The Invaders: Alan Kupperberg Looks Back
Classic 1970s Marvel. The brainchild of Roy Thomas, the Invaders first 'appeared' in The Avengers #71 (December 1969) as part of another on-going story. Roy then used the characters again in another one-off appearance - the classic Timely trio of Captain America, Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch - as part of the now legendary Kree-Skrull war, which also ran in the pages of The Avengers (issues #91 through to #97). This time Roy even gave them a battle cry, straight out of Timely Comics, 'OK Axis, Here We Come,' although Roy has stated that he lifted the cry from the title of an article written by the late Don Thompson.
From there they sat in the back of Roy's mind until 1974. Finding himself at a slight loss after stepping down as Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief, Roy revived his concept of a team of super heroes fighting in World War II and sold it to Stan Lee. Thus were born The Invaders. The genesis and the first issues of the title were covered in detail by Roy in the seminal fanzine, Alter Ego, not that long ago (Alter Ego, Vol II, #2) and in his article Roy makes mention of how he came to work with the legendary Frank Robbins on the book. Robbins had a style straight out of the Milton Caniff school and, for this book, was paired with both Vinnie Colletta and then Frank Springer. The Robbins-Springer art team was one of legend: two artists in perfect synch. More than one person failed to warm to the artists though, partly because Robbins, an old time DC artist, refused to change his style to resemble the 'generic' Marvel art of the time (John Buscema, John Romita etc). Robbins art stood out, jarringly at times, and people either loved it or hated it.
Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins stayed with the book until issue #29. After moving to California Roy turned the book over to writer Donald Glut, and, with Robbins leaving, the art chores fell to a relative newcomer on the Marvel scene, Alan Kupperberg. Roy hasn't covered the Glut/Kupperberg issues in any great detail (to my knowledge) and recently I asked him just how it was that Kupperberg was given the book to drawn. Roy's reply was that, "I remember Alan Kupperberg's enthusiasm. He lacked some polish back then, and has developed apace since... but he always told a good story and was good to work with. He, Howard (then Howie) Chaykin, and I used to hang out together some evenings, too, when I'd separated from my first wife." This goes against the (very incorrect) theory that somehow Alan Kupperberg was assigned the art duties due to some form of nepotism. Kupperberg got the job for all the right reasons.
Other than one fill in-issue early in the piece, Kupperberg enjoyed his longest run on a Marvel comic with The Invaders. The run latest from issue #29 through to the book's final issue #41. It's a run that is remembered fondly by readers of Bronze Age Marvels and a run that is crying out to be reprinted. Essential Invaders Vol I and II anyone?
Recently Alan Kupperberg took time out to speak about his Invaders work.
DANIEL BEST: How did you get the job pencilling The Invaders?
ALAN KUPPERBERG: It’s more than likely I approached Roy Thomas and told him that I was looking for work. And he put me onto the Invaders. I had done a few What Ifs? that Roy had edited.
DB: In the letters page of your first issue Roy mentions that you were fresh from What If #8.
AK: Yeah, with Jim Mooney. That’s pretty much how simple it was. I was in the middle of drawing What If? when I moved across the river from Queens, New York, into Manhattan.
DB: Do you know why Frank Robbins left the title?
AK: I don’t know.
DB: Looking at your first issue it surprised me how much the art resembled Robbins.
AK: I think it’s because of Frank Springer. I always thought Frank Robbins was a very weird kind of superhero artist. I like his stuff, have a great affection for it. But in my opinion, his stuff was very rubbery. Weird, flailing limbed figures. That was just his style. And my stuff was very primitive. I was just starting out and didn’t know as much as I’d have liked to know. So that kind of echoed Robbin’s weirdness, but it was just my lack of knowledge. Frank Springer was able to pick up on those different aspects and make them similar.
DB: One thing that strikes me is that you have Captain America’s mouth permanently open, which is something that Robbins did as well.
AK: That’s the Ogden Whitney effect. I don’t recall if I pencilled it that way. That might very well have been something that Frank Springer did.
DB: What did you think of Frank Springer?
AK: I thought he was and is phenomenal. By the way, I figured something out when I was looking at this stuff in preparation for our talk today. I’m always complaining about the inkers I’ve had on my work. And I realised that if the inker wasn’t Neal Adams, I was going to bitch and moan.
DB: Don Glut was the writer of the first issue you did.
AK: Don’s writing was fine. I can’t tell the difference now looking at it, between Don’s stuff and Roy’s. It’s very standard fare. By the way, the cover of that issue was drawn by me.
DB: I always thought the cover was by Ernie Chan?
AK: No, I pencilled it. Ernie Chan inked it.
DB: It’s credited to Ernie Chan in all of the indexes that I’ve seen.
