Joe Kubert Interview

(October 2005) Sgt. Rock. Tor. Enemy Ace. Fax From Sarajevo. Hawkman. The mention of any of these titles is enough to make any comics fan think of Joe Kubert, yet it only scratches the surface of his body of work. This month, Dark Horse presents Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Vol. 1, a collection of his Tarzan work from the 1970s. Westfield's Roger Ash recently spoke with Kubert about this collection of his classic material as well as what's coming in the future.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the stories that are collected in Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years Vol. 1?

Joe Kubert: Those were stories that I had re-adapted from the original Burroughs' novels. I tried to stay as true to them as I could. Those were the stories that I had loved when I was a kid and especially the first series which appeared that Hal Foster had done prior to the newspaper strip. There was a series of illustrations with large captions on the bottom that was run almost like the novel itself. Those were the things that I really loved the first time that I read the stories and I tried to repeat that. Hopefully, the people that would be reading my version would get the same kind of kick out of the stuff that I did when I read it those many years ago.

Westfield: So these are all adaptations?

Kubert: They are not all adaptations. If I understand correctly, Dark Horse is doing three collections in order. The first one is the first four which are the first Tarzan books.

Westfield: What was it like revisiting this material?

Kubert: Oh, it was great. It was a whole bunch of fun for me. I enjoyed it very, very much. It's an opportunity that very few people get, I think, but it was like revisiting the time when I was a kid and really got the greatest joy out of reading the Tarzan novels, comic books, and so on. I tried my damndest to inject that kind of thing in the stuff I was doing.

Westfield: Do you think it still holds up well?

Kubert: I sure do. In fact, I think, especially with the stuff that Hal Foster did when he first took over the Tarzan things, I came to appreciate that even more now than I did when I first saw it. What I tried to do in this particular series was to do the work as simply and as cleanly as I possibly could with the idea in mind of focusing on those things that were completely and totally important in terms of the storytelling and to get as emotional an impact that I could in the illustrations that I did so that reader looking at the stuff would feel that sort of immediacy, like it was happening right in front of their eyes. That's what I tried to do with all the work.

Westfield: How did you originally become involved with doing the Tarzan book?

Kubert: The Tarzan book was a contract that DC had obtained from the Burroughs' people. My understanding was that they were pretty agreeable to my doing it.

Westfield: How much input did the Burroughs' Estate have in the stories?

Kubert: None. I think the only thing, and I think this was a judgment by DC, was the numbering of the books was a continuation of whoever it was who had licensed the character from the Burroughs' before we did it. But that was the only involvement and the only thing we had to follow through with. Other than that, I had complete and total freedom to either use the old material, use other material, or do my own stories, which I did. There were several stories that I did originally from conception. It was great. It was a blast.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you're working on you'd like to mention?

Kubert: Right now, I'm doing a series of Sgt. Rock that's on my drawing table as we speak. It's another revisitation I guess. It will be a six-issue series that I'm writing and drawing and coloring and lettering. The whole bit. It will then be included in a graphic novel.

There are two graphic novels that are going to be coming out in October. One is the reissue of a Holocaust book called Yossel which is coming out in softcover. The second one is a new one, black and white, 140 pages in length, called Jew Gangster.

Westfield: What can you tell us about that? That's an intriguing title.

Kubert: [laughs] Some people were kind of shocked at it. The fact of the matter is that it's a reflection of the time that I grew up in New York when I was a kid. I grew up during the time of Murder Incorporated. I lived in Brooklyn in that section of town which was mostly occupied by Jewish immigrants that had just come to the United States. A lot of the things that are included in that story I guess to some extent are biographical. The strongest admonition that a father could give to a son in the neighborhood in which I grew up was, "what are you going to be? A Jew Gangster?" Which was the worst thing that any kid could do. In fact, there were very good friends of mine who did kind of fall into that category to some extent. It was during the Depression. It was very difficult for anybody to bring a dollar in. The easiest way a lot of times was to do it a little bit illegally. I was lucky because I loved to draw and that kind of kept me occupied and out of a lot of trouble I otherwise could have gotten into. That's coming from iBooks.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Kubert: I'm very grateful that at this stage of the game that I'm still busy. I'm drawing and doing that which I love to do and find myself in a position where people are still interested in publishing my work and reading my work. How lucky can you get?