They were Earth's Mightest Heroes! They might not have been the first, the Fantastic Four came before them, but they were the premier team of the Marvel Universe. Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and boasting the artistic talents of Kirby and Dick Ayers, they had the big hitters on the side from the first issue with The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man and the Wasp. They quickly dropped the unstable Hulk and gained the living legend himself, Captain America. From there it was all downhill.
The Avengers have, until recently, been one of the flagship books of the Marvel Universe. The line-up has boasted virtually any and every major character the company has and as a rule Marvel have generally put their top talents onto the book. Artists and writers who have worked on the book include Kirby, Don Heck, John Romita, George Perez, John Byrne, Barry Windsor-Smith, Neal Adams, Roy Thomas, Jim Mooney, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Steve Engelhart, Alan Weiss, Don Perlin, Wally Wood, Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito, Harlan Ellison, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown, George Tuska, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella. Roger Stern and more - a virtual Who's Who of Marvel. The much maligned Jim Shooter had two good runs on the title, the first coming in the late 1970s with the likes of George Perez (the fondly remembered 'Korvac Saga') and again in the early 1980s when he worked with Gene Colan, Alan Kupperberg, Bob Hall and others to create one of the more controversial storylines of the day, dealing as it did with a situation of domestic violence resulting in the marriage breakdown between the Wasp and Yellowjacket. Sadly the book has lost it's appeal in recent times with there being multiple teams of Avengers in the aftermath of the recent events of Marvel's Civil War.
Alan Kupperberg came on board to draw three issues of The Avengers in 1981. It's fair to say that out of the three issues he drew one exceptional issue, one below-par issue and one above average issue. Alan himself will give the reasons as to why it breaks down that way as he opens up in another frank and brutally honest look back at his past work.
ALAN KUPPERBERG: ĎAnd The Craw Shall Inherit The Earth!í [laughter] You know when I drew this story I donít ever remember even thinking about ďThe CrawĒ from Get Smart. When I did the What If? story, I couldnít get that out of my head. And on this story, I didnít have it on my mind. Which is strange, because Iím generally compulsive that way.
DANIEL BEST: Who drew the cover to your first issue?
AK: I drew the cover. I like it.
DB: It looks very different.
AK: Different from me or different for an ordinary cover?
DB: Itís a strong cover and, and Iím not sure how to say this, it doesnít look like your artwork.
AK: Do you think itís good?
DB: I think itís great.
AK: Ah, so thatís why it doesnít look like my artwork! [laughter]
DB: Noooo. Ahhh that ainít fair! [laughter]
AK: Gotcha! No, seriously, I donít recognise it as mine either. I agree with you. But I drew the cover. I drew it and Dan Green inked it. At the time, I thought the inks were incredibly ham-handed, especially on the inside of the book. I was disappointed in the inks, because I felt, at the time, that this issue was sort of a breakthrough for me, regarding my pencils. Everyone seemed very happy when they saw the pencils. I think that Jim Shooter was a little bit leery when Jim Salicrup first gave me the assignment. And when they saw the pencils they seemed very, very happy. The splash page is very nice. I believe the pencils were a lot more nuanced than the finished product reflect. But, as usual, many years after the fact, I have fewer problems with the inks than I originally had.
DB: When you came onto the book you were following people like George Perez, John Byrne, Carmine Infantino had done a few issuesÖ
AK: So how could I look good in a situation like that?
DB: Don NewtonÖit must have been a prestigious gig.
AK: Yeah, one of Marvelís original ten big books. But again, how were people going to be satisfied by my art following, as it did, that of George Perez?
DB: Youíre not George Perez.
AK: You are right, sir!
DB: You werenít daunted following those artists?
AK: Well, youíre almost always going to follow somebody. Get out of the business if you canít take it. I donít think I gave it much of a thought back then.
DB: How can you win? You do a damn good comic book, which you did.
AK: Thank you.
DB: Thereís not much, if anything, that I can find wrong with this issue.
