Former Students Remember JOE KUBERT the Teacher

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. - Henry Brooks Adams

Dover, NJ's The Kubert School

The influence of any creative person is hard to quantify. But with a teacher like Joe Kubert, who passed away on Sunday, it's a task of mammoth proportions.

"Just in his art alone, and what he did just as an artist, is so influential," artist and Kubert School graduate Dan Parent told Newsarama yesterday. "But the work he did through the Kubert School brought it up to another level. And he was so dedicated to the school."

"The amount of professionals in comic books and outside of just comic books alone that he's helped create through the school is astounding," said Mike Pellerito, president of Archie Comics, which has a spot on the board of directors for the school.

The Kubert School, which Kubert and his wife Muriel founded in 1976, is continuing to offer its programs to aspiring comics artists. The school has been functioning under the direction of Kubert's sons, Andy and Adam Kubert, and so far, there's no indication that will stop in their father's absence.


In fact, Pellerito said he believes this year was one of the highest enrollment years The Kubert School has ever seen.

"Adam and Andy have stepped in," Pellerito said. "They've done a great job. The school is too much of an amazing experience. It has to carry on without Joe. It has to stay. And I think his sons will carry on that tradition."

"The school's now been around about 35 years, and its reputation stands for itself. The reputation it's had is amazing," Parent said. " I'm sure his sons will have a large hand in the continuation of the school, as they have had recently."

Since news broke about Kubert's death, his former students have been remembering their time at the Kubert School. With their words, a profile of the teacher and the importance of his schooling has emerged:

Knowledgeable Mentor

art from Rags Morales

"As a student it was always a pleasure to sit in his classes and just...listen," said Rags Morales, current artist on Action Comics. "He had an incredible ability to clearly and concisely express the nuts and bolts of our field so that it stayed with you forever."

"He was such a great teacher. He was one of the first teachers I had the first year, and he was a little intimidating," Parent said. "But he had this gift for teaching and sharing what he knew. He set out to make a school so it would be easier for younger generations to get into the business. What took him years and years to learn, he tried to get it down into a three-year course. You could sense the dedication he had wanting to help people break into the field.

"I don't know what I would do without the school. It was what got my career going," he added.

"He had an incredible way of teaching," Pellerito said, remembering his time as a student at The Kubert School. "He wouldn't get up and lecture, but it was like he had this vibe where you were working in his studio. He would just talk to you — you know, 'do it this way,' or 'try it this way.' He would just give you so much wisdom in a two-minute conversation. He was just so good at what he did. He knew it so well. And he could explain it to people, which is a very tough thing to do. You either have it or you don't, to explain how to do something that you know instinctually how to do. He could do that.

"I think Joe Kubert served as a father figure to a lot of wonderfully creative people in the comic industry and beyond. And he gave that to thousands of kids through his school," Pellerito said.

"He was always so helpful and positive, and was always very true and earnest in wanting to help young artists make it," Parent added.

Tough Critiques

art from Dan Parent

Parent said his most vivid memories of Kubert surround the teacher's critiques. "He taught narrative art, which was 'how to tell stories, how to lay out pages.' And I always remember going in there and having a sweaty palm from being nervous, because it wasn't just a critique — it was a critique from Joe Kubert," he said.

"I remember sometimes those critiques wouldn't go so well, and you wouldn't feel so great," he said. "But I also remember that if those critiques went really well and Joe had great things to say about you, you were really riding high. So that makes you work harder. I remember working really hard to get that approval from Joe, because if you got that, you had made it. That's my clearest memory of being Joe's student. "

Morales agreed that the critiques were tough, but incredibly informative and rewarding. "I always made it a point to everyone who would listen, if you were so inclined, to allow this man to critique your work. You would have grown immensely," he said.

Steve Lieber, artist on the recent critically acclaimed OGN Shooters, said the critiques were more than just a lesson on how to draw.

