- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

Here’s the 50th presentation in an open-ended series that profiles the elite of the comic-book industry.

This month, I sneak into the cerebrum of Joe Kubert and ask him to give readers a piece of his mind.

The legendary artist has remained a vibrant part of the sequential-art world for more than 60 years — thanks not only to his famous New York illustration school, but also to his pioneering work on such characters as Enemy Ace, Hawkman, Flash and Tor and on recent graphic novels such as “Fax From Sarajevo.”

Mr. Kubert, 77, recently brought back one of his toughest heroes, Frank Rock, with the help of writer Brian Azzarello, in the DC Comics 144-page graphic novel “Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place.”

Here, in his own words, Mr. Kubert shares his story:

Education: I just squeaked through high school. I went to the High School of Music and Arts (in New York City), lived in Brooklyn, and I took the subway train 11/2 hours each day to school. In those days, the subway cost a nickel a day, and when my folks moved from New Jersey, I transferred to and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School.

Getting started: I was extremely lucky. I got my first jobs at 11 years old, and that was because people were so kind to help me. Then, as now, in order to learn what it is about, you had to get the information from guys that were doing it. They told you about the brushes, the pens, the ink.

And the guys in my business are the kindest guys you could know. We are all trying to do the best, and we all know how tough it is. So it is a group that helps each other.

My first job: I got my first job, a five-page story called Volton, while I was in still in high school, and I went up to MLJ Comics, the original Archie comics, after this friend of mine said, “You do stuff better than I see in comics.”

So at the age of 11, I took a bunch of drawings wrapped in newspaper, and with my folks’ approval, went to Canal Street in New York City. I was so taken by what I saw and how kindly I was treated, I kept going back, and little by little began getting assignments. The first was Volton, for which I was paid $5 per page — and $25 was a lot of money back then.

How my parents helped: When I was a child, they were always encouraging to me.

Someone who is making a job drawing must be one of the luckiest people in the world, and my father, who recognized my love for drawing, always encouraged me and pushed me to do more. He used a very clever line, and only with years of age did I begin to understand what he was saying. He would look at a drawing and say, “That looks really, really good; you almost got it 90 percent.”

And what he was saying was try for that other 10 percent.

My Dad was a butcher, and my Mom had a small restaurant. In the back were three rooms that we all lived in, and my mother cooked in the restaurant and watched over and cared for the family.

I said that I started working and making money at 11 and 12 and by the time I was 13, I was making more money than my father … and the money went directly to the treasurer (meaning Mr. Kubert’s mother or father).

Tips on succeeding as an artist: To create comic books, you need to know how to write and be able to funnel your ability. You have to read a heck of a lot, and you don’t start off by exaggerating, but first learning what anatomy looks like.

So it is important that they get a broad education — read, learn about all aspects of life, and we hope to be able to inject those things into everything we do. And that is a mistake that young people are doing. While a lot of things on comic-book pages are impressive, to try to learn just from those things is like trying to learn the basics from the interpretation of an interpretation, of an interpretation. For example: The figure needs to be learned and sketched from live models, not from someone else’s already exaggerated drawing.

The greatest writers, of course, are Jack London, [Ernest] Hemingway, [John] Steinbeck … the kind of dialogue and descriptions, the kind of words [and] where they should be used, without all the superfluous things that take away from impact; the titles of the books. I read almost every day.

About the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art: We are here for our 28th year … never dreamed it would last this long. It’s a small school; our full enrollment is only about 150 to 200 people learning here a year. Anyone that comes undergoes a personal, rigid interview and [review of] their portfolio to tell us what they are interested in. It is a cartooning or illustration school. If someone wants to be in advertising or portrait school, this is not the place.

It is a tough go. For three years, the average student is drawing eight to 10 hours a day six to seven days a week because this is what they want to do … and if they don’t want to do this, they should not be here. Our percentage rate of employment is between 80 [percent] and 90 percent, and they are well-prepared to go out and get a job in syndication, storyboards, comic books. What we teach is how to tell the story with pictures.

Favorite project: That is hard to answer, because whenever I sit down to do any piece of work, I try to focus in on it and try to work at it as hard as I can to derive satisfaction. So every job — editing, gave it everything; drawing, I enjoy that; [Ive] taken on a strip — my attempt is to make the next one better than the last.

I enjoyed “Between Hell and a Hard Place” because it was beautifully written and the people allowed me full freedom with the control of the graphics, inking, lettering [and] coloring, so I got a great deal of satisfaction out of working on it.

I am now working on a crime story during the decade between 1930 and 1940 in Brooklyn … and I am writing and illustrating it as well.

I enjoy what Brian [Azzarello] did in his writing. But being able, as I was when I did Yossel, the book on the Holocaust — being able to control the whole job … well, I like being given the voice. I like that.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail [email protected] or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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