December 14, 2017

 




Interview:
Joe Kubert

By Brian Jacks



 

What was the first DC book that you worked on after being discharged from the army?

Well, I didnít get right into doing work for DC when I came out. When I had went into the Army I was working for a guyís place by the name of St. Johnís Publishing Company. And I had been producing, packaging magazines for him. When I got out of the Army I contacted him and he was more than happy to have me come back and do more stuff for him. I contacted a very dear friend of mine, who I went to high school with incidentally, a guy by the name of Norman Maurer. We had started into the business together, and Norm had I had done a lot of work together. We were very good friends. He was living out in California and he had been involved in some other things. He had gotten into producing, directing movies and so on. I contacted him and asked him if heíd be interested in becoming a partner, working with me, and producing these magazines. He felt he would like to do it so he came East here. We rented a house in New Jersey, and started putting out magazines.

What kind of magazines?

Well, they were not Army-oriented at all. One of the magazines was of one of my characters called Tor. Norm also had access to The Three Stooges because he had married Joanie Howard, who was Moe Howardís daughter. So we were putting out The Three Stoogeís magazine.

Did you ever meet the Three Stooges?

Oh yes. As a matter of fact, I was out to Normís wedding in 1947. So yeah, I knew the family, and I had met the guys. I mean, I didnít know the Stooges [laughs]. I had met them and so forth.

So when Norm decided to get in with me, we knew we wanted to do some books that were a little bit more novel. Especially since so many books were coming out and the business was extremely competitive. I had recalled seeing some 3-D magazines in Europe, in Germany, when I was there, that you read with red and green glasses. And I suggested that maybe itíd be a good idea to have our books stand out a little bit from all the rest, and to have them, if we could do it, in 3-D. At first glance we all looked at each other, me and Norm and some other people, and went, ďNah, itíll never work.Ē But then we started working on it and were able to then produce a magazine for twenty-five cents, which included the red and green glasses. So we produced the first 3-D comic book, which was Mighty Mouse. And this was back in 1952 I think.

And this was before Creature From The Black Lagoon in 3D, and all those type of movies.

Yes, I believe so. I think it was just at the same time, or perhaps a little bit before, 3-D movies came out. Now, before you asked when I started doing the war stuff for DC. It was soon after that we started that, after the first batch of 3-D books came out, the whole bottom dropped out of the comic book publishing field. Everybody went 3-D and the gimmick soon wore out very, very quickly. On top of that, the Senate investigating comic books and how terrible they were for kids, and so on, was being publicized and on TV, so that too had a terrible effect on comic books. St. Johnís was one of the publishing companies that fell, among many others, and it was then at that time that I went over to DC.

Did DC come to you and ask whether youíd be willing to work on the war comics?

Oh, no, no. It was just a job. It wasnít that I wanted to do a war comic. It wasnít that I was particularly interested, because I wasnít. Iíd done every conceivable subject matter for comic books and Iím interested in the whole scope of things that are done, whatever the subject matter is, whatever the genre is. 

When I went over to DC, I got involved with Bob Kanigher [editor's note - Bob recently passed away], who at that time was editing about half a dozen war magazines. He gave me the first story, simply because he had a story to give me. Thatís the way it started out. Not because I was pushing for it. Not because I requested it. Not because he felt it would be a good thing for me to do. It just happened to be a couple of war stories that were open and that had to be done so he gave them to me to do them.

Iím assuming you naturally drew back upon your own military experience?

A little. I try to make comic book stories as realistic and credible as possible. But the storylines themselves, especially at the very beginning, I had no control of at all. The way comics books are set up is the work is divided into any number of facets done by different people. Thereís a writer, thereís a letterer, thereís an inker, thereís a colorist, thereís a penciller, and so on. My job was just to illustrate the stories. The stories were written by somebody else. I tried to have the characters look as much GI as I possibly could, based on, of course, the time that I spent in the Army, on the uniforms and stuff like that. But the basic stories themselves, especially at that time, I felt were as far removed from what happens in the Army as you can get.

The dinosaurs in World War II?

Exactly. I mean what weíre trying to do is sell comic books. And weíre selling to, what we feel, at that time especially, a particular audience of younger people. So we tailored the stories for that purpose.

