Grytviken 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.
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.”
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, Tolentino Flash Gordon and the Heroes of the Universe. Also on display were Works by Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, George Evans and myself.