In 1938, as the strange visitor from another planet made his first appearance on ours, Joe Kubert wasn’t even a bar-mitzvah yet. Nevertheless, he had already laid down his first professional lines and was beginning to pull in that vital paycheck which meant so much to his Depression Age family.
But it was more than a paycheck to young Joe. At that impressionable age, he was already smitten with the works of comics pioneers Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, and Milton Caniff?the three men he still regards as his primary influences. “When I was young and became interested in comics, those three were the best,” Joe recalls. “Everybody knew them. They’re still my favorites, even today.”
When we last left off, Joe was talking about his very first professional gig. At age twelve. Think about that a minute. Twelve. Most of today’s teenagers can barely tie their shoes.
Cliff: Tell me about that first job.
Joe: A guy I was going to school with was somehow related to one of the owners of MLJ. He said, “My uncle puts out comic books. I see you do these drawings of all these muscle guys. Why don’t you go over and see him? Maybe you can get a job there?” And I did.
Cliff: Just like that?
Joe: Just like that.
Cliff: By what point were you making a living at it?
Joe: By the time I was 13, I was already making more money than my father. But that was no big deal because no one was making any money back then.
Cliff: This was 1939?the height of The Depression.
Joe: Right. And a person was quite lucky to be making any money. In ’36, ’37, ’38 it was hard for anybody to make a buck. My father was a kosher butcher and it was hard to find two coins to rub together.
Cliff: You had siblings?
Joe: Four sisters. And my sisters all went to work. Things were quite different during those years. When somebody in the family went out to make a living and they lived at home, all the money went right to the treasurer: my mother. If anybody needed money, they’d come to Mama. I never cashed a check until I got married?until I got out of the house.
Cliff: How old were you when you married?
Cliff: So by the time you were married, you were already a veteran. You already had a pretty good career!
Joe: Oh yeah! I have never been unemployed in all the time that I’ve been working. Not since I was 12 or 13 years old. I’ve never had one day of unemployment. How lucky can you get?
Cliff: Johnny Romita told me that in ACTOR meetings, you’re always the one saying, “If this guy is capable of working, he should be working.” Because Joe has always worked. He was impressing upon me how involved you are with ACTOR?how much you do for ACTOR?but that you are adamantly against handouts to guys who’ve gotten lazy. It’s one thing if a guy is legitimately down on his luck?
Cliff: When did you get involved with ACTOR?
Joe: When they asked me?when they had just started the organization. I think it’s a good cause, but like anything else it can be taken advantage of if it’s not watched.
Cliff: Let’s get back to your career. Do you recall the first regular series that you did?
Joe: I think it was Hawkman. And that’s because Shelly Mayer was a terrific editor?a wonderful, wonderful guy?really great. He had more patience than three saints. Not only did he teach me things, but I was still going to high school at the time and invariably I would come in late as hell?I could never keep a deadline. He’d call my home and my mother would answer and say, “Yosell is upstairs?he’s not feeling well.” (laughs) But he tolerated me and he taught me. He was a really good guy.
Cliff: Julie Schwartz had told how you once dated his gal.
Joe: I dated his wife before he did. Big gadiddle! (laughs)
Cliff: Well, he told that story.
Joe: Julie was another great guy. I learned a lot from him, too. But it was Shelly who taught me about the importance of telling a story?that doing stuff that I always liked to do, drawing certain types of things?was not the be-all and end-all. He taught me that the crux of what we do, what I was hired to do, was tell a story. And in order to do that, you have to see what’s going on all around you; you have to see people for what they are?expressions, postures, characters, and so on and so forth?and convey that in picture form in a story. Convey it so that readers can understand what you’re trying to say. That was probably the most important lesson I learned in this business. Storytelling. I remember vividly one time when I did a story about a kid character. Shelly looked it over and said, “This is not a kid. ” I said, “What do you mean? I gave him a little cute nose and a little cute mouth,” and he said, “But still he’s not a child. You have to look at children. The proportions are different, the expressions on the face are different, the movement of the figures. Watch the way a child walks.” And Shelly was so good at that?he was just fantastic. His eye was keen.
© 2004, Clifford Meth