Saturday’s father-son WonderCon panel featuring Joe and Adam Kubert felt intimate and even cozy at times, especially given the small number of folks in the San Francisco crowd (and especially when the explosion effects and other ear-splitting sounds from “The Clone Wars” began seeping through the walls from the conference room next door).
Joe Kubert, best-known for his work with characters like Sgt. Rock, Hawkman and Tarzan, has won numerous cartooning awards, including the Eisner and Harvey awards for Best Graphic Album for his graphic novel, “Fax from Sarajevo.” His son Adam hasn’t fallen far behind the high bar set by his father, and is also celebrated for work with icons like Wolverine, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Superman and Ghost Rider, among others.
At Saturday’s panel, moderator Mark Evanier began with a few grilling questions for Adam Kubert about getting into the cartooning business and how his father’s work affected his own. Adam Kubert revealed that he had started lettering at age 12 and even appeared on the “What’s Your Line?” television show as the youngest professional letterer. He went on to pursue medical illustration but always loved cartooning. Eventually, he thought, “Why fight it?” and signed up for his father’s graphic arts school, the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.
“I didn’t really appreciate what he did until I started doing it myself,” said the younger Kubert, adding that he didn’t think much about the difficulties he might face in making a living as a comic book artist. “I just wanted to do it.”
Adam Kubert began in the business by penciling and inking and lettering, but eventually, he said, he stopped lettering as his cartooning career advanced. He still inks all of his own covers, and said Kubert said he thinks the work comes out better when he inks it himself.
“He’s probably the most demanding artist of himself that I know,” said Joe Kubert abou his son, making a point to emphasize how hard his son works on his comics. The elder Kubert revealed that his son had brought work with him to the conference and redone a recent cover three times just to get it the way he wanted it.
Adam Kubert said he didn’t end up a successful cartoonist because of his legendary Father, claiming he went through the same difficult process that any other budding artist would face to get where he did. Accordingly, he said, his first professional assignment was a total bust. The gig saw Adam penciling an edition of “Warlord,” and he said the results weren’t pretty. “I fell flat on my face,” he said. True satisfaction in his work has taken a while to achieve. In fact, Adam Kubert said that only recently he has begun to “really dig” the stories that he’s been drawing. “As artists,” he said, “we can only do our best work if the story is top notch.”
Joe Kubert was a quiet panelist for the first part of the hour, but warmed up to the mic around particular subjects. He did not, for example, appear very excited to talk about his influence on his children. “I never pushed the kids in any kind of direction,” Kubert said. And when asked about whether he ever felt pressure to recreate his father’s style, Adam Kubert answered with a simple, “No, never,” and acknowledged the fact that although he looked up to his father, he always understood that they had a different style.
Evanier appeared to be trying to dredge up some amusing tension in the relationship between the Kuberts, but his efforts appeared thwarted given the calm, succinct answers from either side. The only real conflict that seemed to arise between the two was when Evanier brought up the issue of inking each other’s work. Although Joe Kubert said that inking his son’s work is “the biggest kick in the world,” he also said it’s difficult because his inking style is definitely different from his son’s penciling style. “I can’t ink line for line,” he said. “I just can’t do that.”
Adam Kubert responded that when he and his brother Andy pencil a story that they know is going to be inked by their dad, they are always sure to pencil extra tight. “When my dad does ink us, we know it’s going to look great, but it’s not going to look like us,” he said.
Joe Kubert said it was hard for him to have his own work inked by someone else, and smirked big time when Evanier produced an old copy of a “Hawkman” comic Kubert had penciled that had been inked by Murphy Anderson. “It isn’t that the work came out worse,” said Joe Kubert. “It just came out different.”
When asked about his favorite assignments, Adam Kubert said he most enjoyed those that allowed him some freedom to experiment. For example, he said, he really enjoyed working for “National Lampoon” magazine because he had the opportunity to draw in a variety of different styles with a variety of techniques. Their openness allowed him to push the envelope, he said. “They kept saying okay and I kept doing it.”
Adam Kubert also said one of his favorite projects was working on issue #90 of “Wolverine” (his favorite character), where he “made the book huge” to accommodate the huge fight between Sabertooth and Wolverine.
Whenever Evanier asked Joe Kubert about his motivation, Joe would answer with a simple “I just wanted to draw” or,”My greatest satisfaction is to be able to sit at a drawing table” and “I don’t draw to please people, I draw to please myself.”
Joe Kubert described his beginnings as a cartoonist dating back to his high school days, when he and colleague and friend Norman Maurer would hound publishers with some success as they pursued their budding dreams as teenagers.
The elder Kubert talked most extensively when asked about his upcoming project, “Dong Xoai,” which DC is publishing and releasing next month. The book describes an incident that took place in 1965 in Dong Xoai, which is a small location in South Vietnam. Kubert explained that he stumbled upon the story by accident after he got a call from a retired army colonel about two and a half years ago. The colonel was looking for an illustration Kubert had done about 40 years ago that appeared in a newspaper. The colonel told Kubert that he wanted to send it in letters he was sending to family and friends who had been connected with this incident in Dong Xoai.
Kubert said that he sent the colonel a new version of the illustration and then asked to hear more about the story of the incident. In exchange, he said, the colonel sent him a 35-page document that described in detail the entire action that took place in Dong Xoai. “I read this thing and the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Kubert said. When he told the colonel he was planning to write a book on it, the colonel agreed to help him fill in the details.
True to his purist style, when asked about the work he’s proudest of, Joe Kubert said, “The work that’s on my table is my favorite” because in order to “do what I do,” he said, “I have to concentrate completely on the work that I’m doing.” He then retracted ever so slightly to mention that he also was extremely proud of his work on “Tor.”