|Joe Kubert: 1926 - 2012. We shall never see his likes again, but we are richer for having his work live on|
Friday, August 24, 2012
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Joe Kubert by Alan Kupperberg & Steve Mitchell
What you're about to read is a previously unseen, unheard and unpublished interview with the master himself - Joe Kubert - as conducted by Alan Kupperberg and Steve Mitchell in January 1970.
This interview is published with the express permission of Alan and Steve, and the copyright lays with them - so no stealing this interview to put in a book. If you feel the need to use it, or to quote from it, then ask Alan and Steve first. Now, without any further ado, let's get started!
Conducted by Steve Mitchell and Alan Kupperberg
Steve Mitchell: As an artist, what do you prefer drawing?
Joe Kubert: It depends on the subject matter. I don’t think there are any special likes or dislikes that I have. I like doing the Tor strips specifically.
SM: Uh huh.
JK: I like doing science-fiction. I like doing Westerns…
SM: Do you like doing war? ’Cause that’s what you’ve been doing for the last millennium.
JK: I like doing the war stuff except that I don’t like doing the same things over and over again. I think not only don’t I like doing the same things over and over again, but the people who read the magazine prefer to see something different IN the types of stories that I’m doing. And I think when you say a war story; you’re almost immediately limited to a certain thing or a certain area.
SM: World War II and Korea.
JK: World… right.
SM: More or less.
JK: Not even Korea.
Alan Kupperberg: But doing Rock so long: Don’t you feel it gets a little redundant after a while?
JK: Well, that’s what I’m trying to work out of. As one of the things that Steve has mentioned, one of the stories I had done, he felt, just didn’t hit it off.
AK: Do you feel you HAVE been redundant?
JK: No. I don’t feel that I have. I don’t feel that *I* have. But I’ve been doing the writing on the Rock stories now for the last two years or so. I don’t think Bob [Kanigher, prior editor/writer on “Sgt. Rock”], who was doing all the writing before that, purposely, by any means, you know, has been redundant – although you do have a tendency, in writing the amount of stuff that he has written, to kinda go over the same grounds once or twice.
SM: Usually in all the old war comics, you’d always have Rock attacking tanks with a .45, you know, shooting down planes with a Thompson. Are you trying to stay away from this? That was super-heroics.
JK: No, I’m not trying to stay away from anything particular. The only thing I am trying to stay away from IS doing a story that’s going to look like the one that was done the month before. I want each one of the stories that are being done, even to the layouts of the covers, which I think you’ll notice…
JK: So that when somebody picks up the magazine, they’ll feel that it’s something new, somebody picking it up will figure, “Well, what is he going to have in the magazine?”
SM: “What’s going to happen this month?”
JK: That’s right. Now, if I can get that across, in the stories, so that when they pick up the magazine, it does not look like the months before, then I feel I’ve accomplished something.
SM: Speaking about Tor – I mean, did you create the character?
SM: Who was it done for?
JK: It was… I was publisher for it.
SM: Oh, ho! Joe Kubert Comics!
JK: No, it was published in collaboration with the St. John Publishing Company.
SM: Uh huh.
JK: But it was worked on a kinda deal where I was participating with the publisher.
SM: Would you say that Tor was your favorite character?
JK: Yes, mainly because I think that a character like Tor pulls things down to its basics. There’s no fooling around and it’s formula stuff in that it’s been done with the Tarzan thing, but…
SM: But it’s prehistoric.
JK: Prehistoric… right. And you can apply almost any kind of a background, any kind of a story, any kind of a layout, any kind of an outline plot to this kind of a character as you can to any kind of story or character, dramatic story…
SM: Yeah, I guess it’s like you’ve got a basic sort of outline which you can build upon. You know, a basic character.
JK: No, what I mean is this: One of the things that a lot of people have felt, were that you’re limited to doing a caveman story because what can you have the guy do other than have him fighting dinosaurs or have him fighting somebody else. Well, there are as myriad numbers of stories and different types of stories that could be done as applied to a caveman as can be done to any kind of character whether it’s modern, war, or what have you. But the advantage of having it a caveman is that you can get down to the middle of it, because you get down to the basics. Here there is no fooling around…
SM: No technicalities or anything.
