Below is part two, including the follow-up questions and my interview with Joe about Muriel and her contributions to the family, to his career, and to their school for cartoonists. God bless them both. Few leave such a legacy, few have such an impact on so many in the business.
Muriel Kubert interview
P2: Thursday, March 7, 2002
BB: What is the experience like, to be able to first open that thing (the Kubert School)?
MK: Exciting. It's still exciting. You look around and you look in the comic books. Sometimes I'll take a look in the Buyer’s Guide - very rarely - and I'll see the names of our kids. It's really something. And we have international students too. There's one boy, that I used to call my Nigerian son, he's now the top political cartoonist in England. It's wild. It really is.
BB: So that first 22, do you remember all 22 of them?
MK: I don't know about all 22 of them. There was Rick Veitch. There was Steve Bissette. There was John Totleben, or did he come a little bit later?
BB: They all still hang together, the three you just mentioned. They all hit Swamp Thing at one point or another. They all traded off from each other. Are those some of the guys that stand out?
MK: Tom Yeates. I’m trying to remember the names. It's going back, what, 26 years?
BB: Once the school is open, what are you doing the school?
MK: I was there all day. Early in the morning until school closed, I think we closed at 4:30. I love to cook, but at that period of our lives, we opened up a charge account at the diner because I didn’t have time to cook.
BB: So what are you doing all day? What's your day like at the school?
BB: No, then.
MK: I often would handout the attendance sheets to the teachers because Joe hired some of the teachers, he didn't teach it all by himself.
BB: So you were the administrator?
MK: Oh yes. I had the art supplies in a cabinet. If a student needed something, I'd have it there. Now we have a whole, huge art store, open to the public.
BB: How about in getting instructors back then? With 22 students, how many instructors did you have?
MK: I know Ric Estrada. I don't know if he was there at the beginning or not. Hy Eisman was...Irwin Hasen, Tex Blaisdell, Dick Giordano and Lee Elias.
BB: Why were these people chosen?
MK: Joe knew them. None of them are teachers. They're professionals who teach. They don't have a background in education, otherwise they would be teaching something else. These are professional cartoonists that teach.
BB: Looking back, were they good teachers?
MK: The kids love them and they did very well. The graduates from the time are doing very well. So they must have been good teachers.
BB: How do you do it differently now than you didn't back then?
MK: Bigger. Now we're in a big building. We bought the old Dover high school. The building that we originally opened, the mansion I was telling about, is a full dormitory.
BB: You had those first 22 staying there at the school?
MK: I think a couple of them commuted, if I remember correctly. No, all 22 didn't stay.
BB: To have this huge dormitory, what percentage of people room there?
MK: I don't know - probably half.
BB: What's that like? Are you the “mother hen” over these guys?
MK: I don’t go into the school any more. I work out of the house. My daughter-in-law, Debbie Kubert, took over my spot. She runs the school. Of course, Joe is there every day and she works with Joe. But she's the director now and not me.
BB: When you were the director, were you “mother hen” to the guys in that first-class?
MK: Yes. Sometimes, when we first opened, I would bring in some homemade brownies or something like that. I guess you could call it a mother hen.
BB: Not that raising five kids isn’t an enormous job, but how about the demands on everybody's time when, all of a sudden, you're running a school together. Is it fun to be working together with your husband? A lot of people can't hack that.
MK: Yes. The only reason it worked was that he had his “balewick” and I had mine. He was in charge of anything to do with art because I wouldn't dream of imposing on anything about the art because I don't know anything about it.
Mine was the business end of it and also, because I respected him as a businessman, we would confer on the business end. I did the bookkeeping and all of that.
Then two years into it - you have to be established in it for two years before you can apply for accreditation -we applied for the accreditation, which is an unbelievable amount of work. It still is. The paperwork is horrendous, but it's worth it because it shows and indicates to parents and students that we are a legitimate school.
BB: Do you have to conform to certain standards to get this accreditation or how does that work? Is there anything that makes you say, “yes we want accreditation but I know about what they're asking here?”
