Sunday, October 18, 2009

Alan Kupperberg Meets Wally Wood

I first noted Alan Kupperberg's work on Marvel's WHAT IF...? and THE INVADERS back in the seventies but had no idea he had worked for Wallace Wood. His name popped up everywhere at both Marvel and DC for several years perhaps most notably in his Orson Welles act as writer/artist/letterer/colorist on 1983's infamous OBNOXIO THE CLOWN VS THE X-MEN. He went on to a troubled run on the ANNIE comic strip as well as work for many magazines such as SPY and NATIONAL LAMPOON. He has a cool website at with lots of sample art and information on commissions. Recently Alan was kind enough to speak with me about his time with Woody.

Booksteve-Thanks for talking with me this morning, sir. I do appreciate it.

Alan Kupperberg-It's always fun to talk about comic books. There are not too many people around any more with whom to do that.

B-If you would, a little background on yourself for anyone not familiar with your work.
A-Well, I was born in Brooklyn in 1953 and I grew up reading DC and Marvel comics. I'm a third generation artist. My grandmother was an artist, a hand-painter, and my father was an award-winning amateur photographer. Comic books were the form of expression that caught my interest. Very early in my life, so I pursued it! Brooklyn is just across the river from Manhattan and about 1967 I started taking the subway and visiting the company offices. I got in trouble by being a stupid, bratty kid but I did get to know everybody.

B-Who were your own favorite artists growing up?

A-Well, Woody was one, of course.

B-Let's see...if you were born in '53 you would have discovered him during his first Marvel run, then?


B-Oh, that's right! Duh!

A-My mother has a younger brother. David was about eight or nine years older than me and he read SUPERMAN and MAD and that's where I first saw Woody's work. A favorite of mine was a feature that E. Nelson Bridwell wrote in MAD MAGAZINE that Woody illustrated about changing the characters' costumes--you know that one?


A-When I saw how he could do that SUPERMAN, that cemented Woody into my "scrapbook of love," y'know?

B-I love to see his renditions of SUPERMAN but you know he never actually drew the feature! I'm told that was yet another sore point with him. I mean, he drew the cameo in CAPTAIN ACTION and then the Golden Age version in his JUSTICE SOCIETY strips in the seventies but...

A-He knew he blew that one. Especially, Captain Action #1. We spoke about it. I said, "You didn't get it." He said, "I know. I feel bad about it." He got much closer to the mark in SUPERDUPERMAN (in MAD).

B-Yeah, that's where I first saw that he could do something other than superheroes. I picked up THE MAD READER...had to have been around 1970 because it was the edition with the hippie cover...and it was SO different that I felt like I had to hide it from my parents.

A-Well, I didn't have to worry about that because my parents liked subversive humor, so I was safe. Woody’s art appeals to so many people. He's one of those guys whose work you'd see in so many places--the trading cards, MAD magazine, board game boxes, comic books--he was all over the place. Most guys stuck to one thing or the other.

B-After I recognized his style I did! I started seeing it everywhere. I literally taught myself to draw--not that I'm that good--by tracing and imitating Wood art.

A-That's how we all did it!

B-You hear about so many people that did.

A-Swiping Woody is how I started with Woody. I was up in the studio doing a job for Jack Abel called THE GODMOTHER for a parody rag called GRIN Magazine and Woody looked over my shoulder and said, "Oh, you can letter! You wanna letter the strips?"--SALLY and CANNON--so I said "Sure." I took it home and brought it back the next day. Gaspar Saladino had been lettering the strips. Now, I'm no Gaspar, but my lettering can be adequate. My ballooning stank in those days, so Woody did his own balloons. So then he asked me if I could pencil CANNON for him. I took the pages home and opened up my T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS and copied out the appropriate panels and adapted them to the situation. And Woody flipped out. He said, "You're hired." Within three weeks I was also writing SALLY and CANNON.

B-That would have been about...?

A-1971 or '72 probably.

B-Who else was working with him at the time?

