TCJ ARCHIVE

The Joe Kubert Interview

From TCJ #172 (November 1994)

Promo photo provided by Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert has led a charmed life. He started apprenticing in comics production “shops” in ’38 at the age of 11; from then until now, his has been one of the most successful careers in comics. Starting with his tenure as artist of Hawkman in the late ’40s, Kubert has been a major contributor to mainstream comics in every decade: The Viking Prince and Tor in the ’50s, Enemy Ace and Sgt. Rock in the ’60s, the Tarzan books in the ’70s, and what seems like every other DC cover from the late ’50s through the ’80s. And he is not merely a prolific and reliable journeyman professional: he is one of the best draftsman the art has ever seen. If that isn’t enough, he has been happily married for over 40 years, with three sons, one daughter, and more grandchildren than I can count.

An interview with Kubert is like a tour through the history of comics. He and his longtime partner Norman Maurer were primarily responsible for the first 3-D comic books that later flooded the market in the early ’50s. He and Bob Kanigher were the architects primarily responsible for building the DC “war books” to their highest level of popularity in the late ’60s. In 1976, Kubert started his namesake school, which remains an ongoing concern.

Kubert is a paradigmatic member of his time and place. His parents were immigrants, and he has the gratitude toward America and the respect of middle-class virtue characterized by the children of immigrants, as well as the optimism suffused in those who benefited from the post-WWII economic boom. Unsurprisingly, he respects professionalism as much as he accepts the parameters of his profession; these values doubtlessly correspond to those of his generation, and therein lies an education to the modern reader.

Did I mention he also plays a mean game of racquetball? We played racquetball for the second time in early ’94; I was looking forward to playing Joe and his son Andy (who not only plays racquetball, but draws comics as well) because our first games were the kind where everyone is damned near equally matched and the adrenaline never stops pumping. I almost stopped pumping altogether midway through the first rematch, though, when I careened off a wall and landed on my right leg, nearly snapping it in two and blowing out two ligaments in the process. Ever since, this has been a grand source of merriment between Joe and me, as I would periodically give him progress reports on my recovery and eventual reconstructive surgery.

I remember I during one of those conversations Joe sounded astonished at the level of damage I did to myself and casually remarked that nothing like this ever happened to him. Like I said, Joe Kubert has led a charmed life, and sometimes you just can’t help but hate the guy.

– GARY GROTH

A BOY’S LIFE

GARY GROTH: I’m going to want to dwell on the ’40s because you’re one of the few guys around that still has his marbles who can talk about that period in comics history… [Kubert laughs] … cogently.

JOE KUBERT: I’ll accept that.

GROTH: I understand you attended the High School of Music and Art. Now, this was in Manhattan?

KUBERT: Manhattan.

GROTH: And you lived in Brooklyn at that time?

KUBERT: Brooklyn.

GROTH: Can you give me a general description of your upbringing? Was it middle-class: Were your parents immigrants?

KUBERT: They were immigrants, and I would classify my upbringing as being perhaps below middle-class, but not lower class: perhaps upper-lower-class [laughs].

GROTH: Or lower-middle-class.

KUBERT: Yeah, well, to really give a better explanation, both my parents worked. My mother ran a restaurant, and in the back of the restaurant were three rooms in which I, and my four sisters, lived with my mother and father. My father was a kosher butcher. He went to work in his store, which was maybe five or six blocks from home. That was in east New York, in Brooklyn, where I grew up.

GROTH: Where were your parents from?

KUBERT: Both my parents were from Poland, and I was born in Poland. My mother was pregnant with me the first time they made the attempt to come to the United States back in 1926 and, because she was pregnant, they would not permit her to go on the ship until she gave birth. So they returned to their home in Poland. I was two months old when they went back to the ship in South Hampton, England, and finally came to America. So I was about two months old when I got to the United States.

GROTH: What was your childhood like?

KUBERT: I can remember from my earliest years a love for drawing. I was really blessed and fortunate in that I could pursue that which I loved to do. I’ve been drawing since I was 3 years old, since I can remember. I recall that when I was a kid of 3 or 4, I used to be given boxes of chalk by the neighborhood people: penny boxes of chalk, so I could draw in the gutters. They enjoyed seeing me draw. My parents came from the type of background where if you didn’t do something that would eventually result in getting a job, they would not permit you to “idle away your time” in that manner. That’s the way most people thought at that time, especially immigrants. But like I say, I was lucky. My parents saw how much I loved drawing, and they encouraged me in every possible way, never deterred me; they did everything to help me. I was very, very lucky.

GROTH: What were your formative influences when you were a kid? You must have gone to the movies.

KUBERT: Yeah. Movies cost 10 cents for admission. I remember seeing the original Public Enemy, I think it was, with Paul Muni and …

GROTH: James Cagney?

KUBERT: Cagney. Right. Scarface was with Paul Muni. I remember also as a kid coming home from having seen Frankenstein on the big screen and looking in all the alleys. I was sure this monster was going to come out as I walked — no, ran home. So I guess my formative years were influenced by those movies. But newspapers, where the comic strips were, were really my world. For me, and most of the guys who came into the business at that time, I think Hal Foster fostered …

GROTH: No pun intended.

KUBERT: [Laughs] … more cartoonists than he ever dreamed possible. There was a newspaper, the N.Y. Journal American, that carried Prince Valiant. And Tarzan was still being published in the New York Daily Mirror. The Journal American was a big, tabloid-sized newspaper and every Sunday when the color comic strips came out I’d lay on the floor and just kind of wrap them around me, around my mind. That was the world I lived in. Guys like Foster and [Alex] Raymond and [Milton] Caniff, as I said many times before, have inadvertently fathered an incredible number of cartoonists.

GROTH: Now, this would have been around ’34, ’35?

KUBERT: No, maybe 1930, ’31, ’32. I was born in ’26, and in ’37 or ’38, I got my first job. I was about 11-1/2 years old. This was when comic books were just starting to come into being, just starting to hit the mom and pop candy stores, where they were sold next to Collier’s and Saturday Evening Post.

I got started in comic books in the following way, Gary. A young fellow by the name of Melvin Budoff, and I don’t know what the hell ever happened to Melvin, who was a student in grammar school in my class, just previous to junior high school. His uncle, who I think was [Louis] Silberkleit, was one of the founders and owners of what is now the Archie Group, which was at that time MLJ. I was always drawing “muscle guys.” One day, Melvin said, “Joe, why don’t you take your drawings and bring them up and show them to my uncle? He publishes comic books.” I thought, why not? So, I guess I was about 11. I started out for Manhattan. They had an office on Canal Street in Manhattan, and I wrapped my drawings in newspapers. For years, old newspapers were my only portfolio in which I carried my drawings. The first time I went up to MLJ, guys like Mort Meskin and Charlie Biro and Harry Shorten, people like that, were sitting and drawing. Names, I guess, a lot of the young guys today never heard of.

