Joe Kubert, Comic Book Artist: An Appreciation
JOE KUBERT: The Artist of Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace and Tor! Plus the Teacher of Thousands!
Comic book artist Joe Kubert died on Aug. 12, 2012, after more than seven decades of drawing and creating comic books. Over those many years he worked on a wide variety of comics, but he is probably best known as the co-creator of such war series as Sgt. Rock, the Enemy Ace and the Unknown Soldier.
He also created Tor, which starred a prehistoric man, and worked on a series of comic books starring Tarzan.
His biggest influence may have been as founder of the Kubert School, a three-year technical school dedicated to teaching about cartooning and drawing comic books.
UPDATE 12/2012: We visited the Kubert School the last time it had an open house, and now the younger half of goldenrulecomics is taking a Saturday cartooning class there. See below for some photos.
Sgt. Rock of Easy Company
''The Rock of Easy Company''
If there is one comic book character that is most associated with Joe Kubert it would have to be Sgt. Rock, who led the Easy Company infantry unit through a long series of World War II adventures in the Our Army at War comic book (which was renamed Sgt. Rock in 1977).
Prototypes of the character had appeared a few issues earlier, but Sgt. Rock is first identified by that name in Our Army at War No. 83 in June 1959. Over almost three decades, until the series was canceled with Sgt. Rock No. 422 in 1988, Kubert was the main cover artist and illustrator of the Sgt. Rock tales.
Set mainly in the European theater of operations, the stories tended to be a ground-level view of combat and its effects on the men involved. The tales tended to be realistic, and sometimes the good guys died.
In fact, the series always seemed more true-to-life than Marvel Comics' counterpart, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, who went mainly on secret missions. Instead, a Sgt. Rock tale might consist simply of how a new guy in the unit responded under fire, for instance, or what happened when the unit met up with a new version of a German tank.
If you are interested in solid, well-told and well-illustrated war comics, the Sgt. Rock tales are hard to beat.
Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert
This biography came out in 2008 (the title is a reference to his most-known creation Sgt. Rock) and it details Kubert's life from his birth in Poland to his emigration to the United States.
He began working in the comic-book industry at about age 11 and forged a career that ended only with his death. Obviously, the book doesn't include the final years but it does give a very good overview to the man, his work and his impact on comics in general.
Tor, One of the First 3-D Comic Books!
Joe Kubert created, wrote and drew a comic book about a prehistoric man called Tor for a company called St. John Publications in the 1950s. The first issue appeared in September 1953, with the second issue coming out in 3-D. It reverted back to two-dimensional the next issue and only lasted until No. 5.
I knew the character from a second six-issue series with the same name in 1974-1975. Looking at my collection, I see I have issues No. 1, 4, 5, 6 of that series but it was highly forgettable and I'd have to dig out the comics to even be able to describe any of the tales.
Because Kubert retained the rights to the character, there have been a number of other stories starring Tor since then, for various comic book companies.
Tor: A Prehistoric Odyssey
The Unknown Soldier of World War II
Starring in Star-Spangled War Stories
The Unknown Soldier was one of my favorite series from the 1970s. It's a great concept. A soldier in the early part of the war survives an attack by the Japanese, but he is left disfigured to the point no one can recognize him.
To honor his dead brother who was killed in the attack, this ''unknown soldier'' becomes a top spy and master of disguise, going on the most dangerous top-secret missions of the war. In the original stories his undisguised head is wrapped completely in bandages. In later issues it is shown scarred and disfigured.
Kubert drew the first appearance of the character in Star-Spangled War Stories No. 151 (June 1970) and continued to handle the stories or at least the comic's covers until 1982 (long after the comic itself had been renamed Unknown Soldier). In the series' last story, Unknown Soldier No. 268, the character supposedly dies in Berlin in the final days of the war after Hitler's death.
Kubert's art style worked perfectly on this strip, which far more than most dealt with the ambiguities of war. In numerous issues the Unknown Soldier is shown betraying Germans who had befriended him while he was in disguise, and more than once he abandoned allies to complete a mission. It was that ambiguity about heroism that probably made me more of a fan of the Unknown Soldier stories than the Sgt. Rock tales.
Unknown Soldier on Amazon
This collection of stories also has stories that weren't drawn by Joe Kubert but I recommend the book anyway because all the tales are really good.
Hawkman in the 1960s
Kubert Helps Revive a Golden Age Superhero!
In the late 1950s and early 1960s DC Comics was revitalizing a number of their superheroes from the 1940s, including the Flash and Green Lantern. Hawkman was chosen to be updated in Brave & the Bold No. 34 (March 1961), and Kubert was handed the job of creating the look of the modern character. (Kubert, by the way, had also drawn the character back in the 1940s).
