Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Interview With Joe Kubert re: Our Army At War 113 & 160

Back in Black History month I wrote a couple of posts about the integration of African American characters in comics books, especially in 1960s war comics. I had the good fortune today to be able to speak to Joe Kubert about Our Army At War 113 and 160, the two Sgt. Rock and Easy Company stories featuring Jackie Johnson that promote racial integration, harmony, and equality. I wanted to know the truth about the reasons behind the publication of such ground-breaking stories for their time. Mr. Kubert was very kind to schedule a phone interview with me during his day at Joe Kubert's World of Cartooning. Here's the content of the interview as best as I could scribble it down - I've omitted much of what I said in terms of the backgrounds to my questions, for the sake of clarity:

Interview with Joe Kubert 5/25/2010

Interviewer: How did the decision to publish OAAW 113 featuring a black soldier, Jackie Johnson, come about?

Joe Kubert: Bob Kanigher was the editor at that time and he wrote most of the Sgt. Rock stories himself. The decision to publish the story was entirely his. I became editor later when Bob’s health wasn’t so good but at that time I had no part in these decisions. Bob would discuss the comics with me only for the sake of clarity and as far as I knew decisions were made solely on the basis of selling mags. You mentioned in your e-mail that you were wondering if the military had asked us to do this, but there was no political motive at all – certainly no government request. Later when I was editor we decided to try a new book, Blitzkrieg, showing the war from the German side, what the German army had gone through, and we had six issues ready but the company felt it was too hot to handle and so they killed it before it went on the stands. They felt that the title and the direction were too partial to the Nazis. With OAAW 113 there was no hesitation to publish – it was felt that having a black character in Easy Co. would be popular with the readers and that it was something that our readers would like to see. We did have a good reaction from the readers in their letters. It wasn’t all purely money-making, however. There was an attempt to show recognition of problems that had existed. We knew there had been no integrated units in WWII but it was important to show how things were supposed to be.

Interviewer: There was a big gap in time between the books EC were producing in the 50s that showed integration happening in the military in Korea, and OAAW 113 in 1961.

Joe Kubert: Harvey Kurtzman’s stories – he felt very strongly about these things and it wasn’t a selling strategy with him, he would put these things in his stories hoping to benefit the young readers. Bob Kanigher had been in the army – he was also the kind of guy who felt very strongly about certain things, including racial equality, and he did his best to show it in his work. He wrote and I illustrated another series of stories about the Black Flyers, the Black Angels – about the Tuskegee Airmen.

Interviewer: The publication of OAAW 160 followed Muhammed Ali’s conversion to the Nation of Islam. The NOI had been putting out a lot of anti-Vietnam involvement messages, as well as saying that this was not a war the Black community needed to be part of, so was the decision to do this story and make Johnson a heavyweight champ designed to counter the influence Ali’s fame had in making those viewpoints more widely known?

Joe Kubert: With OAAW 160 again Bob Kanigher did that story and there was no discussion with me over the content. Again we received no negative letters. I was not aware of any intent on Bob’s part to reference Muhammed Ali with that story, although the characteristics of Jackie Johnson do seem to fit the profiles of Jack Johnson and Joe Louis as you say.

Interviewer: Mr. Kubert, thank you so much for answering my questions.

Joe Kubert: You’re welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

With Teary-Eyed Gratitude and Humility I Accept this Award

I was just recently nominated for a Kreativ Blogger award by Jaque Nodell of Sequential Crush fame, which is awfully nice of her, so I'll do my best to comply with the rules that accompany receipt of said award:

  • You must thank the person who has given you the award.
  • Copy the award logo and place it on your blog.
  • Link the person who has nominated you for the award.
  • Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
  • Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.
  • Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
  • Leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.
I am grateful to Jacque for nominating me for this award. Jacque, thank you for giving me this opportunity to interact further with the blogosphere.
Seven things about me that people might find interesting (and that I don't mind making public!):

1. One hot sunny Florida day back in the 90s I went to Jacksonville Public Schools surplus warehouse with some colleagues for an all day session looking for used books for our school. When it came to lunch break I really fancied some ice cream so I went to the local supermarket and bought a gallon tub of some flavor of Breyers ice cream that was on offer, and acquired a spoon from the deli to eat it with. After getting through about a quarter of the tub I realized that I didn't have a refrigerator with me to put the rest of the ice cream in, now that I'd had enough! I couldn't just throw the rest away because that would be a waste of food. None of my colleagues would want to finish eating ice cream that I'd started!! So I was left with no choice but to consume the entire gallon (this was, fortunately, back when Breyers was a decent brand, before they were taken over and their ingredients changed). It put me off ice cream for at least a week!

2. In 1988 my wife and I were visiting India with our then youngest son, who was two. We were in the Himalayas and I wanted to see the source of the River Ganges. From where we were it was an 11 mile hike, and there was no way we could all go, so my wife said I should go alone and they'd wait for me where we were staying in Gangotri. I wanted to get there and back in one day, so I set off at the crack of dawn. I made good time and reached the ice cave at the base of the glacier from whence the Ganges emerges, to find that there was a naga babaji and his disciple camped near the river bank (naga babaji = naked Shaivite holy man with long dreadlocks). I was invited to lunch and enjoyed a delicious bowl of soup while sat in the babaji's tent. After some conversation and offering him a small donation towards his efforts at providing spiritual upliftment for visitors, we bade each other farewell, and following marveling at the awesomeness of the glacier and the rushing river strewn with ice boulders, I set off home, arriving at dusk, while there was still enough light to see.