GROTH: And these were all obviously your elders.

KUBERT: Yes. They were very kind to me and extended themselves in every way to help me. This snotty kid comes up asking a bunch of ridiculous questions. Subways were only a nickel and it took me maybe a half hour, three quarters of an hour to get up there from where I lived in Brooklyn, in east New York. They allowed me to come into what we today call the bullpen where the artists were working. These guys, a half dozen or so artists, would let me look over their shoulders while they were working, kind of giving me clues into how it’s all done. Bob Montana, the man who created Archie, was up there at the time. He was very helpful to me. I inked Archie over Bob Montana’s pencils when it first came out as a comic book. He gave me the opportunity to do that. Irv Novick was there. He gave me my first lesson on how to draw a German helmet.

GROTH: Did you actually get to talk to Silberkleit? Did you get to see him?

KUBERT: No, no, no. I got to see the editor, whose name I forget now, but Harry Shorten was a writer. Only a writer. Harry later became editor-in-chief.

GROTH: Is this what would have been called a “shop” at the time?

KUBERT: No. This was a publishing house. A “shop” is a more appropriate description of the place run by Harry “A” Chesler. Harry had a shop with about 10 or 12 artists and writers, and he would package different kinds of comic books for a variety of publishers. In those days, you could be a publisher in an office the size of a closet. Put your name on the door and you’re a publisher. You don’t have to hire any artists. You don’t have to hire any writers. You go to Harry “A” Chesler. Harry puts a whole book together for you. “Whaddya need? A mystery comic book? You want a humor book?”

Tor #4 (July 1954) ©1975 Joe Kubert

He’d not only produce the editorial and creative artwork, but he’d create a package, including the coloring, separations and plates — everything just short of doing the printing and distributing. Harry was a great guy. No more like him around any more.

HOT DOG MONEY

GROTH: Let me just get back to MLJ — when you were 11 or 12—

KUBERT: Rein me in, because I’ m already off on a tangent [laughs].

GROTH: You just hung around the offices. Now, how long did that last?

KUBERT: I didn’t actually hang around, but I’d go up as often as I could. They were all helpful to me and continually gave me bits of information. One artist would suggest, “Watch this figure, kid. Start doing this … learn how to draw that.”

And I’d ask, “Can I come back again and show you when I do what you’ve told me?”

“Sure, kid. Come back anytime.”

So maybe once a week or as often as I could, I’d come back, sometimes at the cost of my attendance in school. That’s the way I got my first jobs. I’d be there when the work was going out. And every once in a while the editor would say, “Think you can do this, kid?” That’s how I got the opportunity to ink Bob Montana’s Archie strip. Just like that.

GROTH: You were 12 years old?

KUBERT: 12 years old, yeah, or thereabout.

GROTH: That’s amazing.

KUBERT: It was amazing. But I didn’t realize that then. It just happened.

GROTH: How did they pay you, or was this more of an unpaid apprenticeship arrangement?

KUBERT: I don’t remember getting paid for that work. I may have, but I don’t remember. It didn’t make the slightest difference to me whether they paid me or not.

GROTH: I understand that the first work you actually did was for Harry “A” Chesler in ’40 or ’41 where you worked 1-1/2 hours a day after school for $5 a week.

KUBERT: Yes and no. The $5 a week he gave me was really like a present. I never asked for money; he gave it to me on his own. What he said was, “Hey kid, get yourself a hot dog,” The Depression wasn’t that far behind us and things were still very, very tough. He would say, “Here, take this five bucks and buy yourself a hot dog.” And five bucks was a lot of money at that time.

GROTH: How did you find Harry Chesler?

KUBERT: I had started high school at the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. Schools in all five boroughs were permitted to send students to Music and Art based on passing a test in art or music. Then you were permitted to attend the school. Which happened to be an hour and a half from my home in Brooklyn. So I traveled three hours a day on the subway for a nickel a ride back and forth to attend the school. While at Music and Art, I met my buddy, Norman Maurer. I met him in my first year at the school. Norman and I hit it off because we both loved cartooning. People with common interests, especially cartoonists, have a tendency to gravitate together. And what we’d do is we’d attend school two days a week and use the other three days to take our work around to all the different publishers. Sometimes we would walk all the way from 135th Street, where the school was, down to 23rd Street where Chesler was, trying to hit every publishing company in between to show them our work. How the hell we ever made it through high school is still a mystery to me. Just by the skin of our teeth, I guess.

GROTH: So it was on one of those expeditions that you met Chesler.

KUBERT: Yeah: either through the indicia inside the book or a referral. Somebody in some publishing house who suggested, “Hey kid, go down and see this guy.” That’s the way it worked.

HARRY “A”

GROTH: Can you tell me who Harry “A” Chesler was? I mean, almost nobody knows who he is any more.

KUBERT: Harry “A” Chesler was a dinosaur even at that time. Harry originally came from the advertising business. From Chicago. He got into the comic-book business as a result of his knowledge and experience with printed matter. He figured that comic books might be a good way to make a buck. That if he got a whole staff of artists and writers together — guys like Charlie Biro, Rube Moreira, Rafael Astarita, and Charlie Sultan, he’d be in business. George Tuska went through that shop. There were a bunch of terrific artists. They’d all come over to my table, “How you doin’?”

They’d all come over and give me suggestions.

Anyhow, Harry figured that this was a good way to make a buck. He could package comic books if he could get enough artists and some writers together. Letterers. And service all these publishers in a business that just started to bloom.

GROTH: So he didn’t really know that much about comics.

KUBERT: No. Most of his experience was in advertising.

GROTH: Now, his was what you would call a shop.

KUBERT: Yes.

GROTH: Can you explain physically what this shop looked like?

KUBERT: Yeah. I can still see the place in my mind’s eye. Incidentally, it was not terribly dissimilar from Jerry Iger’s shop. Jerry Iger was Will Eisner’s partner.

GROTH: That you also worked in.

KUBERT:Yeah. Harry’s shop, as I recall it, was on the third or fourth floor of an old building on 23rd Street, about a block west of Broadway. The elevator was so rickety that none of the guys would take a chance riding the thing, and instead would walk up the three or four flights. The guys were a wild and crazy bunch. I’ve been told stories where — when business was bad for Harry — he would hang an extension cord outside the window and plug it into a pole outside, foxing the electric company. I don’t know if that story was true or not, but they swear to me that it happened.

