'Judgment Day!' (Weird Fantasy #18, March-April 1953). 

Joe Orlando was an Italian-born comic artist, editor and art instructor, with a career spanning over 50 years in American comic books. After working for several publishers in the late 1940s alongside Wallace Wood, he became a mainstay in the legendary "New Trend" line of EC Comics. He was a pillar of the company's science fiction titles 'Weird Science' and 'Weird Fantasy', and later also a regular contributor to Mad Magazine. After stints in Gilberton's 'Classics Illustrated' series and James Warren's Creepy and Eerie, he got a steady job with DC Comics. Initially an artist, Orlando became one of the company's most prominent editors in the late 1960s, overseeing the creation of emblematic characters such as 'Jonah Hex' and 'The Swamp Thing', before becoming DC's Vice President in 1985.

Early life
Joseph Orlando was born in 1927 in Bari, a coastal city in southern Italy. Two years later, the Orlando family moved to the United States, where they settled in New York City. An avid doodler, Orlando attended local art classes from ages seven through fourteen, winning several drawing competitions along the way. In 1941 he enrolled at NYC's High School of Industrial Art, studying Illustration. During this formative period, Orlando got his first art assignment, drawing scenes of Mark Twain's 'The Prince and the Pauper' for a high school textbook. Shortly after World War II, he spent his military service with the Military Police in Europe. Back in civilian life in 1947, he continued his education at the Art Students League on the G.I .Bill. His ambition was to become an illustrator in the tradition of Norman Rockwell, but by that time newspapers, magazines and ad agencies were largely switching from illustrations to photography.

Cover art by Joe Orlando for Catholic Comics and Western Comics. 

First comic book work
So Orlando turned to comic books instead. His major influences were Hal Foster and Alex Raymond, and, later on, direct colleague Wallace Wood as well. In 1948 he began an association with comic book packager Lloyd Jacquet, who assigned him to Treasure Chest, a comic book published by the Catholic Church. Orlando's first work in the field were a couple of 'Chuck White' stories, starring the son of divorced parents from different religious beliefs. In the same tradition, he worked for the comic book 'Catholic Comics', drawing stories with high school athlete 'Bill Brown of Notre Dame' (1948-1949). He simultaneously switched to other genres when his art appeared in 'Cowboy Western Comics' by Charlton Comics, as well as 'Exposed' and 'Outlaws' by D.S. Publishing. During this period, he often worked together with fellow artist Tex Blaisdell.

'Rocket to the Moon' (the story was an adaptation of 'Maza of the Moon' by pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline).

Collaboration with Wallace Wood
A more defining encounter occurred in 1949, when he and Wallace Wood both began working for Fox Comics. The two men started a collaboration, with Orlando doing pencil art and Wood the finished art and ink. They opened a studio, along with other young artists such as Sid Check and Harry Harrison. Their main client was Fox, for whom they drew many features in the period 1949-1951, including 'Dorothy Lamour, Jungle Princess' (based on Hollywood actress Dorothy Lamour who played the character Ulah in the jungle adventure film 'The Jungle Princess'), 'Martin Kane', 'Frank Buck' (based on the famous real-life wild life explorer Frank Buck, whose hunts were featured in a documentary serial at the time), 'Judy Canova', 'Pedro' and the jungle heroes 'Sabu, Elephant Boy' (based on the Hollywood film 'Elephant Boy' [1938], starring the child actor Sabu), 'Jungle Jo' and 'Jungle Lil'. The team also worked for Avon Comics and Youthful Magazines, where Orlando did his first sci-fi art. He worked on Avon's stand-alone title 'Rocket to the Moon' (1951) and the features 'Space Detective' (1951) and 'Kenton of the Star Patrol' (1951), as well as Youthful's 'Captain Science' comic book (1951). The team also contributed romance stories to Better Publications and horror material to Master Comics. The September 1951 issue of Master's 'Dark Mysteries' (#2) contained Joe Orlando's first horror story, 'The Monster's Ghost'.

'Infiltration!' (Shock SuspenStories #7, February-March 1953). 

