Check our part one of Bryan’s interview with the great inker Joe Rubinstein here.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: I wanted to ask you about digital inking of comics. Obviously you’ve got a vested interest, but is computer inking the wave of the future? Is it viable?
Joe Rubinstein: Well, there are books being done right now 100% on the computer by the artist. He does the sketch and then scans it in and makes it his own. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I found him on MySpace. He’s very good and I could be very wrong, but I think he’s doing Iron Man and the guy is great, and there was no need for an inker and maybe there won’t be really soon, but there has always been people who could draw and couldn’t quite figure out how to use ink; there were people who could ink who weren’t really interested in pencils and you’d match them together.
Maybe now a person who doesn’t know how to ink just needs to know how to manipulate the computer and that’s it.
CB: That does seem to be the way lettering is going these days.
Rubinstein: It’s gone. There’s an entire profession of people who lettered, and now, as far as I know, other than some corrections in the production department, there is no hand lettering. The only lettering is by people like John Workman who were letterers who just use the computer. I never understood why you needed to letter first, but I guess it gives you some experience. So, yeah, it went the way of silent film music accompaniment. Its like, “We don’t need that any more.”
CB: Despite my use of a computer all the time it seems a bit unfortunate to me, but that’s technology, so what are you going to do?
Rubinstein: Well, I think there’s a perception problem that if it’s been done before, it’s not worth it. It’s too old-fashioned. I didn’t work at Marvel or DC for three or four or five years. I may have gotten a back-up gig once in awhile or something, but for the most part they didn’t hire me because my name was too well known. The perception was that “He does that old stuff.”
As a matter of fact I’m doing a book now, Green Arrow and Black Canary for DC. It’s the first time in, I think 7 years that I have a series at DC and Mike Norton is the penciler and when Mike worked at another company; he’s a fan of mine back from the Captain America Byrne days, and I’ve been sending samples to this company of a more contemporary look, as a matter of fact.
I also ghosted some…just a few pages, but I ghosted some of Scott Williams’ pages on the X-Men when he was working with Jim Lee, and nobody ever said anything like, “What are these old-fashioned pages doing in the middle of all of this?” because I was appropriate for the look of the book. I was doing Scott Williams’ style. Not as well, because Scott does his style the best.
So I sent in these samples to this company of the same look that I’d done it and Mike Norton said, “We’ve got to hire him.” “No, no. He does old stuff.” “But look at this work.” But the publisher is still going, “No, he does old stuff.” And that’s the end of it. He wasn’t even going to consider what it really looked like. It’s just the perception.
CB: Oh, ridiculous.
Rubinstein: Well, thank you, but I mean that’s what editors are like nowadays. Here’s the sad part about it. I did the same thing to the generation before me by accident. I showed up. I wanted to work. That’s all.
My dream was to be a comic book artist and I wanted to work with John Buscema and Gil Kane and Curt Swan, and so I start getting work and Klaus [Janson] and [Bob] McLeod and [Bob] Wiacek and [Terry] Austin. Then Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Joe Giella and all those older guys start finding themselves unemployed. And I’m sure they looked at our stuff and said, “What is this crap? It doesn’t look like Milton Caniff or Dan Barry or Alex Raymond.”
So I was taking work from them, but I was just trying to get work. That was all. So I’m doing this stuff and a new bunch of inkers comes around and a new look comes around, and they say, “Well, let’s hire this guy and that guy.” I say, “But I can do that,” and maybe I can and maybe I can’t, but their perception is that, “You’ve been doing it, and I like this new guy.”
Editors like to bring in their own people and have a relationship going and what have you. So that’s how all the old dinosaurs, as they keep calling us, left comic books. I know Keith Pollard told me he didn’t retire. Work stopped coming. Lee Weeks who is great; Lee is just wonderful. I don’t think Lee gets much work in comics anymore, because his stuff is too illustrative. It doesn’t have the more anime influence to it.
