Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sense of Wonder: Bill Schelly’s Odyssey

First, this is not a review of Bill Schelly’s new book, Sense of Wonder. I want to write about this wonderful book because it captures the spirit of MY reading, following and even leaving the world of comics.  And then coming back.

I want your help!!! In the comments section, I hope you will take the time and tell us your story of what brought you into this realm.

Comic collecting is autobiographical. Bill Schelly’s Sense of Wonder demonstrates that perfectly.  Comic collecting is not just a hobby; it somehow becomes part of our DNA, a necessary component of our life.

It is also true that, like many of us, Bill cannot let go of this subject. His first Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Fandom” was published in 2001. This is a totally different book. It’s twice the size and has a very different perspective.  What remains of the original is strongly rewritten. Honestly I enjoyed the first one so much that I was anxious to read the second.

Schelly: “Understanding the lure of comic fandom—or any kind of fandom, from Star Trek to Doctor Who—might be difficult for those who don’t feel its pull. Even those of us who have been a part of such a group don’t often think about our reasons for joining in. We’re doing what comes naturally to us.”

It has often surprised me, the commonalities that readers have.  Bill recalls his trip to Chicago, in 1960, when he was eight years old. His parents, hoping to keep him occupied, bought him his first comic, Superman Annual #1.  His father complained that it was a costly 25 cents when comics were supposed to cost a dime! Bill read it endlessly! And he carried it with him for the next decade or two or maybe more.    


Ironically, when DC republished this annual in 1998, Mike Carlin, seemed to have Bill in mind

Let me go off on a Bender here, or at least a Binder, Otto Binder.  Six of the stories in the Superman Annual, and most famously “The Supergirl From Krypton,” were written by Otto Binder, who would have a great influence in Bill’s life. Bill writes, “In 2000 there weren’t any book-length biographies of comic book writers or artists, what I call “true bios… I was discussing this on the phone with Roy Thomas one day…“Someone should write a book about a comic book writer,” he said. “For instance, Otto Binder,” Bill replied. “The Otto Binder biography was the first book I wrote in my freshly finished basement office, a much larger space than I’d had upstairs.”

So, in some ways Bill had carried Superman Annual #1 with him, always.

Bill wrote: “I would gradually come to understand that the colorful characters whom I met on that 1960 vacation would be with me in one form or another for the rest of my life. Like the train that carried me across America, the hobby that grew out of my love of comics would be the vehicle that would take me to a new world of dreams and endeavors.”

Well, my experience was totally different!!!! J We were travelling to New York, in 1959, when I was eight years old and my parents bought me my first comic, World’s Finest #102, which featured “The Caveman from Krypton!” 

I knew Superman from the TV show and I knew Batman. I was introduced to Tommy Tomorrow and the world of science fiction. In reading Bill’s story, I wondered how many parents bought comics just to keep their kids quiet. Just like Bill, and just like many addicts, the first samples of our addictions were free!  With my aunt owning a candy store that sold comics, mine were freer than most.

But the most important event in my collecting came about 1964, when I spent a summer in the hospital due to foot and leg problems. I wrote a fan letter to Marvel and in return received a box full of comics and a letter signed by Stan, Flo Steinberg (Stan’s secretary) and the gang.  Until then, my hospital world was black and white; now it was in color.  Please don’t tell me that the Marvel super-heroes were fiction and they never really saved anyone. That summer they saved me.

At the New York Comic Con in 2005 I went up to Flo while everyone else went up to Stan. I told her how they had sent me a box of comics when I was in the hospital in 1964. I knew it was she who sent it because I called Marvel to thank them, way back then. (You could do such things in those days…) We became friends and she asked to see the actual letter. When I showed her (what? You think I’d lose a letter from Marvel Comics?), she said, "I knew it!  I wrote it and Stan signed it!”
I asked a few people about their first comics:

Roy Thomas: My late mother used to tell me that I spotted some comic books on the newsstand at Jones Drug Store in Jackson, MO, when I was maybe four, in early 1945--if not sooner.  But I've no idea what comic she first bought for me--probably something with Superman or Batman.  She'd read them to me, and until I learned to read them for myself I thought they were Souperman (getting his power from soup) and Badman and Robber (a couple of crooks, clearly, since they wore masks).  Sometime in the next few months I discovered ALL-STAR COMICS and its heroes like Hawkman and Green Lantern.
Mark Evanier: I have no idea what my first comic book was...probably something Disney, probably something issued before I could read.  I do not remember a minute of my life when I not only didn't have comics but I didn't have more than anyone else I knew.
My first comic book of a super-hero variety was Action Comics #250 (two issues before the advent of Supergirl!) and the cover story was Superman and "The Eye of Metropolis" written by Bill Finger and drawn by Wayne Boring.  It was followed by a Tommy Tomorrow story drawn by Jim Mooney and a Congorilla story drawn by Howard Sherman.
Today, it seems like a pretty ordinary issue, but at the time, it was one of the most exciting things I'd ever read.  I especially liked the Superman story which wasn't all that different from the Superman I knew from the George Reeves TV show.
I got hooked and immediately began hitting the local second-hand book shops which sold old comic books for a nickel apiece, six for a quarter.
Naturally, I only bought my comics in multiples of six.  Within three months, I must have had a collection of Superman and Batman comics that exceeded 500 -- and of course, given my age and the newness of it all, those were among the 500 best comics ever done, except for the issues of Wonder Woman.

Tony Isabella: My mother and other adults would read comic books to me. I kind of sort of think these were funny animal comics and not from the major brands like Dell or DC.

I wanted to eliminate the middle man, so to speak, so I taught myself to read from comic books. I was reading on my own before anyone knew I was reading on my own. Someone realized I could read and told my very surprised mother.

The first comic books I bought for myself were Superman and/or Casper the Friendly Ghost because I knew them from television. I don't recall specific issues.

Bill Schelly: “There’s no doubt that Amazing Spider-Man #7 was the first Marvel comic book I bought, as well as my first exposure to the art of Steve Ditko. His unique style of drawing faces, positioning the figures, and composing the panels impressed me from the start….Ditko quickly became a personal favorite, along with Jack Kirby.”