EC Comics
Through Wood, Joe Orlando was also introduced to EC Comics, led by publisher William M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein. By mid-1951 Orlando was part of EC's core team, filling the publisher's legendary "New Trend" line of comic books. These genre-based comic books stood out for their edgy subject matters, clever plot twists and high quality artwork, in which the artists were free to work in their own styles. Orlando became a staple in the science fiction titles 'Weird Science' and 'Weird Fantasy', as well as their 1954 merger 'Weird Science-Fantasy'. He illustrated many Feldstein-scripted stories, often based on short stories by famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. In 'Weird Science-Fantasy', Orlando was responsible for features with a robot teacher from Mars, Adam Link, based on pulp stories written by Eando (Otto) Binder. It was one of the few recurring characters in the EC comic books. The 'Adam Link' stories were later also adapted for the mid-1960s TV show 'The Outer Limits', featuring Leonard Nimoy.

'I, Robot', starring Adam Link (Weird Science-Fantasy #27, January/February 1955).

One of the groundbreaking stories with art by Joe Orlando was 'Judgment Day!', written by Al Feldstein and published in Weird Fantasy #18 (March-April 1953). In the story, an Earth astronaut visits a robot colony to inspect if they are ready to be included in the Great Galactic Republic. The astronaut is shocked to see that the robots differentiate their population by the orange or blue color of their exteriors, while the insides are completely identical. He decides the robots are not ready to become part of the republic, where people by now had learned to live together. As the saddened astronaut flies back home, the reader learns that he is a black man. With this revelation in the final panel,  EC provided a powerful and at the time provocative stance against racism. Published during the Comics Code era, Gaines and Feldstein had to fight to keep this final panel intact. The effort earned the team praise from Ray Bradbury, who stated that the story should be "required reading for every man, woman and child in the United States".

Besides the sci-fi titles, Orlando also drew for EC's horror books 'Haunt of Fear' and 'Tales from the Crypt', and was the regular artist of the sci-fi segments in 'Shock SuspenStories'. He also had a story in nearly every issue of Panic, the sister publication of Mad Magazine. In 1955 the strict publication rules of the Comics Code Authority made it impossible for EC's "New Trend" line to continue. The titles were dissolved, and replaced by the less provocative "New Direction" line, with Orlando appearing in 'Impact', 'Valor' and 'M.D.'. He also drew for the "Picto-Fiction" titles 'Crime Illustrated', 'Terror Illustrated' and 'Confessions Illustrated', which were presented as illustrated magazines instead of comic books, thus avoiding the Comics Code guidelines. However, by 1956 these new EC titles disappeared as well, leaving Orlando without a job.

'The Urge to See the World Dept.' - Travel Posters (Panic #7, February-March 1955).

With the disappearance of his regular workload, Orlando turned to freelancing for other companies again. One of them was Timely, the future Marvel Comics. Orlando had done some occasional freelance jobs for them between early 1951 and 1953. He returned from late 1955 until 1958 with more regular appearances in genre-based titles such as 'Strange Tales', 'Astonishing', 'Journey into Mystery', 'Mystical Tales', 'Mystic' and a couple of western comic books. In 1957 he made similar contributions to the horror title 'Black Magic' by Headline Publications, Inc. This return to horror comics, however, lacked the appeal of his previous EC work, since the Comics Code-approved scripts were less inventive. He briefly returned to Marvel in 1964, when he penciled the second, third and fourth issue of Stan Lee's superhero 'Daredevil', with inks by Vince Colletta, with whom he shared a studio at the time.

Classics Illustrated
Between 1956 and 1958 Orlando worked for Gilberton's 'Classics Illustrated' series. He drew the comic book adaptations of 'Caesar's Conquests', 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'Kim' and 'Ben Hur', and later also contributed ot the publisher's educational comic book 'The World Around Us' (1959-1961). Some of Orlando's Gilberton assignments were apparently rush jobs, and the author had to seek inspiration elsewhere to keep up with his deadlines. In the Dutch pop culture magazine Furore (#26, 2020), author Luuk Smeets managed to directly trace back 150 (!) of the 186 panels from 'Caesar's Conquests' to artwork from Hal Foster's 'Prince Valiant' comic. Similar forms of plagiarism were found in Orlando's stories for EC's 'Valor'.

Tale of Two Cities, by Joe Orlando
'Tale of Two Cities'.