AK: Again, I just donít think Iím going to be anybodyís favourite. There may be two guys. Just by the law of averages. And Iím their favourite artist. Thatís fine. But by not being the fans favourite, youíre not going to make a large portion of the vocal readership happy. Not people who care about this stuff. A reader of comic books, just a reader, not a fan, collector or connoisseur, shouldnít be bothered by my stuff. But the fans. What did the business become in that decade, the Ď80s, but merely a haven for fans. I donít have any fans. But if comics were still a mass media, that wouldnít make a difference. But by catering to the fans and the fan market, the comic book shops, that has helped take a mass medium and turned it into an over-priced, over-produced, niche market. Comic books are now nothing but another Hollywood farm system.
DB: I think you do have fans, I think every artist has their fans.
AK: Sure, or I wouldnít receive commission work.
DB: Or no-one would bother interviewing you, let alone read what you put out there. You do have fans, itís just that theyíre not as vocalÖ
AK: Öor rabid as others. You can like my stuff and think itís okay. I can appreciate that. You can have affection for it, but to get wild about it? In a sense, I do understand, of course. Iím a performer, albeit on paper. Any performer will have people who care, who follow their work. Itís a natural, human thing. My work is out there and my work is part of the popular, mass culture.
Therefore I understand the interest in my participation. Iím part of this thing, so naturally I will get attention because Iím part of the history, like it or not. Iím glad you liked it. Very gratified.
DB: I do. Sure, youíre following Don Newton and Newton was always a favourite of mine because Iíd been exposed to his work on the Phantom and Batman, so Iíd seen that before I saw this. Iíll say this though, and Iím sure youíll correct me, I prefer this issue over the Carmine Infantino stuff, I felt that Carmine was all wrong for this book.
AK: Carmine has his own style and it doesnít say ĎMarvelí.
DB: I couldnít stand Carmine Infantino on The Avengers.
AK: I donít think Iíd have liked that. I vaguely remember it. As usual, if Frank Giacoia had inked my pencils, itíd have looked tremendous. And the printing is not that good either. The black plate is very weak. On all these issues.
DB: The Yellow Claw in this issue is vastly different to the Yellow Claw you drew in the What If?
DB: Your Iron Man in this issue is probably the best Iron Man you did.
AK: I notice that I point out figures that I really like and they are frequently figures of Iron Man. Thereís something about the construction of the characterís outfit that seems to lend itself to my artistic talents. My drawings of The Claw are pretty good in this issue. That was amongst the things that people really liked. The Claw has a real ďcharacterĒ face. Superhero faces can be boring. Theyíre generally white bread. Vanilla. So the villains are the place where you can do interesting character drawing. The Iron Man figure on the bottom of page 12 is really nice.
DB: Being driven into the ground head first. Your Claw figure on the top of page 13, in fact all of them, were you looking at any reference at the time or did it just come from you?
AK: No, that all came out of my own pencil. I agree with you, thatís a very nice face. I sort of got what I wanted on the Vision in the next panel.
DB: Itís a great counterpoint. What I like about your Vision is that you never show his eyes. By this stage a lot of people had been drawing him with eyes but you kept his sockets shaded.
AK: And I still managed to get my point across, expression wise.
DB: Expression wise it adds to the story because the whole story centres on the Vision being in a very dark mood and very angry. What makes him more angry and dark then not being able to see his eyes?
AK: His eyes were hidden by a cast shadow.
DB: There were other artists whoíd draw the actual eyes or at least strongly hint them but you blacked it out.
AK: Every artist has his own version.
DB: The Claw on page 15.
AK: Itís very nice. And once again thatís all mine.
DB: Iím not surprised that people liked the pages when they came in.
AK: I did catch a little flak on that Goddamn flying machine, the Flying Claw, when the ďfingersĒ were to attach to it, later on in the story.
DB: That doesnít look right for some reason.
AK: Page 19?
DB: Page 19, page 20, the whole thing.
AK: Oh, you donít like the concept of the Flying Claw?
AK: I think Shooter was unhappy with the way I drew the fingers. Perhaps it was Salicrup. Though itíd be more likely Shooter to complain. I didnít draw the perspective correctly on it. I had to take it back home and fix it. Shooter said, ďNo, the fingers donít line up in perspective. Make sure they do.Ē I would get lazy on stuff like that.
