Alan Kupperberg Looks Back: WHAT IF?
Part of the appeal of the 'What If?' series was that the book had no steady team working on it. During it's time the book boasted the artistic talents of Frank Miller, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Tom Sutton, Gil Kane, John Romita, Jim Mooney, Herb Trimpe, Alan Kupperberg, Ron Wilson and more, as well as the lesser known, and used, talents such as Bill Black. Writers included Roy Thomas (of course), Steve Skeates, Tom DeFalco, Bill Mantlo and others. It was a showcase title in many ways.
Although the unofficial rule was that these stories didn't happen in the regular Marvel Universe, Roy managed to twist things ever so slightly and introduce two stories that he then retrospectively introduced into regular Marvel continuity - issues #4 and #9 were later established as having 'happened' and weren't strictly speaking genuine 'what if?' concepts.
Alan Kupperberg drew as many 'What If?'s as anyone else with his work featuring in ten issues of the run. He also managed to get a few writing credits and when he was allowed to create as he saw fit, especially on his final issue, he showed that he was as good as anyone running around at Marvel at the time. What now follows is Alan's own recollections on the titles that he both drew and wrote, for the 1970s series 'What If?' Get your comic books out and re-read them and experience them in a new light with Alan guiding the way.
DANIEL BEST: Let’s start with ‘What If?’ number eight.
ALAN KUPPERBERG: I see an old, bald, Jewish woman, standing there in the splash panel hanging out her wash on the clothes line.
DB: I take it you never liked drawing The Watcher?
AK: Oh, I like the Watcher fine. I’m just not crazy about this drawing. I was going for something that I didn’t pull off. I was trying to foreshorten the Watcher’s arm, and I didn’t do it right. And the figure is too short, as well. On the other hand the story is told clearly. [laughter] Actually there is a storytelling flaw here. I would have preferred to have a full figure of Daredevil to establish him clearly on the splash page there somewhere. But that’s a minor quibble. I guess most people know who Daredevil is.
DB: You were inked by Jim Mooney on this story.
AK: Yes, that was very nice.
DB: Mooney didn’t ink you all that much did he?
AK: Not too much. He inked a Spider-Man I did and an issue of Thor or two.
DB: How did you feel about being inked by Mooney? He’s a fairly unique inker.
AK: You mean he has a distinctive style of his own?
AK: Well it’s very obvious to me that it’s his inking. I liked it very much. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it.
DB: On page two, panel five, there’s a classic example of Mooney’s ‘eyes’. Something I’ve noticed having studied Mooney a fair bit for the book is that he has a unique way of inking and drawing eyes, they generally come out looking like Supergirl.
AK: True. I recognise almost everything about his work. It’s instinctive to me. I look at the way he does the folds and hair and eyes, and his line texture. But yes, you’re right, that looks absolutely like Supergirl, or at least her eyes.
DB: How did it come about that you got to draw ‘What If?’
AK: It’s a Roy Thomas and Don Glut production, so I guess I came to it the same way I got on The Invaders. I went sniffing around the office and hit on Roy for some work.
DB: Was this the first time you drew Spider-Man and Daredevil?
AK: In print, I believe so. I really felt that Mooney made a lot of my figures look nice and professional.
DB: Did you do full pencils?
AK: The credits say ‘Co-Artists and Craftsmen’ so I guess it was pencils. When I look at the results of Mooney’s inking, there’s not a lot of difference between my layouts and my pencils, it looks like Mooney. I got the assignment on October 7th, 1977.
DB: The book didn’t appear until April 1978; at least that’s when it was cover dated.
AK: At the same time I was laying out Star Wars #10 for Howard Chaykin.
DB: And getting your huge ‘Kupperberg’ credit.
AK: Yeah, getting that big credit box. Before Star Wars, I did Bloodstone. The reason I started getting a lot of work Marvel was because on August 19th, 1977, I got a pencil assignment for a five page Nighthawk story (Tales To Astonish #13, Vol. 2). It’s listed in my workbook as an inventory job for The Defenders. I did such a beautiful job on that story. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but for me, it was a wowser. I just happened to hit a golden groove. It was lovely, it was so sweet, and that’s what I used to show people to try and get jobs. And it paid off a month or two later when I got this ‘What If?’ I’m looking at that Nighthawk job now. It was inked by Bill Wray. And I felt that he massacred it. Not only that, but when it was printed it was the most horrendous printing job you have ever seen. The colours were out of registration and it was just awful. I’m looking at it now. The blacks are all blobbed up and the art…I hope I have the Xeroxes of the pencils somewhere so I can reproduce it someday.
DB: Back to the ‘What If?, the premise of this issue was ‘What If Daredevil Could See?’
AK: They didn’t do much with it did they? They sort of just rehashed a lot of old stuff.
AK: It’s not doing anything interesting. Not going any place new.
DB: The artwork throughout the whole issue is good and does tell the story well. The thing I always got out of this one is on page 17 when Karen Page finally guesses Daredevil is Matt Murdock, I always found it amusing how these characters can never work that out earlier. [chuckles]
AK: In the bottom panel on page 14, I swiped that shot from the original Joe Orlando (Daredevil) story. The Owl’s headquarters. If they asked for an establishing shot, then I’d give them an establishing shot. And Joe Orlando established the Owl’s headquarters. I really liked getting to re-do some of the Gene Colan stuff. That was a lot of fun.
DB: I was going to mention that some of the poses look very familiar.
AK: Yeah. Oh, the shot on the top of page 19 is probably from the original Wally Wood/Bob Powell story. The figure on panel three of the same page is very Bob Powell. That special Bob Powell body torque. I looked at my art, and recognised the art style of the original story, which was Wally Wood and Bob Powell. I really liked panel two on page 22. That’s a very Wally Wood type montage.
DB: The Cobalt Man on page 23 looks like a combination of Wally Wood and Hal Foster.
AK: That was what was called for, the castles and the armour.
DB: Page 27, in the first panel…
AK: That’s my Gene Colan mojo going on there. Was that story originally inked by Frank Giacoia or John Tartaglione?
DB: I think it was Giacoia.
AK: Right. From the Daredevil figure, which was a full-page panel in the original story, I’d say it was Frank’s inking.
DB: How did you find Gene Colan’s work? He couldn’t have been an easy artist to copy.