Mad Magazine
Like many former EC Comics artists, Orlando eventually became a writer and artist for EC's satirical comic magazine Mad. Orlando debuted in issue #32 (April 1957) and remained a regular contributor until issue #128 (July 1969). Originally, Orlando took over 'Scenes We'd Like To See', a series originally launched by Harvey Kurtzman and carried on by Phil Interlandi. In this feature, tired clichés from movies, books, TV shows or adverts were given a sarcastic twist. Orlando wrote and drew most of his early contributions alone, until E. Nelson Bridwell became the main writer. They appeared on a regular basis up until 1959. After that date, Orlando's contributions to the series became less prominent, with a final peak in 1964. On 30 April 1958, Bridwell and Orlando's parody of 'To Tell the Truth' in issue #40 (July 1958) received significant media exposure when it was shown on 'The Garry Moore Show'. Since Moore once hosted 'To Tell the Truth' himself, he considered the parody hilarious.

'Scenes We'd Like To See' (Mad #38, March 1958).

However, the 'Scenes We'd Like To See' gag with the biggest impact on pop culture appeared in issue #38 (March 1958). In the comic strip the Lone Ranger and his Native American sidekick Tonto find themselves surrounded by hundreds of Native Americans. Yet when the masked cowboy says: "It looks like we're finished", Tonto grins: "What you mean... 'We'?" The gag was retold by many people as a popular joke, sometimes keeping the original Lone Ranger context. Other variations, especially in foreign languages, used different cowboy and Indian duos, like Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Eventually the punchline mutated into different comedic situations, always where a hero is outnumbered and his loyal sidekick suddenly joins the enemy. The punchline "What (do) you mean... 'we'?" (or "us?") is nowadays so well known, that few remember it all originated in Bridwell and Orlando's Mad comic strip.

Orlando was also closely associated with another Mad feature: 'Mad ... Of The Year'. Originally thought up by Larry Siegel, it depicted satirical takes on a certain profession or media celebrity. Orlando illustrated six installments of the series between 1963 and 1969, all with different writers. His final contribution to this particular series was 'Mad's Foreign Film Producer of the Year', scripted by Dick DeBartolo for issue #128 (July 1969). Siegel and Orlando additionally collaborated on two magazine parodies for Mad, targeting Film Land (issue #54, April 1960) and Reader's Digest (issue #67, December 1961). Orlando's spoof of Ladies' Home Journal (issue # 62, April 1961) was written by Tom Koch. In a rather eerie example of life imitating art, Siegel wrote 'Mad Previews the Top News Stories of 1962', illustrated by Orlando, which ran in issue #69 (March 1962). One of the articles, 'MM enters hospital again', claimed that Marilyn Monroe would go to the hospital that year under preposterous media attention, to treat an "athlete's foot". In August of that year, this joke became more macabre when the Hollywood sex bomb indeed became a medical case: she was found dead in her bed...

'Mad's Caterer of the Year' (Mad #88, July 1964).

Warren Publishing and other mid-1960s activities
In 1964, Orlando began an association with publisher James Warren, who was planning a new line of black-and-white comic magazines. Orlando was present as an artist and story editor in the early issues of both Creepy (1964) and its sister publication Eerie (1965). Both titles returned to horror in the EC tradition, since they didn't need the approval of the Comics Code Authority because of their magazine format. In Creepy, Orlando returned to adapting 'Adam Link' stories by Otto Binder between 1965 and 1967. Orlando also appeared in Warren's war magazine 'Blazing Combat'. In the mid-1960s, Joe Orlando additionally drew stories for Western Publishing's mystery titles 'Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery' (1965-1968) and 'The Twilight Zone' (1965-1967), as well as 'Ripley's Believe It or Not!' (1966-1968).

Artist at DC Comics
Through Mad writer E. Nelson Bridwell, Orlando was introduced to DC Comics in 1966. Bridwell was also one of DC's assistant editors and the creator of the parody superhero team 'The Inferior Five', which first appeared in Showcase issues #62, #63 and #65 in 1966. Orlando, assisted by Jerry Grandenetti, did pencil art for the team's first two appearances, with Mike Esposito as his inker. By the time the feature got its own ten-issue comic book in 1967-1968, Mike Sekowsky was doing pencil duties. Joe Orlando had moved on to co-create and draw the teenage humor series 'Swing with Scooter' (1966-1972) in collaboration with the writers Barbara Friedlander and Jack Miller. The title cashed in on both Beatlemania and the success of the comic books of competitor Archie Comics, and starred a young British musician who made the grade in the US. Orlando was one of the pencil artists in the first fifteen issues, published between June-July 1966 and October-November 1968. In 1966, Orlando also drew two issues of the superhero title 'Metamorpho - The Element Man' written by Bob Haney.

