Sunday was a day of sorrow: Joe Kubert passed away at age 85.
Like most comicbook readers of my generation, I “met” Joe as a lad, long distance, through Joe’s energetic, distinctive comics creations and co-creations: collaborative work with diverse peers on the likes of THE FLASH (Joe inked the seminal Silver Age Flash rebirth in SHOWCASE), HAWKMAN, CAVE CARSON, and “The War That Time Forgot”; his fruitful collaborations with writer/editor Bob Kanigher on series like SGT. ROCK, ENEMY ACE, and so many more; his solo efforts as writer/editor on TOR and FIREHAIR and his adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ TARZAN novels, and more.
To my eyes, Joe’s comics seemed forever alive and vital, bursting with vigor and life, and yet soaked in shadows and the threat of mortality, inked with dinosaur blood and oil and ink.
In the summer of 1976, I met Joe in the flesh—at my interview at the Baker Mansion in Dover, NJ in hopes of making the cut to be part of the first-ever class at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc.—and first met his eye and felt his knuckle-cruncher handshake. My life changed the second I met Joe; and a second later, when my father met Joe, life got even better.
My father had never really believed one could make a living drawing: yet here was Joe, raising a huge family as a lifelong working cartoonist. My father had served in four branches of the service and didn’t consider cartooning a masculine preoccupation; Joe had served in the military, and was in every way a man’s man. With their first handshake, their first words, everything I’d ever wanted to do with and in my life was suddenly OK with my father—and from that moment on, my Dad was totally supportive and in my camp.
Joe, and the school, opened countless doors for me and other aspiring cartoonists and storytellers—and Joe always taught by his own example. In this, Joe not only launched the school (with his beloved wife Muriel, who was the the backbone of the day-to-day operations) and taught classes, but he continued to edit and draw comics, and later graphic novels, along with myriad projects that flowed across his desk and through his studio (including various school work programs, which students like myself cut our professional teeth with) too numerous to mention.
I last saw Joe two years ago. We talked on the phone between then and now; he was ever attentive, ever supportive, and forever “paying forward” the gift of storytelling, of making comics and making art.
It’s a debt I know I could never repay, and now that Joe’s gone, I never will—except by following Joe’s example. As James Sturm wrote to me this morning, “Know you are carrying his banner everyday you walk into a classroom.”
As Joe taught me—as ever by example—you repay the generation that gave you everything by doing the same for the next generation.
Like everyone at the Joe Kubert School and the Center for Cartoon Studies, I do my best to live up to Joe’s example by sharing all I know with the next generation of cartoonists.
As Joe proved every day to anyone who was lucky enough to be in his circle, it’s the least we can do.
Then, you go do more.
-Stephen R. Bissette
Center for Cartoon Studies,
White River Jct., VT