JK: There’s no kidding around. You don’t have to fool around with words. It gets down to the real basic emotions and drives, and so on and so forth. That’s where I felt the advantage of this strip is.
SM: After seeing Firehair… uh… it seems to be an Indian kind of Tor, in a sense.
JK: Yeah, you’d be interested to know that Firehair was probably one of the worst sellers put out recently.
SM: I can believe it because when I first saw Firehair, I said, “Here is a beautiful book that is doomed to die.”
JK: Well, apparently you foresaw something that I didn’t.
AK: Do you feel it died because of actual content or something somebody read into the book… imagined content?
JK: That’s a very good question for this reason: I think that almost any subject is sellable if it is done right. The whole trick, of course, is to find out what the right way is to do a particular subject. I think, in the case of “Firehair,” I don’t think that I would’ve written it any other way, I don’t think I would have drawn it any other way. But I think I would have presented it in a different way. I think, primarily, one of the biggest faux pas I made on the book were the covers. I think they were probably some of the worst covers I’ve ever done.
AK: Well, you did them under direction, right? Or did you make them up yourself?
JK: No, I made them up. Regardless of what the final result was, that cover was either published or not published because of me. I had the final say on whether that cover was going to go out or not. And if I didn’t like the cover than it was up to me to say it. I just didn’t see what I think I saw, what I think I see now: The fallacies in it. I didn’t see it then. A lot of things about it, a lot of little things about it…
SM: Well, like you say, I foresaw something. When I first picked up “Firehair,” I said for a minute, “I think the hero is someone people try to identify with.” I did not identify with Firehair. In comics, everyone is a hero, except the villain, more or less. But he is a half-breed Indian and he is being hunted by white people, and, you know, there are some bad Indians, too. At the same time, I don’t feel I could identify with him. I’m just kinda curious why did you do an Indian character?
JK: I think this is another case where you’re wrong, Steve. There are more ways that people can identify with a character like this than probably many of the characters in existence today simply because I try to work it up particularly for that reason. The fact is that most people today feel that they are not accepted by others for one reason or another. Firehair felt that he was not acceptable to whites because he was Indian and he was not acceptable to the Indians because he was white. It’s a basic premise and I feel that there are technical areas as far as the character was concerned, as far as the book was concerned, where I felt I fell short.
SM: I thought that the Indian researching was very…
JK: That’s not what I mean. What I mean is this: For instance, I think that it is a mistake today to feel that any one character is good enough to interest enough people to make the book sellable OUTSIDE of a Superman or a Batman or something that has achieved a certain amount of popularity so that you can put its name as a title of a magazine and figure that there are enough people who will buy that book because of that one character. I think that what I should have done and what I will be doing –
SM: “Firehair” is still cooking?
JK: Oh, yes. That will not drop. Just as…
AK: Didn’t you say he was in his own magazine already?
JK: He will be coming out in a magazine. He will be coming out…
SM: In *a* magazine?
JK: In a magazine, yes.
JK: You mean, will he be the lead character?
SM: Will it be Firehair #1 or Showcase presents?
JK: It will not be in a Showcase presents. It will be a regular book that he will be appearing in. In his book. Yes to that. He may not be the lead character every month – or he may be – but, anyway, it will be his own book, just as “Enemy Ace” has had a rough going for a long, long time. But it is finally starting to build and starting to take off now.
SM: Well, I always liked “Enemy Ace” because it is the unique idea of looking at it from the other side. That is what I always felt.
JK: Well, you might be interested to know that what you are saying, the reflections that you make, Steve, are very strangely – and it is interesting for you to know this – that many of the discussions and letters and talks that we have had with guys who are connected with fanzines and so on, give their own opinions, as you have, and strangely enough (or perhaps not so strangely enough) their opinions dovetail with a lot of things you said, that you’ve had to say.
However it has been almost an ironbound rule, generally speaking, that’s a refutation of statements, but generally speaking it has worked out where whatever the comments that the fans have made, have been just the reasons for a particular book’s demise. For instance, it is ironic – and that’s not to say as editors and artists and writers don’t agree with the fans, because if we didn’t agree to a certain extent we wouldn’t put out those books to begin with.
SM: Well, I always noticed when I was younger that the average buyer of a comic book is about 10-12 years old. They don’t go out and say, “He’s a German and it’s unique to see it from the other side.” They just want to be entertained.
