Sunday, August 12, 2012

Joe Kubert: My Memories

Comic-book legend Joe Kubert has passed away at the age of 85. His first published work dates back to 1942 and he was going strong to this day. His catalog of work is extraordinary, as is the quality of the work from start to finish, a true rarity. He also left a huge legacy on three other fronts: he influenced a number of artists, including a young Steve Ditko back in the early 1950s (Ditko's earliest work in 1953-54 bares a remarkable resemblance to Kubert, not just in how Ditko drew his faces, but in how he laid out a page and how he set up a panel).

Kubert also influenced generations of artists through the Kubert school, and through his two sons, Andy and Adam, who have gone onto great heights in the industry as artists.

My association with Joe began in late 2001 when I convinced his lovely wife, the late Muriel Kubert, to participate in my first book, "I Have To Live With This Guy!" that was published by TwoMorrows in 2002. Muriel was a very strong woman, no-nonsense, and a strong force in the Kubert School.

To promote the book, I hosted a "Joe and Adam Kubert" Panel at a Toronto Comicon on August 24, 2002 (in the front row was Dave Sim, who disappeared with Joe after the panel to talk about the school, etc.). Here's a (long) transcript of the panel after the jump. God bless you, Joe, as you join Muriel in Heaven...

Joe & Adam Kubert Panel
(8/24/02 – Toronto)

Blake Bell: Welcome you to the Kubert Family Panel today at the 2002 Toronto Comic Convention.  We're very honored to have - my immediate right of course - one of the top artists in the business working on the X-Men, please welcome Adam Kubert! To Adam's immediate right, we have not only the father of Adam but one of the forefathers of the industry. Please welcome Joe Kubert!
What brought about this panel was the "Father & Sons" issue of Comic Book Artist #20. It’s a flip issue featuring interviews with Joe, Adam and Andy. The other side has the Romitas. One of the things that brought about my connection with Joe was that I authored a book for TwoMorrows called “I Have to Live with This Guy!” I interviewed the wives, spouses and partners of various cartoonists over the years. I was able to interview Joe's wife Muriel.
Fathers and sons: You two are a unique breed in this industry. There’s few who have achieved the same level of recognition. Joe, when did you realize that Andy and Adam - these two specifically, because you have five children - would be artists? Why these two and not the other three in the family.

Joe Kubert: The fact that Adam and Andy were the ones who decided to become cartoonists probably was as much a surprise to me as anybody in the business. I knew they had an initial interest in art early on, Adam even before Andy. Adam's direction was towards medical illustration.  He had attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, had graduated, and gotten a job as a medical illustrator. Then he suddenly turned toward cartooning.  Andy had gone up to Rochester also, as a designer, not even as an illustrator. He started drawing perhaps when he was I guess sixteen or seventeen. That’s kind of late in terms of most cartoonists having started - most artists having started - and he too turned to cartooning.
I was as surprised as anyone that they had made the decision. That they're doing this kind of work and love this work (apparently as much as I do) is nothing short of a miracle to me.

Blake:  Muriel told me you worked at home for the years all the children were raised and that none of the children were exposed to anything different. I was curious as to why you felt that Adam and Andy took to cartooning?

Joe:  I really have no idea.

Blake:  Adam, I was wondering your first memories of your father's work and the impact it had on you.  What are your first memories of that?

Adam:  My first memories of him doing what he does were being in the studio all the time. The door was always open for us to ask him whatever.  Dad was always home, Dad was always drawing, and it was nice.  I knew nothing different.

Blake:  Do you remember the first character that you associate in your head that he did?

Adam:  He brought home comics every month.  I thumbed through those and had a few favorites, but I liked the characters more than the guys that drew them.  As far as what my dad drew, it was the army stuff, the Tarzan stuff. As a kid, I didn't really appreciate what he did until now.  In my teens, I really appreciated what he could do, but when I was younger it didn't phase me.

Blake:  John and Virginia Romita grew up in the same neighborhood and with the level of poverty they had, one comic would have to suffice for a whole neighborhood.  Did you take comics, and what your father did, for granted back then?

Adam:  Yes, they were always around.  We had tons of DC books around.  Growing up, I never even knew Marvel existed.  I never went out to the store to buy comics because they were always there.

Blake:  Adam, you were born in 1959, so the potential was there to be exposed to the whole Silver Age of Marvel.

Adam:  Yes, and I wasn't.

Blake:  As opposed to your other sisters and brothers, do you have any idea why they did not express certain interests in artwork, and you and Andy gravitated to it?

