A Tribute to the of






Here is part 2 the interview I enjoyed with Joe Rubinstein:

JR:  Everyone is an amateur psychologist.  Supposedly Kanigher cut a swath as a lover through just everywhere, but he struck me as being a very effeminate man, which makes me think he was proving something to everybody.  I wasn't there.  I don't know.  But when you run into these incredible egotists, and I'm not even talking about Kanigher now, because I have very little experience with him, but when I run into these unbelievable egotists and they're so obnoxious I*m thinking, "There's really a very troubled, scared person in there, but I don't care." 

Prof:  (Laughter.) 

JR:  "I'm sorry that you were beaten senseless as a child; and no, you can't stick your axe into me.  Get some help."  There was one guy in comics.  He was very big, very popular.  Obnoxious, obnoxious man.  Nobody liked him, ever, and it finally got to the point where very few people were willing to work with him.  Just two editors.  Now it*s gotten to the point that nobody likes to work with him because now he's not hot any more.  And that will happen to you.  You get cold, and people let you know.

Prof:  It sounds almost like Mort Weisinger.  Shooter told me amazing stories about the crap he endured from that man.   

JR:  Weisinger was just evil.  You could tell that he just got a sexual high from belittling people and there's just no reason to do it.  There really isn't.  I teach life drawing and inking occasionally.  Sometimes at comic book conventions I'll do a 3 hour seminar and I wish I were a better artist than I am a teacher, but people tell me what a great teacher I am because I am sensitive to this:  Nobody walks into a classroom to try and be bad.  Nobody doesn't want to get it, and I don't believe anybody should prove me wrong.  "I don't think you can do this, prove me wrong," is not the way to teach.  "I think you can do this, now let's see you get there."  You have to instill a sense of pride and confidence.  So I don't think there's any reason ever to make somebody feel badly.   It's one thing to expect professionalism, but there are people who are just so obnoxious.  I was an assistant when I was 13, so I've never had a corporate job.  I've never had to be somewhere and deal with the same  people day to day , but there are people in comic books who would like to screw with your schedule and shorten your deadlines just because it made their lives an easier place, and they didn't care one bit if it was a fair thing or not.  But you know, we need the job, we need to make a living and in a small industry, word gets out if you are perceived as a troublemaker, so you've got to be careful about who you tell to screw off.

Prof:  More than one professional has told me that same thing.  "This is a very small pond."  I understand you worked with Woody for awhile.  How was he? 

JR:  I was Wally Wood's assistant, among others.  Woody was a very sweet, child-like, sensitive man.  So sensitive that he had to drink himself into oblivion to not feel.  I didn't know Woody in his really active drinking years, but even though my work doesn't really resemble Woody's stylistically, a great deal of what I know came from him gently pointing out what was going on in my work,  speaking of the deep end of the pool, Woody once gave me this piece and said, "Ink the background."  "But…but…but, how do you do that?"  He said, "Ink it busy."  So I got out my tools and inked it careful and precise and beautiful and accurate and I showed it to him with pride and he said, "All the lines connect up."  "Yeah!"  "Don't do that again."  I understood what he meant, because for something to look real, it's not about an architectural drafting of a building or a catalog drawing of a knife or a car or something, it's about "How do you make them look real?"  How do you make this line loose and sloppy and wiggly, and how do you suggest this and that and the other thing?  Then you start looking at Woody's work, and you say, "Okay, here's where he left that line out here and where he left this."  With the editors now…I was showing my samples to a very prominent inker in comics, and I didn't tell him who I was.  It was at a convention.  He started to point out, "Well, this line is a little sloppy.  This one is shorter than the one next to it.  See this one?  You should have used the French Curve there."  And I thought, "God.  This is everything I hate about contemporary inking that he's talking about."  And I didn't much respect the guy's work anyway, but I knew he was getting work, and I just wanted to see what he thought about why I wasn't getting it.  Then when he found out who I was, he said, "Oh, I can't do what you did there.  Can you look at my work?" 

Prof:  (Chuckle.)

JR:  I said, "No."  "That's not fair."  "It's not about fair."  The reason I wouldn't do it is because we had very little common ground about what I was wanting to do compared to what he was doing.  It's as if a Republican and an Anarchist were discussing how they might form a committee together.   So, contemporary inkers are trying to make…yes, there are exceptions and I'm not saying Scott Williams  is one of them even though he's contemporary, but there's a lot of people who have made the line their god.  "How do I get this line to be just right?"  And if you look at the people I admire; Joe Kubert and Alex Raymond and Frank Springer and Dick Giordano and John Prentice, Hal Foster, Jim Holdaway and a million other guys, it's never about the line.  The y didn't say, "Oh, God, I hope I can get this line from point A to point B without any variation."  It's the difference between John Singer Sargent's paintings…all you comic book geeks will have to look him up now, and Ingres.  Magnificent draftsmen, both of them.  They couldn't get better at what they were doing.  Some people think Sargent was the greatest portraitist of all time.  With Sargent the paint flew on.  It had a life of its own.  It had personality.  It had rough patches and smooth patches and elegance.  Ingres; his paintings look like they are on porcelain.  Everything is smooth.  There is no artist's hand available.  There are no little brush strokes.  There is no little scrubby area.  It is just a magnificent lacquered vase of a painting.  I'd rather be Sargent.  I would rather be Joe Kubert than the guy who wants to suck out all the little variations in it.  Now, that's not what they're buying nowadays.  You've got to be realistic.  Do you want to work or not?  Well, lucky for me, my former assistant editor on Marvel Universe and Formerly Known as the Justice League called up and said, "We're changing the look of the Green Arrow book.  We're keeping the same penciler, but we want a whole other kind of a rawness to it.  Do you want it?"  "Yeah."  When Richard Dreyfuss did the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" and it starts out when he was a young man and then it goes to when he's in his 60's.  When they made him a young man they gave him a toupee and probably some tightening up of his neck and lines and added more color to his skin.  He said, "When they made me an old man they just took off my toupee."