3. I stayed one night in possibly the cheapest hotel in the world in 1988. The occasion was again the trip to India my wife and I were on. We arrived in Delhi by train in the evening and I was really sick, so sick in fact that I was ready to pass out. We struggled across the road from the train station to the nearest lodgings, which happened to be a flop house. We paid for the only private room, which was the tiny hut on the roof where the water tank was located. It cost 2 rupees. One the way upstairs we passed through two large dormitories where there were rows of beds and men sat or sleeping - we got plenty of gazes because we were white and also because women obviously didn't frequent this establishment. Luckily our room had a lock on the door (I heard several people trying it during the night). By the morning I was feeling a bit stronger and ready to get the heck out of there!

4. In 1982 I was bitten by a radioactive squirrel and transformed into.... No that's not true, it wasn't radioactive and the only transformation I underwent was to become more cautious about grabbing hold of wild animals. In this case I was walking through town, with my baby daughter asleep in a stroller. I saw chaos in the gas board showroom and upon visual inspection noted that it was because a squirrel was jumping around all over the place in there. Just then it ran out the door and I followed it across the road where it entered a ladies' fashion shop. As I went in the door screams could be heard from the back of the store. Then the squirrel bolted past me and jumped into the front display window, clearly thinking it was a large portal to freedom, not having had experience of glass before. The squirrel became trapped at the base of the display (hats) and I saw my chance to grab it (bad move!). I lifted the squirrel out and for one of those frozen moments in time our eyes met. The squirrel looked at me, looked down at my juicy thumb, looked back at me, then sunk its incisors into the plump flesh at the base of my thumb. The sound of the squirrel's teeth puncturing my thumb was not unlike that 'poink' your teeth make when you bite through the skin of a really juicy apple. Stifling a scream, I asked the shop assistant for a cardboard box, which he duly supplied. I shoved my hand plus squirrel into the box and shook. Having detached the squirrel and shut it safely in the box, I handed it over to the assistant to return to the park across the street, while I high-tailed it to the emergency room for a tetanus shot. One jab in the butt later and I was ready to go home. Amazingly my little girl slept through the entire episode!

5. At the end of a busy day teaching back in 1985, I was tidying up the classroom and getting ready to go home. Everyone else was gone, and the sun was shining through the windows. A light breeze blew, and it was a balmy day in early summer. All of a sudden I heard loud bird chirping noises and a female blackbird flew in through my classroom door in my direction, followed by a male in very hot pursuit. The female bird swerved at the last minute and flew back out of the open door. The male, however, crashed headlong into the window to my side, and crumpled to the floor dead, his neck broken. Pondering upon the possible purport to this rather cosmic event, I concluded that the male bird was so preoccupied with chasing after sex life that he was unable to see death approaching, and so came to an unfortunate end. I felt this was a lesson worthy of incorporating into my own life and in my struggle to find meaning and purpose, and so try to be prepared for death, which can come at any moment.

6. My wife and I had a very low budget wedding because basically we were rather poor. I had to borrow a jacket from one of my friends. We only had three people in attendance (at least two were needed as witnesses!). I managed to remember the ring, but when the registrar asked for payment in order to proceed, I realized I'd left my wallet at home. Fortunately one of our three guests had enough cash to front me the fees, and so the wedding went ahead!

7. When I was a kid I used to play rugby. If you know rugby then my position was number 8, at the back of the scrum. We were playing a school match against Lycee Francais, the French school in London who were our bitter rivals. It was a close game and we were down a couple of points and pinned on our own goal line, but we had a free kick. Our full back was a good kicker so I asked him to loft the ball as high and as far as he could, while keeping it in play. He delivered a monster kick and I started running like the wind, passing most of the Lycee team, who had all moved up into our half because they had been attacking. The ball came down inside their 25 yard line just ahead of me. It bounced awkwardly for the two by this time very nervous remaining defenders, and I grabbed it, headed for the posts and touched down dead center. Our full back then stepped up and converted and we won the game with that late play. Man I still get goose bumps remembering that one!

Okay the seven Kreativ Bloggers whom I would like to nominate are as follows:

First there's Linda, The Paper Collector, with her very eclectic and frequently added to blog on all things ephemeral of the paper kind. Next, Mykal Banta's Star-Studded War Comics is THE place to go for top quality reading material from the war comics genre. Although he's taking a break from any major writing on this particular blog at the moment, Lysdexicuss's Ten Cent Dreams is a great read for comic book officionados. An absolutely amazing resource for those who appreciate Steve Ditko's early work is the Ditko Comics blog by BobH. There's always something poignant to read at Carmen Van Kerckhove & Latoya Peterson's Racialicious. Colin Smith really means it when he says he's Too Busy Thinking About My Comics - he's a prolific writer on every aspect of comicdom you can think about. Finally, she Has Boobs, Reads Comics, and provides very newsy pieces on comic books, especially DC, and she is The Nerdy Bird! Right, those are my nominations. All that's left for me to do is comment on each of those blogs to let the authors know they've been nominated. Thank you again, Jacque!