AK: Well, no. It was laid out by me and totally pencilled by me. Especially on the villain’s face, I can see what I did. I have a tendency to sometimes cut the right side of the face short, which I see I did on the villain. And the bad left hand is definitely mine. And I can see, when I look at the right hand of the villain, that the thumb has been re-drawn by John Romita. Actually, I think both the thumbs are re-drawn and re-inked by John Romita.
DB: The Namor figure looks like pure Ernie Chan.
AK: If my memory is correct, I think Ernie re-drew the Namor figure entirely. Also, when I look at the Human Torch, I see that that’s a Johnny Romita Torch.
DB: That used to happen a lot, John Romita re-drawing figures.
AK: That was part of his job. The editors proposed, John Romita disposed.
DB: Did it ever bother you when he did that?
AK: No. Because in my case, whatever he did was invariably better than what had been there to begin with. Those were the conditions that prevailed. Who am I? Michelangelo? I didn’t walk in and say, “This is my vision. Don’t you dare change a line.” No, I was part of a team. We were making company, corporate product. This is what happens. Luckily, if they don’t approve of what you’ve drawn, thank God they don’t fire you. They get a guy to fix it. John was only doing what the editors asked him to do.
DB: How did it feel going onto a team book?
AK: It was fine. The more the merrier. When you’re first starting out, every job is thrilling. I notice when I’m going through this stuff, that with a team book I found very little or no opportunity to interject little bits of personal ephemera on the side. There’s very little space to put it because these panels are packed with characters. There’s no Lucy Ball or Bob Hope waltzing around in these stories. This stuff is naked of that kind of personal adornment. Maybe the best thing about drawing a team book is that it’s a little like repeatedly hitting your self on the head with a hammer. It just feels so damned good when you stop. But really, it’s refreshing to go back and forth. Single hero books and team books work out different sets of artistic muscles, and you need both skills.
DB: The first story is almost the origin of The Invaders. The story spotlights each one of the big three and how they encountered The Teutonic Knight.
AK: Is that so? You see, I haven’t been rereading this stuff. I’ve just been scanning the art, picking up little things, trying to jog my memory.
DB: That brings us to an interesting point; you were drawing Captain America, the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch. For a history buff like you that must have been exciting.
AK: Yes it was, quite. It was a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed doing the Sub-Mariner. He’s always a lot of fun to draw. I’m not exactly happy with the way he turned out here. I think Frank Springer changed my drawing a lot on the Sub-Mariner and not to any great effect. But in the abstract, objectively, it’s a decent interpretation of Subby. Springer and I are a very nice combo. It was very exciting to have him ink my work. He gives it a very rich, textured period look.
DB: The next issue, #30, saw your work behind a Joe Sinnott cover.
AK: Once again, that’s from my layout.
DB: It’s credited to Sinnott alone and signed by Sinnott.
AK: I know it is, but I at least laid it out. Yep, that’s mine. I remember doing it. I did the layout for it and Sinnott followed it exactly. As was the custom in those days, if an artist finished a cover from a layout, he’d sign it. So he wasn’t copping my credit, that’s just the way Marvel Comics did it back then. Jack Kirby did dozens of Marvel covers from layouts in the mid ‘70’s. People like Allen Milgrom and Ed Hannigan laid them out for Kirby and other artists. I think Jim Starlin started out doing cover layouts or Spider-Man layouts for John Romita, if my memory is correct.
DB: Again, you had no problem with Joe Sinnott signing the cover as all his own work?
AK: No, that’s the way they did things back then. The finishing artist got a cover layout and signed the finished cover. I did the drawings on 10”x15” layout bond. I had the Invaders logo to work out the spacing needed. And they gave that to Joe Sinnott. Joe then put it on his lightbox and did the finished cover. Beautifully.
DB: It’s a fine looking cover.
AK: It is. I wish he’d fixed some of the figures up a little bit more than he did, but what are you gonna do? It’s fine. The Captain America looks a little stiff and could have been more graceful.
DB: You really went to town on this issue. The first two pages are splash pages.
AK: Yeah, that second page could have worked out better. You’re never going to hear me be very satisfied with my work.
DB: I can see what you’re saying – his head looks out of place.
AK: Yep. Oh, I hadn’t even noticed that.
DB: I do that so well.
AK: Yeah. Raisin head.
DB: Page 7 of this issue, the last panel, what do you make out of that?
AK: Spitfire punching out the Nazi soldier?
AK: What are you asking me?
DB: The eyes are crossed.
AK: I think Frank Springer did that. That doesn’t look like a Spitfire face that I drew. It’s a down shot, and we’re looking up her nostrils. It looks as though Springer made a change in my pencils during inking without re-pencilling it himself first. Pencilling with the brush, as it were. I was getting credit as the penciler but I don’t know if I was even pencilling these. These might have been from my layouts, but I’m not sure.
