Monday, August 13, 2012
Far Too Few Words About Joe Kubert
I got to meet him in 1994, at my first San Diego Comic-Con. This was before it was the giant mega-media-multi-stravaganza that it is now. Back then, you could go there and meet comic book creators. But I digress. I had brought with me a copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes, a hardcover reprint book that featured, among other things, Kubert's work on the Golden Age Hawkman.
He smiled when he saw the book, and I was able to blurt out that he was one of my all time favorite artists. He said, "thank you so much!" and held out his hand for me to shake. I took it and told him thanks for my childhood. The war comics you drew helped me establish a connection with my father that I otherwise wouldn't have had. He said, very sincerely, "You're welcome." And that was that. He shook my hand with the same hand that had drawn some of my favorite comics ever. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it.
I was always attracted to Kubert's lush and vibrant line work. He could be precise when he needed to, drawing tanks and warbirds and M-16s as the story dictated, but his figures in motion, and especially in comics like Tor and Tarzan, were loose and graceful and expressive. He was a masculine artist, but he was also capable of great humanity, a trait that first showed up in his excellent tenure on the DC war comics line and continued with various projects to the day he died.
It's fair to say that those comics, and so many others that Kubert made come to life with his amazing thunderbolt of a right arm, are a big part of what shaped my philosophy on war and conflict. They taught me that there were people, real people, on both sides of the gun, and who they were and how they acted had nothing to do with their political beliefs.
See, these Kannigher and Kubert war comics were always about something else. World War II was the vehicle for telling these stories, but not the reason. They never glorified the war, but they were quick to point out real bravery and valor, wherever it could be found. They also didn't shy away from controversial subject matter--and this was during the Viet Nam war, on top of everything else.
I don't mean to keep going on about the war comics. Kubert could draw anything, and he did, for decades. His Hawkman comics are legendary, as was his run on Tarzan. In the seventies, he started an art school specifically designed to make comic book artists. So many talented people ran through that school: Steve Bissette, Tom Mandrake, Rags Morales, Rick Vietch, Tim Truman, Alex Maleev, Amanda Conner, Steve Lieber, Lee Weeks, and of course, his own sons, Adam and Andy, just to name a few. It's amazing what he did with his time and talent. So many of his graduates are artists I collect and have enjoyed for years.
I never stopped buying his work, never stopped appreciating him. I'm very glad I got the chance to tell him that, but I know I was just one of millions of people over the years who said the same thing or nearly just to him. I also know this: I'm sure he personally thanked, very sincerely, every single one of them, just as he did with me. He was that kind of guy. Supremely talented, tempered with grace and humility. We are the poorer for his passing, all of us--but most especially the comics industry.
Rest in Peace, Joe Kubert. And thank you. For everything.