Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: How did you come to spend time at Continuity?
Alan Kupperberg: When Continuity was getting started, Neal sub-let a room from a guy who leased the whole third floor at 9 East 48th Street. He was a well-known commercial director or producer and Neal just rented one room to start with. Eventually Neal took over the entire floor. When Neal and Dick began Continuity, the room we had was probably about eight or nine feet by nine feet. There were four desks squeezed in there. Three drawing tables and one regular desk. Dick Giordano had the desk (he used a lap board for “arting”) and Neal had one drawing table and Steve Mitchell and I had the other two. Steve and I would come in the morning and open up the place and answer the phones and hold down the fort until Neal and/or Dick showed up. That’s how it started.
Before this, Neal had operated out of the Art-O-Graph room at DC Comics over at 909 3rd Avenue, when he wasn’t working out of his studio room at home up in the Bronx. Neal stopped working up at DC because he opened up Continuity. I had been fired from DC, and I don’t remember if Neal asked me to come over to Continuity or if I just showed up there and started working. It was a long time ago.
CB: So you were right there at the literal beginning.
KUPPERBERG: Yes. I don’t know if Steve and I made any money at first. I don’t know how the hell I made a living.
I’ll try to describe it for you a little bit. There was a gigantic back room that Mike Hinge eventually rented. The next room in line was that small room we had when we first started Continuity. When we were all still in that room Jack Abel called Neal. Jack was still working out at Wally Wood’s studio in Valley Stream, Long Island. Jack needed someone to pencil a job for him and Neal recommended me. Because I was the only guy there. So that’s how I made a living. I went to Valley Stream and started working for Jack Abel and then for Wally Wood. Eventually I went back to Continuity. Continuity had the entire floor by that point. So I was there in the very beginning and then I wasn’t there for a while and then I went back to Continuity.
I’m pretty sure that Neal never liked me. I think one of the reasons was because I didn’t react to him the way the other people reacted to him. Neal was a god back then. These days I think only he thinks he’s a god. But back then we all thought Neal was a god. And, artistically, he really was the greatest thing around back then. He was a brilliant guy. But he was an evil genius. Neal liked to make people to jump through the hoops. I probably jumped too, but I don’t think I ever jumped in the direction he thought I would. Neal and I kind of had a similar ability.
We could figure out just what would freak people out and he would zing them and manipulate or upset them that way. I instinctively knew how to push people’s buttons and I did that to people too. But I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t know I was doing it. When I found out what I was doing, I tried to stop it. Because I don’t think it’s nice.
CB: Some maturity kicked in.
KUPPERBERG: I hope so. Neal is still doing that shit to people. And I try not to. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded… but even if I was going to do it, the effect is totally different. I don’t have the power that he has because I’m not Neal Adams. I’m just a guy.
Now, I’m not saying Neal hasn’t done good. He certainly helped Siegel and Shuster and so forth, but in my opinion, he wasn’t doing it in order to help people, he was doing it to enhance himself so he can say, “Look what I did.” But the results for Siegel and Shuster were wonderful. One can’t take that away. So what if Neal did it for himself? It had a wonderful result for those two men who deserved it. But of course Neal leaves out Jerry Robinson, who had a huge amount to do with it also and so did a lot of other people. Jerry Robinson may have had more to do with it than Neal did, but he doesn’t toot his own horn that way.
CB: Jerry seems like a true gentleman in the interactions I’ve had with him.
So you were working sort of as the office gopher initially…
KUPPERBERG: Yep. Making the coffee and scrubbing the toilet. All the glamorous stuff.
CB: I assume at some point you were called upon to use your artistic talents.
KUPPERBERG: What talent I had manifested at that time. By the time I went back to Continuity after working for Woody, I had learned a good deal of stuff from Woody. When I came back to Continuity the firm was all the way to the front of the building by that point. Neal was doing a lot of motion boards at that time. I had to draw Lee Iacocca, president of Ford and doing that Ford logo was a lot of fun…not! We did motion boards for brands like Stove-Top Stuffing and that kind of stuff.
CB: The sorts of things that were probably more lucrative but not that creative, I’m guessing.
KUPPERBERG: I started my account book at that point, so I’ll look in there. Ah, Trac II razor blades, Slo-Pokes, Volkswagen spots, and in late 1972, maybe early 1973 we were working on Ford. In January of 1973 we started working on Warp, the Broadway show.
CB: Quite a cross cut.
KUPPERBERG: Are you familiar with Warp?
CB: I’m not.
KUPPERBERG: The Organic Theater Group out of Chicago, which was run by Stuart Gordon, the movie producer was running this play in Chicago. Warp was billed as, “The World’s First Epic Science-Fiction Play in Three Parts.” A three-part play. And they’d mounted the first part on Broadway. But it didn’t succeed, so the other two parts didn’t get produced in New York. Neal drew the play’s poster, designed the costumes and the sets and the theater marquee and the play’s logo. I lettered the Playbill cover, which Neal drew. I think I may have even cut out the Zipatone that was transformed into the Ambassador Theater’s marquee. So that’s my Broadway experience. The actor John Heard was in that. I think I still have one of his rejected superhero costumes for that show.