DB: Springer was given credit as being the ‘inker/embellisher’.
AK: I noticed that. So these were probably from my layouts.
DB: Why would you have only been providing layouts?
AK: Another very common practice back then. If you’ve got a guy like Springer who was super talented and could finish stuff up so well, you take advantage of it. For instance, look at the new villain as opposed to the on-going hero characters. Springer’s inking on Captain America and Sub-Mariner followed the established Robbins/Springer style. Springer changed my pencils to match Robbins. But he didn’t change the villain, which I created. He left that as it was. When Springer didn’t have anything to reconcile it with, he left the pencils alone.
DB: Reading the letters pages in those early issues you find a lot of criticism of the art, but not of your art, there are mainly criticisms of the inkers. The next two issues that you did, #32 and #33, featured a crossover with Thor.
AK: Though it was finished by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott, once again, I designed the cover.
DB: You laid out a Kirby cover?
AK: I laid out a Kirby cover. I’ve still got all the material. My layout was printed in the Jack Kirby Collector #29. I’ve still got the original layout that I did. It was a lot of fun because Kirby made my layout look incredible. He followed it exactly, except that my horizon was skewed and he’s got it truly horizontal. Much better. I was trying to do Kirby. I think I knew that it was going to him to finish. So I was trying to do Kirby so that he’d do my Kirby. It doesn’t look like someone laid it out for him. To me, it looks like pure Kirby.
DB: How much of a rush was it to know that Kirby was going to be working from your layout?
AK: It was colossal. Stupendous. It was great. Frank Springer and Jack Kirby; I was surrounded by these great, great talents. If you look, you’ll see that George Roussos coloured the book. Between all those fellows, that’s a lot of talent surrounding me and supporting me in that one book. I liked George a great deal, he was a very kind, gentle man. Very modest. Very quiet. He drew a lot of early Batman stuff for Bob Kane. And Jack Kirby, a creator of Captain America and Thor was drawing them on the cover from my layout. That’s not unlike having shlock film maker Ed Wood direct Lawrence Olivier or Spencer Tracy in one of his pictures. But seriously, it was very exciting to be in that company.
DB: What struck a chord at the time and still does bother people is that they threw Thor into the mix, along with Dr Doom, in order to get the book into a more contemporary setting.
AK: I think that they wanted to draw in more readers, as with everything they did. Anything to try to boost sales. Also, that’s Roy Thomas trying to connect everything up, where possible. That’s Roy’s thing; trying to tie everything together. I think it’s cool, to a certain extent. But as you point out, it can create as many problems as it resolves
DB: The problem I had with it was if Thor met the Invaders in the 1940s then why can’t he remember Captain America or Sub-Mariner when he met them later in those early issues of The Avengers, set in the 1960s?
AK: Ah! That’s very interesting. I wonder if Roy has ever thought about it or addressed it? Well, look on the bright side. It gives the writers of the future plenty of grist for the mill. It’s like a pebble tossed in the water. Each ripple gives rise to the next ripple, Grasshopper.
DB: And why doesn’t Dr Doom recognise all those characters down the track? I think that’s a problem that a lot of people were having at the time and still do.
AK: That one never occurred to me either. Let’s ask Baron Zemo.
DB: You drew a good Thor even then.
AK: I think I drew Thor a bit too skinny, especially when you compare it with the way they draw heroes today.
DB: And you got to draw Hitler.
AK: Yes I did and I tried to draw a better Hitler than most comic book artists seem to manage. Hitler seems to be a very difficult likeness to capture. I believe that John Severin is just about the only guy I can think of who can draw Hitler correctly consistently. But John Severin’s facility with capturing likenesses is unparalleled. Although, I can’t vouch for his shrubbery concepts.
DB: What reference material were you using at the time?
AK: I started putting together my clip files when I was working with Wally Wood. Woody had a huge clip file, or swipe file as some call it. Some guys call it a morgue. And I’ve always had a lot of books on World War II because it is a time period that I’ve always been interested in. So I had a plenty of material on this time period.
DB: Did Marvel supply you anything?
AK: Occasionally. They would supply you with comic book reference. Characters, etc. Individual writers might include reference for the editors to pass on to you. I don’t know if that was the case with any of the Invaders, but sometimes that would be the way it happened.
DB: I suppose there’s enough reference for Hitler around the place.
AK: Oh, sure. There’s an overabundance.
DB: How did you feel about drawing Thor and Dr Doom in a comic that was set in the 1940s?
AK: It was fun to do Thor. I didn’t have any strong emotions about this Doom. It’s not Dr Doom, per se. As an artist, I feel that if the guy doesn’t look like Dr Doom…
DB: Well Victor Von Doom.
AK: This guy is The Mummy.
DB: Next issue, #34, saw both The Destroyer and the British Invaders. Again, that’s more characters. In issue #35 you only drew five pages, Don Heck drew the rest.