JK: If you could tell me what sells a magazine, I think that I could arrange it so that you’re a millionaire overnight.
AK: For instance, do you think a book like Peter Porkchops or The Three Mouseketeers sells a comic?
JK: If YOU can tell me what sells a magazine, I think that I can make YOU a millionaire overnight.
AK: Gee, you know, Joe, we ought to get together more often.
JK: Eh, heh. The point is that no one really has any sort of formula as to what sells, because if they did have a formula as to what sells comics, or if they really knew what really sells comics, every magazine would sell; every comic that is on the stands would sell, make money… and they don’t.
SM: It just so happens that certain books appeal more to the masses than others.
JK: Those are the things that you try to determine. And actually the only criteria that guys like myself can use are our own personal likes and dislikes.
AK: Is there any one magazine that appeals to all… to the masses?
JK: Well, Superman appeals to the masses, apparently, because it is one of the best-selling magazines that has ever – and still is, I think – have ever come out.
SM: IN my opinion, I’ve always felt that the success of Superman was always the stories. You could always have Superman in a position where he looks like he couldn’t escape but, at the last minute, he would get out of it alright. The artwork, to me, has always been terrible, except for the last two or three years. Since then, it has sort of come up to par with the stories. The stories have always been up there and that’s what I think has probably sold the book. A little kid can go out there and say, “Oh, gee! What is gonna happen to Superman this week?” It is interesting, like a TV show.
AK: Any moral in the story is right there. It is not too subtle for the average ten- or twelve-year-old reader.
JK: You fellas kinda expostulate the many thousands…
SM: Wow, THAT was a 15¢ word.
JK: …as much as you want, because whatever you have to say probably has as much validity as anything that we’ve discussed. I don’t know what makes Superman the wonderful thing it is. If I knew, I’d try to put out another Superman. And it’s been tried and they cannot do it.
AK: You mean by this company, National?
JK: Sure. Captain Marvel or anything else that would come out and sell. That’s why we constantly keep trying to do that. They try to take off from something that is already successful, emulate it, and try to make some more money from it. But the point is that no one, whatever all the particular ramifications of a successful character that will sell, whatever all those things are, Steve says that it is the stories. Well, that’s one of the facets of it. But there are so many contingencies that if we knew all the reasons and all the things to do then we could do it again. And we just can’t. You just don’t find it. How come a guy like Superman will come out and sell well, then try with a dozen or 50 different characters and they will not sell. Come out with a Batman and it will sell. But the point is, they die. Captain Marvel was not published simply because it was not making money at that time, the first time that it went out of business. It just didn’t sell well.
AK: Marvel has reinstated THEIR Captain Marvel after it was discontinued for a few months. Now let’s see what happens this time.
JK: Yeah, well, let’s see.
SM: Being that you are an artist and you are around pros, what do you think is going to be one of the newer trends in comics? Super-heroes are finished. I have noticed that the various companies have been trying different things, like horror books and monster books, and I see you are even trying a few Westerns here and there! Even Hot Wheels, for that matter. They are all different types of things. What do you think is going to be the next trend? Because there is always a trend.
JK: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think that all these things work. It’s been my observation that these things work in cycles. You peddle a thing until it stops selling that well, then you let it cool off a little bit, and then you attack it from another angle. That’s all. It’s as simple as that. Just as the Westerns will be done again, the strange things will be done again.
SM: I know that back in the late ’50s, early ’60s, the general amount of comics on the newsstands were war comics. A lot of war comics. A lot of Western comics and a lot of crime comics. It was like pure adventure — sensationalism type stuff.
JK: [Sighs] I don’t know. I know that during the time that the war comics were flooding the market, these were strictly the result of the fact that the war comics that the Superman company were putting out were selling. And when a company finds out that the sales reports of a certain magazine are doing well, then they’ll try to emulate that. But how can you figure which war comics will sell and which won’t? When a string like the E.C. battle tales, which were done well, I thought…
SM: I thought they were of the highest quality myself.
JK: Well, quality is in the eye of the beholder as far as comic books are concerned. What might have interested you in those particular stories might only be a very small percentage… well, the proof of the pudding is that they did not sell.
SM: That wasn’t just because of the material though. It was also due to the distribution and things like that.