KUPPERBERG: Not the cool leather costume, the one with the sequins on it. I don’t wear it out much…
CB: (Laughter.) I can’t blame you there.
KUPPERBERG: It was a lot of fun being involved with all that.
CB: Getting back to Continuity, how long were you there?
KUPPERBERG: It’s tough to say. As with many other people, we were in and out of there as ours and Neal’s wants or needs dictated or warranted.
CB: It seems like it was very fluid.
KUPPERBERG: Yes it was, very. Jack Abel had the middle room and there were 3 or 4 other drawing tables in there. People came and went. But Jack Abel would sit at his drawing board in that room and ink all day. Jack was an anchor. Jack would show up every morning at Continuity, and he’d plant his ass in that chair and he’d work all morning. Then we’d go downstairs for lunch, to Kenby’s (For Fine Food) and then he’d come back upstairs and work until the end of the day. Because Jack was a real guy. Who drew comics. I’m a comic book artist, not a real guy.
Now, Neal might live in the studio for a week and not go home. There was this crummy couch back in the original room, and we’d all go back there for naps.
Gray Morrow might be working at Continuity one day and Russ Heath or Bob Brown might be there. Lots of people.
CB: Fantastic. So just a drawing point for some of the area talent.
KUPPERBERG: Yeah, mostly the young guys, though, because they needed the space and Neal liked sycophants. Neal liked to run people around and put them through their paces. Bear in mind that this is all just my opinion. I may be totally wrong regarding these observations. I have enough perspective to realize that this is all from my point of view and maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Neal is an unadulterated saint. Maybe I’m crazy. I’m not so in love with my own opinion that the thought I could be wrong doesn’t exist. I would never fight to the death for what is simply my opinion.
CB: We all certainly have our own viewpoints and it speaks well when the realization is that perhaps we’re not the be all and end all.
KUPPERBERG: Perhaps? (Laughter.)
CB: You mentioned a little about compensation earlier…
KUPPERBERG: I’m looking at my book and I can give you some figures. For example, I got $69.00 for lettering the Warp Playbill cover and $90.00 for penciling and coloring an Evel Kneivel motion board. By the way the motion board coloring was all with magic markers. Neal liked working with markers. So it was $25.00 here and $50.00 there. We didn’t need that much money to live on back in those days.
CB: Did you learn things while you were there at Continuity?
KUPPERBERG: I don’t remember particularly learning anything from Neal per se. Neal’s way of “teaching” was to come up behind you when you were working — and Rich Buckler remembered this the same way — and Neal would sort of hug himself and put his arm out with this weird gesture and he’d point at something in your drawing and say, “What’s that?” And you wouldn’t know what to say. You had to defend yourself all of a sudden and you had nothing to say. Because you didn’t know what you were doing.
Now, if you were a dummy — and I was a smart kid and people expected a lot from me. But I wasn’t as smart as people thought. People kind of overestimated me. But I was very stupid in several important areas. But people didn’t understand the stupid part of me and they often thought I was just mean. But I was stupid and it didn’t bother me if and when Neal did that to me. As far as I was concerned it was just Neal being Neal. But some people couldn’t take it. They would run away and never come back.
CB: Hmmm. I don’t have a lot of credibility on the subject, but it always seemed to me that creative people need to be nurtured.
KUPPERBERG: With Neal it was more of a challenge. It was Neal’s way of trying to make you think about what you were drawing. If one could run the gauntlet, survive and come out the other end, you might make it. A lot of us did. Neal never hurt me one bit except maybe my feelings. He may have tried, but Neal never did anything that wound up hurting me. He helped me. He called up John Verpoorten one time and he said, “I’ve got a kid here, he can letter. I’m gonna send him over there, give him a lettering job.” So I went over to Marvel and John Verpoorten looks at me and he knew me, probably didn’t like me, but John promised Neal he’d give me a lettering job and he did. So Neal got me a job. Neal did the same thing with Joe Orlando. My first penciling job in House of Mystery, I would not have gotten it if Neal hadn’t told Joe to give it to me. So thank you, Neal. I appreciate it. He was very good to me until he wasn’t.
Neal could make Bob Kanigher jump. Neal would do to Kanigher what Kanigher did to his freelancers. Neal did have a sense of justice. But the thing is that Kanigher was a sick guy, an effete poseur, who didn’t know he was acting out his neuroses. But Neal did it for the glee of doing it. Neal knew he could do it, so he did it. It was impressive because Neal didn’t have any “power” over Kanigher, but Bob would still jump through the hoops Neal held up. Kanigher could do it to his freelancers because he had the power. The funny thing was Kanigher didn’t realize that Neal was pushing his buttons. And the freelancers Kanigher did it to knew it was being done to them, but they had to grin and bear it. He was the editor. Now, if you didn’t work for Kanigher you’d probably punch him in the nose if he pulled his shit on you. But if he had power over you — .