A-Actually, I was the only person helping Woody at all, at that time. In the front room, renting space were Jack Abel and Syd Shores. I guess Woody and I must have worked together probably a year altogether, until I got on his nerves or did something awful to him. You know the SALLY FORTH page Neal Adams worked on?

B-No. I know at least one CANNON page he worked on.

A-Was it CANNON? I guess it was. That was my doing. Woody got sick or drunk that week...I guess sick 'cause he was usually sober during that period I was there. I took that week's SALLY and CANNON pages into Neal's studio and asked for help. Ralph Reese and Larry Hama did most of the heavy lifting that week. On SALLY, especially.

B-So you worked on SALLY FORTH and CANNON, how about the third strip?



A-No, that strip had ended by the time I started with Woody.

B-There's very little info out there on that strip. You can find originals from SALLY and CANNON on Ebay or at some of these auction houses but never SHATTUCK. I finally found one Dave Cockrum drawing and that was it! I wrote to Howard Chaykin and he said, "That stuff is so long lost, I wouldn't know where to begin."

A-Come to think of it, I did draw part of one panel of SHATTUCK the day Howard and I became friends. He was living in some God-awful half-derelict hippie dump in Queens--I think Flushing. He was sharing it with two other hippies and he was living up in the attic, drawing SHATTUCK. I went out there to hang out with Howard one day and I ended up drawing a stagecoach bouncing along the road so I did work on SHATTUCK! Jack Abel worked on it I think.

B-Yeah, Abel, Cuti, Cockrum, Chaykin...

A-Wayne Howard?

B-Could be.

A-I haven't thought about who worked on SHATTUCK since those days!

B-We were thrilled to find even the one drawing I found online.

A-Wait-a-minute. I have a Jack Abel drawing of SHATTUCK right here. I can scan it and send it to you. It's a personal sketch of SHATTUCK that Jack drew for me in pencil. Got it right here in front of me.

B-Cool! Thanks!

A-Have you heard about Woody's personal pornography?


A-(laughter) You know all that Naughty Wood stuff that he probably didn't pencil most of? That’s all crap. He had files that I understand he burned when he got sick. So they don't exist anymore. Woody kept these in a locked file cabinet. EC quality work, obsessively rendered; thick with ink, and Zip-A-Tone and he'd white things out with Sno-Pake and redraw and redraw. Just elaborate renderings of little people with huge sex organs doing all these awful things.

B-I've seen a picture of Wood sitting at his drawing table looking perfectly normal but if you look close there's a picture of what looks like Linda Lovelace pinned to a board behind him...hard at work.

A-Oh, Woody liked pornography as much as the next guy! (laughter)

B-The later stuff he did in California, if he had anything at all to do with some of it really I'd be surprised.

A-Just the inking, right?

B-I don't even see a trace of that in some of it. By the time the third issue of GANG BANG came out, Wood had been dead two years and they were still exploiting his stuff by reprinting old SCREW covers and fifties skin mag strips and cartoons.

A-I don't think I even saw that third one.

B-Going back a bit, what was your favorite Woodwork before you actually met him?

A-Probably the MAD stuff...No! Probably DAREDEVIL # 7!

B-One of my favorites, too! It's a nearly perfect comic right from that great cover!

A-Just about. There are a couple clumsy backgrounds by Woody but generally speaking...he used a lot of his stock shots, but it all worked.

B-Would you agree that Stan Lee was trying to turn Woody into the next Marvel superstar artist? I mean, they splattered his name all over the covers, let him redesign DD's costume, played him up on the letters pages...

A-I'm sure Stan was very glad to get Woody.

B-And yet his stay was relatively short. Maybe his legendary problems with people over-editing his work?

A-It was probably that and deadline problems.

B-Well he was gone for about four or five years, mostly doing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS, but then he came back so he hadn't burned his bridges. When you left working with him about ten years later, did you two stay in touch?

A-Woody wasn't really too happy with me by the time we split up. I was just a stupid, unsocialized kid. I may have had some talent that these people could use but I didn't know what I was doing so I used to piss people off. Woody got pissed off with me. At the big 1972 EC Convention he showed up loaded. So I say, "Look, Woody. There's a panel. Why don't you go and get up there on the panel?" I thought it'd be very funny for Woody to get up on a panel loaded. He toddled right up there! So...I don't think he was very kindly disposed with me for things like that. Nor should he have been.

