Joe Kubert is the living legend of comics. He began his career at age 11 and is still a highly sought after talent at age 79. I caught up with Joe at his school for a few questions about Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy and Jew Gangster.
First Comics News: You’re back with the DC character you’re probably best known for in January, both writing and drawing Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy. What attracts you to war comics?
Joe Kubert: I am not really attracted to it inordinately, it not really of interest to me then any other subject matter that I take on, other then the fact that I am well acquainted with Sgt Rock and it’s something I enjoy doing, but the subject war is not a favorite subject of mine.
1st: Do you think that readers have the same connection to World War II comics as did in the ’60s and ’70s?
Joe: I hope so. It’s not the genré or the subject matter that kicks off readers interest; it’s the quality of the story. It’s been proven over and over again in Westerns and Super Heroes, any genré you can think of it’s the combination of the quality of the story and the quality of the illustrations that really make it.
1st: What keeps you coming back to Sgt Rock year after year?
Joe: The longevity of the character itself and a kind of loyalty to the character. I do have a feeling that I can bring in an additional depth and a new angle to the character. That kind of interests me. It’s a cliché to say it’s a challenge but maybe to some degree it is.
1st: What makes Sgt Rock & Easy Company special, that they have been able to continue despite the fact that DC has not published an ongoing War comic in a long time?
Joe: It more to the efforts of Bob Kanigher that anybody else. The fact is the way he wrote it and the way he imagined the characters, gave it credibility that most of the other war stories were missing. Bob’s trust was to get this character as believable as possible. The other war stories were imminently forgettable simply because the characters didn’t stand up. To a great extent he achieved it. I remember when he was editing he would get letters from guys in the Army really felt there was a Sgt Rock. That to me was a major, major compliment.
1st: Until recently DC has only been publishing super heroes under the DC banner, the last Sgt Rock story was a Vertigo story. Does going back to the DCU put any restrictions on you?
Joe: I have no restrictions at all, in fact I know the people up there, Karen Berger and Paul (Levitz) and everybody else up there. They know me from way, way back and I am pretty much trusted in terms of the subject matter, and there is stuff I know that they know I wouldn’t do.
1st: You have been an editor at DC, you both writing and drawing the series, is there any interaction with the editor on this project or do you just turn in the finished product?
Joe: I turn in the finished product when it’s done. They have the final say. They can say Joe we don’t want to publish this. I had that experience with a graphic novel called Jew Gangster, that just came out within the last week and it’s getting into the book stores now. I have had a lot of contact with Paul (Levitz). I know a lot of people, but not a lot I can call a friend. Paul I can call friend. I have known Paul for a long time and our working relationship is great. But some of the people at DC thought that the title might engender some negative reaction, they weren’t happy with it and they ask me to change it. The book was done and they had seen the interior of the book and liked it, and they ask me to change the title and I wouldn’t.
1st: Who is the publisher on Jew Gangster: A Father’s Admonition?
Joe: It is IBooks, the publisher was Byron Preiss, but a couple of months ago he had an untimely death in a car accident. I had a long standing relationship with Byron; he was my assistant when I was at DC.
1st: Did DC come to you and ask you to do another Sgt Rock story or did you pitch this to DC?
Joe: They had talked to me a number of times before. This time I had missed seeing my work on the stands on a regular basis. When I discussed this with them the decision was made that it would come out first as a regular 6 issue series and then be bound into a hardback as a graphic novel.
1st: The new series is based on a true story, what does that mean exactly?
Joe: Only the event, the characters are totally different. The timing is completely different. Just prior to World War II, 1940 or 41 when they were trying to get a very Orthodox Rabbi, who was considered a leader among the Jewish people of Europe out of Europe and this story is based on that. The Rabbi himself was an older man. He was to get out and try to tell the world what was about to happen to the Jews in the Holocaust. The character I have is a younger man. It takes place in 1943, in the middle of the war, so that we can get Rock involved. He has to get this young man out of Europe. The general population thought he had the ability to prophesize what would happen. In 1943 not many people knew the actual circumstances about the concentration camps. People had heard stories but no one really knew. One of the reasons that very little was done to help or save these people was that no one knew.Rock’s job was to get this young Rabbi out so that he could get his message across.