Again, I had a similar beginning with Marvel. I realized that I was a Marvel fan with issue #8 of Amazing Spider-Man, with Ditko’s compelling and yet unconventional art. His world was darker, it often seemed “wet” as after a rainstorm and the stories didn’t always have a happy ending. Spider-Man would win, but Peter Parker would lose. 

Kirby’s Fantastic Four #19, “The Prisoners of the Pharaoh,” also drew me in. Only in the Justice League of America did DC have full-length stories, whereas Marvel had them everywhere. There was not just action and excitement in Fantastic Four #19, but there were emotions of disappointment and even sadness. The heroes even failed in their prime mission. And I felt Ben Grimm’s grief.

As Bill’s story unfolds, he explains his growing love, and infatuation with comics. Through his eyes we learn of the history of fandom and fanzines: “The first was for a ’fanzine’ called The Rocket’s Blast-Comicollector (RBCC for short). The second was for the RBCC Special #1 featuring a long article on Timely (Marvel) Comics… The first ones I received after RBCC were Yancy Street Journal (devoted solely to Marvel comics), Batmania (dedicated to the Dynamic Duo), and Fighting Hero Comics.”

This sort of fandom goes back to the 1930s with magazines such as Fantasy Magazine, published by Julius Schwartz, who would become an editor at DC.

These fanzines, including Alter Ego by Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas, encouraged a young Bill to create his own fanzine, “… I carried the copies of Super-Heroes Anonymous #1 to the mailbox on the corner, opened its metal mouth, and shoved them in, five at a time. The moment gave me a tiny shiver. They weren’t ‘mine’ any more. I had released them to the wider world… For better or worse, we were publishers.”

Bill, of course, also wrote a few letters to the comic book editors.  Here is one from Creeper #3:

I wrote letters also.  Here are the postcards I recieved alerting me to their publication:

Bill establishes a fact that is very important, and one I emphasize in my own book. We were not born knowing the history of comics, or who created what. This was a series of mysteries that we had to solve.  And producing his fanzine opened the door to a world of discovery: “The truth is, I wasn’t alone. I had become a member of a brotherhood. After Super-Heroes Anonymous appeared, I began receiving mail from dealers, fanzine editors, writers, artists, and collectors. This even meant getting an original Captain America poster from Jack Kirby!!!”

Avid comic book readers tend to be literate and read a lot.  Bill, for example, loved the James Bond books of the 1960s and read all of them. Well, so did I.  I loved the adventure and excitement and how Ian Fleming drew out his characters.  I guess that was something we also found in comics.  Again, like many of us, Bill writes that his, “TV favorites were The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Secret Agent, and the spy comedy Get Smart. Well, I not only watched those also, but in later life, got the DVDs.”

Just a few of my Bond books....

As with so many others of that era, Bill’s journey brought him to Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965), which had a huge influence on young comic book fans. “This book had a tremendous effect on me, not only because it gave me an opportunity to read a number of the best Golden Age stories, but also because it validated my continuing interest in comics. It was as if the book said to adults, “It’s okay to like comics.”

In presenting the history of fandom and fanzines, Bill discusses concepts I shared. What drives us to collect, what drives us to bond with people we have never met, and what keeps us going. He doesn’t draw many conclusions, but puts out many ideas that will make you think.

It’s fun to read Bill’s encounters with comic book celebrities, such as a young Jim Shooter in the mid 1960s, who was writing the Legion of Super-Heroes at the time. “Everyone watched as Jim Shooter created a beautiful pencil drawing of Iron Man smashing through a brick wall. (Remember, he was still working exclusively for DC Comics.) As far as I can recall, this special fanzine never saw print.” And years later Shooter didn’t recognize Bill at a comic convention.

Bill’s contact with famous artists did not always run smooth, as we see in his interactions with Steve Ditko. Bill once published a Mr. A story on pink paper. Ditko responded, “I was shocked and dismayed that you printed a cover featuring Mr. A, whose credo is that there’s only black and white with no shades of gray, on colored paper. It goes against the whole basis of the character. It should have been printed in black ink on white paper only. Why is it that I get burned every time I do something for the fan press?” That last sentence tells a lot about Ditko’s perception of the fan press. But Ditko is also a forgiving man and once again will contribute to a fanzine by Bill.

Vince Colletta is a controversial figure in comics, equally admired and disdained.  Trying to break into comics, Bill showed him and Julie Schwartz his own artwork. Colletta, after criticizing Bill’s art, also said something revealing: “I’m no great talent, but the main thing is, I get the work done on time.”

In speaking to Jack Kirby about the characters he was famous for, Bill said to him: “In your mind, they must be very real to you.”  Kirby gave a revealing reply, “No, they actually exist,” he responded. “I know them intimately.”

As Bill traces the history of fanzines, he tells an interesting tale about Fredrick Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, who subscribed to one of bill’s fanzines and wrote to Bill: “I find the whole phenomenon of fanzines to be very interesting indeed. Here are hundreds or perhaps thousands of teenagers and young adults who are working mightily to produce magazines simply as a form of their own creative expression. This seems like a positive, healthy activity that merits study.”
Bill is kinder in regards to Wertham than I am.

You see, I like girls. I always liked girls. In fact, for much of my youth, I thought about girls all the time. Girls did not mix with comics, they didn’t like them and they often didn’t like the guys who read them, so I hid my comics and learned not to talk about them. I even gave up comics in 1977 because the cost of a comic hit a high of 35 cents (even more for annuals and the Marvel magazines) and I needed that money for dating!!!!

I bring this up because of my research into the history of comics.  In the 1960s, there were VERY few books out discussing the history of comics and none discussing the history of comic books.  So I used the microfilm library, of old newspapers and magazines, in school to find the history of comics in articles.  All microfilmed roads lead to the 1954 hearings on comics, led by Senator Kefauver, who did his best to associate comics with Juvenile Delinquency, rape and homosexuality (his term). So for the first time I read the name of Fredrick Wertham, whose Seduction of the Innocent linked comic book reading, especially of Batman and Robin, to homosexuality. Now, I was only ten or eleven years old and wasn’t even sure what this meant.

