Posted by: John Kane on August 17, 2012
Tags: Joe Kubert
On August 12th 2012 Joe Kubert died.
I wrote what follows as a kind of farewell to Joe Kubert. Then I realised it isn’t really a farewell, because his work remains and I’ll be reading it until I’m no longer around either. So, I guess it’s a kind of thank you instead. The kind he’ll never read but the kind I need to say. The selfish kind then but it’s also the genuine kind so I guess it balances out?
On August 12th 2012 Joe Kubert died.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a long one. Nor is it going to be bombastic like my Kirby stuff, because bombast doesn’t strike me as being very Joe Kubert. I didn’t know the man but he seems to have been pretty grounded. The kind who’d look after his own and himself, and if there was anything left he’d hold out a hand to you and yours too. Luckily for a lot of people there was a lot of Joe Kubert left to go around, enough that he even opened a school. You want to talk about giving something back to comics? You want to talk about building a future for comics? You want to be talking about Joe Kubert. As I say though, he looked after himself too. Which means that there’s no depressing story concerning his treatment by the Industry. In fact it means that there are a whole bunch of books with this delightful stamp on them:
Joe Kubert seems to have been one of the few to have met the Industry on its own terms and not just survived but prospered. Mind you he got in there early and he seems to have set his feet and tucked in his chin right from the start. The fact Joe Kubert’s example is such a lonely one suggests you have to be Joe Kubert to do that, but things are changing and maybe Joe Kubert’s exception will become the rule.
My primary consumption of Kubert’s art was through his covers. These things were wonders to me in my youth. Over here in the UK distribution of US comics was spotty at best so I imagine there were more than a few of my generation who grew up spinning their own lurid nonsense and attaching it mentally to tiny reproductions of imagination snagging covers. For me Joe Kubert’s covers were so striking that many embedded themselves in my brain only to detonate years later. When the Dark Horse TARZAN collections were announced in 2005 I pounced on them, driven by the suppressed need to discover the contents behind those incredible ’70s covers that had taunted my childish eyes decades before. Kubert drew and edited those books and I had no idea, as much as I loved his art, how incredible that stuff was. If you like Joe Kubert you need those books. I read that Kubert himself went all out on them, so, you know, there can’t be many higher recommendations for such unjustly neglected work.
Because, yeah, Joe Kubert edited as well as drew and wrote comics. He was a tough editor by all accounts, I know he gave Russ Heath a larruping for lateness and then there was that time he riled Alex Toth, although I believe Alex Toth was hardly the most unrileable of men. He took it all seriously and as a result his books were seriously good. He’ll probably be best remembered for the war books he produced with Kanigher and while these are usually mocked as gung-ho and compared unfavourably to Kurtzman’s (incredible) EC books, it’s good to remember that DC wasn’t EC. Fact is that when Kubert took over the editing he immediately stuck “Make War No More” at the end of every yarn. Given the corporate constrictions he was working under Joe Kubert always tried to do the best, most wholesome and educational work he could. I have deliberately used two hokey terms there, two terms practically guaranteed to have you waving your hands before your rolling eyes, and I have done so on purpose. Because, yes, Joe Kubert’s work can appear a bit stolid, a bit too Dad. The fact that this constant undercurrent of morality remained right to the end of his work is worth celebrating even if at times it is a little heavy handed for modern minds. He meant well and it rarely got in the way of his two-fisted tales. Because the primary attraction was his art and his art was powerful enough to blast apart any other reservations.
Because his art is glorious. Given time enough Kubert would bring you back perfection. But artists of Kubert’s generation rarely had time enough. One of the (maybe even the) prime defining aspects of their art is this very lack of time. The need for speed was possibly the most influential factor in the art of Kubert’s generation. And Kubert was quick. Kubert was also gifted enough to be quick and good. Most of the time he was great but he was rarely less than good. Look at Kubert’s art at DC when he was at his most prolific and people today can have a real good time picking it apart. But you have to look at it for a fair bit before you can do that. Kubert was so good that he could approximate reality so convincingly he didn’t need to make it look real. Every line was a kind of trick he convinced the reader to play on themselves, and the audience was always willing to go along because every line promised it would be worth it. And it was. That’s not faint praise either, his work was belted out at a rate of knots and its true excellence is in how excellent it is at merely suggesting excellence. But he had to be excellent in the first place to even approach that. Like I say given time enough not even these caveats are necessary. See the art in DONG XAOI, TEX and his TOR series of 1993 and 2008 to see what Joe Kubert could do when he could lay it down at his own sweet pace. And TARZAN of course. Truly Joe Kubert’s art was a gift to us all.
So, just some brief words there about Joe Kubert. Not comprehensive in the slightest, little more than perfunctory in fact given the scope of his career. But the words were meant in sincere tribute. Joe Kubert enriched my life and th elives of thousands of others with his art. Joe Kubert was an artist, a husband, a father and a teacher. His work encompassed a multitude of genres: war, western, superhero, barbarians, and on and on to versatility’s end. He wrote, he edited and he drew comics. Man, he really drew those comics. Boy, those comics.
He made ink sing.
Goodnight and thank you, Joe Kubert.
Joe Kubert (1926 – 2012).
All scans taken from TOR Volumes 1,2 and 3 published by DC Comics/The Joe Kubert Library. Tor was created by Joe Kubert.
If you wish to talk about Joe Kubert in the comments do feel free to do so. Otherwise, i wish you all good health and plenty of fine, fine COMICS!!!