MK: You have to adhere to their rules and regulations, otherwise you won’t get the accreditation. As I said, every five years now, we have to go through accreditation. You have to submit what they call an SER - evaluation report - which sometimes is a couple hundred pages.
They “x-ray” you. They have team of educators who come to the school for one or two days and talk to students, talk to teachers, go through your files, everything. It’s the same as anything else, a hospital or anything else at that requires accreditation.
BB: How is Joe juggling still being an editor DC, with you guys still running the school and still doing artwork?
MK: At that point? He made the time. He's able to juggle and compartmentalize and he's fast. That's what they tell me anyway.
BB: Was 22 students enough to make a living off of the school?
MK: We always said that we're not like other schools. I've met other school owners. Some of them look at every student with a dollar sign over their heads. We didn't and we don't.
We're independent because Joe makes a very good living without the school. We could afford to be independent. If a student didn't shape up, cut classes, failed, we'd kick him out. We still kick them out.
BB: Were there times there in the beginning, with only 22 students, that you were using income to supplement the school, to keep going? Was it able to pay for itself right from the start?
MK: I don't remember, but it probably paid for itself, but we didn't care. What's more important is the reputation of the school. I think we've achieved that. I think the reputation is top drawer because we don't hesitate to dismiss a student from the school if we don't think he belongs there.
BB: How many students do you have now?
MK: About 140, 150 - something like that.
BB: Is that the amount you guys want? Do you feel comfortable with that? Do you always feel like you have to open up more spaces because more people want to keep coming in?
MK: Joe won’t accept much more than 110 students at all. We don't want a university. We want quality, instead of quantity.
BB: What was it like for some of those students, given that Joe would put some of those students on his material right off the bat? In terms of guys coming from the school, he's working in DC and is able to lead these guys right into the industry.
MK: If they had the ability. Or they would go out knowing the names, etc, they would go and obtain the jobs themselves.
BB: You didn't just offer just an education in drawing but also in the-
MK: We offer business-related courses, if you could call it that.
BB: In terms of how to break into the comic industry or in terms of other industries related to art?
MK: In terms of copyrights and legalities and contracts. However, Joe tells the students at every graduation, “don't forget about us.” He means it. He has them coming in during summer, or any time, to help them go over their portfolio, make sure the portfolio is suited for the position from which they are applying. We don't forget about our students.
BB: What has Joe gotten from the school? What does he take pride in especially?
MK: You'd have to ask him.
BB: But you can see it in him.
MK: He's proud of the alumni. It gets aggravating when you see a kid who professes he wants to come to the school, then during the first year he cuts classes and doesn't do his homework, etc. That bothers you. Especially when Daddy is paying bills. Thank God those are few and far between.
BB: Whose idea was that to do correspondents courses?
MK: I think it was both of us.
BB: Has that worked out well?
MK: Yes, it's working out very well. It’s building and it's constant. What's so interesting is we have correspondence school kids from all over the world - Singapore and Malaysia and South Africa. It's amazing.
BB: Did you worry that this wasn’t going to work, having them way out, potentially, on the other side of the planet? What were some of the worries involved in setting up that?
MK: I was just worried about the mail getting through there. With some of these South American countries, there is a problem with the mail, but we've overcome that by sending it with express mail or something like that. I think just a couple of packages of the lost in the couple of years that we've had the school, but it's not too bad.
BB: Would you guys mail a lot of artwork during the '50s and '60s to DC? Were there any episodes where you mailed something out and it just disappeared?
MK: There wasn't FedEx at that time. Either you get a messenger to bring it in or you would bring it in yourself.
BB: So there were no stories where a whole story flew the coop?
MK: Not at that time. We’re thankful today for faxes and FedEx and UPS.
BB: He's had such a great career over the years and has been so well regarded but was there any hitches or disappointments in his career that he's had to whether that you guys remember?
MK: I don't think so. I think he's been very fortunate, very lucky and whatever he's attempted has worked that I can remember.
BB: And now he's got the two sons who are at the peak of the industry.
