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Artist Spotlight Artists - Cartoonists Joe Kubert

The Kubert School – Acceptance

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)
Tribute: Part 2

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.

Stephan Bissette – penciler • John Totleben – inker • Tatjana Wood – colorist

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.

Acceptance letter.

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.

Joe Kubert at his drawing desk.     ©Librado Romero/The New York Times

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.

With a tip of my Joe Kubert hat…

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Artist Spotlight Artists - Cartoonists Flash Gordon Joe Kubert King Features

Joe Kubert – Flash Gordon page

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)
Tribute: Part 1

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.

Example of Alex Raymond clip art sent to Joe Kubert as reference.

Flash Gordon Sunday page: Loose script

Panel 1
Direction:
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)
Direction:
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!

Panel 3
Direction:
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.

Click on image to enlarge.

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

Dear Jim,
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.

Take care,
Joe


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.

Left to right: Flash Gordon 2/25/1934 by Alex Raymond – Flash Gordon 11/10/2002 by Joe Kubert

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.”

—————————————-

Footnote: Suffice it to say, it did NOT go on eBay. As a matter of fact it went on display in the fall of 2012 at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center for the exhibit, Flash Gordon and the Heroes of the Universe. Also on display were Works by Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, George Evans and myself.

flash.exhibit