Daniel asked me for some reflections on working with Joe Rubenstein, and any other thoughts I might have about his impact on my work.
Well, Joe and I go way back. I first met Joe when I was an intern at Marvel Comics way back in 1983. Actually we had met at a comic convention some years before, but then I was just a fan looking through some of Joe's originals and asking some questions. I barely remember it, and I'm certain he doesn't. So anyway, at Marvel I showed Joe my samples and he was nice enough to comment on them. He was very tough but fair. Yeah sure... fair ... I say that now... careful if you're the sensitive type... He was always able to explain why something doesn't work, be it anatomy, lighting, etc.
So, a few days (or weeks later) Joe asked to see some samples again. I didn't know why. After he looked at them, he asked me if I was interested in inking some backgrounds for him. "Sure!" I said. It turned out that my first job with him would be inking over Jim Starlin on Dreadstar. Joe must've liked the work I did, since for he continued to give me background work. Over the years he allowed me more latitude in the backgrounds. Instead of just restricting me to straight lines, I was allowed to do trees, drapery, special effects etc.
As we worked we became friends, and he was always asking my opinions on his inks. I would offer what I could form my limited knowledge, and was surprised to see that sometimes he would change things based on my advice!
After about 5 years of working for Joe, I graduated college and started getting my own inking work. It was hard and kind of sad to tell Joe that I wasn't going to ink his backgrounds anymore. Is seem to recall him saying that background inkers are like children. Sooner or later they leave. But I've called and visited. We stay in touch, and have helped each other out on jobs every now and then. I still ask him for advice on my work, and he's always more than willing to offer it.
He is always learning and trying new things. He works hard and long. I know since I've spent many hours in his apartment inking late jobs. He's always learning from artists everywhere. From Adams to deZuniga and from Bouguereau to Zurbaran. We would always have conversations on painters, comics, movies, music and anything else that was of interest. As I recall the only thing that Joe was not always willing to accept was Abstract Expressionism. Hopefully he's changed his tune about that. :)
Joe takes his work very seriously, so he's sometimes labeled "difficult". People are always labeled "difficult" when they care about their work, and want to go the extra mile to see that it's done right. It's ok. Be a bit difficult now, those that appreciate the work will soon forget the silly label.
As I worked with Joe, his work and thinking methods influenced me, from the inking of light sources, texture, to the way in which I now approach inking a page. Joe inks by jumping around from page to page, from figure to figure, etc. In the end, this works for him, but I found that it doesn't work for me. I have to concentrate on a page or two, or I'll never get done. You can see much of Joe's influence in my early work, and even now in my current work. It's hard to work with someone and now absorb their work habits. Joe taught me to care about the work, to do it right (sometimes at the expense of a deadline), and to push to better yourself and your work.
NORM BREYFOGLE: I have only good things to say about Joe's inking and his art in general. Besides myself, he's my favorite artist yet to have inked my pencils on any consistent basis (the artist who inked my Anarky miniseries' covers - Kevin Nolan - is the only other one I'd put in his class so far). And I'd bet it's because Joe's an excellent, classically trained artist; his paintings, for instance, are fantastic.
He always inked just what I penciled, but with the certainty of someone who really understands the subtleties of light and shadow.
I always name him as my first choice when an editor wants me to name an inker other than myself for my pencils.
DANIEL BEST: How did you get into comics, what is your background?
JOSEF RUBINSTEIN: I immigrated to the US from Israel when I was 5 years old and my cousin had a bunch of comic books. Since I didn’t speak the language, I was more or less attracted to the pictures and, like all kids, I drew pictures and I wanted to be an artist, and that persisted. I went to the Arts Students League in New York, where I live and my art teacher was Hal Fosters Son, Arthur Foster. Mr Foster was fond of me, and when he retired, he gave me some art that Hal Foster had done - a painting of an American Indians head on a flat African drum. If you have the new Hal Foster book, they reproduced it in there. It happens to have been in the Worlds Fair in the 1930’s in the Robert Ripley Believe It Or Not exhibit, because it was made of human skin. Not that you would ever know, I mean it felt like wood, it looked like wood.
My idol at the time was Neal Adams and I met him at a comic book convention when I was 13. I actually gave him that drum sort of as a birthday present and, I guess, as a bribe because I asked if I could work at their studio at the time, Continuity Associates. We’re talking 1971 or ‘72 I guess and I became their assistant. Then when I was 17 years old I became a freelance artist and that was 30 years ago.
TIM TOWNSEND: As a comic book child of the 70's and 80's, certain artists of the era, certain books, and certain images shaped my world, influenced and inspired me. Many, if not most, of these artists, books, and images shared something in common. Joe Rubinstein's inks. There's something about things from our childhood that seem to attain a magical quality. Its almost like going home again. So much of Joe's work is like this for me. Years and years later I find myself lucky enough to not only know Joe, but to be able to call him a friend.
DB: It seems that a lot of artists that I speak to that are from your time era, which is the mid to late 1970s; pretty much all of them got some form of a start with Neal Adams.
JR: Neal had a studio and that was certainly a place to go to as a base because he actually wanted people to be there all the time and it was sort of a 24 hour studio. They did advertising work and that meant deadlines all through the night so he liked the fact that people were there and he rented space.
Dick Giordano had a great many assistants: Klaus Janson, Terry Austin, Bob Wiaceck, myself, Mike Collins. Wally Wood had assistants as well. I happened to have been Wally Wood’s assistant because he rented space at Continuity Associates for a while so that certainly was a hub for people to start out and then get into comic books.
DB: What was Wally Wood like?
