Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview Josef Rubinstein, a famous comic book inker that has inked over more characters and more pencilers than anyone else in comic book history. Josef takes us into his early life in Germany, immigrating to the USA, being hired at Continuity Comics under Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, working with comic book greats like Jack Abel and Wally Wood during his time at the Overseas Weekly. Also discusses his early comic assignments on Kamandi with Michael Nasser, Warlock with Jim Starlin, John Byrne on Captain America, and working for editor Jim Shooter at Marvel Comics in the early 1980s, his inks on the Wolverine Limited Series on Frank Miller’s layouts, his inks on Justice League, his favorite Inker on both Jack Kirby and Carmine Infantino. And philosophically discusses the potential death of the role of an inker in comics, and some fun conflicts with Alex Toth and Gil Kane.
Josef “Joe” Rubinstein is a comic book artist and inker, most associated with inking Marvel Comics’ The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the 1982 four-issue Wolverine miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. He is also known for giving artist Art Adams his first professional work.
🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians, Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Josef Rubinstein
00:00:30 Background of Josef Rubinstein
00:01:28 Early reader? What comic did you read?
00:03:54 Were you a student of prior comic art?
00:05:33 Continuity Associates at the time you entered?
00:07:35 Impression of Jack Abel
00:08:44 How is working with Wally Wood
00:11:01 Interesting thing about Russ’s technique
00:12:22 Neal Adams and Dick Giordano partners in Continuity Associates?
00:13:53 Working with Neal Adams
00:14:55 Michael Netzer
00:16:49 What was your impression of Jerry Conway?
00:18:02 DC to Marvel
00:21:30 Inking Micronauts
00:22:36 Dick Giordano taught me…
00:24:58 Inking Marvel Universe | Bob Greenberger
00:28:05 Mark Gruenwald & Jim Shooter
00:29:56 Steve Gerber, John Buscema, Ron Wilson
00:32:33 Roger Stern & Joseph Rubenstein’s Captain America
00:34:58 Taking Neal Adams out of John Byrne
00:37:29 Working on Marvel characters
00:39:02 Silver Surfer with Marshall Rogers
00:39:43 Wolverine Series with Chris Claremont, Frank Miller
00:43:22 How was working on Infinity Gauntlet
00:44:20 Career highlight was working on the Justice League
00:45:43 Who inked Jack Kirby the best | Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia
00:47:35 My approach to inking everyone is …
00:50:46 Heroes for Hunger | Joe Kubert
00:53:36 Who can’t you ink? | Jack Kirby
00:54:40 Mike Royer as an inker on Jack Kirby
00:55:58 Is it the death of the inker? Is it a career anymore?
00:57:45 Marvel Comics’ look in the 80s?
00:58:30 The best part about being an inker…
01:00:00 Why didn’t you pencil?
01:02:15 Favorite inker on Carmine Infantino?
01:05:05 Gil Kane and I hated each other
01:06:51 Top three pencilers that you’ve inked
01:08:16 Did your ever meet Alex Toth
01:08:37 Have you ever inked Jim Steranko
01:09:45 Connect me @
01:10:01 Do you go to San Diego?
01:10:46 The Liberty Brigade, Thrilling Nostalgia Comics Group
01:12:08 Wrapping up
#JosefRubinstein #JoeRubinstein #ComicBookInker #JosefRubinsteinInterview
#MarvelUniverse #ComicBookHistorians #CBHInterviews
#ComicHistorianInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex Grand: Welcome again to the Comic Book Historian Podcast. I’m Alex Grand, with my co-host, Jim Thompson. Today, we have an interview with an incredible inker of the Bronze and Marvel Age, Joseph Rubinstein, who has inked probably more artists and more characters than anyone in history. Joseph has been working in comics since the 1970s. Joseph, thank you so much for being here today with us.
Joe Rubinstein: You’re welcome. I didn’t know I was Bronzy, but okay. I’ll go with it.
Alex Grand: Jim’s going to start off on your early years, so go ahead and take it away Jim.
Jim Thompson: Okay, so can I call you Joe or is it Joseph?
Joe Rubinstein: Joe is fine.
Jim Thompson: Okay, Joe what we like to do is to get into the very beginning. I know you were born in Germany. When did you come to the U.S.?
Joe Rubinstein: We didn’t know it was Germany, so apparently, when Germany lost the war, they were forced to take the town I was born in. We thought I was Polish. I got naturalized in ’72.
Jim Thompson: I see.
Joe Rubinstein: It was a place called Breslau, which as it turns out, by pure coincidence, one of my favorite artists of all time, Adolph von Menzel, was born in. He’s the only Adolph I ever actually liked.
Jim Thompson: That makes sense.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah. I never met Adolph Zuckor, but I’m sure he was a swell dancer. When did I come to this country? Well, we went from Israel and then I think I was five when I came over, but some people seem to think I was three, but I haven’t looked at it that deeply.
Jim Thompson: Some of the people that we talk with talk about, one common trait is that they are all early readers. Were you an early reader? Were you reading in, what language were you reading in first?
Joe Rubinstein: Well, I came to the U.S. not speaking the language, and my older cousin had a pile of comic books, I think primarily, the Superman family stuff. No, I wasn’t reading it, I guess, but I guess I got enthralled by the pictures and the colors and what have you.
Joe Rubinstein: Then, like many little kids, I started to draw my own comic books on line paper with crayon when I was five or six. To more directly answer your question, when my reading comprehension was tested over the years, I was usually far above my grade level, because I knew what the word “imaginary” meant from those comic books I was reading.
Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah. Of course.
Joe Rubinstein: I love, love, love to read. Unfortunately, I never do it anymore because I’ve got too much to do, which is like a crime against nature.
Jim Thompson: When were your comic book years? When did you start? I’m assuming you were a comic book fan, for some period of time.
Joe Rubinstein: Oh, yeah. I was reading comic books from when I could read. Even when I was … See, Marvel and DC had an agreement in the golden old days of everybody would get a comp of everybody else’s books, so we would get these big boxes filled with everybody’s comic books. Then you’d sort through them and you’d see which ones you’d want to read and which ones you don’t.
Joe Rubinstein: I was certainly reading Watchmen and X-Men and Dark Knight. I guess by the ’90s or so, I was less about traditional comic books, or at last superhero comic books, and more about like Will Eisner stuff. More adult things that related more to philosophy, my life history. Because when you spend your entire life … I mean, I know a lot of writers who, since they’re always doing comic books, they’ve got to read a history book, they’ve got to get something substantial under their … With me, I watch TV all day long while I work, and I do watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Timeless and then occasionally, I got to turn on a documentary and just get back to the real world.
Jim Thompson: Right, sure.
Joe Rubinstein: Not that the real world is that great these days but you got to be forearmed.
Jim Thompson: Yeah. Were you like a student of prior comic art? Did you study Golden Age artists and different ones for technique? Or did you just kind of absorb it as you went along?
Joe Rubinstein: No, no, no. I mean, you have to study. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. You find out that all the solutions to every problem you’ve ever had has already been dealt with. I worked over at Neal Adams’ and Dick Giordano’s studio. I worked at the Art Students League in New York, where I lived, when I was 11 and then when I was 13, I got to work at the studio as a gofer with making coffee and running errands and the like.
Jim Thompson: I see.
Joe Rubinstein: Then when I had off-time, I was studying the files. Dick Giordano, who was a wonderful, wonderful man would stop everything he was doing, occasionally, and just give me a little art lesson. Or I was really lucky in that I had access to original pencils and original inks and saw the process. I didn’t really understand what Neal and Dick were doing until I studied the people that Neal and Dick studied, and then it made sense.
Joe Rubinstein: To this day, I still take art classes in painting and drawing. I still want to learn more and know there’s a lot more to learn, so I’m always studying. Somebody asked me, at a convention recently, what do I collect? Figurines or action figures or whatever. What I collect are books by artists who, they have a compilation all of a sudden of Alex Raymond or Hal Foster. That’s what I collect. I have way, way, way too many books.
Alex Grand: What year did you enter Continuity Associates? What year was that, you think?
Joe Rubinstein: When I was 13, which was ’71.
Alex Grand: 1971. What was Continuity like at that time? It was basically Neal Adams, Dick Giordano. They started that, and they were … Tell us about the environment. Like What kind of environment was that?
Joe Rubinstein: Well, it was just three rooms. If the client showed up, I had to get out of the main room and go to the library or something. Eventually, they started to expand it. Their whole goal was comic books, badly, there were no royalties. The rates were atrocious. They were going to do advertising work and comic book advertising work. Slowly but surely, they expanded. The took over the floor that they were renting rooms in. Prior to 19 … Prior to the Internet, prior to FedEx, everybody had to live in the Tri-State New York area to deliver their work.
