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Volume 2898a

Joe Kubert: Self-effacing genius
Star Bulletin ~ Mar 15, 2009

Someday, someone will write a thesis on the Jewish roots of the comic-book industry. Virtually every one of the early masters of the craft is also a member of the Tribe, and, more than that, an unlikely number have roots in Brooklyn, N.Y. The borough has probably produced more comic book artists and writers and editors than the rest of the country (except maybe for Cleveland).

Jewishness infuses nearly every page of the recent book "Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert" (Fantagraphics Books, 220 pages, $19.99) in ways both overt and subtle. Joe Kubert is such a giant of the comic-art oeuvre that his name has become an adjective attached to excellence.

"Kubert" itself is a rare name -- born in Poland, his family emigrated to the United States in the 1920s when he was an infant. He was named Yosaif, Yiddish for Joseph. All the Kuberts, it seemed, came from a rural shtetl -- a community completely erased by the Nazis during the war.

And so the only Kuberts in the world were the Kuberts of Brooklyn, where young Yosaif's father was a kosher butcher. The boy, enthralled by the newspaper comics, began drawing precociously, encouraged by his parents, who went into debt to buy him a drawing table. He began signing his work "Joe" Kubert, now thoroughly Americanized and assimilated.

Kubert's ascent in the pulpy world of comics was like that of a boy wonder. His first professional work was at age 13, and now, seven decades later and well into his 80s, Joe Kubert is still on top of his game, creating amazing pieces of graphic literature that simply get better. He and Stan Lee are the only veterans of the birth of comics still working in the field they helped create.

And Kubert is still drawing on the original drafting table his folks went into hock for. At some point it should go into the Smithsonian.

Comics historian Bill Schelly's book is full of detail about Kubert's early years and influences. Kubert grew up big and strong and handsome as a superhero and also earned a reputation as a square dealer, a good man under pressure and modest to a fault. His early work, particularly his inking style, is derivative and plain, but by his 20s the "Kubert" style began to emerge -- a thready, sketchy style of limning the action, a heavy use of shadowy blacks and inky chiaroscuro, a realistic rendering of supporting details that don't overwhelm the storytelling. And his characters always look a little haggard and worried, as if superheroing was a tough row to hoe and doesn't pay well.

DURING THE war, Kubert worked on stock superhero stuff. He started his own production house and invented the 3-D comic book, and just then, the bottom fell out of the industry with the great comic-book scare of the 1950s. Scrambling for work, Kubert was magically paired with writer/editor Robert Kanigher to work on war comics for DC Comics, and one of the great teams was born.

The two churned out amazingly well-detailed epics of the stresses of men in combat, notably "Sgt. Rock of Easy Company," written with adult finesse by Kanigher and drawn by Kubert with every greasy bead of sweat, three-day stubble and worried squint intact. These weren't stories of glory; they were keen vignettes that still have impact today.

In the 1970s Kubert's retelling of "Tarzan" became the high-water mark of Edgar Rice Burroughs' ape-man character in the comics medium. At the same time, Kubert opened a school for aspiring comic artists that's still going strong today.

One of casualties of the '50s comics meltdown was a prehistoric meditation by Kubert called "Tor," and one of the artist's few regrets was that the character never really got a proper shaking out. Kubert regained the rights, and Tor has popped up here and there over the years, Kubert returning to it like a cave-dwelling muse. His six-issue miniseries for DC came out last year and will be released in stores Wednesday as a hardcover collection titled "Tor: A Prehistoric Odyssey" (DC Comics, 160 pages, $19.99), and Kubert's artistic and storytelling abilities are as pointed as ever.

Back to Schelly's biography, it tends to gloss over the last couple of decades, in some ways the most creative part of Kubert's career, a time in which he revisited his Jewish heritage and crafted tales out of his own experience, including the amazing graphic book "Fax from Sarajevo," the story of friends trapped in the hell of civil war.

