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Joe Kubert: Genius, Hero, Creator, Landsman

For those of you who are reading this for the comics, I’m sure you know by now that the great Joe Kubert has passed on. "Kubert"—like "Eisner", "Kirby" and "Romita"—is one of those names that calls up magnificent images of the master craftsman, bent over his drafting table, creating new worlds and spinning new yarns to be enjoyed by kids (and eventually, adults) the world over at ten cents a comic. Boy geniuses, as Chabon referred to them, who built the bones of today’s vast sequential landscape and whose work has been studied and displayed, and from which a whole new generation of boy—and girl!—geniuses have been inspired.

Like Will Eisner, one of the things that always resonated with a Yid like me was how much of Kubert’s work expressed who he was as a Jew, where he came from and what that meant. Whether it be Easy Company protecting refugee Jews in wartorn Germany, a tatterdemalion protector judging evil with the help of a kabbalistic suit of rags, or simply telling the story of Jewish boys surviving the war, the gangs, the world it connected me to his work in a way only few had done so before.

His craft, his line—things of beauty, his artwork so recognizable and lovely that its graced many a gallery wall. “That’s a Kubert,” you’d say, and realize what the statement meant to generations of fans and admirers of fine art, both sequential and otherwise. His influence is wide and far-reaching, most notably due to the school dedicated to comic artist and cartoonists here in New Jersey and the many, MANY well-known creators that have graced its halls as both instructors and students. One such artist, my friend Kevin Colden, worked with me on a short-lived web comic called Todt Hill. Another, a slight young man named Jake Allen, co-authored my first “real” graphic novel, Brownsville, a book about young Jews becoming hardened gangsters in East New York, forming the nucleus of the notorious hit organization, Murder Incorporated. As it happens, Joe knew a little bit about that subject, as well; he’d lived it, and chronicled it in the pages of his own graphic novel about the subject, Jew Gangster, appearing on shelves the same month as my own. Compared to Kubert’s original poem of boys and bullets, ours seemed like nothing more than a dramatized transcript…but both story and art moved me in such a way that I vowed to try harder next time, to reach for Kubert’s benchmark no matter how far off it seemed.

As noted elsewhere, I only met Joe Kubert the one time. We’d both been added to a list of Jewish comic book folk invited to a “Jews in Comics” event at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan—I’d attended as an artist-in-residence, sketching for fans and promoting Brownsville. Mr. Kubert, meanwhile, was scheduled to attend as guest of honor, featured speaker and local legend. An hour or so into the event, Kubert appeared on the floor and, casting about for the event organizer, approached my table for bearings. “Excuse me,” he said, “I’m speaking today. The name’s Kubert. Maybe you’ve heard of me?” Stunned at being spoken to by a role model, taken aback by his understated humility, I assured him that, yes, I had indeed heard of him. He flipped through the Brownsville promo packet, nodded at Jake’s work and mentioned that he was working on something in the same vein, and I gushed about his work on Sgt. Rock, Hawkman and my favorite, Ragman. A moment or two later the man was whisked away into the auditorium—a few minutes talking comics with a legend, a short time but it meant so much.

Kubert leaves behind such a vast, influential legacy on a number of levels: his characters, his stories, his artwork, students and sons—both well-known, working comic book artists with fans, students and legacies of their own. He fought evil, both on and off the page, and built universes—and artists!—for the betterment of our own.

Joe Kubert—genius, war hero, creator, teacher, inspiration and landsman—made awesome, exciting comic books until the day he died.

Every one of us that inspires to do the same should learn from his example.

Rest in Peace, Joe. Baruch Dayan HaEmet —”Blessed is the True Judge”

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