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AICN COMICS: Prof Challenger remembers JOE KUBERT (1926-2012)…


R.I.P. Joe Kubert

By Professor Challenger


Comic book artist Joe Kubert, aged 85, passed away on August 12, 2012 from multiple myeloma (a cancer that starts in the plasma cells in bone marrow). His influence upon comic books and comic book artists is incalculable. This man, the immigrant son of Polish butcher, worked on his first comic book at age 12 when he was assigned a rush job to ink some pages for cartoonist Bob Montana (who 4 years later would introduce the world to Archie Andrews and the whole Riverdale gang).

At 16, and still in high school at Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, Kubert was working professionally on comics such as Blue Beetle and Will Eisner's The Spirit. He never stopped drawing; even working on the NITE OWL mini-series recently while in the hospital. The list of comic book characters he has laid down pencil, brush strokes, or color would be easier done by listing those characters he has not worked on. If I were to list the Top 5 characters most personally associated with Kubert, I would list them as SGT. ROCK, HAWKMAN, TARZAN, TOR, and RAGMAN.

While many of the great artists of the comic book world have indeed influenced other artists, probably none moreso than Kubert in terms of practical and actual influence. Kirby, Ditko, Wood, and the like surely inspired many young kids to become cartoonists themselves but Kubert took that to a whole different level in the 1960s when he started an eponymous school of cartooning in Dover, New Jersey. While Kubert was inspiring readers through his comics, he was also training generations of cartoonists and illustrators and providing actual opportunities for them to make those all-important industry connections and learn the techniques that separate the amateurs from the professionals. The school has grown in size and influence and truly became widely respected within not just the comic book industry for the quality of its attendees and graduates.

It is one of my greatest personal regrets that I was never able to work it out to to get there. I actually did pursue it back around 1990 or so. However, being married and working here in Texas, it just was not something I could work out financially to pull off. Kubert's work is unique. If you've ever seen a Joe Kubert comic book, you know it. He is an artist like Jack Kirby in that way. There is no mistaking a Kirby comic and there is no mistaking a Kubert comic. Kubert is a master at forming figures and scenes with his feathery brush strokes. No thick outlining. No perfectly straight lines. His work is always in motion -- a fluid motion. This is why his work on Tarzan is so seminal. Tarzan is a primal character and Kubert's art is primal. His war books (not just Sgt. Rock stories) were solid pieces, once again primal in their approach, and yet he could zero right in on just an expression or a look in a character's eye and flood the reader with an emotional reaction. The man always knew the best and most dramatic approach to telling a story through those 4, 6, or 8 panels per page.

My first conscious exposure to Kubert's work (although I had seen it before but was too young to take note of it) was during the infamous DC Explosion of the 1970s in an odd comic called RAGMAN. I remember nothing of the writing. All I remember is the moody and creepy atmosphere of the art. I remember that wild and weird costume made up of rags and tatters. And I remember taking note of that name "Joe Kubert" and seeking him out from then on. For a long time, the only work I could get from him was either old reprints or the incredible cover art he provided for series such as ALL-STAR SQUADRON. There was a multi-issue crossover between the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and the ALL-STAR SQUADRON one time and the JLA covers were by George Perez and the ALL-STAR covers were by Joe Kubert. Making me choose which I "like" better would be a Sophie's Choice even though there are probably not two drawing styles more dissimilar than Perez and Kubert.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Kubert. I always wanted to. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of him not smiling. By all accounts, I have never heard a "bad" Joe Kubert story. Kubert's legacy appears to me to be a life well-lived, a career well-earned, children well-raised, and an influence that will perpetuate both through the lives of his children and their children and their children's children but also through each and every cartoonist and illustrator who has ever been touched by his life and his work.

Kubert was married for 57 years and his wife, Muriel, died in 2008. He is survived by his five children, sons Adam, Andy, David, Danny, and daughter Lisa; 12 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Most comic fans are aware of Adam and Andy Kubert who are successful and popular comic book artists in their own right.

