm is genuine. He is a man who truly loves his work.

Joltin' Joe Sinnott with Michael J, Vassallo at the White Plains Con, May 4th, 2019. Photo courtesy of Mike. With thanks to Mark Sinnott and Barry Pearl.