DB: Shooter did that a lot. I know he used to send Gene Colanís art back all the time with corrections on every page. In fact thatís the main reason why Colan left Marvel.
AK: In my case he wasnít wrong. I should have drawn them correctly. Itís not difficult. I knew how to do it; I just didnít draw them correctly.
DB: With Colan heíd make corrections on every page and then send the lot back.
AK: Well, he didnít do that with me. This was one of the rare instances where I was asked to fix something. I wasnít asked to make a change, I was asked to fix something. Thatís different. Just changes, well, that didnít happen often. Iíve been known to argue with editors. If I thought they were just being arbitrary and just reacting to their own taste, I could argue. If I felt what I did was legitimate and worked on itís own level, then I would argue against making a change. But it didnít happen often.
DB: So why werenít you given this book on a regular basis? After this issue Gene Colan took over.
AK: Gene Colan took over from me??
DB: Yeah. Colan took over and pencilled the book all the way through until issue #211, skipping the one issue you drew as a fill in.
AK: Heís a bigger name than me, so why not go for him if you can get him. But I donít really know. The editors are not obliged to account for their assignments to other freelancers. This was just a fill in issue for me. I was asked if Iíd be available to draw an issue.
DB: Did you ever ask for the book?
AK: I donít recall if I ever specifically asked to have this one or not. Periodically Iíd go into an editorís office and say, ďDo you have any books that donít have an artist?Ē But I couldnít say, ďThrow someone off a book and give it to me.Ē
DB: Colan did the next few issues and then you did another.
AK: Right. I think they used me when they needed me. Iím sure, in some ways, that having me draw an issue was easier and more reliable than having Carmine do it, for instance. Because I know who these guys are. Does Carmine?
DB: Probably not. Your next issue, #209, doesnít work as well as your first issue.
AK: Again, I thought the pencils were much better than the inks. Especially page one. I worked really hard on it in a way that just does not come across in the inks at all. This was a rare issue, probably the only time, that I had serious issues with the story. I was really offended by what took place and when we get to it Iíll tell you what it was.
DB: To me it almost read like a Defenders story.
AK: Maybe itís because of the Beast. Itís a nice establishing shot of the Avengers mansion on page three. Page two had so much more subtlety in it with my pencils, but here it looks like a bit of a mish-mash. The colouring doesnít help either.
DB: The title looks like it was added in at the last second as well. It looks off-centre to me.
AK: And itís not well lettered, either. I donít know what became of Janice Chang. She lettered a lot of my stuff around that time. It is not great lettering. As I recall, she was very quiet and I donít recall much interaction with her. Come to think of it I canít even remember who colorist Ben Sean is. It might even be a pseudonym, for all I know.
DB: The whole thing of a Skrull impersonating JarvisÖit just left me flat.
AK: There were several reasons that caused me to have less fun on this issue than on many other books that I drew. I thought the civilian stuff that takes place in Avengers mansion was much better in the pencil than in inked form.
DB: Ironically enough your Vision and Scarlet Witch are great.
AK: I always liked her costume [chuckles] and that always helped inspire me. I love that weird Kirby headpiece.
DB: So what was it about this issue that didnít grab you?
AK: First of all, Iím not that crazy about drawing period stuff. You have to do research. The 1940s are okay. But beyond that, my interest in drawing that stuff flags severely. Pirate drama doesnít interest me. Medieval stuff doesnít interest me at all. Iím not into cowboys. The 20th century is my meat.
DB: Iím guessing that itís Chapter Three in this book that upset you the most?
AK: Yes, of course. I donít know what it was that bothered me except maybe itís my religion.
DB: I found the bottom panel on page 19 to be a bit out of order.
AK: Me too. I argued strenuously for finding another way. I told them I didnít like it, I didnít think it was proper; I didnít think it was nice. And the editor and the writer listened very politely and then they went right ahead and did what they wanted to do. I didnít fixate upon it. I tried to draw it as realistically as possible and as well as I could. It was ghastly, and I tried to make it ghastly.
DB: Obviously it didnít sit with you.
AK: No it did not sit well at all. I donít know. Is there anything wrong with this story device?