While I and many others are sad to have lost this man and any future work he might have still had in him, this is a moment to celebrate what he gave to me and to the world and what is still to come that is inspired by him.

Peace and rest in the bosom of Abraham.

Prof. Challenger is Texas artist and writer, Keith Howell. You can read his stuff here and over at profchallenger.com. You can also get in on the ground floor of his new endeavor, "Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Comic Books" here.


Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 14, 2012, 9:07 p.m. CST

    Great man...

    by vuvuzela

    ...will be missed.

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 9:16 p.m. CST

    Joe Kubert

    by Bryant R. Camareno

    Seeing his artwork brings me back to the days when quality mattered in the comics industry...

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 9:20 p.m. CST

    Good Bye Joe

    by hawkeyebrower

    ... and thank you for all the Tarzan comic's when I was a kid.

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 9:20 p.m. CST

    Good to see a classic artist rmemebered here

    by rev_skarekroe

    Even if most of AICN won't give a damn.

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 9:42 p.m. CST

    Thank You Joe!

    by Optimus Prime

    You've left as a man many looked up to and with a legacy very few have a achieved. God Speed.

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 9:45 p.m. CST

    A Life Truly Blessed

    by Daytripper69

    He was working on the Nite Owl miniseries while he was in the hospital --- that, I think, says it all. Drawing professionally since the age of 12, founding an art school, raising five kids (two of which are continuing the Kubert name in comics) --- and living and WORKING to a nice old age of 85. I think I'll go with what Dr. Suess once said, "Don't cry because it's over; be happy because it happened." Thanks very much for happening, Mr. Kubert. You are one of the giants.

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 10:06 p.m. CST

    A Great Loss

    by MattDomville

    A quick tribute: http://www.cinemabums.com/?p=477

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 10:07 p.m. CST

    Nice obit and a great loss.

    by ThulsaBoom

  • He drew it himself...it looks as though he's fallen asleep at the drawing board, but all the characters are creepily watching him doze off? Or ominously, he's "died at the board" and everyone is paying him respect...which would be a lot weirder if that was his intention for the art work given that he drew it himself. This kind of does my head in.

  • You have to give him massive respect for opening the school and bringing Adam and Andy into the world. Big fans of their work.

  • Aug. 14, 2012, 11:28 p.m. CST

    RIP Joe Kubert

    by Thanos0145

    He lived a good life!

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 12:16 a.m. CST

    To be honest...

    by WeylandYutani

    I was aware of the man's work but not the man. But now that I can put a name and face to the work, it is a shame he is gone. Quite the talent.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 1:03 a.m. CST

    R.I.P. Joe Kubert!

    by Xenodistortion

    I own all this man's Tarzan comics. He shall indeed be missed. Glad he led a full and awesome life.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 1:23 a.m. CST

    I remember those Tarzan comics too and the...

    by chrisd

    Superhero Merchandise Catalogs he illustrated. And I like how he created a school to teach the next generations, including his sons. He did good work and good works. Rest In Peace Mr. Kubert.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 1:32 a.m. CST

    One of the greats! Anyone here go to his School?

    by Lakewater

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 1:43 a.m. CST

    Rest in Peace, Joe

    by butterbean

    A legend.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 3:29 a.m. CST

    RIP and condolences.

    by Bedknobs and Boomsticks

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 4:25 a.m. CST

    RIP.

    by UltimaRex

    :(

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 4:34 a.m. CST

    When I found out about this early Monday...

    by Jon Forbing

    I kind of just pushed it to the back of my brain, and made a note to deal with it when I had some time. I found that time earlier today (technically yesterday, since it's 2:30 AM as I write this), and I was just devastated. I read all the bios, retrospectives, commentaries, and tributes I could, and each one just hollowed me out. I said this earlier on another site, but some people just seem like they should get to live forever, and Joe Kubert was one of them. It seems weird to say that an 85-year-old man went too soon... but that's totally what it feels like. Thanks, Joe. Thanks for the art. Thanks for Andy and Adam's art. Thanks for the art of all the people you inspired, or who graduated from your school. Just thanks.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 7 a.m. CST

