Saturday, February 8, 2014

John Giunta (ca. 1920-1970)-Part 4

I'm not sure that anyone knows when John Giunta was born. One source after another gives his birth year as 1920 without citing a source for that information. (I have based the date given here--circa 1920--on the assumptions that the birth year of 1920 is correct and that Giunta turned twenty sometime after the enumerator of the 1940 census visited his home on April 13, 1940.) As for his death date--I have used the date given by what I take to be a reliable source, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. The ISFDb has the date--November 6, 1970--but not the place of Giunta's death. I presume it to have been in New York City or somewhere close-by.

* * *

Victor Gorelick, an editor for Archie Comics, remembers John Giunta:
I liked John Giunta. He was a nice guy who lived by himself and was a big smoker. He was usually on time with his work, but he was a pretty nervous guy, very insecure, but a very nice man. (1)
If Giunta lived alone, he may very well have died alone, in which case he can be added to a list that includes Hannes Bok and Hugh Rankin, two artists who also contributed to Weird Tales. Giunta's relatively young age at his death and the fact that he was "a big smoker" suggest that he died of cancer.

* * *

John Giunta is remembered as the artist who got Frank Frazetta started in comic books.
When I was about sixteen [Frazetta recalled] someone in my family introduced me to John Giunta. He was a professional artist who was working for Bernard Bailey's comics publishing company and he really wasn't a very personable guy. He was very aloof and self-conscious and hard for me to talk to, but he was really very talented. He had an exceptional ability, but it was coupled with a total lack of self-confidence and an inability to communicate with people. Being around him really opened up my eyes, though, because he was really that good. He had an interesting style, a good sense of spotting and his blacks worked well. You can see a lot of his influence even today in some of my ink work. (2)
Frazetta, then sixteen, had earlier drawn a homemade comic book called Snowman. "Giunta liked [it] and persuaded Bernard Bailey to publish a revised version in Tally Ho #1 in 1944." (3) Frazetta penciled the story, and Giunta inked it and drew the cover for Tally-Ho Comics #1. Frazetta may or may not have been credited for his work. The Comic Book Database suggests that Frazetta's first credited comic book art was as a penciler and inker in Exciting Comics #59 from January 1948. So, at age nineteen, Frank Frazetta was a professional artist, thanks in part to John Giunta.

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Victor Gorelick called Giunta "a nice guy," while Frazetta remembered that "he wasn't really a very personable guy." To be fair to Giunta, we should note that Frazetta was a teenager when he met Giunta, and that Giunta was only in his mid-twenties. Presumably, Gorelick knew Giunta--then in his forties--in the early 1960s. Frazetta may have been sensitive to perceived slights in a man who was--by both accounts--insecure and lacking in self-confidence. Upon reading those accounts, I couldn't help but think of Roy G. Krenkel, another of Frank Frazetta's mentors and an artist who also lacked confidence in his work.

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I think it pretty safe to say that Robert E. Howard created the genre of heroic fantasy, at least as we know it today. After Howard died by his own hand in 1936, the mantle of heroic fantasy was taken up by Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, Jr., and others. Unlike other pulp genres, heroic fantasy did not easily make the transition to comic books. That changed with the debut of Crom the Barbarian in the first issue of Out of This World, from June 1950 (4). Gardner Fox, an old hand at comic books and pulp fiction, wrote the script. John Giunta, with one foot in the pulps and one in comic books, was the artist. Both had also contributed to Weird Tales, birthplace of Howard's Conan the Cimmerian. They were probably the perfect combination to revive Conan under the name of Conan's god, Crom. There were other similarities between Crom and Conan. ("Swipes" might be a better word.) I'm not sure that Crom's yellow hair would have thrown anybody off. (5) In any case, Crom appeared in two issues each of Out of This World (6) and Strange Worlds in 1950-1951. Heroic fantasy returned to the comics with a vengeance in 1970 with Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian

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John Giunta drew interior illustrations for Weird Tales beginning with the November 1942 issue and ending with the May 1950 issue. He also created three covers for "The Unique Magazine" from 1944 to 1949. His last was for "The Damp Man Again" by Allison V. Harding. The Damp Man is a comic book-like villain (also a weird menace kind of villain). As both a comic book artist and pulp artist, John Giunta would have been well qualified to draw the character.

John Giunta's Covers for Weird Tales
Mar. 1944, "The Trail of Cthulhu" by August Derleth
Nov. 1948
May 1949, "The Damp Man Again" by Allison V. Harding

John Giunta's Interior Illustrations in Weird Tales
Nov. 1942
Jan. 1943
Mar. 1943
July 1943
Sept. 1943
Nov. 1943
Mar. 1944
July 1944
Sept. 1944
May 1947
July 1947
Sept. 1947
Jan. 1948
Mar. 1948
May 1948
July 1948
Nov. 1948
May 1949
July 1949
Sept. 1949
Jan. 1950
May 1950

(1) Quoted in The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Companionedited by Jon B. Cooke (2005), p. 74.
(2) Quoted in Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art, edited by Arnie Fenner and Cathy Fenner (1998), p. 4.
(3) Fenner and Fenner, p. 4. The actual title is Tally-Ho Comics. The date was December 1944.
(4) Fourteen years to the month after the death of Robert E. Howard.
(5) John Jakes' Conan-like character, Brak the Barbarian, also has yellow hair.
(6) Out of This World was called Out of This World Adventures with issue number two.

Tally-Ho Comics #1 (Dec. 1944) with cover art by John Giunta and probably an uncredited Frank Frazetta.
"Crom the Barbarian" by Gardner Fox and John Giunta from Out of This World #1, June 1950.
Weird Tales, March 1944, with cover art by John Giunta.
Weird Tales, November 1948. Giunta was again the artist. By the mid to late 1940s, Weird Tales was in a science fiction phase. Giunta's art anticipated that of Richard Powers, John Schoenherr, and Jack Gaughan from the 1950s and '60s. 
Weird Tales, May 1949, with cover art by John Giunta. There were three stories of The Damp Man in Weird Tales. John Giunta illustrated them all and created a cover for the last, "The Damp Man Again."

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Thanks for doing this research. I'm a huge fan of Giunta, from DC science fiction work of the '50s that was later reprinted in the 1970s. Not knowing the Frazetta connection, I always saw big similarities in their work. Very moody, dramatic poses.