AK: Well, yes and no. I know he must have been hard to ink. When I was a kid I couldn’t wrap my head around some of it. Colan’s use of negative space baffled me. I’d ask myself, “Why is he wasting half a panel with nothing going on in it?” But when I grew up, I started to appreciate what he was doing. Especially because when I was a kid his artwork was not often inked to its best advantage. The first Colan that I was aware of was inked by Vinnie Colletta on the Sub-Mariner series that began in Tales To Astonish #60.
DB: Did you ever have an opportunity to ink Colan?
AK: No, and it’s a good thing I didn’t because I probably would have ruined it. I didn’t get wise for a long time. When you ink somebody, you might as well just ink it and don’t fuck around with it. I got to ink a Carmine Infantino issue of Star Wars. I thought, “I’m gonna fix all the little things that drove me crazy about Carmine’s work all my life.” And that was not a good idea. Because it was like tipping over the first domino. Then you have to re-pencil the whole thing, or face total disaster. The entire process is not practical, desirable or wise.
DB: There’s more Colanish images on page 30, especially panel three.
AK: The Daredevil is so distorted I wonder if it’s copied or not, because the bad guy doesn’t fit. This is what I’d call a lazy page. A lot of shortcuts.
DB: I do like the punch to the eye on the last panel. [laughter]
AK: Generally we didn’t do that sort of thing. You’d see the follow through.
DB: That one is right on the impact.
AK: And the guys’ legs are going out from under him. Clobbered. Now on page 34, stacking six panels like that [laughter] is overly ambitious. You could get away with stacking four or five panels and maybe no one would notice. But I think six might be slicing it too thin.
DB: We’ve spoken about that before, with panel design in The Invaders, when Shooter came in and it became straight six panel grids.
AK: Except for the splash panel on this job it’s told very straightforwardly.
DB: Peter Parker on page 35 is a John Romita.
AK: Well, no, it’s me, but these characters were inked by Jim Mooney who knows them. Look at panel three. That panel could be straight out of a Supergirl story.
DB: Absolutely. Mooney used to draw Supergirl and Linda Danvers in a lot of things. Steve Gerber actually told him to draw Linda Danvers in Man-Thing and gave her a different hair-cut. [laughter]
AK: Any girl he drew at least suggested Linda Danvers.
DB: The six stacked panels, was that in the script?
AK: No, that was just my own dumb idea. If you look at my books, you’ll see there are no two pages following each other with the same grid. That’s just something I do naturally. Each page has a different grid so they don’t look boring or static next to each other. When I draw this stuff, I generally don’t know what two pages are going to fall next to each other, except for here and there. For example, when the plot calls for a double page spread. Someone has to know what the ad layout that month is going to be.
DB: The whole issue was hiding behind a Gil Kane cover. So Gil Kane, Jim Mooney and Roy Thomas – that’s a good place to start.
DB: Your next issue was one that’s still fondly remembered, ‘What If?’ number #9.
AK: Alan Kupperberg and Bill Black.
DB: That’s an unusual pairing.
AK: That’s the guy who publishes those reprints right?
AK: You know, I never put that together in my mind before. I like the inking a lot more now than I did then.
DB: I like Bill’s art but he didn’t do a lot at Marvel. I think Roy was giving him work because they were old pals. The splash page, in particular Thor, is pretty good.
AK: Thank you. [chuckles] What am I gonna say? I can only see what I would have liked to have done better.
DB: He looks pretty good there, flowing cape, majestic…
AK: I just wish he was drawn better. He’s terribly short waisted, they all are. I’m glad it doesn’t bother you.
DB: As I said, there are quite a few people who look at this issue with a certain degree of fondness.
AK: Including me, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind. Page two is really nice actually. For instance, in the little inset panel at the top, that figure of Iron Man has got something really beautiful going on in it. And what a nicely composed panel, curving around like that. I’m really pleased that this panel comes off better than I remembered. I don’t think that my drawing of Eisenhower looked like that in the pencils. I can almost guarantee my Eisenhower didn’t look like that. Somebody sat on that.
DB: Was that first time you drew Lucy and Desi in a comic book?
AK: For money, yes, and that came off pretty well.
DB: Were they in the script, or did you throw them in?
AK: It may have called for ‘I Love Lucy’, I don’t recall and I don’t have the plot anymore, but it called for iconography of the fifties. My Khrushchev came off pretty well, my Joe McCarthy is fine as is my Elvis in his gold tux. I like this page a lot. The colouring is decent.
DB: Carl Gafford.
AK: The colouring is a little more abstract than my taste would call for. But they’re comics, so what do I expect? Jack Adler cannot colour everything.
DB: The whole concept of having you drawing Chinatown and the 1950s looks like a dry run for The Invaders.
AK: I think I acquitted myself quite well with the period stuff. On page three I like the close-up of Jimmy Woo.
DB: His leg in the last panel…
AK: Holy cow! I just saw his left foot. What do you make of that?
DB: I imagine it’d be very painful to have your leg like that.
AK: I don’t know what I drew, but I know I didn’t draw that. I think that is a classic case of an inker trying to correct bad drawing, and making it worse.
DB: What reference did you get for the 3-D Man?
AK: I think that he appeared in an issue of Marvel Spotlight earlier on. That name sounds like an ‘after the fact’ type of hero, if you know what I mean. What’s emblematic of the 1950s? 3-D films and comics? Okay, he’s “Mister 3-D.”
DB: He has the strength of three men.
AK: Has he?
DB: He can run faster than three men, he can lift as much as three men…
AK: Yeah, but that man is George Burns. He’s got the strength of three George Burnses.
AK: He can run faster than three George Burns. George Burns was about ninety years old at the time. If the 3-D Man has the strength of three George Burns, that’s not all that hot. [chuckles]
AK: [Burns]“Hold on, Gracie, I can be across the room in about an hour and a half if I start now. [burns] Bum, bum, bum.” Oh, motorcycles, one of my least favourite things in the world to draw.
DB: Why is that?
AK: I like drawing people. Backgrounds are necessary because you have to tell the story. But people are what I like to draw. I like to do the action. Machines are a bore.
DB: At least you actually drew backgrounds. There’s been more than a few artists who didn’t do them and still don’t.
AK: When I look at some of the early Marvel issues that Kirby drew in the beginning when he was still drawing everything, sometimes entire pages would go by without him drawing a background.
DB: John Byrne became famous for talking heads and no backgrounds, just floating heads on the page.