GROTH: It’s a good story nonetheless.

KUBERT: It sounds like a cartoon gag, but they tell me that it really happened. Let me describe Harry to you: He was a short, heavyset guy with a perpetual cigar in his mouth. Always wore a hat. Always wore a suit with a tie and vest. He would chew a cigar back and forth as he was talking to you and he would have one hand in his vest pocket with the jacket pulled back. He looked like a promoter.

GROTH: A real hustler?

KUBERT: A hustler, but without the negative connotations. He was honest, but he looked like the kind of guy you wouldn’t trust beyond a 10-foot pole’s reach. He had an exterior that was as rough as nails but he was one of the kindest, nicest guys you could ever know.

GROTH: How old of a man was he at the time you —

KUBERT: Around 50, 55. An interesting part of this story is that I moved to Dover about 30 years ago. I guess this occurred when we were starting the school, about 17 years ago. My wife was at a framing company to get some pictures framed. She was selecting some frames when this guy waddles up to her and says, “Excuse me, ma’am, is your name Kubert?”

He saw the name on the package that she was carrying. She said yes. Then he introduced himself and asked where Joe is? And my wife said, “He’s home working.”

“Do you mind if I follow you home? I’d like to say hello — if it wouldn’t be an imposition.”

GROTH: Thirty years after you started working for him.

KUBERT: That’s right. I hadn’t seen the guy for about 30 years. He must have been 80 or thereabouts. So I’m home working and Muriel called to me — my studio is downstairs — she called me upstairs. The moment I saw him, I recognized him. He had not changed one iota. I learned that with the money he had made through his shop he’d invested in real estate and practically bought out the whole town of Succasunna, New Jersey. Real estate paid off. To the tune of having sold one of his pieces of real estate, a place called Horseshoe Lake, for a million and a quarter dollars. He’d walk around with the check in his pocket. He would derive great pleasure in pulling the check out, “Hey Joe, take a look at this.” [Laughs.]

I had just started my school at that time and he was extremely excited about it, and we talked about it a lot. We gave a super “Harry Chesler” Christmas party two or three years after I started the school. We invited all the guys that were still around who had worked for Chesler. We had a wingding of a party at my school celebrating Christmas with Harry and the guys. Christmas was an important event for Harry. A time when he let the bars down and was very outgoing. Otherwise he was gruff as hell. But the party was just great.

GROTH: You were going to describe the actual shop itself.

KUBERT: The shop was one large room. The room was probably the size of this area here, about 40 by 30 feet. There were perhaps eight or 10 artists at drafting tables. There were windows on one side, as I recall it, looking out on 23rd Street. Two or three of the better artists sat by the window. Everyone else suffered inside the room. I sat the furthest from the windows. My table was way in the back of the room.

GROTH: The back of the bus.

KUBERT: No problem. Each guy had a tabaret and table and light setup. It was sort of a crazy time. Rafael Astarita, an incredibly good artist, eventually went into fine arts. I don’t really know what happened to him or where he wound up, but he did not continue in cartooning. At the time, though, he used to lift weights and he worked out regularly. We would kid around and he would grab me and say, “Joe, get a hold on me, and I’ll show you how easy I can break it.”

He must have been in his early 20s at the time, but I was a heavy kid, and I got a real good head lock on him. He broke my hold, but it wasn’t easy for him. It was crazy stuff like that.

GROTH: Right in the shop.

KUBERT: Right in the shop, on the floor and in the hallways. It was nuts. But it was fun.

GROTH: How many artists would be in a shop?

KUBERT: Anywhere from between six to 10 artists at that time. It varied at times. And they would come over to my table and give helpful suggestions. I would hesitate to go and look over their shoulders for fear that I’d interrupt their train of thought. I kept a schedule. After school, on my way home to Brooklyn, I’d stop off at 23rd Street. About 3:30. I’d stay at Chesler’s ’til 5:30 then go home. I’d work at Chesler’s for about two hours. He would give me scripts that weren’t in use. Just to practice. Eventually he sold them, but that was included in a bunch of old material that he sold when he went out of business. But the work of mine that was eventually published during my time with Chesler was not meant for publication. The first job I was actually hired for was done for Holyoke. The editor was a guy by the name of [Frank] Temmerson. The story title was “Volton.” That was my first formal piece of work published. Six pages. Pencils, inks, and lettering.

GROTH: And that was in Catman comics.

KUBERT: That’s right.

GROTH: That was for a place called Holyoke?

KUBERT: Holyoke Publishing. Their office — singular — was on 42nd Street in the Times Square area. Right off Broadway. A small, dingy place that smelled of old comic books: I loved it.

GROTH: Did you do your first published story after Chesler?

KUBERT: Yes. The stuff that I did for Chesler was eventually published, but that was not the purpose of the work. He had some scripts lying around that weren’t going to be used. So, strictly for practice, he gave them to me to practice on.

GROTH: Did you pencil, ink, or what?

KUBERT: I penciled and inked.

GROTH: At the age of 12.

KUBERT: Yes.

GROTH: And they eventually found their way into publication.

KUBERT: Amazing, huh? I don’t even remember where I saw the stuff published.

Tor #3 (May 1954) written by Joe Kubert, penciled and inked by Joe Kubert and Alex Toth ©1975 Joe Kubert

But going back to the look of the place, it was in an old tenement type of building. The wooden floors creaked as you walked. There was dust everywhere from the cracks in the wood as you walked. The windows were wide open in the summer. As for air conditioning, forget it. It was hot as hell in the place. Nobody seemed to mind, though. We sat and did our work. Nobody complained. Not that I can remember, anyhow.

GROTH: Was that a straight eight-hour, 9-to-5-type job?

KUBERT: For all the other artists, yes: 9 to 5. And if the guys were making 50 bucks a week, that was a lot of money. In fact, I doubt if they were making that much. If I was getting $5, they were making maybe $35. But that was a lot of money at that time. I was told later that Harry’s gag line at the time he doled out salaries was, “Well, how much do you need this week?”

GROTH: Were there people in the shop that did nothing but write?

KUBERT: Yes, but I never saw them or met them: The writers were not in the same room as the artists. The writers were someplace else.

GROTH: Maybe at home.

KUBERT: Maybe at home. Harry had another office downstairs. He was not in the same room as the artists, either. He had his own office elsewhere.

GROTH: The executive office.