Thank God that they do keep hiring Adam Hughes, who’s just a genius and this new guy, Ryan Sook. He is great. I really enjoy his work. Kevin Nowlan is great. I think there’s a guy named Skottie Young and I saw his work. He’s wonderful. Tommy Lee Edwards. Dougie Braithwaite. Great, great artists, but for the most part I think they’re looking for the Image derived kind of look. The Jim Lee stuff.
Now mind you, David Finch; he’s wonderful, and he’s kind of from that world, so I’m not saying there isn’t room for it, it’s just that…look; why does one actor show up in everything in the world once he becomes a hit? Because they know that this guy got sales and people are paying attention. So that’s who’s hired and they don’t hire the guy who got the attention last year, because that’s last year. That happens in movies and it happens in T.V. and I imagine it happens in literary circles. The big hit novelist of last year has been done already, so let’s find the next one.
CB: I’m sure you’re right. I’m reminded of when Al Plastino told me that he was taken aback when they said he was getting to the age he should be retiring and he said something like, “What? Have I lost my chops?”
Rubinstein: Look what they did to Wayne Boring. In all honesty, Wayne Boring’s work is old-fashioned, as is Al Plastino’s, but if Joe Sinnott said, “I would like to do a book at Marvel Comics,” I bet you Marvel Comics would give him a book because he is who he is, and there is room for more retro looking work and there’s room for modern stuff, too. I don’t think they all have to look the same.
Look, editors aren’t necessarily qualified for their job. Some aren’t. Some are. Some are great. Like Archie Goodwin, who was a universally loved, respected, talented man with great taste on what comic books should look like, but there was a woman at Marvel who, when she was editing a book, she looked at something Steve Ditko did, and honest to God, she said, “Oh, Steve Ditko. What did he do before?”
Rubinstein: If I were doing some sort of a modern movie adaptation of the next Star Wars movie if there ever is one, I wouldn’t hire Jack Kirby either. Because I don’t think he would look right for it. But if they did Thor again I don’t think Jack Kirby would be wrong for Thor, or even Iron Man. It’s just, I think, a bunch of people in their twenties and thirties and forties and fifties who are trying to figure out what somebody in their teens would think is really cool, and how would you know that because you aren’t in your teens.
CB: Exactly. It reminds me of when Bob Haney was doing the writing for the Teen Titans back in the day and the dialogue was just so hokey and then I thought, “Well, wait a minute. At this stage in his life, how could he even guess what the kids were saying?”
Rubinstein: I hope I don’t offend Bob Haney’s descendants here, but he always did superficial, stupid stories where he would do a Brave and the Bold and he’d know that Deadman can enter people’s bodies, so that was the trick, and they were usually pretty dopey stories and he stopped getting work because the stories weren’t very good.
But the same sort of holocaust happened to comic book pencilers as writers. I think if you hadn’t had your own T.V. or movie series, Marvel Comics didn’t want to hire you as a writer any more. You had to be J. Michael Straczynski or this guy who wrote some movie here or something there. It was, “Well, these are the real writers. We don’t want these comic book guys any more.”
CB: Just tossed out with the bath water.
Rubinstein: Well, it’s a business.
CB: It often comes down to just that. Joe Giella told me once, “Thank God for Mary Worth.” Here he is in his 80’s still chugging along.
Rubinstein: Every now and again I call him up and say, “Are you ever going to take a vacation? Just pencil a week for me to ink. Just a week. That’s all I’m asking.”
Rubinstein: That’s the great thing an inker can do over most everybody else in comics. Sure, a writer can call up Frank Miller and say, “Hey, you wanna do a project together?” but Frank can write it without you, thank you very much, and I don’t call Frank anymore and say, “Can I ink something of yours?” because Frank can ink it, but I do go up to whoever and say, “I really like your stuff. If you ever need an inker…”
And I’ve gotten several jobs from it just because they said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you’d want to ink me,” and I’ll go, “Yeah!” The first time I ever did Superman, I had Curt Swan’s Superman in front of me. Not anybody’s, but Curt Swan’s. So I was terrified and I did it and Curt was very, very hard to ink because Curt was suggestive in his pencils. They weren’t super tight. There were a lot of tonalities, to you had to turn tone into lines, so there’s a lot of interpretation, which is one of the reasons that Murphy Anderson’s pages never looked like Bob Oksner’s or something like that, but I got to be an infinitesimal part of the history of Superman, because I got to ink Curt Swan’s Superman.