B-I have heard over the years that Wood could be the best Con guest or the worst Con guest, depending, I guess, on how much he'd been tippling before he went.

A-I wouldn't know which condition, drunk or sober would make him better or worse, when you think about it! (laughter) When I first met him, that week I went up to pencil that job for Jack Abel, Woody was just coming off a drunk. His hands were shaking. He couldn't even ink a line properly. He kept inking the same line and electric erasing it off and doing it all over again. But he was on the wagon for most of the year following that I think.

B-What do you think was the best result of you working with him during that period?

A-Well, I learned a lot of stuff, of course. He taught me a great many things. He taught me how to set up a reference file and how to use it...even though I don't. Not at all the way Woody did. He taught me how to set up your tools. I still keep my ink bottles set up just like his. An ink bottle is the easiest thing in the world to tip over with a careless swipe of your hand. He built a contraption--this big thing--out of cardboard and masking tape. And it's got holes in it and a water bottle on the top of that anchors it down so you can't knock the stuff over. There are places to keep the lids for the water bottle and the ink bottle tops... Once a month Woody used to filter his India ink. I think this was when he was still living with Tatjana over on the West Side here. He had a lot of assistants and drawing tables all set up with ink bottles. Woody used to collect all the ink bottles and they'd filter the ink. Woody would strain the ink through cheesecloth and then he’d add distilled water and glycerin to make the ink the right consistency again. Then he’d refill all the ink bottles.

B-What do you think Wood's legacy to the industry is today?

A-Nil. These days I’d say it's virtually nil. I don't think people are going to base their styles on Wally Wood anymore. I think Hilary Barta was maybe the last person to even attempt that kind of flavor.

B-In hindsight, what mistakes do you think Woody made that might have left him happier and more successful if he hadn't?

A-Well, it's not really a mistake, but his decision not to be able to tolerate William Gaines anymore definitely did him no good. He had cartoons that he drew in his personal files of Gaines nursing artists at his breasts. You've probably seen other versions of that picture in the story MY WORD he did for Flo Steinberg’s BIG APPLE COMIX. He never threw an idea away. I think his biggest mistake, though, was taking all those uppers in the fifties and burning himself out. Even when I was working for him, on the left hand side of his drawing board, there was always a hot plate with a teapot, with maybe twenty tea bags steeping away. He would just drink that strong tea and smoke cigarettes all day.

B-I've spoken with several of the people who worked with Wood or for him and many of them seem to have a kind of love/hate thing going. He could be nice or insulting but they'll still defend him to the end! They'll say things like, "I penciled this strip for him and even inked large portions of it but it's not my work. It's Wood's work." There's a wonderfully bizarre kind of loyalty going on there even now.

A-Yeah, I can see it. He might have treated me like that but I was kind of dense in certain ways and maybe I didn't get it. But I could make fun of him! There's that one line of dialogue Woody wrote in CANNON where CANNON and the farmer girl are skinny-dipping and CANNON says, "Last one in is a rotten egg." And the girl says, "Gee, we used to say that when WE were kids, too!" And I would say,
[girlish, falsetto voice] "Gee, we used to do that when WE were kids, Mr. Wood!" He was rolling on the floor. I could make fun of him. But Woody was not a funny guy in person, per se. He liked to play the guitar and sing Hank Williams songs.

B-I think I've only ever even seen one picture of him smiling.

A-It was probably a very shy smile, too.


A-He knew how to enjoy himself but he was a consumer of humor, not a producer...verbally. He could produce humor on paper. But he was not generally a happy person. Woody might drop a devastatingly funny crack at an opportune moment but -- ! He was Woody-- a depression with legs. When he died he was an old man! Woody was 56. A HARD 56. I adored his work and I loved him. I miss him tremendously.

Special thanks to Alan Kupperburg for providing the illustrations seen here from Wally Wood, Jack Abel and Alan himself.