Adam:  I think with drawing there's an innate talent that certain people have, and it can be developed.  I guess Andy and I had that.  My sister and brothers were creative in different ways.   This just happens to be the thing that we fell into.

Blake:  John Romita Jr. talked about when his father brought home the cover to Daredevil #12, as opposed to the boring romance that he had done. Now he was now, ‘Ka-zar? What's the sense about that?  Was there a defining moment for you?

Adam:  I wish I had something like that, because it would be a nice romantic notion that Dad had this cover, that everything clicked and this is what I want to do the rest of my life, but it wasn't that way.  It really wasn't even until later that I went to school for medical illustration.  I didn't want to go into comic books.  I wanted find my own niche.  I knew at that point what he did and I wanted to get out of the house and go away to college.  I liked science, I liked art, and I put the two together.
I got accepted for it, but all through college I was drawing things out of my head. It was like I was fighting it.  After I got out,  I thought, ‘Why fight it?’  That's why I decided to get into it.  It wasn't the one Tarzan cover that he had done that just clicked in my head and this is what I want to do the rest of my life.

Joe:  While the kids were growing up, I'd given each one an opportunity maybe to do lettering.  I'd try to kind of break them into that.  Adam took to it. He was lettering at the age of twelve for me and for other artists as well.  Andy when he was very young took to lettering.  The other kids didn't.  They tried it but they just didn't have the patience. They just didn't feel that this was what they wanted to do.

Blake:  That's something you offered to all the children?

Joe:  Yes.  It was an offer not only to perhaps get into the field of art through the back door, but also to make a couple of bucks. They got paid for the lettering - a pretty good incentive, but the only two who were really interested - for whatever reason - were Adam and Andy.

Adam:  My dad taught me how to letter. To make sure we had the patience to do it, we had to measure out the lines on one side, then measure out the lines on the other, and do the alphabet on a ten by fifteen sheet of paper, by hand, filling up both sides.  If we made it past that test…It takes a lot of patience for a twelve or thirteen-year-old to do that. Then we moved on from there.

Blake:  Adam, you were the one who was on "What's My Line?" as the "youngest professional comic book letterer?" What was that experience like?

Adam:  I was scared, even more scared than I am right now! "What's My Line?" was a game show.  It was like twenty-five or so years ago when I was on it and they would guess your occupation.  We watched the show at home and my mom says, "Why don't you mail in and see if you can get on it?" Miraculously I did.
It was filmed right in New York and we're maybe an hour from New York.  I went in there, signed in and Soupy Sales guessed who I was after the second guess.  When I signed in, they made me letter my name on the board which was like a dead giveaway.  One of the questions Soupy Sales asked me was "Are you some sort of calligrapher?"  I didn't know what calligraphy meant!  So I looked at Larry Blyden - he was the emcee - and he goes, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're a calligrapher!"  I said, "Okay, I guess I am."

Blake:  One thing that draws me to the two families is noticing the similarities that follow father and son down through the ages.  Joe, I remember reading that your mother was the treasurer in the family. For those who don't know, Joe started at a very young age in the comic industry. Was it the very late thirties, or early forties?

Joe:  The Stone Age, I used to cut it out of big boulders!

Blake:  Of course all the money you would have earned at that time, as a young teenager, your mother was the treasurer of that.

Joe:  I was kind of first generation Americans. From the Old Country, the way it worked was the father and the mother were the bosses. While the children lived at home, if any of the kids (I had four sisters) went out and got jobs, we never cashed the cheque.  The money would go directly to my mother, who was the treasurer. Whenever we needed any money, we'd get it from them, if they felt we deserved the money at that particular time.  But yes, that's the way it worked.  No objections to that, no objection from me or my sisters.

Blake:  I was going to ask you Adam, making money as a letterer on a comic book...

Adam:  I kept all my money!

Blake:  Was Muriel “the treasurer?”

Adam:  My mom used to...

Joe:  It doesn't work that way - second generation - it doesn't work that way.

Adam:  She'd have to tear the money out of my hands.

Blake:  I tried to get Muriel to say what kind of influence she had on you, Adam, growing up, and what she provided in terms of inspiration, push, for your career.  She wouldn't give up anything, but...

Adam:  That's a hard question. My mom was nurturing.  She always said, and my dad always said, "Do what you want to do.  Whatever it is you want to do, that's the direction your career should take.  Whatever it is, even if it was pumping gas, if that's what you love to do you'll be successful at that.  But they wanted me to find out what I wanted to do.  They didn't want to tell me, "This is what you should do.  It makes a lot of money, you'll be happy."