KUBERT: Yeah, right. When the guys heard the elevator coming up …

GROTH: They had to work?

KUBERT: [Laughs.] The sound of the elevator coming up was a warning that Harry’ s coming up. Get back to work. It was like kids at play. For me, too.

GROTH: Were they paid per piece or per hour?

KUBERT: No. They were paid per week.

GROTH: They were employees.

KUBERT: That’s right. And they were responsible to do whatever work was given them. They had no choice or selection. Western, crime, horror, it didn’t matter. You drew whatever story you got, and that was it.

GROTH: So let me just make sure I have the system down: Harry would give people scripts.

KUBERT: Right.

GROTH: Now back then, were there pencilers and inkers — was it broken down into an assembly line?

KUBERT: No. Every artist did a complete job. Even over at MLJ, Meskin never had anybody ink his stuff. They completed all the work themselves. The only one who allowed a little inking I guess was Bob Montana. The small amount of stuff I did for him. That was not a regular job. It was because he was in a hole and needed some immediate help on his deadline. So I inked a story. But it was not a steady job by any means.

THE GUYS

GROTH: Where did the artists come from back then? People like Irv Novick? Can you give me a general idea of the age group of the artists? Were they mostly in their 20s?

KUBERT: Yes, most of them were young guys. You know it’s hard to judge their ages, because everybody was older than me!

GROTH: Everybody was ancient.

KUBERT: [Laughs.] That’s right. At 12 or 13, everybody else is real old and decrepit.

GROTH: Right.

KUBERT: I think that most of them were in their early or middle 20s. A guy like maybe in his 30s would be considered to be an old-timer. By me, anyway.

GROTH: Were these essentially guys who grew up like you did except they were a few years older and just wanted to do comics?

KUBERT: Doing comics was usually not a matter of choice, for most artists. I guess they felt the real brunt of the Depression a lot more than I did. The Depression hit in ’32 and we were slowly climbing out of it through the ’30s and into the early ’40s. It was actually World War II in ’41 that generated work and jobs. Especially when everyone else was starting to be drafted. Most working cartoonists came from extensive art backgrounds. Jobs were tough to come by, and it was hard for people to make a living. I guess you can say I came from a poor neighborhood: East New York. But I never felt deprived. My mother always had food on the table. Good food. She was a wonderful cook; I never wanted really for anything. At one time I used to sing in a choir when I was a kid, about 8 or 9. I used to get paid for singing in the choir 25 cents a night, weddings and bar mitzvahs. This was a Jewish choir. Before that I sold newspapers. Yeah, that old stale story about selling news knocked on the door and I was ushered in to see papers. Every kid I knew sold newspapers. You could make a couple of cents a night, easy. So I never really felt deprived; I never felt poor. I never really felt hard times. I’m sure, however, the adults, the mothers and fathers felt it, and felt it deep.

GROTH: It’s my impression, without having done a sociological survey, that most of the creative people in comics in that era came from lower- and lower-middle-class economic backgrounds and that they used comics to try to get out of that, just as blacks use boxing to try to get out of—

KUBERT: It was a way to make some money, that’s all: pure and simple. Nobody considered it an art form. Nobody was proud of being a comic-book artist. Matter of fact, it was a couple of steps below digging ditches. Syndication was recognized success. If you could get to do a syndicated strip, my God, that was the answer. But comic books were considered for many, many years to be a shameful occupation. Most of the guys in the business, if you asked them what they did, would never admit that they were comic-book artists. “I do commercial artwork,” or “I just draw for a living.”

GROTH: Is that right?

KUBERT: Yep.

GROTH: It was disreputable?

KUBERT: Not so much disreputable as just low. Disreputable gives a connotation of perhaps underhanded. It was just not considered a proper way for a grown person to make a living.

GROTH: Not sufficiently middle-class.

KUBERT: Yeah. It’s not what your parents raised you to be [laughs].

GROTH: Right. Not like an insurance salesman.

KUBERT: Or a doctor or a lawyer. ..

GROTH: How long did you work for Harry Chesler?

KUBERT: I would say probably the better part of a school year.

GROTH: Can you tell me who they were and how you got involved with Holyoke?

KUBERT: This was when I just started high school: Music and Art. I picked up a Catman comic book that was being published at the time. On the inside cover was their address. That’s the way Norm and I would make the rounds. That’s how I got their address. No appointments or anything. We’d just go up and knock on the door.

GROTH: I’m sure a lot of the people reading this don’t know who Norman Maurer is and his relationship — he’s a relative of one of the Three Stooges, correct?

KUBERT: Norman was the son-in-law of Moe, the stooge with the bangs. He married Moe’s daughter, Joanie, who’s still a very close and dear friend. Norm and I started out together in the business. We met in the High School of Music and Art. High school was merely a takeoff point for us. Three days a week we’d take our stuff and make the rounds to the publishers. Norm was one of the brightest guys I ever knew. I say “was” because he died four or five years ago. We have a scholarship in his name at the [Kubert] School which will be in effect for as long as the School is in existence. Norm had a terrific mind, terrific talent, and we played off each other really well. He was a good friend, a very dear friend. He started in the business with Charlie Biro and Bob Wood on Crimebuster and Daredevil, back in the stone age of comic books.

GROTH: And then of course later on you worked very closely with him on Tor.

KUBERT: We were partners when we put out the three-dimensional comic books. Mighty Mouse, which was the first 3-D comic book, and a whole series of other 3-D books. That was in 1952.

“THIS IS REALLY A GREAT BUSINESS”

GROTH: Now in 1944 I understand you finally landed a job at DC, which was National Periodical Publications at that time.

KUBERT: I’m not sure of the date but I’ll take your word for it.

GROTH: That would make you 18. Sound about right?

KUBERT: I guess.

GROTH: I understand your first effort for DC was Doctor Fate. Can you tell me how you got a job at DC?

KUBERT: I was working at All-American Comics, M.C. Gaines’ publishing company, down on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. I’m not sure when Gaines sold his business to DC, but I believe that that was when I started working for DC.

GROTH: Then how were you introduced to All-American Comics? Same process?

KUBERT: No. All-American Comics came earlier on. I [met] Sheldon Mayer. He was my first mentor. He gave me a job, I was going to high school at the time, I was perhaps 16. And I had a problem. Deadlines. I was the guy who worked until he got a couple of bucks together then didn’t work until the money was spent.

GROTH: You were one of those.

KUBERT: [Laughs.] That’s the way it was.

GROTH: Publishers hate guys like you.

KUBERT: That’s right. That’s why I tell all my students, “Don’t be like I was.” [Laughter.]

