Joe Kubert, 1926–2012

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Too often this year I have posted a final salutation to a friend ... Here is another.

Joe Kubert was a giant in the comics field. There are plenty of eloquent tributes online for him this week recounting his accomplishments in the industry. I will refrain from that and share simply my firsthand thoughts of knowing and working for him.

kubert_ca1993It is hard for me to comprehend that it was twenty-eight years ago that I first met Joe Kubert via a phone interview for the Kubert School in the spring of 1984. Following my acceptance as a student, a few months later I met Joe in person when I arrived in Dover, New Jersey to begin my studies.

At that time, Joe was a regular teacher at his school and instructed weekly classes. My particular class, 1C, had Joe for one two-and-a-half hour session each week, one of the ten diverse courses the students received every week, each under different instructor. (Studying at the Kubert School was like having a full time job: 8:30–2:30, five days a week. None of this random college class schedule nonsense.)

On occassion Joe would have to substitute for another instructor who was sick or unable to teach on a given day, so in those instances we were instructed twice a week by him.

My recollection may fail me, but its seems our class that first year with Joe was on either Tuesday or Thursday morning for "Sequential Storytelling" and everyone inevitably was up late the night before, sometimes pulling an all-nighter (you can still do that when you are 18, 19 or 20,) laboring to get your assignment done . . . and done well. Joe was not above castigating anyone for submitting a poor job, less than he thought you were capable of, or, God forbid, if you had nothing completed at all, telling you that missing deadlines does not fly in the comics industry. Others in the production line depend upon you to deliver. Speaking from experience, the stern look he could give for failure to complete an assignment ripped through your soul and made the blanket of shame and guilt weigh unbearably heavy upon the conscious. But we all craved the input or guidance we received from Joe. The blessing from the Master.

kubert_tarzan207After my graduation, following a few years of working in the art industry, I was hired to teach at the Kubert School. My first time entering the teachers' lounge where the old timers, including Joe, held court at the end of the lunchroom table was, well, let's just say intimidating. Only a scant few years prior each of these men were my instructors, all seasoned professionals and now you entered their lair, supposedly on equal terms. Well, maybe not. That feeling vanished within a few weeks, but we all knew where Joe's seat was in the lounge and it was left open for him should he arrive to dine.

While Joe could be, and oftern was, an intimidating figure, he was also gregarious. His presence commanded a room. Sometimes stern, when you got him laughing he could chortle till his ribs hurt.

kubert_enemy_aceHe once assigned us to do a self-caricature using a montage of inanimate objects. I chose a golf course and elements of the game to complete my assignment. When Joe saw my take on the job, he started chuckling and progressively laughing. At first I was puzzled, and momentarily hurt, thinking it was a bad job and I had utterly failed at my task. But the longer he laughed, the better it became as I realized it was a laugh of pleasure, not of scoff.  He laughed so hard he could offer no other feedback, and that became the perfect compliment.

Joe's art was a major part of my youth with his portrayals of Tarzan, Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace and a variety of other characters. As I later learned, Joe was less concerned about perfect drawing. His approach to storytelling, just like his personality, was raw power; that immediate gut reaction to a scene. By 1974, I had swung in the jungle, wrestling with the black-maned lion as its claws shredded my back to my claim glorious victory— only to generously let the loser live; above the killing fields of France the vip-vip-vip of machine-gun fire tore through the fuselage of my Fokker Tri-wing amid the oil from my sputtering engine obscuring my Mark Four goggles, desperately scanning the ground for a safe place to land and ask why it was not I that was killed that day; and I learned that a black man bleeds the same color as a white man, that courage knows no color.  These lessons were important, years before I ever knew, or cared, who Joe Kubert was. And they are lessons I have never forgotten. Generosity, humility, tolerance. I can thank Joe for that.

I feel both blessed and honored to have known and learned from Joe Kubert  . . . and to have called the man my friend.

Tom Roberts