AK: I never wanted to become big enough to run a factory. But I did want to become big enough so that if I didn’t draw a background, then editors wouldn’t complain. I drew backgrounds in just about every panel because I felt insecure.
DB: On page six, panel four…
AK: The speed lines are the background. Panel two on page seven has no background.
DB: That’s a classic John Byrne talking head panel.
AK: Two figures standing on a splash page with no background. That’s the classic John Byrne panel, to me.
DB: The Yellow Claw.
AK: The Yellow Craw… I can see in that first shot of the Yellow Claw, that’s from the Joe Maneely model. I can tell. And the first shot of Voltzmann, that’s a Joe Maneely shot too.
DB: How familiar were you about Joe Maneely?
AK: He died before I started paying attention to comic books, so it was through reprints that I became at all familiar with him. I read whatever Marvel reprinted, and that did not include a lot of Maneely. I didn’t really follow Marvel westerns until I became a Marvel Zombie at the end of my fan days, so whatever they reprinted in the westerns was what I knew, as well as the odd Black Knight reprint here and there. And the reproduction was not always the greatest. Stan Lee has often said that if Joe Maneely had lived he might have become the look of Marvel. And become one of the giants of the industry. And I quite wonder about that. I don’t know.
DB: I feel the same. When I think of Maneely I think of westerns, because, much like you that’s all I’d seen. But then I guess we’ll never know how he’d gone with the superhero stuff.
AK: He had done one or two Sub-Mariner covers in the fifties, which I did not find impressive. I think I’ve seen more good looking Joe Maneely stuff in Alter Ego, from Roy Thomas, than anywhere else. Mainly, due to the fine reproduction in Alter Ego as opposed to the original comics.
DB: We had a lot of Yellow Claw material reprinted in Australia so I read Maneely before I was aware of it. All of your Claw looks Maneelish. Was that a conscious thing?
AK: Well that was the reference material that I had, and why not? Homage. I don’t think I was even aware of the Kirby Claw material. I knew Steranko’s Claw, of course. But I was going for an era-appropriate Claw. Do you know the Get Smart stuff? The Craw? Because that’s all I could think of when I was drawing this.
DB: It must be subliminal because that’s all I could think of when I read it. “Not the Craw, the Craw!”
AK: I saw Get Smart before I saw Fu Manchu or any other Asian Warlord/bad guy, so the first Oriental villain I had in my head was The Craw. The Craw was my favourite Get Smart foe.
DB: Jann Of The Jungle, who actually did appear in the 1950s and Gorilla Grodd…
AK: [laughter] Yeah, I was gonna say that to you to try and get a laugh.
DB: He looks like Gorilla Grodd to me.
AK: He’s named Gorilla Man. I’d like to draw Congo Bill and Congorillia.
DB: This issue wasn’t so much a ‘What If?’…
AK: It was kind of whole thing by itself. Marvel is doing a series with these characters now, called ‘The Agents Of Atlas’.
DB: It reminds me of a similar story that Roy did earlier in the run of ‘What If?’ where he did a story about The Invaders staying together after World War II.
AK: I guess this format is flexible enough to support that kind of exploration.
DB: It’s not a ‘What If?’ though is it?
AK: It is a ‘What If?’ I understand what you’re saying, but I think it’s also a ‘What If?’ because the title says “What If?’ along with the premise. There’s your story. It’s a ‘What If?’ Now, whether you write a good story or a bad story, that is another story.
DB: What do you make of your Avengers poses on page 14 and 15?
AK: I think they’re pretty good. They were better in pencil form. Let me say something else about pencils. When you get down to it, layouts and pencils have unlimited potential. Depending on the skill and commitment of the finisher, whether it be yourself or another, you’ve got the potential for a masterpiece on every job. Most of the time, finished artwork is just finished artwork. This is as good as it’s going to get. It is what it is. So that’s another reason to feel disappointed whenever you see your work inked. If this panel had been finished off by Neal Adams, it would have blown my mind, it would have been beautiful. Now all I can say that it’s decent. [chuckle] This double page spread was an experiment that did not really work. It doesn’t really read across the two pages very well. I like the promise in the pencils of the figure of The Watcher in the first panel, but once again, I badly blew the foreshortening.
DB: On page 19 you have the Avengers from the 1950s.
AK: Can you imagine what that meeting room must have smelt like? Gorilla funk and lube oil.
DB: I don’t think I’d really want to know.
AK: Were the villains pre-existing?
DB: They have reference so I guess they were. Outside of The Cold Warrior I expect that they were.
AK: I like the Voltzmann on page 23, he looks properly maniacal.
DB: On the same page you’ve got your Maneely, your Caniff stuff and you have Ike playing golf.
AK: That’s a very hilly golf course. Some of my Eisenhower’s shots were really good but didn’t quite come across in the inks.
DB: It looks like he’s dancing on the next page.
AK: “Look, Mamie, I’m doing the frug!” Eisenhower’s voice was kind of like Clark Gable. Now that Jimmy Woo figure on panel five, I like the pose but the anatomy is impossible. It looks like my fault to me. His waist is very high, his arms are very long and he’s very embarrassed to look like chimp, which is why he’s hiding in the shadows.
DB: There’s lot of cheesecake shots in the book.
AK: On page 25 it looks like Ms Venus there is trying to lick her own breasts.
DB: Was that due to the fact that you were drawing a double sized book?
AK: Well, I hadn’t drawn too many comic books by that stage so it’s not like I was used to anything, but no, I don’t think it was due to that. If I got a good pose or a good picture back then I didn’t take time to worry about the anatomy. I just said, okay the picture works.
DB: On page 27 it’s a great example of how you’re able to tell a story without action.
AK: A nice different variety of shots. A medium shot. A close-up. A cast shadow silhouette. It’s nice and it’s fun. The page moves along well, without anything dynamic happening. I also remember that my Eisenhower in panel two was very well pencilled and that comes across fairly well in the inks. That comes close to looking like the real person.
DB: On page 34 you have more stacked panels.