JK: How do you know, Steve?
SM: I’ve read a lot of articles and I’ve heard from people about E.C.! But what I was saying is that the E.C. war comics were the highest quality as WAR COMICS. They were of high quality because I think that the artists they had working for them then were some of the best around at the time. The stories were very good because they were well-written and well researched. And they were realistic. That is why I think they were of the highest quality.
JK: I think the artists… and Harvey Kurtzman, the editor of those books, were terrific. They are and were of the highest caliber. There’s no question of it. But the criteria of whether it was good or not is how it sells on the stands. Because you and a thousand or five thousand or a hundred thousand other guys like you, buying those books are not enough to make those books show black on a column. I don’t say cater to what you think someone else is going to like. You can’t do that either.
SM: I’m publishing a fanzine and my editorial policy is that I publish something I would go out and buy.
JK: That’s about it. That’s really the only way you can make it.
SM: I find that I have pretty selective tastes in fanzines, so I’m not going to spend money on crap. I want something that shows some work and effort put into it. And if I’m pleased with it, I’m pretty sure a lot of other people will be too.
JK: Regardless of whether they will be pleased or not, it is, as you say, you can only gauge what you do by your own elements and by your own criteria.
SM: I know a good publication doesn’t come easy. You’ve got to work hard at it.
JK: Well, you know, you’ve got to work hard at a bad one, too.
SM: You’ve got to put your all into it and say, “Would I buy this?” If you feel you would, then at least you are happy. Hopefully sales will show up the same way.
JK: Are you going into this venture as a business? That is, do you intend to make money on this?
SM: Not really.
JK: The only reason I ask is because there have been some so-called fanzines that were put out by professionals. Woody…
JK: Well, Wood is one which I thought was a very attractive magazine. But I understand it NEVER made money.
SM: Probably because of the price, a dollar a copy. That’s a lot of cash.
JK: I think one of those books is worth $1 as opposed to a lot of 25¢ and 50¢ ones.
SM: Well, one thing about the Witzend book is it’s going to be very valuable to have a copy of that in your collection.
JK: Well, it may be very valuable as far as collectors are concerned, just as some comics are very valuable, but that has nothing to do in the relation of business per se.
AK: Speaking of collectors’ value, I think we are surrounded [NOTE: This interview took place in D.C.’s library vault, which contains every comic book published by that company.]
SM: Do you find the cover price of comics acceptable?
JK: You mean are they acceptable to me? No, they are not. As a matter of fact, I kinda prognosticate that in the near-future prices of the comics will be going up. And that the size – not the overall dimensions, but the number of pages – will increase and that there will be a lot more of the comic book for a little more price. The price probably HAS to go up to 25¢. It must go up to 25¢. And it…
AK: But then there would be a cut-down on the volume of magazines.
AK: So there you have your money saving.
JK: But if those magazines begin to sell, as I think they will, then there will be more magazines coming out.
AK: But for 25¢ don’t you knock off a lot of the kiddie business?
JK: Well, fellas, I’ll tell ya: That’s one of the reasons I mentioned to Steve before. A lot of judgments you make are based on a lack of knowledge. For instance, the annual books which come out for 25¢ invariably sell better than any one of the 15¢ books.
AK: It’s because it is a one-shot deal, more or less.
JK: That’s not so. That’s a lot of book. That’s an awful lot of book. Now, that’s all reprint material. This is not new material. However, if you put out a 25¢ book of 64 pages, all original material, I think you will get those fellas interested in it. And, not only that, in a 64-page book, you then are able to put out a couple of 18-page stories in addition to the fact that you are not putting all your eggs in one basket as far as saying, “Well, here is an 18-page story in a book of 32 pages,” and you are depending on the sale of that book for that one story.
SM: You are getting a varied amount of material.
AK: You are paying 25¢ for the 64 pages. You are paying two-and-one-half times what you used to pay for the same 64 pages 10 or 20 years ago.
JK: No, but you would be getting a 64-page book for 25¢ as opposed to a 32-page book for 15¢. So you’re getting half again the pages for the money. You know the biggest cost in publishing a book is the cover and binding. It cost a heck of a lot less to put together a magazine with an extra 32 pages than it does to put out two magazines and two bindings.
AK: Did you ever read The Silver Surfer?
