We were able to get together with a legendary comic book creator recently. Joe Rubinstein began his career in comics as a teenager in the 1970’s. He has been an excellent and prolific inker for a very long time.
He has worked on some truly important pieces of comic history including the original Wolverine limited series written by Chris Claremont and laid out by Frank Miller; Joe did the finishes. He was the inker on Infinity Gauntlet. An interesting claim to fame for Joe is that he was the inker for 99.9% of the character pin-ups for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe over at twenty year period.
In 2016, Joe was inducted into the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame which is attached to the Inkwell Awards.
Joe is also a part of a team of well-known comic professionals who are producing a graphic novel called The Liberty Brigade. It was funded using Kickstarter in late 2018 and is in the process of being produced.
Recently, Joe has begun to put together a website to display his art and offer services directly to the public. You can find it at www.joerubinsteinart.com and below is our conversation with Joe about his career and what he is doing now.
Pop Culture Squad: I know that you are excited about the new website, what can you tell us about that?
Joe Rubinstein: It is still being filled, but it is up and running. It has a lot of my art, and also information about commissions and convention schedules. This piece is not up yet, but since a lot of my comic book work has become movies, we are going to be linking to trailers that have come from my stuff, like Infinity Gauntlet and Captain America and things like that. We will also have art lessons and tutorials. I will be posting instructional videos that will have free previews and a subscription service or something like that for full videos.
PCS: What can you tell us about the Liberty Brigade and how that is going? How did you get involved with that project?
JR: Well Barry Kitson is doing about a forty-page chunk. Ron Frenz and I are doing a forty-page chunk, and then there are a bunch of origin pages by people like Alan Davis and George Perez. I am not sure how far along anyone else is, but I am about 25% done with my chunk.
Michael Finn, the guy who put it all together, is a long-time collector and has commissioned me to do a bunch of pieces in the past. He has always loved the “Golden Age of Comics”, and once he decided to do this project, he asked me to be a part of it. I was more than happy to agree, and get a chance to work with Ron again. I don’t think that I have worked with Ron for probably twenty years.
PCS: I am loving how creators are able to reach out directly to publish the stories that are inspiring them by using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter.
JR: Well it is sort of like when David Bowie was only selling his work through his website. I mean it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because you have to be “David Bowie” for someone to want to buy your stuff on your website. At the same time, it’s sort of like people are saying, “What happened to David Bowie? You don’t hear him on the radio anymore.”
But, I suppose that since Ron and I have a reputation, and also Alan Davis, and George Perez, and everyone else. People think, “Hey, there is a project that I would like to check out, since we read their comic books in the mainstream.”
PCS: In doing some research for this, I have seen that, in the past, you have mentioned Dick Giordano as a mentor to you. Can you tell us what has he meant to your career?
JR: Well, when I was thirteen years old, I started to work at Continuity Associates Studio which was formed by Dick Giordano and Neal Adams, and it was only three rooms when I got there. I was just a gopher who ran errands or made coffee or whatever. Of course, I was a tremendous fan of both of their work. I would just watch Dick work, and have access to Neal’s files. Dick would give me lessons, and of course, Neal was too busy to give anybody lessons. By the time that I was fifteen, I was Dick’s assistant, doing blacks and touch-ups and things like that, later backgrounds. When I was seventeen, I got my first freelance job because the editor asked Dick, “Are you gonna watch him?” Dick said, “Yeah!”, in a serious manner. Then I did the job. I showed it to Dick. He merrily looked it over quickly, and said, “Yeah, it’s fine!” So that was the kind of watching Dick did on that particular job. [Laughter]
He was a very sweet guy. He was lovely. He was moral. He was the mentor for a great many people. I don’t know anybody who has a bad word to say about Dick, other than Carmine Infantino, but Dick had plenty of bad things to say about Carmine back. So, I just learned by watching him work and him giving me lessons. I mean, if you look at it, his and Wally Wood’s assistants make up about everybody in the comic book business in the seventies and eighties.
