The GeeksverseCJ’s Joe Kubert Interview

CJ’s Joe Kubert Interview
Published on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by

From TCJ #172 (November 1994)

Iremember 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


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?”

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.


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.

This interview section was taken from in order to help celebrate the legacy of Joe Kubert.

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