AK: But that doesn’t strike me as being stacked up like a pile of pancakes, like with six panels. I frequently used a five panel stack and it didn’t bother me at all. No one asked me not to do it. But come to think of it, some editors were not happy with it. I can’t recall specifically who, though. On page 35 the gorilla in the first panel looks like a Frank Robbins drawing, kind of rubbery. When I say I like or dislike a drawing it’s usually because it either does or doesn’t look like a drawing. When I look at something that strikes me as having been badly drawn, I’ll say, “Oh, look at that bad drawing.” But when I don’t notice the drawing, that’s a good thing. Because the object is to move the story forward clearly and dynamically. It’s not to show off and certainly not to get in your own way.
DB: Page 37, panel four. That’s a pretty damn good figure.
AK: Well, she’s kind of short waisted and has a peanut head. But other than that, she’s beautiful. [laughter] Let me put it this way, if I woke up next to something like that in the morning, you’d hear my scream in Adelaide. Her head is approximately the same size as her knee.
DB: You’re right, there you go. [laughter] The end of the book sees the characters all in the White House. This was a huge issue for you, over forty odd pages. Would that have been the largest book you’d drawn to that point?
AK: Oh probably, yes.
DB: Even your previous issue was just over thirty pages.
AK: What I want to know is this; why am I forcing President Dwight David Eisenhower to work at a card table in the Oval Office? Page 44, panel one. The Avengers. I like that panel. It looks to me like the face of the 3-D Man was re-drawn by John Romita. That panel is a fine example of overlapping different planes of a drawing to achieve a sense of depth. In the last panel in this book, The Watcher has more the proper proportions I would have liked to have gotten before. I don’t know why I went nuts and made him so stubby before.
DB: Why did The Watcher change so much?
AK: It was just me bashing about and not taking the time to go back and re-do it. But mostly, during the “velocity of creation,” I just didn’t notice it until it was too late.
DB: Issue number #20, “What If the Avengers had fought the Kree-Skrull War without Rick Jones”. Now this is a damn good issue. Bruce Patterson’s inks really brought a lot to your artwork.
AK: My copy starts on page six. The first three pages are by Sal Buscema.
DB: Why did Sal pencil those pages?
AK: He started the job and for some reason he didn’t finish it.
DB: You’re credited with layouts on this book.
AK: This issue was mostly made up of recapitulations of other artist’s work, so if you think you recognise Neal Adams, here and there, that’s why.
DB: The last panel on page seven.
AK: Much of the page. I didn’t take Neal’s stuff and light box it; I just looked at it and did my own interpretation of his stuff.
DB: You worked on the original story didn’t you?
AK: Yes I did, a bit. I did panel blacks, worked on some of the backgrounds and I may have inked a few straight lines. That was up at DC Comics, after hours.
DB: How did it feel going back and drawing this story after being involved with the original?
AK: This was in 1980, so it was about, eight years later. So a long time had passed already. It was very nice and it felt good. I thought that the swipes of Neal’s stuff that I did look very good.
DB: Your figures in this book looked very impressive.
AK: Yeah, it’s not bad. In retrospect, I think a lot of my problems with the young inkers that they put on my pencils is, that I don’t recognise their work. When Jim Mooney inks me, or Wally Wood or Neal Adams inks my work, I say, “Oh that’s an inker. I recognise this stuff, it’s Mooney or Wood or Adams.” So when these new guys inked me it didn’t look like anything I was familiar with. I didn’t recognise my style. I didn’t recognise the inker’s style. So I wasn’t happy with it. Is it bad to be so limited? If you don’t recognise it, you don’t like it?
DB: No, I don’t think so at all.
AK: It doesn’t matter, because why judge a person? What I think is what I think, so who cares? But it does give an insight to my attitude. Or insanity.
DB: On page 14, Captain America’s face, to me is classic Neal Adams.
AK: It’s the gritted teeth. One my favourite figures that I drew in the comic was the Iron Man figure in the last panel. That came out well. Again, out of all these pages there’s a nice variety of shots, close-ups, long shots, middle shots, panels moved around and a variety of panel sizes.
DB: I’ve always thought that this issue was the best out of all of the ‘What If?’s that you did. As you’ve pointed out you channelled those Avengers issues. A great example is on page 16 you have Captain Marvel coming through the door is very similar to the famous Vision splash page.
AK: Again, I am able to do that in my own way without aping Neal. In my own layout style I tried to channel what I liked about Neal’s stuff. Because I never thought Neal was that great a storyteller.
DB: It’s a very daring ‘What If?’ in that in one issue it’s retelling a story that took nine issues to tell originally and not only do you pull that off but you also manage to bring in pretty much every character in the Marvel Universe at the time. On page 19 you have both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men making appearances.
AK: You’ve got to give that to the writer. I just drew what he asked me to draw in the plot.
DB: That’s a lovely Gil Kane head on Xaiver.
AK: You see Gil Kane in there? I guess I can see what you’re saying, but…
DB: Rivalling Sal Buscema’s splash page is the splash on page 22. It has everything and everyone in it.
AK: It’s not bad.
DB: Although I’ve never understood why Daredevil and Black Widow are standing on a mountain.
AK: I wonder. That doesn’t sound like a logical choice. Why would I choose that?
DB: Perhaps you were drawing mountains behind the Inhumans?
AK: That could be it. Everyone else got their own background.
DB: Were they added in?
AK: No, I drew it, but I don’t know why I drew it that way. I’m thinking that they might have asked me to do it that way. Everyone else is in their natural element. Why are Daredevil and Black Widow not? I don’t know. What was going on in Daredevil during that issue of the Avengers?
DB: This issue shows that not only were you good at the non action material, when the story called for it you could do all out action. From page 23 onwards it’s very much action and at a very fast pace.
AK: I keep it moving. The action is all to the right. I try to keep it moving in the same direction. I keep going in the direction that a person reads, generally. Page 27 there’s a couple of panels that go to the left. That’s a nice page, as is 26.
DB: On page 27 you have the classic zig-zag flow – in panel three the Skrull is looking down at panel four, which leads into panel five and so on.
AK: Oh yeah, the stuff flows.
DB: That is something you are known for and it’s an underappreciated skill.
AK: Yes, especially by me. I tend to take what is right for granted and I always notice the mistakes. For instance, I take for granted that most of my panels contain some element of perspective in them. And this has the effect of drawing a person into the panel. Look at those pages, you’ll see that in each panel there’s some form of perspective in it. The perspective, with its vanishing point, is something that draws the eye and the reader in.
DB: You’ve got Thor and the Asgard Gods, you’ve got every known superhero boarding a bus of some description…
AK: That’s the Sacred Schooner of the Stars. [laughter] I feel like yelling at the heroes, warning them, “Don’t go! The book! It’s a COOK book.”
