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June 2006 Joe Gill of Seymour, cartoonist and friend of Mickey Spillane died recently
(Tony Spinelli /Connecticut Post)
SEYMOUR — Besides the regulars at the Doyle Senior Center in Ansonia, where he was an ace at the pool table and played a mean hand of poker, few people noticed when Joe Gill died.
There was no funeral, according to his wishes. A niece, his only relative, took his ashes to a cemetery in Bridgeport, where his wife and son are buried.
But Gill also belonged to a larger family, a loose collection of friends, associates and fans strung across the country. When word at last reached them that he had died Dec. 17, they mourned the passing of a legend.
Gill, 87, was one of the most prolific comic book writers of all time. Working with artists such as Steve Ditko, the original creator of Spider-Man, he is said to have churned out 100 pages a week during his prime for Charlton Comics in Derby. "He wrote a staggering number of comics," said Mark Evanier, a Los Angeles-based writer for television, books and comic books who writes an obituary Web site featuring famous names in the comics industry.
Because Gill wrote during an era before comic book writers received credit for their scripts, his work is impossible to quantify. But based on interviews Gill had during his life and the anecdotal evidence from his colleagues, his status is beyond dispute. "There are a half-dozen guys in his category. If someone came back and said he was the most prolific ever, no one would be surprised," Evanier said. Born July 13, 1919, in Scranton, Pa., Gill later moved to New York. There,
he met the writer Mickey Spillane. It was the beginning of what became a lifelong friendship. Spillane and Gill's brother got him started writing, a profession that Gill took to with nearly unmatched dedication. His earliest known work was in the 1940s, when he worked with a stable of writers for Timely comics, the predecessor of Marvel, on installments of Captain America. During World War II, Gill served in the Navy as a radio operator. He was credited with sending a signal to commanders after his ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, an action that led to the rescue of many on the ship, according to his niece, Carol Anderson.
In the 1960s, after a shaky period for the industry, Gill moved to Connecticut where he took a job as a hired gun for Charlton Comics, notorious in the industry as a sweatshop. There he banged out everything that Charlton published. He wrote Westerns, romance comics, comics based on TV shows and comics based on car racing. He co-created plots and characters with artists like Ditko, with whom he created Captain Atom. A gambler and hard drinker years back, Gill took pseudonyms from liquors like Jim Beam, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels.
"The guy was a fountain of ideas. He could find a scrap of paper on the street and pick it up and write 'War and Peace,' " said Jim Amash, inker for Archie Comics, Disney and Marvel, and a comics historian. Amash, who interviewed Gill in 2005 for the Charlton Spotlight, said the quality of Gill's work was erratic, partially a function of working for a publisher that took everything without ever asking for a rewrite.
"Joe had no illusions about his talent. He knew he was essentially working in a sweatshop," Amash said.
Although he worked at a time when writers signed away the rights to their work when they received a check, Gill never expressed any bitterness that others profited from his creations, according his friends and family. "The pay wasn't very good, but when you make $4.50 a page and you're doing 100 pages a week, you're doing pretty good," said Frank Mclaughlin, Gill's editor at Charlton and a longtime friend. "He could sit there and type and talk to you while he was writing a script. I don't know how he did that."
Mclaughlin, 72, of Stratford, the syndicated comic strip artist of Gil Thorpe, said he last saw Gill on Thanksgiving. He said Gill suffered from complications after a fall at the Shady Knoll Health Center. Anderson, Gill's niece, said her uncle saw writing simply as his job.
"Every day started the same. He went into his writing room at 9 a.m. He took lunch. And he was out at 5 p.m. He worked every single day."
In his final years, Gill spent most of his time at the Doyle Senior Center, where he played pool in the morning and poker in the afternoon. Senior Center Director AnnMarie Caporale said Gill had a dry wit, always ready with a joke. But he took his poker seriously. "Everything had to be true to form. If he saw you weren't doing it right he would let you know about it," Caporale said. Gill willed his cue sticks to the senior center, which is having them mounted with a plaque in his honor. "He had a beautiful life," Caporale said.