AK: That was a pre-existing job they wanted to burn off. They had pages and I had to fit my pages around them.
DB: How do they approach that with you? Do they say, “You’re only doing a framing sequence because we’re throwing in these left over pages?”
AK: How did I feel about it?
DB: How did you feel and how did they approach you?
AK: They said, “This is what’s happening, we’ve got these pages, here’s a plot for what goes around it, so draw it.” They didn’t ask me. They don’t care how you feel.
DB: How did you feel?
AK: I always preferred to do more work than less work.
DB: It’s not like you’re behind on the job so they have to throw in an inventory issue, so do they compensate you?
DB: So you’re effectively down to a fifth of your earnings for that month.
AK: On that one book. But I was doing a lot of other work as well. I suspect that I filled my time up elsewhere. But then, that’s why they hire freelancers. Now, that was the first issue that wasn’t inked by Springer. Rick Hoberg inked that issue. Rick and I became very friendly. Rick’s a good hearted fellow and he had a wonderful wife. He sent me my first Betamax tapes of the Max Fleischer/Famous Studios Superman cartoons.
DB: Issue #36 saw you paired up with one of Kirby’s inkers, Chic Stone.
AK: Now, between Rick Hoberg and Chic Stone, you can see what Frank Springer was doing with my work. If my Captain America looks different, it’s because Rick and Chic were inking what I’d pencilled. “Rick and Chic.” A fabulous vaudeville song and dance team, as well, by the way. That’s not true, I just made that up. The cover to that issue was laid out by me. I can’t believe I drew a submarine that well. That’s got to be all Joe Sinnott’s doing.
DB: This issue looks more in the style of Marvel than the previous issues, but then I always thought that the work of Frank Robbins and Frank Springer didn’t look anything like Marvel art.
AK: Those were two DC guys as far as I was concerned. The first time I ever saw Frank Springer’s work was on The Secret Six. I loved The Secret Six. And Phoebe Zeit-Geist, as well. I was nuts about The Secret Six, so I always liked what Springer did, as well as Jack Sparling, who followed Springer on that book. I knew both those guys. Frank Springer is a terrific person. He is so “cool.” Just a wonderful, talented man. Sparling was a very nice guy too. I’ve never met Chic Stone, but I have no doubt that he’s a doll baby, as well.
DB: What did you think of his inking over your pencils?
AK: Frankly, I was never that wild about Chic Stone’s inking over anybody else’s stuff, especially not over Jack Kirby. I thought he should have pencilled and inked his own stuff. When I see how Stone inked his own pencils, I get the feeling his heart wasn’t really in it when he was inking over other pencillers.
DB: it’s still good work though and it looked like a good compliment of artists, although page 30, panel 3 is a bit odd.
AK: The Sub-Mariner figure? That’s all me.
DB: It’s like a Gil Kane swipe.
AK: Well, it wasn’t a swipe but it was an attempt to be ‘Gil-ish’ on the gill man. Look – the villain has knocked the wings right off Namor’s feet with that punch. That other figure should have been much bigger and closer to the reader. At that point, my artwork was moving more towards what Jim Shooter required. If you notice, in the first issues I did, I used more big panels and more inset panels. Jim Shooter did not want artists to use inset panels. He thought inset panels confused the readers. So that kind of stuff disappeared at around that time and my work got more Shooterised. I call Shooter comics “doll comics.” I felt that what Jim wanted made all the panels look like little toy action figures posed in a frame. As opposed to occasionally cropping things off artistically. Shooter preferred full figures in every panel so the reader always knows what’s going on.
DB: You said that Robbins and Springer didn’t look like Marvel because they were DC artists, yet in effect it sounds like Shooter wanted a DC approach, circa the mid 1960s.
AK: Ah, yeah. I think that if Curt Swan had come over to Marvel and drawn everything, then Shooter might have been very satisfied. And it would have made me very unhappy, because as much as I adore Curt Swan’s artwork, it wouldn’t have been Marvel comics.
DB: That’s the main criticism that people have when they compare Marvel with DC in the mid to late ‘60s, is that DC was boring and Marvel was exciting and vibrant. Curt Swan’s realism as opposed to Steve Ditko’s expressionism.
AK: Curt Swan was one of my first artistic idols, as well as a very wonderful individual. As an artist, he was the thing to be for me, as a kid in 1962. And then Neal Adams came along. And another light went on in my head. But I always felt that Curt Swan drew real people. Or the closest to being real people, without being dull. Perry White was a real guy. Nothing distinguishing about him, but he was just a real, average guy, like a Sol Harrison-type at DC Comics, a definite individual, but just a guy. Curt’s is very modest, unassuming work, and I mean that in the very best sense of those words. As an artist, he was invisible. The work spoke for itself. There was no personal ego underlaying, or even worse, overlaying the artwork. That’s certainly not the case with Neal Adams. Every single thing that Neal says or draws or does is designed to provoke, to rudely poke you in the eye. “Watch me preen!” Curt served the story, Neal serves himself.