CB: The power of the check.
KUPPERBERG: Neal had no power in that sense, in relationship to Kanigher, so it was justice in a way, a sort of retribution. And in that it was Kanigher, it seemed okay — because Kanigher was a prick.
CB: I know Russ Heath said that Kanigher would look for a weak spot.
KUPPERBERG: That’s a good way to put it. Neal was like that too, and if I had a weak spot, Neal didn’t find it. I think I was too stupid to have a weak spot. I met Neal when I was 14 years old. I started going up to National (DC) comics in the late 60’s when Carmine Infantino was still just the cover editor.
I was around when Neal stared doing his wonderful run of covers from Carmine’s layouts. I used to see him work on those covers. He’d often do the final touch-ups in the production room at National. This was back at 575 Lexington Avenue. So I’ve known Neal for a more than 40 years.
CB: Ah, that’s right. Jack Adler mentioned you were his assistant for a time in the production department.
KUPPERBERG: I loved Jack Adler. I loved Jack to death. Jack is a great talent. A wonderfully talented man in everything he does. He does great woodworking. He invented stuff, including a 3-D process, just a wonderful talent.
CB: Do you recall any of the things you picked up from all these mentorships?
KUPPERBERG: It was my experience that when you work for someone they don’t often “teach” you. It’s up to you. You have to learn. I learned a tremendous amount about the process of working by being around Woody. I learned a lot about composition from Jack Abel and Howard Chaykin. When I’m drawing, and I come to a place where someone has given me advice, or I learned something in the past, I always remember where and when I got that knowledge when I apply it. I have learned a lot of stuff, even in negative instances. You very often learn by making mistakes.
CB: Absolutely true. I’ve met some people who are great examples of what not to do, too.
KUPPERBERG: A cautionary tale.
CB: What were the hours like at the studio?
KUPPERBERG: It was a 24/7 operation. You could work around the clock if you wanted to or had to. That was the fun part of it. The front office in the building had these huge windows. I remember one time at midday, Steve Mitchell was going across the street to Charles & Co. to bring back some sandwiches. We’re all in the front room, hanging out the windows and Chaykin looks out and sees this beautiful blonde on 48th the street. Chaykin starts yelling out the window at Steve, “Hey, Mitchell, look at that!” Steve looks around and all Steve sees is the Today Show movie critic, Gene Shalit. So Steve points at Shalit as if to say, “Oh, look, its Gene Shalit.” And Chaykin screams out the window, “No, f*** Gene Shalit, look at the tits on that blonde!” Now, everyone in the street is staring at Shalit and the blonde.
Those kinds of situations were among the things I loved. Downstairs on the ground floor was Kenby’s Coffee Shop, where we ate lunch most of the time. We were in New York City and in the middle of everything. All this stuff was going on around us. You’d see it all in Midtown.
When you’re young and stupid you can have a lot of fun. I’d be walking down the street and literally meet Cary Grant. I could walk out of an office building and suddenly the Queen of England went by in an open car. I met Jimmy Carter on Madison Avenue. I saw the Pope. Last year I looked out of the window I’m looking out right now and saw Obama and Clinton go by in a car. In New York City if you keep your eyes open, you can see a lot of people. Somehow I can often recognize people from the backs of their heads. I believe its part of being an artist. You notice details and little things. You can recognize a building from a brick in photograph. It’s a very strange thing.
CB: I remember my art appreciation professor mentioned that artists are more aware and notice things.
KUPPERBERG: Yes, so you can recall them and use them later. My history of art teacher in school was Bernie Krigstein. But he wouldn’t talk about comic books. I did a 12-panel page, a sword fight sequence and showed it to him and when he looked at it he said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you knew what you were talking about.” I wasn’t even very good at that time, but I guess he saw I wasn’t just talking nonsense.
CB: Do you feel your time at Continuity helped your career?
KUPPERBERG: In a sense. When I went from there to work for Woody I soon found myself penciling, inking and lettering his strips. That was a direct result of having been at Continuity.
CB: Who did you most enjoy working with?
KUPPERBERG: Jack Abel was very special to me. If not for Neal I probably wouldn’t have had and enjoyed my relationship with Jack. I first met a lot of these people at DC, but Neal’s place was like a DC, Jr. Continuity was sort of like DC’s coffee room moved over to Neal’s. DC actually did have this coffee room with nice Formica tables and coffee machines and hot chocolate and sandwich machines and so forth. Sergio Aragones came in one day and with a fine tipped marker he filled up a Formica table top with his little cartoons. Sol Harrison came in and hit the roof. Sol took a wet paper towel and wiped them all out.