DB: On page 38 Daredevil is coloured black.
AK: I think Carl Gafford thought that was the Black Panther. Or the White Panther. Because he’s coloured “white.” I don’t know what happened, but now I see that the Black Panther is also in that panel.
DB: There’s another dancing man in that panel.
AK: I like the bottom panel on page 36. That’s a real drawing. Captain America in panel two on page 39 is kind of nice, but The Vision in the last panel is overworked in the inks.
DB: It all ties up quite neatly.
AK: With the Star Baby from 2001. Was that in the original story at all?
DB: No, because in the original story Rick Jones lived. In this story Rick Jones died. He dies on page 7.
AK: He’s on page 36 and 38.
DB: But he’s dead.
AK: Oh, I see Ronan, The Accuser fighting with the Star Baby. It was a lot of fun to do all those great characters. And I had room. There is a rhythm to drawing a book. Usually, about the time I got to page 12 I’d finally start hitting my stride. Back then you had 17 or 20 story pages per book. By the time I was really warmed up, the story is over. So I was able to get into a good rhythm on this longer issue.
DB: Was there any feedback at the time?
AK: Only what you’d see on the letter pages. I don’t particularly recall hearing about anything.
DB: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
AK: Not hearing? It depends on what people are saying, of course. I was happy enough doing it and I wasn’t really worried. I didn’t expect a lot of wonderful feedback.
DB: The next issue you did, #23, was a short back-up, “What If Aunt May instead of her Nephew Peter had been Bitten by that Radioactive Spider?” It’s a very humorous thing.
AK: Yes, quite.
DB: I mean, how could it not be with that kind of a premise?
AK: Best of all, I got to ink it.
DB: You got to do everything on it bar write it.
AK: Yeah, Steve Skeates wrote it. Steve and I had known each other for quite a while at that point. We must have met in 1971 when I went to work at DC. We had a lot of fun in the early seventies. He was kind of a party guy back then. Mary Skrenes, Steve and I used to hang together, in semi-seedy, Hell’s Kitchen bars. I don’t know what he was on, maybe it was all natural, but he was a lot of fun, especially after a few beers. There was a commercial on television here for a brand of cigarette called ‘Larks.’ The premise of the commercial was that they drove around a motion picture camera on the back of a flat bed truck. And the truck sported a huge a sign on the side that read, “Show us your Larks!” As the truck went by, people would happily pull packets of Larks out of their pockets and brandish them at the camera, grinning. Steve really thought the commercial should be, “Show us your tits!” so [laughter] … that’s one reason I really loved Steve. Steve wrote tons of stuff for Dick Giordano at Charlton before he went to DC with Dick.
I recall an issue of Abbott and Costello (#1, Feb. 1968) comics that he wrote. In one story, Abbott and Costello were housepainters and they worked for a certain Mr Paintstein. I used to think that was so hysterical. It’s so obvious. But that’s storytelling. [laughter] I used to tease Steve about that one. He took it with great good grace.
DB: He was, and probably still is, a genuine talent.
AK: Yes. He is great. I loved his Aquaman. Best run ever.
DB: I think it was Starlin who told me that the only two people who truly came out of the Silver Age were Neal Adams and Steve Skeates.
AK: Okay, that’s a legitimate opinion.
DB: He felt that everyone else had already been in the industry before the Silver Age started or came in just after the end of the Golden Age.
AK: Well Steranko came in. Neal was certainly the first. But Skeates? That’s thanks to Dick Giordano being quite a bit more foresighted than most other editors. But Skeates and Denny O’Neil came in at about the same time. So you’d have throw Denny in there too, I guess. I dunno.
DB: Steve is not as well known as he should be.
AK: No, not at all. I don’t know why Skeates got out of it unless his work became unpopular with editors or he became discouraged. I don’t necessarily know what he’d have to be discouraged about. I’ve seen him fairly recently.
DB: The half page splash, who are those people?
AK: The guy on the left is supposed to be me. However page three, panel four, does that look familiar? Uncle Ben sleeping in the chair. That’s the Bunker home from “All In The Family” and I’ve cast Carroll O’Conner in the cameo role of Uncle Ben. They’re in the Bunker home because they live in Queens, so okay, Archie Bunker. The Parkers live in Forrest Hills and the Bunkers live in Rego Park, but they’re next to each other, so … [laughter]
DB: The commie menace in the newspaper.
AK: That was the tone of a lot of early Marvel Comics. Though, hardly ever in Spider-Man. I don’t know how it strikes you but I feel that the colouring on this job is a bit clearer than the other ones. It may not be, it might just be my ego talking, but I think this is a better colouring job than we’ve seen on a lot of other jobs.
DB: It looks like you had a lot of fun with the artwork. All the atoms floating about Aunt May’s head, Uncle Ben snoring away. Cottage cheese and mashed string beans for lunch.
AK: As I recall, Uncle Ben wasn’t mentioned at all in the script. Not a word. That’s why I put him in there, dozing wordlessly. In panel four on page two I was trying to get a Ditko feel on Flash Thompson and Peter Parker.
DB: It worked. The facial expressions remind me of Ditko.
AK: Thanks for that. Also the professor in the back with the blank eye-glasses. Nice clear storytelling, nice composition and everything. This was from a full script and the panels worked very nicely. I got to arrange the panel and place the balloons. Consequently, the lettering doesn’t impinge on the artwork and it’s all very clear.
DB: Why do letterers place the balloons over the artwork?
AK: It’s the Marvel Method. The script is written after the job is drawn. The writer indicates where he wants the letterer to place the copy. This story was done from a full script. I knew what the words were before I started drawing. So I placed the word balloons in first and then started drawing the pictures, instead of imposing the words on top of the pictures. If a writer is indicating where the balloons need to go, he doesn’t necessarily have the best sense, artistically, to know where to properly place the copy.
DB: So how would the process work when you’re doing everything? Do you pencil, then ink did you then colour and then insert the letters?
AK: This job?
