Jim Keefe is the current artist of the Sally Forth comic strip. From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School, Keefe likewise teaches Comic Art. Teaching and speaking engagements include SVA in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs, and most recently the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Just got a question from Jim Frankenstin regarding the specs I used for Flash Gordon – thought I would answer it here for those interested…
Here’s my basic template.
This first strip is an example of a drop panel with a standard two tier layout underneath.
The drop panel is artwork the newspaper can opt not to print and it won’t affect the main body of the strip.
This second example is a drop panel followed by an irregular panel layout. Flash was offered in two formats; half page (with drop panel) and third page (without drop panel) so I could play with that bottom area however I felt as long as the proportions stayed the same.
I’ve played with different kinds of bristol and go back and forth between plate (smooth) and vellum (textured) – it usually depends on the job. I used 1-ply for awhile just because I didn’t have the best light box, but prefer 2-ply as it’s more durable.
I tended to work pretty small because the size it got printed was postage stamp size – far removed from the kind of real estate Alex Raymond had to work with in the Golden Age of the 1930s.
The size you work in is really dependent on the artist – as long as it stays proportional to the required specs. Patrick McDonnell on Mutts tends to work small compared to Ray Billingsley whose Curtis originals were larger than any other strip I saw during my tenure on staff at King.
For the Kubert School panel, Joe Kubert alum (and current President of the Kubert School) Anthony Marques moderated, as Joe sketched and answered questions. Here’s just a few highlights featuring Joe’s comments…
The following video is Joe sketching Nite Owl from the Before Watchmen series. The image was projected sideways on a large screen – my video is rotated to one side so the drawing can be seen correctly. While Joe sketched Anthony was fielding questions.
What amazed me during Joe’s drawing demo was that every time Joe was asked a question instead of Anthony (and this is not seen on the video) Joe was so focused on the drawing that Anthony had to repeat the question numerous times just to get Joe’s attention – repeatedly – EVERY time.
Joe finally apologized repeating what he had said moments before – that when he’s drawing, that’s where he’s focused, so he’s not listening to the conversation going on around him.
THAT’S how focused Joe was while drawing – it was remarkable and inspiring to watch…
After the drawing demo Joe stayed for a short time to meet and greet fans. I went up to say hi and the guy standing in line in front of me told Joe he was a huge fan, then asked for Joe to sign his arm so he could then get the signature tattooed.
Joe immediately protested, “Why would you do that? I can’t…” The fan persisted and Joe kept protesting until the guy’s friend explained it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, that his friend really was that big a fan.
Joe finally acquiesced.
This last little clip is of Joe signing the fan’s arm.
My time with Joe was relatively brief. It had been years since I had seen him last, but he recognized who I was after I mentioned the Flash Gordon page we had worked on. A smile lit his face and his strong handshake followed. He asked me what I had been up to and I told him about my freelance and teaching.
I then told him, “I just wanted to thank you for my career.” That warm smile again and the handshake.
And that was the last time I saw Joe Kubert.
There’s more to say, much more, but I’m going to leave it at that. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends – he’ll be sorely missed.
Joe Kubert legitimized drawing comics/cartoons as a career.
Graduating High School I had no direction. I grew up inspired by comic book artists, but saying you wanted to draw comics was as remote in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as saying you were going to be an astronaut and go to the moon. Sure, people did it – but there didn’t seem to be any clear path to actually doing so. My first step was a local art school called Atelier Lack (Now The Atelier). Founded by local Minneapolis artist Richard Lack, the school focused on traditional skills and techniques starting with figure drawing and charcoal studies leading up to oil painting. I took a summer course there, which was a great foundation, but my goal was not to work in oils. Next up was the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. At that time the instruction I received veered away from the traditional and was more conceptual. The disdain I got regarding comic art from teachers and students alike at that time had me bowing out after one semester.
I had actually stopped buying comics in High School – they were not conducive to getting dates – but started picking them up again around this time when Stephen Bissette and John Totleben’s artwork started to appear in Swamp Thing (teamed with a new writer by the name of Alan Moore). This is when comics were still on the newsstand, not hidden away in specialty shops away from the prying eyes of the general public. The artwork and storytelling FLOORED me.
The Comics Journal hit the newsstand with Swamp Thing on the cover and I snatched it up. In it Bissette and Totleben mentioned a new school they had attended founded by a veteran comic book artist – Joe Kubert. Seeing a copy of The Joe Kubert School presents: 1st Folio, I picked that up as well.
Reading Joe’s introduction on the inside front cover I felt like he was almost talking to me personally…
It seemed a long shot, but I eventually got up nerve to apply. After a portfolio review and interview by Joe Kubert himself (done long distance as I was out of state) there followed the anxiety that my work wouldn’t be up to par. Time past and I eventually received my letter of acceptance – I still have it, and reading blogs and Facebook postings after Joe’s death, I’m finding out many others saved theirs as well.
My parents were always supportive of my aspirations to be a cartoonist – as long as I was actually pursuing it. The Joe Kubert School legitimized that career track. With Joe at the helm, the school actually nurtured this love of comic art and storytelling WAY before “graphic novels” starting seeping into the general public’s lexicon and acceptance.
