A STUDIO ON PARK AVENUE
GROTH: You said that you got into business packaging comics and you worked with Infantino at 35th and Park Avenue. You remember this?
KUBERT: That was just prior to my going into the Army, right. That was with St. John, not with Infantino. I was doing that on my own through the St. John Publishing Company. I hired guys like Hy Rosen and Alex Toth to do work for me. There were three or four other publishers putting put romance comics. So when I got out of the Army, in ’52, I was pretty much set. Archer St. John, the publisher, was happy to see me back and continuing to do what I did. He was just waiting for me to come back.
GROTH: So you briefly packaged comics for publishers.
GROTH: That means you hired artists?
KUBERT: Yeah. And I would produce the whole package.
GROTH: That was exclusively for St. John?
KUBERT: Only for St. John. It was short-lived when I was drafted. But when I was discharged from the Army, Norm and I set up our offices at St. John’s. Before I was drafted, I had offices on Park Avenue.
GROTH: Park Avenue?
KUBERT: Yeah we rented a studio ... [laughs] a studio on Park Avenue. You know, everybody should have a studio on Park Avenue. Sounds fancy, but it wasn’t. It was on Park between 34th and 35th. It was in this squeezed-together little building amongst the really big, beautiful edifices. An old brownstone that was as wide as this room. It had an elevator that you could only go into only one at a time. You couldn’t even get two people into the elevator. A guy by the name of Brad Smith, a photographer, had rented the whole top floor of this building — it was a real rattrap, really rundown. But it was an interesting place, and guys like me and Carmine, we were all excited about this. This was our first studio. How did it come about? Carmine and I and some other guys went out and made a deal to rent one of the rooms in this apartment. That was our office. That was the whole set-up. Never had any stationery, nothing like that. Howie Post had his studio down the block with Jack Mendelsohn. Other artists we knew were concentrated in a three or four-block area. All of the other studios were similar. Ours was probably more disreputable looking than any of the others, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. It was the first time that I worked outside my home.
That was our Park Avenue office.
Alex Toth was with us for a while. Back at All-American Comics. That’s where we first met. He, too, was working for Shelly Mayer. He came into the business when he was, I think, maybe 16 or 17. He did wonderful work, even then. He would work that brush and really hypnotize us with his ability. He was doing a Western character at the time and he was able to get a feeling of the West and open space. His ability to achieve textures with brush and pen amazed me.
GROTH: So he had a great facility early on.
KUBERT: Oh, yeah. One of the saddest things that occurs in this business is guys like Alex, for whatever reason, are not doing work. They are still more than capable, but for whatever reason, they just aren’t working anymore.
GROTH: Were you friends with Toth?
KUBERT: Oh, yeah.
GROTH: Can you tell me what Alex was like back then? I only know Alex from 10 years or so ago.
KUBERT: Alex was a kid at the time, about 17 or 18. I was 19 or 20 at the time. He was hardworking and was recognized by all of us as being incredibly talented: very easy to get along with, very easy to work with. No problem.
GROTH: Alex has a reputation now of being difficult to work with.
KUBERT: I never saw that side of him. I did have some problems later on when I was editing the DC books, 20 or 25 years ago. We had a couple of problems because he had a tendency to get the bit in his teeth and start to run with it.
GROTH: Yeah, he can be cantankerous. But then he was easygoing?
KUBERT: Oh, yeah. Very nice, as far as my experiences with him were concerned.
GROTH: His graphic and composition skills were pretty developed even then?
KUBERT: Absolutely, right from the outset. The way he developed in later years was really no surprise to anybody who saw his work at the time. It was all there. And he was devoted, as he is today, to the medium. At that time, he was really into the work. Once he got into it, there was almost an aura about him that made him seem a thousand miles away from anything or anyone. One hundred-ten percent concentration is what it’s called.
GROTH: To get back to your packaging comics. Let me get the chronology straight. You started packaging comics prior to the time you were drafted.
GROTH: And you had a deal with St. John?
GROTH: Apparently that was short-lived, and you resumed packaging comics when you got out of the Army.
KUBERT: Correct. Again, I’m not clear on the length of time of each situation. But there must have been at least a year that I was working for St. John. I would classify it as packaging books for him. That is, we delivered complete books and we got a cut of whatever the sales were. There was a stipulated rate for the package, similar to that which I had seen Chesler do for other publishers. He was a good teacher and I learned pretty fast.