AK: Until I reach the inking stage I always pencil straight ahead. I don’t skip around. When I get the script, I mark it up to make sure I follow it properly. Then I break it down into properly sized/paced panels, in a thumbnail box on the side of the script. Then I’d transfer this to the Bristol board. In the blank panels, I’d lay in the copy in pencil. Then I letter and balloon the job in ink. Minus the balloon tails. Only then do I start to physically layout the story. Then I go back to page one and fully pencil the story. And then I ink it. That’s the ideal way to do it, for me. I don’t like balloons pasted on a page, or lettering pasted into a balloon. I think lettering on the page is a signature of a comic book. All one unit. On the next page, ‘Warren Savin’ the intrepid reporter, is Steve Skeates in a cameo. Warren Savin was a pen name that Skeates used. Again, there’s Archie Bunker in the last panel and the little panther statue on top of the TV is an actual prop from the show. That’s Walter Cronkite on the TV screen, because “All In The Family” was a CBS program.
DB: I like the look of the guard who’s crying in the street. [laughter]
AK: “I’ve been humiliated by a man in a frog suit!!” [laughter]
DB: Issue 25 saw you do a back-up, “The First Uni-Mind”. You inked Ron Wilson.
AK: I recall it. The first time I had inked Ron Wilson was back in high school. We put out a fanzine called “Our Thing.” Ron pencilled a two-pager called ‘Uranus’. Ron pencilled it and I wrote it, lettered it and inked it. I guess Uranus was a God of something or other. But I wrote one line in there, where an evil god is taunting Uranus and saying, “Your niggardly attempts will avail you naught,” or something like that. And Ron kind of gave me a look. Steve Mitchell was rolling on the floor. The entire conception and its ramifications were not apparent to me. Obviously, this was not clearly thought through by me.
DB: This story has some very Kirbyish art in it, but then Ron did tell me he was heavily influenced by Kirby.
AK: Oh yeah, but in a nice way.
DB: Ron is one of the few who manages to do Kirby without outright swiping.
DB: Now the next issue, #29, saw your story inked by Al Gordon and wrapped up by a great Michael Golden cover.
AK: That’s the one they just reprinted. It’s a nice splash page. I’m not as unhappy now as I was when I first saw the inking. I remember Al Gordon was working in a freelancers room, just past the receptionist in the Marvel offices. I went in there and I looked at what he was doing. I was so unhappy that I swore to myself I’d never speak to him again.
DB: And have you kept that promise and never spoken to him?
AK: Maybe. But only because I haven’t seen him since. I wouldn’t know him now if I saw him. I don’t even remember what he looks like.
DB: Al did a lot of stuff with Keith Giffen, I remember him from stuff like Ambush Bug.
AK: Ah, well I never got a chance to read any of that stuff. These first couple of pages look nice; there are some nice shots in there.
DB: You got to draw Iron Man’s original amour.
AK: Yeah, that was very exciting. On the second page there are two different versions of his armour. I was crazy about that version in the last panel on page two. I really liked that version. That was the Ditko amour.
DB: I always liked the face plate…
AK: …with the points. Yeah. And I liked the ribbing on the top of the head because they kind of grew out of his cowl by magnetic attraction.
DB: When you saw Al Gordon inking the pages were you tempted to start inking them yourself?
AK: I would have liked to. As I’ve always said, I’d have liked to have inked every assignment I got. That’s the ideal premise going into every job. But there was nothing I could do about it at that point, so I didn’t bother wanting that. The only time I got to re-ink anything was on a Mike Mignola job on The Defenders. There was nothing I could do about this job at that point, but hold a grudge.
AK: That’s a Don Heck character design.
DB: Yep, from Annual #2 with that great John Buscema cover.
AK: On yeah, that cover was inked by George Russos. That panel is a very Don Heck pose. I met Don Heck once at a Marvel Christmas party. It was held in the last remaining Horn & Hardart Automat. I introduced myself to Heck and he said, “Oh sure!” like I was a real artist and he knew my stuff. It was one of the most brilliant moments of my life, that Don Heck actually said, “Oh sure!”
DB: He’s a much maligned artist, especially after the Comic Journal did the interview with Harlan Ellison where they called him the worst artist ever.
AK: It gets me off the hook.
DB: I don’t think you were the worst, nor do I think Don Heck was. I always point people towards those Dracula comics that Dell put out.
AK: I think Don Heck was a guy who was forced by the superhero market into doing stuff that he was not best suited for and he wasn’t crazy about doing. Not only that, Don Heck was a man from another era as far as art goes. In the late fifties, early sixties, he had a hip, flashy, commercial illustration style. So doing romances, westerns and that genre stuff; well he was very good at it. Don Heck was a stylist. Much like Mike Sekowsky, yet not as sophisticated as Sekowsky. I don’t think Heck’s heart was in the superhero stuff and I think after a while it got to show. I think there’s something in Don Heck’s artwork that struck other artists as being sloppy or careless and slapdash sometimes. Which can happen when your heart isn’t in it. I think Don Heck’s earlier, stylish work is a joy. I felt his DC stuff later was just wrong. It didn’t look like a DC comic.
DB: Page seven, panel three – are the two people based on anyone?
AK: That would be an attempt to draw my mother and father. It looks kinda like my folks.
DB: Your father there looks a little like Jim Mooney*.
AK: In that picture, yes. My father had that kind of a beard, a goatee. The big splash on the page before has a lot of nice stuff on it. I like the Kang figure on top of the page a lot.
DB: It’s big on the Zip-A-Tone.
AK: The problem with that Zip-A-Tone on the next page is that the colorist laid a dot pattern, a blue 20% dot over a black dot and it really turned into a moire mud pattern. Tom Palmer might have used the same Zip-A-Tone value but he would protect his zips by also colouring the job. On that face he’d never have muddied it up like that. It could have been better. Nobody else would notice though, probably.
DB: There’s Zip-A-Tone throughout the whole book. On page nine in the first panel there’s Zip everywhere.
AK: No, that’s just blue and yellow. Giant Man has a Y2 B2 on his face and Thor has B2 on the left side of his face.
DB: Only a colourist would know that. A few pages forward the Centurion has his superheroes on display.
(See if you can't spot Popeye on this page)
AK: I wish that I had been able to make that be more dynamic than it was. It is very static. There’s no focus on that page.
DB: Everyone is the same height.
AK: I used to draw boring pictures like this on giant bits of cardboard when I was a kid and colour them with crayons.
DB: On the bottom level you have the Fantastic Four with Dr Doom in the middle.