Joe Rubinstein: I mean, like once the Filipinos started happening, they would literally roll up 22 pages in as tight a tube as they possibly could and mail it in. Other than that, people had to deliver their work personally, or certainly have their wife or boyfriend or whoever deliver it. Then when they were done, they’d go over to Continuity Associates, because Neal was a tremendous artist and a groundbreaker. It was an exciting place to be, and consequently, a lot of wonderful artists started to rent space there, like Wally Wood and Russ Heath.
Alex Grand: Oh, Cool.
Joe Rubinstein: Neal, as they became less and less occupied or employed by the companies, he’d start hiring people like Jack Sparling and Bill Draut. Jack Abel had offices there that I used to assist Jack, and I was Wally Wood’s assistant, I was Russ Heath’s assistant.
Alex Grand: Oh, really? Wow.
Joe Rubinstein: It just, whoever needed help, I would get in there and do some kind of work for them.
Jim Thompson: What was your impression of Jack Abel? I ask that because Howard Chaykin talked about him and how much fun he had with him.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, a lot of people have that opinion of Jack, but Jack was generally a very depressed guy, and I found myself … Like he always worried about, “How am I going to pay for my retirement?” Then, of course, he died before he had a retirement. I found our relationship was me having to like sort of pump him up and go, “Jack, it’s not so bad, it’s not so bad.”
Joe Rubinstein: Now, a lot of people loved him and a lot of people thought he was funny, and he did tell great old stories. I’m sure … I don’t know how old Jack was when he died, but I’m sure, I’m older than he was when I was there as a kid assistant, but he was one of the old guys, and he had the old stories and he knew the old people.
Joe Rubinstein: I don’t think he much really approved of modern comic books much anyway, but everybody who … Meaning, Milton Caniff and Hal Foster and Alex Raymond and Sy Barry, those were the real comic book artists, and these new punks, these new kids, it’s like, “I don’t get it.” That’s sort of the pattern of every generation of artists.
Alex Grand: Tell us about Wally Wood. How was it working with him?
Joe Rubinstein: Woody was a wonderful, sweet man. He had a demon, he was an alcoholic. I’d never seen him drunk. He was very much trying to clean up his act when I knew him. He was wry and funny. Certainly, I idolized him, because he’s one of the all-time greats. Then he got ill and things slid and then he died. Again, I look at the pictures of him, and he looks 80 years old, and I think he’s five years younger than I am now when he died.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s right. He wasn’t that old but he looked old.
Joe Rubinstein: You would have to rent out an auditorium to put all of Wally Wood’s assistants and Dick Giordano’s assistants in the same room, because they all, both of them, used a great many people, I mean, for expediency sake. Because it’s a lot of work to do a comic book and you need people to do the stuff that you don’t have to do. At the same time, both Neal … Both Dick and Woody were very nurturing people, and they taught you what you needed to know.
Joe Rubinstein: I did this background for … What I did was I assisted on the last two Sally Forth and Cannons, which was a comic strip that he did, like for the Overseas Weekly.
Alex Grand: Yeah, right. I read those.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah. I mean, and what it consisted of was saying, “Okay, trace that head over there. Trace this figure over here. Ink this building.” It’s not like I can take any credit for having done the work, it’s just I put the lines down so Woody had something to work with.
Joe Rubinstein: I’m doing this background, and I’m using a ruler, and I’m making it the straightest, most wonderful, perfect, this thing that ever was. I showed it to him and he said, “All the lines connect.” I went, “Yeah.” He says, “Don’t do that again.” Then he explained to me how to get the impression of reality by allowing things to be looser, for lines not to connect, but to have an impressionistic way of implying a background. Even though, I don’t think, if you look at my work, there’s any trace of Woody’s stuff in it. A lot of the lessons he taught me are the basis for how I do my work today.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s really great to hear. He was doing the Overseas Weekly stuff in that same area of space that Continuity Associates was in?
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah.
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s crazy. I never connected those two things.
Joe Rubinstein: I mean, Russ, Russ was doing Sergeant Rock. I mean-
Alex Grand: Wow.
Joe Rubinstein: Russ was, excellent, excellent work. I don’t know that Russ ever did a bad job, but he was certainly doing some of the highlights of his career while he was at Continuity Associates. All I did was like fill in black and touch-up panel boards. Here’s the interesting thing about Russ’ technique. When you touch-up panel boards, that means the little nicks that come out of the panel board and you have to clean them up with an opaque, white paint.
Joe Rubinstein: What Russ had me do is he would take a razor blade and a ruler and lightly score the outside of the panel, and then scoop out that thick, because he just wanted to get dirty as the years went by. That takes a lot more time to do. Or I’d heard, when you do stars in space, big constellations and what have you, the easiest way to do it is you just take a toothbrush and you spray a field of stars. Well Russ, he just inked around each individual star. I was like, “What are you doing?” He says, “Well, how else you going to get it right?” That was his perception and work ethic.
Alex Grand: Wow. That’s really great. Now, in Continuity, so were Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, were they partners of equal standing in the company? Were they, essentially, like partners?
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah. They were partners, absolutely. I think the reason the partnership ended is because Dick wanted some justification for why the studio was run the way it was, spending more money than it needed to. Neal just did not have one and Dick, in frustration, said, “Well, I’m going to leave now and I’m going to start my own studio,” with the comical and vaguely unfortunate name of Dik Art, but that’s the one he picked, D-I-K Art.
Joe Rubinstein: Anyway, yeah, yeah. I mean, obviously, for the most part, broke up the work, in Neal was the penciler, Dick was the inker, sometimes have to pencil something. Then, while I was there, they got the contract from Charlton Comics to do the black and white Space 1999 and Six Million Dollar Man and Emergency comics.
Alex Grand: Right.
Joe Rubinstein: That was a lot of work, which then Neal had a lot of the young guys start ghosting him, so there was a ton of work to do. Everybody was busy doing stuff. You’ll find Klaus Janson and Frank Springer and me, Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, all these people that were working for Dick and working for Neal were all, were drafted into doing those books.
Alex Grand: Wow, that’s great, so that was good experience for you then.
Joe Rubinstein: Well, it’s never a good experience working for Neal Adams, but-
Alex Grand: Oh, really? Tell us about that. That’s interesting.
Joe Rubinstein: Suffice it to say that I haven’t spoken to Neal Adams in 40 years, though I’ve been in many, many convention halls with him. I know that my life is a much happier place if we never have a conversation again.
Alex Grand: Yeah, wow.
Jim Thompson: Did he teach you at all? I mean, you talk about Giordano as the mentor, but did you learn from Adams back in that early period?
Joe Rubinstein: No. He couldn’t be … Look, I’d say, “Neal, how do you do this?” “I’m not a teacher,” and he’d just walk away. Dick, “Well, how do you do this?” He said, “Well, let me show you.”
Alex Grand: Yeah, okay.
Joe Rubinstein: I mean, he’s a very polarizing person, but I’m very much on the negative pole.
Alex Grand: Okay.
Joe Rubinstein: It’s not like I keep it a secret.
Alex Grand: Right, no. I understand, and we appreciate the honesty. That’s great. Now, Mike Nasser. You met him through those guys, through Continuity?
Joe Rubinstein: Oh, yeah. He idolized, his style was, obviously, based on Neal’s. He was up there doing work and … See, what happened was, I read an interview by Gil Kane, certainly one of the all-time greats, and Alter Ego, Number 10, was like a grease pencil portrait of Gil Kane on the cover by Marie Severin. In it he said, he had been an inker first. Learned the business, and then a penciler. I went, “Oh, okay. Well, then I guess I’ll practice inking since I’ve got the world’s greatest inker here.”
Joe Rubinstein: I mean, tastes vary, but I loved Neal’s work and Dick was the inker, so of course, Dick was the world’s best inker. I started to practice inking and Mike had these samples. I said, “Would you mind if I ink these on velum?” He went, “No, go ahead, ink the real thing.” I went, “Really?” I did. I was like 16 and a half at the time or something, or maybe 17.
Joe Rubinstein: I inked them, he showed them to his editor, Gerry Conway, who hired him to draw his first job in the back of Kamandi. It was like a six-pager called, appropriately enough, Tales of the Great Disaster, and so Gerry hired me to ink it, so all of a sudden we’re a team. The second rate Neal Adams is being inked by the second rate Dick Giordano on this series. Then we went-
Alex Grand: That’s pretty fun.
Joe Rubinstein: … Another one, Kamandi to do and Batman. I got hooked up a lot with Mike, which was great, because I thought we made sense together.