JR: Woody, which is what we called him, was a very sweet child-like man, he was very nice, he was sweet, he liked to play, he liked music, and he liked to joke. The only problem was that he was an alcoholic and a drug addict and for all kind of reasons that I’m sure his therapist could get into. I think it was always pretty much assumed that Woody would one day kill himself, which is what he did, because he was also a gun enthusiast. As a matter of fact, I had never seen him yell at anybody. He would have these wonderful wry jokes and you liked to be around him when he wasn’t drinking, but when he was drinking you sure didn’t want to be around him. I only saw him drunk once; he more or less kept to himself.
Even though my work is very heavily influenced by Giordano and Adams, the fact that I worked for him - I pencilled a little bit of the last two Sally Forth and Cannons and I inked some of them - pretty much everything I know about inking is built on things that Woody would just sort of say off-handedly as I worked, not “hey listen up kid, this is the great Wally Wood telling you an art lesson” but “don’t do that” and “do more of this…”. He was a great guy, but we all knew it was going to end badly as it did.
DB: And some of the other people that were there at the time, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, what were they like too?
JR: Dick is a wonderful person. He went out of his way, as busy as he was, to give inking lessons, which I would ask for, and he would look at my drawings. There were also people there for instance; one was Russ Heath who rented space there. One day when Russ went to lunch, I went and sat at his table and picked up his magic brush, which he would do these unbelievable rendering tricks with, and I started to work with it and it was like holding a turd, I mean this thing was unusable. And it turned out, what do you know: it’s not the brush, it’s the man that uses it - suddenly it dawned upon me.
Neal Adams, he has a reputation, and what can I say that won’t get me sued. I don’t think Neal helped people for good reasons so much as to benefit himself. I think that there are a lot of stories about Neal having done quite a bit of psychological damage to artists as they came through the studio.
DB: It brings to mind to the Michael Nasser/Mike Netzer situation. Mike worked with Neal for so many years and appears to be having some kind of a conflict or a love/hate relationship with him.
JR: Well, Mike, as it was in the 70’s, took a lot of drugs and never stopped. He chain smoked pot and God knows what other substances he smoked and lost his mind. He got delusional and I’m not sure if he thought he was Jesus or Jesus’ prophet. If you asked Mike a question it was halting in the way he spoke because he had to get every word just right because he knew it was going to be in the next testament that God wrote.
Mike is a Kurd; I think that’s what they call it. It’s a sect in the Middle East and not Arabs exactly. They are the ones that Saddam Hussein made a point of killing a great deal of them when they worked against him in the first Gulf War, so he never really identified as being an Arab. I think he may have been a Muslim but then I think he became a Christian and then most recently he became Jewish. And Mike has led an orthodox Jewish life and he married a lady and lived in Queens, New York and had some children and then he moved back to Israel, but recently returned to work in the US.
I visited with Mike a few times in Israel and he had invented this Ms Mystic character, which I was supposed to ink when it was a DC character. Then when Mike came back from the Middle East to the US he found that Ms Mystic was owned supposedly by Neal. Mike wanted his share of it and Neal, being Neal, decided to make a fight out of it. So Mike started to sue Neal and get documentation from people and what have you. Ultimately the case was dismissed because of the statute of limitations. That was the whole case; he had taken too long to bring the issue up.
Recently Mike has decided, which is reminiscent of his theories back in the 70’s, that comic books are the newest testament in the way to get communication and world peace and I think he’s fixated on Neal again, that Neal is somehow some focal point to all of this and he wants to make up to Neal, and if you go to Mikes site, there is this open letter to Neal which when I read it, I thought was a satire, a-la Henry James or something but no, he meant every word of it and it is a startling turn around.
If you look at Mike’s drawings, at one period when he did a cover for Rom and some other stuff, it was very black and white high contrast, somewhat reminiscent of what Frank Miller went on to do in the Sin City. He was always sneaking in crucifixes and Jesus like figures and stuff and you know… I mean, maybe they… we know they called Jesus crazy so I’m hesitant to say that Mike has lost his mind because I’m not agreeing with what he’s saying, but I’m sure not agreeing with what he’s saying. I try not to judge him but I haven’t joined the Apostles.
TERRY STAATS: I recently began reading Story by Robert McKee. In the introduction McKee mentions a long drawn out letter Blaise Pacal wrote to a friend once and how, in the postscript, Pascal apologizes for not having the time to write a shorter letter. As I rolled this over and over in my head I began to realize that this is why Joe is such an influence on my work and a master of the comics form.
While most comics today are more literal and graphic in nature, Joe's concise inking proves that 3 lines can do the work of 20 and retain the elegance, bold dynamicism and beauty that others may never attain. The true art of comics is in it's metaphorical approach. Symbolism, abstraction and movement are all combined with natural realism, making life flow from the tip of his brush.
DB: Did working at Continuity make it easier then to break into comics, because the first thing I’ve got you doing was work for Charlton…
JR: Well that’s because it was over at Continuity Associates where they were doing these books - they were packaging them and everybody in the world was working on it. I was doing work for the Crusty Bunkers, which was the name that Neal had put on a group of people who would help out on a job that was later something. I think I was 14 when I worked on Dr Strange with Frank Brunner and some of the Famfir and the Great Mouser stuff with Chaykin and Conan with Buscema.
When I graduated high school, I had been working at Continuity summers and after school for several years. I didn’t want t go to College, I’d had enough already. Mike Netzer was at the studio and I asked him if I could borrow some of his pages for to Xerox and ink copies of them, and he said, “Oh no, go ahead, ink the real thing”. So, I inked some.
