Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Late Great Joe Kubert

Legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert died on 12 August 2012 at the age of 85.  The cause was multiple myeloma. Mr. Kubert was the creator of Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, and The Viking Prince with writer Robert Kanigher, and Tor, a prehistoric caveman, with writer Norman Maurer.

Joe Kubert was born on 18 September 1926 in Jezierzany, Poland (now part of Ukraine). When he was an infant his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. He loved to draw when he was very young, making chalk drawings on the New York sidewalks when he was as young as 3 or 4. Such was young Joe Kubert's love for art that his father bought him a drawing table for $10, a rather costly item in the days of the Great Depression. Mr. Kubert was only 12 years old when he went to work as an apprentice, apparently at the comics shop ran by  Harry "A" Chesler (other versions of the story have it as MLJ Magazines, but they would not open until November 1939, when Mr. Kubert was 13).  Joe Kubert attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. His first known job was pencilling and inking the story "Black-Out," starring the obscure character Volton, in Catman Comics, March 1942. He worked on the "Volton" feature for the next three months, while also working on The Blue Beetle. Eventually he began colouring black and white reprints of Will Eisner's newspaper comic strip The Spirit for Quality Comics.

Joe Kubert would first work for the company with whom he spent most of his career, DC Comics, in 1943. He would first work for National Comics (one of the companies that became DC Comics) on "The Seven Soldiers of Victory" feature in Leading Comics #8, Fall 1943. His first work on Hawkman, a character with whom he would become closely associated, would be in  Flash Comics #62, February 1945, published by All-American Comics (another one of the companies that became DC Comics). Joe Kubert would work for other publishers during the Forties, including Avon, Fiction House, and Harvey Comics.

It was in the early Fifties that Joe Kubert became the managing editor at St. John Publications. It was while he was there that he, writer Norman Maurer, and  Leonard Maurer developed techniques for creating 3-D comic books. The first 3-D comic books was  Three Dimension Comics  #1, September 1953, featuring Mighty Mouse. It was also while at St. John that he and writer Norman Maurer created Tor. The caveman hero made his debut in 1,000,000 Years Ago, September 1953 and went onto appear in his own series. Since the Fifties Tor has appeared in a title published by DC Comics (Tor, which lasted 6 issues from 1974 to 1975), Eclipse Comics, the magazine Sojourn, Marvel Comics' Epic, and hardcover reprints published by DC Comics.

During the Fifties Joe Kubert also did work for Avon (primarily on Strange Worlds) and for E. C. Comics (primarily on Two-Fisted Tales), as well as Lev Gleason Publications and what would become Marvel Comics. It was in the mid-Fifties that Joe Kubert began to work freelance for National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) on Our Army at War (starting with #32, March 1955). It was within a year that he was working exclusively for National Periodical Publications. He created The Viking Prince with writer Robert Kanigher. The character first appeared in  The Brave and the Bold #1, August 1955, and was a regular feature in the magazine until  #26, July 1959. He also co-created Sgt. Rock with writer Robert Kanigher. Sgt. Rock was an  infantry sergeant known for his marksmanship. He proved to be the most successful war comics character of all time. He first appeared in Our Army at War #83, June 1959. In February 1977 Our Army at War was retitled Sgt. Rock. It continued under that title, with "Sgt. Rock" as its primary feature, until Sgt. Rock #422, July 1988. Sgt. Rock stories have appeared on and off in the pages of various DC Comics titles since that time. With writer Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert would also take part in the creation of a new version of the Golden Age, All-American Comics character Hawkman. This Silver Age version of Hawkman first appeared in The Brave and the Bold # 34, February-March 1961 and has been a part of DC Comics ever since.

In the Sixties Joe Kubert would continue to work on both "Sgt. Rock" and "Hawkman." He would also co-create Enemy Ace with writer Robert Kanigher. The Enemy Ace was  Hans von Hammer, a WWI German flying ace with a code of honour who was often disturbed by his war time duties. Enemy Ace first appeared in Our Army at War # 151, February 1965 and has since appeared in other DC titles and graphic novels. In the Sixties Mr. Kubert also worked with writer Robin Moore on the syndicated newspaper comic strip Tales of the Green Beret . From 1967 to 1975 Joe Kubert served as DC Comics' director of publications.

In the Seventies Joe Kubert worked on various Edgar Rice Burroughs properties licensed by DC Comics, including Tarzan (starting in 1972), Korak, and Weird Worlds (featuring the "John Carter of Mars" and "Pellucidar" features). With Robert Kanigher he created Ragman and illustrated that character's short lived title. In 1976 Mr. Kubert and his wife Muriel founded The Kubert School, the only accredited school for comic book illustrators. Over the years its alumni has included Stephen R. Bissette, Shane Davis, and Rick Veitch.

In the Eighties Joe Kubert illustrated a collection of comic strips for the Jewish children's organisation Tzivos Hashem. In 1991 he wrote and drew the graphic novel Country Mouse featuring the character Abraham Stone. He would do two more Abraham stories, Radix Malorum and The Revolution, in 1995. In the Nineties he would also do a Tor miniseries for Epic Comics and the non-fiction book Fax from Sarajevo. In the Naughts Mr. Kubert illustrated the graphic novel Yossel: April 19, 1943, the six issue mini-series Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, and the six issue mini-series Tor: A prehistoric Odyssey. His last work was on the mini-series Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, published this year.

To say that Joe Kubert was one of the greatest comic book artists of all time would be an understatement. His style perfectly suited both war comics and the various Edgar Rice Burroughs titles he illustrated. It was a realistic style with a good deal of detail, but at the same time possessed of an emotional immediacy and power rarely conveyed by most comic book illustrators. The very rawness of his style was perfectly suited to portraying the brutality of war, to the point that Mr. Kubert considered himself "an anti-war artist" rather than "a war artist." Joe Kubert portrayed war as brutally and realistically as possible, with none of the romanticism found in other war comics.

Beyond his sheer talent as an artist, Joe Kubert was also important as a creator in comic book history. Among the characters he co-created were Sgt. Rock (arguably the most successful war comics character of all time), Enemy Ace, Tor, The Viking Prince, and the Silver Age version of Hawkman. And while they would only be popular for a few years, Joe Kubert was one of the men who invented 3-D comic books. Joe Kubert also worked in the comic book industry far longer than many of his contemporaries, a full 70 years. He was the last of the greats from the Golden Age to still be working. Beyond his talent as an artist, then, Joe Kubert played an important role in comic book history throughout an exceedingly long career.

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