John Hebert is best-known to comic fans for his work on Marvel's Punisher titles in the 1990s, but now the New Yorker is looking to affect change in a new way: by becoming a County Legislator in the state of New York.
Running as a Democrat in Rennselaer County District 2, Hebert said he brings up his comic book work from time to time in his pursuit of political office, but also his work as a code enforcement officer and political volunteer in previous campaigns.
While Hebert stepped back from a full-time comic book career in the 1990s due to an unfortunate car accident, he does limited work such as Stan Lee’s God Woke and William Shatner’s War Chronicles.
Hebert talked with Newsarama about his comic book career, his political aspirations, and how the two mix.
Newsarama: John, before we get into your candidacy, let's talk comics. The book people remember you for is Punisher War Journal, but you got your start well before that in the 1980s with books like Sold-Out. How did you break in?
John Hebert: Sold-Out was indeed my first break. I was hired to do it two days before graduation from art school; in fact, I was on my way to grad practice when it all happened. Go to the Ramblin with Roger blog and search for Sold-Out for the entire sad sitcom script. It's a good read, if I do say so myself.
Nrama: Punisher War Journal - you did a well-remembered run on that in 1992. How do you look back on that?
Hebert: The War Journal run....tough one, it started out strong but shortly into it, I was in a major car accident and did a horrible number on my drawing hand. I finished the third issue (somehow) while staying with my mentor Mike Zeck, but looking back now, that was the beginning of the end. My speed was compromised and I went into a deep dark depression. Realistically, I should have taken six months or a year off to heal and recharge my batteries and come back (hopefully) stronger, but as always in my life, I kept working just for the sake of keeping on keeping on and I had a family that depended on me which is also a recurring theme on my life.
Nrama: You went on do do things such as WCW, Captain Action, Deathlok, and others. What is your favorite bit of comic book work so far?
Hebert: Well, some of the Punisher stuff was okay and there were some flourishes of what I wanted to do in X-Men Adventures which was my eventual ejector seat from the biz but I also loved some of the stuff I did with my pal Steve Sullivan on TSR'S Twilight Empireand a lot of the work I've done ‘post-career’ like the "JFK and RFK" Captain Action job I did with Paul Kupperberg and the Phazer stuff (look for it, it's coming back soon!)
I’ve been tinkering with Mariano Nicieza as well for our award-winning Stan Lee’s God Woke and William Shatner’s War Chronicles. The funny thing is that I pretty much walked away clean and sat it out for the better part of 20 plus years, and Mike Zeck and many others have said I'm way better now than when I was “in.” I guess those batteries have finally recharged or I've seasoned like a fine wine (or more likely a cheap bottle of Hobo killer) but it's kind of a moot point at this late date. Every once in a while I've sat down (with all of my spare time) and put together some pages just for myself over the years and it's still a good feeling to do it but it's also a taste of another life , kind of like visiting your old high school.
Nrama: You transitioned out of comics as far as I can tell, but I still see you popping up at conventions from time to time. What have you been working on recently?
Hebert: I did "transition" out of the biz and into a pretty normal life after some kicking and screaming but then several years later, a good friend of mine roped me into doing a convention appearance back in 2004 which I went into kicking and screaming as well because after being away for so long I felt that no one would even remember me. I was wrong and that put me back into at least a semi-regular convention circuit and eventually limited publishing circuit again until last year when I stopped again due to family issues – five deaths in the family in 2016.
Nrama: I’m sorry to hear that.
Hebert: Thanks. That, and trying to raise my kids properly and just being generally burned out and wanting some normalcy for at least a while has kept me away. Right now, I'm doing some work on Phazer for Mariano but basically in between campaigning, work on my houses and cars and again, raising my family (hopefully properly). After the election is over I'll decide if I'll do anything again or just back up the proverbial truck for good. We'd gotten a publishing award for the Stan Lee project this past spring, so if I decide it really is over, this would be going out on as high a note as I could.
Nrama: And now what we’re here for - you're running for County Legislature in New York state's Rensselaer County. What's your background in politics?
Hebert: My background in the silly silly world of politics? Well it was either this or professional wrestling, nothing else offers the same highs, lows, thrills and controversy and both are bloodsports. Actually, I'd been involved in politics for many years, but working behind the scenes trying to be a king maker rather than a king.
I actually got interested in the whole thing back when Richard Nixon was president as I took an instant dislike to the guy and followed the 1972 election intently. I stayed interested through my teen years and became heavily involved in campaigns in the early 90's - knocking on doors, making phone calls. and doing graphics and even some cartoons for some candidates. We had some wins and some losses but it was always an adventure and I loved meeting and speaking with people and just being involved!
I was asked to run for this same position four years ago but had to bow out when I was attacked twice in one day by a rabid fox and had to go through rabies treatments (Yes, really) and it just sapped my energy for around three months. This year, I was asked to run for my town council, receiver of taxes, and county legislature, and I turned them all down repeatedly until I was cornered by a group of insider friends at my county caucus and told "Your county needs you" and I'm a soft touch for that kind of talk, so, here I am....be afraid, be very afraid!
Nrama: When you're on the campaign trail, do you talk about your comic book background much?
Hebert: When campaigning, I'll mention the old career if it comes up but I don't overplay it. It is, however, sometimes a good "hook" or "conversation piece" not unlike my 1961 Apache always was.
Nrama: What are the platforms you're running on as County Legislator?
Hebert: My platforms are improvement of infrastructure, open government, and accessibility. The roads and bridges and etc around these parts are getting pretty old and we are in a development wave right now but the it seems as though they feel if they build it, all else will follow without thinking of the ramifications of older, narrower roads handling the load incurred by new businesses and etc. I was a code enforcement guy for a while and I believe my background could add a real arrow in the people's collective quiver in that aspect.
Nrama: Sometimes the Punisher is viewed as a political firebrand. How do you view him, now in 2017?
Hebert: Yeah, good old Frank Castle is indeed a political firebrand, but you know what? He's a comic book character, a firm of entertainment and escapism. He's not real and wouldn’t "work" in the real world just like John McClane, Harry Callahan, Martin Riggs, or even Bugs Bunny or Sam Malone. I enjoy all of those characters for different reasons but I don't act as they do in day-to-day life and anyone who thinks they can has some severe issues to deal with. I work for a criminal justice agency, I believe in strong punishment for felons, I believe in the Second Amendment, but I'm glad that the only places that vigilantes run free and unchecked mowing down anyone that they perceive to be the bad guys are on the printed page or on the screen. I have faith in our law enforcement agencies and the representatives of such to protect us and give us justice.
Nrama: Several comic creators have ran, and in some cases won, political office. Any chance you could still do comics while serving as County Legislator?
Hebert: Finally!....Well, win, lose or draw, [Laughs] I've been planning on another extended vacation from comics and art in general, possibly even permanently. The last time I took a walk it lasted five or six years and then I drifted back in on the periphery for the past 12 or 13. It's not like I'm mainstream anymore anyway, I'm still persona non grata with the big leagues and no one’s clamoring for me to do the Punisher, X-Men, Batman, Daredevil or anything like that so no one would really even notice if I'm around or not.
I'm looking forward to an extended period of blissful, boring, wonderful normalcy- raising my kids, working on my houses and cars, playing some golf and maybe even going back to law school. I just got a publishing award for God Woke that I worked on with Mariano and Fabian Nicieza, so this would be a high point to go out on. It's been a great adventure but either way, I think I'm ready for the next chapter. Stay tuned....