AK: Well, The Silver Surfer started as a 25¢ bi-monthly book with 64 pages. As soon as all 12¢ comics became 15¢, Marvel reduced The Silver Surfer to its present 15¢ 32-page size. They said it was done so that we’d have a Surfer monthly. Now, obviously they couldn’t afford the larger size as the 25¢.
JK: Don’t say “obviously,” ’cause really, nothing is obvious.
AK: Alright! I surmise [Kubert laughs] that it wasn’t feasible or acceptable money-wise to put 64 new pages instead of 32 pages where you…
JK: [Laughs] You lost me a little bit. First of all, the 15¢ magazine is a 32-page magazine.
AK: Well, at Marvel, you get 20 pages worth of material. Art.
JK: Well, just as in the Superman books, you get about (depending on the amount of advertising each month), it can vary anywhere from 23 to 27 pages in a book of 32 pages. But we are talking about 32 pages, regardless of how many pages of copy.
SM: I’d like to know a little bit about you as an editor. I know a lot about you as an artist. I know your books are a lot different than other comics around. I mean with the “Battle Albums” and the “Warrior” pages and things that Ric Estrada does, and your varied second-story material. What does it all amount to? What are you trying to put in these books?
JK: Being in the capacity of an editor up here is a very nice situation simply because you are allowed freedom to do almost anything you want. As a matter of fact, I don’t know what, if any, limitations do exist. But I am now able to introduce a lot of the thoughts that I’ve had during the time that I was working for others. I’d like to apply all those things I’ve had in my mind to do. I agree with – which cartoonist was it? I think it was Milt Caniff who said that no comic strip, no cartoon effort can be considered really successful unless it’s a combination effort of writing and artwork by the person who is actually executing the final work. That is, generally speaking, the most successful efforts in the cartooning field have been done by guys who have controlled the writing as well as the artwork, for whatever thing they’re doing. Milton Caniff has written his stuff and I think they’ve been the most beautiful, successful stuff. Hal Foster writing Prince Valiant. Chester Gould doing Dick Tracy. Al Capp and Li’l Abner. The number of successes of guys who have had control of the writing and art, as opposed to those who have done just the illustrating or just the writing, is [favored] in the direction of the guy who is able to control everything. I think I’m very fortunate in being in a position now where I can naturally apply all these in what I’m doing as an editor. That is, I can – and I do – have freedom in almost anything I want to do. The freedom that I have now has not always been an easy thing to get a hold of in this company or any other company in the business. Usually, before [then-current DC Editorial Director] Carmine [Infantino] took over, before Carmine was in the position he is in now, an editor had to kind of do whatever he was told to do by the editor-in-chief or the fellow who would be in Carmine’s position. So that even if I was editor, what I had to do then was have in the back of my mind all the time that I had to put together a magazine that’s going to be acceptable to the editorial staff. Now this doesn’t exist today as far as I’m concerned. Why my books, perhaps, look a little different than the others is because I can do whatever I want and the final say as to what goes in there is not mine and not Carmine’s, but the decision that we both make, based on what we see and what we can do. And that kind of a condition has never existed before. Never!
AK: Alright. I was wondering: Despite legal shenanigans, do you think it would be fun to get a match between Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury?
JK: No, I don’t think it would be fun. [Laughter]
AK: No? Alright, do you ever read Sgt. Fury?
AK: Well, do you think it is better or worse than Rock?
JK: It’s different. It’s just different.
AK: Well, which pleases you more? Which concept hits you where you live?
JK: If I thought the Sgt. Fury was a concept that interested me, I’d do it that way. But it doesn’t.
AK: Rock has been around 11, 12 years. He has always had the same crew?
JK: Yeah. Ten of those years is the result of one of the best writers and one of the best editors that ever lived in this business, and that is Bob Kanigher. And that’s one of the real reasons that this character has been able to last as long as he has, is ’cause Bob is a goddamn good writer.
AK: Fury has been around six or seven years now, and there is infinitely more characterization in Fury. You know the characters in Fury. You know all about them. But in “Rock,” you know nothing about him.
SM: [To Kupperberg] There were a lot of stories about him. Rock’s first name is Nick.
JK: No, that’s his brother’s name.
SM: You’ve got to remember: Sgt. Fury is Sgt Fury AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS! They have got second billing. The “Sgt. Rock” book is Sgt. Rock.
