Comic book creator Alan Kupperberg passed away on July 16th at the age of 62. I was fan of Kupperberg’s work, had met him at a few conventions, and was friends with him on Facebook. I knew from his recent status updates on FB that he had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago. Kupperberg had really been fighting his illness, and for a time it was hoped he would recover. So it was unexpected and sad when his passing was announced by his brother, writer & editor Paul Kupperberg.
Like so many people who came to work in the comic book biz in the 1970s, Alan Kupperberg was very much a fan of the medium. As he related in The Jack Kirby Collector #29 from TwoMorrows Publishing, in 1970 while still a teenager Kupperberg “was a regular pest – er – visitor to Marvel’s small, six room, dozen-person office” doing various odd jobs in the Bullpen. A year later he was working in the production department of DC Comics, learning the intricacies of the business. Kupperberg also worked at Atlas Comics during their very brief but still-memorable revival in the mid-1970s.
In the late 1970s Kupperberg was once again at Marvel. Over the next decade he worked on numerous different series in a variety of capacities: writer, penciler, inker, letterer and colorist. Kupperberg could do it all.
Kupperberg’s first ongoing assignment was the World War II superhero series The Invaders. He came onboard as the new penciler with issue #29, cover-dated June 1978, replacing the outgoing Frank Robbins. Kupperberg remained on The Invaders until the final issue, the double-sized #41 (Sept 1979) and he penciled the majority of those issues, working with both writer & editor Roy Thomas and writer Don Glut.
I imagine that The Invaders was not the easiest of series to pencil. It was a team book set in the early 1940s. This required Kupperberg to present clear storytelling so that the action was balanced between the numerous characters in action sequences. He also had to render historically-accurate depictions of the people and the settings of the Second World War. I think that he did very good work on the series, penciling some memorable, exciting stories written by Thomas and Glut.
Looking at Kupperberg’s time on The Invaders, one of the highlights is definitely issue #s 32-33, which had Hitler summoning Thor from Asgard and manipulating him into attacking the Soviet Union, bringing the thunder god into conflict with the Invaders. Another noteworthy issue was the finale of the series, as The Invaders faced off against the so-called Super-Axis, a team of fascist supervillains. Kupperberg, paired with inker Chic Stone, did very nice work on that climactic battle, helping Glut and Thomas to finish the series in style. The issue concluded with a wonderful double page pin-up drawn by Kupperberg featuring every hero who had ever appeared in The Invaders.
It was while penciling The Invaders that Kupperberg had an opportunity to collaborate with Jack Kirby. He drew a rough layout for the cover to The Invaders #32. The published cover artwork, based out his layout, was by the superstar team of Kirby & Joe Sinnott.
As Kupperberg recounted in The Jack Kirby Collector…
“I’d never been fond of drawing covers, but when I was asked to provide a cover layout or rough sketch for Invaders #32, I didn’t hesitate a tick – because it was for Jack. I’d be interpreting Thor, Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch – for their artistic father!
“The Jack’s pencils arrived. They blew my tender little mind – Kirby interpreting my interpretation of Kirby.”
Aside from The Invaders, Kupperberg never had a particularly long runs on any Marvel titles. He was briefly the penciler of Thor and worked on several issues of What If. Aside from that, Kupperberg was one of Marvel’s go-to guys for fill-in stories in the late 1970s to mid 80s. He drew issues of Avengers, Captain America, Dazzler, Defenders, Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Two-In-One, Moon Knight, Star Wars and Transformers. In 1984 Kupperberg penciled a four issue Iceman miniseries written by J.M. DeMatteis.
As a fan of Captain America, I liked Kupperberg’s depiction of the character in The Invaders, Avengers, and Cap’s own book. Kupperberg penciled a trio of fill-in stories for Captain America, which were in issue #s 240, 260 and 271. The first of these, “Gang Wars,” is noteworthy for the collaboration between the two Kupperberg brothers. Paul plotted the issue, Alan penciled & scripted it, and it was inked by the talented Don Perlin. I think this was the only time that Alan and Paul worked together.
Another of my favorite Marvel stories that Kupperberg worked on was Avengers #205 (March 1981). Kupperberg and inker Dan Green did excellent work on this issue. The second chapter of a two-part story plotted by Bob Budiansky & scripted by David Michelinie, this issue saw the Avengers attempting to thwart a plot to conquer the world by the diabolical Yellow Claw. The cover to this issue by Kupperberg & Green, featuring the Vision in fierce combat with the Claw, is really dynamic. As the saying goes, they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore!
In the mid-1980s Kupperberg began doing work for DC Comics, as well. He became the penciler of the offbeat Blue Devil series written by Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohen. Kupperberg started on issue #12 (May 1985) and remained on the book until its conclusion with issue #30. He also worked on Justice League of America and Firestorm. Kupperberg’s guest pencils on All-Star Squadron #66 in Feb 1987 (the penultimate issue of the series) saw him briefly reunited with writer Roy Thomas, who had spent the last several years chronicling the adventures of DC’s superheroes during World War II.
Anyone who has ever met Alan Kupperberg or read an interview with him will definitely realize that he had an amazing and unconventional sense of humor. That was certainly reflected in his comic book work. He worked on a number of humorous, not to mention unusual, projects throughout his career.
Somehow or another Kupperberg became associated with not one but two evil clowns during his career. The first of these was Obnoxio the Clown, created by Larry Hama in the pages of Crazy Magazine. In early 1983 Obnoxio landed his very own one-shot. Written, drawn, lettered and colored by Kupperberg with edits by Hama, this bizarre special had the cigar-chomping Obnoxio running rings around the X-Men, getting summoned for jury duty, answering fan mail and just acting as rude as possible. All these years later I am still amazed that this issue got published!
Kupperberg also illustrated the misadventures of Frenchy the Clown, the star of the “Evil Clown Comics” feature in National Lampoon. Devised by writer / actor / comedian Nick Bakay, Frenchy was a violent foul-mouthed alcoholic womanizer in greasepaint. Several years ago Kupperberg was working on reprinting the “Evil Clown Comics” stories in a collected edition, but unfortunately this didn’t come to fruition.
Doing much more family-friendly humor work, between 1988 and 1990 Kupperberg drew a number of all-new five-page Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham stories that editor Jim Salicrup ran in the back of the Spider-Man reprint series Marvel Tales. These were written by Michael Eury, Danny Fingeroth and Kupperberg himself, with Joe Albelo inking many of the installments.
One of my favorites of these Spider-Ham stories from Marvel Tales was his encounter with Frank Carple aka the Punfisher (obviously a fishy funny animal version of the Punisher). Eury, Kupperberg & Albelo pitted the uneasy alliance of Spider-Ham and the Punfisher against the tentacle menace of Doctor Octopussycat!
I highly recommend visiting the official Alan Kupperberg website which was set up by Daniel Best. This fantastic site has numerous examples of Kupperberg’s art. There are several articles wherein Best speaks with Kupperberg at length about his work. It is an amazing resource. Additionally, on his blog 20th Century Danny Boy, Best interviewed Kupperberg regarding the “Evil Clown Comics” stories.
As I mentioned before, I was fortunate enough to meet Kupperberg on a few occasions when he was a guest at comic book conventions. He struck me as a genuinely nice guy. I’m glad I was able to talk with him and obtain a couple of sketches by him. I will certainly miss him, as will many other comic book fans who grew up reading his work.