Sunday, August 19, 2012

Joe Kubert

Pencil in Moleskine 5/9/12

The image above was sketched during the graduation dinner for the Class of 2012 of The Kubert School.  I’d been to a few of these things and Joe Kubert usually talked about all the hard work the graduates had been through, what was ahead of them in life, but as I sketched Joe at the podium, I connected with what he was saying, he was telling this huge room full of people about his need to draw.

My association with Joe Kubert began long before I had any idea who he was or that anyone could make a living drawing comics. It was his artwork that caught my eye in the drugstore’s comic book spinner rack, on the covers of OUR ARMY AT WAR featuring SGT. ROCK, G.I. COMBAT and STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES. I devoured the stories inside and with time came to recognize the different artists who drew them.

I was fascinated with the images of war, mesmerized by stories of combat and captivated by the covers drawn by Joe Kubert. Each cover image seemed to place a valiant soldier in mortal peril or illustrate a daunting, neigh, impossible challenge. Joe’s covers promised a life and death struggle.

In the spring of 1980 I applied to The Joe Kubert School for Cartooning and Graphic Art. In September of that year I left Ohio behind and started classes at the school. It was the start of a new life.

To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much of what Joe Kubert said at orientation or in class, I do remember themes that occurred over and over again when Joe spoke, hard work, the importance of meeting deadlines, the focus one needed to make a living doing what one loved. At the time I was less a fan of Joe’s art than that of artists like Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor Smith and Moebius. I certainly respected Joe’s command of the medium, reviewing your work he could easily point out a way to improve the storytelling or add drama.

I had some clashes with Joe, mostly technical stuff. I once got called on the carpet for using airbrush on a black and white ink assignment. But damn, you just didn’t want to disappoint him, and his assignment always took precedence over all others.

I didn’t think I could afford a third year’s tuition and living expenses so after two years at the school I left to pursue work. I didn’t return to Ohio however, I stayed in Dover for two reasons, a girl, and the opportunity to remain in the creative community of friends I’d made at the school. I took on whatever freelance I could find and worked several part time jobs. One part time job was posing as an artist’s model for the students at the school. I only mention this because I filled in for a few night classes and there in the back of the class was Joe Kubert drawing me.

Several years later I ran into Joe at a New York comic convention, unsure if he’d remember me, he might not remember the name so quickly but there was recognition in his eyes. He was glad to see me glad to hear I was doing all right. Later seeing him briefly up at Marvel comics offices there was recognition and I think a sense of pride in both of us. Me, that I had made it into the comic book business and for him, that one of his guys was working in the field he loved.

In 1999 I needed work. I contacted Mike Chen at the Kubert School and asked about the possibility of any job openings. Soon after that call I got a call back from Mike, Tex Blaisdell was in the hospital, could I fill in? Sadly, Tex passed away that spring and I took his place on staff at the school.

Teacher’s meeting took place in Joe’s office, an awe-inspiring place filled with artwork and awards. There was a huge meeting table around which we would gather in the center of the room and on top of that a Fredrick Remington sculpture of an Indian atop a pony at full gallop. In the corner of the room was Joe’s massive drawing table, and on it whichever of his latest project he was working on.

You could tell he loved his family fiercely, I once asked what happened to the Roy Crane Sunday page that had been hanging in the hall outside his office. He pointed to the photo of his Grandson in graduation cap and gown and said this was something more important. There was a sense that by attending the school or working there, we were an extension of his family. Joe always stressed that just because you were finished with the school your association with it didn’t end, you were always welcome back.

Joe Kubert passed away Sunday August 12th 2012.

Joe made you feel included, with his more than firm handshake or the strong jovial slap on the back, I’m going to miss those. But much more than that, I’m going to miss the man who lead by example, the man who challenged you and encouraged you to do your best and the man who more than shared and understood, the need to draw

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