Prof:  (Chuckle.)

JR:  So with me, I wasn't trying to be raw.  I just wasn't trying to be smooth, that's all.  So my not trying to be smooth apparently is raw nowadays.  That's what you're looking for.  I suspect the editors might feel the same way about Kevin Nowlan.  With Kevin the physical line is not such a big deal, but Kevin is such an excellent draftsman.  I'm looking at a Batman Confidential cover that Kevin inked over Garcia-Lopez, and Garcia-Lopez is considered the artist's artist.  Even people like John Byrne acknowledge that they can't approach the drafting skills of a Garcia-Lopez.  I'm not making this up.  John said something to that effect, as rare as that might be.  And Kevin just doesn't care about the line, he cares about the effect.  That's what I'm after.  I don't want to spend my life polishing and polishing and polishing and defining and polishing that one stroke.  I want you to see Batman coming at your face.  As a matter of fact, I did a job (chuckle) that no one has ever seen because I would have to bring this from house to house and show it to people.  It was for the American Bible Society and it was a respectful re-telling of the crucifixion story as drawn by Rick Leonardi.  I got these eleven pages in front of me and I tried to ink them the way I felt they should be inked and as I would start the line, I would think, "But they're not buying this.  They're buying Scott Williams and Matt Banning and Norm Rapmond and all these people."  And I would lose faith, ironically enough about a job with this subject matter.

Prof:  (Chuckle.)

JR:  And I'd start and again I'd say, "They're not buying this."  I haven't gotten work for a long time in comic books because I'm perceived as old-fashioned and I'm about to do this job.  It was a day of this and finally I said, "You know what?  I have to do this job the way I believe it should be done, and if they hate it, they hate it, but if they hate it, I can defend it.  And if they hate it and I did it the wrong way, then I have nothing to defend."  So I inked this job and I think it was one of the best things I've ever done.  I really think this is one of the high points of my career as far as being faithful to the intentions of the pencils and stylistically, because it's a crucifixion job.  So my line is jagged, and it's painful.  What else are you going to do on the crucifixion?  By the way, in my mind what I did was, "I'm going to ink this job like Klaus Janson, but with no Klaus Janson in front of me.  I let my memory of what Klaus looks like dictate how the ink came out."  So ultimately it was published in a thing called "The Unforgiven" from the American Bible Society.  It got very, very little distribution. You can see it in my member's gallery at www.ComicArtFans.com. I would like to ink Rick again and every now and again I send copies of the job out as a sample of what I can do. If David Finch had drawn this job I would not have inked it the same way because it didn't start the same way, but hopefully David would have been sensitive enough to the subject matter to give it a line and a personality that that job deserves.  Not all actors are created equal, and not all parts are the same, so if they were doing a new casting of Cleopatra, Rosie O'Donnell would do as good a job as she could, but she just wouldn't have been right for it.  By the same token, not every penciler should draw every job and depending upon which era of Jack Kirby, the early 60's, for example, I think he'd have done an incredible crucifixion job.  By the last part of his career, when he was so abstract, I don't think that would have been right.

Prof:  I can see that.  I've noticed you do quite a bit of fine art, using oils and pastels and charcoals and so forth.  Do you have a favorite medium for that kind of work? 

JR:  It depends upon the intention, like anything else.  I have a gallery at a site called redbubble.com, which show my portraits for the most part.  I think of myself primarily as a draftsman, not a painter.  To me, there's nothing more important than drawing, even though everybody seems to go everywhere else with it, drawing is the only thing that holds it all together.  So obviously the mediums that you can draw directly in are charcoal and graphite and pastels, so those are the ones I tend to lean to.  When I do oils I try to be a little less draftsman-like in those.  I want the paint to have a personality, like we were talking about the crucifixion before.  It's not only the subject matter, but how the paint goes down.  Rembrandt, certainly the older Rembrandt, painted with very, very thick paint.  Rembrandt did a painting of a woman entering a pool of water and she's wearing a nightshirt and the slabs of paint on it are so thick, but they are long to indicate the smoothness of the thing that she's wearing.  Then he did a painting before or after of a cow in a slaughterhouse hanging dead, upside-down and the paint was so crusty that you felt flesh on this thing.  So it's not only what you paint, but how you paint.  How the paint goes down that communicates.  As an artist, you don't particularly want the public to stop and go, "Look at that paint.  Nice paint!"

Prof:  (Chuckle.) 