Blake: When you were at the Rochester Institute of Technology, you were medical rendering, you weren't really drawing...

Adam:  Right... medical illustration.

Blake:  I remember a quote where you talked about rendering as opposed to drawing.  Is that what pushed you away? You felt stifled by rendering, as opposed to pulling things out of your head?

Adam:  No, not really.  I love rendering.  I love rendering in my comics.  I love noodling, and doing all the little detail stuff and backgrounds.  I liked drawing out of my head a lot more.  It was a lot more creative, a lot more freedom.  In medical illustration, you have to deal with doctors.  Certain ones have an attitude towards artists, which I didn't quite agree with or like. With comic books, there was just a lot more freedom and a lot more fun.

Blake:  Working on a monthly schedule - a book that has to come out every month - do you find that freedom still there for you after all these years?

Adam:  I'm the type of person that needs a deadline. So if I have a monthly schedule, I'll get that book out…Close to the monthly schedule.

Joe:  More or less, more or less!

Adam:  More or less, close to it.  I like having deadlines, and I like having the pressure that forces me to get the stuff done.  I think the pressure forces you to make decisions quickly, and a lot of times those initial decisions are the ones that are best, rather than sitting, struggling and trying to figure out, "Well, I could do it this way or this way or this way."  If you have that clock that you're watching, you make that decision, and usually it's the right one.

Blake:  There’s a lot of talk about freedom but, Joe, when you were working for D.C., you had a script, by Robert Kanigher or whomever, and you drew the scripts.  It was a full script, whereas opposed to now, and starting with the whole Marvel Age, artists do have a lot more freedom, to interpret.

Joe:  In one way it's freedom, and another way, it's an assumed responsibility that really shouldn't fall on the artist's back.  The more freedom an artist has, I think, the more able he is to express his own individual direction, and the kinds of illustrations that he wants to do, but to me it was kind of a reverse way of actually accomplishing the kind of work we do. It gave certain responsibilities to the artist that he shouldn't have.
The artist is an illustrator.  The artist's responsibility is taking a script and telling the story the best way he knows how.  He may refine the script, he may add a panel, or subtract, combine panels.  But to have to actually break down an entire paragraph, which is a very rough form of text, into the number of panels that might work, and then have the writer put the dialogue in, it may directly affect - in an ill way - the composition of that panel, because the writer then has the prerogative to put text in, wherever he feels it's going to work.  The artist already has designed that panel. This new element of text being put into that panel can completely destroy, or at the very least distort, the composition that the artist had in mind.  I think that's a screwed-up way of doing things.

Blake:  Adam, you do it that way, don't you?

Adam:  That's the way we do it!  We do it the screwed-up way!  I agree with my dad.  I think the best way is if you have the dialogue, you know how much space that'll take up.  The artist can place it in the panel.  I don't know how many times I'll see in my comic the balloon over an important part of the illustration, or ruining the composition.  That's the way we work it now. It's not my preference but it's the way it's done.

Joe:  I finished a Batman book with Stan Lee.  I said, "Yeah, it will be a pleasure to work with Stan."  I'd never worked with him before.  But I said, "I will not work this where Stan or anybody else is going to put the dialogue in after I do the drawings."  I want to know where that dialogue is going in, in terms of how it may or may not affect my composition.  Stan accommodated me.

Blake:  How does one accommodate you in that regard?

Joe:  He wrote the script, broke it down into panel form - he didn't have the dialogue on it at that point.  I then showed him eight-and-a-half by eleven or small breakdowns of what I intended to do for the story.  He then wrote the dialogue.  I placed the dialogue in.

Blake:  That sounds like it might have been the first time that he's ever worked in such a fashion.

Joe:  I know, but that's the only way I would work it.

Blake:   Adam, do you find freedom in the style that you work at Marvel now, or do you find that restrictive?  Have you been able to work with writers and say – not literally – “Can we move it a little more towards how my father did it?"  Have you been able to accomplish that in any way?

Adam:  No, I haven't.

Joe:  I can tell you why.  Stan was able to accommodate me simply because there was enough time.  The work could go back and forth, so I could place the text where I felt it should go.  In Adam's case, deadlines are the bane of the existence of every commercial artist or cartoonist.  Every job you get has a deadline, and invariably that deadline never is long enough to accommodate the kind of work that you'd like to do.  Under those conditions, anything that extends the amount of time that it takes to do the work can play havoc with that deadline.  So he doesn't have the luxury of sending it back, waiting then to place it.  There just isn't enough time to do that.