Alex Grand: Yeah, yeah. You guys meshed well.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, well, like I said, we were coming from the same source. He’s trying to be Neal, I’m trying to be Dick.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s really great, actually. Then how was Gerry Conway as an editor? What was your impression of Conway back then?
Joe Rubinstein: Well, he gave me the cheapest rate in the business, so when I found out that everybody else in the industry was making $23 a page, and I was making 20 a page, so … I don’t remember any problems or conflicts or anything with Gerry at the time. I see Gerry now at conventions and I tease him a little about my original rate.
Joe Rubinstein: The interesting thing is if you’re doing a comic book and you’re getting a lousy 23 bucks a page, they just wanted in. If you’re doing a job for an advertising agency and they’re paying you $1,000 a page, everybody’s got an opinion. As comic books, it’s like nobody pays attention to you in comic books, but if you’re doing an advertising poster for a movie, now everybody’s paying attention to you. I think they were more than happy with just, “Is it in? Good.” I mean, obviously, the stuff can’t be bad, but I think the stuff was good enough where it wasn’t a problem when it showed up.
Alex Grand: That was your entry into DC. Then through DC, then you got connected into doing Marvel stuff. Is that how that kind of went?
Joe Rubinstein: Well, what happened was is, I have no idea how I was there, but I was at a party, maybe in Brooklyn. I was, I pointed over to some guy, I said, “Who’s that?” They said, “Oh, that’s Jim Starlin.” I thought, “Oh, that’s Jack Sparling?” I kind of like work, yeah, but it turned out to be Jim Starlin. Then, now you have to remember, all these guys, I’m 17, I’m 16, I’m 15. All these guys are 22, 23, 28, 30, 40, 50, which is why I know so many dead people.
Joe Rubinstein: Because I knew Curt Swan and Gene Colan and John Buscema and Julius Schwartz, and all these people were 30, 40 years older than me when I met them. I don’t honestly know what Jim had seen of my work, but at one point, he walked up to me and he said, “Hey, I’m doing this Avengers annual for Marvel. Do you want to ink it?”
Alex Grand: Oh, cool.
Joe Rubinstein: I go, “Yeah.” I mean, one, because I was happy to do the event and get a job. One, I was happy to work with Starlin. The other one was I knew that if I got the Marvel, I would get to ink John Buscema and Gene Colan and all … Jack Kirby, all those people that were only at Marvel.
Alex Grand: Right.
Joe Rubinstein: I do this thing, and then they said, “But it’s a two-parter.” I went, “Great.” I did the two in one annual and for the record, that’s where Thanos fought the Avengers, originally. Not the Infinity Gauntlet.
Alex Grand: Right, right, right. Yep.
Jim Thompson: Absolutely. Those were great. Those were great issues.
Alex Grand: Yeah, classic.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, well, thank you. It’s interesting that for 30 years, that thing was reprinted 15 times.
Alex Grand: Right.
Joe Rubinstein: I guess they liked it, because they just keep reprinting it.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s cool.
Joe Rubinstein: Then, I remember, John Beatty, who’s an inker, who’s primarily known for working with Mike Zeck on Captain America and Secret Wars.
Alex Grand: Sure.
Joe Rubinstein: He told me, I’m not sure how much younger John is to me, but he told me when he saw the thing, when he bought the comic book, he thought that the name must have been an alias because he flattered me by saying, “It was so good, this couldn’t be a new guy.” The thing is, is that when people meet me, I mean, now I’m a whopping 61 years old, so maybe it’s going to trail off, but when people meet me, very often they go, “How old are you?” I go, “60.” “How old were you when you did that job?” I went, “19.”
Alex Grand: Yeah, young.
Joe Rubinstein: They always assume I must have been in my 30s at the time I was doing that stuff, but …
Alex Grand: Right, because if you were doing that stuff, and you don’t have your Medicare card yet, that’s unusual.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, and there was a point when Trevor Von Eeden and I did a job together and we were the youngest people in comic books, because he was like … I was like 19 and he was 18. He had started working when he was 15 or 16, or something like that, so we were the youngest … As a matter of fact, I remember Joe Orlando looking at me once, kind of amused, going, “We thought Williamson was young,” because he was probably in his early 20s when he was working at EC, but I was like 16, 17. You know?
Alex Grand: How fun. Then, that’s when you got connected into other Marvel books? It was through the Jim Starlin works. You inked Michel Golden on Micronauts as well, right?
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah. Well, the reason that happened was because I inked him on a Man-Bat job.
Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah. I know that one.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, and Michael liked it, and I guess he asked for me. Then I got on this Micronaut thing for seven issues.
Jim Thompson: That was a big one, right? I mean, that’s when I noticed you. I mean, because that was, those issues with Golden were really something. I mean, I hadn’t seen … That was like a, just knocked me out in terms of … Because the book itself, “Ah,” but the art was just so good and so different.
Alex Grand: It is, it was.
Joe Rubinstein: Well, I mean, Mike’s a genius, and I followed it best I could. Looking back on it, in retrospect, I didn’t do it right.
Alex Grand: Really?
Joe Rubinstein: That’s not to say you can’t enjoy it. It’s just, I look at it and think, “Oh, I took the wrong approach.” Because I don’t know if Dick Giordano’s the first one who really had this attitude and instilled it in me, but most inkers, prior to Dick and me, just did whatever they felt like. Like if you gave the job to Joe Kubert, it turned into a beautiful Joe Kubert job. Dick taught me, “Change your approach. Give it the respect it deserves. Every job shouldn’t be inked the same way.” Well, I once asked Murphy Anderson, “What’s your link? How do you change it?” He goes, “Well, I just kind of do my thing.” I don’t kind of do my thing. I try to get into the head of the person who drew it. I want to give them the respect that I would want if I had drawn it, and not have somebody go, “Well, I don’t care what you want. I’m going to do it my way.”
Joe Rubinstein: I always worked hard to try and figure out what the appropriate approach for any given new penciler I worked with. I thought I was doing the right approach with Golden, but looking back on it, it’s still lovely, lovely stuff because it’s mostly Mike’s credit, but I did it wrong and if I had a chance to do it again, I’d do it a whole other way.
Alex Grand: Yeah, it’s interesting. Because with that, it shows you’re really flexible. That’s interesting that Woody was one of your influences because a lot of people say when he inks something, it turns into a Wally Wood picture at the end of it.
Joe Rubinstein: Absolutely, but that’s not what his influence was. Dick’s influence about … When Dick inked Neal Adams, he didn’t ink him the same way he inked Kubert, the same way he didn’t ink Mike Sekowsky, so Dick tried to be flexible within his limitations, I think I’m about as flexible an inker as I’ve ever seen.
Joe Rubinstein: I guess I’ve just flattered myself, but I think that’s the reason I got Marvel Universe, is because Mark Gruenwald, the editor that put it together, he said he didn’t want all the books to … All the entries to look homogenous, he wanted the penciler … When he got John Byrne to draw this character because John was associated with that, he wanted it to be John Byrne when it was coming back. When he got Mike Zeck to draw the Punisher, it should look like a Mike Zeck when it was done.
Joe Rubinstein: I didn’t even remember this story. I read it in one of my own interviews, as I was re-reading it. I had, there was a magazine called Comic Scene.
Alex Grand: Yeah.
Joe Rubinstein: I did it … Bob Greenberger, who went on to do DC Comics. I badgered Bob to do something about inkers because inkers are always getting screwed and dissed. Finally, what he put together was a round table with Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer, Bob Layton and myself.
Alex Grand: Wow.
Joe Rubinstein: He gave all of us, Bob Greenberger gave all of us a Mike Zeck Hulk figure to ink, which we did, the same one. Then he reproduced all four of them next to each other to show the differences in what was going on. When Mark Gruenwald saw mine, he felt mine was truest to the intention, so that’s why he offered me Marvel Universe and he said …
Joe Rubinstein: He had me ink like three of them, like a Milgrom and two Ron Wilson’s or a Brian Postman, or something. When it was all done and I handed it to him, he said, “Okay. We’re doing this encyclopedia. How many you want to do?” I said, “All of them.” Why would I say anything else. That’s how I wound up being on that book for about 20 years.
Alex Grand: You inked all of Marvel Universe.
Joe Rubinstein: Probably 99 and a half percent.
Alex Grand: Wow, that’s amazing.
Jim Thompson: How many different artists do you think you did all together on that?
Joe Rubinstein: On that, I don’t know, but I think I have between 400 and 450 different pencilers I’ve worked with over my career.
Alex Grand: Wow.