JR:  But you do want it to have some kind of effect, where they're not even aware of why they're looking it, but they're liking it.  If I'm going to paint a little kid, I probably won't use thick, crusty paint, but I might.  But when I use an oil, I want to play the whole range from those thick and imposto places to the thin, thin, thin washy places, and that gives me a range.  Recently, I've been doing these trading cards or sketch cards for Rittenhouse and a few other places with the X-Men and Marvel and the Fantastic Four, and what Rittenhouse recently did was they send the artists back two blank cards, which are called artist's proofs.  The term makes no sense, because you're not proofing anything.  They're blank.  The reason Rittenhouse does it, is because they know the artists will make money doing commissions on these blank cards.  So I got two commissions for my two cards and I decided, "I'm gonna learn how to use watercolor."  And I don't know how to use watercolor except in a very rudimentary way, so I figured well, why not get paid to learn on these things?  I enjoyed it, but also because putting up oils is a pain.  You've got to spread them out, you've got to make sure they don't splatter and you've got to clean up afterwards.  Watercolors are a lot easier.  Then after that I just did a Dr. Strange commission in watercolor and a Tarzan recreation and I figured, "Why not?"  I'm learning to do those with watercolor, and there's going to be some subject matter which are better for pastel and some are better for watercolor, but being an inker, and being part of a team is a great thing.  But if I couldn't do it all by myself, I think I would wither away and die.  I need the artwork that starts with me and ends with me.  I got an assignment from a comic book art dealer who called me up and said, "I want you to do an illustration of the Alamo."  I couldn't have been a worse choice for this.

Prof: (Laughter.)

JR:  I have no particular affinity or knowledge of that subject matter or the West, or horses or guns or any other thing like it.  Primarily, I'm a portrait guy.  So I sat down and I researched and I lost sleep and I thought about it and I lost sleep and I tried it and I was panicked and I thought about it and I got the thing done and they loved it.  I have since done fourteen more of them.  You know, cattle drives and dead soldiers and patriots standing there defending the Alamo and they've all been done with charcoal and pastels and recently in ink, and they've made me grow as an artist because I'm being forced to do a lot of subject matter that I would never have considered.  These pieces are about 20 x 30 each. You can see some of those at my MySpace page.

Prof:  This is a lot of work.

JR:  Yeah, it's a lot of work, but it made me grow as an artist.  Then I got an assignment through my former assistant/student Brett Breeding.  He was offered a job, but he thought I would be better for it, and now I've been doing portraits and spot illustrations of "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Great Gatsby," and "The Lord of the Flies."

Prof:  Oh, for books?

JR:  They tell me they're for PowerPoint presentations.  So they are portraits, plus scenes from the books.  When I did, for instance, "The Great Gatsby," I looked at J.C. Linedecker's illustrations from the 20's.  The Saturday Evening Post covers and all that stuff, because to my mind, that is the 20's and Gatsby is the 20's, so why go elsewhere?  While I didn't do an out and out imitation of Linedecker, I did try to get that feeling into it, and then I got more naturalistic illustrations when I did "To Kill a Mockingbird."  When I just did "Lord of the Flies," I did it, believe it or not, a little bit more like Drew Struzan, the guy who does those Indiana Jones posters and Star Wars posters.  It was all children's portraits and scenes and I thought of when he did the "Adventures in Babysitting" posters and in my mind I associated him with a modern, youthful look to his work.  I'll bet if you looked at any these pieces nobody would ever pick up on any of this stuff, but that's what's in my head and I need it as an anchor instead of, "Well, draw a face."  Okay, I'm drawing a face, but this guy is the bad guy, or this is Piggy from "Lord of the Flies," and he's got to have a sensitivity to him, or in Gatsby they describe someone (not Jay) who is rather elitist and not very likeable, and I thought, "Oh. Thurston Howell III as a young man."

Prof:  The patrician look. 

JR:  Yeah, so I'm doing card commissions and I'm doing portraits for regular people.  My friend Chris Stamp is the former manager of The Who and he also discovered Jimi Hendrix and had his own label and his brother is Terence Stamp from the Superman movie and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."  He also worked with the Beatles on their T.V. projects like "Magical Mystery Tour."  I've got Beatles stories, too, but what did I draw for Chris?  What else, but a portrait of a little, fluffy poodle.  Maybe it wasn't a poodle, but a little white-faced thing that looks like Lyle Talbot as the werewolf.  You know what?  When you're a commercial artist…I don't want anyone to hire me to do a very firm architectural rendering of a locomotive, but if I get the gig and it pays enough, I'll learn how to do that and maybe I'll become a better artist, because I will have understood what locomotives feel like.  That's the cool part about being an artist, at least this type, and I'm sure it's true for plenty of the comic book pencilers; they have to draw stuff they never would have drawn and research things to find out how this works.

Prof:  You get stretched in all kinds of different directions.  In fact, I think I noticed where you'd done a portrait of Dorothy and Toto, so you've done at least two dogs.  (Chuckle.) 

JR:  The very first horses I ever drew were in the Alamo pieces.  I'd inked horses before, but never drew them.  I have one client for whom I*ve drawn everyone from the Wizard of Oz except the witch, Glinda and none of the flying monkeys.  You know that old joke?   "Who would you rather have sex with; Ross Perot or one of the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz?"  The answer is, "Do the monkeys have money?"