He had just gotten a job called appropriately enough, Tales of the Great Disaster in the back of Kamandi. I showed my samples and I was hired. When I went around looking for work, I got 3 jobs my first day, which was pretty amazing now, or ever. One of the jobs was because Dick Giordano promised that he’d watch over me to the editor. That consisted of once I’d done a job, I’d show it to Dick and he’d say, “Yeah its fine.” Its not that Dick wasn’t doing his job, it was that Dick did not have to micro manage me at the time. I think I was riding a new wave. Comic books are now so corporate that it’s a rougher world on many levels. I mean I don’t know if anything ever was the same, just that it was different in the old days. But when wasn’t it different in the old days? It was a bunch of us who were coming in during the 70’s…. it was McLeod, and Janson and I. Tom Palmer had been established by that point, and all the new pencillers were coming in. Unfortunately people like Frank Giacoia who I think was a great, great inker were being pushed out because the younger editors just didn’t want to use the older people and so we were primed for it. Now unfortunately, the exact same thing that has happened to my generation. McLeod, myself and people like that have had a lot of trouble getting work only because the editors are new guys and they want to make their personal stamp. There is sort of a form of ageism setting in where they just don’t want to use people who have been in comic books. So I haven’t been doing as much over the last 5 years as I would like to have.
DB: I mean it’s a shame because your inking work is nothing short of stunning. I think I was fully aware of you, as a name was when you worked with John Byrne on the Captain America run that you did. That was incredible work….
JR: Thank you, thank you. I like it too and I wish that Byrne would give me a chance to do some more of it because as an artist I’d like to believe that I’m better 22 years later and I’d like to show that. What it was is that I was doing work DC, a book with Mike called Kobra, and then I did an annual with Alan Weiss, which is a crazy thing to give somebody new because Alan is still the hardest penciller I’ve ever worked on.
Then Jim Starlin came to me just sort of out of the blue, he was hanging around at Continuity and said “you wanna ink a job, we’ll do it at Marvel” I go “Yeah. Great!” And that was the Avengers Annual, that led to the Two-In-One Annual, and then I just started to get all kinds of work. Then I fell into the Captain America thing. As a matter of a fact, the Captain America stuff, that and the Wolverine thing I did with Miller are I think things that I think people most remember me for.
I once turned to an editor, who was a contemporary; I said, “How do you hire people anyway?” And he said, “Well, if I hire Dick Giordano I know I’m always going to get a solid, professional job. But what else is out there?” That’s what he thinks, it’s like let’s try something new since we’ve seen the old stuff. And I mean, occasionally, people like Norman Rockwell, exist beyond the fashions but you’ll notice most illustrators even, J.C Leynendecker, on the Saturday Evening Post covers, he was replaced, you know so… fashion change. Even Bill Sienkiewicz told me the other day, he gets these ink jobs but nobody ever hires him to pencil anymore, and I wouldn’t think of Sienkiewicz work as looking old fashioned.
JOHN DELL: Joe is/was a large influence on my style of inking and parts of him are in my creative "Bag Of Tricks". During my formative years I took in a lot of "Joe" and I welcome his stylistic input. Wherever it pops up one cant help but recognize his importance in the art of inking.
Joes line is very expressive. I wish I had half his "Gut's" when I ink a page. He's a true master brushman!
DB: Back to Captain America – you did the whole run of it and the last issue was done from Byrnes pencils but the last page you inked. Its fascinating to look at the pencil work and how tight it was at the time, but your inking brought something to the art and made it look more alive.
JR: Well, thanks. What I was trying to get with John was, I think John – I love that stuff by the way – I was very happy to be on that series – but I think that I pushed it a little further than John could draw it at the time. Because John, while he’s got a lot of Jack Kirby’s influence in his work, also admits that he has a little Neal Adams influence, so being so familiar with that kind of stuff, I think I was pushing it a little further into the realistic rendering than John could.
As far as that last issue – I don’t think John knows this, but when the Photostat came back from the pencils, they were really pretty sketchy and dot dash looking, so I sat there and I re-enforced that job. So in away, I kind of inked it as well and the last page John drew, except there is one panel in it which instead of being a close up, they wanted it to be a long shot. Marie Severn re-drew it and the cover was done by Frank Miller. What happened was there was a falling out between Roger Stern and the editor and so Roger went away, and John went with him and John was going to have nothing more to do with it, and I said, “Gee, am I fired too…?” I did 1 or 2 issues until Lee Elias worked on it a little bit, and then I don’t remember some sort of switch in direction happened, and I wasn’t the inker anymore.
People always talk about that with great fondness, Recently Tim Townsend the inker of the X-Men and other jobs, got John to do a recreation of The Avengers number 4 cover that introduces Captain America again and then he got me to ink it. That was very interesting because its 22 years later, and I had to sort of get back into my John Byrne philosophy to ink that piece. As it turns out John’s drawing Doom Patrol for DC now that he’s only drawing and not inking and I used that page sort of as a audition piece but by the time I got it, they told me that they had already had an inker picked for 2 issues.
DB: Oh! Well, it could happen….
JR: Well, yeah but the fact it’s been 20 years and John and I haven’t spoken, probably it won’t happen.
DB: What was Byrne like back then?
JR: John and I had a personal falling out right after the X-Men and like I said, we haven’t spoken in 20 years.
DB: That’s a shame because there is no disputing the fact that he has talent.
JR: He was wonderful, and he’s got great passion. You know how pomposity very often is a cover for insecurity and I could say the same thing about Neal. Down deep if you know that Neal is a profoundly insecure person in great pain but the fact that he acts out the way he does, doesn’t excuse anything. John hurts people, Neal hurts people. There’s a funny story because they are so much alike. They were guests at a convention once, and they were seated next to each other and they came in and said, “Hello John.” “Hello Neal.” And then proceeded to not say another word to each other for the next 3 hours because they didn’t want to give the other one an out or an in.
There are a lot of children in comic books because the thing is like me for instance, you get work early. Some people don’t break in until their 30’s, like Paul Ryan, but very often you break in when you’re a kid and you never have to grow up and you never have to go somewhere and have a real job and you live in your parents basement until you have enough money to go live in your own basement and I think there’s a certain lack of maturing that happens consequently by a lot of people. But of course there are a lot of exceptions too.