DB: Whereas Marvel had that Kirby approach where everything had to be dynamic and exciting.
AK: Or like Steve Ditko, egocentric and weird. But not at DC, no.
DB: I’ve always said I’d have loved to have seen artists swap companies, just for a month. To see Swan drawing the Fantastic Four, or Romita drawing Batman, or Jose Garcia-Lopez...
AK: Oh yes, Jose Garcia-Lopez at Marvel! I always felt that way, too. I always longed for John Buscema’s Superman. And when you think about it, John Romita was the quintessential DC romance artist for a decade. But he more than managed to make the transition. Jim Mooney did, as well. When Jim went over to Marvel, did he feel it was a revelation to him? Did he feel the move freed him up to cut loose?
AK: Because I could not imagine the guy who drew those relatively boring looking Supergirl stories was doing one of my favorite books, Spider-Man. I read and I loved all of those Supergirl stories, but that is very staid material. Suddenly, at Marvel, Jim Mooney blossomed. He was totally capable of doing the more dynamic Marvel approach.
DB: Mooney told DC at the time that he was more than capable of delivering the more realistic style that Neal Adams was beginning to introduce, but they didn’t want it from him. Certainly his later Supergirl stuff was starting to look less like DC.
AK: When DC stopped demanding that the writers stick to at least six panels on every page, Mooney had more room to do stuff.
DB: A few people have said, including Mooney and Romita that the first time they were introduced to the Marvel Method it was very intimidating, but once they got their heads around it they felt very liberated. I still wonder how Swan would have gone at Marvel though.
AK: Well, we’ll never know. It would have been an interesting experiment, though.
DB: Back to the Invaders. By this time you were also drawing the Liberty Legion, so there were more characters that you had to cram into the pages. Moving onto issue #37 you got to sign the cover.
AK: Yep, Kupperberg and Sinnott.
DB: You were being inked by Sinnott on the cover and Stone on the inside – two of Kirby’s best known collaborators. In the case of Sinnott, one of Kirby’s best ever collaborators. How did it feel being inked by Joe Sinnott?
AK: Oh, super. He was the best! Joe Sinnott is King of the slick inkers. When Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprinted Fantastic Four #100 they needed more room on the cover for copy. So I traced off Kirby’s original cover, accounted for the space that they needed and then Sinnott re-inked the cover as he had Kirby’s original. It was beautiful. You can’t tell it’s not Kirby, except for the lousy Human Torch figure I re-pencilled to make room for that extra space.
DB: Both yourself and Rich Hoberg were listed as co-illustrators. What were you doing and what was Rick doing?
AK: The pages between 2 and 10 I did not do. I did page 1 and 2 and then from page 10 onwards.
DB: By this stage you appeared to really be hitting your straps in the book. If you compare the earlier issues with these issues you can see the confidence in your art.
AK: Yes, I was on a steep learning curve at that point. That can be a big benefit to doing a regular monthly book.
DB: Lady Lotus.
AK: Ahhhh. Lesbian.
DB: Why was she a lesbian? Was she written that way?
AK: No, I think I just decided. There were certainly some situations in the plot that pointed me in that direction, but nothing explicit. I think I may have just decided to do it because I was dating a lesbian at that point. I’ve gone with several lesbian girlfriends in my time. We met and they decided to try it straight for a while. It never stuck, though. But it was fun while it lasted.
DB: When you created the visuals for Lady Lotus, what was the process?
AK: Again, I’d have to look at the plot to find out what they asked of me, but I assume they asked for a Dragon Lady type thing. I don’t recall if it was implied or inferred. I wish I had had more Caniff stuff to look at. I wish I’d swiped a lot more stuff. Generally I didn’t swipe much of anything in particular. Maybe my learning curve would have been steeper if I’d swiped stuff and learned from it. You see, working for Wally Wood, I discovered how an artist can become a slave to his swipe file and his Art-O-Graph, if he lets himself. Woody spent more time on rooting around in his files and digging out the “perfect” Hal Foster or Alex Raymond swipe then it would have taken him to draw something new. So I developed a natural antipathy to that whole process. Basically, I really always wanted everything to be out of my own imagination. I’m one of those artists who have never had people assist or ghost them. Never. I never wanted or needed anyone to help me, at least in terms of time. I did pencilling for Rich Buckler, it might not have seen print, but I tried. I ghosted a couple of weeks of pencils for the Spider-Man daily strip for John Romita. I did a lot of layouts for Chaykin, Wally Wood, Neal Adams and all these guys. But I never aspired to get big enough that I’d have to farm the stuff out and become “Mr. Stan Lee Presents,” or something. The whole thing for me was the doing of it. The having done it. And, if I got any pats on the head, they were all mine.