Here are Wertham’s actual words: “Several years ago a California psychiatrist pointed out that the Batman stories are psychologically homosexual. Our researches confirm this entirely. Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoerotism which pervades the adventures of the mature "Batman" and his young friend "Robin." Male and female homoerotic overtones are present also in some science-fiction, jungle and other comic books.
The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies, of the nature of which they may be unconscious. In adolescents who realize it, they may give added stimulation and reinforcement.
A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip. The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess. If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick. (Bad choice of words, I would say. - Barry)

So, Batman and Robin were gay? Huh? I liked Batman and Robin.  And I liked girls. And I couldn’t understand how reading Batman made me not like girls. A few years later, I especially liked Catwoman, especially when played by Julie Newmar!) And Batgirl! (Yvonne Craig), too.  My feelings toward girls had nothing to do with what I read. If I had to think about it, I’d have to say that’s just the way I was born. What the hell was this idiot doctor talking about? I didn’t need comics to give me impure thoughts about women. I had them already just from noticing how soft and pretty girls could be. Wertham, however, went both ways on this.  Comics either made you gay or a rapist. And we know from his notes, now in the Library of Congress, that he made up many of his observations, let alone his conclusions.

At a young age then, I assumed the same must be true for gay people; they are born that way. If we had a choice, in 1960s America, we would all be born white, male, six feet tall, Christian, and straight because those people had the best opportunities. (Think Mad Men.) Bill happens to be gay (and yes, he did like Batman and Robin). Yet, despite our differences when it came to whom we wanted to take to the prom, Bill, too, was drawn into the universe of comics. 

Could it be that we each found relief and comfort in the fantasy world of comics? In its imagined world, the good guys always win; the bad people get what is coming to them. If all else fails, rebooting gives you a second chance to get things right. As a child Bill seemed especially vulnerable to neighborhood bullies. I had the same problem because of my limp. In comics, disabilities are overcome. Take a look at Captain Marvel, Jr., Daredevil, Don Blake, Professor X, Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, and even Ben Grimm, The Thing.

Comic books got us through the tough time of burgeoning adolescence. They helped us by showing how a hero behaved nobly despite all odds, by demonstrating over and over that heroes can’t help being who they are, and that as much as they might like to, they can’t turn their backs on what they are.

One thing Bill was not able to overcome was the harsh reactions to his work by the aforementioned Colletta and Schwartz and even Jim Warren of Creepy and Eerie fame. That was hard to read because you empathized with Bill’s desire to get into the business he so admired.

              Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!
Both Bill and I had a long sabbatical from comics that began at the same time, about 1974. At this time, comics had lost a lot of their Golden and Silver Age creators and DC and Marvel were bought by corporations whose sole interests were how much money could be got out of them. We both came back, but concentrated our efforts not on modern comics but on those that we remembered. Bill’s previous books include one on comic fandom and in this present volume, he tells entertaining stories of his researches for his books on Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Kubert and Little Lulu. We both used our retirements to concentrate and write about what we loved.  Encouraged by the great Tony Isabella, I finally finished my “Marvel Age Companion” and have done work with Taschen. (“75 Years of Marvel” and “The Marvel Age of Comics)”

When I was writing my Sense of Wonder memoir, I happened to be listening to an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning playwright John Patrick Shanley, and found his words meaningful. He was being interviewed about his autobiographical play Prodigal Son. The interviewer asked him, "What do you get out of sharing your life with audiences?" Shanley answered, "I think that we don't really want to be alone. I think that society is a central part of the human experience. When we go through all of the things that we go through ... we look around and see that those are things that we are not going through alone in a vacuum, and that's a real solace. And I write plays to get that solace and give that solace."

Similarly, I wrote Sense of Wonder to evoke in the reader his or her own memories and feelings and experiences, as a member of comic fandom, as an aspiring artist or writer, as a member of a minority group (gay or whatever). It's not an ego thing, it's about sharing what it is to be a human being--Bill Schelly

Once again, I'd like to thank Carl Thiel for his help on this blog. Here is his story, what's yours?

The first comic book I remember reading belonged to my cousin, who was six years older than I. The book was Superman Annual #7 (1963), celebrating the Silver Anniversary of the Man of Steel. The length of the book was an impressive 80 pages and the sense of history therein, with its cover illustration of a silver statuette prominently celebrating 25 years of Superman, even to my eight-year-old mind, was profound.

I regret that I wasn't aware of the beginning of the Marvel Age, but I was six in 1961; I wouldn't see an issue of The Fantastic Four for two years. I recall reading Amazing Spider-Man #3 (July 1963) with the multi-armed villain Doctor Octopus on the cover. I would have to wait until the earlier stories were reprinted in order to experience them. And I mean EXPERIENCE for reading a Marvel comic after 1963 WAS an experience. The art and story-telling was dynamic; the story moved!

Here's just one example: For a hero who couldn't fly, Spider-Man spent a great deal of time in the air, swinging on his web across the rooftops of the city or twisting his body as he dodged the blows of a villainous gang.

The first comics that convinced me I was reading something radically different from the competition were Avengers #3 (Jan 1964) and Fantastic Four #26 (May 1964). The Avengers cover called out accurately: "THIS is the issue you've been waiting for!!" and yes, it was. Here was a world I didn't know existed. (What the heck, I was eight years old!) A world of troubled heroes and angst-ridden romance all mixed together in the synoptic view of Stan Lee. Both Avengers #3 and FF #26, coincidentally, featured the Incredible Hulk who was not a villain but rather a conflicted antagonist. I didn't know that he had had his own short-lived magazine until I got further involved. (The introduction of Marvel Collectors' Item Classics and other reprint titles in the mid-sixties would provide a welcome opportunity to actually read these early stories.) And both issues, not so coincidentally, were drawn by Jack Kirby.