CHUCK GIBSON: Joe Rubinstein is the first inker's work who I ever recognized for what an inker should be noticed for...the ability to make a figure look 3 dimensional on 2 dimensional surface. No one is better at that than Joe. His influence in my own work to this day is huge and I'm as giddy as a fanboy to count him as a friend.
DB: You’ve worked with 400 artists, who are some of the standouts?
JR: Well, the reason I worked with so many is because I did the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and its various incarnations over literally 20 years. Inking can get really boring if you do it the same way. Dick instilled it in me that you’ve got to accommodate the penciller. You’ve got to give them respect that you want. So that if I were to pencil something, I wouldn’t want my inker to lightly erase it and go “oh no, he did it wrong, I want to do it my way” or “I just feel like being different today”, its like I’d want them, if I’m going to work hard enough to get it right, to follow it.
I would get various pencillers to work on Marvel Universe just to make it interesting and fun and challenging. Steve Leihola would send progressively harder and harder pieces for me to ink. Steve’s a magnificent inker, and he knew how to challenge. I don’t know if that was his goal but it certainly challenged me in what he anticipated me to do with his pencils. Or I would get somebody, John Severin, or I’d make a point of recruiting Brian Bolland for instance, who never gets inked by anybody anymore and hardly did then, and Joe Kubert. I think I’m one of about five guys in history who’ve inked Joe Kubert, other than himself of course. I almost got Alex Toth but it didn’t happen.
One day I was sitting there, and I ink on 2 or 3 or 4 pages simultaneously so I don’t have to worry about the ink being wet and smearing. So I was inking John Buscema, a Frank Miller, a Bill Sienkiewicz and an Al Milgrom and I’m just switching from piece to piece to piece, and I suddenly said, “How am I doing this exactly?” It’s more or less the four points of the compass stylistically. I realised its just pay attention to what’s in front of you, be sensitive. If Sienkiewicz gives you a thin jagged line, don’t give him a long, sweepy line. If Milgrom gives you a thick, curvy-ish line, don’t give him a thin, jagged line. So I accommodate who’s in front of me.
A lot of people have said that I was their favorite inker or certainly one of their favorite inkers because they knew they were going to get their own work back and not have it turned into somebody else like for instance, Alfredo Alcala was a great inker and an artist who I used to imitate but Alfredo pretty much inked everybody the same way and you knew what was going to happen when it came out. Scott Williams a couple of months ago, in a conversation told me that it was kind of a problem in my career that I was so flexible because people didn’t quite have a concept of what my stuff looked like. And you know, on the other hand, somebody else…. When I get a new penciler to work with, I always try to have a conversation with them and ask them what they want done and if they say, “Well, you know, just ink it the way you would do.” I’d go “Well, how do you think I ink?” Because I don’t know if they are looking at the Byrne stuff or the Miller – Wolverine or the Cockrum X-Men or whatever, the Jim Lees, so I want to know what they think I do before I ink the job.
DB: And of course you inked one of my favorite artists, and that’s Don Newton.
JR: Oh yeah…. well you’re Australian, so it’s the Phantom.
DB: Yes, and also because we didn’t get that much of the American comic books down here. What we got were re-prints and they were always black and white re-prints, and we had these huge Batman – which would have 7 or 8 Batman story’s, for a while there, certainly when I was buying them, they were all the Don…you’d get 3 issues were all Don Newton’s Batman’s with a couple of Michael Golden’s in the back – it was a hard life. And of course the Don Newton’s…
JR: I don’t think I did do Batman with Don. I know I did New Gods with Don and Infinity Inc with Don. I recognised Don was a wonderful artist and they gave me something of his, and we called up and talked and I think he was very surprised that I was putting that kind of effort into it, and Don told me, and other people that I was his favourite inker, and I think that comes down to I wanted to ink what was in front of me.
Also I’m a portrait artist, as I said I started at the Arts Students League with Hal Foster’s son. My next teacher by the way was Anthony Palumbo, who studied under Burne Hogarth. And then when I went to the high school of Art and Design, one of my teachers was the famous and cranky Bernie Krigsteen as well as several other people who had done comic books was there. So I have quite a lineage that way. So when I started to work with Don, I knew where Don was coming from. I knew he was based in Alex Raymond with some Wally Wood thrown in, and we really enjoyed each other and we would correspond and send notes and I was working primarily at Marvel, with an exclusive contract, and I kept asking Don to come over to Marvel so I could ink him. And he did do the Avengers.
I inked half of The Avengers Annual and there was another issue that Dan Green got to ink and then Don died all of a sudden. It was actually a long illness that he kept pretty much private and then he suddenly died. I think they thought he was in recovery at this point. When I found out that he died, maybe its ego, but I was damned if that job wasn’t going to get inked right because who knew who they were going to give it to. Since I was his favorite I called up and I asked for it. I had an exclusive contract at Marvel so I asked my boss and friend Jim Shooter, to give me a dispensation, an out for that one job, and that’s how I got to do those last couple of jobs. I must say it’s really pretty bitter sweet to do the work of someone you know who has just died. I’ve done that a couple of times as a matter of fact, with Bob Brown as well, and I would ink that job, the Don Newton job, and I would have a question, and I would reach for the phone and then I would realize what I was doing. I’d ink this beautiful little head, and I’d say, “I think that really worked out”, and then I’d think oh, that’s the last time this is going to happen… but I’m glad the job happened.
DB: He’s almost like a forgotten artist now and he was incredibly underrated then and I think he’s still extremely underrated now.
JR: Well, nobody knows who he is anymore because a couple of years go by... Marvel has been reproducing these black and white, thick phone book like Essentials. So I’m kind of hoping that people will go “hey, who is this Jack Kirby guy and Gene Colan guy and John Buscema”. This is not to put down anybody and everybody working today but I think you should know the history of what has come before.
There is a website out there called Don Newton.com. I love Don’s work and as a matter of a fact, I’m doing some samples for a Phantom job and of course I’m using Don as my sort of template for what it should look like.
