December 23, 2014

 




Interview:
Joe Kubert

By Brian Jacks



 

Today we know Joe Kubert as an industry luminary and founder of the only college dedicated to sequential art, but he is also a United States Army veteran.  Missing World War II by a hair, Kubert continued working on comics until he was ultimately drafted to serve in the Korean conflict.

Later Kubert became the resident workhorse for DC Comics' entire War Comics line, doing art chores on such books as Sgt.Rock, All-American Men of War, G.I. Combat, Our Fighting Forces, Our Army At War, Star Spangled War Stories, Unknown Soldier, Enemy Ace, Weird War Tales, and All Out War.

Join us now as we enter the mind of this remarkable man.

(Note: This interview was originally published in May of 2001)

 

You were in your teens in 1947. Do you remember where you were when Pearl Harbor was attacked?

I recall that rather vividly. I was in my early teens. I was born in 1926, so I was about 15 and was already working as a cartoonist. I was in my home, in my bedroom, it was on Sunday morning. I was drawing pictures, as I was already a pro cartoonist for comic books. I donít think I really understood the significance of what was happening when the news came over that Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Were you listening to the radio at the time?

Yes. Well, most of the guys in our business are listening to the radio when weíre working.

When did the enormity of what had happened dawn on you?

I guess it kind of came up rather quickly when we saw the pictures of what the hell had happened and Rooseveltís address to the country saying that we were in a state of war and so on. Soon afterwards when people in my family were being drafted I guess it hit everybody and I was part of everybody.

How did the war affect your work or the company that you were employed by?

I started drawing in the business when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I got my first job at that time. Not as a result of anything good that I was doing, but rather because there was so much work in demand at that time, that guys were willing to give jobs to even kids like me. So we could learn on the job. Well, when the war started, a lot of the artists, a lot of tremendous artists, were drafted. That allowed even more room, and even more demand, for guys like me that werenít yet in the Army or whatever. Strangely enough, and oddly enough, and ironically enough, that which proved out to be life-threatening and horrible for a lot of other people during World War 2, it afforded me a lot of opportunities.

In fact, I recall vividly one time, Will Eisner had been drafted early on. And at that time, before he was drafted, he was doing The Spirit. When he was drafted The Spirit went to Lou Fine, who was the artist at the time. So they scrounged up a bunch of guys to help out with the inking and the work and so forth. Alex Kotsky, whoís another incredibly talented man, was called in to do inking. And this was the way I got my first job. One of my early jobs doing a really vaunted hero like The Spirit came to me simply because I was still around. My summer vacations from high school were spent running back and forth to Stanford, Connecticut from Brooklyn, but the advantage was that I was able to work with people like Lou Fine and Alex Kotsky working on The Spirit.

I know you werenít in the war, and I also asked this to Will Eisner, but at that time did you know what the Nazis were doing to the Jews?

Yes I did. In fact, and you coming from generally the same background would understand, my folks were living in a small town in the southern part of Poland, and their family was from the same place as well. They were helped to come to the United States by their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and so on, but there were still a lot of people left in Europe. And little by little at the beginning of the war and towards the middle, there were people coming from my folkís towns, telling them what happened to those relatives that were left there. And I recall seeing a lot of these people come with the tattoos on their arms.

I never really realized at that time what the hell was happening, or going on. But I do recall those stories. And I remember the stories of those people telling my mother and father how their brothers and sisters and uncles were running up the street and how they were hunted down like animals and shot. It was horrible but I donít think that I really felt the significance of it until later on.

This is somewhat jumping forward here, but did any of those memories and emotions enter into your Fax From Sarajevo, where there were definite parallels between the Holocaust and what was going on over there?

Very, very much so. In fact, Iím about two-thirds done with a book about the Holocaust. Iíve got a lot of other stuff on my table that I need to get done first, but I would imagine in about two or three months I should be about finished.

What kind of book is it?

Itís a very personal reaction to the things that happened during the Holocaust. Itís something Iíd prefer not to talk about, but it does deal with that period in time and itís a very personal kind of thing.

Moving on, were you either drafted into the service for Korea or did you sign up?

Oh, I was definitely drafted. Me and the two other guys that had to pull me along.

Do you remember where you were when you received your draft notice?

No. We were living in New Jersey at the time. I had just squeaked by and missed World War II for one reason or another and when Korea came up I was drafted. And I guessÖwell, I was going to say I was ready to go but I really had no choice in the matter. [laughs]

You were drafted into the Army?

Yes.

What division were you in?