PCS: In your long, distinguished career, do you have a favorite penciller to ink or work with?
JR: Well, you have to separate the questions. Do I have a favorite person, that I like to work with? Yes. Do I have a favorite set of pencils that I like to work with? Yes. Are they necessarily the same person? No.
For instance, Gil Kane, one of the all-time great masters, I would gladly ink him forever, except, I was more than happy not to talk to Gil, because we hated each other. But if they just sent me his work, and I didn’t have to interact with Gil, I would be fine with that.
Someone who I think we do a very good job together is John Byrne.
But Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who is the draftsman’s draftsman. I mean people like Byrne and everybody else acknowledge that he is one of the all time bests. He is a very sweet, sweet guy, and I am more than happy to know him and work with him at the same time.
And there are some people who are very sweet people, but bad artists. I would rather not work with them any longer, but I would be happy to have dinner with them.
PCS: I know that you traditionally work with comics in pen and ink, but have you found yourself transitioning to digital at all?
JR: No. I am not against learning it, because apparently that’s what people are asking for. At the same time, traditional inking still exists and people are hiring for it. I am fine with not knowing how to use that stuff.
I am also a painter, and I know that there are many sophisticated programs to paint digitally. I wouldn’t mind learning those if I had to, but I am busy trying to learn how to paint with oils, and that takes a lifetime.
It is not that I am saying, “How dare someone paint digitally when real oil paint exists?” It is just that I haven’t had a need to separate my efforts between traditional and digital, so right now I am sticking with traditional. As a matter of fact, I have a mural painting business for churches and hotels, etc. I am told you can do digital prints and glue them to a wall, but I think you would rather have a regular painting.
PCS: I know that you have a lot of pride in your accomplishments and work on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but is there a particular project in your career that you would say you are most proud of?
JR: Well, I am thrilled to have done the “Handbook”, because it is arguably the best job an inker ever had. There were a lot of big pin-ups with a tremendous variety of different artists and different characters so it never got boring.
I did a lot of Justice League work with Kevin Maguire, J.M. DeMatteis, and Keith Giffen including Justice League International, Justice League America, Formerly Known as the Justice League, and others. Maguire draws very very well. I did not have to add a lot to it, because he does have such tight work, but I did add a bit of a flourish to it. It reads beautiful. It is funny. I would pick up the physical pages at DC’s offices, when I lived in New York, and take them home on the subway. I could read them because pages were lettered on the board in those days, and I would laugh out loud. The stuff was great.
Speaking of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. I did two issues of Deadman with Jose, which I thought was really good, and Jose told me that it was like the second-best ink job that he ever got. Then there was a thing that nobody has ever seen, but I am going to put it on my website. It is an eleven-page retelling of the Crucifixion for the American Bible Society. It was put inside of a graphic novel that Giordano and Terry Austin did called The Unforgiven. I think the thing didn’t sell, and whatever they had left the pulped, so it is like impossible to find. Rick Leonardi penciled it, and I thought it was some of my best stuff ever.
PCS: Well now we have even more reason to go check out the website. Is there any other things that you can tell us about what you are doing these days?
JR: Well, the comic book companies don’t call me for work anymore of any sort. So, I pretty much do private commissions and Kickstarter stuff. I do skype lessons. I paint murals for people.
Actually, I have this funny job right now that is pretty cool. There is a guy who has about five or six hundred autographed index cards. There are also big pieces of paper and small pieces of paper. They are autographed by all the original cast of the Batman show from ’66 as well as Buster Crabbe, Boris Karloff, Claude Rains, and people like that. He wants me to do portraits of each one of those people on those cards. And since I primarily think of myself as a portrait artist, it’s fun. Some of it has gone online. Some of it will be on my website, and I don’t honestly know if this stuff is for resale or just for the client to keep, in his private collection.
PCS: Wow. That’s great. I want to thank you so much for doing this.
Don’t forget you can find Joe at www.joerubinsteinart.com
You can find out more about Liberty Brigade here.