Prof:  (Laughter.)

JR:  I gave my friend the Cowardly Lion portrait and she called me up one day and said, "A friend of mine is here and she wants it."  I said, "Well, okay. It's yours to give her."  "Yeah, but you have to say it's okay."  I said, "Who is it?"  She told me it was a movie star and gave me the name, which I'm not going to repeat, but her voice is very distinctive.  I knew it was her.  "Well, yeah, she can have it."  "Are you sure?"  "Yeah, I'll do another one for you."  So I did another one and I did another one for the movie star and the second Cowardly Lion one was better.  Then I drew the scarecrow and the tin man and all these other people.  There is a very prominent portrait artist named Everett Raymond Kinstler, and Kinstler was the first artist who ever did Zorro before Toth as he points out to everyone, and also did Hawkman in the 40's when he was a teenager.  I'd been a student of his and there's an 19th century  smoking club , a dark wood place in Gramercy Park in New York City…Gramercy Park is a very posh area, and they have the Arts Club there where artists belong and you have studio space that you have to inherit. Very close to it is The Player's Club.  The Player's Club is for actors, directors and writers in theater and they have actual Sargent's on the wall.  Ray called and said, "I have a job for you, and it's to do a portrait for the permanent collection of The Player's Club if you want to do it."  "Yeah, I want to do it.  What is it?"  "A portrait of Bert Lahr," and he didn't know I'd painted the cowardly lion twice before.  The fee to doing this painting is to get a lifetime guest membership at The Player's Club, so when I'm in town I can get an overpriced meal there.  So then what I did was contact the Lahr family.  I already had Bert's biography in my library, which I hadn't read yet, but I bought it for when I had the time.  John, his son wrote it when he was 27 years old and now I think he's in his 60's.  Then it turns out that John's sister Jane had edited a book with one of the artists I studied with two years earlier and the family gave me access to private family photographs and archives and I went to New York and I looked through the stuff and I got reference and I read the book.  I guess some people say, "Here's a photograph.  Paint it," but I want to know what this man is all about before I do his picture.

Prof:  I'm sure the quality difference would be immeasurable. 

JR:  I had a teacher once and we had a screaming fight in front of the entire class because I said it's important to know who you're painting and he thought that was utter bullshit and didn't affect anything of the painting.  Then he painted another man I know and if I didn't know it was that man I wouldn't have recognized him.  So I win.  On top of that, if you look at a painting that Rembrandt did of his first wife, Saskia…actually it's a drawing of her leaning on her hand with her finger on her cheek and she's got this hat with this enormous plume in it and I think it was drawn on the day of their betrothal.  That man loved that woman.  Whoever that man was, loved whoever that woman was in the drawing and it came through.  I think if you're painting your wife, pregnant with your first or even your fifth child that, if you have any soul at all, comes through.  So I believe you can't know all your clients, you may not necessarily like most of your clients, but at least know enough to understand why they walked into the room and why somebody wants their picture painted.

Prof:  Sure.  After all, art in its purest form is an expression.  It doesn't get any more fundamental.  By the way, I don't know if you're still working on it or not, but I noticed a fascinating project where you're doing a ceiling mural.  How did that come about?

JR:  It was the same client who got me the Alamo work.  He's actually the agent for somebody and they have maybe the best private museum of everything.  Just name it, it's there.  Sports and rock and roll and animation and X-Files and Star Wars and Desilu.  They have a Heisman Trophy there, they have a baseball bat that belonged to Gherig and Ruth and scorebooks from the 1926 World Series.  It's just the best personal collection probably in the world.  So the assignment was to paint all these undersea mountains.  Once again, I'm not the guy for this gig, because I don't do landscapes.  So I research it and I go to New York and buy up all the books I can find on this thing and make sketches and sit in my back yard with an oil set and do some studies of rocks and mountains and all that and then I go to the museum and I draw this thing out.  It's a curved archway ceiling fifteen and a half feet tall, sixteen foot arc, twenty three feet long and eight feet wide.  So they build a scaffold.  I don't like heights.  And I'm having to climb up this thing and it hurts because you've got to get on with your knees and I've got to wear knee-pads because it's killing me to drag me up on this thing and I'm drawing this thing and I'm drawing it out and then finally I get to painting.  I painted about ten feet a day of this thing and I'm swinging my arm as far as I can to cover as much room as I can.  After about eleven days I'm ready to die, but it was done.  And I'm glad I did it, for sure.  It also made me understand that I should have more play when I paint my portraits because I used a palette knife, which is like a little trowel.  They come in different sizes and shapes.  I tried to use my palette knife 100% of the time because I wanted to get the feeling of rock and crust on this thing and when I would use a brush I always felt like I failed.  But after I was done with this project I thought, "You know what?  I should figure out how to do this more in my portraits."  Go back to a child-like joy of application.  I haven't had a lot of room to do it, but maybe that would help me.  Actually, that one wasn't tough.  I went to a home in Maui on September 10th, 2001 and the next morning I got a phone call from home that the World Trade Center, that you could see outside my window, was bombed.  I was supposed to be in Maui for three weeks.  I stayed for three and a half months.

Prof:  Holy cow.

