REFLECTIONS: Talking with Andy Kubert

Mon, November 20th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

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Reflections, Volume 3, Number 7

"I don't think you were born yet!"

It's an urban legend among interviewers that writers make better subjects than artists.

In almost every case, I've found this to be a completely false rumor. Before, when I was primarily doing interviews via email, I found that artists always got their questions done quicker than writers. While it's always a pleasure to hear a writer talk about how great an artist is (and this happens 99 times out of 100), artists are often much more honest about the faults of the books they are working on, and are more likely to admit that the direction of a book may have been a mistake.

I also adore how quirky artists can be. How much lyrical they can wax about Superman's seal or Batman's utility belt. These are the guys you really should talk to if you want to get technical about continuity in books.

Which brings me to Andy Kubert. "Batman" is probably my favorite book on the stands right now. I love how Grant Morrison has reinvented the character without all the gloom and doom we've come to expect from recent years, and I especially love Kubert's vivacious artwork, which brings the storytelling to another level. I sat down with him to talk about how his first storyline on the book went, and the interview ended up encompassing his entire career.

Robert Taylor: Let's go back to the very beginning. Why did you want to start drawing comics?

Andy Kubert: I didn't know that I wanted to start drawing comics until I was 30 years old. Comics were always around my house growing up, and I enjoyed reading them and everything, but I never thought about using that as a future or a career. It wasn't until I was up at Rochester Institute of Technology for a year and I found it wasn't for me. The school was fine, but my major was blah.

So I talked to my dad and he said I should go through school for a year and then maybe work in the office with mom. I said "okay."

I had never drawn before, but once I got into the school I got into it. I got into comics, especially Marvel comics.

RT: Was it always comics or did you ever think of different venues for your artwork?

AK: My dad taught me how to letter comics, and I was making money on the side lettering comics when I was going through school. I figured that if the comic art thing doesn't go through I could make some extra money lettering. One day I also worked in the bullpen up at Marvel. I kept my options open.

RT: Out of curiosity, what comics did you letter?

AK: Oh jeez. When I was going through school my dad was the editor on "Sgt. Rock." He was able to get the students to do backup features as part of their third-year curriculum. I lettered a lot of those.

One thing that I remember, and this was a long time ago, was "Time Spirits." Do you remember that?

RT: No.

AK: I don't think you were born yet! (laughs)

RT: Tell me about going through your father's art school.

AK: Going through the art school was weird because your father owns the school and runs everything. When I was going to it, it was a three-year school too, but my dad taught first, second and third year. He still teaches third-year but back then it was all three.

The hardest part was having your dad as the instructor. Anyone that knows him on a personal level knows he doesn't let you get away from anything. I couldn't miss any classes or homework, which was good in the long run. But back when you were a kid, it was hard.

The school is very work-intensive. If you don't like drawing, don't go. A lot of people who come here find out it isn't for them because you are drawing all the time. You have basically ten classes a week where you are doing ten different assignments.

The school also teaches you professionalism and we try to carry that over. How to meet your deadlines, how to talk to your editors, all that sort of thing.

RT: How would you compare your art from back when you first began to your art now? What are the biggest similarities and differences?

AK: The biggest difference is that hopefully I know how to draw better. (laughs) Hopefully I'm better at constructing scenes and anatomy than I was before. I've been working on it, anyway. As far as my influences back then, they are the same influences I have today: Guys like Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightston, John Buscema - that hasn't changed. I just follow my gut feeling with what I want and like to draw; It isn't intentional.

RT: How about we do a quick hits of your most popular and best known stuff?

AK: Okay…

RT: Looking back on "Adam Strange," what are your feelings all these years later about the book?

AK: At the time is was the biggest project I had. It was a prestige format book for DC. It was subject matter that I absolutely was. When I read the script I thought it was a fun script to draw.

RT: Do you look back on it fondly?

AK: I've cracked open the trade paperback once or maybe twice. And I cringe. Some of it looks atrocious! At the time, though, I busted my butt on it and at the time I was pretty happy with it. Adam colored it, and I thought he did a good job with it. I tried real hard with it, like every project I do.

RT: Did you get any fan reaction like adoring letters or anything like that?

AK: Not that I remember, no. [laughs]

RT: Well, let's take a little detour with your relationship with the fans.

AK: They are very nice. They tell me they like what I do. That's why I like going to conventions. When I was on "X-Men," at times things got crazy when you are signing at a table. I was sitting at one table and there wasn't one line, everyone was crowding around me. I was totally mobbed and not ready. They are screaming questions and crowding me, but that was the only crazy part about it. They are normally civil, great people.

RT: Let's move on to "Batman vs. Predator." How did you approach drawing the Dark Knight then as opposed to how you approach drawing him now.

AK: How long ago was that?

RT: That was around '94 maybe?

AK: It must have been earlier than that. I started Marvel stuff in '91, so that must have been '89 or '90.

RT: Long, long time ago.

AK: Yeah.

RT: I think I was in first grade.