MK: We are so proud of that.
BB: Did they ever feel pressured to enter the school?
MK: No, they told us they wanted to. You're talking about enrolling in the school? They told us. Adam, after he graduated RIT, said he wanted to be a cartoonist and he wanted to come to the school. And Andy, after he left RIT, said he wanted to.
We didn't pressure them. In fact, we tried making it harder for them. We told them, “look, you're Joe Kubert's children. You have to be better as far as attendance and getting everything done on time. You've got to be better than the other ones.” We can't play favorites, and we didn’t.
BB: Was there resistance to them being in the school from other students?
MK: I wouldn't think so because they're still friends with a lot of the guys.
BB: In terms of them entering the industry, was that help or hindrance having a father already in there?
MK: I can't speak for that, however, I feel that the name helped. If you don't have the goods, the follow-through, the name won't do any good.
BB: Virginia Romita said about John Jr. there was some resistance when he started out. What about a sibling rivalry between two? Are they best buddies?
MK: Oh they're wonderful. They work together. They ask each other questions. One will ask the other one to look at his work. There isn't any rivalry.
BB: How about healthy competition?
MK: I don't even know if it's competition. It's just, “I'm glad the you're doing this work and I'm doing that work.” They get along beautifully.
BB: If I mention Robert Kanigher, what does that bring to mind? How often would you have met him?
MK: (Just once, I think.) Very talented fellow - very talented. I really don't know anything more about him. His personality was very strong. He did teach at the school way back when.
BB: Who was the best teacher was at the school?
BB: Okay, besides Joe. Can you look back and go that guy really out well or the students really raved about that teacher?
MK: We have a couple that are really good. I don't want to point one out over another. I'm talking about the current ones. We’ve kept some of them for a very long period of time. Hy’s still working for us. Irwin is still commuting from New York to come out.
BB: How often do those two guys come out?
MK: I think once or twice a week, I'm not sure.
BB: Back in the beginning, everyone else's having to earn a living on top of this as well, but they're still able to dedicate some time?
MK: Right, they get paid for it too.
BB: They must love it.
MK: They must. I've never asked but they must.
BB: Did you ever meet Russ Heath?
MK: Yes, in fact, in our first house, when we lived in Parsippany, I remember him coming over with his wife and he had couple of kids at that time. Yeah, I remember Russ - a very, very talented man.
BB: What was his personality?
MK: Very quiet, laid-back, very thorough, very interested in what he was doing. I remember when he was doing something, he would research it to the Nth degree.
BB: Him and John Severin really seem to have that competition between themselves. Did you ever meet John?
MK: Once when we drove out West. We traveled quite a bit with the kids in the summertime and once we stopped at John Severin house in Wyoming. Maybe it was in Colorado. And I remember having dinner there out on their patio. He’s a very lovely man and his wife was lovely.
BB: Was he a quiet guy, a gruff guy?
MK: As far as spending an hour with him, he and Joe talked and I listened.
BB: How about Carmine Infantino?
MK: We’ve known Carmine for a long time. He was an usher at our wedding. He was one of the first cartoonists that Joe introduced me to before we were even married.
BB: So you've known him quite a long time? What was the like way back then?
MK: Very nice and very sweet. Same as he is now. I haven't seen him in years, but I've talked to him on the phone. Very nice
BB: Did you ever get to meet her when Irwin Donenfeld? He may have been gone around the same year Joe became editor.
MK: No, I never met him.
BB: A lot of these people, you’d meet sporadically.
BB: Do you and Joe go to a lot of conventions?
MK: No, not really. Invited to a lot of them, but it takes a lot of time to go and he really doesn't have that much time and we've gone to San Diego a couple of times. I think he went to Chicago once. We've gone to South America and European conventions a few times. It's interesting.
BB: Where are his energies today, going into the school?
MK: Part of it goes into the school and much of it goes into his other projects.
BB: So he still works a healthy 8 to 12 hour day; the same as he always worked in the '50s and onwards?