JK: Well, I’ll tell ya, apropos of what you’re saying: I just brought up the point you made about characterization. I just finished a story for the lead thing that you’ve just seen the cover for: The Unknown Soldier. Well, I wrote and drew this particular thing.
SM: This wouldn’t happen to be the graffiti guy [“Kilroy was here”] would it?
JK: No, no. As a matter of fact, they are quite different. The graffiti guy is Kilroy. Kilroy is a character in World War II who was there and who never was. It is just that kind of thing. But the Unknown Soldier is a new character who will be a regular sustaining character and will be coming out in every issue of this particular magazine [Star Spangled War Stories], but the point is the Unknown Soldier is a character who is involved in certain historical things that actually went on during the war.
SM: Right. There was an Unknown Soldier.
JK: Yeh, but the point is this: In the first story, the entire action takes place around the Tokyo bombing led by Dolittle during WWII. Now, even though this event is interlaced throughout the whole story, I didn’t want, at any time, to sink into having this thing as a treatise on educating a kid on what happened during WWII.
SM: You don’t want it to read like a history book.
JK: No, because if I do that than it’s not a comic book, it’s not something entertaining. It’s not an entertaining medium. However, I did feel that it’s an exciting story [which is connected to] that event, which I think I did and I did successfully.
SM: I think that’s one of the things about the E.C. books. All of the stories were written, basically, around events in the war.
JK: That could conceivably happen. But what you’re doing then, of course, is making the most incredible thing seem credible to the reader because you are setting it in a context of something that could possibly happen. Now, coming back to what you mentioned about this business of showing characters more, it’s been my experience that when you try to show the background of any of the subsidiary characters, in addition to trying to portray an exciting story, one of two things has to suffer. Either the story becomes stupid and does not move or you have to devote a whole story to the development of the character, in which case you lose your star character.
SM: And possibly a reader or two?
JK: It could be. That’s a good point. When you tell too much about a character and when you make too rigid a thing of him, first of all –
SM: You say, “Gee, I thought I was like him but I can see it’s not so.”
AK: You have to feel that there is a bit of every man in that character.
JK: Well, the way to do that is to allow your reader to introduce as many things about himself he can, to have empathy with the characters as possible. But when you take that character so completely ironbound -- where you show unless he puts his finger down this way, his nail isn’t going to bend – than the person who is reading about the character is already alienating himself from certain areas where he might have introduced himself to the character. You are making him too ironbound.
SM: Rock has always been a man of mystery and while he might have told about a first sweetheart, Rock is still more or less a mystery man.
JK: And yet I literally get hundreds of letters every week, “Rock is like my buddy, like they know him.” And this is from guys in the Army, this is from women who are married to people who are in the Army. I am really amazed many, many times by the fact he is taken as a completely living character. Now, this then refutes the fact that you say, “I don’t know enough of the background.”
AK: Then do you think you destroyed the concept of Rock slightly by showing him in the present in The Brave and the Bold #84 with Batman?
JK: I don’t know.
AK: Did you have a yes or no over that story?
JK: Yes, I did and I didn’t feel that it was critical in that it would destroy anything… it couldn’t hurt! [Laughs]
AK: No? Now you know that he can never be killed off [during WWII]. It is like reading a Superboy story. Superboy is trapped in a deadly situation. Death is imminent. He cannot escape. Big deal. We all know that he must live and grow up to become Superman. So where is the thrill? It defeats the whole purpose.
JK: Not necessarily, because I felt that that Rock story was like a lot of Superman stories where he has a bad dream or “What if? Imagine if this happens” type of story. Have you ever seen those Superman-type things?
AK: E. Nelson Bridwell stories.
JK: So that [chuckles]… so that I felt it was along that line of stories. If the kid wanted to read it or if you wanted to read that story and believe it, fine and dandy. If you don’t, well…
AK: In other words, it is not part of the official Rock legend.
JK: Oh, no.
SM: You know what I thought could bear up? Rock saying in that story, “I’m a 30-year-old man.” He is a professional soldier.
JK: Well, that’s why they took it.