AK: Yeah, I wanted to show the good guys, not hide them behind the main villain. The poses are all the same, but okay, maybe that’s the way the bad guy arranged it. Oh, this guy is supposed to be an incarnation of Doom/Tut/Kang. I recognise the scene on the next page. That was a great issue of The Avengers. It might have been one of the first issues of The Avengers that I ever bought, I’m not sure, but I think it may have been. And that’s the rivet head Iron Man.
DB: When Thor finally comes back in that’s a strong looking panel.
AK: That is good. On the page before that, the Iron Man in the first panel? I think that’s a sensational first panel. I love it, and panel three, that’s good too. The villain is not good but the Iron Man is good. That story was okay.
DB: You did draw a good Thor.
AK: This is better than some of the other examples we’ve talked about.
DB: Thor saves the day here, but that’s it, no more superheroes.
AK: Poor guys.
DB: Which makes me wonder, they beat the bad guy but they don’t let the other heroes out of the box.
AK: Well they don’t say that they hadn’t and wouldn’t. I like my Giant Man in panel three, that’s a nice face.
DB: From this issue on the stories stopped being double sized and went back to regular page lengths. Issue #31 was 'What If There Was No Fantastic Four?'
AK: I just re-read that story this morning and I thought that Roger Stern did some good writing on it.
DB: The Kirby influences are certainly there.
AK: That’s more due to Frank Giacoia than me. You recognise Frank Giacoia’s influence. Looking at the credits, I notice that, except for Frank Giacoia, it’s the new generation. Rick Parker doing the lettering, Bob Sharen doing the colours…
DB: Bill Mantlo doing the plot, Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco editing. It’s like the new wave going on. So how did it feel re-doing the origin of the Fantastic Four?
AK: I like tracing Kirby. [laughter] Tracing Kirby is fun. But I think one of the few places I literally traced his work is in the splash panel where the flare goes off. Sometimes its helpful having a book open in front of you with real solid art to look at. Even if you’re not copying anything, just to have that inspirational material to refer to can help, instead of just sitting there drawing it, cold.
DB: The Thing was the lumpy Thing, not the well known rocky Thing.
AK: Right. It’s not my favourite version of Ben Grimm. My favourite version is Kirby’s from about issue #50, on.
DB: One thing that stands out for me in this issue revolved around the letters pages in future issues. People complained that the Thing going on a rampage wouldn’t prevent Peter Parker from becoming Spider-Man, Don Blake from becoming Thor, Tony Stark, Iron Man, Bruce Banner, the Hulk and the like.
AK: Well it would have at that point. Who’s to say that eventually something else might not have happened whereby they might have become heroes, but in this story they don’t.
DB: I like how you paid homage to the various artists who drew the characters in the first place. You drew a Ditko Peter Parker.
AK: Yes, well, that’s who was drawing Peter Parker at the time. On the next page look at Don Blake holding up the hammer. That’s a Jack Kirby Joe Sinnott face. From Journey Into Mystery #83. And that’s Jack Adler driving the cab.
DB: When the Thing destroys the Baxter Building, that’s very King Kong.
AK: That page composition looks very strange to me. That’s because the bottom half of the page was originally different. I’ve seen the original pencils to the lower half of that page very recently. They asked me to make a change.
DB: What was on it originally?
AK: I think they asked me to add the pilots parachuting out safely. Originally we didn’t have anything showing that the pilots were safe. That’s my guess, twenty six years after the fact. [laughter] I like the Reed Richards face on the bottom of page 14. That’s a very John Buscema-like Reed Richards.
DB: What do you make of the Sue Storm in the first panel of page 16?
AK: That looks like Joe Sinnott inking on a bad drawing. But I think that the Johnny Storm head is lovely in that panel.
DB: Being that it’s the Marvel universe the last man standing is the Thing.
AK: Yep. That figure of the Thing in panel five on page 17 is directly from FF #1.
DB: It’s a good stand alone story. The next issue your work appeared in you inked one character in one panel.
AK: I don’t remember that.
DB: ‘What If the Avengers had become the Pawns of Korvac?’ It was a great concept as each character was inked by a different artist. You inked the Badoon. Jack Abel inked the Avengers, Joe Rubenstein inked Captain America…
AK: Did Ron Wilson pencil?
DB: Greg LaRoque pencilled it.
AK: I don’t even remember that.
DB: Issue #34, ‘What if Howard the Duck Formed his Own Super-Team?’
AK: You see, I’ve done this cover before I got that commission piece. Avengers #16.
DB: it’s still a funny cover.
AK: My complaint about the cover is that there’s no focus on the cover. Nothing is big enough.
DB: One of the characters is one of Ant Man’s flying ants.
DB: You did another page in this as well.
AK: “What If Obnoxio The Clown Fought Crime?” and as Dick Tracy says in his panel there, “Who cares?” I asked a question and answered it too.
DB: You wrote, drew, lettered and did you colour that one as well?
AK: I think so. I’m very happy with the artwork on this page.
DB: You also managed to get Batman and Superman in it. Why does The Watcher have a clown head?
AK: They all have clown heads.
DB: The Watcher has a balloon head.
AK: That’s the character. It’s the original Watcher. Kirby fattened him up considerably over the years.
DB: The last ‘What If?’ you did was issue #38, and you managed to do the cover for it.
AK: Yes. That’s a nice cover. I don’t remember if the idea was mine or not. It is from my layout, though.
DB: The Kingpin is very much in the Frank Miller vein.
AK: Well, Frank was doing Daredevil at the time so that’s what I was going for. I loved what Frank was doing. A bunch of Marvel guys were having lunch at a coffee shop and Ralph Macchio, who was the editor, gave me the assignment. I think it was Jack Abel, Jim Salicrup, maybe Carl Potts and Ralph and me. And of course, I didn’t like Ralph all that much. I didn’t like the way he treated Jack Kirby, among other things. If you notice the credit box, it says Alan ‘King’ Kupperberg. I wrote that, but I thought Ralph would edit that out. You see, I used write, pencil, letter, ink and try and do anything on my jobs if I could. So whenever I came in Ralph would begin yelling, “The king! The king! The king is here! Bow to the king!” You know, big comedian. My attitude was, “Fuck you, asshole. What have you ever done, besides mock Jack Kirby?” So that’s why I put that in. But Ralphy left it in, he didn’t take it out.
DB: it’s an interesting concept.