'Swing with Scooter' #3, November 1966. 

Editor at DC Comics
During his time freelancing for DC, Orlando struck a friendship with DC editor Carmine Infantino. When Infantino became Editorial Director in 1968, he hired Joe Orlando as one of his editors. Orlando remembered in a 1998 interview for Comic Book Artist magazine, that he arrived at a time when DC's "old boys network" of editors and writers was gradually dissolving. Orlando fitted in with Infantino's philosophy that editors who were artists themselves would do a better job working with talent. Dick Giordano, Joe Kubert and Mike Sekowsky received editing duties around the same time. At one point, Orlando was overseeing 17 comic books, working with assistant editors such as Mark Hanerfeld, Paul Levitz and Allen Asherman. He guided transformations of existing comic books, and the launch of new ones. He worked closely with his writing team, serving as an inspirator, co-plotter and talent scout.

One of the first comic books Orlando got under his care was the short-lived kids title 'Stanley and His Monster' (1968) by Arnold Drake and Bob Oksner. Then came 'Angel and the Ape', a new detective humor title co-created by Bob Oksner and E. Nelson Bridwell, and the revival of the 1950s teen title 'Leave It to Binky' (1968-1977) in another attempt to compete with Archie Comics. The editor uplifted the reprint horror anthology series 'House of Mystery' and 'House of Secrets' by bringing in Neal Adams to do the cover art. He also used his experiences with the EC horror books, creating introduction pages with the hosts Cain ('Mystery') and Abel ('Secrets') giving sarcastic commentary on each issue's content. Orlando drew most of the Cain panels himself between 1968 and 1970, while Bill Draut drew the early Abel introductions. Draut and Adams were also present in another Orlando initiative; the relaunch of the mystery title 'The Phantom Stranger' (1969). Joe Orlando also tried to modernize the romance titles 'Heart Throbs' and 'Young Romance' by experimenting with the basic boy-meets-girl concept. Orlando suggested more edgy variations by having the lovers come from different classes, ethnicities or educational backgrounds.

Introduction page to 'House of Mystery' #176 (October 1968). 

Orlando also supervised the creation of Howard Post's prehistoric superhero 'Anthro' (1968-1969) as well as the western gunslingers 'Bat Lash' (1968-1969, drawn by Nick Cardy) and 'Jonah Hex' (created in 1972 by John Albano and Tony DeZuñiga). Another important creation with Orlando's involvement was 'The Swamp Thing' (1971) by Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein, which had its own title between 1972 and 1976. In 1971 Orlando replaced Mike Sekowsky as the editor of one of DC's oldest titles, 'Adventure Comics'. He gradually changed it from a vehicle for characters from the 'Superman' franchise into a fantasy/supernatural anthology comic book. New features saw the light, including 'The Black Orchid' (1973) by Sheldon Mayer and Tony DeZuñiga and a new version of 'The Spectre' (1974) by Michael Fleisher and artist Jim Aparo. In 1972, Orlando and his boss Carmine Infantino initiated a new line of new genre-based anthologies: 'Weird War', 'Weird Western', 'Weird Worlds' and 'Weird Mystery'. Additionally, Joe Orlando tried to compete with Mad Magazine by launching 'Plop!' (1973-1976), a bi-monthly humor title filled with semi-horror stories. Sergio Aragonés was the major artist on the title, with Basil Wolverton contributing cover art.

During the 1970s, Orlando and Infantino recruited a team of Filipino comic artists, who would fill many DC Comics books during the 1970s and 1980s. Among them were Alfredo Alcala, Mar Amongo, Steve Gan, Ernie Chan, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo and Gerry Talaoc. In 1981 Orlando and Dick Giordano undertook another headhunting trip, this time to the UK, resulting in the recruitment of Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Kevin O'Neill and others. Along the way, Joe Orlando climbed up DC's corporate ladder. He turned from managing editor into the company's Vice President/Creative Director in 1985. His colleague Dick Giordano had been appointed Vice President/Executive Editor two years earlier. Joe Orlando also headed DC's Creative Services Division, which oversaw the production of licensed products such as Looney Tunes Magazine (1989-1991), merchandising (T-shirts) and DC character style guides. Orlando notably collaborated with Ben Oda on display letterings and logo designs, which in the 1990s were turned into digital standards for the style guides by typographer Rick Spanier. After the death of EC publisher Bill Gaines in 1992, parent company Time/Warner placed Mad Magazine under the wing of DC Comics, with Orlando becoming the magazine's Associate Publisher.