SM: Sgt. Rock is a new character ever since you started editing him. He’s a newer character. He is more realistic, more feeling. He has got a little more heart. He is not A ROCK anymore. He is LIKE a rock that can cry. Back in the old days, he’d run around with the shirt falling off and the ammo belt flapping. He’d blow up 18 tanks with one hand grenade or something to that effect. It was super-heroism. I think the Sgt. Rock of today is like the Sgt. Saunders of the old Combat TV show.
JK: Oh, yeah.
SM: I think that they are so alike. Sgt. Rock has got that cold exterior; Vic Morrow, who I think should have gotten the Emmy for ALL-TIME great characterization, also had that cold exterior but he could feel – he had feelings. He could portray grief, hate, misery. The two characters are closely related. Is this on purpose perhaps?
JK: No, no. You know that something surprises me. Do you remember that sometime ago there was a Sgt. Rock story where he comes across a baby and carries the baby in his pack? Well, that is one that Bob Kanigher wrote. And, strangely enough, within a short space of time after that story was published, there was a story that appeared…
SM: On Combat! Yeah, they save this baby.
JK: On TV, right. As far as I’m concerned, I think it was a matter of luck. There was no pre-planning. Nobody stole from anybody. But it did work out where two characters happened to dovetail into that kind of story.
SM: I personally think the two were unbelievably alike. Every once in a while, you see Rock going out to do something heroic because he doesn’t want his squad to get all shot up. He has a near-miss by shrapnel. I remember a Combat show where they were going out of this bombed-out French town, when an armored Nazi car speeds up and tosses a grenade that goes off near Sgt. Saunders and, as he tries to knock out the car, he looks like he’s dazed. He says to this guy in the squad, “You are the BAR [Browning Automatic Rifle] man. Go knock out the armored car.” The BAR man gets killed while knocking it out. There are hundreds of times when these small characters in Rock have done the same thing. Rock has been hurt and he says, “I’m going to do such and so.” It is amazing they are so alike.
JK: I think it is more coincidence than anything else. And the fact is that we both just happen to pattern the characters or want to get that feeling across. Normally, I think it is the kiss of death for a comic book character to pattern itself along the lines of a TV character, because usually experience has shown it is a sure way to kill off a magazine.
AK: Is it over-exposure?
JK: No, it is just that one just doesn’t apply to the other. The Superman character is one that defies any kind of a convention.
AK: Well, he is invulnerable, you know.
JK: I don’t know. The Superman character in the form of Steve Reeves on TV—
AK: GEORGE Reeves! GEORGE Reeves!
JK: George Reeves, right. Steve is the muscles.
AK: George is the flab.
JK: The shows have been going on for so many years, repeatedly, where the same thing goes on and on. There are only 13 or 14 stories that go on for the last 10 years.
SM: Superman TV shows? I think there were 110 and they show all of them.
AK: But the Batman TV show killed the Batman comics for a while there. I really didn’t go for it very much at all.
SM: Making it a spoof affected the comics. Robin would always be saying, “Holy, Bat—”
SM: “Holy Bat Twats!”… I don’t know. [laughs] “Holy sole of Bat-boots. Gee, Batmobile, wow wow!” Errr, you said before that you were interested in Westerns. Do you think you will ever try to bring back another Western, such as Bat Lash or a gunslinger-type Western character? Not like a Kid Colt. I think, for all intents and purposes, Kid Colt is a big bleeding heart. I don’t know if the Comics Code would allow it, but some Western cat who wasn’t such a bleeding heart.
AK: Do you feel there will be a break away from the Code to do some of these things?
JK: Do you know why the Code was adopted in the first place?
SM: [Dr. Fredric] Wertham!
JK: Hell, no. The Code is something that was profligated by the business itself. It’s not something that was foisted on the business. The business did it simply because they felt, on account of all the criticism that they’d received – to show that they were cognizant of their responsibilities. They formed their own board of censors. Now, I think that the Code will probably exist as long as they feel it’s important to have that stamp on the magazines. The most important fact in that the Code is on the magazine is merely in order to make an extra couple of sales. To show the buying public you are aware of your responsibilities. I doubt very much if magazines would alter by half an inch if there was no Code at all. I think that the guys who are in control of the type of material know what is permissible and in good taste. I must tell you there are cases that do come up and there are things that the Code does turn down arbitrarily, perhaps unjustifiably. But the changes must be made in order to go along with what the Code feels you want to do, and they are so small that it doesn’t make any difference. You really don’t want to make a stink about it because it really does not matter that much.