What impressed me the most were the fight scenes. Whereas fight scenes in a DC comic lasted all of half a page, a fight in a Marvel comic could take up half the book. In fact, the fight between the Hulk and the Thing that opens FF#26 had begun in the previous issue (which I had not seen) and WAS SUSTAINED with other heroes joining in for almost the entirety of the present one. Add the sympathy and the drama of Mr. Fantastic's illness; the heroes getting clobbered but getting back up and rejoining the fray; Captain America (who I wanted to be); even the Wasp buzzing inside the Hulk's ear to distract him -- all these scenes imbued me with a sense of excitement about the medium heretofore unknown.

I know we're talking comic books here, but Marvel seemed to place their heroes in situations that were somehow less ridiculous than DC. DC's stories were static, like a situation comedy TV show; no matter what went on in one episode, the next began as if nothing had happened. There was almost no continuity from year to year, let alone month to month. Marvel routinely featured stories spread over more than one issue which allowed for ample character development. They fell in love and broke up. (For real!) We (and I think I speak for most readers) came to care about the characters.

It would still take me another year after experiencing the wonders of FF #26 until I began buying all of Marvel's super-hero titles every month. 1965 was my banner year. I would turn 10 and comics became my life until girls discovered me at the age of 17.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Worlds of Joe Kubert: Three Books by Bill Schelly

I have read many biographies and reprint volumes of comic book creators and often have been disappointed. Many bios do not have enough illustrations to demonstrate the talent of their subject.  Often, reprint volumes do not discuss the reasons for their selections, making one suspect that they only printed what they could get their hands on.

Bill Schelly comes through again.  Bill has authored great books on Comic Fandom and bios of great men in comics including John Stanley, Harvey Kurtzman..   He does a totally enjoyable and thorough job with Joe Kubert.  

Bill is smart and knew that one book could not contain everything, so he authored three all published by Fantagraphics:

Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert "(2008)

The Art of Joe Kubert” (2011) 

Weird Horrors & Daring Adventures: The Joe Kubert Archives" (2013)

I am writing this blog simply because I enjoyed these books so much and learned so much and thought you might, too.

Often when books on famous artists are published. Often, they reprint stories with no reason given why that story is published.  I have learned, in many cases, it is because the “editor” did not select the stories, they were the only ones he could find. As mentioned frequently  bios do not have enough images that relate to the text. And finally, many reproductions of art are poor. Thank Gosh! None of that is the case here!!!!! I have compared these images to others that have been reproduced (and will show comparisons to some below). They are wonderful here.

Please beg, buy or borrow The Art of Joe Kubert to see what I mean. Kubert is most renowned for drawing the Hawkman comics of both the Golden and Silver Age and for his war comics, most legendarily that of Sgt. Rock. That’s why the title, “Man of Rock” fits so well.

I did NOT want to write a blog with me paraphrasing and condensing what Bill wrote, so I will have some fun quoting others and give a brief tour of the incredible journeys Joe Kubert has taken us on throughout the years.

When the best artists of the Silver Age and the years just prior to that era are discussed, you’ll always find the names Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood and Jim Steranko discussed.  Joe Kubert (September 18, 1926 – August 12, 2012) is often, sadly, not mentioned.  I can think of four reasons:
  1. Kubert mainly drew for DC in the sixties. Because Marvel routinely listed credits long before DC made that a standard procedure, fans were more aquatinted with their artists.
  2. DC insisted (or demanded?) on a stronger house style and the artists’ different styles were not as distinctive.
  3. DC’s audience was slightly younger who was less interested in the creators and more interested in the comic.
  4. Finally, while Joe Kubert had done stories for so many genres, he was not dominant in the super-hero line, he was most famous for his war stories.  Although these comics sold very well, and were frequently best sellers, comic book fandom in the 1960as through the early 1970s gave most of their attention to the super-hero artists.

Roy Thomas for this blog: “Joe Kubert has been my favorite comic book artist since 1945.  He's probably one of the first comics creators I knew by name, since his signature was on many of the Hawkman stories I loved and continue to love.  He had a flair for dramatic layouts that was influenced by early Mort Meskin and, for me, rivaled the excitement of stories produced by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in that period.  To me, his best work was in the TOR series he wrote and drew for St. John in the first half of the 1950s, but there's never been a Kubert job whose art didn't appeal to me... although, not being a fan of war comics, I rarely bought the Sgt. Rock and related material.  Joe was also a nice guy, and I'll never forget his friendliness to me the day I spoke with him at DC during my first week there.  One of the most treasured pieces of artwork in my collection is a 1946 Hawkman page he drew.”

I usually follow Lewis Carroll’s advice: start at the beginning and continue to the end and then stop.  But here, I want to begin with the points I made above and that Bill addresses so well in his books. For example, why Kubert did so little work for Marvel:

Bill writes:“…the new brass at DC (after Carmine Infantino left) were enamored with Kubert's work. Also, other publishers would have been more than happy to leap into the breach. According to Roy Thomas, who had succeeded Stan Lee as editor-in-chief of Marvel, "Stan once told me he'd love to have Joe Kubert come over from DC [to Marvel]. But he wanted to have Joe inked by another artist. I told Joe about that years later, and he said ‘What?!?' I can understand Stan's viewpoint. He liked Joe's structure and storytelling and dramatics, but Joe has a sort of sketchy, impressionistic inking style, and Stan always preferred tighter inking. He was thinking that, if he could get that pow­erful penciling but just tighten up the inking.... The problem is, with Joe, all you'd have as pencils is scribbles, since so much of his artwork is in his inking. Still, I'm sure Joe would've worked out well at Marvel then, as he did when he did a bit of work there years later. Of all the artists I most wanted to work with and didn't get a chance to, at the top of the list was Joe. But DC was still giving Joe plenty of work."'