    Have fun on the other side.

    by Jason Bernard

    Be an artist there as well.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 7:25 a.m. CST

    Went to the Joe Kubert School in 1989.....

    by Stark1070

    right out of high school in Jersey. The process of getting accepted was daunting. You had to prepare a portfolio that was reviewed by some council at the school (made up of working comic book artists, storyboarders, etc.) and then, if there was any potential attached to your work, had Joe do a final review and they'd make a determination. About 3 weeks later, I got a letter saying that I could come back to the school for a second go around. When I went back for a follow-up, I met the man for 5 minutes. I was panic stickened and star stuck at the same time. But....he was the nicest man. Complimented my work (which I didn't think was as good as it could have been) asked me if I was ready for the challenge, and just like that, welcomed me to his program. I only stayed 1 year....moved out of state the next year for a family reason and to this day regret not finishing the program. As a comic book geek from 5 years old, that year of being in THAt world, was just unreal. And that was all thanks to Mr. Kubert. Rest well, Joe, and may you always hold a place in every comic book geeks memory.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 7:58 a.m. CST

    Working to the very end..a true artist

    by nephilim138

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 8:04 a.m. CST

    did he draw that top pic to be released after his death?

    by zom-bot.com

    ..because he certainly looks more dead from a heart attack than asleep in that illustration with everyone coming out at him in the darkness..it's kind of a morbid thing to use for his memorial unless he drew it for that reason...i dunno

  • Circa 1994, Intrepid Museum,NYC. During the 30th Anniversary of GIJoe, there was a huge press event that was closed to the public .Hasbro's VP Kirk Bozigian (The man mostly responsible for GIJoe: ARAH) had announced the cancellation of The American Hero Toyline only to push some new product called Sgt Savage that was created by Joe Kubert. (Savage was a hybrid of Comic legends Sgt.Rock and Captain America.) After the press event died down, I spoke to Joe about comics and the mistreatment of Jack Kirby who died during that Year. Joe told me that the unsung heroes are the most famous. (I read behind the lines and in layman's terms, it's not all about Stan. LOL) Like i said, a true gentleman and I wish him Godspeed as well as my condolences for his talented Sons. Thanks, Joe.

  • I thought the very same thing. How weird.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 8:59 a.m. CST

    RIP Joe, you will be missed.

    by shutupfanboy

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 9:30 a.m. CST

    Regarding the art i chose for the R.I.P.

    by Prof

    i have no idea where it was used or what Kubert's intent was with it. But for me, as soon as i saw it, it spoke to me as the perfect image of the artist working to the point of exhaustion and finally just falling asleep with pen in hand at the drawing table. The multitudes of characters he had a hand in drawing throughout his career symbolically surrounding him. To me, that encapsulated everything i wanted to say in an image that he drew himself. The artist is at rest.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 10:15 a.m. CST

    RIP, sir.

    by Cletus Van Damme

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 10:20 a.m. CST

    His Superman in that pic....

    by Stark1070

    is fantastic. You can see many elements of where John Byrne held Kubert's influence on his run in the 80's. That to me is what Superman should always look like, not some dude in a carbon fiber track suit.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 10:21 a.m. CST

    He will be missed and always remembered.

    by The Heathen

    Mr. Kubert created a legacy and not with just Adam and Andy. His school is such an important part for young artist with a love of comics.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 10:27 a.m. CST

    And Sgt. Rock is going to help me...

    by krabklaw

    RIP, Mr. Kubert. Not one of my personal faves, but you were an original.