DB: Is that the Swedish Phantom?
JR: Yeah. I haven’t gotten it yet but I’m going for it. Dick Giordano did them, which is where I found out to do them. And I’m kind of glad that they are going for a traditional look. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if Bill Sienkiewicz did a Phantom job but I think if Rob Liefeld for instance did a Phantom job, it sort of disrupts the reality. It’s just like Superman. I always thought Curt Swan and people like Dan Jurgens were perfect doing Superman because its more incredible if they look real doing the incredible stuff.
Which is why one of the reasons The Watchman was so great. If John Byrne had drawn it, it would have looked more like the Avengers running around but they may have looked like a bunch of people wearing clothing that quite didn’t fit, trying to be super heroes.
DB: One of the better-known projects that you’ve worked on was the Wolverine mini series that you’ve been talking about, with Frank Miller…. How did that come about?
JR: Frank was one of these guys, who I think he came from Vermont - he was really very poor because New York is an expensive place to live and he would get these little 8 page jobs here or there, and he would bring them up to Continuity to show Neal. He would also show them to me and I would re-draw parts and I don’t want to over express this, because I didn’t draw his jobs, but I mean I would like fix an arm here or something like that, because I happen to know anatomy, and I would take Frank to lunch and we became friends.
Then he did the Daredevil and I can’t remember if it was Frank whom… you see I did the cover of the first Daredevil Frank ever drew with the Death Stalker guy… I don’t remember if Frank asked me, I asked for it or if it was coincidental, but I was always happy I did that. Then when Frank got around to doing the Wolverine, I think he asked me to ink it… maybe they asked him “who do you want as your inker?” And to tell you the truth, I think Frank did a fine job and I did the best I could do, but it’s sort of like if you cast Roseanne Barr in Cleopatra – I’m sure she’d do the best she could do, but she really shouldn’t be there to begin with. And at the time I think that my stuff – my inking was too soft and organic for Franks work. It certainly looked different to Klaus’s and maybe Frank wanted the Wolverine mini series not to look the same as Daredevil, but I thought then, and I still think now, that Klaus was Frank’s best inker.
Frank left the pencils a little ambiguous. They really wanted super tight. I remember the first issue took me something like 8 weeks to ink, which is not an economic speed at all. And then the second issue took me about 6 weeks, and then the 3rd issue took me about 4 weeks and then finally the last one took me about 2 weeks, and so I was figuring it out as we progressed. By the way, if you look at the cover of Wolverine number 1, the face of Wolverine is patterned out to Jack Nicholson and if you open up the first page, the face and the rest of the series is Clint Eastwood.
Frank gave me the films of Clint Eastwood and he said, “Look at him in the Eiger Sanction…” because Wolverine’s climbing rocks at the beginning of the series. “Look at those cuts in his face.” And so Frank wanted a real person in mind, and whenever I ink somebody, even if the pencils are super tight, I think of someone real which helps me to push it more in the direction I want. For instance when I did Dave Cockrum’s Uncanny X-Men, I had a black friend who looked a lot like Storm. My brother was the pattern for Colossus. I knew another guy who had a long face who reminded me of Nightcrawler. I’m not saying that Dave knew this, nor did I re-draw anything, but to have someone real in my head helps the lines that turn into people for me.
DB: I think one of the most interesting jobs you worked on was Secret Wars – a much more maligned series and of course the official inker on that was….
JR: John Beatty…
DB: …John Beatty. And there was always these stories at the time that were poo-poo’d, that everyone who was anyone inked it and of course on the last few issues, you can see that even some of the pencils aren’t Mike Zeck - that they are all over the place.
JR: Well, I think it was - I don’t know about the early stuff – I know that Jim Shooter really, really tinkered with the series and I think that got it later and later with the penciled having to re-draw things, so that John would have to rush through the inks and maybe, I don’t know this for a fact, maybe that’s why they had to get some people to help out.
At the last issue, what happened was, it was so late that Shooter asked me and a bunch of other people, to help out. The way we did it is - and Shooter is a very classy guy - he rented a hotel suite we just stayed there for the weekend as they brought food into us, and Arthur Nichols would pencil, and I would ink and somebody else would ink, and somebody else would pencil and that’s how that last issue got pulled together and met the deadline, instead of just sticking it on 1 or 2 poor shlubs out there who had to try and ink 10 pages over the weekend.
DB: Some of the other people you have worked with – you’ve worked with John Buscema… what was he like as a person?
JR: He was wonderful. He was a big bear, he tried to present himself as being gruff and ‘I don’t like comic books, I just do dis stuff….’, he’s from Jersey so I can make fun of his accent too. He drew like a dream. He had an ego, you know, he was a wonderful artist. As much as he loved Hal Fosters work for instance, he felt that if he had a week to draw one page the way Hal Foster did, he could do it pretty well too. He didn’t care for the way anybody else inked him except his brother. I don’t know if it’s the truth or he just said it because it was his brother, but nobody could ever please John as far as how they inked his work and John said he didn’t please himself so I think it’s difficult for anybody else to do it when you can’t. I am a portrait painter and work from life and I was showing John my portfolio and it was a pretty scary thing but I was showing John the portfolio of my illustrations and he was going “ I hate you, look at this. I hate you…. look at this guy.” And then of course he meant that all in a complementary way, and then asked to trade a piece of artwork with me. He was a very lovely man and he was, I don’t know 6 foot, 1 or 2 something like that and very stocky. I spoke to him shortly before he died and he didn’t sound well but he was one of the good guys.
DB: What was it like working over Gene Colan?
JR: The only real issue of Gene I ever inked was a DC book and it was based on Clive Barkers Pin Head character Hell Raisers I think was the name of the book.
