Joe Kubert passed away two days ago, not quite eighty-six years old. Born in 1926, he went to work in the fledgling comic book industry around 1939, when he was twelve or thirteen. He grow up in comics, and worked continuously in the field—mostly in comics books and, later, graphic novels—until his death. Always an excellent craftsman with a unquenchable passion for drawing, over the decades he became (forgive me if this sounds cliched, but in this case it genuinely applies) one of the giants in the field.
My deepest condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and students. His passing is sad, sad news—the comic book field will be united in its grief these next several days.
I don’t have the expertise to write a proper obituary for the man. His biographer, Bill Schelly, has written a fine one for The Comics Journal, as has Tom Spurgeon over at The Comics Reporter. Check out Mark Evanier’s remembrance too. Spurgeon’s “Collective Memory” entry provides a very helpful hub for tributes and recollections. Most moving of all, for me, is Steve Bissette’s deeply personal homage to the man who became his mentor, his inspiration, his artistic lifesaver. Please read it.
Schelly has written Kubert’s biography, in the form of the book Man of Rock (Fantagraphics, 2008—see Kubert’s cover illo above). Spurgeon’s 2008 interview with Schelly about that book sheds a fascinating light on Kubert and his work.
I’ll repeat here what I said on Facebook last night when I heard the news:
Kubert was one of the last and best of the fabled craftsmen whose lives and career stories linked directly back to the crazy early days of the American comic book medium. He was a terrific cartoonist with an unmistakable style. And more: as a comic book editor, teacher, founder of a school, and, in his extraordinary late-period resurgence, a graphic novelist, Kubert was always trying new things, pushing himself into new areas, and finding new ways that his matchless drafting and storytelling skills could be put to personal, self-expressive use.
He leaves behind not only reams of work and legions of fans, but an extraordinary record of lives touched and transformed, and careers jump-started. That is one hell of a legacy.
The gallery that follows is simply a personal sampling of cover images drawn from the scans available at The Grand Comics Database, with thanks to the tireless scholars and fans who make the GCD what it is (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the GCD truly is grand). I found these images, which I present here in roughly chronological order, particularly evocative and/or representative. Some I remember seeing on the newsstands as a kid; others I had never seen until today but stopped me cold. Looking at them again in sequence, I feel as if I’m watching most of the history of the American comic book flash before me, in sudden, flickering glimpses (though admittedly 1960 and 70s DC Comics are heavily represented here: Kubert was an especially prolific cover artist for the company then).
I can’t claim these are the best of Kubert’s best. There’s actually a staggering sustained run of late Sgt. Rock covers that I did not include here for want of time, but which, I think, are some of the best things Kubert ever did. And of course covers tell only a small part of Kubert’s story: his treatment of the comics page as a storytelling space is a whole other issue, one I’ll leave other commentators to address.
Brian Conin has a lovely Kubert cover gallery of his own over at Comic Book Resources (but for one autobiographical image, we don’t overlap at all!), as well as a smart and interesting follow-up post that talks about a particular trope Kubert used in his covers time and again. Again, well worth reading!
Farewell, Joe Kubert, comic book master.