  • One of the few non-super hero books I regularly read as a kid in the sixties, Sgt. Rock always had such motion and excitement to the artwork - thanks to Joe Kubert. His was one of the few DC artists styles that I recognized (and associated with a name), regardless of the title. Always loved how he drew Superman (though it was the rare occasion). Comics inspired me to become a professional artist (which I am to this day), and the artwork of Joe Kubert was one of the primary components of that foundation. Thank you, Mr. Kubert, for your inspiration, and for the hours of enjoyment your work has brought to me for all these years. God bless you and your family.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 1:22 p.m. CST

    He was just a great, great, GREAT guy all around

    by Big Dumb Ape

    I logged in today and saw this news and was truly saddened. I knew Joe from an earlier part of my professional life and he was just a great, great, GREAT guy all around. He was definitely one of the old guard -- the guys who did comics because they had a 100% genuine love for the medium, for working at the art table, and as a result they threw themselves totally into every project they touched. Growing up, at a time when DC always seemed to be struggling to find a way to seem more modern or hip, his TARZAN comics were like jolts of electricity and were mind-blowing to pour over. Each page...hell, each panel...was literally alive and leaping off the page. To say that he was one of the greats doesn't even begin to do justice to how stunning his work was, and how worthy of artistic study it remains to this day. And as a person -- he was just one of the kindest, sweetest, most humble comic pros that you ever dream of meeting. No ego, no condescending attitude when talking to fans or other comic professionals. For a guy who had earned substantial bragging rights, he just remained an incredibly nice guy -- the kind of professional you always dream of running into. Hell, he was one of the old guard who DEFINED the word "professional." And as a father, he raised Andy and Adam to be the same way -- two fantastic artists in their own right, who are likewise terrific guys who clearly took their Dad's attitude to heart. RIP, Joe. You will be sorely missed, but the whole world thanks you for all that you did -- as an artist where you gave life to adventurous dreams and childish delights and as a person, where you ran your school and gave hope and inspiration to all-new generations of artists. In the end, you did it ALL right -- professionally and personally -- and you will definitely be remembered for that.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 3:26 p.m. CST

    Greatest. Tarzan. Artist. EVER.

    by DocPazuzu

    I was a kid in the 70s so his Tarzan is the definitive version for me. His Batman stuff was also great, as was Ragman (who nobody remembers any more), not to mention some of amazing covers for Weird War Tales. A true giant. R.I.P.

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 3:32 p.m. CST

    A true legend

    by cromulent

    So easy to throw that word around, but he totally deserves to be called a legend. RIP

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 6:54 p.m. CST

    why is this memorial thread being treated like an avg one?

    by walt

    should it not be kept at the top of the page till shiva is over? baruch dayan haemes

  • to mr kubert, his works were like children and parents and they are looking over him and smiling

  • Aug. 15, 2012, 8:49 p.m. CST

    His INCREDIBLE covers for DC's horror titles...

    by Anti-fanboy

    Totally made up for the lesser pencil work that predominated in those books. And it was always a hugely pleasant surprise to find his work inside. Such a monumental talent.

  • Aug. 16, 2012, 8:51 a.m. CST

    I'm a Kubert School graduate

    by malificus

    Didn't get any Joe instruction until year 3 but there was plenty of awesome staff to learn from in all three years. Learned a lot, hideously expensive school, no chicks at all. Back then the computer section of the school was just starting and the focus was still completely geared toward old school illustration, hope they expanded the computer/design aspect because that's what most grads end up doing. If you can't live right in NYC and cultivate a relationship with an editor then don't even think to go the Marvel/DC route. There's a lot to be said for self-publishing, it may not be Spidey but you can do things your way and that's worth a lot. All in all a cool experience but really any art program will merely force you to draw and that's what you need to do-constantly and won't cost a fortune like the KS does. Don't have a single 'cool Joe" story to tell, it was a good school run by good people basically but I would strenuously suggest you check out any local college's art program.

  • Aug. 16, 2012, 8:54 a.m. CST

    Oh I will say this about Joe

    by malificus

    I've never seen anyone that kept a tighter fist on his original work. It's very hard to find, and very expensive. And utterly fantastic as well, his stuff is legendary for good reason I could stare at a page all day.