DB: Again, looking at the letters pages, in this issue the claims is that ‘Messers Kupperberg and Springer have the art chores well in hand’. I know you’re self depreciating about your art, but it was praised back in the day.
AK First of all, it’s not uncommon to suck up in order to get your letter in print.
DB: I’m not sure, I’ve seen some letter pages where it all says, “Jeez, the art sucks”.
AK: They must have gotten negative letters like that concerning Neal Adams and John Buscema’s art also. There is, after all, no accounting for taste. But you never know what’s going on behind the scenes, after all. The Invaders was a dying book and I’ll bet the editor was doing his best on the letters pages to encourage enthusiasm. It can work both ways. What if an editor at Marvel is a no-talent son-of-bitch with an axe to grind? And let’s say he feels he’s been “stuck” with Jack Kirby, in the twilight of Kirby’s brilliant career, doing a regular book. And out of sheer spite, this editor prints the letters that put the knock on Jack. But you’ve gotta believe that there were probably just as many or more letters that were pro-Jack. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing. I’ll say the same thing I’ve said before. I’m gratified that there were some people whose tastes I didn’t offend. I know I offended my own. It never was what I wanted it to be. In my head, everything I drew was going to be Neal Adams. Sometimes I was aiming to be John Buscema or Jack Kirby. And it was very rarely what I wanted it to be. That’s where I’m coming from. I’ll never be happy because it never is as good as I want it to be. Good enough is not good enough.
DB: Issue #38. That’s the issue with the Don Heck pages in it. Again, the cover is Kupperberg/Sinnott.
AK: Yeah, Sinnott makes everybody look great.
DB: Why was Heck the co-penciller?
AK: I think this was the other half of Liberty Legion #1. On page 6, in the lower left hand panel, I like the way that character’s face came out. Very Atlas Comics. Very ‘50s, Atlas face.
DB: It was the era you were going for.
AK: On page 14, they’re in Chinatown. Look at the Chinese shop sign in the lower left hand panel…
BOTH: Stan Lee
DB: I just saw that.
AK: I just saw it, too.
DB: When it comes to drawing the Chinese writing, did you just make that up?
AK: Totally. Out of my head.
DB: You could be writing swear words in Chinese and not know it.
AK: I hope I did.
DB: In this issue you had the Liberty Legion and the Kid Commandos along with The Invaders. Did you ever sit there and think, “This is too much.”
AK: No, I don’t think so. Not on this job. I remember thinking that about the Blue Devil job that we’ve spoken about, but on this one I don’t remember feeling that way. I was still too new to the business to feel put-upon by anything I was asked to do. It was still a great privilege. It was still a privilege when I was doing the Blue Devil ten years later. But the Invaders were the “real” characters. They were Timely’s original big three. The Blue Devil was a Johnny-come-lately to me.
DB: Drawing Bucky…
AK: That’s very much like drawing Robin to me. I liked it. I like Bucky. The more history a character has, the more I enjoy drawing them. You can’t have much more history in comics than Robin and Bucky.
DB: When were you told the book was going to be cancelled?
AK: I may have known an issue or two in advance. Everyone knew the book was not a great seller. Again, it’s a very long time ago so I don’t recall exactly, but I know that we ganged the last two issues up into one.
DB: Issue #39. It’s back to Chic Stone.
AK: That’s a nice cover though, really decent. The splash page is the next panel after the cover. It’s the same picture, more or less. It’s a one-minute later panel.
DB: You’ve got another Gil Kane moment in there on page 2, panel 3.
AK: Oh, yeah. Well, I could have done it better. But then, that’s all I’m ever going to say about any of my early Marvel work. This job is better than the earlier ones, though. On page 7, I got another lesbian scene going on. I notice that Chic seemed to have taken special loving care on this page.
DB: Were you aware of any feedback with that panel?
AK: No. Not at all. I don’t know if I pointed it to anyone else at the office.
DB: Page 11. The same as the Blue Devil stuff, sometimes your art really shone on pages where there was no superhero action.
AK: Thanks. There’s some decent stuff in there. There’s a big, fat green Buddah in the background.
DB: Did you model that on anyone?
AK: You mean like John Byrne?
DB: You had Union Jack and Spitfire back in the book.
AK: I like the Lady Lotus on the lower right hand side of page #15. That’s a nice shot. That looks professional.
DB: Looking at that panel next to it, the lady looks very Caniffish.
AK: That’s not my doing, per se. I think that’s what happened after Chic Stone finished with it. You’re right, though, it’s very Caniffish.
DB: You’ve never mentioned Caniff as being a big influence on you.