JR:  I painted a series of seven murals throughout this house on the life of Christ in chronological order as you walk through their compound.  The biggest one was twenty-five feet long, fifteen feet wide and the figures were eight and a half feet tall, and the heads were thirteen inches tall, which is much bigger than a human head.  So I'm on my back painting these things from about 9:00 in the morning until it got dark at about 6:00 or so and feeling channeled, by the way, as I'm working on stuff.  I' m going, "That's a pretty good foot.  How did I do that?  Where did that come from?"  It was based on a painting called "Jesus giving the key of knowledge to man."  So below is Jesus and five or six or seven figures as he presents a key and then up above them are clouds and cherubs and angels rejoicing.

Prof:  So you had your own Sistine Chapel experience. 

JR:  And six more.  I really wanted to get out of there after three and a half months.  I had a life and I wanted to see how it was.  The last one was…masonite is that sort of dark brown chip board, and it was a masonite tablet ala Moses, with Moses on his knees, on some rocks as the hand of God comes out and presents him with the tablets if I remember right.  That one I got to climb a ladder on and paint it vertically instead of on my back.  That one took three and a half days.  "Let me out of here!"  I mean, I'd like to go back and do more.  I haven't seen them in seven years.  So many of the people who ink that are fine, fine draftsmen, like Jerry Ordway, Kevin Nowlan, Dick Giordano; they tend to impose themselves onto the work.  I don't have a style.  I know what I gravitate towards, but I don't really pencil much, so I don't really have a style.  So if I'm presented with your pencils, I'm just excited to get into your philosophy, and not make you into me.  Fine with me.  When I first started to do The Official Hand Book of The Marvel Universe series, Walt Simonson asked that I not ink his pencils directly, but to lightbox them, which means to trace them and then ink them.  And I felt kind of insulted.  Walt was trying to pacify my feelings.  "Oh, no, I just want to ink these later for some portfolio."  But by the end of the run, what Walt told me, and Walt is a universally liked guy, but what he told me was the first time he saw me ink his work he really didn't like what I did, and he just didn't want me to screw it up.  By the end of the run, when I'd figured out what I was supposed to do, because it takes a minute, he said that he thought I was doing a great job on it and that if he ever had something that needed inking he wouldn't mind having me do it.

Prof:  Pretty high praise.

JR:  Yeah, it is, and I was glad to hear it, but I still suspected that he was telling me a lie at the beginning and he was.  But that's the thing.  When I start working with a new penciler, I say, "Look.  It's going to take me about three issues.  I'm going to try on the first one, but by the third one maybe I will have gotten rid of all my preconceptions of what it should be and do what it is.  Which reminds me of a story.  I did a Dick Dillin cover.  I liked Dick's work and I liked him on the Justice League and I liked when Dick Giordano would ink Dick Dillin's work. Then I got this one cover of his to ink early on, and its okay.  I think I did a professional job, but it wasn't right, because I was pushing the square peg into the round hole.  I was going to make him be what I thought he should be, instead of what he should have been and if I'd just gotten an issue or two to do…and then he died shortly thereafter.  So decades and decades later, I'm at a painting demonstration at the Art Student's League by a guy named John Howard Sanden who is a very prominent portrait guy affiliated with Billy Graham and people like that.  I think his father was a minister, which is where the connections came from.  So one of my mutual friends there says, "I want you to meet a friend of mine.  His uncle used to do comic books."  "Oh, okay."  "This is Paul Dillon."  "Oh, was your uncle Dick Dillin?"  "No, my uncle was Alex Raymond."  I said, "Okay, let's forget about the demo, I want to talk to you."

Prof:  (Laughter.) 

JR:  So Paul is a portrait artist and he tells me that his mother and father were the models for Flash and Dale.  And Paul doesn't look much like either Flash or Dale to my mind, but I absolutely believe him.  Then it's pointed out to me that Paul's sons are Matt and Kevin Dillon.  The actors.

Prof:  Ah-h-h-h.

JR:  And then I think about Matt Dillon's face.  The long face, the cheekbones, the slim nose.  I go, "Ooo!  It's Flash Gordon's grandkid."  Then years later I get hired to do a very teeny little part on Entourage with Kevin Dillon and I bring up the fact that I know his father and all that.  You know what's funny?  I'm in a health club in New York and there's Matt Dillon.  I say, "Oh, hey, hi, Matt.  I know your father.  It's really cool that we're painters and we know each other."  "Yeah, yeah, yeah."  "And you know the thing about you and Flash Gordon."  Then he stopped and went, "Who are you?"

Prof:  (Laughter.) 

JR:  I realized then that after a lifetime of people saying, "Hey!  Can I talk to you?"  You build a wall and, "I'm not talking to you."  I said, "I'm not a fan, okay?  I know your father."

Prof:  What a great story.  Six degrees of separation. 

JR:  By the way, a holy trinity story; comic book art holy trinity; my drawing teacher when I was twelve  or thirteen or fourteen years old was Arthur J. Foster, Hal Foster's son.

Prof:  Oh, for crying out loud.  