I said this to Gene – Gene is so good most people aren’t good enough to swipe him. Somebody had me ink pencils of a Daredevil cover from the mid 60’s or early 60’s that never got inked. The pencils were very tight in an exacting way and then as time went by Genes pencils got a little bit more amorphous and a little whispier but it’s still brilliant. It’s just that he pencils in shades of grey instead of a definitive black line, so that you have to give your own sort of spin and interpretation on it and I find it tremendously challenging because there is all that room for interpretation.
As much as I grew up loving the Palmer/Colin Dracula’s and the Daredevils especially, once I got to see the way Al Williamson inked Gene on a couple of Dracula graphic novels, I thought that was the perfect inking for Gene because it kept an angular vitality to Gene’s stuff. He doesn’t draw in long circles, he draws in these shorter choppier stokes but you also have to know how to draw to pull it together. DC was putting together a cover of 1940’s figures which they had statted together into kind of a montage and then they got their production department to ink it. They said it didn’t look very good. They called me up and they were discussing it, said “Now what inker do we know who can draw, let’s get Joe Rubinstein?” But the sad part about it is that they didn’t say which of the inkers that draw do we know, that we should call? So, so many of the inkers now days are incredibly facile in their line weights, and control and technical skills, but the emphasis hadn’t necessarily been on drawing, and since I come from draftsman ship is the key to everything, that’s why I can ink Gene Colan and John Buscema and all those other people. I don’t know if I’m unique in comic books, but I know that there are not a lot of inkers who are also draftsmen.
You’ll get people like Bob Wiaceck or Mark McKenna who aren’t necessarily known as draftsmen because – they may draw at home and they may have beautiful artwork at home, that I’ve never seen, but you tend to not think of them as drawing much. You don’t think of me that way either, but as I say, I’ve been portrait painting for 30 years now and so I know how to draw. I don’t necessarily have my own style like somebody like George Perez for instance, who would impose upon another persons work because when George has inked people, you can very obviously see that George is pushing it towards - consciously/unconsciously, towards his look.
The man who I have studied with for 30 years who everyone knows is a great influence on my work is a man named Burt Silverman, who you might know as the artist who did the cover for the Jethro Tull Aqualung album and he also did 10-15 Time Magazine covers and if you look him up, you’ll find he’s one of the best draftsmen alive. I was quite blessed to have been his assistant for all these years.
DB: Do you think that the fact that you can draw – I mean how do you take it when people throw the line, you’re an inker so you’re a tracer? I’ve seen your portrait work on the side, it’s incredibly good work.
JR: Well, thanks. You know, I don’t get that much, the ‘you’re a tracer’ thing because more often than not my father could never quite explain to people what I did for a living. “He’s an artist, he’s an inker, I don’t know what inking is, but he does something”. <laughter> I think very often the confusion – I don’t even know how this happened but people seem to think inking is the colors, they go “Oh, so you color it?” And I go, “No, no, no, I did the line work.” What I try and explain it as is it’s - I happened to take acting classes for the last 8 years, as something to get me out of the house – it’s metaphor - is that I’m given someone’s lines and by my interpretation they become my own.
Even better is music. Obviously if I play with a trombone or a piccolo, it’s going to be a whole other piece of music even though the notes are the same. How that I’m proceeding makes it my own personal interpretation. If I inked an entire issue of Captain America all in brush and I say well, I’m going to try and have a Milton Caniff look even though John Byrne has drawn it a certain way, I’m going to probably be a little thicker and bolder and more impressionistic in the way my line goes down. But if I say well lets go do a Tim Townsend then there is probably going to be a lot less thick and thin lines and then it will probably have what is considered a more contemporary look. I’m the same person, and I have the same pencils its purely about my attitude of what to interpret what’s in front of me.
I think that’s why a lot of pencillers have liked working with me because I want to put down what’s in front of me, I don’t want to make it homogenized in effect.
DB: Has there ever been a pencil job you’ve gone in – you’ve had come in and you’ve gone, I can’t ink this.
JR: I’ve gotten those jobs and said “Oh my God, how am I going to ink this?” But they were paying me so I was going to have to do it anyway. <laughter> The interesting thing and it’s the perennial debate – If you’ve got John Buscema, Gene Colan, Neal Adams pencils, and some other job which looks like crap, do you get Tom Palmer to fix the crappy job to bring it up to a mediocre level coz there is just so much an inker can do, or do you have him ink the other guys I’ve just mentioned? Well it makes sense to ink the other guy’s but then you wind up with a comic book that looks completely horrible instead of passing.
Another debate is, Kevin Nolan who’s magnificent. Anything Kevin inks pretty much looks like Kevin when he’s done with it which is great, except if you give him somebody’s who’s really good, do you want a Kevin Nolan job that doesn’t look like the really good guy? Or, “Kevin, don’t do what you do well, just follow this job”, “Well then why have me?” The interesting contradiction here is that pencillers very often once they’ve done with a job say “Ok, who are they going to give this job to, I hope they don’t screw it up.” And the inker says “What’s the next job I get to do over the next good penciller?”
Inkers I think look forward to the next job. Pencillers worry over who is going to get their next job if they have no control over it. And I know a lot of pencillers who call me up and say you know “I’ve got this series to do but they’ve told me they’ve already got the inker picked and I’m stuck with them” and they are not interchangeable, just like my Roseanne Barr metaphor before, it’s like not every inker can do every job.
I got a job where after I got done with it and I did the best I could do, the guy actually complained to me that I didn’t fix it enough and I thought ‘where in my job description am I supposed to be the fixer?’ Now I understand some jobs are rushed and this, that, and the other thing but you should do your best job and I should do my best job.
Another penciller said to me, “Oh well, that’s my quick pencils and I expect you to do more with them.” And I said, “How would I know that?” I thought: what they put in front of me is what I think you want, unless they have said point blank, and this happened to me recently, “We’d like you to do anything and everything you can to fix it”. Interestingly enough, badly penciled jobs are easier to do than well pencilled jobs because if I’m handed Brian Bolland or Kevin Nolan, I damn well better hand them back or everybody’s going to wonder what the hell happened. If I’m given a job by somebody who’s not very good, whatever happens ok, I guess that’s about all we could expect from it, so its about diminished expectancy.
