I’m a Kubie.
That is, I was one of many students that graduated from Joe Kubert’s School of Cartoon & Graphic Art. Despite the term’s risible sound, being a Kubie is something I hold very dear to my heart. Most of his students don’t end up doing comic book work full-time, and many probably don’t even maintain an art career as their main source of income, but the lessons they learn at his school last them a life-time, regardless.
Joe’s a legend in my world. His creations have been well accounted for in all of the recent articles, following his passing. Rather than repeating what has already been written and spend time recounting his achievements, I thought I’d instead recount my impressions of the man I knew. Besides being a great illustrator, he was a family-man artist in the style of Frazzeta or Sam Maloof; he was a patriot, putting lifelong work and resources into supporting military training manuals and posters, but to me, first, he was a teacher.
He built his school on the foundation that art students could better learn lessons from working professionals, than from career art teachers. Not to discount what art teachers offered, he rather wanted to create a unique experience of learning, where we as students, could get lessons directly from the trenches of the art world, specifically those of the comic book and animation industry.
Like most working comic artists, we drew 16 hours a day, we couldn’t miss deadlines and if we failed to perform, we were fired. The school has a proud reputation of halving its first-year students, before year two began. Joe knew from experience that being a comic book artist meant working your ass off, and loving the art form so much, that things like fame and pay and a social life didn’t enter into the equation. The values he taught at the school were often less craft-based and more philosophical. The craft was learned from working… and working… and working. We learned fast how to speed up our process, quick-draft anatomy, architecture, and work our storytelling angles into a non-formulaic method, influenced by greats, such as Wally Wood.
What I remember of Joe personally, was his kind, listening eyes, and a hand shake that reminded me more of my grandfather, who was a farmer, than that of any artist I’d known. At his heart, he was a working-class artist. He was a moral, caring man, who believed in the medium of comics, despite the lack of appreciation American critical audiences at-large carry. My first admission interview, with artist and teacher Mike Chen, sought as much to warn me as prepare me. He made sure to point out that if I was lucky enough to work regularly in comics, that I’d work harder than just about any other artistic profession, and that I’d be appreciated less than any other kind of creator.
He told me that I’d have to draw moving stories, display mood, emotion and minutia, all while crafting countless angles, containing anatomical movement, geographical locations and mechanized construction, and that at the end of it all, my paycheck would be slim and people would call all of my hard work a “funnybook”. Mike said that I had to love the craft and the story enough that these things didn’t matter. He was teaching Joe’s ethos.
My time there was not easy, and I was never able to break into the comic book industry, but I still treasure what I learned, not just about art or storytelling, but what I learned about life as an artist, as a working man, and as a human being. That may sound like the over-flowery statement one would expect in such a memorial, but it’s most certainly the truth. In my current art, in my writing, and in my 9-5 work schedule I carry to support the other two, I’m better because of his example. Joe evoked many of the great men I’ve admired all my life, and he worked hard until the very end; not out of need, but out of love of story and of art and of adventure.
He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by family, friends, fans, and thousands of students, from all over the world.
I am, and always will be proud to be a Kubie.
Goodbye Joe, and thank you.