As for his war stories:
Roy Thomas, quoted in Man of Rock … asked Kubert the following "what if" question: "I've wondered this for years; by the time Hawkman finally got a regular series in Mystery in Space after the second Brave & Bold tryout, you were too busy doing war stories and the like to be the artist [and Murphy Anderson was given the assignment]. But what if Hawkman had become a regular book a bit earlier? What if, instead of drawing B&B #42-44 as a second tryout, you'd have been drawing Hawkman #1-3—with #4 definitely scheduled for two months later, with no interruption in your schedule? Do you think it's more likely you'd have remained as Hawkman artist?"

Kubert answered, "I don't know. I might have. It would all have depended on my schedule at the time. But maybe then I'd have gotten busy doing Hawkman every two months, and I might not have been available for as much war work. It's hard to say. You know the reason I started doing all that work for Bob Kanigher on the war comics wasn't really because I loved war comics."

Bill continues, While it's true that Kubert had been the right artist for Hawkman in the 1940s, his artwork had changed so much that it was almost impossible to believe the new adventures of the Winged Wonders were drawn by the same person. This was partly the result of the evolution of a highly personal style, which he came up with outside the superhero genre. When Sgt. Rock came along, Kubert applied himself artwise to the nature and character of the strip; he developed a dark, gritty, impressionistic, somewhat illustrative approach that fit the war comic-book genre perfectly.
Kubert's lack of acceptance on a superhero feature highlighted how far his work had come, and how the change took him to an area not appreciated by a large portion of the comic-buying public. The evolved style that had partly come from an adaptation to the genres that dominated the 1950s began to show a downside when the heroes came roaring back in the Silver Age.

Schelly’s book begins where so many other books on famous comic creators do: Jewish immigrants settle in New York. Joe Kubert was born Yosaif Kubert in Ozeryany, Poland, in 1926,in an area that today is part of the Ukraine.

Kubert says, "I got my first paying job as a cartoonist for comic books when I was eleven-and-a-half or twelve years old. Five dollars a page. In 1938, that was a lot of money."

Bill writes: Some confusion exists with regard to the exact time frame of these early events. It has been thought that Kubert first appeared in the Harry "A" Chesler comic book production shop in the summer of 1938, not long after Action Comics #1 introduced Superman to the world. He would have been eleven years old, just finished with sixth grade. Kubert himself has often dated his first trip to Manhattan (for this purpose) in that year, at that age. However, in other accounts, he has stated with certainty that his first visit was to the offices of MLJ Publications, at the behest of a young relative of one of the firm's owners. His memories of that initial visit are clear and detailed. But if that was really his first such visit, then it had to be in 1939 when he was twelve years old, because MLJ didn't publish its first comic books until the latter part of that year. Moreover, the first MLJ comics were products of the Chesler shop, rather than being written and drawn by MLJ's own hired hands; it was only later, after a pay dispute, that much of Chesler's staff moved to MLJ to form an in-house bullpen. It seems most likely that Joe first got to Manhattan in 1939—not 1938—and upon showing up at the MLJ office, he was referred to Harry "A" Chesler where "their staff" was ensconced (though they were still working for Chesler). This squares best with Kubert's memory and the facts of the day, meaning he entered the industry only a year later than has been previously supposed. The date may never be able to be pinned down with a hundred percent certainty.

Certainly Kubert's first stint in a comics shop was with Harry Chesler, though it only amounted to being paid to sit at a table in the large studio and practice. For this, Chesler paid Kubert $5 a week.

Man of Rock, the carefully researched biography, provides details of Kubert’s life. One point that comes up frequently is how Kubert’s art evolved over the years. Kubert was influenced by the “Big Three” of American illustrators: Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, the latter making the biggest impression. Schelly explains and demonstrates Kubert’s evolution in Man of Rock and gives some black and white examples. The chapters are chronological order. The “big” illustrated book, The Art of Joe Kubert, divides his life into chronological art stages and shows wonderful representations of his different “periods.”

I asked Bill about doing three separate books. “When I was writing Man of Rock, Fantagraphics was publishing nice books reprinting Steve Ditko's stories from the Charlton comics of the 1950s. They were doing such a nice job restoring and presenting them, that I got the idea to suggest a similar archive of Kubert's pre-code work. Thus, we did Weird Horrors and Daring Adventures. As for The Art of Joe Kubert, I just felt that such a coffee table book should exist. So did Gary Groth, who was my editor as well as publisher. I felt it should have a substantial text, but not go over the same ground that I did in Man of Rock. Instead, I wrote 40,000 words tracing Kubert's artistic evolution: his influences, the reasons why his style changed over the years. We presented the artwork in roughly sequential order, with the most recent stuff toward the back of the book. I thought it worked out well.

Student Artist
Earliest Know work by Kubert, 1938 


Several famous DC characters didn’t start out to be DC characters.  Many came from Max Gaines’ All–American Comics, later bought by DC, including the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and, of course, Hawkman. Because Hawkman, drawn by Sheldon Moldoff often looked so much like the Hawkmen that Alex Raymond had created for Flash Gordon, the editor at All–American, Sheldon Mayer, was looking for a new artist. Moldoff had also borrowed scenes from Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. For a tryout script, Mayer gave Kubert a Dr. Fate story by Gardner Fox entitled “The Man Who Relived His Life.” It was for All-Star Comics #2 (Summer 1944). Liking the artwork from the almost eighteen-year old, Mayer then gave him a Hawkman story that would appear in the upcoming big All-American comic. It was called “A Hot Time in the Old Town.” Kubert earned Mayer’s approval and he was given the job of drawing Hawkman regularly in both Flash Comics and in All-Star Comics. What Shelly does so brilliantly here is discuss the artistic influences on Kubert’s life, including Mort Meskin and, believe it or not, Carl Barks in the Donald Duck stories in Walt Disney comics.

Neal Adams: "Joe's drawings seemed, from the very first, to come from a very primitive place. Like Frazetta, he ignored the boring and mundane and went directly to the powerful and dramatic. As Joe matured, he never lost that gut-level powerful style. In a world of technically proficient artists, Joe's gristle stands out and hits you in the face. My own style gains its grit almost totally from Joe Kubert."