GROTH: That’s right. So Shelly Mayer worked at All-American Comics. He was an editor there.

KUBERT: Yes, he was editor-in-chief.

GROTH: Was he the first editor you worked for?

KUBERT: He was really my mentor, my first real editor. He took a serious interest in me: also, in Carmine [Infantino] and Frank Giacoia. Lee Elias and Irwin Hasen were also working there at the time. There weren’t many editors who could draw — most of them were writers — and Shelly was one of the few who did draw. He taught me that to communicate was the most important element in cartoon illustration. He was extremely helpful and effective with all the artists that worked for him.

GROTH: Can you tell me a little bit about Shelly Mayer, what kind of a person he was and what kind of an editor he was?

KUBERT: He was one of the nicest, most patient guys I ever met. As I told you, I was kind of loose with deadlines. He would call to find out where the work was, and he’d speak to my mother. I’d be standing right by the phone when he’d call and my mother — who spoke with a heavy Jewish accent— would say: “Mr. Mayer, I’m sorry, my son was working late last night and couldn’t get the work done. Please, he’ll bring it in tomorrow.” Shelly, patience personified, would accept the excuse. I think he knew the truth, though. He was just super, super great.

GROTH: How exactly did you land this job at All-American?

KUBERT: Like I said, I went up and showed my stuff.

GROTH: And then they just gave you a script.

KUBERT: Yes. Shelly gave me a script. First one was Hawkman. I think it was about the fifth or sixth issue after Sheldon Moldoff had left the book. For whatever reason Moldoff wasn’t interested in doing Hawkman, so Shelly gave me the job. And the covers.

GROTH: Do you even know who wrote your stories?

KUBERT: I think it was Gardner Fox, but I’ m really not sure who it was at that time..

GROTH: You’re not real close with the writer. You were handed a script and told, “Draw this.”

KUBERT: Yeah. It was only in later years that I would meet the writers. Until 10 or 15 years ago, the artists never had any input as far as the writing was concerned. The artist was given a script. “You don’t like the story? That’s too bad. You don’t want it? Fine. I’ll get somebody else to do it.” That was it.

GROTH: You were pretty green at this point — did Mayer make you redraw anything?

KUBERT: Not too much. Very little. I was a bit obstinate. Young, you know. It’s a funny thing — I’ve seen Shelly Mayer verbally rip a guy apart. I’ve seen him take original pages and fling them right across the room because he felt the guy didn’t do a good, quality job. It happened to Irwin Hasen. Irwin and Shelly were good, personal friends, but when it came to the work there was no fooling around. If Shelly wanted to make a point, that’s what he did. For some reason, he never did that with me. It may have been because … well, maybe he figured that I wouldn’t accept it. I was younger — and bigger — and maybe he thought I’d pick him up and throw him out the window. Maybe he was right. I just can’t accept that kind of dressing-down. I figure people should act towards me as I would act towards them. Otherwise, no discussions. We have nothing to talk about. And I guess maybe Shelly recognized that. But he was kind and tolerated all this crap from me without any of that kind of abuse.

GROTH: Now you’re referring to your work as “crap” or…

KUBERT: Well, the work was crap. That goes without saying. [Laughs.]

GROTH: But he was a tough editor with others.

KUBERT: And with me. He was tough in terms of putting across his point. He would say, “Joe [pounds fist on table], you’re supposed to be drawing a kid. This kid doesn’t look like a kid. The kid looks like a 20-year-old dwarf.” I listened with half an ear. The younger you are, the more you think you know.

GROTH: Right.

KUBERT: I would say, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh.”

But I would ignore a good deal of what he told me. Naturally, a lot did sink in. The points that he made were cogent and right. He had the patience to put them across consistently. Eventually he saw his suggestions coming out in my drawings. In fact I did heed his words and I think my ability to draw and to tell a story improved markedly.

The first job that Shelly gave me, teaching me a lot about storytelling and characterization along the way, was Hawkman and The Flash. Lead features and covers. On a monthly basis. That went on for several years until Gaines sold out to DC. I think that subsequent to that — I don’t recall this precisely now, but I eventually found my way into DC, one of my first jobs being inking over Mort Meskin’s Vigilante.

GROTH: Can you talk for a few minutes about what kind of a man Shelly Mayer was?

KUBERT: Yes. As I mentioned before. Shelly was wonderful to me. Shelly withstood my dalliances as far as deadlines were concerned and was patient with me. And he loved the business. He loved drawing. His Scribbly was, of course, an autobiography and the biography of most people who wanted to get into the business at that time, especially if you were very young. I could see myself as Scribbly. Maybe that was why Shelly was so understanding. Because he saw the same things in me that he created in the Scribbly strip.

GROTH: When you worked at All-American with Shelly Mayer, you were still very young, at 16.

KUBERT: Sixteen or thereabouts, yeah. I think I was a junior in high school at that time.

GROTH: And Mayer must have been in his late 20s?

KUBERT: In his middle or late 20s.

GROTH: Did you see Max Gaines when you worked there?

KUBERT: Perhaps once, in all the time I was there. I wasn’t actually working in the office. I was still going to school, and I’d go up perhaps once or twice a week to bring a job in or to pick one up.

GROTH: Did artists socialize with editors back then, or were there social barriers between them?

KUBERT: No. There was no actual social hierarchy at all. As a matter of fact, despite our age difference, Shelly was the one who got me into horseback riding, something that was completely alien to me. So despite the disparity in ages, we still went out together. Me and Irwin and Lee Elias. Shelly was really “one of the guys.” Despite the offers of all kinds of money Shelly was offered to be editor-in-chief when All-American went to DC, he refused to accept the position. No matter what they offered him, he refused. He wanted to draw. To be a cartoonist. He stuck to his Scribbly dream.

GROTH: Is that right?

KUBERT: That’s a fact. I’ve spoken with him about that many times.

GROTH: Now, that wasn’t true of Max Gaines. Wasn’t it true in general that artists didn’t socialize with publishers? Weren’t publishers considered on a different tier socially?

KUBERT:I can only gauge by my own experiences. It was very rare that I would even meet publishers. They were on a higher level. They were the money guys. They were the guys who dealt with the bankers, with lawyers. Not with the schleps who were doing the cartoon drawing work for the publications. I understand Shelly had a good relationship with M.C. Gaines and often talked with and about him. For me, Gaines was this guy in the clouds. Very few of the artists, even Lee Elias or Irwin Hasen, ever had the opportunity to meet or talk to Gaines.

