Wednesday, February 5, 2014

John Giunta (ca. 1920-1970)-Part 1

Aka Jay Gee
Illustrator, Comic Book Artist, Science Fiction Fan, Author, Editor, Publisher, Art Director, Reviewer
Born ca. 1920, New York
Died November 6, 1970, New York, New York

John Giunta was born in about 1920 in New York, probably in Brooklyn or Queens. His parents were Italian immigrants. (The surname Giunta is the Italian equivalent of the Spanish word junta.) Giunta's mother was named Jenny, perhaps a nickname for Giovanna. His father may have been Thomas G. Giunta. I think both worked in the garment industry. In 1940, John Giunta was at home in Brooklyn with his mother. He was nineteen years old and already working as a commercial artist by then. If Thomas G. Giunta was indeed the father of John Giunta, then there were other Giunta children: Anna, Antonio, and Marie E. Giunta. I haven't found John Giunta in any other census except 1940, nor in any other public records. I don't even know his date of birth.

If John Giunta has any measure of fame today, it's mostly for his collaboration with Frank Frazetta on Frazetta's first published comic book story, "Snowman," from Tally Ho #1 (Dec. 1944). Frazetta was of course a teenaged prodigy and would go on to great fame in the 1960s and beyond. Giunta, by then in his mid-twenties, was already a comic book veteran, having started in the business in the late 1930s. But if you look for biographical information on him in any of the histories of comic books, you will come up empty. On the other hand, if you begin with two sources on science fiction fandom, you will find some interesting tidbits on Giunta's early career as an artist, editor, and publisher.

Science fiction fandom began in the late 1920s with the letters column of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories. During the next decade or so, fans began corresponding with each other, organizing clubs, and issuing their own hectographed and mimeographed magazines. New York City was an epicenter of fandom, Brooklyn and Queens in particular. Much of what we know of early fandom comes from the men who were there and who in later years recounted their experiences. The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom by Sam Moskowitz (1954) and All Our Yesterdays by Harry Warner, Jr. (1969) are two invaluable sources about a kind of golden age that slipped away as youth slips away.

Like other artists and writers in his field, John Giunta gained entry into comic books because of his interest in science fiction and fantasy and because of his activity in fandom. (1) According to Sam Moskowitz, Cosmic Talesissued by New York fans James V. Taurasi, Jack Gillespie, and Robert G. Thompson beginning in 1937, "was the magazine which introduced artists John Giunta and Jack Agnew to the field." (2) Giunta would have been just sixteen or seventeen years old at the time. Taurasi passed editorship to the sister-and-brother team of Gertrude and Louis Kuslan with the September 1938 issue of Cosmic Tales. John Giunta took over for one issue, dated 1940 (Vol. 1, No. 2). By then Giunta had already published his own fanzine, Amazing Wonder Tales, the one and only issue of which was dated August 1938. Giunta subsequently changed the title to Scienti-Tales (Mar./Apr. 1939). He also issued an amateur press magazine called Scientitale Publication. (3)

Earlier that summer--on June 5, 1938, to be exact--Giunta had attended the first meeting of the newly reorganized Greater New York Chapter of the Science Fiction League. Sixteen fans were present, including, in the words of Sam Moskowitz, "two amateur artists, John Giunta and Daniel C. Burford." (4) Jack Rubinson and William Sykora were also there. The next event in a chronicle of Giunta's fan activity was the publication of the first mimeographed edition of Fantascience Digest, edited by Robert A. Madle, in January 1939. Staff writers on the magazine included two historians of fandom, Harry Warner, Jr., and Sam Moskowitz. The list of contributors to Fantascience Digest is nothing to sniff at: Henry Kuttner, Ray Bradbury, Ralph Milne Farley, Donald A. Wollheim, and the young John Giunta. (5) That same month, Giunta had his first published credit in a professional science fiction magazine (or prozine), a letter in Startling Stories.

To be continued . . .

(1) Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for example, were keen fans of science fiction and published their own fanzines, Cosmic Stories (1929) and Science Fiction (1933). They also created Superman, a character that had originated in pulp-fictional form. Other science fiction fan artists included Ronald Clyne and Hannes Bok, both of whom contributed to Weird Tales. See All Our Yesterdays by Harry Warner, Jr. (1969), p. 91
(2) The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom by Sam Moskowitz (1954), p. 135.
(3) "Death of an Artist: John Giunta--A Personalized Obituary" by Sam Moskowitz, Luna Monthly No. 20 (Jan. 1971), pp. 1-2.
(4) Moskowitz, p. 171.
(5) Moskowitz, p. 200.

Amazing Wonder Tales #1, August 1938, a science fiction fanzine with cover art by John Giunta.
Cosmic Tales, July 1941 (Vol. 1, No. 4), with cover art by Giunta. 

Thanks to Christopher M. O'Brien for providing Sam Moskowitz's obituary of John Giunta.
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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