One  may discuss the changes in Kubert’s style as other authors have and perhaps show an illustration or two, but Schelly gives us a beautiful book, The Art of Joe Kubert, and you can see this art for yourself, it’s wonderful.

“Kubert's subsequent stint as a comic book entrepreneur, mainly in conjunction with the pub­lisher Archer St. John, highlights another facet of his approach to the medium: The romantic, color­ful side of his creative personality. Also evident is the innovative spirit that led to the introduction of 3-D comic books, and the creative intelligence that resulted in Tor the Hunter, his caveman with a con­science, which showed what Kubert could do when he was both writing and drawing.
Then follows the great variety of genres Kubert handled in the mid-to-late 1950s after the 3-D experiment crashed and burned. With his auteurist aspirations now on hold, how would his art develop as he toiled for a variety of publishers, all of whose editors had different requirements and expectations? Kubert shuttled among many of them, including Harvey Kurtzman at EC, Stan Lee at Atlas, Charles Biro on the last issues of Crime Does Not Pay, and Robert Kanigher on the DC war comics. Having achieved a reputation for professionalism, versatility, and unstinting commitment to the work, Kubert unsurprisingly became one of DC's top-tier artists by the decade's end.”

                              Auteur and Tor

The Auteur section really belongs to Kubert’s Tor, which first appeared in 1953. Schelly proposes that this idea probably evolved from the sketches of dinosaurs and monsters which Kubert had done on the covers of Flash Comics, with inspiration from the Tarzan comics. Hal Roach’s One Million B.C., was a popular 1939 movie that also seems to be an inspiration.

Kubert wrote how “Tor” differs physically from his modern counterparts. “Note the heavy brow and strong jaw. I envisioned him as a skilled hunter whose broad nose is highly adapted to pick up a scent.  Short hair in front does not obstruct his sight while the hair in back protects his neck. Forearm lizard skin protects his wrists, torso and legs. He is heavily muscled, but success in his daily life depends on a combination of brain and brawn.”

Tor Artist Edition

Here is what Mark Hanerfeld wrote in Alter Ego #10, 1969:
You know the line. I mean the one about how comic-books can't really be art because so many people are involved in the production of the thing. And how there are different pencilers, and inkers and colorists. and how most of the stories are written by other people anyhow! … You almost always get it   from the ones who like their opinions … predigested (although, at times I have gotten it from people who should have known better). Whenever I get any of these people. I usually sit them down in a comfortable chair, and hit them with something I call the Tor Gambit…. That's when I hit them with the clincher. I double back to their original qualifications and tell them all about Tor.
It goes something like this: Back around 1953, there was this enterprising comics group called the St. John Publishing Co. whose publisher, Archer St. John, had the foresight and daring to allow an artist to edit, write, pencil, letter, ink, color, and even own the rights to his own character. Why, the artist even got to share in the magazine's profits! Unheard of!! The comic book was called Tor, and the artist was Joe Kubert. Tor was a caveman adventure strip set in the world of one million years ago, and although the ecological balance was a bit jumbled for story's sake, the strip had an air of reality about it that grew out of the powerfully-drawn characters and settings. Even though later issues occasionally employed the writing talents of Bob Bernstein and the inking talents of Bob Bean, the strip still bore the distinctive stamp of a Joe Kubert creation; the product of one man’ s thought and imagination.
From Alter Ego #10

By the time I've finished haranguing my poor victim with words and with illustrations if I have my copies of the magazines handy), he is customarily ready to grudgingly admit that, yes, some comic-books can be art. No mean accomplishment, I assure you. But chances are, if you're reading this, you already know all that because you already are a comics fan. However, if you're a new fan, you may not have heard of, let alone actually seen Tor. Well, let's remedy that situation here and now!

Tor’s premier appearance was in the September 1953 issue of a comic entitled  on the cover as “1,000,000 YEARS AGO!” Eventually the book would be retitled “Tor In The World of 1 Million Years Ago.” However the book was first conceived as a multiple feature magazine, and contents of the first issue included a one-page introduction by co-creators and longtime friends Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer; an 11-page Tor origin tale by Kubert, a six-page caveman humor feature called “The Wizard of Ugghh” by Maurer, and seven pages of “Danny Dreams,” a strip by Kubert that was destined to be a co-feature in all future Tor issues.

Don Glut “Thanks to the work and obvious love that went into the series what might have become a standard adventure strip, with a man battling monsters within the usual prehistoric world settings and situation, was elevated to art.”

Tor was to appear and reappear many times throughout Kubert’s career. And at different companies, including Marvel and DC.

The 1950s:

Three from Atlas/Marvel:

Battle #37, 1955 (Thanks to Michael J. Vassallo, Y.S.G.)

Uncanny Tales #26, 1955

Marines in Battle #7, 1955

The 1950s was a difficult time for comics. Declining sales were caused by the new TV programs, the comic book reader becoming older, and loss of sales to the military which had been huge during World War II. As we all know, crime and horror comics seemed to be what everyone wanted to read. One of the things I like about Bill Schelly’s books is that he assumes you know about the Comics Code and how it started in 1955 and does not spend a lot of time on it, although it is always summarized. In Weird Horrors and Daring Adventures, Schelly reprints 33 Kubert stories from 1944 to 1955. “Free from the conservative constraints of DC comics where he cut his teeth on Hawkman in Flash Comics one can sense the visceral joy that he felt as he tackled the pulpy, punchy scripts that came his way.” Instead of single panels, we get over thirty stories, reprinted with great quality and care. While it says Volume I it will be the only volume. Schelly: “The book sold well, but used most of the top rate public domain material, and just about ALL the good pre-Code horror and crime (plus we'd used 50 pages of great stuff in The Art of Joe Kubert.”

Here is a very interesting part of the saga, presented well.  The Art of Joe Kubert presents  many interesting pictures from this era.