MK: Well, he's at the school 8:00 every morning until 5:30 or 6:00 at night, Monday through Friday; sometimes Saturdays and Sundays.
BB: Is that a need in him, to keep working?
MK: He loves it. He thrives on it.
BB: He and Will sound a lot like from what I hear.
MK: We just came back from a Caribbean vacation for two weeks. He takes his work with him and does it every morning. He will never retire and neither will I.
BB: Everything is the same as it was beforehand in terms of being busy; he's on the ACTOR disbursement committee? ACTOR, the associative they put together to help out comic book artists who are not doing so well financially.
MK: I think Joe did contribute some artwork to that, if I'm not mistaken. I'm really not familiar with it.
BB: The school has grown to such a large degree. Is that the primary income for the family?
BB: It still comes from Joe's work?
BB: What about pensions and health coverage? In talking to a lot of comic book artists, a lot of them don't come up with that.
MK: We do offer to our instructors a pension and profit sharing plan. They don't contribute - we do it. We do have health insurance, so we're real proud of that. We treat the instructors like we would like to be treated.
BB: What's the effect of September 11th on Joe? I know he contributed to the-
MK: He did. He contributed to both Marvel's and D.C.
BB: Do you remember that day, in terms of the effect it had on both you and Joe?
MK: I was sitting here by myself watching TV waiting for somebody. We watched the first plane, no this was after the first plane and then the second plane hit. I think it was MSNBC I was watching, they had to play back the tape to make sure. I couldn't work the rest of the day. I was glued to the television, I'm sure like everybody else. It was a horror.
BB: And Joe was at the school at the time?
BB: When you're married to an artist what kind of effect does that have on an artist? Are they more sensitive to those kinds of events? Does he come home shaken?
MK: No. I don't think so. Shaken? No. Very upset as we all were - it's only natural - that something like that could happen here.
BB: He contributed to both books?
MK: Yeah, beautiful work. They each called him.
BB: Because he's one of the few that contributed to both.
MK: Is that true?
BB: I don't know how many did, but I certainly remember Joe having done both. There are no company lines when something like that happens. It's great to see everybody bonding together in that regard.
MK: Absolutely. I mean, what else can you do? It's frightening, it really is.
BB: Were do you see the school going into future? Are you happy with the size right now?
MK: Yes, I don't want to get it out of control. When you lose contact with what's going on, it's no good. You'll have another Enron. You have to have hands-on. It's our name that's on the school. It's our reputation and our children's reputation.
BB: So you don't see a Kubert school starting in L.A.?
MK: We've had offers about franchising in France, a franchise in California. No, you can't maintain control. You see some companies that grow too big and they just fall by the wayside.
BB: How do you keep up the energy level in that type of thing. How do you keep it from not going stale?
MK: Well, when you're dealing with people all the time with different wants and different needs, it’s self-fulfilling. You just keep up with it and the industry does change a bit. It’s interesting.
BB: Obviously, the industry is a very interesting place these days in terms of declining sales. Have you felt that impact at the school?
MK: No, not really. Where I meant the industry was changing was with the use of computers, which is becoming more prolific.
BB: How does Joe feel about that? How you feel about that? When Joe started teaching back in the '70s, it was obviously hands-on paper, or pen on paper. Do feel pressured to adapt to computers. How do you guys handle that?
MK: I think you have to maintain a balance. They still have to know the basics: how to letter and colour - for example - but they also have to know all that on the computer. We’re getting more and more computers every year because it was something that was needed.
BB: But when a student comes in and applies to the Kubert school, they're applying as a comic book artist and they can they can take other courses like computer animation and other things. The primary focus will still always be pen on paper?
MK: You haven't seen our catalog, have you?
BB: I've seen the web site.
MK: Our courses are listed on the web site. But when a student comes into the school of first-year student they're required - it's quite different than any other school - to take ten different courses of week. Then, after they successfully complete the first-year, they can go into either animation or cartooning. That's what they choose and they have to be accepted into animation. Not everyone is excepted into it. There are still ten courses, no matter which major in which they enroll.