Adam:  The guys that are work with are the tops in the field.  Once in a while there'll be a mistake.  It's all subjective, too.  You have to live with that.  Mistakes are going to happen and it's just part of the job.  Yes, I would love to be able to spend six months on one book, and make sure that book is absolutely perfect, but that's not realistic.  You have to keep in mind that you're making a living doing this, too.  Not everything's going to be perfect.  You do it the best possible way you can in the time that you have.
One of the things that I really enjoy about working on a monthly is you can take a lot of chances because you have a thirty-day window to get this job done.  You can take chances in that thirty-day window because next month you're doing the same thing all over again.  So there's a certain amount of risk that you can take when you do have a shorter amount of time to do it, I feel.  And you always have that next month where you can try something else or if it works, you can feed off of that, and try something new.

Blake:  In any potential future creator-owned project, do you see yourself doing it as you ideally would like to, as we’ve talked about here?  Do you see a time for that in the future?

Adam:  At some point that's what I'm going to do, but I'm going to have deadlines for myself, where I have to get it done in a certain amount of time.  I could see, just based on what other guys have done, you can't make a living doing a book every six months.  You can't have your eye on the movie prize or the toy prize.  You have to keep your eye on what's right in front of you because that's what has to be successful.

Blake: So Joe, with Andy not here today, we're hearing Adam talk about how he needs deadlines.  With Andy growing up, was he the same kind of temperament in that regard?

Adam:  He's a machine!  He's totally different.

Joe:  I might start off by saying that Andy is a big, hulking guy and he was scared to death, number one, to maybe have to fly up to Toronto, and number two, to get in front of people is the worst thing in the world for him.  Andy, as Adam has just mentioned, is different from me, and is quite different from Adam.  He is up at like, six o'clock in the morning, he sits at that table at six-thirty, seven o'clock.  He puts in his day until five, six o'clock at night.

Adam:  No, he's there like seven to twelve, one to five, every day.  I mean, you could set your clock by him.  And he gets it done in that time.  Me, I brought my work with me in case I have a little time to do some stuff.

Joe:  Which you won't do anyhow!

Adam:  But I have to have it with me, 'cause I feel better.

Blake:  Joe, how did that impact the family, being as prolific as you were?  I talked to Gene and Adrienne Colan about working late into the night.  How were you able to keep that under control?  Were you able to keep it restrained so you had enough time for the family?  What kind of impact does it have being a freelancer at the time you were that prolific?

Joe:  It varies from person to person, but before I got married, pulling all-nighters was the norm. I'd kind of let the work fly, and then put twenty-four or forty-eight hours straight without sleep in order to finish the job.  I'd then take off a couple of days and that would be the end of it.
But being married and having a bunch of kids, I tried to lead a kind of normal life so that the burden of raising kids didn’t fall on my wife.  Five kids is a lot of kids running around the place.  I felt that it was incumbent upon me to put in a normal day's work.  When I got married, and especially when the kids came, I tried to keep the work as much on a nine-to-five kind of basis that I possibly could.  Invariably we'd take vacations, and I liked to take the kids with me.  We'd rent a motor home or a trailer, so I could take the kids along.  Not so that it'd be a wonderful experience for the kids.  I took them along...

Adam: he'd make sure we weren't getting into trouble at home!

Joe:  That's right!  I can only imagine the stuff that they could get into if we weren't there.  So I took them along, not for their benefit, but for my benefit - to know that they were “within reach,” so to speak.  It was great for me because I saw my kids grow up.  I was with them most of the time.  If there was a problem I was there to kind of help.  I was working at home, more in touch with what was happening with my family than most others are with their family.  I felt rather fortunate to do so.

Blake:  Adam, how does that same cycle play out for you and your family, in terms of your schedule and how much you're able to balance that?

Adam:  I'm a little different.  I have a studio that's separate from home.  The first six months when Max was born, I tried working at home. I found it difficult to get my stuff done.  I had a lot of distractions.  I had my refrigerator, I had the TV and I had my son.  I like the separation between work and home.  I find when I'm at work, I'm working; when I'm at home, I'm at home.  That's how it's different for me.

Blake:  Will Eisner's the same way.  He likes to leave his home, go out, do whatever he has to - sometimes he might bring back fan letters to answer - but he also likes to have that separation.  He would have done it all the time they were in New York, going out to a New York office and coming back.

Joe:  I think each individual has their own mode, their own way of living and no two are exactly alike. Will, who's one of the greatest guys in the world, sets himself up so that he's about a mile away from his home and feels that separation is necessary for him.  For me, being home was terrific; I loved it just that way.  Nothing really impinged on the work.

