Business of Cartooning Joe Kubert Ramblings & Reviews

Lettering – Part of the Layout

I’ve seen the top version posted here and there on social media (don’t know the artist).

The bottom version is my variation using my experience working on syndicated comic strips (Flash Gordon/Sally Forth). For Sally Forth I’m the penciller, letterer, inker, and colorist for the Sunday page (the dailies are colored in-house at King).

My variation puts the letterer before the inker in the assembly line of making comics. Putting lettering last can make for some badly placed type (in my humble opinion).

Here’s Joe Kubert talking about how he lays out his lettering as part of the inital layout – and how he thought laying it in as an overlay as the last step was “a little nutty.”

For the full clip go to

It’s a sentiment I agree with 100%. It just makes for a better marriage of words and pictures.

A quick side note: Lettering is the “invisible art” of a comic page when done well. If done horribly it stands apart from the page like a sore thumb.

Check out the  buy disulfiram canada Todd Klein Facebook page for examples of lettering done right.

And last but not least, a top notch production staff is ESSENTIAL and are the unsung heroes of this business. Any kink in the chain, and no matter how outstanding particular individuals are, you’ll end up with a crappy product.

And that’s all for today – class dismissed…

-Jim Keefe

Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert – The Nutcracker

Ausa The Nutcracker by The Joe Kubert School
Click on images to see larger.








The dailies shown above were originally published December 2-25, 1985.
I don’t know if Sunday pages were also produced.
If anyone knows please drop me a line!

-Jim Keefe


– Update – 

From George Hagenauer:

“I talked to Joe right before his death about this as I own (among other Kubert originals ) a Big Ben Bolt original that looked like his work.
Basically over the years he would get commercial projects (The Winnie
winkle comic strip, various comic related catalogs etc.) with the idea that
they would involve the students and get them some needed experience and
practice. These projects look like Kubert but usually are not signed by
him. They are often a mix of his direction and the students art .

How much is Kubert and how much is students depended on the students
skill- and sometimes it didn’t work or as Joe said they couldn’t handle
“Big Ben Bolt so I ended up doing it all myself”

From Sam Kujava:

“When I was at Kubert’s School the first year, he offered me a week’s worth of Big Ben Bolt dailies to work on. Joe had already laid out the panels, and I went over them and tightened the pencils, making the art look a little more like my “style”. When I finished, on time, Joe took them back to ink. He showed them to me before he sent it off to the syndicate and it more or less totally looked like Joe did it all. No complaint, just observation.”

From D.D.Degg:

“You probably know by now that the NEA Christmas strips were daily only.

Joe Kubert and School did the seasonal strip from 1982 through 1985.
(Weren’t you a freshman at The School in 1985?)

The Owosso (Mich) Argus-Press ran the 1982 (The Christmas Carol)
and 1983 (Gifts of the Magi) strips.

Unfortunately they switched over to the Disney/King Features Christmas strips in 1984, so I hadn’t seen The School’s Hans Brinker (1984) or their 1985 The Nutcracker – until now (thanks again).

Yeah, they all look like Joe Kubert was deeply involved.

In 1981/82 the Joe Kubert School drew the Winnie Winkle strip. Some of those look like Joe took on more of a role of layout/art director and let the young’uns go at it.

These were actually signed J.K.S., for Joe Kubert School.


D.D.Degg mentions “they switched over to the Disney/King Features Christmas strips” – which coincidentally I colored in the 90s when I was on staff at King.

Examples of Disney holiday strips I colored for King Features.
Examples of Disney holiday strips I colored for King Features.

Many thanks for the added info – greatly appreciated!
If I find out anything more (like students who helped work on them)
I’ll be sure to keep you posted…

-Jim Keefe

Artist Spotlight Artists - Cartoonists Conventions Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert – Saying Thanks…

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)
Tribute: Part 3

I’m rounding off my tribute to Joe Kubert by reminising about the last time I saw Joe. It was the spring of 2012 at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.

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 right-side-up. 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 saying 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 and 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 self-portrait from back in the day…

Joe Kubert Obits and Remembrances From Around the Web:

New York Times Obituary

Washington Post


Dick Siegel: National Enquirer

Tom Spurgeon: The Comics Reporter

Bill Schelly: The Comics Journal

The Comics Journal: Joe Kubert interview from 1994

Neal Adams

Steve Bissette – Updated

Mark McMurray’s Tribute
Mark is a long time friend and classmate from the Kubert School.

Artist Spotlight Artists - Cartoonists Joe Kubert

The Kubert School – Acceptance

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)
Tribute: Part 2

Joe Kubert legitimized drawing comics and 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 for a living was as remote in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as saying you were going to be an actor, or sing on Broadway. 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 – formerly on Hennepin Avenue in the Uptown area of Minneapolis.

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. (It has since moved to a new location and is called The Atelier). I took a summer course there, which was a great foundation, but my goal was not to work in oils.

After a brief stint at Atelier Hathaway (a student of Richard Lack’s that had opened up a school for illustration) I was onto the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The instruction I received at MCAD veered sharply away from the traditional and was focused on conceptual art. The disdain I got regarding comic art from teachers and students alike was palpable and had me bowing out after one semester.

Now I had pretty much stopped buying comics in high school (not helpful for getting dates) but started picking them up again during the art school search years. One comic that jumped out at me was Swamp Thing with artwork by Steve Bissette and John Totleben – teamed with a new writer by the name of Alan Moore.

Side note: 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.

Steve 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 by phone as I was out of state) there followed the anxiety that my work wouldn’t be up to par. I eventually received my letter of acceptance. I still have it, and reading blogs and Facebook posts of other X-Kubies, 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.

I’ve since moved back to Minnesota and have taught at the once apathetic about comics Minneapolis College of Art and Design. They now have a whole department devoted to Comic Art. Steve Bissette has also done some teaching, including a stint 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 sooooooooo many others.

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

That the school is still thriving 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…
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
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!

Panel 3
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,

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.