DB: If you have a look at the work you’ve done, what’s some of the more – the work that represents you the most – some of the work that’s definitive to you?
JR: When I was doing these recreations recently and I was doing a Micronauts recreation and two Byrne things and I asked the client, “Now do you want me to help it along?”, “Oh no, I want it exactly the way it was when it was when it was printed.” The thing is, I’m inking this stuff, and ‘m trying to say I wouldn’t do that, oh I know for a fact I’m saying to myself, I wouldn’t do that again, that’s not the way…..Oh I’m glad I realised this was the wrong way to go, I’m glad I realised I shouldn’t have used a brush here now that I do my contemporary work.
So I looked at things from different periods - I think the Byrne stuff was really good for its time on all counts, but I know I would do it a little differently today. If you look at that recreation I did for Tim Townsend, I think I did this Poison Ivy, Green Arrow, Batman thing with Mike Netzer which was a killing pace for me, but because of that I had to kick into instincts and just rush through the thing and it got a quality to it which I ordinarily don’t get because it was spontaneous and I like that job.
And then recently I did two issues of Deadman with Jose Garcia-Lopez. Even John Buscema when he was shown Jose’s work said, “Hey can I get this guy to ink me?” because he recognised how incredibly good he was. I did two issues of Deadman with Jose’ and Jose’ let it be known that his single favourite ink job ever was Dr Strange Fate that Kevin Nolan inked and I think Kevin took like 2 months or something on that. He said his second favourite job ever was that Deadman that I did with him and I was very proud of it.
DB: That’s very high praise.
JR: Yes sure is, as a matter of a fact I won – I was on the team so believe me I didn’t win it alone - but there’s an award in Spain at the International Festival, called the Huxtor and, it was for three issues of Tangled Web Of Spider-man over Lee Weeks. I really liked working on Lee and I think we are a good combination. Jose and I did a sequel, or actually it’s in the middle of the story so it’s an in between-quel, to the Road To Perdition the graphic novel movie. Jose worked three times as fast as he ever has and so did I, and I didn’t see any short cuts. He still pulled back and showed the whole gang and all of Chicago and this, that and the other thing. If you look at that, two pages represented one piece of paper, so two pages per drawing and I was doing three of those a day and I guess Jose was doing three of those a day because I got the last of the pages Friday, and the dead line was Monday and we came right up to the edge.
DB: I mean how does it feel with this agest thing that’s in the industry at the moment, and obviously it is there because your not the first person I’ve spoken to that gets overlooked for work due to your age, and yet there’s a lot of poorly drawn material out there. I have to say that the major companies are pushing a lot of crap these days.
JR: Well the first thing I suggest is that everybody reads this article, email DC and Marvel and Dark Horse and say this stuff is really crap and where’s the good stuff, and mention the good stuff. On the other hand, they did get Perez to do the Avengers/JLA thing, and it’s selling. I don’t know if it would sell just as well if they got somebody else to do it or because George does them very well. It’s not exactly ageism only in that I think if a nineteen-year-old kid walked in drawing just like Jack Kirby, I don’t think he’d get work because that’s not what they are looking for. It’s frustrating; and the frustrating part is paying bills. I’ve managed to do advertising work and I’m an art teacher weekly. I think it’s just a perception thing.
Now if I were an art director – occasionally I put together little art jobs, like film corporation needs a comic book or something and I will get my friends who are the best at it, whatever that book is. But the truth is if I were doing a comic book on bicycle education I probably wouldn’t get Jack Kirby to do it, if Jack were alive, because Jack wouldn’t be right for it so I think it’s how people perceive the work and I know several people who have gotten jobs using phoney names because people have pre-conceived notions of what their stuff looks like.
If you look at the Justice League that Kevin McGuire and I did in the 80’s and the Formally Known As The Justice League, Kevin draws a little differently and I ink it differently and I ink it differently not only to accommodate Kevin’s pencils, but because it’s a more modern sensibility. It may not be exactly the way I think it should be but it’s the way they want it. If you look at the illustrators from the 1930 to the 1950’s, the lush, wet, sensual ones for instance: Dean Cornwall was a great example, by the time the 50’s they’re far more brittle and rendery because everybody apparently said we want Norman Rockwell and that’s what they decided. When Jim Lee and Scott Williams were hot, everybody decided to imitate them, and they didn’t do it as well and then you started to get these sort of strange hybrid derivatives of what they think their stuff should look like and drawings started to go out the window. It became more about style than anything else. I don’t want to sound like “Oh, these young whipper snappers, nobody’s any good….” There are a lot of good people out there and comic books that I still enjoy looking at, but when an editor says “I don’t like this stuff, go away” and they hire somebody new, more or less because they want to get somebody new, then that’s the problem. I think the same thing has always happened with actors, you know you are as good as you can be, and they say “you know we’ve seen him in this part before, lets just get somebody 20 years younger” even though the roll calls for a 40 year old man.
DB: It is ironic because the relaunch of Captain America for example, I picked them up and read them and basically throwing them out. The only ones that grabbed me was the short run by Lee Weeks and Dave Gibbons – incredible stuff. And of course, everything that’s come after it I’ve gone, “how do people read this, why do people read this?” It’s not that good, but then it’s probably just me, it can’t be just me, surely?
JR: No, and who says why do people read them? Many people aren’t reading these because comic books aren’t selling well any longer. I mean, sure I hope Marvel picks up, I hope everybody picks up. There’s a story in the 70’s I think it was the Defenders book was cancelled because it was selling a measly 280 thousand units a month which of course is a mega hit now days. There are websites for the various editors and if people start to say look here’s what we want.