DB: I find it uncomfortable.
AK: Because Iím uncomfortable or because it makes you uncomfortable?
DB: No, it makes me uncomfortable and Iím not Jewish.
AK: No! Youíre not?
DB: No. <laughter> Iíve always found this sort of thing to be something that you just donít do in a comic book.
AK: When you say Ďthis sort of thing,í does this have any precedence in your mind, in comic books, this particular subject?
DB: Not until recently. There was a recent issue of Wolverine where they had him in a concentration camp. The only time Iíd seen a concentration camp in comic books previously was in an issue of Sgt. Fury, and I expected to see it in Sgt. Fury.
AK: That was about the Howlers being in a concentration camp and fighting back, right? [Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #52, 1967; ďTriumph At Treblinka!Ē]
AK: This is different. This plot device victimizes the victims even further.
DB: Exactly. Itís just uncomfortable to me.
AK: Okay, good.
DB: The lady lying on the ground on page 21, ďPlease, we cannot move,ĒÖ
AK: ďHit me more! Hit me more!Ē
DB: ďHit me more! Give me another reason to want to die! Oh, and take away the one jewel that might save us all.Ē
AK: I confess, that at the time, if De Matteis had been Jewish, I might have let it go without comment. You canít say the n-word unless youíre black, that sort of thing.
[SEE BELOW FOR J.M. DeMATTEIS'S COMMENTS REGARDING THIS EXCHANGE]
DB: it may be personal preference and taste, but itís not something I would do. Thereís not much that offends me at all, but this does.
AK: I wonder if they got any letters about it? As if comic book fans are real sensitive charactersÖ <chuckles>
DB: I wonder if people picked up on it.
AK: Pick up on it? There it is! Pow! <chuckles>
DB: Itís kind of ironic because people would be highly offended with the Evil Clown stuff that you did.
AK: If you read the National Lampoon in order to be offended, your head would have exploded long before youíd gotten to the Evil Clown. The Evil Clown is supposed to be trash. Itís totally gratuitous. Who did the Evil Clown take on? The Evil Clown didnít take on concentration camp victims; heís going against ďthe system.Ē In the end, he always brings down the Man. Or himself.
AK: Da Man! <chuckles>
DB: It seems that your artwork drops off in quality from those pages onwards in this issue.
AK: I donít know. I think the tone of the story changes. Theyíre all terribly sobered. The Beast is static. Heís lost his usual playful mood. Heís not capering about as usual.
DB: Maybe itís the Beast. Were you happy drawing the Beast?
AK: Oh, I always enjoyed drawing the Beast. Sure. Good ole Hank. Thereís an exaggeration there thatís always fun. When I look at my Defenders work, and the Beast, I see that heís never just standing there; heís always kind of weirdly posed. That was his character, from Jack Kirbyís original conception of him in X-Men #1.
DB: Iíll admit that I never liked the last page in this story. The last panel didnít do it for me. Itís not the drawing, itís the writing.
AK: Right. Dan Green did all of this inking. He was capable of getting a real nice Joe Sinnott type of effect, like on that Reed Richards face. But then you look at the girl behind him, and thatís crude shit. The lettering placement is very bad, as well. A lot of stuff about the last page doesnít please me.
DB: Thereís a lot of dialogue in it. Panel number three almost reminds me of those old Dell comics where theyíd chop the art off, chop heads off, in order to cram the word balloons in.
DB: The last issue you did was #212, was one of the more interesting ones.
AK: Thatís my cover again.
DB: This issue came in the middle of one of the more interesting Avengers storylines that Jim Shooter wrote, that whole domestic violence arc.
AK: Yeah. On that splash panel Dan Green pulled off the shadowed hallway very well. Do you notice that I have a different establishing shot of Avengers mansion?
AK: I like that shot.
DB: I like the fact that Jarvisís head recedes into his body when heís startled.
AK: Oh yeah. Thatís nice. Heís part turtle. <chuckles> That almost looks like someone re-drew something there, but maybe I just drew it badly, to begin with. The whole upper torso looks very bad. I did not pull off what I was trying to do. But Jarvis pulls himself together quickly by page two.