The third year is also ten courses. In the ten courses, they also get quite a bit of homework. By the time they graduate, they really have a good background in either one of the courses. How did you like the web site?
BB: Very nice, very colorful, informative. You do research for something like this hope and you can find everything you can find. I had no complaints.
MK: We've worked really hard on it and were still working on it. That's my baby.
BB: Is that the thing you've taken over in terms of creating?
MK: Well, I didn’t created it. I didn't actually do it.
BB: That is your baby? You're always actively trying to find-
MK: Different things to do on it.
BB: What's your focus now in life in general?
MK: I can hook up to the school computer, so I can do some of the bookkeeping on it. I do the annual report for accreditation. I do the annual report for the New Jersey Department of Education and all of the bookkeeping for Tell-A-Graphics – our art agency - and all the bookkeeping for the correspondence school, so that keeps me busy.
BB: What's about the discipline and the mental makeup of artists now versus the artists of Joe's generation? What are the similarities and the differences that you've noticed? Are you exposed to enough artists?
MK: No, I'm not. I can't answer that.
BB: In the future, has Adam and Andy expressed interest in running the school at some point?
MK: This year they did become involved in the school. I don't know if you saw our ad. They are teaching now this year. They're becoming more active and they're learning what goes on at the school.
We’re actually quite surprised and pleased that they enjoyed it so much. They really come forth with suggestions. As a parent, it's very pleasing to hear.
BB: You see them in the future taking a more active role in the school? Keep the legacy going?
MK: I hope so.
BB: You have grandkids from them?
MK: I have 11 grandchildren. May I brag? Our first one graduated law school, passed the New York and New Jersey bar the first time he took it, and just obtained a great job with a law firm in New Jersey.
BB: What's the deal with New Jersey? You've lived they're almost your entire marriage?
MK: Lived there all my life. What you mean? What is the deal with New Jersey?
BB: It's so close to Manhattan and yet every impression that I have is it is the exact opposite of Manhattan.
MK: We have everything. We have shore, we have mountains, we have skiing...
BB: What would you say are the differences between a Manhattan person and a New Jersey person; you being a Jersey person yourself?
BB: You mean slower, as in terms of pace of life? I wanted to clear that up. What's the one thing that would surprise us about Joe? What's the thing when people read this the people say I honestly wouldn't have expected that from Joe?
MK: I wouldn't tell you. (laughter)
BB: Okay, what's the one thing you could tell me about? What's the most misunderstood thing about Joe?
MK: Well, I don't know what people think of him. I think what you see is what you get. He's the most straightforward, honest, and sincere person. He enjoys people. What else can I say about him?
BB: What about the Internet that is your baby? Do you do a lot of e-mail yourself?
MK: I help the person that the answers the e-mail questions. What she can't answer, or might have difficulty with, I help her with the answers until she learns.
BB: Is Joe interested in the Internet and all that?
MK: Not really.
BB: Is he a computer guy at all?
MK: He understands the basics, but he doesn't like it.
BB: Why is that? Is it because it's unnatural; he's such a hands-on individual with his art?
MK: I think he just doesn't like the technology of it. I have embraced it. I love it. I'm an information junkie and I'm constantly amazed by the amount of information. Whatever you're looking for, with enough patience, you can find...if it works.
Before we close, may I thank you for this opportunity to express some of my thoughts. This is the first time I have ever been interviewed and I must admit I enjoyed it. It has been a pleasure to talk to someone who is as well versed as you are in the business that has encompassed a major portion of my life.
And, may I mention our web address? It is www.kubertsworld.com or just www.joekubert.com. At that address, one may find information on our full-time school, THE JOE KUBERT SCHOOL OF CARTOON AND GRAPHIC ART INC.; on our correspondence school, KUBERT’S WORLD OF CARTOONING; on our art store, JOE KUBERT’S ART AND GRAPHIC SUPPLY or CARTOONIST SUPPLY DEPOT; and our art agency, TELL-A-GRAPHICS. The email address for all is email@example.com (we’ll forward it to the proper entity).