The problem is, is that everybody has an opinion so how do you sort though it? But if people start to say we don’t like this, it’s not good we liked it better when Lee Weeks was on it we could read it better why don’t you get him back or people like him. I think there was a book that Jerry Ordway was going to draw and ink, it might have been Authority, Justice League or Avengers or something like that, and I think the websites were saying was “oh no don’t get Jerry Ordway he’s so old fashioned”. Well I think the people who liked Jerry Ordway probably wouldn’t write in but the people who were malcontents would go oh no don’t do that because if the editors start listening to it would go “oh, ok no Jerry Ordway lets go get somebody else”. So I think that people have to be told we want this kind of look and see what they do with this information.
DB: You inked Rob Liefeld and of course he’s got a fairly mixed reputation, what was that like as a job what were his pencils like?
JR: They were actually kind of sketchy and if I remember right one of the issues was done from little layouts, which meant they had to be photocopied. He did them like miniatures. Then they were photocopied up to 11” x 17”- the size of a comic book like seven pages, traced and then I inked them, so that meant an awful lot of energy was lost in the process.
Nobody would know this but if Gill Kane drew a figure for me to ink, took it to a light box and then he just traced it over again even though it would have been the same man with the same hand, if he had just traced I wouldn’t have felt the kind of energy on the pencils. I don’t mean that so much as a metaphysical state but to see the way that the hand found the stroke, the direction that I would have to start, reading more in to it and the thing is, is that when I see the pencils and I can see how his hand, whoever the artist is, moved to left to right or up to down or how they used a pencil. For instance Brett Blevins for a while, a wonderful artist, he drew a job for me and then he took a light blue water colour and slapped in the darks with it and I said “why did you do that?” and he said “well it goes faster and light blue doesn’t reproduce but you can see what the blacks are.”
Well the honest to God truth, it confused the hell out of me, but he was trying to communicate something. Lee Weeks is magnificent on so many levels and in the Spider-man job I did there was a guy wearing a black leather jacket so Lee would use the side of his pencil in an expressionist way but then he would take the point of his pencil and he would sculpt a couple of folds and when he and I spoke about it, because the old joke was is that when you think its safe to answer the phone its Joe Rubinstien asking you another question and he said “those folds, I want exact. The others you can play with” So that’s how hard he thought about it and that’s how hard I wanted to work on it.
I recently did a dream piece, there is a quintessential shot of Batman & Robin from the 60’s, and it’s an icon of Batman crouching and Robin much lower with the moon behind them on a roof top. Originally it was done by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. And a client rang up and said “we’d like you to do a recreation of that”, I went great, do you want me to trace it…? “No, no no, we’re getting Carmine to draw it.” I thought Oh my God! So I got to do that piece again and interestingly enough, it was a large piece they made it way, old fashion size I guess, it was like 15 or 20 or something. In the same package, they’d gotten Carmine to re draw the first cover of the Flash where the Silver Age and the Golden Age Flash meet. And I said, “Am I inking this too?” And they said, “oh no, no. Once you’ve done with that, you just send it onto Joe Giella. I said, “Can I ink it and just give him the money?” You know, what an incredible experience to go through, and once again, I don’t remember your question. <laughter>
DB: Do you keep photocopies of pencils?
JR: As a matter of a fact, I make it a practice to Xerox/photocopy all of the pencils then after I’ve inked the job – I mean I ask the editor to actually send it to me if they can - and then once the job is done I look at the inked page and the pencilled page and I compare and say “Oh look, there’s an angle to that eyelash – I’m not exaggerating, there’s an angle to that eyelash I missed or there’s a piece of that upper lip which is going differently than I inked it and I want to get it back”.
I used to take – when I was really studying – first starting this stuff up, I would look at it inch by inch, millimetre by millimetre, that piece to that piece to that piece, then the comic book would come out and then I would compare the reproduction to the original and then I would take the inked page and the Xerox page, and I would put them on the floor and I would stand over them and I would see if they gave me the same impression of what it was that I was handed so that if for instance, a page was pencilled boldly and spontaneously, and then in my act of refining it, I over refine it, I knew that something had gone wrong because I didn’t get the same impression.
All these kind of things, I don’t know if it’s obsessive but I spend the majority of my life sitting at this table, doing this work, I’d like to be proud of what I’ve done, and I’d like to do it the best that I can do. I would look at these people doing great jobs, I’m going ‘what are they doing that I don’t understand and I’m not doing’ and it would just haunt me, it would pain me that I wasn’t as good an inker as I could be. In all honesty I don’t know if I’m the best inker that I can be yet, but at least it gives me something to shoot for.
All inkers are not capable of inking all pencils, it’s that simple. I mean even Dick Giordano has said that he has never liked the way that he inked Curt Swan. Now you look at Dick inking Curt Swan, and its wonderful, professional stuff, but it’s not exactly what it should be in his opinion or my opinion. When I ink Jack Kirby, I try my damnedest but I think maybe it’s because he intimidates me so much that I don’t allow myself to go there.
And again, it all depends upon the look you’re after because when Neal Adams inked Jack Kirby, it sure looked a lot like Neal Adams. Now if you like that, fine but if you’re a purest, it’s probably not fine. Conversely, when Joe Sinnott, who does a magnificent Jack Kirby of course, doesn’t do in my opinion a good a Neal Adams because he just – it’s a wrong philosophy. And you know with actors, you don’t get – even though I mean I think it was Sanford Meisner who said that he saw Maureen Stapleton do a part and he said she was terrible in it and she’s one of the best actors who’s alive and its because she should never have been cast in it, it was that simple.
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THE COPYRIGHT STUFF
Thanks to the following for their comments and views: Norm Breyfogle, Terry Staats, Tim Townsend, John Dell, Chuck Gibson, Michael Dunne and Jose Marzan Jr
All images courtesy of Josef Rubinstein (except where otherwise noted)