Blake:  Joe, during the '60s and '70s, wouldn't you have to walk through Adam’s bedroom to get to the studio?

Adam:  Yes.

Blake:  Joe, what was your studio like at that time?  In terms of the noise, in terms of the activity, would you have to lock the door to keep discipline or could you have music or talk radio playing? 

Joe:  I'd have the radio going, music or talk, but I never had any compunction about the kids coming in. If they had to tell me something or watch me work it didn't bother me at all.  At the school now, a student will come in.  Adam and Andy have their studios in my school now, so they'll come in and show me the work that's going on.  As a matter of fact I look forward to those kinds of so called interruptions.  I have no problem in stopping, putting myself into gear where I'm talking to somebody or about something else and getting right back to my work.

Adam:  I don't know how he does it.

Blake:  Adam, is it dead silence in you studio?

Adam:  No, no, it depends on what portion of the job I'm working on.  If I'm laying out pages it has to be completely quiet.  I really have to think about it.  If I'm just drawing, I have music or talk - Howard Stern or something.
If I'm doing rendering, where I really don't have to think and am just laying in blacks and details, I could be talking on the phone.  It's different levels of concentration.  I'd like to bring up one thing.  My Dad’s studio was in the room above the garage and he had to walk through our bedroom to get to the studio.  It's late at night and I hear the sound of footsteps going through our room.  Andy and I both slept in the same room.  You’d wake up and you’d see Dad, but when he first taught me how to letter, he set up a little drawing table in his studio so that's where I sat and lettered with him just over there. 

Blake:  Muriel talked about the difference between Joe’s ability to work with music and talk radio - the difference between music and between listening to chatter.

Joe:  Its’ pretty much as Adam described.  Certain facets and phases of the work that we do takes more concentration than others.  For me, what takes the most concentration and thought is breaking out a page so that sequentially the panels that you're drawing tell a story smoothly and clearly.  During those times I can listen to some background music.  I'm not even aware of what I'm listening to, so it's like a background motif that's happening somewhere in another room.
However, once I'm past that layout and penciling stage, the inking, the finishing off is almost automatic for me. At that time I can listen to talk, listen to anybody, and can talk to anybody while I'm working.  As Adam said, there are different phases of the work that demand different intensities in concentration.

Blake:  Adam, obviously you got a lot of encouragement from your father, but who else in the industry affected your work, gave you encouragement, pushed you to whatever the next level would have been?

Adam:  My first job out of my dad's school was actually lettering for Heavy Metal magazine.  It was the type of magazine that was all re-published work from Europe.  It all had to be translated into English, so they needed a letterer to re-letter it.  I saw all this great work that I never knew existed really before.  I knew a lot of it did, but getting to see it all first-hand, a lot of that stuff really influenced me.
Serpieri is one of my favourites. Moebius, Druilliet and Manara; all those European artists can really, really draw.  Not that we can't - there's guys here that are totally amazing too - but the stuff over there for some reason has a flavor and a personality.  It just seems such a personal way that they express themselves.  A lot of times, superhero comics are just copying or feeding off of one another. A lot of guys see what's popular and they incorporate that into their work. I think the most important thing is to express yourself the way you feel you want to express yourself, not the way someone else expresses themselves.  It's good to be influenced by what other people are doing - you take little bits and pieces of what they're doing and make it your own - but it's really important just to do your own thing.

Blake:  John Romita Jr. would talk about when he went to Marvel, he got a lot of backlash from people who said, "Oh, you're just here because of your father."  He talked about Marie Severin being one who really gave him some grounding there and helped him get through that bit of a rough patch.  Who at Marvel, or at any companies, would have been someone who gave you encouragement, pushed you along - not necessarily from the shadow of a father angle but just somebody who helped you out?  Was it an editor or a writer?

Adam:  The first guy that really helped me along was Mike Carlin, besides my dad, of course. Mike showed me the importance of meeting the deadline and storytelling being the most important thing.  At Marvel, I don't know of anyone really who...

Blake:  You were established enough by that point?

Adam:  Not really but at Marvel I worked with a certain few editors.  I didn't work with everyone, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to work with Archie Goodwin, which I never did, unfortunately.  But the really great editors, the people I worked with weren't that...

Blake:  This is Marvel's troubled days?  Is that why? Now at Marvel, it seems to be stronger in terms of more of a presence at the top, with Quesada and all those guys.  Back in the early nineties, it doesn't sound like there might have been that type of firm leadership there.