Weird Horrors publishes 33 complete stories, reproduced very well. Other publishers have reprinted some of these stories but not so carefully.   Here are three, back to  back examples

On your left are Schelly's reprints from Strange Worlds. On the right are the  recent reprints from PS Publishing.

As Bill writes in “Man of Rock” in later years, Kubert would have an interesting take on this difficult time: "I know it was tough on some people, but it's been my experience that every once in a while, there's a shaking out point [in comics]. During times when books are generally selling well, people are hired not because they're really good, but because they are just barely good enough. They can turn the stuff out, often for less money, but when the going gets a little rough, when the competition gets a little heavy, when books are not selling so well, then quality is really the deciding factor on whether a book gets published. The first ones to go are those people who have marginal abilities.
"I have found that during the bad times, the good guys are busier than ever because that's when the editors and publishers are very, very selective. Invariably, the people who are really good are inundated, because everyone wants top qual­ity. It's really ironic, but during lean times, the better people are busier than they’ve ever been.”

Professional: Silver Age

One of the most important jobs Kubert ever did was inking the pencils of Carmine Infantino for the premiere of the Barry Allen Flash in Showcase #4 (Sep-Oct 1956). How did he get this job? Joe speculated in later years, “... it was probably no more complicated than I happen to show up at the DC offices when they needed the issue inked in a hurry. I had experience inking Carmine’s pencils. It was as simple as that.”

With the success of the Flash, editor Julius Schwartz began to bring back other Golden Age heroes. The Brave and the Bold #34 (Feb-Mar 1961) featured the first Silver Age Hawkman story, “The Creature of a Thousand Shapes!” It was written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Joe.

About the new updated, science-fictional Hawkman, Kubert wrote, “Julius Schwartz asked me if I would be interested in drawing Hawkman again. My answer was a resounding yes! I believe Hawkman will benefit from my experience of two decades in the comic book business. I feel I can imply things I couldn’t even visualize 15 years ago. I sincerely hope that the readers will enjoy reading Hawkman as much as I will enjoy drawing him.”

Sgt. Rock was not created by Kubert. In fact he often said that “Rock was Bob’s (Kanigher) idea from start to finish, as far as I’m concerned.” Sgt. Rock’s origin is a bit of a controversy. That’s because people other than Kanigher wrote several stories in the series and several artists illustrated them. The story “The Rock” in G.I. Combat #68, 1959, was when the name Rock was first used. Kubert was given tremendous leeway in how he wanted to present the stories by his editor and writer, Kanigher. Kubert developed the look and the feel of the strip which made it so successful.

Enemy Ace
Kanigher: "Joe, I've got an idea for a new character. A World War One air ace. He's a loner, moody, and has downed more enemy planes than all the other pilots in his group combined. "His fellow flyers can't get close to him. He's different from the others. His only friend is a wild wolf in the forest. Wordlessly, they communicate. Both are killing machines and their common fate is loneliness. And here's the kicker, Joe. The flyer is a German air ace." (From Enemy Ace Archives #1)
Joe Kubert: So, when Bob asked if I'd be interested in illustrating the Enemy Ace stories, my answer was a resounding affirmative. Bob always had the ability, both in writing and orally, to evoke a strong response in my imagination. His words had the power to create clear, exciting, dramatic, dynamic pictures in my mind. I could see the pictures as I would want to draw them, and I couldn't wait to get to my drawing board.
When I got the first script from Bob, it was my responsibility to research my end of the project. As I've done with all my stories, my first steps were to the library and bookstores to find as many picture references as possible. In this case I was particularly hard driven to educate myself in terms of the air war of World War One. The character of the Enemy Ace and the script drove me. I wanted to achieve a credible picture that would be accepted by the readers, just as I had accepted the premise of the story.
Two from the Enemy Ace Artist Editions

Tales of the Green Berets

Schelly points out that too many of the summaries of Kubert’s life concentrate solely on Hawkman (Golden and Silver Age), Enemy Ace and Sgt. Rock.

Yet if one were to stop with the heights his art reached on "Rock," "Hawkman," and "Enemy Ace," as Kubert approached his 40th year, one would miss the further growth that came when he drew the Tales of the Green Beret newspaper comic strip, or when he became the editor, writer, and artist of DC's relaunch of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan in the 1970s. These accomplishments reveal new fac­ets of the Kubert aesthetic. Similarly, the curriculum of the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Art, founded in 1976, tells a great deal about his personal approach to telling stories in sequential art form. The way Kubert dealt with the multitude of changes that came to the comic book industry in the 1980s and 1990s, both technical and creative, is also illuminating.
Throughout his career, Joe Kubert has shown a questing creative spirit, remarkable energy and commitment to the work, and an exceptional ability to evoke all the excitement and emotional potentialities the four-color medium can offer. Thus, his work is deservedly ranked with other writer-artists who loom largest in the history of comics.

Often, the goal of a comic book artist was to draw a daily or weekly comic strip which paid more money. Kubert got his opportunity when Neal Adams, who had drawn the Dr. Kildare comic strip, declined to draw a comic strip based on Robin Moore’s novel The Green Berets. Upon getting the job, Kubert visited the Special Warfare Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Kubert said, “Now that I see the men themselves I recognize most of them from the book Robin wrote. I seem to be meeting old friends. I can now draw these people; they are no longer vague or fictional characters. They are real. Period. I’ll remember those eyes whenever I draw a Green Beret soldier.” There was no Sunday page at first, so Kubert worked to create a 12-week series of three- and four-panel daily strips. After a test run in September 1965, the series began on Monday, April 4, 1966. It was syndicated by the Chicago Tribune. This was, unfortunately, just as the Viet Nam anti-war protests erupted across the United States and more and more papers stopped running the series. The writer, Jerry Capp. kept inserting his politics into the strip, making it less of an adventure story. Kubert walked away from drawing it on January 7, 1968.

 (Scans thanks to Michael J. Vassallo, Y.S.G.)

Tony Isabella for this blog: Kubert's lifetime of accomplishments is staggering to consider.  All those great comics.  His work on the Tales of the Green Beret newspaper strip.  His work on PS Magazine for the military.  His school and all the wonderful comics creators who passed through its halls.

