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Goodbye, Joe...

Posted by artbyanastasia on August 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Goodbye, Joe...

I found out by a random posting a fan put in my facebook page that Joe Kubert had died

 

I sat, stunned, on my couch for a minute staring blankly at my phone. I had to run upstairs and hide so that I could have a moment to shed some tears. It was such a shock. I know he was 85, but he always seemed so strong and lively. I guess I never imagined a world without him.

 

For those of you who do not recognize the name, I strongly urge you to research him. Joe was an amazing artistic talent and one of the founding fathers of modern comic book art. He was my teacher and mentor, and whether he knew it or not I admire and respect him greatly.

 

I was a comic book geek as a kid (still am) and I remember the exact moment it dawned on me that I wanted to be a comic book artist. People talk about those light bulb moments and that was mine. I now had a goal, but now I needed a path to get there. Enter The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. I found an add for the school in the pages of Wizard Magazine and after some research I discovered that this was THE place. I sent off my letters and portfolio and at the appointed time called in for my phone interview. After I hung up from my interview with a stern sounding Mike Chen, I was completely sure I didn't make it in and I dismally awaited for my rejection letter. Imagine my surprise when my mother called me on the phone while I was at my friends house to tell me that I had a huge fat envelope from the school. I was IN!!

 

I remember my first day. I felt small and scared. There were a 129 of us first years and I was only one of four girls. Joe was a name that was bantered around with a feeling of anticipation. He only taught a class for the third year students, and it was everyone's goal to make it there. We had a welcome assembly that first day where Joe stood up on stage and greeted everyone and laid out what was expected. He wasn't a man to mince words and he was up front about what kind of work load we were going up against. I remember being impressed with his no-nonsense phrase of  "Most of you won't make it, and some of you shouldn't." He was adamant about how the school was a tool and when you reached the point of not needing it, to leave it behind. "It makes no sense to keep yourself here if someone is offering you work. If you get hired as an artist, why would you turn it down to stay in art school? Go work!"

 

Those first two years I didn't see a whole lot of Joe. The occasional passing in  the hall, always with me a bit flustered about how to address him. Mr Kubert seemed to formal for a man in the habit of wearing ink spattered blue jeans and a comfortable cardigan over a flannel shirt, but the southern manners of my upbringing shuddered at the thought of calling such an important person Joe. But, Joe it was.

 

I finally trudged through 2 years of sleep deprivation and made it to the hallowed Third year hall on the second floor the building. Out of the original 129 of us, only 25 remained and I was the only girl left. I will never forget my very first class with Joe Kubert as my teacher...it happened to be Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. Yes, 9/11. We had finished our morning class and were starting to trickle back from lunch when we heard the news. At first no one believed it, we thought it was a bad joke, then Joe came walking in with a stony, solemn look on his face, his first words to us were the horrible truths about what was happening, at that moment, less than 30 miles away. He said we were free to go home or, if we felt safer here, to stay at the school, but classes were canceled. I won't relive all that happened that day here and now.

 

Joe was a great teacher. I know it may seem weird that I would be surprised, but knowing how to create art is a far, far different creature than knowing how to create art AND knowing how to explain to others how to do it as well. Joe wasn't the type of teacher to walk laps around the class room and adjust this line here or move that panel there. Nope. He would talk to us about fundamentals; how no matter what "style" we were trying to create for ourselves, it would all amount to nothing if we didn't know how to actually draw properly. "Once you master the basics, your own personal style will follow." was heard once or twice. After talking to us and setting us loose on our assignment with the obligatory "Go! Work!", he would sit at his desk in the front and follow his own advice and work on something of his own. I don't remember which brave soul it was that first shuffled to the front to ask Joe some questions, but the rest of us held our breath and watched. Joe was frowning over some pages he was inking and here, this person, was going to interrupt. Would Joe be mad? Would he raise that voice or get into a temper? The rumors of these occurrences had filtered down to us since first year and we all stood in a sense of watchful awe.  I remember that guy stood there in awkward silence for a minute, until Joe looked up and gruffed "Yes?" "I have a question." Said the bravest guy in class. For an answer, Joe leaned over and grabbed an empty chair and pulled it up to his desk. "Let's find an answer." he said. The guy sat down and the rest of us unclenched and heaved a collective sigh of relief. From then on, there was usually a competitive shuffle to get one on one time with him before class ended.

 

Never did I see Joe lose his temper at someone who was trying to learn, or who had a question. He always had time to look at your pages or to give some advice. He had been drawing comics since he was 12 years old and there was not a wasted line or movement left in his hand. I still have some of my pages that have his tracing paper over them with the suggestions and corrections that he drew. I will keep and treasure them forever. You could often find him in his office working on projects, but he would stop what he was doing to answer questions and take a look at something. He would always be back to drawing before you could make it out of the office. I never remember him just sitting still.

 

I had made it to the third year, but I didn't think that I had made any big impression on Joe. There were guys in my class that were simply amazing artists. I had moments of serious self doubt and I sometimes wondered if I really was good enough. Joe was always very encouraging to me, he had a way of taking something I had been agonizing over and in three pen strokes produce the exact look I was going for. He taught me how to sit back and see things simply when I was trying to make things more complicated than they needed to be.

 

 I remember sitting at his side while he graded my final pencils on an assignment; One of the panels had a burning house in it. It had given me all sorts of trouble and I was still not happy with it even though I had spent considerable time working on it. Joe pulled out some tracing paper and in 5 seconds made it look perfect. I heaved a sigh and felt utterly inadequate, he looked at me and asked what I was planning to do next. I was surprised, because the next part of the assignment was to take it to finished inks, everyone knew that. When I stated my intention of inking it, he just looked at me with a face that seemed to imply that I was stupid or crazy or maybe both. "Why would you even bother inking this?" He said in that gruff voice of his. My heart sank into my shoes. This was the longest one on one conversation I had had with Joe and he was telling me that my finished pencils weren't even good enough to waste time trying to ink. He continued to stare at me with that same look on his face. I had turned beet red and was squirming in my seat. His tone had made the rest of the class stop working and look up to where I was slowly dying on the spot. "I...but...that is the next part of the assignment." I stammered lamely. He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and stared at my pitiful pages on his desk for an agonizing minute. "No" he says. "I don't want you to do that. You need to skip inking and just color right over your pencils. You have a lot of very good, subtle details that if you tried to ink over them you would just lose them. See me after class." I was stunned. I sat there gaping at him while he picked up his pen and resumed work on some panels of his own. I quietly gathered my pages mumbled some thank yous and fled back to my desk.

 

After class I went to Joe's office where he had pulled some examples of comic art that had skipped the inking process and he pointed out the painterly effect it produced. He stated that my style was well suited to this process and he thought I would have some good success with it.

 

Then Joe offered me a job.

 

I became a penciler on an ashcan comic that Joe produced for the United States Army to illustrate on the job safety. Joe would lay out the panels and draw in the people, then a few of the third years were hired to pencil in the back grounds and supporting characters and add the lettering. I spent several evenings down in the basement of the school drawing humvees and tanks that sported faces and helped their drivers learn proper driving skills. I still can't look back on that day without a triumphant grin. I do have what it takes, and while my art career has not always centered around the comic book work it started with, it is still shored up by the lessons learned at Joe's school.

 

That was Joe all over. He would shake you up and make you see your own worth, whether you wanted to or not. He didn't pull any punches when they were deserved and he could make your day with just a smile and a nod.

 

This has rambled on far longer than I had intended, but I can't bring myself to delete any of these memories I have of man who made such a profound impact on my life, thank you, Joe. Rest in peace, and may you and Muriel be reunited on the other side.



 

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