DB: Your Tigra is good and your Iron Man is impressive, of course leaving a woman in bed. I found that odd because I heard later that Shooter didnít like depicting anyone in the Marvel Universe having sex.
AK: Didnít he write the homosexual rape thing in the Hulk?
DB: Yes. But he wouldnít allow John Byrne to have Northstar say heís gay.
AK: No, because that would have been positive. Hero good. Rape bad.
DB: Hence homosexuals are bad.
AK: I donít know. I donít remember if Jim was homophobe or not. It was never a topic of conversation. We did not have general philosophic conversations, per se. He could expound on his theories of comic books, at length, however.
DB: This issue you got to draw the classic line-up of The Avengers, barring the Hulk obviously.
AK: Yeah. I was even able to put the Wasp in one of my favourite costumes, designed by Bob Powell.
DB: Was the domestic violence aspect apparent to you at the time?
AK: Yellowjacket was going nuts then and it was manifesting itself through domestic violence, wasnít it?
DB: He was slowly going nuts but in the next issue he actually punches the Wasp in the face. In this issue he just humiliates her.
AK: This behaviour was not depicted as anything positive or admirable. So I had no objection portraying it as something that was clearly bad. I didnít think about that. I think the irony of it all is, that years, later, Jim Shooter was just as guilty of mental domestic violence as Hank Pym. Perhaps Shooter could write it because he knew it. Of course by that logic, heíd be a homophobe, too.
DB: And Conan the Barbarian pops up.
AK: Good. Iím glad you realised thatís what I did. I put a beard on Gorn and I got a chance to do Conan.
DB: I think on one page someone actually says heís Conan.
AK: A couple of pages before that I opened some of my Kirby Thor and found a nice Don Blake/Thor transformation sequence and channelled it. It wasnít a swipe, but I tried to get the flavour. I donít like the shot of Thor flying, though. It looks as though heís actually flying under his own power, rather than being pulled along by his magic, uru hammer. In that same vein, on the page before that. The shot of Captain America leaping out of the window? Iím surprised that Shooter didnít yell at me about that one, either. It also looks like Captain America is flying. Shooter didnít want artists to draw the kind of picture where a reader might get the wrong idea. If the character canít fly, donít draw a picture that makes it look like he can. I think I violated that rule two pages in a row. Generally youíre not penalised for that unless you live in Shooter World. But I know that Shooter gave Alan Weiss incredible grief over just that thing, on occasion. I have huge affection for Bob Powellís work on the Giant Man feature in Tales To Astonish. So I was happy to play with his Wasp costume.
DB: Did anyone pick up on that?
AK: I donít know. Actually, I think thatís Powellís Giant Man costume sheís wearing.
DB: It looks more like Giant Man than the Wasp.
AK: I think thatís his Bob Powell costume sheís wearing. Without the cybernetic helmet that controls ants.
DB: The female equivalent of it.
AK: One thing I canít stand about this job is that the panels are too busy. But thatís Shooter.
DB: How bad was it working for Shooter?
AK: Bad? I never had any problem working for Shooter. All my indignation vis a vis Shooter is reserved in behalf of other people. Some of them are friends, some are merely colleagues. But this is not the way I would tell a superhero story, with all these tiny panels. Look at all these damn panels!
DB: Would a Shooter plot come in with the panels laid out?
AK: No, story beats only. But a lot of beats. The kind that requires its own panel. Unless a plotter has a specific sequence in mind, he doesnít generally get too specific. A plotter might occasionally say, ďGive me a three panel sequence where we slowly move in.Ē But generally he just tells you what he wants and you pace it your own way. Sometimes it says, ďThe following should be from page 17 to page 20,Ē and that leaves me free to break down three to four pages the way that I see it. As opposed to a script, which is very exact. Iím looking at the page where we introduce Conan, the lower two thirds of the page has terrible balloon placement considering how much script there is. Now on the next page, when theyíre in the restaurant, thatís terrible. So crowded. If I had had a script in front of me to work from, Iíd have put in the balloons first and then drawn the pictures under them to fit. As it is, itís too, too much.
DB: I was going to mention that the balloons are starting to chop off heads, itís back to that Dell thing.