Joe Rubinstein: Probably because of that series. I made the joke once that I have the Guinness World Record for most pencilers and most characters, and so now, I see it was like written, “Joe Rubinstein, owner of the Guinness World Record.” It’s like, well, I finally called, I wrote … “Hey, you want to put me in your book?” They went, “We don’t care.” Anyway, so …
Jim Thompson: I saw that over and over as I was researching this, and it’s everywhere, that it’s an accepted fact that you’re in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Joe Rubinstein: I got it but it doesn’t exist.
Alex Grand: That’s hilarious.
Joe Rubinstein: Because if you figure, so I did Marvel Universe, which means I did every single character Marvel ever had. I worked at DC on Superman for seven years, Batman for three years, the Justice League, it’s like … Plus all the different pencilers. I’ve probably done more characters … I hate to say this, because it’s practically heresy, than like Jack Kirby.
Alex Grand: Right, right. Well, I mean, all of Marvel Universe and Justice League by itself, that’s a lot of characters.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, absolutely. It was the best job an inker ever had because I would solicit people I always wanted to work with like Joe Kubert, and John Bolton, people who never … John Severin. People who never let anybody else ink their work, and I was inking them, and it was great.
Alex Grand: How was working with Mark Gruenwald and Jim Shooter back then?
Joe Rubinstein: Mark Gruenwald loved comics more than anything in life. He just … That’s why he did Marvel Universe, because he wanted it to be consistent and make sense and just be a cohesive thing that we could all work with, and that’s why he did Marvel Universe. Then he got the idea, I guess, “Let’s get the fans to pay for it,” and set it to be some sort of an encyclopedia we’d just print out, or a handout, who knows?
Joe Rubinstein: I think because Marvel Comics had changed so radically after Shooter left, that it became … You didn’t have a champion anymore. I had a champion. If they lost my check or something was going on that I needed help, I could go to Jim Shooter and say, “Can you help me?” and he would. I’m not saying I’m the only one he did that for. After Jim was ousted, there was nobody to do that, and Mark had to start being a hatchet man, and I think it gave him a heart attack.
Alex Grand: Yeah. It wore him down, huh?
Joe Rubinstein: I know that Jim Shooter is a highly polarizing figure. All I can tell you is he was always great to me. I can understand why some people had problems with him. He was a decent human being to me. I mean, he would say things like, “You don’t sweat much for an inker from Brooklyn,” and think that was a compliment or something. I mean, he thought it was okay. Things like that. I also saw him have clashes with mostly writers, not exclusively. Because they had egos and he wasn’t going to put up with it.
Joe Rubinstein: There was a guy, there was a character … Okay, I want to know if I should make this blind item or real. All right.
Jim Thompson: Real.
Joe Rubinstein: Gerber invented Howard the Duck.
Alex Grand: Yes.
Joe Rubinstein: He left, and Mantlo wrote it for a while.
Alex Grand: Right.
Joe Rubinstein: Then Gerber wanted to come back and they said, “Okay, great.” He said, “Well, I’m going to throw out everything Mantlo did,” and they said, “Fine, do it on your own start.” He says, “Yeah, but I’m going to have to discredit them, or …” They went, “You can’t do that. You can ignore them. You can make believe they never happened, but you can’t start insulting the books.” Gerber said, “Well, then I won’t do it,” and Shooter said, “Then you won’t do it.” Or for instance, John Buscema did a comic book adaptation of a David Bowie move called Labyrinth.
Alex Grand: Yeah, sure.
Joe Rubinstein: They put out a Labyrinth coloring book and Shooter said, “Well, where are we getting the artwork from it?” Says, “Oh, we’re just tracing John Buscema’s pencils from the comic book, and we don’t have to pay him.” Shooter said, “Yeah, you do have to pay him.”
Alex Grand: Right.
Joe Rubinstein: I doubt that Jim called up John Buscema and said, “I just championed you.” I think he just said, “Call John Buscema up and tell him he’s getting paid.” When Marvel had a Christmas party, it was Jim Shooter paying, not Marvel. The presents coming out were Marvel. It was a lot more fun, it was a lot more wacky, but I have to admit, that if I were doing a book directly under Jim Shooter as my editor and not a step away, I’d go, “Oh, shit this is going to be trouble, because he’s going to find this problem and that problem. He’s going to make me dread this …” He did.
Joe Rubinstein: He felt that somebody’s got to be the umpire, somebody’s got to be the last word. He felt, “If the girl was ugly, make her pretty.” I’d say, “Well, why is your opinion of the girl better than mine? I think she’s pretty.” He’d go, “Because I’m the umpire, and I call it.” I’d go, “Okay.” I mean, that’s like, I’ve had employees over the years and if they said, “Well, why do you think I should change this background?” I’d go, “Because I’m the boss and I think I need it my way, not yours.”
Alex Grand: Right, yeah. I spoke with Ron Wilson once and he said the same thing you said. He said, “Shooter was good to me.” Yeah, a lot of people might have some issue with him but, “He was great to me,” and that he missed working for him. Yeah, it’s actually, it is refreshing to hear that from you. I appreciate how candid you were about that.
Jim Thompson: Joe, I wanted to talk about a couple of specific series that you … Short runs that you had during that Marvel era that I think are important to a lot of people. The first one would be the Roger Stern, John Byrne and Joseph Rubinstein Captain America, which is one of my favorite runs in Captain America ever. What did you … My understanding is you like that work a lot.
Joe Rubinstein: I liked doing it a lot, yeah.
Jim Thompson: You’re proud of it.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah. I mean, I think so. I was reading John’s X-Men, they look great, and it made John a star. Then they asked me to do Captain America, and I thought that was great. Then I saw John’s pencils and I thought, “Oh, there’s potential here that Terry has not been exploiting.” That Terry’s been inking it the way he things it should be inked, okay. I got a different idea on how it should be inked. More often than not, in these polls people take, it’s like, all right, so it’s either me or Terry as John’s best inker. They’re always saying that.
Joe Rubinstein: I was proud of that work. I thought John was doing a fantastic job. I thought Roger was writing wonderful stuff. You spend the majority of your life alone in a room doing this shit, and it’s like, “Do I have anything to show for it? Am I proud of this? When this comes out, will I be horrified or disappointed?” Or, “I wanted this to be colored right and it didn’t get colored right, or …” Like it’s one thing to take the money and run, but I’d like to have something I’m proud of after everything is said and done. I thought that book was a combination of good stuff. Then I was making it, I was working very hard to get the covers to be special on those.
Jim Thompson: Oh, yeah, and they were.
Joe Rubinstein: Like the one where he’s standing with the coffin and Baron Blood’s in the foreground and-
Alex Grand: Oh, that’s so good. Yeah.
Joe Rubinstein: With me, deciding that effect … John drew it, of course. It was his concept, but I said, “I can make this more gothic.” I talked Marvel into spending the money to go get the effect made. I don’t honestly remember if I asked John’s permission to do it. Maybe, I don’t know, but so I wanted-
Jim Thompson: Talk a little bit about taking Neal Adams out of John Byrne’s work on this project. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Joe Rubinstein: No. I was putting it in.
Jim Thompson: Well, Byrne, what Byrne had said, my understanding was that for his half or part of his career, he was trying to do Neal Adams, to some degree and that you were trying, in that one, you had heard him say that and you were trying to take a lot of the Neal Adams’ influence out of it as you were inking it. Is that right?
Joe Rubinstein: No. I was trying to put it in.
Jim Thompson: You were trying to put it in, put it back in.
Joe Rubinstein: First half of his career, he tried to emulate Neal Adams. For the second half of his career, he tried to not look like Neal Adams. Well, the fact is, is that the Neal Adams was ingrained. I saw it, and I thought, “Okay. I’m going to push this 10% more towards the Neal Adams’ stuff.” Now, John has expressed the opinion that he didn’t like that. Okay? If John had out-and-out called me up and said, “Stop doing that,” I would have stopped doing that, but that never got to me. I was trying to make it a little bit more realistic, whatever that means. A little bit more organic than the way Terry inks, which is his own stylized thing.
Joe Rubinstein: I was working hard to make it as good as I could. Now, the last issue that we did together was, supposedly, the all pencil issue, except for the last page that was inked by, “Special thanks to Joe Rubinstein, inker of today.” The reason it says that is because the caption on the page says, “Today.” Right?
Joe Rubinstein: John drew it all in graphite, I guess, to prove that we don’t need inkers in this world. What I did, when I saw the stats, they were so shitty that I sat there in the offices for several hours, unpaid, touching them up. Filling in the blacks, making the lines that were dropping out firmer so that they would reproduce. The all John Byrne issue that didn’t need an inker, was helped by this inker.