The costume wasn't much different from the original design, but the entire origin of the character changed and Hawkman was now from an alien planet. Kubert's work on these early stories and later on the combined Atom and Hawkman comic is generally considered very good.
I must admit I always found his work better suited to the war comics and the non-superhero pieces that he did, and Hawkman has never grabbed me as a character. So while I can understand these issues are considered classics they really aren't to my taste!
Tarzan, King of the Apes
Joe Kubert's Version in the 1970s
Joe Kubert was the main writer and artist for DC Comics' Tarzan book in the 1970s. DC Comics acquired the rights to the character in 1972 from Gold Key, which is why the first DC Comics issue (shown here) is numbered 207.
Kubert would chronicle the tales of the ape-man through the last issue of the book (No. 258) in February 1977.
Kubert's art style with its rugged black lines fitted pretty well with the world of Tarzan, and the stories flowed very well. They seemed realistic enough that when a character got hurt you felt it, and he made the jungle really come alive.
Aside from the war comics, this series was probably my favorite work of Kubert's.
Enemy Ace: War As Seen From the Enemy's Side
Fighter Pilot Tales of World War I
Enemy Ace was very different from the other war series of the 1960s. It focused on World War I and the main protagonist was Hans von Hammer, a German fighter pilot who was based on the Red Baron.
Von Hammer fought with honor and a sense of duty, and though his fellow pilots respected him he was considered aloof and brooding. He preferred to hunt in the woods and meet up with a friendly wolf (yes, the wolf bit always seemed a bit silly) than hanging out with his fellow pilots. The stories illustrated the tactics of World War I very well, and became more character-driven over time. The series always seemed deeper than the the typical war comic, which may have been its attraction.
Enemy Ace never really had his own ongoing comic. Instead, he was usually a backup story in the various DC was comics that were being produced. He did get to spotlight on a number of covers, including the one here.
Kubert collaborated with writer Robert Kanigher to create Enemy Ace, who first appeared in Star-Spangled War Stories No. 151 (February 1965).
Ragman from the Mid-1970s
The Tatterdemalion of Justice
I remember the day I first spotted Ragman No. 1 in the Krauszer's convenience store in my neighborhood. It was in 1976 and I remember the cover of the comic (seen here) looked kind of weird. Although it was superhero book it looked a bit more like a horror or thriller comic. The nice thing back then is that comics were so cheap that a teenage boy could afford to pick up just about every new comic on sale that week for less than $5, so I bit on it.
Ragman, co-created by Kubert and longtime collaborator Robert Kanigher, had one of those odd origins that really can happen only in comic books. The main character comes across his old father and his friends being electrocuted by fallen electrical wires and receives a massive shock trying to free them. When he awakes he finds the they have died but their abilities have somehow been transferred to his body, so he now has the agility of an acrobat, the strength of a body builder and the ability of a boxer. OK...so it's not the most plausible idea.
What was interesting is that the comic was meant to be more ``street level'' and gritty than the typical comic, so Kubert's art worked fairly well. The comic wasn't very popular however, and was canceled after only five issues.
And while I distinctly remember buying and reading the first issue, I can't even remember the others!
Superhero Toy Catalog
I've included this image only because I had this catalog tucked away in my collection since the mid-1970s, when I got it at a comic book store that existed back then in New Jersey's Woodbridge Mall.
The catalog is the shape and size of a regular comic book, with the same quality paper inside. On each page are toys, games, books and other items related to comic books, all drawn by Kubert.
I'm not sure why I kept the catalog -- or if I ever ordered anything from it -- but I remember thinking it was a pretty cool way to sell things to comic book fans!
Sgt. Rock, Tor, Tarzan, Enemy Ace? - Or Someone Else?
Which of these Joe Kubert series Is your favorite?
Joe Kubert Obituaries and Tributes
- RIP JOE KUBERT: From 'Sgt. Rock' to the Kubert School, creator-teacher leaves a legendary legacy [UP
RIP JOE KUBERT: From 'Sgt. Rock' to the Kubert School, creator-teacher leaves a legendary legacy.
- Joe Kubert, N.J. comic book legend, dead at 85 | NJ.com
Kubert created the comic book characters Tor and Sgt. Rock, and ran Dover's Kubert School, which attracted comic book hopefuls from around the globe.
- The Line it is Drawn: A Tribute to Joe Kubert
This is a collection of art tributes to Joe Kubert.
- Joe Kubert, R.I.P.
Mark Evanier's remembrances of Kubert.
- 25 Great Joe Kubert Covers
A Gallery of Kubert covers.
The Kubert School for Comic Book Artists
Located Right Here in New Jersey!