AK: Yeah. It makes the pages heavy and oppressive, in my opinion.
DB: The two guys sitting in the restaurant?
AK: The colouring obscures it, terribly. The guys on the left are Nixon and Ford. And thatís Kissinger sitting at the table behind them. But it does not quite come across. I donít think my Ford worked at all. That handsome devil in panel one is me with my contacts in. The head waiter is my Franklin Pangborn type-casting.
DB: Is that you being as the Pick-Up Artist, or is it Howard Chaykin?
AK: No, I donít think itís anyone in particular. The girl in panel three looks like a Jim Mooney drawing, doesnít she?
DB: Very much so. All you needed is a tear coming down her cheeks.
AK: Yeah. Kara Jor-El. The figures are all so small in these panels. I wish they were more dynamic.
DB: Itís odd because on this page you have Gorn/Conan standing up and it looks like heís bent over to fit into the panel. You expect a character to stand up straight to be imposing.
AK: Heís not avoiding the word balloons; itís my fault. I didnít do it as well as I should have. Iím sorry.
DB: This one has itís own domestic violence because Gorn/Conan slaps his wife.
AK: Yeah, itís a parallel.
DB: it foreshadows what Shooter was going do in the next few issues.
AK: Because of the demands of the plot, I feel I pulled back my camera on the action. Way too far, way too often. I would have liked some more interesting close-ups. I generally try to get at least one decent close-up per page. Itís something human to connect to.
DB: You go for a fair few pages before the Avengers come back into the story.
AK: I like the composition on the page when we get back to The Avengers. When youíre dealing with characters looking up and down at each other, on different planes, itís good for the composition. Panel one and two are good shots.
DB: You kill Conan on the next page.
AK: Can you see anything in panel two? I can hardly see anything. The guy in the yellow I can see and the rest blends in to the background because of the bad colouring and lousy printing job.
DB: Theyíre black with a black background and they donít stand out. How do I put this without sounding badÖisnít it slightly racist to have black people attacking?
AK: No, I donít think so. Iím trying to think of a reason why it would be racist. You think thereís a lot mixed race gangs going around mugging people? I donít. Not gangs. That only happens in comic books. Kirby kid gangs.
DB: Are there in New York?
AK: Well, this is Washington DC. Which is even worse than New York. Iím no expert, but I doubt that there are many mixed race gangs.
DB: But there wouldnít be gangs of white people?
AK: Not as many. I donít think there would be. <laughter> Of course there could have been, and if you want to play it safe and not offend anybody then go ahead and be PC. But the odds say that itís going to be a black gang.
DB: And then thereís the black blood after he gets shot.
AK: Well, thatís to avoid the red blood. I think that red blood was not allowed by the Comics Code, at that stage.
DB: Frank Miller tells a story about he got around the red blood. He says that when he was drawing Daredevil he visited the actual printersÖ
AK: Oh, so he did it in the colour hold?
DB: Yes. What he found out was that no-one who was checking knew what the colours were because they only saw the black and white line art and when it got to the printers no-one cared. So when he got the art back to script heíd make sure that Klaus Janson would colour the blood red and then heíd send it off and no-one at Marvel knew until the book was in print. Suddenly blood was red. It worked out quite well and I always wondered why in every Marvel book blood was black and yet in Daredevil it was red.
AK: Those cops are badly drawn and the guns are worse.
DB: Theyíre both clearly great shots because neither of them is aiming at him yet both hit him.
AK: I draw terrible guns. Thatís why I like thugs fighting with pipes and knives. There are some nice action scenes in the small panels with the fight with Captain America.
DB: Panel two on page 19 almost looks like a Kirby.
AK: Itís got a good feel to it. I like it. For some reason it doesnít remind me of me. Itís kind of a cute page. The page before is good to, especially the Iron Man.
DB: Your Iron Man is good; weíve talked about that before.
AK: Youíve seen the issues of Iron Man that I drew?
DB: I canít recall it.
AK: On the next to last page, where Janet blows up the truck, it doesnít come across. In the second panel I drew a very crazy look on Hankís face.
DB: I think it comes across.