AK: Because he was not. I was almost totally unfamiliar with his work. Steve Canyon ran in the New York Post every day, along with Batman by Al Plastino, then Joe Giella, so I saw it. But in retrospect, I felt that that Steve Canyon wasn’t really primo Caniff by that point. It wasn’t vintage Caniff. I wasn’t really familiar with his stuff and there weren’t very many Terry and the Pirates reprints back then. Woody Gelman was just starting to put some of that material back into print. If vintage Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles or Roy Crane material had been available to me when I was a kid, I might have blossomed in a whole new direction. They had the advantage of coming up in a mainly black and white medium. I came up more influenced by the strictly four-colour medium, and couldn’t or didn’t learn to appreciate the use of blacks as well as I would have liked. So anything Caniff-like that happens in my art is probably a happy accident or the influence of an older artist working over my stuff. There was almost no one more influenced by Caniff than Frank Robbins. There’s some decent action on page 17. Not Kirby dynamic, but again, I see a problem. The sizes of the figures are too similar in all the panels. Other than that though each individual panel is not bad.
DB: Roy brought back Baron Blood with this issue and the last page is very impressive.
AK: The last page? Oh, there’s a vampire on it. Yes. Again I didn’t achieve what I was going for but it was close enough.
DB: What were you going for?
AK: I don’t know how to explain it in words, but in my head I knew what I wanted. If Neal Adams or John Buscema had done it -- . Actually this is more a Buscema-type pose than a Neal. It could have been clearer. It doesn’t read very well visually. The colour muddied it up and I could have done it more clearly. Once again, it’s not what I saw in my head.
DB: Did you ever do a book that came out as you saw it in your head?
AK: Some of the Evil Clown stuff. A few stories for Cracked Monster Party. If I can’t ink it, it’s not going to be even close to what’s in my head. When you ink your own work, if there’s something you screwed up on the first pass, you’ve got an opportunity, whether or not you take it, to fix things when you ink it. A superhero book? Tony DeZuniga inked a Tarantula origin story that I did for Roy Thomas at DC Comics, that came out very close to what I thought was a good job. Gray Morrow inked a couple of pages of mine for the New Universe book, Merc. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. What a thrill. The man was incredible. Some of my later jobs, when I approached what I hoped was an understanding what was good work, pleased me. Jim Fern inked a couple of my Spider-Man stories, and that made me very happy. Jim Fern is a terrific artist. But by and large I was never satisfied with my pencils.
DB: Issue #40.
AK: That figure of Baron Blood, the vampire on the splash page, I swiped that.
DB: Where from?
AK: It looks like John Buscema to me, but from where, specifically, I don’t remember. I don’t even remember swiping it, I just recognise it as a Buscema swipe. It’s not my stuff.
DB: You did do a good Baron Blood. The vampire is, I suppose for the lack of a better word, vampiric.
AK: Who created it artistically? Robbins?
DB: I think it was, because he first appeared early in the run.
AK: I see on page 2, the lower left hand panel, that’s another swipe with Baron Blood superimposed on it, and again it looks like a Buscema to me.
DB: Why were you swiping at that stage?
AK: I don’t know specifically, unless I saw something I really liked and wanted to use it. Maybe I tried to draw something that I couldn’t pull off and in desperation pulled out that Buscema stuff and copied it. But these are some of the rare instances where I did do that. Maybe even on the lower right hand panel of page 3. That also might be a Buscema swipe.
DB: It comes across quite well.
AK: It’s not a whole swiped panel, just a few figures.
DB: The splash page…
AK: I’ve been looking at that for a week on the web site and not liking the Japanese soldier I drew.
AK: Actually looking at it now it’s not bothering me that much, but if I had a chance to do it over again I’d do it differently. It looks a bit flat to me.
DB: The figure looks very Caniffish.
AK: I think that would be Chic Stone’s manipulation of it. I was certainly not doing it, at least not on purpose. One of my problems, speaking of Caniff and Sickles and their masterful use of blacks, is that I always felt that my own use of blacks was not organic. I often tried to place blacks in my panels after I’d composed the panels, especially back then. And that can be a very difficult thing to do, after the fact. Caniff almost seemed to work from the black out. It seemed as though he started with the blacks and worked out towards the light. I tried to “spot blacks,” as artists say, but Caniff “spotted lights.” Caniff was a mighty sculptor, I was a mere sketcher. I was mainly doing layouts in the beginning. It was more like a colouring book type of thing. By and large, blacks are not the main thing on your mind if you’re just doing layouts. When I began doing full pencils, I tried to work the blacks in primarily for contrast, in order to make the artwork pop. I worried about the blacks afterwards, instead of it all being an original conception. It was an afterthought, almost. I’m exaggerating the process slightly in order to make my point, but that always bothered me about my work. But I’ve been working on it, and I’m a lot happier with what I’m doing now.