GROTH: Do you know the circumstances behind Gaines selling out to — was it [Harry] Donenfeld?

KUBERT: Not really, I didn’t pay a hell of a lot of attention to that facet of the business. My understanding was that All-American was doing very well. There was a relationship between Gaines and Donenfeld for a long time.

Donenfeld, I understand, was originally a printer. He knew most of the people who were in the publishing business. He eventually went into doing comic books because there was money to be made. So I would imagine that Gaines and Donenfeld had that kind of a relationship. Here was a new business that was doing well. “Let’s make it larger, let’s buy some more titles.” Perhaps Gaines at that ti me was all set to go out and to retire. He was an older man, maybe in his 60s. Gaines felt that perhaps he had enough.

GROTH: Was there any change when All-American was sold to DC in terms of management or in the way you think the company was run?

KUBERT: Yeah. Well, Shelly was no longer there as editor. He had led me around by my hand, so to speak, and made sure that I was busy, that I got the work. With Shelly gone, I had to make my own way. Whit Ellsworth was the editor at DC. He too was a very nice guy. But an older guy and not an artist. Strictly a business kind of guy. He was the editor.

GROTH: So he was involved in both editorial and the business end.

KUBERT: Yes. You know, you’ve prompted some images I’ve not thought of for years, Gary. I remember coming up to DC the first time. In their outer office, there was a waiting room. This was at 480 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. A massive building. This was where draftees reported before they were shipped to Army camps. The DC offices were beautiful. This was uptown. When you came into the waiting room, there was this big, beautiful painting of Superman with arms akimbo in the outer office. I don’t know what finally happened to that painting. I remember Sol Harrison had put it someplace, I don’t know where. It was really impressive and as a kid, when I went up and knocked on the receptionist’s window, and they asked who you wanted to see, I could feel this painting behind me. “This is a really a great business,” I thought. “Something I can be proud to be a part of.” Because like I said earlier, most people tried to hide the fact that they were doing comic-book work.

When I was permitted to go into the office, a lot of the freelancers were there. They came in every day. The facilities were beautiful and it was right in Midtown. Restaurants all around. So the artists, instead of renting an office or a studio elsewhere, would come into DC. Meskin used to work there. I guess Meskin was running into a problem with deadlines. And the penciler/inker syndrome was just beginning. It was a relatively new procedure. “Hey kid, would you like to try to do more inking?”

My answer was a quick “Absolutely!”

Meskin’s pencils were beautiful. Why I wasn’t scared to death putting a pen and brush to his work, I don’t know. The blissful ignorance of youth, I guess. I just blithely went ahead and in doing so I learned an incredible series of drawing lessons from inking Mort Meskin’s pencils.

GROTH: Did you ink much more of Meskin’s work?

KUBERT: Yeah. I did a lot. Including Vigilante and Johnny Quick and others.

GROTH: Did you know Meskin?

KUBERT: Yeah.

GROTH: What was he like?

KUBERT: He was a very shy person, and he had a terrible stutter. The first time I met Meskin was when I was about 11 or 12 years old when I went up to MLJ. He was up there on staff. One time I was looking at the work of Moreira and Meskin. Mort was sitting last in the row by a window. “That’s beautiful,” I said as my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw his drawing. Mort said stutteringly, “D-d-d-do you like the d-d-drawing?” I said, “Yeah, I love it.” He says, “G-g-go tell that guy th-th-that you like it.” What he wanted me to do was to tell the art director that I liked his work. I was rather naive, so I went over to the editor and said, “Gee, I like that guy’s work.” He said, “Hey Mort, what did you tell this kid to say?” [laughs.]

Because the editor knew Mort, and realized that Mort had put me up to it.

Mort was the kind of insecure person that never fully appreciated his own abilities. Often, he was pushed into doing a lot of stuff that was really beneath him. In terms of quality of work, he was an outstanding artist. Alex Toth loved Mort’s work, and still does. And justifiably so. I consider I did a passably OK job on Mort’s pencils, but he never put me down. I’d say, “Gee Mort, I’m a little unsure about this…” He’d say, “D-don’t worry, k-k-kid. You’re doing fine.”

Again, this is a good example of the kind of guys in my profession. They’d never do anything to hurt anybody.

GROTH: You said that during this period, where people started penciling and inking …

KUBERT: It was just starting up.

GROTH: Now, you might not know the answer to this, but can probably take a better guess at it than most: do you think the assembly line method was initiated because of production needs? There were people who could pencil faster …

KUBERT: Absolutely. And I think that’s why they put me to work on Mort’s stuff. His work was terrific. So what they wanted, the publishers, was to get more production out of him. His pencils were great, so they got several inkers — Charlie Paris was one, and Jerry Robinson was another who was inking Mort’s stuff. In that way, Mort was able to do much more. Other stories they were able to put him on. So Mort was working and supplying several inkers with his beautiful pencils. He didn’t object because he was making a bunch of money. And that’s still what leads people into doing inking or penciling only.

GROTH: Do you remember how much you were getting paid per page?

KUBERT: Vaguely. I think at that time I was getting maybe 10 bucks for inking. A good rate for a page was about $25 for pencils and inks. Which, incidentally, was a lot of money. When I finally generated an income of $10,000 a year, I said to my wife, Muriel — we were married at the time, we’re married 40 years now — I said, “I don’t have to make any more than this for the rest of my life.” [Laughs.]

GROTH: Did you write any of the strips that you drew? Was this another case of your being given scripts?

KUBERT: I did no writing until the time Bob Kanigher left the editorial reins at DC. I wrote Tor, in the early days, but that was different. That was my own material.

A LOT OF WORK

The Brave and the Bold #36 (July 1961) written by Gardner Fox, penciled and inked by Joe Kubert ©1961 DC Comics

GROTH: Now you worked for DC or National Periodical Publications between ’44 and ’49. Was that four or five year period pretty routine? Did you work in the office or did you work at home?

KUBERT: It was freelance all during that time. I worked at home.

GROTH: You picked up a script …

KUBERT: I was just out of high school. I was doing a lot of stuff. In fact, I did a couple of Newsboy Legions.

GROTH: You didn’t pencil and ink …

KUBERT: I inked Jack Kirby’s pencils. That was a very interesting and pleasurable experience. Jack’s penciled pages were all linear, no blacks or shadows. So the inker has to spot the blacks himself. Of course, it was easier for Joe Simon, Jack’s partner, and I used samples of their work as a guide, and did my work accordingly. I think I probably didn’t do it as well as I would have liked, but it was a pleasure to work on it. At least they didn’t fire me for it.