Recently I moved back to Minnesota and taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. They now have a whole department devoted to Comic Art headed up by Barb Schulz. Steve Bissette now teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. These schools – along with SVA in Manhattan and SCAD in Atlanta – are among the growing number of colleges that recognize comics and cartooning as a legitimate art form.
But the first school solely devoted to Comic Art was Joe Kubert’s. He lit the way for me and SOOOOOOO many others.
That the school will still thrive with his sons Andy and Adam at the helm is a testament to the hard work, spirit and love of the craft that Joe and his wife Muriel put into it for over 30 years. I’m proud and honored to be counted as an alumnus.
Back in 2002 I dropped Joe Kubert a line asking if he’d be interested in drawing a Flash Gordon Sunday page for the small sum I could afford to pay at the time. I figured I had a shot at him accepting as first, I was a Kubert School alum, and secondly (and more importantly) because of his fondness of the strip and its creator, Alex Raymond.
He said yes with the stipulation that he would have full control over the finished product. In essence, for the paltry sum I had offered, he was willing to do not just the art but also the lettering, coloring and color separations as well. He also wanted to include as many classic Raymond characters as possible. I sent him some reference (Raymond clip art and color specs) and a loose script that I told him not to adhere to – to just use as a springboard. I gave him the page well in advance so I would have plenty of time to fashion the surrounding Sunday pages in regards to continuity.
Flash Gordon Sunday page: Loose script
Reaction shot of Flash, Vultan and Thun to creature (creature as yet unseen).
Vultan and Thun are momentarily frozen to the spot.
Flash springing forward into action.
Flash and Thun have swords, Vultan has spear. See reference for costume.
Note: Flash wearing holster but gun has been removed.
Text Box: As the grisly creature enters the arena, Flash springs into action!
Flash: Vultan, Thun, no time to waste… That thing is headed straight for Dale!
Panel 2 (inset in panel 3)
Close up on Ming in his spectator’s booth. A look of macabre enjoyment lights his face.
Text Box: Far above the horrible spectacle, Ming issues a proclamation as old on Mongo as time itself…
Ming: Let the Tournaments of Death Begin!
Flash, Vultan and Thun engaging creature as it reaches Dale. Dale is chained to center of arena (see reference), straining at bonds.
Vultan flying, swooping in for the attack.
Creature is your design – go nuts!
Text Box (lower right hand corner): To be continued!
Promptly and WAY before deadline, he emailed me the finished artwork.
The changes he made to the script were sublime.
Flash entering with weapons? Where’s the fun in that?
Joe had Flash and his allies chained in the center of the arena – defenseless.
The layout: Panoramic establishing shot followed by reaction shots of our helpless captives leading up to the cliffhanger as the creature is released.
A master storyteller, Joe had amped up the drama from my initial script to a fevered pitch.
After the page saw print I sent Joe a copy of it from the Boston Herald’s Sunday Comics section. A few week later I got the following response…
December 2, 2002
It’s amazing and sad the depths to which syndication has sunk. I was sorry that they distorted the strip to the extent that they did, but what do people say about crying over spilt milk?
I hope the New Year brings good things for you.
To fully understand Joe’s reaction I’ve included the following quick visual showing what Joe Kubert grew up reading in the 1930’s compared to what Sunday comics look like today.
A short time afterward Mark McMurray and I (a fellow alum) were visiting Joe in his studio and I asked (if it wasn’t any trouble) if I could get a copy of his Flash Gordon Sunday page artwork full size. Joe found the art and asked me if I would rather just have the original instead – dumbfounded I accepted. He bent forward to sign it for me, and before pen touched paper he turned to me and said, “I better not see this on eBay tomorrow.”
The following are some pics from 1998 of my one jaunt out to the West Coast to attend the San Diego Comic-Con. Wouldn’t have been able to afford it if not for fellow Kubert School Alumnus Tom Toby putting me up for a couple nights.
Still remember playing a James Bond video game until the wee hours and laughing my ass off with how little I couldn’t control my shooter – the view from other players was my character running in circles with his head down shooting everywhere. Good times.
Some recollections I jotted down at the time.
• Waking up and going into Tom’s back yard to get some “San Diego sunshine” only to have my face immediately entwined in spiderwebs that were strung between bushes on either side of me – then running around like a crazy person trying to get them off with the frantic thoughts of the huge spiders (black widows?) we had seen in the front yard the previous day.
• Watching a bootleg copy of a pilot for the Justice League with a pot bellied David Ogden Stiers as the Martian Manhunter.
• Mark’s rental car having the futuristic miracle of GPS.
• Commiserating about the biz for awhile with Jim Mooney – then getting a “discount rate” of $40 for one of his signed Man-Thing pages. He also gave advice regarding selling originals, “Some pieces through a dealer will sell for top dollar, otherwise price to sell.”
• Meeting Steve Leialoha and having him sign a Howard the Duck page I had recently purchased that he had inked.
• Peter Maresca’s booth having a ton of old Sunday comic sections from the 1930’s – Beautiful!
• Handing out some flyers I had brought along promoting my work on Flash Gordon and thinking, “I need bigger breasts to be noticed here.”
• Looking for Mark McMurray before Eisners, but limiting my search to between two food stations.
• Excerpt from Evan Dorkin’s acceptance speech upon winning an Eisner, “Since no one else used their time allotment (for acceptance speeches), I’ll use them.”
My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures. Hoping to make it out there again in the not too distant future…