AK: Argh! [laughs]

The script was by Dave Gibbons and I still have it. I used a couple of pages out of it for class assignments because they were so well-thought-out and so richly detailed. They were beautiful scripts. I remember being scared out of my skin to work on such a big project and there were heavy duty deadlines. I had to draw all three books over a three month period, but I couldn't turn it down. I tried the best I could in the time I had, and now that I look back on it I really enjoyed it, but at the time I didn't because of the deadlines. I didn't see my family that whole summer.

RT: You said you handed the scripts out as class assignments. Is it weird seeing so many different interpretations of the script and, by extension, your pages?

AK: Yeah. But it is a good learning assignment for them. Dave is very specific as to what he wants in those scripts. As you develop your career, you get a lot of different types of scripts. You get plots. I've got a paragraph or two that I had to break down into an entire story! Sometimes the scripts are broken down page by page, and sometimes panel by panel.

I worked on a Wolverine book with Peter David, and it was my first big book at Marvel. I got the script, and it was all fleshed out, but not broken down. It was written like a book. It was supposed to be 48 pages, and I spent a week breaking it down page by page and panel by panel. I told my editor I couldn't fit it in 48 pages and he told me to expand it to 64, so I broke it down for that.

RT: Which is your favorite script style to work with - the finely detailed ones or the more general ones?

AK: To me, it doesn't matter. At this point, if I see a tight script and can't do all that I am called to do in one panel, I will break it up. It's the same thing with working with a plot; I'll do what I think I need to do with it. I won't change the idea, that's not my job. My job is to tell the story as best I can without changing the intentions.

RT: Which are your favorite writers to work with and which writers do you want to work with next?

AK: Oy. They are all my favorite writers. I have been so blessed. Between Grant and Neil Gaiman and Mark Waid and Dave Gibbons and Peter David - they are all great.

RT: Looking at your resume, it pretty much contains a who's who of comic writers.

AK: [laughs]

RT: Let's talk "X-Men." How did it feel to suddenly become a superstar?

AK: When you are sitting in your room drawing these things, you don't think about how they sell. I had no idea how popular the book was. I drew it because the characters were really cool and because I liked Jim Lee's stuff. I was eating lunch when Bob Harras called me and told me Jim was quitting, and asked me if I was going to be interested in taking over, and I said yes right away. I was floored, but it was a no-brainer.

The only feedback I really get is from conventions, and it is very gratified to hear they like it.

RT: What kept you at Marvel for as long as you were there? Was it a love for the characters? The creators?

AK: It was a mixture of a lot of things. The books, the characters, the creators, the editors. I developed very good friendships with people that continues to this day. They offered Adam and me contracts that were financially rewarding, too, so it was a win-win.

RT: How was it working on the true American icon, Captain America?

AK: I was a big fan of the way that Ron Garney and Mark Waid were doing "Captain America," and I told him I loved his "Cap" stuff and that I'd like to give it a shot. And it happened. I had a great time on it.

RT: Do you alter your style at all to suit the book you are working on? For example, did you try to change your style at all to appear to be more Garney-ish for "Captain America," or something like that?

AK: With books like "Origin" and "1602," Marvel asked me to change my style to suit the colored pencil look of Richard Isanove. I think we were really happy with the way it worked out, and since I'm not married to the black line, I was okay with doing it for another book.

As far as intentionally changing my style, I was going to try that on "Batman." Adam was going to intentionally go in another direction, but I wasn't too sure. I thought I should just let it go and start drawing it. What I have in the back of my mind is the colorist. If it's a colorist who can add a lot to it, then I will hold back a bit in terms of rendering.

I guess that is the only thing I'm thinking about in terms of artistic change.

RT: I read "Thor," and I think was the first comic I read that you drew. It was only what, 8 or 10 issues?

AK: Yeah, then I moved onto "Ultimate X-Men."

RT: What was it like working with Dan Jurgens?

AK: Well, Dan is an artist. So Dan writes visually, which, as an artist, is awesome to draw from. It's a lot of fun stuff to do, and I absolutely loved drawing from his scripts.

There is a difference between drawing from a writer and drawing from an artist. I think Dan is the only artist I've drawn from. With him it's more action-oriented, and I can tell it's stuff he would like to draw.

Writers who are novelist-types, like Neil or Orson Scott Card, they get a lot of characterization in and a lot of talking-head pages that is necessary to the story they have to tell.

RT: Let's move on to "Ultimate X-Men."

AK: Adam started on it, and he drew issues 1-4, and I worked on 5-6 before I was offered "Origin." When they first asked me to draw it, I didn't know how it would be received, and I didn't think about it that much.

RT: Did you think that it was going to explode the way it did?

AK: Starting off with "X-Men" - yes. I didn't know how much it was going to expand, but I knew what we were doing was good. I enjoyed Mark Millar's scripts a lot. It was a blast to work on, even though it was only two issues.

The whole idea to have Adam and I work on it at the same time was so it would come out on a regular basis, but then I got the call to do "Origin."

