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Comics Legend Joe Kubert, 1926-2012: An Appreciation

Cover of 1969's DC Special #5, featuring Joe Kubert
DC Comics
Cover of 1969's DC Special #5, featuring Joe Kubert

Yesterday morning the comics medium lost one of its greatest creators, and one of its most influential teachers, with the passing of Joe Kubert.

Comics historian Mark Evanier posted a remembrance that highlights how warmly the man was regarded in the comics community — and how astonishgly quickly he worked.

Comic Book Resources has posted 25 of his classic comic covers; go look.

Kubert's comic book career began just a few years after comics did; he was 11 years old when he got his start as an apprentice at a comics publisher in 1937.

In the days when comics were considered dismissible and even disreputable junk, Kubert was a stylist who invested his panels with a painstaking visual heft. He used shadows to bring his colorful heroes into sharper relief — they stood out against backgrounds dark with crosshatched detail, their faces lined with an achingly human worry.

A Kubert cover presents you with the gooniest flight of comic-book absurdity -- a shirtless space cop with wings and a beak, say, or a machine-gun toting gorilla — and imbues it with a steadfastness, a permanence, an indelible and uncomplicated truth that defies logic.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Company
/ Joe Kubert
Joe Kubert
Sgt. Rock and Easy Company

He favored darker, heavier linework than most of his contemporaries, but he never let it weigh down his action. Instead, his figures were always dynamic, surprising, charged with urgency and danger. Every time his world-weary Sgt. Rock led Easy Company into another Sisyphean battle, you could practically smell smoke rising from the page.

His Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in New Jersey has produced several generations of comics creators (including his own sons, Andy and Adam Kubert) who have gone on to make their own, widely varied, contributions to the field: Amanda Connor, Rick Veitch, Eric Shanower, Steve Lieber, Scott Kolins, and many more.

In his later years, Kubert produced highly personal and moving graphic novels like "Yossel: April 19, 1943" (which imagines what would have happened to his family had they not fled Poland when they did) and the non-fiction "Fax from Sarajevo," an illustrated account of communiques from a friend trapped in Bosnia during the 1992-95 War in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The comics medium has finally come into its own as a viable means for telling many different kinds of stories; Joe Kubert was a catalyst for that change. His was the kind of serious talent that demands, with quiet conviction that cannot be ignored, to be taken seriously.

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Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

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