Muriel Kubert: Follow-Up Questions
taped June 5, 2002, by phone from New Jersey
BB: Is there a specific event where you knew your sons have achieved that reputations for being top of the line professionals?
MK: One thing I can think of is when they started getting e-mail fan letters – then I knew. I would get them and forward them onto Andy and Adam.
BB: Is there a specific story about the grueling deadlines of syndicated strips, or tales of the GREEN BERET strip?
MK: I know that if we were going away on vacation, Joe would always have to drop the strip off in New York. I just remember that the deadlines were grueling.
BB: You say, "My husband and Will Eisner are the two best cartoonist businessmen I've ever met."
MK: I think it’s innate. He never studied accounting, marketing or advertising like I have, but he’s sharp as a tack when it comes to that.
BB: Is there a funny story about Joe and his not liking computer technology?
MK: He appreciates the capability of what a computer can do. He knows sometimes you can’t live without them, but sometimes you can’t live with them. He’s so use to his own way of doing things that he doesn’t see any need for it in his balewick. He knew that it was necessary for the students at the school to learn.
BB: How Joe does reacted to the things he sees? By that I mean examples of how he reacts to certain movies or music, or what he read for his own entertainment? Did he take a sketchbook when they went to the park? Any stories about this? I'm just trying to get at what you view as the things that inspire Joe?
MK: Whenever we travel any place, he takes a sketchbook with him. He has a good few of them and they are beautiful - museums in Paris, in London and New York. In fact, one of these days, we’re going to publish his sketchbooks.
BB: What is the function of the sketchbook for him?
MK: It relaxes him. He tells me, and I think he’s right, that it is better than a camera, as far as remembering a specific spot where you were in a different country. He really gets all the details where a camera just takes a photograph and doesn’t have the heart that Joe’s sketches do.
BB: What would he be sketching?
MK: He would sketch statues. He has a couple of Michelangelo’s David. He’s got some he’s done from the shores of Spain. He’s got three or four sketchbooks filled with what he’s seen.
BB: When he pulls out the sketchbook, what do you do?
MK: Very interesting! I have learned over the years that when we go some place, I take a book with me. They always have benches around, so I’ll sit around and read while he’s drawing, or go to other rooms in a museum – not enough to get lost, of course.
BB: Did he ever share with you what inspired him to become an artist in the first place?
MK: I think that’s innate, as well. Nobody in his family is an artist. He just used to draw on the sidewalks of Brooklyn with chalk, or he would draw on the paper bags from stores. He just drew constantly from the time he was old enough to hold a pencil. If you knew the spark, you could produce more of them.
BB: Does Joe play music in his studio? What kind of music does he listen to?
MK: When he has to concentrate on something; yes. He plays classical, Sinatra, some Jazz - anything but rock’n’roll.
BB: When you say “he has to concentrate,” does that mean he’s using the music to block out his surroundings?
MK: Yes, we’re both talk radio freaks. I love it, and I learned about it from Joe, but when he’s concentrating, he has to have the music – he can’t have talk radio on. He can’t concentrate on that and the work at the same time.
BB: What is it about talk radio that had you both interested?
MK: I’m an information junkie. I rarely watch television. I read or listen to talk radio. When we were first married, they didn’t have much talk radio, but they had soap operas, like Philadalls, and he would listen to them. I learned to listen to them, too. I found out I liked it.
BB: Is there one cute story about Joe's fans? A specific story about a fan of Joe's that "warmed his heart"? Do you remember a specific fan letter that Joe treasured and did he tell you why he treasured it?
MK: There is a policeman in New York that works on the boats that go around doing scuba diving for bodies. He’s been writing to Joe for about four or five years. He’s a fan of Sgt. Rock and Joe would answer him – four or five times he would write. This fellow was very active in the World Trade Centre and he came out to see Joe for the first time a couple of weeks ago, brought his three kids, and Joe felt it was very heart-warming. It was probably the sincerity in the letter. They’ve had an on-going, sporadic communication.