GROTH: Did you know Jack? Meet Jack?

KUBERT: I had not met him at that point in time.

GROTH: So an editor would just give you his penciled pages …

KUBERT: “Here are the pencils. Go home and ink them.”

GROTH: Who did you pal around with during that period?

KUBERT: Carmine [Infantino], Joe Giella, Frank Giacoia. Those are the three that come to mind. Yeah. And Irwin Hasen and Howie Post and Hy Rosen. And Alex Toth. I met Tex Blaisdell when I worked up at Will Eisner’s studio in Tudor City. I’m kind of wandering now. I met Chuck Cuidera there. Bob Powell, too. When he was doing Mister Mystic for The Spirit magazine. This was way before the war. One summer while I was still going to high school, during the summer vacation, someone hired me to go up to Stamford, Connecticut, to ink on The Spirit that Lou Fine was penciling. Alex Kotzky was inking The Spirit up there at the time. So I spent the summer doing that, working on The Spirit, inking on Lou Fine’s pencils. Gil Fox was up there, too.

GROTH: This is in Eisner’s studio?

KUBERT: No. This was after Eisner’s studio. Maybe a year after. Two years after Eisner’s studio. I was maybe 15, 16 at the time.

GROTH: You’re referring to Eisner’s Spirit, but it was after his studio?

KUBERT: I worked for Will, but not on The Spirit. I was hired during the summer of ’40 or ’41 by Eisner for 12 bucks a week to sweep up the place and erase drawings and do cleanups. In fact, I think that Will referred me to Jerry Iger and I got a job up there later. Working on The Spirit with Lou Fine, inking, was a couple of years later. It must have been in ’41 because I was 15, and Will had gone into the Army. Lou Fine, who had a bad leg, wasn’t drafted. He was doing The Spirit up in Connecticut and I was inking over Lou Fine’s pencils.

GROTH: Over Lou Fine’s pencils?

KUBERT: Yep. Me and Alex Kotzky.

GROTH: That must have been intimidating.

KUBERT: Yep. And nope, I think I was too young to be intimidated.

GROTH: But it was Fine himself who hired you to do that.

KUBERT: I don’t remember how the hiring actually came about, but I don’t think Lou had any direct involvement in it. There was a business arrangement, I think, between Will Eisner and Quality Comics. It may have been somebody up at Quality Comics that set me up to do this work.

GROTH: Who else was working on The Spirit? Was this similar to a shop, where there was a group of people in a room?

KUBERT: Yes. It was Lou Fine, Alex Kotzky, Gil Fox, and myself. Somebody was doing the lettering. There were just four people in a small office in Stamford, Connecticut. My summer vacation consisted of taking the subway train from Brooklyn to Grand Central Station, then taking the train up to Stamford, Connecticut, over two hours each way. Every day. I never stayed over. That was the first time I ever ate an un-kosher meal [laughs].

GROTH: In Stamford, Connecticut.

KUBERT: I think it was bacon and eggs [laughs]!

GROTH: Now, during the ’40s when you were doing this, I’m curious as to what the general attitude of all the artists was. I mean, the attitude today, even among artists who work on the same kinds of comic characters you worked on, is that they regard themselves as Artists, with a capital A. They have the sense that they are producing “art.” Now, did you have that sense, that you were involved in a burgeoning art form?

KUBERT: I never even thought about it. I know that I loved and enjoyed what I was doing. I got a thrill out of seeing a good piece of artwork. When I saw stuff that Lou Fine or Will Eisner did, it would raise the hair on the back of my neck. I kept saying to myself, “If these guys can do this kind of work, then maybe I’ll be able to be that good — or better.”

It never intimidated me — just the opposite. It gave me more incentive to go ahead and do my own stuff. But an art form, or a lower form of art? I never thought of that. I just loved to do it.

GROTH: You didn’t sit around and theorize about it.

KUBERT: No. And neither did the guys I knew.

GROTH: Was that a generally held —

KUBERT: I think that it was a generally held feeling. Where questions as to art quality came up was when someone gained an opportunity to make more bucks. When someone had the chance to go into advertising or illustration, he’d take it. Most didn’t do it because of the art. In fact, I think most would have stayed with comic books if they could make an equal amount of money.

GROTH: Because it was more enjoyable.

KUBERT: Right. Because comic books is rather singular in that it allows you to take chances. It allows you to make mistakes. In a 16-page story, all of it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can really go out on a limb and take chances. And, sometimes, those chances work great! And that makes you feel good. If it fails, fine. The majority of the effort does work OK. So it encourages you to take more chances and a lot of guys were able to do exceptionally good work in that way. Comic books also gives you a bigger canvas upon which to work. ’Cause when you’re doing syndication or advertising, there are six guys sitting on your back giving their suggestions. “Turn this a half an inch,” or, “Move this figure to the-left about three inches.” That’s what they’ re getting paid for and that’s what they’re gonna do. But there isn’t enough time for those small changes in comic books. So you had more freedom. To let your imagination run. I find that there is no other area in commercial art that allows you this kind of freedom. To design pages. To design complete books. To generate emotion into a story.

And you find out later that somebody read that story and actually felt the thing that you drew. When I first came into this business, I never dreamed that my work was read beyond the next block. I was doing it because I loved to do it. I really like to see the characters in my head appear in graphic and pictorial form. And when I learned that people around the world get the same effects, it was like having whipped cream put on top of the cake.

GROTH: Your circle of friends and peers, how sophisticated or educated were they?

KUBERT: Most of the artists that I knew came from a classic art background before coming into comics. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt. Most of us admired certain people in the business. Lou Fine was admired by every comic-book artist. We would wait for his books to come out and grab them to see what new thing Lou had done. Most of the artists came from a fine-art background. Gone to college. Done illustration and things like that. They had the foundation of figure drawing and proportion and anatomy and composition, and they applied all these things to their comic-book work. I guess a good example is Jack Kirby. I don’t think Jack could exaggerate and foreshorten proportions that look right unless he had a very sound foundation in good drawing. Most of the guys that came into cartooning were like that. That’s also why a lot of the things that I see in comic books today, to these tired old eyes, seem worse than a lot of the bad stuff I saw in comic books 40 years ago. At the very least I could read the stuff then. I could at least make out what the hell was happening.

GROTH: Well, you’re behind the times, Joe.

KUBERT: [Laughs.] Yeah. I gotta get my glasses changed, I guess.

GROTH: Let me get back to your career. You actually didn’t work with Eisner — I didn’t realize he wasn’t there at the time you worked on The Spirit.