Joe Rubinstein: Then, so I’m working on the book and then all of a sudden, I’m told that John and Roger quit. Like, “Hey, where did everybody go?” Nobody even called me to say, “We’re leaving” or “You want to do something else with us?” I stayed on Captain America for like one more issue and then I was gone to do something else.
Alex Grand: Hmm. Mm-hmm
Jim Thompson: Yeah, was that a fun … Obviously, you like some characters more than others in terms of inking or drawing them because of the details and things. Is Captain America a fun character for you to work on?
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, he’s okay. His shield’s a pain in the ass. I’m fine with Cap. The fact of the matter is that people would compliment me on my chainmail, but like everything else, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Woody inked an issue of Gene Colan on Captain America, which was kind of amazing, and he did the chainmail the way I did it, but Woody got it from his influence, which was Hal Foster on Prince Valiant, when he wore chainmail.
Alex Grand: Right.
Joe Rubinstein: I’d do the chainmail and I’d try and get it right. I try to get everything right and as good as I can. I like the, the joke is, I like, my favorite character to do is the Hulk because he’s naked. It’s like no details, no swords, no . It’s just, “He’s naked and he’s got shorts, we’re happy.” Then there’s the Silver Surfer. “He’s sleek, he’s got some muscles, we’re done.”
Joe Rubinstein: Who do I hate? Iron Man, Galactus, War Machine, Jack of Hearts. It’s, I mean, they’re fine characters but I’d rather not spend all that time on all the little filaggrin bric-a-brac. I’d rather just ink a nice face.
Jim Thompson: Jack of Hearts has to be just a nightmare.
Joe Rubinstein: I worked on him too, with George Freeman.
Jim Thompson: You also did Silver Surfer, what, with Marshall Rogers? That was perfect for you.
Joe Rubinstein: Yeah, well, it’s an interesting thing, because memory is very elastic and it distorts and you never know the truth. I seem to remember inking all of the first issue of Silver Surfer with Marshall Rogers in like four days.
Alex Grand: Wow.
Joe Rubinstein: That’s because it was all a little figure on a little board and a lot of space. It seemed like that thing got done pretty fast, but then again, I was also stuck with Galactus, so …
Jim Thompson: The other works of this time, actually two years later, that I wanna talk about is obviously the Wolverine series, with Claremont and Frank Miller. At that point, those were probably the two hottest names working at Marvel at all, and there they are together on probably the hottest character, how did you get that job?
Josef R.: Frank walked up to me at the offices and went, “We’re doing this Wolverine miniseries, you wanna ink it?”, I go, “Yeah.”
Jim Thompson: Well that’s easy.
Josef R.: Like many things in life, you have no idea what a pivotal decision it is til you look back at it, 10, 20, 30 years later. And I had been reading Frank’s Daredevil, and of course they were fantastic and wonderful and magnificent, and Klaus was probably Frank’s perfect inker for that. I went, “Alright, well, now I gotta follow Jansen on this thing.” But the difference was, there’s this thing called a Kirby barrier, where a penciller sees if he can draw an entire comic book in one week and still make it look good. Because, you know, it’s a legend but it also happens to be true. I don’t remember the actual numbers, but let’s say there was Captain America 118 in the offices, and there’s Captain America 120 in the offices, and somebody said, “Hey, where’s 119?”. We got no 119. I don’t know why they didn’t shift it, but they went, “We need a comic book right away.” And they called up Jack Kirby and said, “Jack, would you do a comic book?”, and he went, “Sure!”, and he drew the entire origin again of Captain America over the weekend. Jack Kirby is a force of nature, he can do that.
Josef R.: So Frank, and some others I guess, decided to see, can I draw an entire comic book in a week, and it not look like shit? So Frank, to my understanding, drew all four issues of the Wolverine miniseries, in four weeks. But the difference is, is he did them as layouts, which means there’s an awful lot more choices for the inker to make, an awful lot of things that are sketchy or rough, or what have you. So, he gave Klaus finished pencils, and he gave me layouts. So, if you look at them, they don’t look at all alike, not only because of my style, even though Klaus Jansen and I were both trained by Dick Giordano, and we were both imitating Dick, but then we diverged. The reason the two series don’t look a thing alike is because Frank was storytelling differently and he was giving me layouts, not full pencils.
Alex Grand: Right, ’cause those faces when you look close up at them, it doesn’t feel like Frank it feels like your stuff. It feels like you.
Josef R.: Well yeah, I mean I’m a portrait painter. Its the thing I love doing most, is people and faces, and if they’re a bunch of great heads in a comic book, I ink them right away ’cause who can wait? And then I’d be stuck with all the stuff I hate doing at the end of the comic book. But I mean, I don’t know how anybody can have this great, juicy, wonderful head on page 19 and go, “Okay, I’ll get there in two weeks.” Like, no! What do you wait for dessert?
Josef R.: So yeah, and, you know, they asked me about the infinity gauntlet, and they asked me about other stuff at comic book conventions. “How was it working on the infinity gauntlet?”. It’s like when they go up to people who worked on Gone with the Wind, or the Godfather, go, “What was it like?”. It was a job. We showed up, we did it, it was fun. You know, I wanted another job so I did it as well as I could. It’s a job. I don’t know if any actor says, “Okay, I’m gonna get an Academy Award on this one, so I’d better do better.” You know, it’s like, you go in and you do what you can, and you do it as best you can because as I alluded to earlier, you spend the majority of your life alone in a room doing this stuff. You want to be proud of it when you’re done. And you also wanna get hired again next time.
Alex Grand: Yeah, so you gotta do a good job.
Jim Thompson: Let me ask, Joe, were there other collaborators or projects that were especially memorable that you’d like to mention or talk about?
Josef R.: Well, certainly I think a career highlight was working on the Justice League in Albany, manifestations of it, like I can’t believe it’s not the league informally known as the Justice League, because Giffen and DeMatteis did a fantastic job, the book was really funny, but it also had wonderful drama. And McGuire, McGuire worked very hard on it and then when he left, Adam Hughes, who’s a superior artist. So, I think all of those things looked good, read very well. My only hesitation is, Kevin draws so tightly that there was very little of me to do anything on it other than give it a little bit of a flourish, or a little bit of polish. Now I’m not saying my job is to add anything to it, but it has been known to happen, and this job was just follow those lines as closely as you can and like the Hippocratic Oath, try to do no harm.
Alex Grand: Right. The Hippocratic Oath in inking, I like it.
Jim Thompson: That’s a really good segue to what I wanted to ask you about now, and we’ve kind of covered some history, but to talk about inking, I listened to you on a PBS special talking about inking using a music analogy where you were talking how it originally starts as sheet music then you add instruments and things, can you expand on that and kind of explain inking. Do you remember what you were talking about?
Josef R.: Sure, so … a composer decides to make a piece of music and they have a concept, blank sheet in front of them and they create. And then, you know, hopefully they do it as well as they can and they get it just right, and then they unfortunately are forced to hand it off to a musician or and orchestra, it’s like, “Please take care of my baby, I worked hard on this thing.” If the composer gives it to me and says, “Well, what do you play?”, “Well, I’m debating between a piccolo and a guitar.” You know? And it’s like, well, that’ll completely change the feeling of the music depending on what instrument I choose.
Josef R.: So, okay, so I’ll go with guitar. I think this music is more suited to guitar. Then the next questions is: Flamenco? Classic? Rock? Jazz? So, even though, again, I’m following this music, these notes in the same order, my spin on it, I will alter it immediately. So, the penciller gives me a job to do, I go, “Alright, do I respect this stuff?” Hopefully I do. Now what do I do? Is it a brittle job, or is it a fluid job? Do I use choppy kinetic pen strokes or do I use a fluid brush stroke? Do I follow it and try and give it no additional personality, or is it kind of dull and possibly the editor has said, “Can you do what you can with this thing and make it better?”
Josef R.: So, all those choices are running through my head, and my first obligation is to myself, because I wanna make the job as good as I can. Second obligation is to the penciller, and then hopefully the editor won’t mind. If the editor says, “You have to fix this job and change it into something else.”, well I will, doesn’t mean I’ll like it, but I will. So I’m assessing all these things to try and get the thing to be what it was intended to be because it’s comparable to, I’m running a relay race and the guy hands me up the baton and I go, “You know what, I’m not really feeling like that today, I’ll just go over there for a while.” Well, we didn’t want you to do that, that wasn’t our expectations.