Tarzan, 1972:

One bright, sunny day, Carmine (Infantino) called me into his office. "Joe," he said with a broad smile, "how would you like to do Tarzan?" Carmine and I had known each other since we started in this business. If anyone knew of my love for Burroughs' Tarzan, he did. I jumped at it.
Here was an opportunity for me to connect again with the joys of my childhood. To infuse myself into the world of Tarzan, the Ape-Man, and to write and draw the character that had been an inspiration to me.

First, I re-read all the Tarzan novels. This was step one in re-acquainting myself with the origin. Then, I studied Foster's work, some of which I had never seen before. I learned that Tarzan first appeared in newspapers as a series of captioned illustrations rather than sequential panels. In fact, Foster never included balloons for dialogue in either Tarzan or in his later work, Prince Valiant. My intent in doing Tarzan was to inject the excitement and immediacy that I felt when I read Tarzan for the very first time. I made every effort to recapture the reality that was so pervasive to me.”

Robin Snyder, for this blog:  I knew and loved the forward-moving Kubert and worked with him at DC, Western and The Comics! He was always focused on the here and now and looking up ahead to the current and next project. Ask him about an issue of Rock from 1, 10 or 20 years back and he would only generalize. Out of sight, out of mind. Ask him about his current work and he could be very specific, enthusiastic.

  We attended a comics convention and were discussing cover design. I mentioned to him that I long ago had imagined the same artist had drawn the covers of The Brave and the Bold, G.I. Combat, Our Army at War and Wonder Woman. I told him they looked similar to me.
Showcase #87

Our Army At War #196

  Joe asked about the period and I told him this was in the mid-50s. He laughed and suggested I was recognizing the design elements of Kanigher and not the execution by Novick, Grandenetti, Kubert and Hasen.

  An aside. Yes, I was able to differentiate the artists on the inside but not the covers. Joe’s Tor looked nothing like Novick’s war stories. 

School Days

Bill also presents the time that Kubert served as an editor and gives a great deal of the history  information on the comic art school Kubert opened and ran.
Lesson #1

Graphic Novelist.

Tony Isabella for this blog: What made me admire Kubert even more was his ability, right to the end of his life, to create comic books and graphic novels that were every bit as good and, in the case of Yossel, better than even the incredible comics he had done in the past.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved Yossel when he was a guest at a Mid-Ohio-Con.

I asked Bill Schelly why he did three separate books on Kubert.  Here are the questions and answers:

How old were you when you started reading comics? 
 Eight years old, during the summer of 1960. If I read comics before that, which I might have, I don't remember them at all.

 What was your first comic? 
The first one was either the Nancy and Sluggo Summer Camp giant of 1960, which I realized decades later, was written by the great John Stanley, or the Giant Superman Annual #1, which came out about a week later.

 Was there a comic that “hooked” you?
 It was that Giant Superman Annual in 1960. When I saw it on the newsstand, it just jumped out at me. I don't know exactly why. I must have known who Superman was, maybe from reruns of the Adventures of Superman TV show. I think it was because it was an 80-page "special" comic book, which had "everything about Superman." The minute I convinced my Dad to buy it for me, I had my nose in it, and was absolutely spellbound. I loved the colorful, imaginative artwork and of course the Man of Steel himself. After that, I did what I could to get my hands on more Superman comic books, and it just went on from there.

When did you start noticing or keeping track of artists in the comics?
 My comic book reading from eight to about eleven was almost exclusively Superman and Batman comic books. I was probably ten when I began to really notice differences in the way Superman was drawn, and decided I liked Superman best when he was drawn by Wayne Boring or Curt Swan, although I didn't know their names. These were in issues from 1960 to 1962 or so. Same with Batman. For me, Dick Sprang was the "good Bob Kane." But it wasn't until I got into Marvel Comics in late 1963 that I knew the names of the artists, since they published them right on the first page of each story. I became a huge fan of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby

 How did you discover the Golden Age of Comics? Who were your favorite Golden Age creators or characters?
 The back cover of Giant Superman Annual #1 in 1960 gave me the first awareness that there were comic books published "a long time ago," because it had the covers of Superman #1 and other early covers. It wasn't until I joined comic fandom in 1964 that I began hearing about "the golden age" and realized that comics had been published way back in the days before World War II.  My favorite creators were Otto Binder and C. C. Beck on Captain Marvel, and Will Eisner's The Spirit, in those great old newspaper inserts published all through the 1940s.

 When did you first discover Joe Kubert?
 I was a little too young to appreciate Kubert's work on the Hawkman revival in The Brave and the Bold. I saw the ads for those issues, but only saw them if a friend had one, or at the barber shop. They seemed too dark and confusing for my young brain. At that time, I loved Sheldon Moldoff's work on Batman, which was neat, clean and colored in bright primary colors.

 When did you first see his Golden Age Hawkman? What did you think of those stories and what did they tell you about Kubert?

 I came late to the Golden Age Hawkman, since I didn't own any Golden Age comic books due to their cost, when all I had for spending money was my allowance. I probably first saw them when a story was reprinted during DC's big reprint binge of the early 1970s. By then, I had become a fan of his work on Sgt. Rock. I started to appreciate Kubert when I read those Sgt. Rock-Viking Prince "team up" stories, and also Enemy Ace.

I’ll leave the final words to Bill and I echo his thoughts on this!!!!

All three books are still in print. And I'd like to encourage all true-blue Kubert fans to buy all three, as they complement each other quite well. It's not about making money -- it's about wanting those books to be read and appreciated, since so much loving care went into them, and because I really believe they all offer something unique and valuable about Joe's amazing art and career. I hate to think of the remaining copies just sitting there, unread. And they are all, by now, available at pretty good discounts somewhere on the internet.

I would like to greatly thank Carl Thiel, Michael J. Vassallo, Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella and Robin Snyder for their efforts in putting this together!!!!!

An Addendum: Kubert's work for Marvel