IN A JERSEY CITY HOTEL CONFERENCE ROOM, I finally entered Joe Kubert’s educational foxhole. One of the most renowned teachers in comics was at the table before scores of us, giving a talk and drawing with a marksman’s precision. Many students have attended the renowned Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (known worldwide as simply the Kubert School) in this very state, but here we were, many of us veteran artists, lucky enough to listen to insights from professor first-class Joe Kubert. Because when he spoke and drew, it was always a master class.
The talk took place at the National Cartoonist Society’s 2010 Reuben Awards, where later that weekend, Kubert received the group’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award at a black-tie ceremony, where he was hailed from the stage as the “kindest man” in cartooning (as if to exhibit his kindness, his acceptance speech was a mere two words: “Thank you”). Also gracing the gala were fellow cartoon greats Jerry Robinson and Bill Gallo.
Since that May night, Robinson and Gallo have passed, and now we have lost Kubert. Joe Kubert died over the weekend at age 85, confirmed his son David Kubert.
The legends are leaving us too swiftly.
Kubert was one of the few left whose careers stretched back to nearly the dawn of the comic book. Born in Poland in 1926 shortly before his family immigrated to the United States, the Brooklyn-raised Kubert reportedly drew on the shop paper of his father, a kosher butcher. Young Joe would gain entrée into professional comics by somewhere between age 10 and 13 (depending on which of his own recollections you believe).
Kubert spent most of his career working for DC Comics, developing his kinetic line and exquisitely weighted cross-hatchings that defined his signature style. The artist-writer became most associated with Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace and Hawkman and the prehistoric Tor — on his way to becoming a master of action and the recognized leader in “war comics.” He also had a stellar run on Tarzan. As Mark Evanier writes: “Joe had a way of imbuing the work with a kind of four-color testosterone. No one did male better.”
Kubert also created such acclaimed graphic novels as “Fax From Sarajevo” and “Yossel: April 19, 1943” – the latter an imagining of what his family’s life might have been like if his kin hadn’t left Europe before World War II.
Kubert was DC’s director of publications from 1967 to 1976. Just as that role ended, he and his wife, Muriel, opened the influential Kubert School in Dover, N.J., cementing Kubert’s status within comics. Two of his best-known and most talented students remain two of his sons, Adam and Andy.
Joe and Andy Kubert, in fact, had recently finished a joint effort on the Nite Owl installment for DC’s “Before Watchmen” series.
Joe Kubert was renowned for his passion for drawing. For his devotion to teaching. And for his penchant for knuckle-crunching handshakes.
After Mr. Kubert finished that Jersey City talk in 2010, I felt energized by his drawing. Invigorated by his teaching. And only regretted that I didn’t insist upon a knuckle-crunching handshake.
Joe Kubert’s artful hand – and mind – will be greatly missed.
In the immediate wake of Mr. Kubert’s death, Comic Riffs asked some of the top talent in comics for their thoughts and remembrances:
“Joe Kubert was one of the best! Not only as fine an artist as any in comics, but also a talented teacher. His Kubert School turned out many terrific illustrators and let’s not forget his sons Adam and Andy, who, by following in his gigantic footsteps, are also among comicdom’s best artists. Joe was a credit to his profession and a true friend to all in comics.”
— STAN LEE
“ In the world of comics, Jack Kirby and Will Eisner may have been more influential artists, but Joe Kubert was its most influential man. Even if he were to be remembered solely for his body of illustration work, he’d still be one of the greats, but by opening the Kubert School in 1976, he was able to personally mentor and educate literally thousands of successful artists who owe their careers to his teachings.”
— MARK WAID
“I’m stunned at the news of Joe Kubert’s passing. To me he was one of the great iron men of the comic book industry. Not only was he a prolific artist, he was also a fantastic teacher who with his wife, Muriel, created The Kubert School. … His career spanned seven decades, which is unheard of, and only matched by Stan Lee at this point.
“I met him couple of years ago in Baltimore Comic Con. Not only was he still strong as an ox -- his bone crushing handshakes are legendary -- and looked 20 years younger than he was, but he still had that glint in his eyes, a creative passion unsquelched by age.
“From what I hear, he was still drawing to the very end, staying true to his character.”
— FRANK CHO
“Joe was one of the most important artists to ever work in comics, as evidenced just by the vast number of other artists who started off copying his work, learning from his work and-- for a lucky group -- attending his school. He drew with intensity and testosterone and a sense of drama and somehow made it look easy and impossible in every panel. His characters had depth and you could hear them thinking on every page. Plus, he was a nice man, too.”
— MARK EVANIER
“Joe Kubert’s work and reputation were as rock solid as anyone from his generation. I only spent time with him once [in Germany in 1994], but I liked him a lot. He reminded me of my father-in-law. [I’m] betting you’ll hear the word ‘father’ a lot from American comics pros and students.”
— SCOTT McCLOUD
“Last year I took to Joe the first copy off the press of ‘Amazing 3-D Comics,’ which he had done the intro for. I was amazed how incredibly healthy-looking Joe was. He was strong, passionate, of course sharp as a tack. ...
“Of course, as the cover he drew for the book showed, he was at the top of his art game — in his mid-80s! So his passing is a big shock to me. His art is a tremendous legacy, but perhaps even more important, he was a devoted and beloved family man, inspired thousands of students, and I never heard a bad word said about this incredibly nice man. That’s something quite incredible and inspirational to leave behind!
— CRAIG YOE
“Joe was a host of superlatives: More covers over more years than [nearly] any DC artist — or maybe any comics artist; more brilliant work in more genres; more students taught who became great artists in their own right and their own styles. And through it all, exclaiming how lucky he was to be able to spend his life this way.”
— PAUL LEVITZ
[JERRY ROBINSON; Pioneering Batman artist dies at 89]
[BILL GALLO: The dean of sports cartoonists embodied a golden era]
[FRANK FRAZETTA: A warrior’s farewell to the master of fantasy illustration]