SM: In my miniscule collection of E.C. Comics, I have the last four issues of Two-Fisted Tales, and in there they had a wide variety of adventure material, in which you might find an espionage story, a Ruby Ed what’s-his-name [Coffey] story, a Western of some sort, and maybe just another type of adventure strip. Maybe the Foreign Legion or the British in India. Do you think you could ever do a book like that? An all-around adventure type book?
SM: Do you feel a definite hero or main character is necessary? Don’t you think you could have a thing with a different type of adventure story, such as a Western of some kind, and an adventure story…
JK: I think your point is very well taken, Steve.
SM: I found those issues most entertaining. I loved those Ruby Ed stories. They were some of the greatest stories I ever read.
JK: The way I think they’d have to be worked in a magazine that doesn’t have the drawing power of a name like a Superman or a Batman is to have a title that will give it an indigenous effect. In other words, somebody reading the title alone will know what’s going to be included in that magazine – like a wild West book or what have you, as far as Westerns are concerned. The type of magazine you are describing can be as a Great Adventure… whatever you would call it.
SM: Road to Adventure or something like that.
JK: Whatever you want to apply. But it would be a general title, a title that would describe the general tenor of the type of stories that you have. Then you could be telling your audience in that way what kind of stories are included in that magazine. If you took a character like Mark Trail or something like that, that had not been used before, and tried to peddle that book or that title alone, it would die. It would have to die. Not only that, but you don’t know what the heck the book is about.
SM: As a personal favor to me – and this is going to sound mighty large – but do you think you could ever start something like Two-Fisted Tales? Do you think it has any potential in today’s market?
JK: I don’t know. I don’t know. There are a lot of elements that are involved in getting a book off the ground, not one which is less than the others, is time to put together one of these things. Now, we are discussing perhaps putting out several more magazines. Well, one of the limiting factors is time. I do insist on certain things being done with the books and doing them a certain way. And I will resort to using the reprints which I think are good than to use something new which I don’t think is good.
SM: I agree. But, as I said before, I am kinda offended by reprints, but you reprinted an old “Rock” or G.I. Combat [“Haunted Tank” story] which was done by Russ Heath that I found most enjoyable, because it just so happens I had not read those. But I think some of those old Russ Heath stories were fantastic.
JK: Yes, I agree with you.
SM: Russ is one of the few artists who are so great to start off with and he has gotten better since. Some artists around today were great to start off with but have since gone downhill. Like Bob Brown. To me, Bob used to be one of my favorites and now he is not up to par. He’s a good artist but I don’t think he is as good as he used to be. But Russ –
JK: Russ is terrific but there are guys who I put in Russ’s category, like Irv Novick, who has been in the business I don’t know how long.
SM: Those Batman issues he does with Dick Girodano? Fantastic. I like them even better than the war stuff he has done. I always thought Irv’s stuff was ehhh in the war books but his Batman is tremendous.
JK: And a guy like Alex Toth.
SM: Fantastic. John Severin.
JK: Johnny Severin, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow… well, Gray is good but I don’t consider him among the guys I’ve just been describing. I don’t know. I’ve always felt very strongly about the elements that a guy like Hal Foster was able to inject into the original Tarzan strip. That was not, by any means, overworked in art or story. What he did was pinpoint the most exciting part and the most central part of an illustration and work on that. I think, applied to the old stuff, basically the crudity of the type of work that was done, foresaw the artists and the writers to work down to the very basics of what they were doing. They did not have time to fool around with fancy backgrounds and things like that.
SM: One of the things I most admired about the old Two-Fisted Tales was the basic exciting visual effects. They were like watching a movie. One issue has Ruby Ed picking up a defected Russian. The commies move in and then Ruby’s boys come in the back windows. There is a gun battle. That was a cinematic technique which was terrific. There hasn’t been anything as great for years. These things should be reinstated.
JK: It may come around to that.
SM: I doubt that a character is wrong because you’ve got to have something to carry it. But the day has come when there has to be a change or go back to the standards of the good old days because there is a goldmine of old material waiting in them thar hills.
JK: So say we all.
And now, larger scans of the images in the interview, just for your viewing pleasure...