I donít recall. It was the infantry. I was stationed at Fort Dix for a year and then I was shipped off to Germany. Most of the guys in my outfit went directly to Korea after Basic, but one reason for another I was shipped to Germany.

And you remained in Germany for the rest of the war?  ďMissed outĒ being an unfortunate choice of words, perhaps.

Yeah, I donít know what it was but I missed out. I donít feel I missed out. I kept in touch with a lot of the guys that took Basic with me and it was a horror, I understood. I recall getting letters from some of the guys and they told me about 50% of the guys were casualties within the first week of going to Korea.

They call Korea the ďForgotten War.Ē Do you think thatís because it was sandwiched between World War II and Vietnam?

I think so. I had a brother-in-law that was in Korea and he froze a couple of toes off. It was, like all wars, a horrible situation.

Itís unfortunate that many people have never even heard of the Korean War. We lost about as many there as we did in Vietnam.

Yeah. All these kind of conflicts stink. They cost the lives of a bunch of people. Either their full lives or remnants of the rest of the time theyíre on Earth. It stinks.

Did you ever read Will Eisnerís P.S. Magazine when you were over there?

Funny that you should ask. Will is incredible. In fact, I worked for Will when I was about twelve years-old. Before he went into the Army he was doing The Spirit, he was doing it in Manhattan, and one of the summers I spent was working there, and he gave me a terrific opportunity. I wasnít doing a hell of a lot of drawing. I did some stuff. But mostly I was erasing material and cleaning up and sweeping out the place. And incidentally, even today, remains a very dear and close friend of mine. And we talk about it often and we kid about it. It was a wonderful opportunity that I was given.

Anyhow, when Will was drafted, and of course, one of the things he did, the genius that he is, he kicked off this P.S. Magazine. Which has, incidentally, has just celebrated itís 50th anniversary.

I wasnít aware of that.

Well, let me tell you a couple of other ironic things. He started it when he was in the service. He insisted, and I guess he sort of inculcated this, to me anyhow, that you can do anything with cartoons. You can take the driest subject, like mathematics, and do it in a cartoon, graphic way and make it seem interesting.

Apparently, he applied that theory to what he was doing in the Army. He knew that guys who were working on tanks and trucks and stuff like that, werenít the type that would really sit and read really detailed information, in terms of verbiage. But he felt very strongly that if it was done in an entertaining way that they way absorb what was trying to be put across to them, in terms of teaching, whether they realized it or not. And thatís exactly what happened. Have you ever seen any of the early P.S. Magazines?

Iíve seen a few pages here and there.

He did a tremendous job. He would take the driest, most mundane, kind of subjects and make them seem interesting, and funny, and humorous, and entertaining. And in that way the guys learned to do stuff that they didnít even realize they were learning.

Doug Murray was telling me how he read it in while he was serving in Vietnam.

Isnít that something. So when he got out of the army, he continued to do it. He did it for twenty years after he got out of the service.

But anyhow, every couple of years the Army gives this stuff out for general opportunity for other publishers and other people to do the books. After his twenty year stint, I guess he had enough of it. So the books went out for public bids, in terms of new publishers or artists or whatever, to do the work. I donít remember exactly when this happened. This must have been in the late Ď50s or early Ď60s. But I made a drawing. I had heard someplace that they were taking bids for this. And in my naive [laughs], unsophisticated, untutored way, I thought well, let me take a jump at it. And I did, and of course, my sample just disappeared or whatever the hell happened to it.

About six, seven months ago, just towards the end of last year, I got a call from a very dear friend, Neal Adams, who had mentioned to me that somebody had come up and they were looking for artists to do P.S. Magazine. And he said, ďHey Joe. You got people. You got the school.Ē And incidentally, I had not heard about it or read about P.S. Magazine since like thirty or forty years ago.

So it was still going on.

I didnít even know that it was still going on. I knew that Murphy Anderson had taken over the chores of putting out the magazine after Will had left it. Murph had worked with Will prior to it and kind of was able to step right in.

Anyhow, about seven months ago, although maybe even more than that. Closer to a year ago, I donít know. I learned from Neal that they were taking bids on P.S. Magazine. And so I said gee whiz, that would be really interesting, coming back to square one after all these years. And so we started vying for it. And for the last six months weíve been doing P.S. Magazine here.

What a great opportunity for your students.

Yeah. Well, itís terrific for them. Itís terrific for us. And they tell us that weíre doing a real good job on it. So it just worked out. Really, really nice.


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Interview with Doug Murray


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