Adam:  Right.  They just wanted you to do what you did.  There really wasn't a direction.  Right now, I'm working with Ralph Macchio.  He's the best editor I've ever worked with.  He gives me a lot of editorial direction.  He lets me know exactly where I stand, deadline-wise, and what I have to get done by a certain amount of time.  "If we don't get it done by now, by this time, Adam, we're going to have to do this, this, this and this."  There's no B.S., he calls me right back, and when I send in pages, he lets me know what he thinks of them, good and bad.  I think that's important.
As a freelancer, you're out in East Bum-wherever and you don't know what the people really think of the work.  You want to please them, you want to please yourself, but you want to know that what you're doing is acceptable to them.  This is your job.  If there's no contact between you and your editor, you feel like, "What's going on?  He doesn't like it."  I think that having a good rapport and a good communication between the artist, freelancer, editor and publisher is important.

Blake:  Joe, in a lot of the interviews you've talked about your desire to see your sons become, and stay, full artists (for lack of a better word) in terms of taking over the full process of their work.  You feel that will elevate them to another level and allow their own voice to stand out.  Can you comment on that?

Joe:  I think that this is a process that Adam and Andy are both going through right now.  To make it clear to people perhaps outside of the business, the business of producing comic books has fractured into any number of specific jobs in order to complete the work.  There may be somebody who breaks down a strip, just does the rough break downs per page for a strip.  Then there'd be somebody who does the finished pencils.  Then there'd be somebody who does the inking.  Then there'd be somebody who does the lettering.  Then there's somebody who may be inking the backgrounds, somebody who just inks the figures, and so on.
I think that the result of all this is so generic, so non-focused on one individual, that the work itself loses any kind of characteristics.  Adam and Andy are probably, from what I can see, two of the most popular and successful guys in the business.  Just their pencils is enough to give the book a thrust forward with better sales.  The more work they're able to turn out, the better off the company is, and the better off Adam and Andy are.
However, I feel that there's a penalty for them individually.  The penalty is that they don't produce the kind of work that reflects their own voice.  Nobody else sees their pencils, but I see what they do in their original pencil work.  This is not to deprecate the inking, because those guys do a great job, but it's not Adam and Andy's work.  I've seen the kind of inking that both the boys do on their own work.  It’s quite different and it really reflects what they are capable of doing.  If anybody could see their pencils, they'd appreciate what I'm saying now.  It kind of bugs me that the work stops at their pencils, and takes another direction completely that really doesn't reflect the ability that these two guys have.
Eventually they'll get to that point.  Frankly, Marvel has been paying them so much money that they can't afford not to do what they're doing.

Adam:  How much is that money?

Joe:  But I'm still waiting for them to be in a good position where they can turn out the complete job themselves.  As Adam said, it's very difficult to make a livelihood when you turn out one book every six months.  Indeed if they're going to pencil and ink, check over the coloring, and make sure the lettering is good, they're not going to be able to turn out twenty-two pages a month, which is what they do now.

Blake:  Adam, what are the thoughts as you hear that from your father?

Adam:  Back when I did pencil and ink covers - now covers are I do just go right from penciling, penciled real tight and they're colored digitally right from the pencils - the covers were my salvation.  I would pencil and ink all my own covers.  I don't even do that any more because of this.  Yes, he's absolutely right.  It's my own voice when I pencil and ink my own stuff, and I'd love to get to color.  I've colored, I've painted too.  I'd love to do the whole thing, and that'll come sometime.
It's time constraints.  I can't pencil and ink a book in a month.  I don't think I could do it in two months, because I'd just get so anal about the whole thing.  It’d have to be done a certain way.  Right now, I enjoy penciling.  I do a page, I pencil it, it's done, ready for the next one.  If I'm penciling and inking, it's a different type of mentality.

Blake:  What joy do you find in that penciling that allows you just to say, "It's gone, I'm happy?"
Adam:  I love to draw.  I pencil it and it's done.  I don't have to ink or color it.  It's done and I can move on to the next one.

Blake:  Is it the problem solving of the layouts that you find the most joy in?

Adam:  When I'm penciling, what I enjoy is when I'm done with a drawing - because you have to get past the stage of where it's still ugly, still rough, where it really doesn't look like a good drawing - I look at it I say, "Wow, that looks pretty good!  I kinda like that!"  I like the storytelling, the problem solving of how to lay out a page, and how to tell the story a little differently than I've done it before.