GROTH: So this was actually an entrepreneurial effort on your part.
KUBERT: I guess, although I never thought of it in those terms. Believe me, at that time, it was just an opportunity to have a little bit more freedom with what it was I wanted to do, and to make a couple of extra bucks. And to give opportunities to the guys who I could work with, and let them have the same taste of freedom that I was having. It was during that time that I had Alex Toth do some stuff for me. Hy Rosen, Carmine Infantino were with me at that time.
GROTH: What prompted you to make the decision to essentially go into business for yourself?
KUBERT: It was more of a situation I fell into rather than any sort of a pre-plan. My main motivation, probably, was my desire to be able to gain the work and have more freedom to do it. The one thing that nags every freelancer is the assurance that he’s got a next job coming. The only insurance policy a freelancer has is the piece of work he has on the table, the next script that’s sitting on the table to be drawn, and the one in the mail that’s coming. With those three elements, he has some assurance over an extended period of time that he’ll able to make a living. Gaining a contractual arrangement, for instance, with St. John assured me I would have books that would continue for a length of time. A year. Six months. Whatever. Depending on whether that book sells or not. That’s the deciding factor. Every guy working freelance in comic books is assured of work only up to the time he finishes the job, brings it in, and gets the next one. There are no contractual arrangements.
GROTH: Did this company have a name?
GROTH: So technically, who owned it?
KUBERT: [Laughs.] Gary, I never even thought about it! I guess I signed as the person who was procuring the work from St. John. That was it. I never put together business material or anything. Or any corporation.
GROTH: So your studio would package material for St. John.
KUBERT: Right. I dealt with Archer St. John himself. Hell of a nice guy, too. But we worked out the numbers in terms of what he was willing to pay for a budget for the whole book. So on that basis I figured out what we could pay for a page rate for the guys who would be working, and leave a little over for me and Norm. Norm Maurer was very astute as far as contracts. He had the capability of sitting down and figuring out each detail of the contract. I learned a lot from Norm. But before I went into the Army, and before my working with Norm, it was all just by the seat of my pants.
GROTH: When you would figure out what kind of page rate to give the other artists, did that include Carmine Infantino? Or was he more of a partner?
KUBERT: I don’t even recall how we set that up and I’m not even sure that Carmine was involved with our projects in any way.
GROTH: Who was management in this studio that didn’t have a name?
KUBERT: I was. It all filtered through me.
GROTH: So Carmine wasn’t really a partner.
KUBERT: No. The only one who dealt with St. John was me. And the only reason I did that was because St. John apparently liked my stuff, and asked me to do more and more work.
GROTH: So this was essentially the Kubert shop? Similar to the Eisner shop.
KUBERT: Smaller, completely and totally informal, and nowhere near their kind of business-type setup. The agreements that I had with the guys who worked with me were mostly verbal. They did the pages: they would get paid based on the pre-established rates we agreed on. And they’d get their checks directly from me.
GROTH: Of the artists who did work for you, did one artist do the entire page, or was it broken down in an assembly-line fashion?
KUBERT: Usually one artist did the complete job, except for the lettering, and the coloring. And the stories would be written by a writer. But the artwork itself was usually done by one guy.
GROTH: So you would turn film into St. John?
KUBERT: No, original pages. And that would then go to the engravers and so on.
GROTH: Were there color overlays?
KUBERT: No, we’d do color guides. We’d do reduced Xeroxes of the originals and do color guides.
Let me correct myself on something, Gary. There were times that I did inking on other people’s work. That was only to facilitate deadlines, to get the stuff out. I met a guy in the Army by the name of Bob Bean who is still a friend of mine today, and who is an incredibly talented guy. He was a painter, a portrait artist, who was interested in doing cartooning. While I was stationed at Fort Dix, I broke him into doing pencils, and taught him inking. I think he was the only one with whom I worked in that way. Except when we did the 3-D stuff. That was a real factory-type job. Heavy, heavy work. But with Bob Bean, that was the only time I switched off penciler and inker, I believe.
GROTH: The artists you worked with were Hy Rosen, Carmine, Alex Toth. Anyone else you remember?
KUBERT: Johnny Giunta. I think Norm might have done some work at that time too.