RT: Did you think that it was a good idea to reveal Wolverine's origin? What attracted you to the project?

AK: What made me attracted to it was that Wolverine is one of my favorite characters ever to draw. When the editor called me to see if I wanted to do it, it took me a half of a second to say yes.

Did I think it was a good move to reveal it? Sure! To me it didn't matter, I just wanted to draw it.

RT: Once you read what the origin was going to be, did you think it was fitting?

AK: I loved all that time period stuff. It was right up my alley. Drawing "Origin" was some of the best times of my career. The pacing and storytelling, and Paul Jenkins' scripts - all of it was great.

RT: We already touched on the coloring process, so is there anything else you wanted to talk about with the art style for this book?

AK: It was just batting things back and forth between Richard and myself about give-and-take between pencils and the color. What I didn't want it to be was something that was totally overpowered by the colors. I thought it would look cool for a period piece to have the pencil strokes to come through really finely.

RT: Alrighty then. "1602."

AK: I was at a convention in Boston and Joe Quesada was there. I was hanging out with him in the green room, and I was wrapped up with "Origin" at the time and asked Joe if he had any plans for me after that wrapped up. He told me he had something for me, but didn't want to talk about it because it wasn't a done thing yet. I told him I wouldn't hold him to it if it didn't go through. He asked me if I'd like to work with Neil Gaiman.

I told Joe I was holding him to it.

That's the way it started.

RT: What was it like working from Neil's scripts?

AK: They were very fleshed out and very detailed. More than working from his script, I developed a very good creative relationship with him. I wish I recorded our conversations about the characters and how he reacted to my sketches. To work with someone like him was phenomenal, and that's why I love to work in comics.

RT: What is your impression of the series overall?

AK: It a pinnacle that will be hard to match. Richard and I fine tuned the coloring process, and I had more time on the book than "Origin." I think I had five issues done before the first came out, and I went tighter on the rendering, and Richard had more time to develop his style.

RT: Have you read either of the follow-up miniseries?

AK: No I haven't.

RT: Not missing much. Let's talk "Ultimate Iron Man." Did you read Orson Scott Card's stuff before jumping onboard?

AK: No, I hadn't. It was one character that I had not tackled in the Marvel universe. It was an origin story, which I love doing, and Nick Lowe, the editor, gave me the sales pitch and I accepted.

I didn't know who Orson was, but Nick gave me a lot of background.

RT: I know that you had to leave before the last issue was done, but are you satisfied with the project?

AK: I was really happy with the first issue. Later on, the deadlines got tighter and, as a professional, I did the best job I could with the time I had. I would like to have done stuff differently and redo stuff, but it is a commercial business.

RT: Why did you decide to move to DC when you guys did?

AK: The whole reasoning is strictly creative. I drew everybody at Marvel that I had an interest in drawing. I never drew Spider-Man, but I don't think I'm really a Spider-Man artist, and I don't think I'd do a good job with it, to be frank.

I just wanted to try the DC icons. I wanted to challenge myself with that.

RT: Was "Batman" the book you wanted to do right out of the gate?

AK: Totally. Yes.

RT: What other books do you want to follow up "Batman" with?

AK: My wish list would be Green Lantern. Superman. The Flash would be great. Uh…

RT: All the big ones?

AK: Yeah, all the big ones.

RT: That said, how long do you want to stick with "Batman?"

AK: I'll stick with Grant until we get sick of each other. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

I don't know how long Grant will be on it, I think he told me 15 issues or something like that, but I don't think either of us put a definitive end on it at this point.

RT: What's the best thing about drawing a Batman book?

AK: Drawing Batman.

RT: Other than that…

AK: Robin really surprised me. I never gave Robin a second thought but when Grant drew him in the issue I got into it. I loved drawing Alfred, too.

RT: You are four issues in, how have you reacted to the reaction - yeah, that's right - of the book?

AK: You know that better than I.

RT: We love it.

AK: Oh, great!

RT: Did you design the character of Damien, the @#&(ed-Up Kid?

AK: (laughs) I can see that in a logo. Yes, I designed it from Grant's notes.

RT: What are your favorite moments from the first arc?

AK: Joker getting shot in the face. The Man-Bats crashing the party.

RT: Batman taking off in a rocket?

AK: I loved drawing that! When I read the script I thought it was so cool he had a bat-rocket.

RT: Ready for the lightning round?

AK: Yeah.

RT: What was your first comic book?

AK: It was probably a "Sugar and Spike" book.

RT: What comics can you never miss?

AK: "All-Star Superman."

RT: Favorite comic of all time?

AK: The issue of "Swamp Thing" where he took a trip through Hell.

RT: If you could only draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?

AK: I've always wanted to do "Wolverine."

RT: Who would be your writing partner?

AK: I'd love to work with Alan Moore.

RT: What is the best comic book movie ever made?

AK: I loved "Spider-Man 2" and "Batman Begins."

RT: If you were only remembered for one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

AK: Whatever I worked on, and whatever I am doing, I did my damndest on it.

Next Week: Tim Sale!

 
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