<DB: Page 10.
AK: Ah! More lesbians. Or at least, sexy stuff.
DB: How did that get by the editors? That’s a fairly strong panel for the time.
AK: I guess it was sort of pushing the envelope. But that’s what I drew and there were no changes made. It’s actually no more revealing than a low cut evening gown.
DB: The differences between that scene and a low cut evening gown is that she’s wearing a gown. In this scene…
AK: She’s only wearing a smile.
DB: Exactly. I guess it’s no different from the lesbian scene in the earlier issue. On the next page the girls faces are Caniffy.
AK: That’s nice of you to say, but again it’s probably an accident. Pictures of the Dragon Lady were probably not hard to come by, and I like Caniff’s work, so thanks. Whatever the reason it got that way, if you liked it then it worked out. I notice on page 17 of this issue. one of the first personal things I stuck in the Invaders, or had a chance to stick in, is the air-traffic controller. I think I was attempting to draw my father. I frequently cast my family in stories.
DB: This was the penultimate issue.
DB: And they brought back the Warrior Woman and Master Man. I always thought Warrior Woman was a lesbian.
AK: She looks it. She’s got a super Axis!
DB: Why is it in comics that the male villains are always dressed head to toe but the women are all in bondage gear?
DB: The next issue was the last and then it was all over.
AK: Looking at my accounts book it says ‘17 pages, Invaders 41’. That means it was not planned as a double sized issue. I got the assignment on October 11th, for Invaders #41. I got paid $425 – that’s for the entire book. On November 18th I received the plot for Invaders #42. So they were ganged up after the fact. Now that I look at the splash page I remember feeling at the time that this issue I had made a certain breakthrough. Whether it’s apparent or not I can’t say, but I really felt that I had made a breakthrough. I think Shooter had a problem with Captain America figure on the splash page. Something about the legs not being even. They’re fine here, as a matter of fact.
DB: It was a double sized issue and had one of your best pieces of art – the double-page splash at the end with all the characters that’d appeared in the book from the start to the finish.
AK: Yeah, I think they needed to fill up two extra pages, that’s why that was done. I see that the House Of Lotus in that issue has my then street address, 225. I lived only five blocks away from Marvel Comics, so I could always be there in literally five minutes when they needed me. That was another reason I got a lot of work, because I was there.
DB: That was it, the book was finished.
AK: Goodbye book, goodbye.
DB: You had a good run on it.
AK: Yeah, it was fun.
DB: Where did you go from there?
AK: The next book I did was The World Of Krypton mini-series, which I laid out for Howard Chaykin. Then after that I did What If? #18 and then after that I did a Captain America story.
DB: You bounced around a bit after that.
AK: Yeah. The next Marvel book I did was the 1980 Marvel Two-In-One Annual, which I wrote as well as pencilled. That was inked by Pablo Marcos.
DB: Did it bother you that it finished and you weren’t given another regular assignment?
AK: The times that I spent being on regular books were very rare. Most of the time I was bounced around. At Marvel, the only times I was on regular books was on Thor and the Invaders. I did the Ice Man mini-series. I was almost regular on Amazing and Spectacular Spider-Man, but I was never officially assigned either book. I did a lot of issues, but I was never told it was my book. I did a lot of issues of The Defenders but it was never my book. So it wasn’t ongoing series security that I had, but I made out fine because I did a lot of work. At the same time, I was working on The Invaders I was working for Crazy Magazine, I was also working on the Howard The Duck daily syndicated strip and ghosting The World Of Krypton for Howard Chaykin. I did issue #279 of Thor while I was working on the Invaders. I did an unpublished fill-in issue of Nova, which was later published as an issue of Iron Man. I did an issue of Dr Strange during that same time and I did an issue of Marvel Two-In-One, which I also plotted and Roger Stern scripted. I did What If? #19 in-between the last two issues of The Invaders.
DB: A lot of that stuff isn’t on your checklist or in your official credits.
AK: I ghosted a lot of stuff for Chaykin which is probably not on my list. I did an issue of Legion Of Superheroes and a few Enemy Ace short stories for Howard Chaykin. I did a lot of obscure stuff.
DB: Does it bother you that because you ghosted for various people you never got full credit?
AK: It doesn’t bother me; it’s just the way things are. However, I don’t miss the chance to tell anybody about it when it comes up. I don’t think Chaykin was very pleased at the time, though. I ghosted Star Wars #10 and I let it be known around the Marvel offices. And when they printed the issue, they stuck in this big “layout” credit for me. And my name is lettered with the biggest “point size” in the box. I was also the person with the longest name so I needed space in the box. It always bothered me that I had a long name, I felt that it was immodest that my name had to take up more space than that of Stan Lee.
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This is part II in a series. Part I can be found here.
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