1st: As a total aside, my Grandfather was in Vienna, Austria and was locked up and my Father and Grandmother came across to America during the war.
Joe: I have tried to include the events that would have happened to make things seem reasonable at the time. I have tried to interpret the characters involved not in terms of black and white. The kid is a snotty young kid, who is a Rabbi and has this responsibility of getting this message out. However, his food has to be kosher, he prays every day with tefilin (two small leather cases containing texts from the Hebrew Scriptures; traditionally worn on the forehead and the left arm by Jewish men during morning prayer) and the whole bit. It kinds of makes the guys uneasy. They questions what the hell are they doing with this nut?
1st: How does Easy Company relate to the Rabbi?
Joe: In different ways. The ways each one of them reacts defines the characters. Wildman reacts kind of impatiently. Little Sure Shot relates a lot historically with what has happened to the Indians in America to what happens to the Jewish People. Each reacts in his own way.
1st: You have a very diverse group of G.I.s in Easy Company, how did this come about, after all this type of diverstiy wasn’t typical for the ’50s, necessarily…
Joe: Again the credit for that should go to Bob Kanigher; he’s the guy that created the characters. When Brian Azzarello did Sgt Rock: Between Hell and A Hard Place, he did a terrific job on the script; he just extended what Bob Kanigher had done. That’s what I am doing with Prophecy.
1st: In the 50’s and 60’s the Germans were clearly the enemy of World War II and anything bad said about them was all right, as we have become more Politically Correct do you find that you have to teat them differently?
Joe: Not with me. I am not at this stage of the game about to redo history. Not I.
1st: Your sons are working on the cover of the first issue with you, how does that work out?
Joe: Terrific! My two boys teach here at the school and they have the studio in the building as well and I see them virtually every day, some times too much. To me it’s just a miracle that they decided to do what they are doing, Not that I tried to push them into this; I couldn’t even if I wanted. Amazingly enough at this stage of the game this was their choice and they are doing some of the best work of their careers. The fact that they were invited to do the alternate covers put the cherry on top of the sundae. They have come to me and said “What do you think of this Dad?”, “What should we do over here?” and so on, I count my blessings.
1st: It must be nice to see your children everyday.
JK: My wife and I have five children and a whole bunch of grandchildren, they all live close by us and I have been very, very lucky.
1st: What is coming out after Sgt Rock?
Joe: It’s funny you should ask, I am putting something together now. I am on the fourth issue of Sgt Rock series and I am just putting together my next project. I’d rather not talk about it because it’s really, really early and I might do something else first.
Joe: How lucky can you get, how lucky can you get. At this stage of the game to still have people asking me to do work.
1st: That is impressive and speaks a lot to your talent and ability.
Joe: I am a very lucky person and I count my blessings.
1st: Also you share that talent, you have been running a The Joe Kubert’s World of Cartooning school since 1976 and you have helped in the development of a lot of talented people who are working today.
Joe: I am very proud of that. I never expected the school to last as long as it has. It’s a small school with an enrolment of 150 students. They guys who come here knock their brains out to acquire whatever knowledge I have and the other instructors here have. They get out of here and are getting jobs. What I am really proud of is the advisory board made up of people like Joe Quesada, Paul Levitz, Neal Adams and Victor Gorelick. These are people who feel what we do as a school is good, that’s like a pat on the back and I am proud of that.
1st: They then get first crack at your students.
Joe: They are free to go wherever they like. Everyone who comes here wants to do comic books. They want to do super heroes. Our program is so extensive and so varied because no one selects the classes they take, they take the classes we give them. By the time they finish the three years a lager portion of them go into something else. They go into animation, syndication, story boarding, children’s book illustration and advertising. All of the programs are dedicated to what any cartoonist getting into the business needs in order to be able to make a livelihood for an extended period of time.
1st: You also do a correspondence course, what type of education do they get from the correspondence compared to the school?
Joe: That’s another amazing thing for me; it’s been going on for six years now. They select one of six courses that we offer, and they get a critique on five assignments but professional instructors. We have sold over 4,000 of them. I am amazed, I am really amazed, considering the fact that these courses go for $300.00 a piece. I think what has been really helpful is the internet. We have people taking the courses from countries that I have never heard of, it’s amazing.