Another man sent an e-mail that Sgt. Rock saved his life. His mother was a German Nazi. They lived here in this country and she was trying to indoctrinate her son into Nazism. He said he was going crazy with her to the point where he would run off into the woods, when he was a young kid, trying to get her out of his system. Then he read one of the Sgt. Rock stories and he saw what Sgt. Rock thought and he realized that it is all psychological and that he’s not going to let it affect him. Now, he says he just wrote a book on his childhood experiences. He’s got the manuscript – he doesn’t have a publisher or anything.
BB: You said you are an extremely private person. What is the genesis of that?
MK: It’s just in me, as far back as I can remember. I’m not a gossip. I don’t talk about anybody else. My kids know if they tell me something – “Mom, please don’t say anything” – I never talk from one kid to another. I feel my life is my own business, especially in a book where I don’t know who’s reading it.
Questions for Joe Kubert
taped June 10, 2002, by phone from New Jersey
BB: First impressions of Muriel from that Bradley Beach summer house in 1950?
JK: You’ll find me a little less private than Muriel (laughter). She’s very much a person who likes to keep things to herself, and not the kind to spout off, which I guess is one of the reasons I married her.
The first thing that struck, candidly speaking, was how pretty she was. She was quiet, reserved, and a tall lady about 5’ 10” with dark hair. She was, and is, very attractive. She wasn’t really outgoing, she was a private person, not one to be making jokes all the time, a little conservative.
BB: So you did the pursuing?
BB: Is she right that she had involvement in your work & career choices? Did she help you at all?
JK: That’s not necessarily true. As a matter of fact, I value her opinions greatly. She has an artistic bent, although not in art or drawing the things that I do, but I find it very valuable for me. The majority of the people who see the material that I do are not artists in and of themselves, so speaking to someone who is less inclined to give an artistic opinion, or who has art as a background but more reflective of the general public, I felt was of extreme value to me.
She has a very high emotional response. By that I mean that she feels very much for people and things, so that when I did the Sarajevo book, she was very much taken by that. First of all, she knew the people involved. Second, it was like reliving a lot of the stuff she was directly involved in.
She was the person who maintained all the correspondences, all the faxes. She was the one who kept writing to Ervin. I would read and check everything that was going out, but she was doing all the physical work, and it was a hell of a lot of physical work. She was clipping out newspapers and reading every article she could that might be helpful to him.
So, the result of having all those faxes that we had collected, I think primarily was her doing.
BB: She said you could leave the emotions of a war story, for example, on the drawing table.
JK: That’s pretty much the way it was. She doesn’t have any real deep interest in comic books, per say, but there were things I had done like the Fax book and Abraham Stone, things where I had written the stuff (as opposed to having illustrated someone else’s writing), I think I made a point of showing it to her. Her reaction and judgment was very valued by me.
I have the same kind of relationship with my sons. They will show me their work and I will show them mine, just for reaction and so on. That doesn’t mean our reactions or suggestions are things they have to take up. It’s just having an opportunity to see another option or another side to what you are doing that you hadn’t seen before. Muriel has looked at the stuff and she checks it over, and I appreciate her value and judgment, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that if she makes a suggestion, that I’m going to slavishly follow it.
BB: Stories about how she helped and influenced the careers of Andy and Adam?
JK: Well, she’s the one who really extends herself in every which way to make sure every opportunity comes their way and that perhaps they take advantage of it. She’s very family-oriented and the kids and the grandchildren are probably some of the most important facets of her life.
She’s very giving, all most too much so. Her mentioning “Kubert and Sons” is an indication of where her thinking lies. The possibility of that was remote at best to have enough interest to do this kind of work, and second to get involved in the school, I never really gave it much serious consideration because there are too many things that can happen, so to bank on something like that would seem a little bit precarious, if not just silly.
Adam, at the age of eleven or twelve, was lettering not only for me, but for other comics as well. Muriel would absolutely encourage them, but with young people they may elicit an interest when they are eleven and twelve, but by the time they are thirteen, the interest has disappeared. Muriel certainly encouraged them every way she could. I wasn’t conscious or aware of them living in my shadow.