Sea-Monkeys ad from 'Mighty Mouse' #167 (Gold Key, 1979).

Later-day artwork
Ever since Joe Orlando became an editor, his work as an artist decreased. He contributed to Mad Magazine until 1969, and did storyboard and illustration work for advertisements and children's books during the 1960s and 1970s. His other magazine work included cover illustrations for New Times and Newsweek, and more satirical comic stories for National Lampoon in the first half of the 1970s. Orlando designed toys and packaging for Marx and Transcience. He notably illustrated advertisements for Transcience's 1960s 'Sea-Monkeys' aquarium pets line. In 1985, he designed posters for the American Library Association. In 1973-1974, he briefly wrote the 'Little Orphan Annie' newspaper comic for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, drawn at the time by his old friend Tex Blaisdell. Orlando provided the plots and break-downs, while Michael Fleisher provided the dialogues.

In terms of comic books, Orlando was mainly involved in cover illustrations, mostly for DC's mystery titles. In 1987 he drew the eleventh issue of the 'Teen Titans Spotlight' series, starring the Brotherhood of Evil. In that same year, he penciled a 43-page story for the 'The Shadow Annual', written by Andy Helfer and inked by Alfredo P. Alcala. One of his best remembered comic book contributions of the 1980s is however a supplemental text section in the fifth issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 'Watchmen' series. Orlando's art was presented as original material from the comic-within-a-comic 'Tales of the Black Freighter'. In 1988 Joe Orlando and inker Dennis Janke drew a four-issue mini-series with Lee Falk's 'The Phantom', written by Peter David. Horror stories penciled and inked by Joe Orlando appeared in three issues of DC's anthology series 'Wasteland', also in 1988.

'The Phantom' #2 (DC Comics, June 1988).

Semi-retirement and death
Joe Orlando retired from his corporate activities in 1996. However, he remained active as a consultant and artist for both DC Comics and MAD Magazine. Orlando's final contribution to MAD appeared in issue #359 of July 1997. For DC's Paradox Press imprint, he drew short stories for ten installments of the 'Big Book of...' series between 1994 and 1998: 'The Big Book of Urban Legends', 'The Big Book of Death', 'The Big Book of Little Criminals', 'The Big Book of Hoaxes', 'The Big Book of the Unexplained', 'The Big Book of Losers', 'The Big Book of Martyrs', 'The Big Book of Scandal', 'The Big Book of Bad' and 'The Big Book of the Weird Wild West'. He also remained active as an art instructor at New York City's School of Visual Arts, an occupation he had held since the 1980s. All in all, the veteran cartoonist remained active until the very end. He passed away in Manhattan on 23 December 1998, at the age of 71.

The Big Book of Martyrs - 'St. Stephen: The First Martyr' (1997).

Orlando was awarded by the Academy of Comic Book Arts three times: twice for "Best Humor Story" (1972, 1973) and once for "Best Story and Editor" (1973). At the 1980 San Diego Comic-Con, he received the Inkpot Award. Outside of comics, he won the first prize for oil painting from the Salmagundi Art Club in 1983. Despite his long track record, Orlando is nowadays mostly remembered as one of the legendary artists who worked for EC Comics during its heyday. This is largely due to the several EC reprint collections that have appeared since the 1980s, mostly through Russ Cochran and Gemstone Publishing, as well as the secondary literature surrounding this groundbreaking period in comic book history. Their contributions to EC's 'Weird Science' earned him and Wallace Wood a ranking in Entertainment Weekly's "Sci-Fi Top 100" in 1998. In 2007, Joe Orlando was posthumously inducted in the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

Joe Orlando's wife Karin has worked as a letterer and colorist for DC Comics.

Joe Orlando by Dave Manak, published in 'Amazing World of DC Comics' #6 (1974).

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