Joe Kubert's school opened in 1976 in Dover, New Jersey, and as a youngster I would see advertisements for the school in the comics I was buying. I remember thinking that was very cool.
Over the decades since the school opened Kubert and the other teachers have produced many well-known artists including: Stephen R. Bissette and Rick Veitch, artists who became known for their stints on DC Comics' Swamp Thing; Dan Parent, who drew Archie Comics; Rags Morales, an artist on DC Comics' Identity Crisis; Sherm Cohen, a storyboard artist and director of Spongebob SquarePants; and Brandon Vietti, the animation director of the Brave and the Bold animation series.
Another graduate is Fernando Ruiz, who also draws Archie Comics. My daughter and I were lucky enough to meet Ruiz when he appeared at a local comic book store, and he was kind enough to draw a picture of Archie's nemesis Reggie Mantle for her (It is framed on my daughter's wall).
A few months ago my daughter and I talked about visiting the school to see about its Saturday classes for beginners, but we ended up postponing the visit. That's a regret now, because it might have been a chance to meet Joe Kubert.
For more about the Kubert School, which offers a three-course in cartooning, see
Visiting the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning in Dover, N.J.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Were You Familiar With Joe Kubert Before Reading This Appreciation?
Adam Kubert, along with his brother Andy Kubert, followed father Joe Kubert's footsteps in becoming a comic book artist.
Adam Kubert is probably best known for his work on Wolverine and the X-Men, as well as the Ultimate versions of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. He also teaches at the Kubert School.
His work regularly appears on eBay if you are interested in buying any of it.
An Appreciation of Comic Book Artist Gene Colan
Another Comic Book Legend Who Also Left Us Recently
Gene Colan's career also started in the 1940s and lasted until his death in 2011. He was mainly known for his work on Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula in the 1970s, but he also had long distinguished runs on Captain America, Howard the Duck, Daredevil and Batman, among others.
Here is a review of his work that I wrote a short while after his death:
Gene Colan, Comic Book Artist: An Appreciation
Gene Colan developed such a moody, cinematic style during his six decades as a comic book artist that his work was as easily identified as the art of Jack Ki...
Comic Book Heaven in Baltimore!
Geppi's Entertainment Museum
If you are a fan of comic books and ever travel to Baltimore make sure you stop by Geppi's Entertainment Museum, which is right downtown near the Inner Harbor and baseball stadium.
The pop culture museum, founded by the CEO of Diamond Comics Distributors, contains one of the best collections of original comic books I have ever seen. Here is my review of the place:
Geppi's Entertainment Museum in Baltimore: A Tourist's Guide to Comic Book Heaven!
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New York Comic Convention
One of the most exciting things about being a comic book fan is going to a convention! Thousands of people crammed together in one place, some dressed in costumes, to look at and buy merchandise, meet writers and artists, and find out what the latest is in the world of comic books.
My daughter and I have attended the past two New York comic conventions, and here is our review of the one from October 2011:
New York Comic Con Anime Festival: A Comic Book Fan's Review!
The New York Comic Book Convention occurred Oct. 13-16, 2011, and coupled with the New York Anime Festival, drew more than 100,000 comic-book fans, video gam...
Yossel: The Life of a Young Jewish Artist in World War II Poland - One of Joe Kubert's Last Works
Yossel was published in 2011 and shows that Joe Kubert's great artistic power and vision remained even toward the end of his life. The graphic novel depicts the life of a Jewish Pole forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Kubert called this tale an account of what might have happened to him if his family hadn't immigrated to the United States.
Yossel is able to gain favors from the Nazis because of his artistic abilities, but that talent alone won't be enough to save himself during the uprising.
The book is illustrated in a very spare pencil drawings. Kubert said he decided against inking the illustrations because he wanted to keep the immediacy of the art. This book is well worth checking out to see a master artist at his best.
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Comic Book Artist Steve Ditko, Co-Creator of Spider-Man
Strange and Stranger: the World of Steve Ditko
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko is a biography of the comic book artist who co-created the Amazing Spider-Man in the 1960s, then turned his back on the series at its height and walked away from its success.
Ditko's style was nothing like Kubert's, and over the years his influence has probably diminished more than Kubert's.
But Ditko's impact will always be felt as long as Spider-Man is webbing his way through comic books, television series and movies!
For my review of Strange and Stranger see here:
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Of Comic Books and Family Vacations
More About Goldenrulecomics
For more about who we are and what we write about please see here:
Of Comic Books and Family Vacations: Who is GoldenRuleComics?
Who is GoldenRuleComics? Actually, the better question is who ARE GoldenRuleComics! I am the father of a teenage daughter, and we live in New Jersey. I hand...
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