You won't find much grit in "Man of Rock." It turns out that Kubert is a decent, self-effacing genius who works hard at his craft and has never grown tired of it. And that's lucky for us, as we can't get enough Kubert.

Legendary comic artist Joe Kubert
opens his vault to Heritage Auctions ~ Nov. 20, 2009
Star Spangled War Stories, Tarzan and more from 70-year comics career at public auctions,
for the first time, Nov. 20, at Heritage Auctions
DALLAS, TX -- Joe Kubert began drawing comic books in 1938, the year that marked the advent of the "Golden Age" of comic books. He's been steadily employed ever since, across seven full decades and counting. More remarkable than his longevity, however, are his skill and influence. Every modern comic artist acknowledges him, and every collector would love to own a piece of his original art. While original comic art prices have soared in recent years, though, Kubert has kept the vast majority of his art to himself - until now.

Everything changes on Nov. 20, when Heritage Auctions presents art from the Joe Kubert Collection as part of its Signature® Comic and Comic Art auction. Covers and panel pages featuring everything from superheroes to gritty war scenes to one of the best-ever interpretations of Tarzan will be offered. (Pictured, below, is Kubert himself discussing one of his drawings with Heritage Auctions Consignment Director Todd Hignite.)

“Anyone who was a kid from the 1940s through the 1980s will recognize Kubert’s distinctive style at a glance,” said Jared Green, Vice President of Business Development at Heritage Auctions. “He drew almost every Sgt. Rock story for decades and the cover to almost every DC war comic. Not only is he a favorite among fans, but when other comic book artists talk about their influences and whom they admire, his name is invariably mentioned.”

Kubert has drawn stories for virtually every major publisher across his 70 years in the field. He is most celebrated, perhaps, for his work at DC from the early 1950s onward on such stand-out characters as Hawkman, Viking Prince, Enemy Ace, Tarzan, and especially -as mentioned above - Sgt. Rock. Examples of all of these can be found at Heritage Auctions, Nov. 20.

Born in Poland in 1926, Kubert got his start in a comic art studio at the tender age of 11. Throughout his career he has been influential not only as an artist, but also as an editor, writer, innovator and educator. He co-produced the first 3-D comic book ever, Three Dimension Comics #1, in the '50s.

"Kubert was always up for new challenges and ready to explore new creative outlets," said Green. "He tried his hand at a syndicated newspaper strip with Tales of the Green Beret and later he created the acclaimed graphic novels Abraham Stone, Fax From Sarajevo, and Jew Gangster."

Among his most powerful works was Yossel: April 19, 1943. While Kubert’s family immigrated to the U.S. on the date indicated by the title, as the Nazis invaded Poland, he produced this book decades later, with a protagonist similar to himself, to explore what might have happened had he found himself trapped as a teenager in the Warsaw ghetto.

In 1976, remembering his own start, Kubert, founded the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. Among its many notable graduates are Kubert’s sons Adam and Andy, both fan-favorite comic artists in their own right.

Highlights from the Joe Kubert

Legendary comic artist Joe Kubert opens his vault to Heritage Auctions, Nov. 20
Star Spangled War Stories, Tarzan and more from 70-year comics career at public auctions, for the first time, Nov. 20, at Heritage Auctions

 Legendary comic artist Joe Kubert opens his vault to Heritage Auctions, Nov. 20

Reading news-antique: Legendary comic artist Joe Kubert opens his vault to Heritage Auctions, Nov. 20

Collection include, but are not limited to:

Tarzan #243 Cover Original Art (DC, 1975):
When's the last time you've seen an original Tarzan cover offered for sale in the marketplace? Probably not too often, if ever. This is a chance to win a Bronze Age blockbuster. Inspired by his childhood idol, comic strip artist Hal Foster, Kubert remained remarkably true to Foster's dynamic approach to Edgar Rice Burroughs' timeless hero. In Bill Schelly's Joe Kubert biography, Man of Rock, Tarzan is cited as Kubert's favorite character in popular literature, and he considered his assignment of drawing Tarzan the assignment of a lifetime.

