Joe Kubert (1926-2012)

Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert has died.

For many readers of DC comics in the 1960s and 70s, Kubert was one of the most recognizable artists of the company.  You literally couldn’t pass the comic rack in those days and NOT find a comic that he either drew or did the cover.  His accomplishments were many and legendary in the field not the least of which is the fact that he created the only school to specialize in the teaching of “Cartoon and Graphic Art”.

I never met Joe Kubert personally.  I never had the pleasure of working with him.  Despite my fondest desires, I never attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.  All I did was read his comics and be a fan.  Because of his decades of work in the field, I don’t think there was ever a time when I did NOT know who Joe Kubert was.

I was born in 1962 and don’t have many clear memories of the 1960s.  Oh, sure, I remember my friend’s names and playing games with them on our street in New Milford, CT.  I have vague recollections of television shows (like STAR TREK) and the toys I had and major events like the Moon Landing and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What I remember most of all were the comic books.

I grew up reading comics.  I think I probably started when I was about 5 or 6 years old and mostly because my older brothers (9 and 10 years older than I) used to read them.  My oldest brother, Carl, had a massive collection that he had started around 1959 or so and allowed me free access to all of them.  By the time I was 10, I had read his collection through at least 2 or 3 times.  Even though he had a great collection of Marvel comics, I was drawn to the DC comics.

And many of those that drew me in were drawn by Joe Kubert.

I started with the early Silver Age appearances of Hawkman.  I had no idea who the hell Hawkman was or that there had been another Hawkman decades earlier or that the same artist had worked on both.  All I knew was that those comics were amazing and, even at 10, I knew that they were cool.

The artwork drew me in immediately.  It stood out from the usual art in the Superman and Batman books.  It had a gritty ‘realism’ to it that I hadn’t seen before.  This hit me the hardest when I eventually moved onto Kubert’s war comics like Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace (soon to become one of my most favorite characters).  This artwork wasn’t safe or clean like what I was used to seeing in superhero comics.  It was tough and earthy.  You could almost smell the sweat on Sgt. Rock and feel the noble dignity of Enemy Ace as he cursed the war he fought.

Throughout the years, as I would find more and more of Kubert’s art, what struck me most was the integrity.  No matter the project, Kubert gave it his all.  One of my first exposures to Tarzan came when DC began their TARZAN comic book with, of course, Kubert doing the art.  I devoured those comics.  Others will talk about how Burne Hogarth or Hal Foster were the best Tarzan artists but, for me, Kubert was THE Tarzan artist.  He defined how I saw the character and, when I close my eyes, Kubert’s artwork is what I see.  Because of those comics, I sought out the TARZAN novels and then the John Carter of Mars novels and so many more.

One of the sad realizations of today is that we are losing or have lost many of the great comic artists.  Kirby, Kurtzman, Buscema, Joe Simon, Eisner, Toth, Swan, Heck, Colan… the list goes on and on.  These were giants who walked among us and left us tales of gods and men.  Their like will never come again.  Today, I will sit down with a stack of Sgt. Rock comics, the hardcover collection of VIKING PRINCE and the SHOWCASE edition of ENEMY ACE and I will remember the greatness which Kubert left for us on those pages and be thankful that, for a brief time, he shared these with us.

Godspeed, Joe.


About Sam Gafford
My name is Sam Gafford and I've been doing critical work on William Hope Hodgson for many years. I wrote the article "Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson" in which I presented evidence that WHH wrote his novels in the reverse order in which they were published. I've recently written an article on Hodgson's confrontation with Houdini and am currently working on a book length study of WHH.

2 Responses to Joe Kubert (1926-2012)

  1. Don Ensign says:

    Sam, thanks for the very nice thoughts concerning Joe Kubert. My first encounter with Kubert’s work was his Hawkman tryouts in Brave and the Bold in 1962. I wasn’t real impressed. As a 14 year kid I really liked the slickness of the artwork on Flash, Green Lantern and Adam Strange that was being produced in those days. At that time Comics Fandom was starting to flex its new found muscles by starting a “Save Hawkman by Kubert” campaign when it was rumored the those B&B tryouts weren’t that successful. Hawkman did survive but under other creative hands. However as the years went on my appreciate for Kubert’s work became greater. I started to enjoy his gritty inking style and his spot on layout and story telling abilities. He was one of the very best storytellers ranking up there with Eisner, Toth and a few others. I had the opportunity in 1977 to meet him at the San Diego Comic Convention at a special luncheon for him. A very gracious man. We have lost one of the great ones. He was one of the legends of comic book art.

  2. Ronny says:

    Thanks for the wonderful words. I’m going to go dig out one of his books and remember him that way.

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