World War 3 celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. That’s longer than World Wars 1 and 2 put together. WW3, however, is a comics magazine—founded by artists Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman—which has fought political, social, and religious folly through hundreds of killer comic strips. The odds against a comics magazine surviving for this long are extremely high, and the recent publication of World War 3 Illustrated (1979-2014) marks the occasion.
Kuper and Tobocman (both 55) grew up together in Cleveland, Ohio and discovered comics when they were seven. Four years later they published their first zine. From then on they devoted their lives to comics: visiting comic conventions in New York each summer—where they met everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of Captain America, X-Men, etc.) to William Gaines (publisher of Mad)—and publishing fan interviews with their favorite creators. In the late 1970s, each separately ventured to NYC, where they were disappointed that there were so few venues to get published.
“The undergrounds were mostly gone and the alternative movement didn't exist yet,” Kuper says. “Since we'd done zines, the idea of self-publishing wasn't remote. Beyond publishing our own work we also wanted to print work that moved us—much of it was on the street posted on walls and lampposts. It was work that was talking about our reality in 1979 with a hostage crisis in Iran, the Cold War in full swing, and a B-actor about to have his itchy trigger-finger on the nuclear launch button.”
They started World War 3 Illustrated also because in 1979 mainstream comics publishers wanted capes and tights. And “the remaining underground comics publishers also had a formula to sell their books that was pretty narrow,” Tobocman says. “Book publishers had not yet learned the phrase ‘graphic novel.’”