JR:  I used to correspond with Mr. Foster.  Harold.  I wanted to study with Arthur J. Foster because he had the comic art connection.  He was a lovely, sweet older guy and then he retired.  He actually had been groomed to take over the strip when Mr. Foster retired, but he just didn't want to do it.  Then the guy I studied with after that for ten years was a guy named Anthony Polumbo and he studied with Burne Hogarth and if I'm not mistaken in the same class with Williamson and Frazetta.  That's the anecdote.  I'm not absolutely sure it's true, but I know that Mr. Polumbo studied with Hogarth.  To which I asked, when he was teaching me anatomy, I said, "Should I go buy Hogarth's book?"  He responded, "God, no.  It's all wrong!"

Prof:  (Chuckle.)

JR:  It is.  He wrote an entire book and it's incorrect in so many not even subjective ways.  It's wrong.  So that's sort of my holy trinity story.  Oh and Caniff.  I saw Caniff at a convention.  I had to go up and shake his hand.  It was Milton Caniff, so what are you going to do?

Prof:  Certainly.  That would be like breezing by Jerry Robinson.

JR:  I was at a convention once with Toth and Toth was a volatile personality and I was with a young lady at the convention and Toth tried to make a play for her. (Chuckle.)  He didn't care who she was with.  He wanted her and he was Alex Toth and he was going to do what he could.  I've met a lot of my idols and you've got to be careful.  Sometimes you'll wish you hadn't.

Prof:  Yeah, they don't always live up to what you have in your mind, I'm sure. 

JR:  Almost never.  Joe Kubert did, for sure and Al Williamson.  Well, Al Williamson, who is maybe one of the best draftsmen ever; it's universally told that Al Williamson is a great guy; but never to me.  He would say snide stuff to me and I don't understand why.  Speaking of separating the artist from the art, right?  So one day I get a royalty check from Marvel Comics and I look it up and I didn't ink the comic.  Al Williamson did.  I found his phone number and called up and said, "I'm returning this check to Marvel, but you should know that it exists and you should look for it, because they just might keep it."  And from that point on, we were very friendly because I think Al had heard stories about me and never experienced me.  As a matter of fact, there was talk of me doing a portrait of his wife years ago before he got ill, so that's how much of a compliment it was.  So it's back to that.  If there's one piece that doesn't make sense and then it drops in.

Prof:  Right.  I guess my only recent similar story was last year when I initiated a correspondence with Steve Ditko for a little while and he wasn't that interested in talking about comic book stuff.

JR:  He actually wrote back?

Prof:  Yeah, believe it or not.  I got about a half dozen letters and then I said something wrong and ticked him off and that was it. 

JR:  Was he ticked off or just didn't write back?

Prof:  Well, I'd seen where Marvel was now doing these online comics and they were starting with the old classic stuff and I made mention of it to him and asked if he got royalties for it.  I wasn't prying; I just wondered if he was aware and he wrote back and said, "Well, if you're interested in Marvel's business practices you ought to ask them if you think you have the right."  I thought, "Uh-oh."  The misunderstanding kind of went from there.  I apologized, but that seemed to be the end of it.  I guess I screwed that up, but he was nice enough to give me his impressions of being Jerry Robinson's student and Jerry was happy to get a copy of it.

JR:  I refer to Ditko as the J.D. Salinger of comic books.  I've told this story before, but I may as well.  I knew Steve a little bit and I ran into him several times around the Times Square area which I'm told is sort of where he lives, or maybe lived.  I don't know.  One day I had done a poster for Marvel of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, half/half.  Ron Frenz drew it and I inked and colored it and I saw Steve and I had nothing to lose, apparently.  I said, "Hey, Steve.  I figured out the secret of drawing Peter Parker."  "Yeah?"  "You make him like he's sort of constipated."  He cracked up.  And for all of you who don't know what Steve Ditko looks like; last time I saw him, which was quite awhile ago, he's slim, tallish, but I'm very short so everyone looks tall to me, bald, trim of hair, broad smile, looks like your pharmacist.  Glasses; nothing particularly startling about the guy.  So I had missed an issue of Playboy, and unlike most people, who buy Playboy, I buy it for the pictures, because I didn't even know there were articles.  So I missed an issue of it, and you would find these 3-packs of similar magazines being sold at newsstands.  So there the Playboy was in a 3-pack.  So I bought it.  And one of the other two magazines was this crappy British thing and as I'm flipping through it, there's these three black and white comic book pages.  I looked at it and thought, "This isn't bad.  Hey!  This is good.  Hey!  This is Steve Ditko!"  Or at the very least it was Ditko's inking. It was an S & M thing, like women tied up and all that and I remembered Clea in the early Dr. Strange issues being tied up with these ball gags in her mouth.  "Well, this is interesting."  So I run into Ditko again, and I said, "Hey Steve, I bought this British magazine with these three pages of an S & M thing and it looked like you did it."  He said, "Nobody can prove that."

Prof:  (Laughter.)

JR:  So I didn't have a lot of room to go on that subject.  I used to share studio space up at Continuity Associates with Jack Abel and Jack was also one of Jerry's (Robinson) students and Jack spoke well of Jerry, too.

Prof:  Stan Goldberg had wonderful things to say about Jerry, too.  In fact, didn't you ink some of Stan's stuff?

JR:  Yeah.  There was a character in the 60's, orthodox Jewish comics called "Mendy and the Golem."  The Golem is a Jewish sort of a Frankenstein that comes around to help people out.  There used to be, and probably still is, a third Thursday  gathering on Long Island of all the cartoonist's and friends of cartoonist's who felt like coming to have a meal and some guy would get up and sing and artwork would be on display and all that and it was called the Burnt Toast Club.  God knows why.