John Romita probably had more insight on the situation than I with my sons. I can tell you an incident that did bug the hell out of me. Very often, the kids would be drawing in my studio while I was working. Andy was at the age of 9 or 10, and he was really labouring on a particular drawing that just didn’t work out. He brought it over to me and asked him if I would help him with it. I was intent and intense in the job that I was working on, and when he showed me the stuff, I said, “Sure!” and made the correction very quickly.
But when I did the correction, Andy stopped in his tracks, looked at me, looked at his drawing, threw the drawing away and for years after that, didn’t pick up a pencil to draw again. It’s only later that I realized what I had done. Here the kid was slaving over the drawing for at least an hour, and couldn’t get it to look right. Here I picked it up and in a matter of a minute was able to make a correction.
I only realized later that his thoughts were, “gee, if it took me so long to try to correct the drawing, and I wasn’t able to do it, and he did it in a second, I’ll never be able to do it.” So, he decided he didn’t want to pursue it. It was only years later that he came back to do the drawing. He kept it in himself, until he had gone back into drawing and we talked about that. I had no idea that my doing the correction so quickly, without talking to him about it, how it would affect him.
BB: Your business skills – Muriel calls it “innate” but where did you get that from?
JK: I wouldn’t pretend to make any comparison with Will. He is absolutely exceptional. I would figure it a matter of luck. I’m not a gambler. I don’t play cards and I’ve never shot craps. In fact, we’ve gone to Las Vegas a couple of times and I’d walk in not even knowing what the hell was going on, but I do gamble in business. I try to make an evaluation of what the worst downside would be, and what the opportunities might be if I pursued it. On that basis, I make the decision. Beyond that, really Blake, it is purely a matter of luck.
My parents were, I feel, tremendously brave. They came to a new country, travelling 5,000 miles where their parents were doing well, where they could have made a living. My father decided, for the opportunities that the new country America presented to his children, he wanted to leave. He picked up his wife and two kids.
My father was a kosher butcher most of his life, but during World War II, he decided he wanted to be a welder. Here’s a guy in his fifties having never done this kind of work at all, even though he was extremely handy, having the guts to ahead and do this. He learned how, despite the language barriers and having not done it before, and he became a terrific welder. I think they are where it came from. They had the guts to do anything they wanted to do, or felt they could handle.
BB: Why did you respond to that policeman’s letters?
JK: I tried to respond to all my letters. If anybody’s going to take the time, especially one that had the kind of feeling that this guy had, I try to make it my business to respond to all of them.
I have responded to a good number of letters that others might feel are innocuous. I feel almost compelled to do that in a lot of cases. This was a guy that sounded interesting. I found him very nice and he didn’t make a pest of himself. His letters came maybe three or four a year. Every once and awhile it was nice hearing from the guy.
BB: Did the family take any backlash from the Comics Code?
JK: In most cases anybody who was in the art field looked very much down on anybody who did comic book work. With Will, it was a syndicated strip, and that took it out of the realm of comic books. I never felt this, but it was only years later that I learned a lot of the guys never mentioned that they did comic books. They would say I am a commercial artist or I do advertising.
At the time of the Kefauver meetings, a lot of businesses closed up and a lot of artists were out of work, but as far as I was concerned, I started drawing at a very young age, and I don’t think I’ve had a day of unemployment. Even when I was in the Army I haven’t in all the years I’ve been in this business.
BB: Were you highly motivated to get out of freelancing?
JK: No, I won’t ever stop drawing. If I wasn’t getting paid for it I’d still be drawing. It’s not something that I like to do, it’s something that I have to do. I always felt that if I couldn’t make a living drawing, there are a hundred other things that I could do to make a living. Being out of a job doing cartoons never frightened me, never scared me in the least.
One of the big advantages of drawing when we’re out is now only the opportunity to draw, but I’m able to retain the details of the things I’ve seen when I draw them than if I take a photograph of them.