KUBERT: As a matter of fact, when I worked up at Eisner’s in Tudor City, when I was 12, I would rarely see Will. His office in Tudor City was actually an apartment, and it was composed of several rooms used as offices. Tudor City — as opposed to where I lived in Brooklyn — was like the East Side Kids. Remember the East Side Kids looking up at this big apartment house? That’s precisely the way I felt.

GROTH: Where was Tudor City in New York?

KUBERT: Tudor City is near the U.N. building. On the east side of Manhattan around 42nd Street. I used to play handball during lunch hour with Tex Blaisdell. I did not see Will very often because, since the office was set up as an apartment, one of the rooms in the apartment was his office. That’s where he would work.

GROTH: But in the outer part of the place he would have other artists working?

KUBERT: Yeah. Chuck Cuidera. Tex Blaisdell. And Bob Powell. Nick Cardy was there drawing Phantom Lady. That’s where I met all the guys. Dave Berg was there, too.

GROTH: Was Eisner’s studio comparable to Chesler’s?

KUBERT: Oh no. Eisner’s was smaller. Tighter. In a really high-class neighborhood. My biggest “coup” was to do a half-page filler in the eight page Spirit magazine.

Interesting story: Blackhawk was being produced in the studio. Chuck Cuidera was the artist. Blackhawk was for Quality Publishing and the work was being done here. My job was erasing and whiting out on the pages. On one cover in particular — I’ll never forget it — there was a shot of Blackhawk climbing down a rope. A hemp rope. Chuck Cuidera rendered just a couple of little hairs on the rope to show texture. My job was to white out and clean everything prior to sending the art to the engraver. I inadvertently whited out some hairs. I put some back in. I kept putting more hair in. I couldn’t stop! I just kept putting in more lines. Chuck Cuidera blew his stack. “Look, kid. You’re not the artist. You do cleanup. I do the art work!” He was right, of course. And we had lots of laughs about it in later years.

GROTH: Now, Eisner and Iger had their own shop together at one point. Was this before or after that?

KUBERT: They were not combined when I worked for them. Not physically. I never saw Eisner up at the Iger shop.

GROTH: But they were partners.

KUBERT: Yeah. But Eisner set up in Tudor City. That’s where Will operated. In truth, I really don’t know what their business relationship involved. But I made it up to Iger’s and he hired me. His shop was similar to Harry Chesler’s. Larger and with a lot more artists.

From “War Party” in Our Army at War #151 (February 1965) written by Bob Kanigher, penciled and inked by Joe Kubert ©1965 DC Comics

GROTH: Did you all work for Iger?

KUBERT: Yeah. I was working up at his shop there for at least a couple of months during the summer.

GROTH: When did this occur?

KUBERT: It’s hard for me to place it, time-wise.

GROTH: After Chesler?

KUBERT: Yes. After Chesler.

GROTH: What was Iger’s shop like?

KUBERT: It was a few levels higher than Chesler’s. In a nicer section, closer to Midtown. On the East Side near the elevated train. Third Avenue elevated train, which no longer exists. The El, that is, or Iger. His shop was on the second floor of a commercial building. A big, open room where at least two-dozen artists were working. He had a separate office with a glass wall so he could see what was going on but separate from us. He put me at a table there and I went to work. I may have met Murphy Anderson but I’m not sure. Murph worked there shortly after or during the time I was there.

GROTH: Who else worked for Iger and was in this shop when you worked there?

KUBERT: I really don’t recall. There were no notables. I recall Bob Lubbers. It seemed that all the artists had similar styles, though. Lubbers is the only one that stands out in my mind.

GROTH: And the Iger shop was another 9-to-5 gig where you came in, did your work, left.

KUBERT: That’s right.

GROTH: So it wasn’t as loose as Chesler’s?

KUBERT: No. Much more regimented. No wrestling or fooling around. After all, Iger was right there with us. Clean place. The tables were newer. The tabarets were newer. Material was better.

GROTH: What was Iger like? Did you know him?

KUBERT: Yes. Very business-like. Sharp dresser. Came in with a suit and tie and all that. He was the boss, and acted the part.

GROTH: Was there definitely a class distinction between him and the artists?

KUBERT: Oh yes. He was the boss. It was real apparent.

GROTH: Did the artists at all resent that he was making so much more than all you guys even though he wasn’t doing the art?

KUBERT: I think we were more envious than resentful.

GROTH: Any possibility of a worker’s revolution in the place?

KUBERT: No way. Most of the older guys would poke fun at him on the sly. I was still a kid at the time and it really didn’t mean anything to me. They would describe him as a “ladies’ man,” which I do not know whether that was true or not. Maybe that was their way, their only way of getting at the boss.

GROTH: When you worked for Chesler, Iger, All-American, were you always paid and paid on time?

KUBERT: Always. Never had a problem with getting paid. The only time I can remember ever having a problem with money was with Bill Finger.

GROTH: Oh yeah, he co-created Batman without even knowing it.

From “The Ice Prince” in The Brave and the Bold #5 (April 1956) written by Bill Finger, penciled and inked by Joe Kubert ©1956 DC Comics

KUBERT: That’s right. And Bill’s situation was, I think, one of the sadder things I witnessed in this business. Bill was sweet man, a nice guy, and a great writer. He had a lot of tough luck. I don’t know why but he always seemed to be broke. Never had a buck on him. I recall that one day I got a check up at DC for some work I had done. I never even cashed the checks usually. I would bring them home and give them to my mother. This one time Bill Finger was at the office when I got paid. I knew him, and had spoken to him many times. And I admired him. He wrote a lot of the scripts, including Batman and Hawkman. Apparently, he was in financial trouble — again.

“Joe, I got a problem. I wonder if I could borrow some money from you, just for the weekend?”

I said, “It’s late, Bill. The banks are closed. I don’t know where to cash the check.”

“Oh, I know a place,” he said, “a grocery store that I know downtown.” He was living down in the Village at the time. “We can get it cashed there.”

So I went with him. He asked to borrow 200 bucks I think it was. Which was a lot of money. He said it was just for the weekend.

I asked, “Are you sure 200 is enough?”

He says, “Ah, maybe another 50 bucks.”

Three years later I collected that $250. But I collected it because I sent a collection agency after him.

GROTH: Holy hell.

KUBERT: It was just before I went into the Army. But I really didn’t have any animosity toward him. I felt very sorry for him because he did have problems.

GROTH: Was he your age?

KUBERT: Older. He was in his mid-40s even at the time. I was around 20 or so.

(Continued)

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3 Responses to The Joe Kubert Interview

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