Prof:  Oh, yeah.  It's a tribute to Walter Berndt.

JR:  Okay.  Frank Springer was there, and Creig Flessel who was probably the world's oldest living comic book guy, and I used to sit at the power table.  I only went two or three times as a visitor, but I used to sit at the table with John Buscema, John Romita, Stan Goldberg and Mort Drucker.

Prof:  Oh, wow. 

JR:  One day I get a phone call from Stan Goldberg who said, "I'm doing this project and I want you to ink it."  Once again, wrong casting.  What the hell do I know about that style?  And I said, "Okay.  Sure.  You know my work?"  He said, "No."  "Why are you hiring me?"  He said, "Because Big John Buscema recommended you.  And if it's good enough for John…"  So I inked the very first issue of the new Mendy and the Golem and then Stan left that project and Ernie Colon took over for the next five issues.  It was a very strange company.  The writer had a writer's block and instead of firing him, they would just wait two, three, four months until he got around to writing something again.

Prof:  That is strange.

JR:  As a matter of fact, I was trying to ink this thing over work in what I perceived to be an Archie comic style appropriate for what Stan was drawing, but after a short time I thought, "I can't do this.  This is not what I do.  I'm going to have to ink it the way I want to," and as a friend of mine put it, I added bones to people.  I sent Stan some of it for his approval and he was very lukewarm about it and I thought, "O-o-okay.  Well, I've screwed this up, but I've got to do it the way I want to do it."  Then when it was all done, Stan made a point of calling me up to just compliment me over and over again about how much he loved what I had done and it was great to hear, because I thought he didn't like it.  So, as they referred to it, it was my action/adventure inking, which is just putting bones in people.  Mort Drucker, who is obviously the best at what he does, is someone I would go and visit and he wasn't particularly taken with my comic book stuff, but I'd show him my portraits and my paintings and he liked those.  There's a great Mort Drucker story.  Mort had a job to do three illustrations for a Bob Hope movie in the 60's called "Bwana Jim" or something like that.  Some sort of jungle themed movie.  So he did them, but they had to be in color and Mort didn't really know color, so he went down the road to his local illustrator pal and said, "Would you color these for me?"  So the guy did and they were gorgeous and then Mort got another color job to do and he went to the same guy and the guy said, "Mort, don't you think it's time you learned how to use color?"  And so Mort has since.  Well, the name of the guy who did the coloring on those first three illustrations?  Frank Frazetta.

Prof:  Oh, good night.

JR:  So unless they're destroyed, somewhere out there are examples of Mort Drucker/Frank Frazetta artwork.  That wouldn't be bad finding them.

Prof:  Boy, I guess.

JR:  So John Buscema…John was one of the greatest draftsmen to ever hit comic books; I showed him my stuff, because you bring things to show at the Berndt Toast lunch's, and John was like (New York accent) dis big, like Long Island guy.  He was a guy!   "Oh, you want 16 pages by Tuesday?  Okay, and your car will be ready, too."

Prof:  (Chuckle.)

JR:  Once Jim Shooter hired John to teach a class at Marvel.  Anybody that wanted to show up could go and get the words of wisdom from John Buscema, and the only person I actually remember being there beside myself was Lee Weeks.  Oh, there was a guy there, a colorist for awhile who painted a project that John drew. Peter Ledger.   Peter asked, "John, how do you draw something difficult like Conan resting on his stomach, drinking from a pool?"  And John said, "Oh, you know, like this," and then ask:  "John, how do you draw faster?"  "Well you know, you draw less lines."  "Okay, John.  Now how do you draw Thor's face looking up?"  "Well, you know, you kinda draw these lines and then you connect 'em up, and it's Thor!"

Prof:  (Laughter.)

JR:  I guess this is what you get with a genius.  Mozart said, "I make music as an apple tree makes apples, it just comes out of me."  He also said, "I make music as a sow piddles."  So I brought my stuff to show John and I brought my portraits and all that and it was a great high for me, because John looked through my portfolio going, "I hate dis guy!  Look at dis!  I hate dis guy.  I hate dis guy!"  Then I said, "Do you want to trade some art?"  And John traded me something like 60 or 70 of his layout sheets for a pastel portrait, which I was happy to do.

Prof:  Oh, good Lord, I guess.

JR:  And then I loaned those sheets to the Joe Kubert School and they tell me they were mailed back and I've never seen them since.

Prof:  Heartbreaking.

JR:  I'll give you one even worse.  I would solicit pencilers for Marvel Universe to make it interesting for me, because a lot of it was dull; a lot of it was the same guys, so if I could get John Severin or John Bolton or Nestor Redondo that would wake me up and I'd enjoy it.  So I said, "I'm going to get Will Eisner."  So I make a trip to the School of Visual Arts, which is where he taught, and the day before I had copied one of the Spirit portraits out of one of his books and I inked it in his style,  or as close as I could get it to his style.  It was to show, "Look, if you draw something for me, I can ink it like you, I won't just ignore what you penciled."  So I came in and said, "I'd like you to do this project."  He said, "Well, why would I draw something I didn't create?"  It didn*t compute.  "Well, I would love to ink you."  "Well, if you want to ink me…"  And on the same sheet that I had this portrait on, he drew a ¾ drawing of the Spirit sort of leaning on his elbow.