"We’d bring our work to him, and he’d take a moment to study it as a whole. Then he’d ask us a few incisive questions about our goals for a figure, a panel, a sequence. Just formulating the answers was valuable. Joe never let us lose sight of our role as communicators," he said. "There needed to be a reason for every choice we made on a page.

art from Steve Lieber

"Then he’d lay tracing paper over it and, with a soft lead pencil, would show us how we could tell the story more effectively," Lieber said. "If we’d fixed a problem he’d spotted in our work before, he’d note this. If we failed to fix it, he’d correct us again, sometimes with a bit of gentle ribbing. For all his gravity, he had a sense of humor, and he urged us to loosen up and not take ourselves so seriously. We were going to be learning throughout our entire careers, and we’d never be 100% happy with what we did. 'Do the best you can with the time allotted and move on.' 'If something didn’t work on this page, get it right on the next one.' 'Let yourself have fun with it.'"

Work Ethic

For students particularly remember Kubert as a "man's man," who not only taught a strong work ethic to his classes, but also lived a life based upon those ethics.

"He was sort of old-school, in that there were no short cuts, and you had to work hard," Parent said. "In his class, he would tell us you have to work six to eight hours a day just drawing. We had to get all those bad drawings out of us that were inside of us, to become good artists. It was that sort of old-school work ethic, and I think it really helped all of us. Any of us who really wanted to be serious comic book artists, we watched him. He paved the way for everybody else."

"The man had a titanic work ethic," Lieber said, "teaching and dealing with administrative matters at the school while continuing a productive freelance career, keeping in shape, staying active in his community and being there for his family. He never seemed to be in a hurry, but he got a lot done, all while maintaining the gravity and authority of an Easter Island statue. A young artist couldn’t ask for a better role model."

"Joe was not just a legend of mythical proportions artistically, but in his presence there was a air of greatness about this man," Morales said. "So sharp and spry over the years, it's hard to imagine this behemoth of energy can ever be gone from our sights."

"Joe was always really nice, patient, had good advice when it came to illustration and work ethic and I've been able to carry everything I've learned at his school with me long after graduation," said Kubert School graduate Charles P. Wilson, illustrator on The Stuff of Legend.

art from Charles P. Wilson

"Last time I went to a board meeting, which was less than a year ago, Joe still had this handshake that could crush walnuts," Pellerito said with a laugh. "Like, the strongest handshake in comic books. That was who he was.

"He looked like a superhero, and every time I'd see him, he'd pat me on the belly and make fun of me for being, you know, thick in the middle and things like that," he said. "He just had this wonderful way of being a really good person, yet also the strongest, toughest guy and greatest artist. There are a lot of great people in comic books, but there's nobody else like Joe Kubert in comics. And that says a lot."

Continuing Career

Kubert's former pupils also marveled over how Kubert was able to not only stay a great artist, but also grow as an artist, even in later years.

A Kubert School classroom

"One thing that must have helped Joe keep going was that while he always described drawing as work, he clearly loved doing it," Lieber said. "He attended the school’s evening life drawing sessions, not as an instructor, but just for the pleasure and the practice of drawing from a live model. The man was wrapping up his fifth decade as a working artist, and he still spent his free time doing figure studies, humbly recording observations in charcoal or chalk, seeing what else the model could teach him.

"In class, when he wasn’t critiquing or lecturing, he doodled with whatever tool was handy," he said.

"You look at the other great artists going back to the Golden Age," Pellerito said. "He was still one of the best artists in comics at 85. If he did something, you had to see it. You had to go out and buy it."


Morales pointed out that Kubert's art also evolved. "Picking up a Joe Kubert book was not just picking up a great read, but picking up history. You can see every inch of where this industry has gone and where it was going, and he was one of the elite few in our industry that got better with every project; as hard as that is to imagine," he said.

"Joe was the only— the only — comics artist who continued to get better and better over the years," said Kubert School graduate Karl Kesel. "His most recent projects were every bit as good as stuff he’d done ten, twenty, thirty years ago. He was still in his prime."

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