Blake:  Jack Kirby felt almost that he was tracing if he would ink his own work:  “Well, I've got other things to get on to."  Does that ring a familiar tone?

Adam:  It depends on the type of penciling.  For my Dad, it's not tracing because his pencils are pretty much non-existent.  It looks like Picasso.  But for me I pencil tighter even when I'm inking my own stuff.  If it's down there then I'm more comfortable when I'm inking.  I can take more chances as I'm inking if I know what direction I'm going in.

Joe:  If anybody has ever seen any of the work that Jack Kirby has inked over his own stuff, it was absolutely magnificent.  It turned his pencils into the kind of work that you wouldn't recognize when somebody else inks it.  It was a completely different animal, and I thought it was great.

Blake:  Adam, there's a quote from the Comic Book Artist issue that I was interested to explore with the two of you:  "I think if he (referring to Joe, of course) was my boss, we might butt heads a little bit because there are certain ways he likes to do things and certain ways I feel strongly about doing certain things."

Adam:  Covers. I like doing all different kinds of covers:  there's pin-up covers, there's storytelling covers, there's flashy covers, there's foil covers... I like 'em all.  The cover is meant to attract a person enough to pick up the book, start flipping through it and buy it.  Pin-up covers are fun.  I like drawing the one illustration.  A storytelling cover, with Sergeant Rock behind a big wall with a big tank coming over it, that would be fun, too.

Blake:  Joe, you hear "pin-up" and you almost started chuckling?

Joe:  Yes, any cover that sells a magazine I think is great.  But I think the most effective covers are those that give some indication of what's going on inside the book, which would cause the person to want to read the interior of the book.

Blake:  They didn't give me cork board to put that up, but this is a Star Spangled War cover, a very nice one that I've enjoyed of the Unknown Soldier with the shark.

Adam:  I have that! It's great.

Joe:  That's precisely what I feel the cover should be.  It’s an indication of what's going on in the book, and the reader should want to read what's inside as a result of that cover.  A pin-up cover, as a change, is good.  I just don't think they're as effective, that's all.

Blake:  Irwin Donenfeld, who was the publisher of DC from about 1957 to the late sixties, would talk about DC doing covers and they'd pick a nice image for a cover and they'd say "Let's build a story behind this cover."

Joe:  That happened sometimes but most often they never had the luxury to do that because they were late in both of those areas.  Bob Kanigher, who was a fantastic writer, the editor of all the war books at one time and created the Sergeant Rock character for that matter, did a story and to describe a cover to be done, he wrote it on the bottom of the cover, "Drop an inch."  He meant that the cover illustration was too high and to bring the illustration down.  When they printed it, they actually put “Drop an inch” on it!  He had to write a story for it, which he did.

Blake:  Joe, you described to me an incident for my book about the impact that a father can have on the growth of a son as a teenager.  Could you recount the story about Andy, where he was very frustrated working on this drawing.

Joe:  When you prefaced the story, it sounded like such an Earth-shattering kind of thing, which it wasn't!  As a parent, speaking for myself, you only find out a little bit too late that some of the minor actions that you might take have an effect on a kid can be startling.
I was working in the studio and Andy - who may have been maybe ten years old - was sitting there doing some drawing.  I'm into my work that I'm doing and concentrating.  He's sweating on it and finally came over to me and showed me this drawing where the eye was a little bit askew or something was the matter with it.  He said, "Dad, I just can't get this.  Could you help me with it?"
I said, "Sure," and as quick as I could, I just did the correct drawing, and went back to my work.  Andy looked at the correction that I made, looked at me, took the drawing and threw it away.  He didn't draw any more.  He didn't want to draw any more pictures.  I really didn't pay too much attention to that.  It was only a couple of years later - when he started becoming interested in drawing again - he told me that at that time he felt that he would never be able to draw that way.  Because I could do it so easily, and he found it so impossible to complete that drawing, it turned him off drawing completely.  It wasn't until years later that he got back to it.
I had never thought about that.  Even if I had known, I'm not quite sure how I could have handled it.  But inadvertently,  as parents, all of us will say and do things that we really aren't fully aware of how it might affect the kids.

Blake:  Adam, did you have a similar experience?  What was the coaching from your father at that age?

Adam:  I drew for my own enjoyment.  I don't really even remember coming to you much, and asking you for direction.