Joe Kubert Star Spangled War Stories #156 Unknown Soldier Hitler Mask Cover Original Art (DC, 1971): For many Unknown Soldier fans, this is the ultimate cover scene as the master of disguise takes the most dangerous role he ever played - that of the Fuehrer himself.

Joe Kubert Star Spangled War Stories #159 Unknown Soldier Cover Original Art (DC, 1971): Kubert's bold, expressive use of light, shadow, and texture is showcased to full effect in this gut-wrenching cover scene featuring the Unknown Soldier. With a mention of the Enemy Ace in the copy at the top of the page, this spectacular cover would be the pride and joy of any Kubert or DC war fan's collection.

Joe Kubert The Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told Book Cover Original Art (DC, 1990): Who can fault Joe Kubert for falling asleep at his drawing board after all the late nights he spent over five decades, slaving over his pages, and hitting his deadlines so comic book fans would get their latest issues on time? As the copy for this anthology reprint book put it, 'With the advent of television and the wrath of Congress, the comic book industry simultaneously faced the two greatest threats to its existence in the 1950s. This pressure served to fuel the creative community as the boundaries of the medium were expanded and some of the most legendary comic book tales of all time were crafted." Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash lead the all star cast of this sensational cover as they surround Kubert to thank him for helping them make it through the tough times.

Joe Kubert Star Spangled War Stories #137 War That Time Forgot page 4 Original Art (DC, 1968): Kubert was the ideal artist to illustrate the infamous "War That Time Forgot" series, where U. S. armed forces battle it out with dinosaurs on a mysterious region in the Pacific.

Joe Kubert Our Army at War #193 Sgt. Rock Splash Page 1 Original Art (DC, 1968): Farmer Boy takes center stage in this searing scene from "Blood in the Desert." On a side note, this was the last issue edited by Robert Kanigher. Starting with the very next issue Joe Kubert took over as editor of Our Army at War and ushered in a new era for the DC war books.

Mr. Kubert is available for interviews.

A Gallery of Heroes, Up for Sale
NY Times ~ November 17, 2009

Joe Kubert, a comic book artist since 1938, has little interest in the accumulated work of his last seven decades; his focus is on new projects, he said recently. But comic book fans who feel differently about this celebrated illustrator will have a chance to peruse and even own some of that older work this week, when 18 covers and interior pages, published from the 1940s to 1990, are put up for sale.

Mr. Kubert, 83, has turned over a large trove of his original work to Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which will hold the first of several auctions, live and online, on Friday.

“Joe’s obviously one of the very small handful of great artists that has worked in comics over the last 50-plus years,” said Todd Hignite, a consignment director for Heritage who specializes in original comic art. Mr. Hignite searched through Mr. Kubert’s home, business office and storage space in northern New Jersey to amass the selection.

For serious fans of the medium it’s a tantalizing collection, though Mr. Kubert himself seems more amused than anything.

“I have no undying love for any of the stuff,” he said during a recent interview at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, N.J., which he founded in 1976 and where he still teaches. “I’m constantly looking toward the next job.”

Mr. Kubert sat near a drawing board bearing pages from a superhero story for DC Comics that he is illustrating with his son Andy. On a conference table sat a galley of a graphic novel, “Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965.” The book, based on a true story of an American Special Forces team and written and illustrated by Mr. Kubert, will be released by Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, in May.

Mr. Kubert was particularly critical of his earliest work, like a portfolio illustration from around 1944 of the team of superheroes known as the Seven Soldiers of Victory, which will be part of Friday’s auction. By then Mr. Kubert had been working in comics for six years, and at $5 a page, he said, he was earning more than his father, a butcher.

But “the work was horrible,” he added. “They shouldn’t have paid me.”