Josef R.: Now the thing is, our fantastic, magnificent artists are gone now, but like, Tony DeZuniga and Alfredo Alcala, who will always give you a fantastic job, but it’ll be them. It’ll be them, its that simple. They don’t know nor care to do anything but what they do. So, if Kevin Nowlan inks a job, it will be great. Kevin will always give you a great job. But let’s say they find a unpublished, six page, Frank Frazetta white Indian job. So they go, “Okay, let’s give it to Alfredo Alcala to ink.” And then you see on the stands, Frank Frazetta does white Indian, and you open it up and there’s an Alfredo Alcala job staring at you. And you go, well this is really good but where’s Frank Frazetta?
Josef R.: A point I want you to have what you expected, I wanna give a better version of what I was given, not a different version of what I was given. And I think the vast majority of inkers these days, always really if you look at the history of comics, didn’t give the respect it needed so much as, “I’m gonna do it my way now.” Or, sometimes, there was this one not great inker, who got some Kurt Swan stuff to do, and he just didn’t know what to do with it. He couldn’t draw well enough to handle it. I said to him, “What happened with the swan job?” And he went, “Oh I knew I was wrong for that.” You know, the rent has to be paid.
Josef R.: But its the shame of the editor, because one of the best draftsmen in comics ever, and they get him to ink it for a long time, and so it looks great. It looks like Murphy Anderson. But then they get Frank Chiaramante, and all these guys that don’t know what the fuck … and it’s like, you guys are all paying attention to, this is your iconic character drawn by one of the best artist who’s ever done comic books, and you’re giving it to some of the worst inkers in the world? What is going on here?
Josef R.: And you know, when you saw Neal Adams doing those Curt Swan covers, they were sublime. There as good as anything ever got in comic books. Okay guys, you know you should be doing this. Why are you giving it to other crappy artists to fuck up? And it’s like, well, they’re friends, they’re old-timers, we got loyalty, I don’t know, I don’t know, you know. And then Al Williamson, see everybody has nostalgia for the stuff that they grew up in. It’s like, my favorite Avengers were drawn by George Perez, my favorite Avengers were drawn by John Buscema because that’s when I was a kid.
Jim Thompson: It was Tom Palmer if it was one era, or George Klein if it was an earlier era, yeah.
Josef R.: And everybody always, so many people on the Curt Swan’s fan sites go, “Okay, well his best inker is George Klein.”, “No, no, no, there’s Anderson, his best inker is Murphy Anderson.” I said, “Well you know who his best inker was? It was Al Williamson.” Because Al Williamson inked him, and he inked him like it was drawn, and even I’ve heard Curt felt Williamson was his best inker because what Al did was he was a magnificent draftsman, he has a wonderful, sensual, interesting line, and he followed it and added a little tweak of drawing to it, and it still looked like Curt Swan. But like I said, other people would go, “No, no, no, it’s Murphy Anderson.” It’s like, Alright. It’s like, I can’t tell you to not like something you like, and vice versa. But its sort of like, I should know what I’m talking about right?
Josef R.: But I went to see the movie A Star is Born with Lady GaGa, and then I saw these reviews telling me how terrible it was. And how awful, and cliché, and predictable. You’re going, “Okay, I guess I should hate it, but I didn’t and you’re not convincing me otherwise.” And I think its the same thing with art. I’ll see, you know there’s this rule of three in, probably life, but in comic books where somebody says, “My favorite singer ever is Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett, and Groucho Marx.” What? “I think the most beautiful woman in the world is Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Lawrence, and Rosanne Barr.” Huh? It’s like, where did that third one come from in your thinking? So I’ll get people who come up to me and go, “You’re my favorite inker after Tom Palmer, Klaus Jansen, Dick Giordano, Frank Frazetta”, Oh well, thank you, thank you. “And my other favorite inker …”, and then they’ll list one of the worst inkers who ever lived. It’s like, oh okay, yeah sure. Alright. You know.
Josef R.: But again, it’s utterly, utterly, totally subjective. But you know what, if a great musician turns to me and says, “You shouldn’t be listening to that shit, Rachmaninoff is what you should be paying attention to.”, and I’ll go, “You know, I’m sure you’re right, and I’m sure there’s incredibly subtleties and dynamic passages in Rachmaninoff I will never appreciate, but I’m gonna go listen to Billy Joel now.
Alex Grand: Right, right. Now, here’s a question for you. So, who would you say is the quintessential Jack Kirby inker?
Josef R.: Well, the one that is, I think, most associate with Jack is Joe Sinnott. And Joe was fantastic, but my favorite inker, and it turns out a lot of professionals’ favorite inkers, was Frank Giacoia. And I nominate Frank Giacoia as the greatest inker who ever lived. Now-
Alex Grand: ‘Cause the line was thicker? Or, why is that?
Josef R.: No, no, you mean thicker on Jack particularly?
Alex Grand: Yeah.
Josef R.: No, no. Frank … Frank could do, speaking back to versatility, Frank could ink Gil Kane, and it’d look great. And he could ink Jack Kirby, and it’d look great. And he could ink Gene Colan, and it’d look great. And he could ink Neal Adams, and it’d look really good. He wasn’t his best inker.
Josef R.: So, Frank’s coming from the 40s and the Milton Caniff style, that’s why he did well with Kirby. But he also could draw, so he understood how to tame Gene. And he was a good enough artist where that one issue of Green Arrow to be inked over Adams, he knew how not to dominate it. You know? So, something about Frank’s lines, something about Frank’s understanding of drawing. Now you could say, “Well I like Wally Wood better.” Good for you. “And I like Tom Palmer better.” You’re right to love Tom Palmer, absolutely.
Alex Grand: Sure, sure. It’s a preference, yeah.
Josef R.: Frank Giacoia had a versatility that those other guys didn’t, and I’m proud to say that when I was inducted into the Inker’s Hall of Fame, the posthumous induction that year was Frank, and I’m glad about that.
Alex Grand: The same year, yeah. Are you talking about the Inkwell Hall of Fame? The Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame? Okay, in 2016.
Josef R.: Sinnott Inkwell Hall of Fame, yeah.
Jim Thompson: I wanted to ask you, just to go back to that notion of the composition of the music and then the instruments as such, let’s say the composer was, I’m gonna give you a couple of different names, lets start with Jim Starlin and you’re approaching that as the composition, what do you do with that? How do you approach that particular piece of work?
Josef R.: My approach to everyone is follow it judiciously, unless you have reasons not to. If he wants that kind of lighting, that’s his business. And if he wants no lighting, that’s his business. But, if … I’m not talking about Jim now, I’m just talking in general, but if somebody creates a panel and the anatomy’s wrong, I’ll go, “Alright, I gotta move this … so that it makes better sense.” If they put lighting down and the lighting is weirdly inconsistent, I’ll fix it. If the girl in my estimation isn’t beautiful, I’ll do what I can to make her beautiful in my view of beautiful.
Josef R.: But, when I inked Erik Larson on a three part Spiderman and Wolverine in Marvel Presents, when they reprinted it, they didn’t give me credit for it because it never occurred to them that Erik Larson wasn’t the inker on it. When … Bill Sienkiewicz’ very first job was a Moon Knight in the back of the Hulk comic color. I inked that, and my credits were left off of it. People thought, “Oh, Bill can ink. That guy showed up. Where’d he come from?”
Jim Thompson: So were you inking that as Giordano because you were basically inking Adams at that point?
Josef R.: No, by that point my stuff had evolved, I was inking less like Dick and letting the other influences in. Because Dick tried to emulate, or simulate, a pen stroke with a brush. He got tired of always having his stuff smeared when he worked with a pen, he said, “I’m gonna ink with a brush.” Well, I was attracted to the pen-like quality of what he was doing, and I started to go more towards the pen guys, like Stan Drake, or the way I use pens, I know how to use a pen.
Josef R.: And he’s obviously a tremendous influence on Adams … Neal Adams, not Arthur, on how he does women, drapery, and clothing, gestures. If you look at Neal’s women, certainly in the Ben Casey days, they’re very, very derived from Stan Drake. If you look at Neal’s men, they’re very influenced by a guy named Tom Sawyer, who was an advertising artist that Neal worked with. From there … And you know, Neal threw in Joe Kubert and Wally Wood and Austin Briggs, who’s an illustrator, but, you know, all of that stuff came from those guys. And I got that stuff from those guys too. So I started to look at how Stan did hair, and how Stan did drapery, and how Stan did pretty girls.
Josef R.: So, years ago, like ’86 or something, when that world-wide telethon happened that’s in the movie about Freddy Mercury? Marvel and DC were doing these benefit books for African hunger, one of which was called Heroes for Hunger I think that was, and Jim Starlin and Benny Wrightson were the guys who organized it. And they decided to do, was to just pack in as many creators as they could, so everybody, every writer and penciller and inker and letterer and colorist got two pages each. That’s it.