As we talk about this, Iím looking at a cover for Star Spangled War Storiesís, ďMy Buddy Was A Killer Dinosaur.Ē

I found very few of those when I was in the Army.

You must have been looking in the wrong places.

So you became DCís resident War Artist.

I just fell in, I just fell in.

And most of those were done with Bob Kanigher writing.

Bob was the editor and the writer. At a certain point, however, Bob took ill and the powers that be felt it might be a good idea for me to be the editor. At that time I tried to make the stories a little bit more interesting, a little bit less gung ho, a little bit make peace, not war.

When you were editor of Sgt. Rock, you ended all of the books with, ďMake War No More.Ē

It wasnít very original, I donít think, but it was just my comment. I felt that the stuff that I wanted to do was not promote guys going into the Army to kill people, but the fact that most guys in the Army, that I had found, were there simply because they had to be. Even the guys who enlisted, not only the draftees. There was a job that had to be done, there were things that had to be done, you really didnít have a hell of a lot of choice in it. And simply because you were in a lousy situation you had to do something. You had to act accordingly and there were certain expectations that the upper echelon had for you. And you had to do what you had to do, period.

Did the conflict in Vietnam impact DC war storylines at all?

I donít think so. As a matter of fact, Bob had attempted at that time, I think he was still the editor, to introduce different kinds of stories. Vietnam, Korea. But for whatever reason, the most popular ones seemed to be those that dealt with World War II.

Do you think that was because people could look at the Nazis as a sort of cartoonish type of character?

Your guess is as good as mine [laughs]. I really donít know. I think weíve kind of postulated on it and felt that perhaps that this was supposed to be a righteous war as opposed to some that didnít seem as clear-cut later on, or whatever the hell the reason was. And the enemy was very distinct and was described as the ďblackest of black,Ē so to speak. The most horrible of horrors. It was easy to hate people like that.

Having lived through the Korean experience, did you see the Vietnam parallels right away?  Particularly that it would become the size and scope that it did.

No, not at all. I was involved with a comic strip called The Green Berets.

For the Chicago Tribune.

Right. Robin Moore, who was the writer, was a terrific guy who had been in Vietnam and had fought with the special forces. I was lucky enough to meet some of those guys. Incredible bunch of people. And I want to make it clear that when I did the strip the politics of it were the last thing on my mind. As a matter of fact, I left it not because I was against the war but I felt that politics had no place in comic strips. The idea was to use the popularity of Robin Mooreís book to kick off the comic strip, which it did. And the writer felt apparently that it was a platform that he could espouse certain feelings. It wasnít that I felt that he was right or wrong, I just felt that the newspaper strip, a comic strip, was not the place to do it. I felt that it should eventually become a sort of romantic kind of thing, perhaps a Terry and the Pirates kind of strip. It never got to that. It got to the point where it became such a drudge to do it, I just left it.

The countryís anti-war sentiments dragged that strip down in the end, correct?

I guess so, but I didnít really look into that as carefully as I should have. I guess we all learned a lot about what the hell happened and the kind of abuse that guyís in the Army always get, and especially in the Vietnam war, the politics that were played there. But I wasnít really aware of all that stuff, and I certainly wasnít one of the people who were manning the ramparts and saying, ďBring the boys back home.Ē I didnít know what the hell was happening.

That leads me into my next question, which I asked of Will since he was also drafted. What did you think of all the anti-war protestors, with them burning draft cards, donating money and supplies to the North Vietnamese.

I thought it was wrong. I thought it was wrong that that tact was taken. Like I said, I was just not aware, I didnít have enough information, and I guess I didnít look for enough information, to find out what was really happening. And I felt that those kind of actions were wrong.

I want to jump ahead now to present time. The Comics Code is in question since Marvel announced it was pulling out and creating its own set of standards. Do you think we need a Code and, if so, does it need to be centralized, or should each comic publisher make their own?