Prof:  Wow!

JR:  Well; I never inked that drawing for sure.  Then in the process of moving from one studio to the other I asked my assistant where that drawing was and he lost it and that's the last of it.

Prof:  Oh, no…

JR:  That's the heartbreaker.  I don't have that idiot assistant any more.  I don't have any idiot assistants any more.  (Chuckle.)

Prof:  Really a tragedy.  What led you to the West Coast, Joe?

JR:  My girlfriend wanted to live here and I didn't want to lose her, so we relocated.  It's warmer here.

Prof:  I guess that's kind of the beauty of the way things work now.  FedEx goes everywhere.

JR:  Right.  Prior to that if you wanted to be a comic book artist or an illustrator, you had to live or travel to the tri-state area and that was that.  The Filipinos, when Joe Orlando was recruiting and hiring them, would do their artwork on thin, thin, thin paper, roll it into a tube and mail like a 22-page job back from the Philippines because it was the cheapest way they could make this stuff happen.  I don't know for a fact that DC paid them less money than the American artists, but I would imagine on American rates they could afford real postage. And now, of course, with electronics you don't have to live anywhere near the companies any more and nowadays some inkers never even get the physical pencil artwork in their hands.  They e-mail it to an ftp site and download it, print it, ink it and send it back.  I imagine that cuts back on FedEx costs and returning artwork costs and so on.

Prof:  It's a different world.  Dick Giordano, your mentor, commented to me that he had to make that commute from Connecticut for awhile.  That must have been difficult.  He said he'd do work on the train.

JR:  I think he worked on the train by writing and editing, but he didn't do any artwork.

Prof:  I'm sure you're right.

JR:  I just want to make it public right now:  Every time I see Dick Giordano I kiss him on the lips.  There, it's out, I'm proud.

Prof:  (Laughter.)

JR:  Dick's an Italian man, and Dick taught me what I know, and he's a very nice guy and I just kiss him.  You know when your father passes away, the art of hugging and kissing fat men usually leaves with them.

Prof:  (Laughter.)

JR:  And Dick usually fights me.  "No, I gotta kiss you."

Prof:  Good for you, Joe.  How did you guys get acquainted? 

JR:  I was at a comic book convention.  My father, who hated comic books and didn't want me to go anywhere near them, brought me to my first comic book convention and there was this guy there, my idol at the time, Neal Adams, and I wheedled my way into an invitation to his house for dinner and when I was there he said they'd just opened this new studio called Continuity Associates, and I said, "Can I work there?  Mop floors and clean up and stuff?"  It was the summer time and they let me and it was a horrible, traumatic experience, which I'm still talking about in therapy today.  And then when winter came and school was back in session, I was allowed to come after school and do errands and stuff and when there was an opportunity, I would practice.  I would get Xeroxes of Neal's pencils on some advertising job and I would get Dick's inks and then I would get a sheet of tracing paper, put it over Neal's pencils and then imitate Dick's inks to learn how to use a brush.  I was going to the Art Student's League at the same time and then Dick eventually started letting me do blacks on his pages and touch up the panel borders, do a little bit of inking here and there.  When Russ Heath, who was working there,  and would go to lunch I would go and pick up the magic brush; this incredible brush that would render two page spreads of Tiger tanks with the rendering on the tread and I'd pick it up and I'd dip it in ink and it was like using a turd.  "Oh, I get it.  It's not the brush, it's the guy."  I would work in Jack Abel's room and he'd start letting me do some assistant work and then Woody rented space there and that's how I started to work for Woody.  I went to the High School of Art and Design which was a vocational art high school and I don't think I had money, but I know I didn't want to continue studying, I just wanted to work.  There was a new guy there named Mike Nasser who eventually became Mike Netzer (chuckle) and I asked if I could work on his samples and I did and he liked what he saw and he had just gotten his first job, appropriately titled "Tales of the Great Disaster" in the back of Kamandi and he brought my samples up and Gerry Conway hired me for what I found out was the cheapest rate anybody was being paid in the industry:  $20.00 a page.  Believe me, if it sounds cheap now, it really was cheap then, but only by a little, because I found out the rates people were usually hired at was $23.00 a page.  I wasn't that fast and I figured at this pay rate, the most I'll ever make in my life is $10,000.00 a year.  I wasn't anticipating raises.  So then I started to freelance and I got some jobs and then I couldn't get any more jobs.  I went to Israel for a visit, which is where I'm from.  When I came back I thought maybe I could help people like Bob McLeod or Klaus Janson meet deadlines.  If I remember right the first day when I was looking for work I got three jobs.  One was from a penciler named Jim James who hired me to ink something that I don't know if it ever got published and I got the Kamandi thing and something else I don't remember now.  The way I got the DC job was that Sol Harrison, who I hope is sharing a room with Mort Weisinger, by the way, said, "Okay, I'll give him the work, but  (speaking to Dick) only if you watch him."  So I did the job and I brought it to Dick and he said, "Okay."  That was "watching me."

Prof:  (Chuckle.) 

© 2009 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edted by Joe Rubinstein


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