Josef R.: So, they asked me if I’d do it, and of course I would. And I asked them who did they get for me, and they said, “Well we’re working on it.” And they came to me and I said, “Did you get Garcia Lopez?”, who I hadn’t inked yet, they went, “No, we got Joe Kubert.” I went, “Oh my god.” Joe Kubert is a force of nature, my favorite comic book artist ever, and I was out to ink his stuff, which is like Rembrandt giving me art and saying, here kid work it up. It was terrifying.
Josef R.: So, I got these two pages to ink and they looked to my relief and simultaneous chagrin, they looked like Joe Kubert inked pages in graphite. And now I got a problem, because I trace it, it will loose all the vitality of Joe Kubert’s work. But if I ignore it, it won’t be Joe Kubert. So, I inked a little of it and I thought I was doing a terrible job, and I had the luxury of putting it away for a week. And then I went back and I inked it, and I inked it, I thought, pretty true to his intentions. I sent xerox’s of it to Kubert, Joe Kubert, it was like dropping a feather in a wishing well. Nothing.
Josef R.: And finally I couldn’t take it any more, and I called up Joe, and I said, “Did you get the xerox?”, he says, “Yeah.”, “What’d you think?”, and he went, “Oh no, you didn’t do badly.” And I was crestfallen. I was bereft. And then months later I run into Joe’s sons and tell them the story and they go, “Oh that’s like a rave from our father.”
Josef R.: So the thing is, I get a phone call from Marshall Rogers, and he said, “Hey, they put your credits on this Joe Kubert page, but you didn’t ink it.” I went, “No, I did. That’s me.” You know? If you said, “Ink a page just like Joe Kubert.”, I don’t know that I could. But if you stick Joe Kubert in front of me, and keep it tight enough, I can keep it looking like Joe Kubert. My thrust is always change the line and keep the attitude of what’s in front of you.
Jim Thompson: Was there ever anybody that you found you just couldn’t do?
Josef R.: You mean did do well enough?
Jim Thompson: Yeah, you just couldn’t capture them as an artist.
Josef R.: Yeah, Jack Kirby. I’m too afraid of Jack Kirby, he’s Jack Kirby for God’s sakes. So, I was always way too uptight to ink Jack Kirby’s stuff well. Now when Giacoia, and Sinnott, and Syd Shores, and all those other guys … Vinnie, God help us, would ink him, it’s like, “It’s Jack!” You know, he’s one of the guys, you go to dinner with Jack, you have drinks with Jack. But to me, it’s Jack Kirby, and I’m not changing a line. And unfortunately, you can’t be afraid. Again, it’s like the music. It’s like, I can’t play a good piece of music if I’m like, “Oh god, am I doing it right? Am I doing it right? Is this the right key? No, no, what am I doing?” You know, you just have to wade in. Jack Kirby was just … I didn’t think it looked amateurish, but I never felt like what I did what was really up to what it should’ve been.
Alex Grand: How’d you feel Mike Royer was as an inker on Jack?
Josef R.: I felt he was far too faithful, and some of the best parts of Jack Kirby is when Giacoia and Sinnott added a polish, and a muffle, and a …
Alex Grand: I see.
Josef R.: I felt, when I inked Kirby on a couple of covers, I did a Black Panther cover, and I found super sophisticated anatomy underneath the leg that Jack had stylized but really understood. And I think that what happened was more often than not the later inkers, the ones who just are not gonna screw with Jack Kirby, started to stylize it in a way because they were so enamored of the shape, not the intention of it. It’s sort of like if you took numbered footprints and laid them on the ground in a sequence, and you said, “Okay, hit these in numerical order.” You would, but you wouldn’t be Fred Astaire, you wouldn’t be dancing, you’d just be hitting the notes. The steps actually.
Jim Thompson: So, we should at least close out with maybe the death of the inker. Is it a career anymore?
Josef R.: I guess so, I guess somebody’s out there inking stuff. I mean, I think David Finch’s got inkers and Leinil Yu got inkers, and all those Brazilians have Joe Prado and O’Clair and all that sort of stuff. So I guess people are still inking.
Jim Thompson: But most pencillers are doing their own stuff now because of-
Josef R.: I don’t know that they are. I just mentioned a bunch of them who aren’t, there are definitely people who are doing it all on the computer, and thats certainly leaving everybody out of the picture. It’s like, I think Terry Beatty … And Mike Manly who does those Judge somebody or another, they all do it directly on the computer. So yeah, inkers are going the way of the silent movies. You know, I just got my very first word from DC comics in 14 years. Talked to a guy at a convention, he said, “I’ll do a cover, DC, you wanna ink it?”, I go, “Yeah.” But then I looked it up, they haven’t given me a cover in 14 years, and I used to do lots of covers. So, whatever the combinations of circumstances, they don’t know who I am, they have friends, they have teams, people are under contract, the computer’s doing it, they wanna discover somebody new, they think my stuff is old hat, whatever it is. I don’t work for Marvel or DC ever. They never call me up for any kind of gig. So …
Jim Thompson: That’s just crazy, ’cause you were … Especially of that prime Marvel era, you were one of the chief inkers there.
Josef R.: You know, I didn’t know that. Its like, if somebody said to me, “What’s the look of Marvel Comics?”, I’d say, “Joe Sinnott.” You know, it’s like Joe Sinnott is Marvel Comics. And they said, “No, no, no. You, and Austin, and Jansen were the look of Marvel Comics in the ’80s.”
Jim Thompson: Yeah.
Josef R.: I was just working.
Jim Thompson: That would be the three I would say.
Josef R.: Yeah, but it never occurred to me. I was just taking on as much as I could because I wanted to do it, because I loved it, because I couldn’t say no. Because, you know, you’re working on a Captain America and somebody says, “We have Gene Colan job.” Yes. What are you gonna do, say, “No, I’m sure there’s another Gene Colan job showing up sometime soon.”? Or like, for instance, DC Comics phoned me up once and said, I think this was like, oh my God, 24 years ago, and they said, “You wanna ink a Flash job?”, I go, “Yeah, great.”, “It’s Carmine.”, and I went, “Oh great!” And then they sent it over and what I didn’t realize was it was a Barry Allen Flash job. Now I’m deeply into my childhood.
Josef R.: So, I get to ink a Curt Swan Superman job. You know, a Dracula pinup by Gene Colan, a John Buscema Conan cover, you know. So that’s by far the best part about being an inker in my estimation is that you get to work with legends, pieces of your childhood, artists who are better than you’ll ever be and you’ll have to rise to the occasion.
Josef R.: But, as I said, I’m doing some indie stuff. Interestingly enough I’m doing two books with Ron Frenz, who I used to do Spider-man and Superman with. But mostly I just sort of roam around conventions. I’m also a portrait painter, I also do murals. You know, so I do plenty of … If I didn’t do my own artwork away from comic books I would go nuts, because it’s great to be a collaborator but it’s also important to just start with my white piece of paper and compose my own music now and again.
Alex Grand: You didn’t do a lot of that in comics. Was there a reason? Did you just get in that groove as an inker and that’s what you enjoyed? Or was it hard to break out of that mode?
Josef R.: Why didn’t I pencil?
Alex Grand: Yes.
Josef R.: Okay. Well, I did pencil some of the Marvel Universe entries because I just wanted to see if I could. And, you know, I had a lot of trepidation about doing that stuff ’cause I rarely pencil superheroes, rarely pencil comic books. But comic books has paid for my painting addiction all these years. I’ve never had to, and maybe I’d be a better painter today, if I’d hate to sell my paintings, if I had to get a gallery show. Maybe I would’ve been forced to get better. But, I would rather spend five hours painting a portrait than drawing a comic book page, and I’d rather … I don’t know if I said this before or not but i would go insane if I didn’t do my own artwork, and my own artwork is not drawing the X-Men, my own artwork is doing what I want to do today.
Josef R.: And on top of that, everybody always has somebody who’s their boss who tells them how to do their job and what they should do and all that stuff, and I don’t need that. I’m fine with that when I do my other artwork, and I just want to do whatever I feel like doing and not have to ask anybody’s permission to do it. And certainly, in comic books, people talk about how, “Well I’m doing my own comic book.”, and it’s just ’cause they’re fed up with anybody else telling them how they should be doing it. Oddly enough, I’ve never had a story I want to tell. I know a lot of people do, and maybe if you said, “You have to create your own comic book line.”, I’d put some thinking into it. But right now I’d rather just have somebody standing in front of me with some dramatic lighting on them challenging me to figure out how to recreate this in oil paint.
Alex Grand: So, last question for me, Carmine Infantino, who’s your favorite inker on him?