Jeez, I donít know. I really donít know. Iíve seen stuff in comic books that just astounds me. Things that have a little label on it, ďPrinted For Adult ConsumptionĒ or whatever, and thatís supposed to make it ok. I still feel that comic books are essentially still a kidís medium. I may be wrong on that, but thatís the way I feel. Especially as reflected with the superhero genre, which is still one of the most popular in comic books today.

I donít believe in censorship. I donít think that the government should put a stamp on what people should read or learn about, or whatever. But I do feel that some of the stuff thatís coming out in comic books, to me personally, is objectionable. Sexual-oriented stuff, the violence, the kind of explicit and graphic violence that goes on. I think some of the publishers are really nuts. I think theyíre crazy. I think theyíre begging for problems. I think one of the reasons that they havenít had any backlash from it is because theyíre not really selling all that well. But if they ever gained the kind of popularity that suddenly makes them noticed, I think theyíll have the wrath of all kinds of parentsí groups and educators coming down on them like crazy. And perhaps justifiably so.

Doug Murray made the comment that he believes we lost a generation of comic readers.

I happen to agree to this extent: I think comic books have always been considered a kidís medium. And every publisher I know has made attempts to have a more adult audience read the books. As it has happened, in most of the rest of the world, comic books in Europe and Asia, are read by adults as much as children, perhaps even more so. And itís accepted as legitimate literature. In the United States, ironically where comic books started, it started out as a kidís junk media, and most publishers have been trying like crazy to have stuff be acceptable to adults. I think whatís happened in the last five to ten years, there are perhaps a lot more adults reading the books, and I put adults in quotes, but less young people coming in to read them.

I find though, when I pick up a lot of the books, I donít know what the hell is happening in them. I find it really difficult to read some of the books, in terms of the subject matter and the fact that the publishers and the editors go on the supposition that people have been reading the books that have been coming out for years before. So weíre supposed to know whatís happening in these books that come out, which I think is erroneous.

Anyhow, subject matter kind of eludes, and I think that theyíve lost a lot of the young people. I get all of the comic books, and my grandkids, some of the stuff that I let them look at, theyíll look at the first two pages and they canít make heads or tales out of the rest of it and theyíll stop reading. Originally comic were read by young people. Theyíd come in maybe about the age of seven, eight, nine. Theyíd read maybe to the age that theyíre 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and then theyíd go onto reading other material. But theyíd always be supplanted, as they drop out, by young people coming in to read them. Thatís not happening.

So comic publishers are shooting for the unattainable by aiming their products towards an adult audience.

Shooting themselves in the foot, thatís right. I think, anyhow.

Well, Marvelís once again in financial trouble, as we all know.

They arenít the only ones. Marvel is in financial trouble because I think that theyíve been terribly abused. I mean theyíve been taken advantage of. The money guys, the suits, have kind of stripped it clean pretty good. It was a great company and they were doing terrific things. But, you know, any company can take just a certain amount of buffeting around, raping, so to speak. And the result is whatís happened to Marvel.

So howís your school doing?

So far, so good.

Have you noticed a drop in the number of students?

Yes. There had a drop but itís coming back up again. Itís been pretty steady and the drop hasnít been remarkable. Well, we started out as a small school and I certainly havenít depended on the school.  The school here is not my career. Iím still a comic book artist. And thatís what I do and Iím lucky enough, even at this stage in the game, to keep on doing it, just like Will.

Yeah, he sounded great.

Yeah. And Iím sure he, and I know that I, consider ourselves the luckiest people in the world. Here we are doing what we love to do. Doing it at our own pace. Selecting what we want to do when we want to do it. And people pay us for it.

You told me about the Holocaust project you are working on, but are there any other projects you can tell me about?

Well, Iím doing this book with Stan Lee, the Batman book.

Do you have any idea when thatíll be coming out?

Yeah, itís supposed to be out in July. And I finished a 224 book for an Italian publisher about a year ago thatís supposed to be out in June. I got a full table, thank God.


Slush thanks Joe Kubert both for his participation in this interview and for his service to our country.  Be sure to check out last year's interviews with Doug Murray, Dan DeCarlo, Will Eisner, and Joe Kubert.




Marvel.com
Interview with Will Eisner

Interview with Joe Kubert

Interview with Dan DeCarlo

Interview with Doug Murray


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