Joe:  I would really keep my hands off.  I'd try as much as possible.  It’s the same thing with the students at the school.  I'm very reticent about touching anybody's work.  One of the things that got me mad as hell when I was going to art school was some of the teachers would be very helpful by correcting your work, taking a really nice dark pencil saying, "No, do it this way!" right on top of your artwork.  I used to cringe.  I wanted to kill when that happened.  Being aware of that, I would be kind of sensitive not to give too much information, and certainly not to draw on top of somebody else's work.  Invariably what I'll do is I'll take a piece of tracing paper, or if I'm going to make a correction, I'll ask the student or the kids first, "Do you mind if I work on top of your work?"  But that's about the extent of it.

Blake:  You were an editor around this time of the episode with Andy, and you were being an editor (in some sense) with your sons, in terms of that coaching back.  Did that episode make you more sensitive to an artist when, as an editor, you make a correction or something of that nature?

Joe:  No.  The editor, just so that people would know, has the responsibility - the full responsibility - for any publication for which he's in charge.  The writing, the artwork, everything up to the point of printing and publishing, is the responsibility of the editor.  The publisher gives that responsibility to him.  The publisher may not know anything about the work at all, but he's putting up the dough, he's responsible for the entire project.
The editor in turn is responsible to make sure that the work that's coming out is according to what the publisher wanted, and is coming out with the kind of quality that's necessary.  The people who are working with that editor are professionals.  They know that he has the responsibility, so that if I want to make a change, that's my prerogative, that's my requisite, that's within my boundary of work. If there's gonna be a mistake in the book for which I'm editing, it's got to be my mistake.  I'll stand up for my mistake.  I will not assume responsibility for somebody else's mistake.  That's the way it works.
Bob Kanigher had been the editor for many, many years, including writing and creating characters like Enemy Ace - you could name almost any DC character in existence and Bob probably wrote a script for it.  For many years he was the editor, and I was an artist working for the editor.  Now there were not conflicts but perhaps, diversions, where Bob would feel that maybe it had to be done a certain way and I felt that it should be different. I always had to bend to what he wanted.
It was his responsibility and it was his authority to make whatever changes as the editor.  Years later, Bob had taken ill and couldn't continue with his responsibility as an editor.  Our positions switched.  For twenty years or twenty-five years after that, I became the editor and he was writing the script.  We understood that.  I knew him well and it had no impact on our relationship - our personal relationship - but business-wise if he came in with a script and I wasn't happy with it, I was not hesitant about telling him, "Bob, this has to be changed."  We'd discuss it and if he could persuade me that he was right, I'd acquiesce.  But ninety-nine out of a hundred times, this is the way I wanted it and this is the way it was going to be done.  And he would do it that way, because he was professional enough to know that I have the responsibility and therefore the decision as to what has to be done is mine, and that's the way it works.

Blake:  Adam, you were at the Kubert school in the mid-eighties and you’re there now teaching.  What are the differences that you notice in professionals between then and now, in terms of professionalism, in terms of the kinds of artwork they're doing...

Adam:  That's too hard…I don't know…

Joe:  I think there may be one variation.  When you asked Adam who his favorite editors were, I didn't want to chime in.  But frankly I think what's happening is that the editors who are in positions in Marvel and in DC are ones that are really traffic managers, not editors.  What is an editor's responsibility?  An editor's responsibility is to have a talk with the writer in terms of plotting out what the stories were, and the lines that those stories are to take.  He also then will give that script to an artist.  When the artist is finished with the work, either in pencil form, or in ink form, he will go over that story wherever he feels corrections should be made, wherever he feels perhaps the artist fell short of accomplishing precisely what the writer wanted.  It is the responsibility of the editor, then, to tell the artist, "Look, this doesn't look so hot," or "change it in this way," or "work in this manner."
Most of the editors, I think, aren't fulfilling their jobs.  He's on the phone calling these guys if they’re late, but that's what most of these editors are doing now.  When I say they're traffic managers, they merely are making sure that the script goes out to the artist, the script comes back from the artist in time for the book to be published, and so on.  They're not doing their job as editors, and I think that's a bad failing in the business today.

Blake:  Adam, one last question.  What is the greatest that gift your father has given you?

Joe:  I don't give gifts!

Adam:  In the business, just to be professional and to treat people how you'd want to be treated yourself.  To get the work done, to being there, and to doing the best that you possibly can.  Personally? That family is above and beyond the most important thing, and that's what you have to keep any eye on.  You just have to keep things in perspective.

Blake:  I'd like to thank Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert for coming.  Thank you all very much.

1 comment:

  1. Over the next few days, I'll post the transcript of my 2002 interview with Muriel, and the questions for Joe about her. As well, I'll post some images of Ditko against Kubert images that show the tremendous influence.