Josef R.: Carmine on himself was pretty good I thought in the ’60s. But somebody who made it a more interesting application of the ink was Dick Giordano, because Dick was a cartoonist, and he drew illustratively but he certainly did love the Milton Caniff’s and things like that. Dick told me that his style was kind of drawing as well as Leonard Starr, but understanding how to do the blacks like Milton Caniff. And certainly when Dick started to work with Neal, his work started to change and become more influenced by Neal, whether it was conscious, because they were as a team so they should match or just because he was around the guy a lot, I don’t know. I wouldn’t know because I’m never gonna ask Neal.
Alex Grand: Okay, so it’s not necessarily Murphy Anderson who added that polish to …
Josef R.: Yeah, I mean, what do you want? You know, it’s like do you want it to look like Murphy Anderson with Carmine Infantino’s sort of thin bodies, because Carmine did not draw big, fat, muscular guys, they’re were always kind of very-
Alex Grand: Slender.
Josef R.: Right, so, do you want that kind of line? The one he did on Curt Swan, and the one he did on Mike Sekowsky, and the one he did on Neal Adams when he did a couple of Superman covers? Well, the ones on Neal I’m not sure you realize are Neal. So again, it’s like what do you want? And if you want everything to look like the same guy, you love … Its like Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta when he inked Al Williamson or Angelo Torres, or whoever the hell he inked, it was fantastic, it was magnificent, how could you go wrong? But if you gave him Jack Kirby, would it look weird? Would it look strange? Would it look fuzzy? Or would it look interesting? I don’t know. You know the job I always wanted to see happen that never happened was John Buscema laying out Conan or Tarzan, and Joe Kubert finishing it up.
Alex Grand: Wow, that’d be cool. Yeah.
Josef R.: Yeah, so both men could do without the other. But, with John Buscema’s version of Tarzan or Conan, his dynamics and his compositions with Joe Kubert’s incredibly vital brushwork and the textures and all that stuff, so that’s the kind of stuff I like. Now, Gil Kane, by the way, Gil Kane and I hated each other.
Alex Grand: Really?
Josef R.: Oh yeah. The guy who inspired me to be an inker was a douche bag and I told him so.
Alex Grand: Why was that? Why’d you feel that way?
Josef R.: Because he was rude and obnoxious and did not do the right thing once when we had an interaction. Now, I’m sure he thought that he was right and I was a jerk, and that he wouldn’t cross the street to pee on me, but that’s … I’m here to tell the story and Gil Kane was an ass hole.
Alex Grand: Oh wow, okay.
Jim Thompson: Everybody has an opinion on him, whenever we talk to anybody they usually … Gil Kane, or they cite Archie Goodwin and they all say good things, but with Gil Kane you never know what direction its gonna go.
Josef R.: Archie Goodwin’s one of the nicest guys who every lived, everybody loved him. Gil Kane was, some people loved him, a lot of people didn’t love him, and I could give you the list because when I say I don’t love him the people say, “Oh, me too!” But I could’ve gladly inked him the rest of my life if I never actually had to have a conversation or interaction with him, because there was no denying that the stuff was fantastic, and … I don’t see a lot of comic books right now so I probably don’t have authority to say this, but I don’t see anybody using negative space the way Gil Kane did. I don’t see anybody airing out the panels the way Gil Kane did in his compositions. Boeing was highly stylized, and it may turn you on or it may turn you off, whatever it was, but a lot of people could learn from how to put together a page from Gil Kane. I don’t remember how I got onto this, do you?
Alex Grand: No, we were just talking about a different characters, and then Gil Kane came up. That’s fascinating. So, this is probably a tough question but who would you say is in your top three, or even favorite, penciller that you’ve inked? I mean, is that a hard question? Is that an unfair question?
Josef R.: Well, I mean, somebody who’s the artist artist. Somebody who even jumbo boars with enormous egos will admit is better than they are is Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
Alex Grand: Okay, so yeah. And Chaykin mentioned something about him to in a similar regard. Okay, go ahead.
Josef R.: So he’s, he’s fantastic, he’s great, he’s the best. But there’s no denying Jack Kirby is comics. And at the same time, again I keep going back to Joe Kubert, Joe Kubert doing Tarzan fighting a gorilla with the fur flying just takes my breath away. John Buscema, one of the greatest draftsman in comics, I don’t know maybe ever, any place. Gene Colan, most people aren’t good enough to swipe Gene Colan let alone draw like Gene Colan. Then there’s guys like Ivan Lears, who’s really great. I like Ryan Stook work a lot. Adam Hughes is just a very, very fine draftsman and knows what to do with color. You know. Who would I cast for what?
Alex Grand: Right, yeah. Its a diverse question actually.
Josef R.: Yeah, I mean it’s the same-
Jim Thompson: Did you ever meet Alex Toth?
Josef R.: Yeah, yeah, yes I did. He tried to steal a girl from me at a convention.
Alex Grand: I love that.
Jim Thompson: Did he succeed?
Josef R.: No.
Jim Thompson: Oh, okay.
Josef R.: After that experience, to admire him from a distance.
Alex Grand: So have you ever inked Steranko?
Josef R.: Yeah.
Alex Grand: Oh, you did.
Josef R.: Yeah, I inked him … I mean, I inked him on a couple of pinups, and a Marvel Universe entry, and I’ve never actually inked his direct pencils just blue lines, but yeah I’ve inked Steranko. Other than the newer, newer guys, I doubt you could find anybody I haven’t inked with the exception of from the olden days. Alex Toth, Dave Stevens, and that might be it.
Alex Grand: Yeah, you can count them on one hand who you haven’t inked. That’s amazing.
Jim Thompson: So you inked Ditko?
Josef R.: Yeah, sure.
Jim Thompson: How was that?
Josef R.: It was fine, he gave a very minimal line and I did the same. I didn’t elaborate on it because they were full pencils. Again if Rudy Nebres or Colan had gotten them I’m sure they would’ve overwhelmed them but I was on Marvel Universe and I just wanted to keep the stuff real.
Alex Grand: Right. Yeah, that’s fascinating.
Josef R.: Yeah, we appreciate all the time you gave us.
Alex Grand: This was wonderful.
Josef R.: As far as anyone contacting me, or getting commissions, or getting me for comic book conventions, they can always go to my website which is joerubinsteinart.com, and that’s an easy way to find me. And you know I’m on all the other … Instagram and Facebook.
Alex Grand: Wonderful, yes.
Jim Thompson: Do you go to San Diego?
Josef R.: Am I going to San Diego this year?
Jim Thompson: Yeah.
Josef R.: No, they wouldn’t give me a chair because I think they want new blood there even though I’m an Eisner Award winner, which means I have lifetime access to the place just nowhere to sit down.
Alex Grand: Right.
Jim Thompson: Wow, that’s crazy.
Josef R.: Write a letter.
Alex Grand: Well, that should take care of it then. We’ll write that letter.
Josef R.: Okay, I wouldn’t mind people starting to write letters to Marvel and DC saying, “You know if your stuff looked more like comic books like that classic stuff.”
Alex Grand: Oh I know, well that’s the thing. I like comics as much as the next guy as far as the modern stuff, but yeah that look, the look that you gave, whenever I see you put out a picture on your Facebook or I just look at your stuff, you know I have your stuff on my wall, and I mean I love it. That looks like comics, it feels like comics, they smell like comics and I love it.
Josef R.: The thing that I’m doing now with Ron Frenz is called Liberty Brigade, and it was a kick starter from Thrilling Nostalgia Press, or Publishing, I forget, and it’s 100 page hardbound graphic novel set in 1947 where common domain superheroes, so none of the guys you ever heard of, are fighting Nazis. And 40 pages are by Ron Frienz and I, 40 pages are by Barry Kitson and Nick Gray, and then there’s origin stories by Alan Davis, George Perez, Mike Perkins, Alan Weiss. And its a comic book, it looks like a comic book.
Josef R.: So, as a kick starter, we got all our money on the first day, like the first hour. And then 30 days later we had two and a half times the money we were looking for, so I guess there are people out there who would like to see a comic book that looks like a comic book.
Alex Grand: Oh yeah. For sure. That doesn’t surprise me at all.
Jim Thompson: Are you painting? What are you doing?
Josef R.: Yeah I’m doing like a whole bunch of remarked paintings on comic books, I do miniature paintings on comic books like Infinity Gauntlet and the Wolverine miniseries, so you get a piece of original art on top of your comic book.
Alex Grand: Oh, nice. Good. Well this has been an also interview with Hall of Fame inker Joseph Rubinstein. We had a really great time chatting with you. Thank you so much for joining Jim and I today.
Jim Thompson: Thanks Joe.
Josef R.: You’re welcome, thanks for having me.
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