Yeah, I guess you could write Batman and say, “I’m now part of the Batman legend,” but when I got a Flash job to ink over Carmine Infantino…and I actually said to the editor, “I’m happy to do it, but why aren’t you getting Murphy?” They said, “Well, we’ll try something different.” So Murphy was kind of shafted by the ageism there, too. When the thing showed up and I read the story, and it suddenly dawned on me, “This is not a Flash job by Carmine; this is a Barry Allen/Flash job.” This was a flashback job. I got to ink Barry Allen. That’s so cool.
CB: Oh, yeah. Clear back to ’56 where it all began.
Rubinstein: The recreation you’d referenced earlier. This guy wanted me to ink this piece and I was thrilled, and I was terrified, and I was thrilled and the thing showed up and it was big. Comic book pages are about 17″ tall. 11 x 17 and the actual working dimensions are 15 x 10 or something. This thing was 24″ tall. So it was a monster, and it was probably closer to the size it was originally done, because comic book pages have shrunk over the years.
CB: Yeah, the old twice-up.
Rubinstein: And I opened up the package and there’s this pencil job by Carmine. He drew it, but he really more or less traced the old thing. It’s not like he re-drew it, but that’s great. He’s still got it just the way he wanted it, and inside of the box I pull out another piece of paper, and it’s the same size and drawing by Carmine of the very first Flash cover where you see this kid sitting in the foreground and Barry Allen and the Earth Two Jay Garrick Flash are both racing at him for some reason. I think it was the very first time that Jay Garrick appeared in the Silver Age Flash comics.
CB: Right. “The Flash of Two Worlds.”
Rubinstein: And I looked at this thing and thought, “They didn’t tell me about this.” I called up and asked, “So you wanted me to ink this, too?” They said, “No, that’s for Joe Giella to ink. After you’re done with everything, could you just mail both of them to Giella?” And I asked, “Can I ink it and give him the money?”
Rubinstein: It was like, “Wow!”
CB: Yeah, when will this ever come up again?
Rubinstein: Absolutely. Carmine is old. Speaking of old. (Laughter.)
CB: 83, as a matter of fact.
Rubinstein: A lady decided to give her husband a comic book convention for his birthday. So my art dealer called up and asked, “You want to go to Vermont for the weekend for this guy’s birthday? They’re not paying you anything, but they’ll put you up and you’ll have a weekend away. “All right. When do we fly up?” He said, “No, they’re going to send a stretch limo for you.” “Okay.” So who’s in the limo? Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, his son Frank, Nick Cardy, Irwin Hasen, Julie Schwartz and me.
CB: Holy cow!
Rubinstein: So you combine the age of everybody in this thing and it’s 347. And Julie, who is like the classic old curmudgeon…when I got this Superman job, the one I referred to earlier, I had a question about it, so I went into Julie, and I said, “What do you want done here with this?” And Julie, who spoke with a lisp, said, “Oh. They’re giving you thish job to shcrew up.” Okay. Like I’m not nervous enough already.
The guy who gave me the job was the production coordinator or whatever. Traffic manager. I said, “What are you giving me this job for if Julie doesn’t want me?” He said, “Julie asked for you.” That’s Julie. Julie would never let you know his feelings. So we’re in this Tribunal of the Elders in this limo and Julie, seeing who’s in the limo, says to me, “What are you doing here?”
Rubinstein: I was invited, Julie. So five times that weekend, no exaggeration, five times; Julie walked up to me personally and said, “You know I’m 85 now, right?” “No, Julie, I hadn’t heard.”