AK: Itís okay, but itís not the way I drew it, unless I think I drew a masterpiece. That might be whatís happened; I might be delusional.
DB: This issue wasnít a fill-in, itís a sequential issue.
AK: Well it was a fill-in as far as the artist. I was a placeholder for the next artist.
DB: Which was Bob Hall. Now how did Bob Hall land the gig and not you?
AK: I donít know.
DB: This issue has a letters page that talks about your first issue, #205.
AK: And it says what? Anything good?
DB: Yes. The only flaws that people pointed out were factual mistakes in the stories. Someone goes as far as to say that the explosion on page 22 was the best that theyíve ever seen.
AK: Letters pages. Well, Iíve given you my thoughts about letters pages. They donít necessarily reflect any reality. The editors can print anything. You never know whatís going on behind the scenes. Whatís the agenda of the person putting together the letters page?
DB: You used to write letters pages?
AK: Thatís true too, but I didnít say anythingÖthat situation was different. Marvel solicited a real fan to write real letters for the letters page. Thatís different than someone in the office writing or cherry picking letters with a particular POV. A POV that doesnít reflect the majority opinion expressed. To the exclusion of those that do. The letters that I wrote were still a fanís point of view. Written under different names. I didnít say anything that wasnít in my heart in the letters I made up. But when youíre on staff you can push an agenda, if you have the inclination.
DB: How do you look back at The Avengers?
AK: With great fondness. Because these are the guys, the original Marvel heroes. Even the early issues, with the Vision, well the Vision was a character from Marvelís primo days, from the Avengers best run. And the Scarlet Witch goes back to the original Kirby X-Men. Great fun. The Vision was a great character that I love to draw, anytime. I never cared about the Avengers after Roy Thomas left the writing. I know that people really love Englehartís work on it, and Perez. But I have no idea what happened on the title after Roy left, though I read the stuff. I know there were characters like the robot woman, Jocasta. But I donít know anything about those days except what I encountered later drawing the Avengers and the Defenders with Moon Dragon and the like.
DB: Were you disappointed that you never drew more issues of the title?
AK: Oh, sure. As I said, these are some great characters. I could have been happy on a book like that forever.
For clarity and fairness sake I contacted J.M. DeMatteis and offered him a chance to respond to both Alan and my comments. Here's what he had to say:
J.M DeMATTIES: Actually, I was raised by an Italian-Catholic father and a Russian-Jewish mother. We had Christmas, we had Hanukkah, Passover, Easter...and I even had a bar mitzvah. So let's clear that up! (Not that I believe, for an instant that you have to be Jewish to write about the Holocaust. Any more than you have to be a woman to write from a woman's perspective or African America to write about the African American experience.)
As you noted, this story was written a LONG time ago. I have no recollection of Alan's objections to the story. I'm sure it happened, but, more than two decades later, I honestly can't recall it.
The point was that the jewel couldn't save them. They were already dead. (As Wonder Man says: "It's revived the spirit in a lifeless husk.") They were reanimated corpses, brought to life by a desperate, heartbroken man who couldn't bear to lose the people he loved most in the world. To leave them in that state would have been a sin against man and God. At least that was the point as I recall it.
All that said, the story was written very early in my career. I was hardly a master of my craft. I make no claims for it as art...or even a great comic. (It might not even be a good one.) It was simply my attempt to explore how far people will go, in the face of the horrors of death, to bring back those they love.
Being older and (I hope) wiser, I totally understand why Alan would be uncomfortable with that sequence...how it could seem, from his perspective, to trivialize the Holocaust...and I don't know if I would write it the same way (or at all) today. At the same time, I believe fantasy can be used to illuminate the most horrifying issues in human history. Many writers, from Isaac Singer to Garbiel Garcia Marquez to Rod Serling, have used fantasy to shine a unique, and powerful, light on these issues.
I also have to say that your comment re: "hit me more" bothered me. There's no such dialogue in the story...and you make it seem that there is. Most important: Whatever the merits (or lack of same) of the story in question, please don't misrepresent the intention of the story...and please don't ever suggest that I was "making fun" of the Holocaust. That, to me, is far more offensive than anything you can find in that ancient issue of AVENGERS.