AK: I think it’s one of the best stories I ever wrote. All the colour separations, I did that on the original artwork. I drew these splash panels as three separate pieces of art. I did a black plate, a blue plate and a red plate. They sort of accidentally overlapped on the space where the colour separations are, but you really can’t tell.
DB: The colouring on your story is completely at odds with the remainder of the book. How much of the Frank Miller stuff were you looking at the time?
AK: As much as there was. I felt free to do whatever I wanted to do with this job and I did, and I’m very happy with it. Page two I got Lucy and Desi and Fred Mertz on the giant Panavision screen. I really like the shot of the Black Widow, it came out really well. Again, it looks like Frank Miller but I didn’t copy anything of his, I just kept him in mind when I drew it. I was going for Frank Miller effects on this job, but my version of Frank Miller.
DB: You even have the same panel layouts and designs that Miller was doing at the time.
AK: Yes and it made Shooter crazy. Shooter didn’t like it. For instance, going back to the splash page. The first yellow caption box does not belong there. I don’t recall where I originally had it, but Shooter had it moved. I used a good bit of Zip-A-Tone on this job too, but, for instance, when I used it on page two, I didn’t put any colour over it.
DB: The background in the Black Widow panel is great.
AK: It’s totally literal. I drew it in black, but on a separate piece of paper.
DB: Page three, the close up of Matt Murdock with the shadowy horns is very impressive.
AK: If you look at the lower part of the face he’s kind of Kuberty. I guess I finally reached Kuberty. Again there were balloons and captions moved around by Shooter’s order.
DB: That is a Miller layout page.
AK: Milleresque. Kind of like Miller Lite. [laughter] Again Shooter hated the stuff. Inset panels, overlapping panels, cameo panels, floating captions. The caption at the bottom of the page does not belong there and wasn’t lettered by me. I think it was outside and to the left of the panel and Shooter said, “No, the readers won’t understand.”
DB: I like the Murdock figure with the cane.
AK: Yeah, that came off well. By that time I was getting the proportions right and I’d stopped making everyone so stubby. I might quarrel with an individual drawing in this job, but as a whole it doesn’t offend me. It looks like more mature work than any of the others we’ve talked about today.
DB: You have him standing in Clint Eastwood type poses.
AK: It’s called acting, which I think I can do on paper pretty well. Murdock is a stoic in this story. Eastwood is good for that.
DB: You have action going on there, you have Daredevil in costume.
AK: “Some inner sense told me, hey, let’s wear our costume today for the first time in thirty years.” [laughter] Yeah, there’s plenty of Frank Miller story telling here, alright. All the quick smash cutting back and forth. I think it worked out well.
DB: There’s another dancing man, only he’s on a chair.
AK: There’s a lot of stuff going on, it’s nice. I made decent use of negative space in this job. It’s got a lot of air to it and it’s not crowded.
DB: Page eight is great. The whole page is laid out well, very angular panels, the negative space…
AK: Getting to write the story allows me to design the artwork that goes with the story. A writer is trying to gets his own points in. Here I could get my points in and with my pictures.
DB: You aged the Black Widow well.
AK: She looks like an older, Slavic woman, but still an attractive person.
DB: Why was her hair coloured blonde and not red?
AK: This is an orange, YR2, solid yellow with a 20% red over it. Well, sometimes when you get older your hair colour fades, or turns white. I had my Aunt Phyllis in mind in particular.
DB: The next page, panel one and two…
AK: Nice, very nice. Good storytelling, yep, nice composition, it’s very swell.
DB: And you have the Kingpin.
AK: He could have been fatter in the first reveal shot.
DB: He’s old, he might have lost weight.
AK: That’s what I was thinking, that was my rationalisation. I think John Romita said that he thought the Kingpin should have been fatter, but he didn’t change it. I don’t remember if I just got lazy with those buildings behind the Kingpin or if I was trying to be, in this case, expressionistic.
DB: They fit in quite well with the story. This is some of your best storytelling.
AK: Thank you. I think this is just a dandy job. It’s a shame that the printing wasn’t better.
DB: It’d be nice if they reprint this story with better reproduction.
AK: Well maybe they’ll get to it. Maybe someday they’ll get there. The next page is nice too. The middle panel is nice and simple.
DB: You’re showing the actual blow as opposed to the follow through.
AK: Yes. I wanted it to appear as brutal as I could get away with. On the last page I like the panel that shows the Window’s face in shadow with her eye where his eye is supposed to be. I thought that was a very neat touch. If I’d been able to get a better sunrise effect in the last panel, with decent colours, then I’d have been happier.
DB: One thing that people probably don’t pick up on is that you redesigned Daredevils costume. The horns are larger.
AK: I don’t know if that was conscious or not.
DB: Your story really shines above the other two in this issue.
AK: I remember I felt that those other stories were kind of weak, compared to my story. As was the case in my own life, ‘What If?’ was often a training ground where you’d bring in the new guys. They dumped a lot of new inkers on me in there, too. Again, because my pencils, good, bad or indifferent, were very tight. There was definitely only one line to ink. Unlike, say, Ross Andru, where you could pick the line you wanted to ink. I drew a line and the editors figured that an inker could follow it. But these lines aren’t lines; they’re lines for interpretation, especially in layouts. I was expecting someone with a higher skill level than me to finish the stuff.
From 1971 until 1977, when I started at Marvel I had been inked, almost exclusively by Vinnie Colletta, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Jack Abel and Wallace Wood. Guys like that tend to steamroll the kinks out of weak material. I finally learned to fully pencil a job, to try and give specific line weights that I would like inked, especially if it’s for someone else to ink. When I fell into the hands of Joe Sinnott or Frank Springer or Jim Mooney or (oh boy) Frank Giacoia I was in very good shape. Rudy Nebres took some really crappy layouts from me and made them lovely. And Grey Morrow. Wow, he made me look like a star. But given the average run of inkers I’ve had, I considered Vinnie Colletta a very decent option. I preferred Vinnie to, say John Tartaglione or even Mike Esposito. I love Tartag and Mike, but I’m just talking about what is best for the product. I was closer to Vinnie, but I knew all those guys. I went to high school with Mike’s son, Mark. We ate lunch together every day.
* Jim Mooney or Sydney Kupperberg - you decide:
LINKS FOR FURTHER READING: Alan Kupperberg's official web-site. Plenty of articles, interviews and art on display. Alan is also avaliable for commissions, visit his site for more information and for contact details.