Rubinstein: And then Julie passed away something like three years later. And you know what? I know so many personal stories, and I just don’t know which ones I can tell to the world. (Laughter.) I have a great Julie story. Julie Schwartz was actually a paid assassin for the Russians…never mind. Julie worked for the mob and was in this bar…never mind. Can I tell this story? Can I not? Okay. I can’t stand it anymore.
Julie was probably born in 1903. Julie’s from the olden days. Julie must have come from a very orthodox or religious, strict background. He married an Irish Catholic girl. So for the next 30 years or however many that Julie was married, Julie would go back to his parent’s house as long as they lived and have Sunday dinner. But he never mentioned the fact that he was married and had a daughter.
I’m sure Julie’s parents must have thought he was a fagala (little bird). I guess Julie just didn’t want to break their hearts or be disowned or something. I don’t know. But for 30 years (chuckle) Julie Schwartz had a wife and daughter and doesn’t mention it to the family. That’s a very interesting dynamic to go through your life with. How do you not call up your parents when your baby is born and say, “Hey, you’re grandparents?”
CB: Holy cats. That’s astounding.
Rubinstein: These are the people who are molding the minds of teenagers.
CB: That’s it.
Rubinstein: I’ve got lots of these things I could tell you. Plus, I used to date a woman who was a publisher in comics, not Jenette Kahn, if anybody’s asking, though I always thought Jenette was a babe. I’ve got to admit that.
Anyway, once I dated her, I started to hear all the stories that I wasn’t privy to. Which parties they would invite the girl to, not me. Which guy she dated who told her about this person in comic books or that sexual peccadillo and stuff. I heard a story about a guy who’d gone to an S&M club and was tied up to this rack and was getting beaten and what have you. (Chuckle.) So the next time I saw the guy it was very difficult not to imagine him tied up.
You get this vision and sometimes you just don’t want to know stories about people because you just can’t stop laughing directly into their face. And mind you I don’t judge the guy for having done what he was doing, but then when I began thinking about how often there was a sado-masochistic sort of storyline or subtext to his work, I went, “Oh-h-h-h.”
CB: It all becomes clear now. (Chuckle.)
Rubinstein: Oh, absolutely. When there’s a mystery and it just doesn’t make sense and then this one little thing is put into place and you go, “Oh, yeah, of course.” Kind of like why J. Edgar Hoover said there was no mob. He’s got a lovely, frilly outfit in the closet.
CB: (Laughter.) Neal Adams had a few choice tales about Bob Kanigher he wouldn’t let me tell, either.
Rubinstein: Oh, you’ll have to tell me later. I didn’t like Bob Kanigher one bit.
CB: You’re in the vast majority.
Rubinstein: When I met him, and he was such a jerk, I wish I was older and told him to just go fuck himself right on the spot. But because, “Oh, my God, it’s Robert Kanigher and I’m just a kid, I’m new in the business, he’s got a reputation.” You know what? I don’t care.
We were talking about Degas earlier. When they asked Degas what he thought of the Dreyfuss case, which was this very notorious case about a supposed spy in 19th century France who was sentenced to Devil’s Island, he said, “Well, I think he should be sent to Devil’s Island with all the rest of the dirty Jews.” All right. Well, you’re not getting invited to Passover this year.
Rubinstein: But, I’d still like to hear how you made that composition work, and then I’ll go home. Anyway, I’ve expressed my admiration for Kubert, who was a very big buddy of Kanigher’s and it’s difficult to say, “Hey, Joe. Is he as big a dick as everybody says and how did you do it?”
CB: It’s funny. I kind of alluded to that with Neal Adams, telling him it seemed like Joe Kubert was the only one that grooved with him really well. He said, “Well, you’ve got to understand, Joe Kubert doesn’t take shit from anybody.”
Rubinstein: So maybe what it is is that you put him in his place and Kanigher was more respectful.
CB: Maybe so. Neal told me that Bob was giving him a raft one day and so he followed him into his office, closed the door and said something like, “Tell you what, Bob. How about I draw and you write and never the twain shall meet?” Bob apparently said, “I guess that would be okay.” And I guess they never had a problem again.
Come back next week for part three!