He is humble too about his early history, which is filled with encounters with historic figures of the comic book industry. Near the start of his career, for example, he worked for MLJ Comics, the forerunner of Archie Comics, where he inked over the pencil lines of Bob Montana, the original illustrator of Archie and his friends.

Being utterly ignorant of the tools and techniques of comic artistry when he began working at it as an after-school job at the age of 11, Mr. Kubert said, he relied on such luminaries not just for high-flown inspiration but for basic lessons, like what pencils, inks, erasers and even paper to use. “I didn’t know original art was larger than the printed page,” he said.

Although the trade was not an obvious route to financial security, Mr. Kubert’s parents were supportive.

“They saw how much I loved doing what I was doing,” he said. “It also kept me out of trouble,” which, in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where he grew up, was “easy to get into.”

By the 1950s Mr. Kubert was producing some of the work that he would become best known for: the adventures of Tor, a caveman-type character who first appeared in 1953; covers and interior pages for DC’s war comics; and renderings of the medieval Viking Prince and the high-flying Hawkman.

Much of his earliest work, like much other comic art from that period, is lost. In the early days of the industry, original art was considered so unimportant that it was given away, used to sop up spills or simply discarded. Saving it was rarely considered, especially since “a lot of us were of the mind-set that the publisher owned the work,” Mr. Kubert said.

It was only later, when companies began automatically returning the originals, that he started saving them.

The 18 pieces in Friday’s auction have reserve prices ranging from $300 to $3,250. Mr. Hignite said he believed that Mr. Kubert’s cover illustrations will get between $2,500 and $5,000, though “we fully expect a percentage are going to go for significantly higher prices than that.”

“The beauty of original comic art is that it’s not seen as this pure investment,” Mr. Hignite said. “There’s not really a way to stand back and objectively look at the market. The people who collect the stuff are so emotionally attached it.”

Last year an interior page from the 1963 X-Men No. 1, by Jack Kirby, went for $33,460 (more then double its reserve price), and the 1952 cover of Weird Science No. 16, drawn by Wally Wood, sold privately for $200,000.

Jerry Weist, the author of “The Comic Art Price Guide,” recalled a work by Mr. Kubert — a 1962 cover of The Brave and the Bold — whose sale he oversaw on eBay. It sold for over $40,000 to Albert Moy, a comic-book-art dealer in Bayside, Queens.

“There’s pretty heavy demand for his work,” Mr. Weist said.

Mr. Kubert, who joined the industry when some people were embarrassed to admit they were comic book artists, seems to take the new interest in stride. “It’s come quite a ways,” he said of the comic book world and its offshoots like graphic novels and blockbuster films.

Despite his accomplishments, including 1997 Eisner and Harvey awards for his first graphic novel, “Fax From Sarajevo,” Mr. Kubert’s pride is more apparent when he is discussing his five children, for whose benefit, he said, he’s selling his art, and the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, a highly regarded institution with 110 students that he and his family have run since its founding. He credits his wife, Muriel, who died of breast cancer last year, for making the school a reality; he committed to being an instructor only because she agreed to handle the business side.

Mr. Kubert’s two youngest sons, Adam and Andy, also work at the school, teaching first- and second-year students, while their father instructs the third-year senior class. His daughter, Lisa, does administrative work for the school from West Virginia, and one of her sons — one of Mr. Kubert’s 12 grandchildren — is a second-year student at the school. (His other sons are David, a cable television lineman, and Danny, who deals in vintage toys.)

Adam, 50, and Andy, 47 are accomplished artists who have worked for DC and Marvel, but they too started out as Kubert students. Both received a stern warning from their father-headmaster.

“The moment you’re not doing your assignments, you’re out,” he recalled warning them. In the next breath, however, the pride was back: “They worked harder than anybody.”

The first Kubert comic I bought
. . . back in 1953.
I bought all the 3Ds as they came out
. . . even though they cost much more than the regular 10 cent comics.


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