Karen Berger Remembers Joe Kubert
Joe Kubert had a special kind of life-force. Certainly, he was a gifted artist and master storyteller, but it was his integrity, passion, kindness, and strong sense of conviction that I’ll remember most. He was like family.
Joe was one of our medium’s true pioneers. Drawing since he was old enough to hold a piece of chalk, he started professionally illustrating at age 12 and never stopped. Over seven decades, he had drawn scores of memorable characters for many companies, but primarily for DC: most notably Hawkman, Tarzan, Enemy Ace, Batman, The Flash; he was also co-creator of Sgt. Rock, Ragman and creator of Tor. In addition, Joe was DC’s Editorial Director from 1967-1976 and soon after leaving staff he founded the cartooning school that bears his name with his wife, Muriel. The Kubert School is the only full-time accredited college devoted to comics, and has graduated many of our industry’s finest artists. Most special to me, were those first few graduating classes, with Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch and Tom Yeates, amazing creative talents and longtime friends of mine.
While Joe was expanding the Kubert School and teaching full-time, he was still drawing full-time. And in the years to come, he created his most personal works: Abraham Stone, Fax from Sarajevo, Jew Gangster, Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965, and for me his masterpiece, Yossel: April 19, 1943. Joe’s family emigrated from Poland when he was a baby and Yossel is the tragic, inspiring and all-too-real story of what might have been if they had never left. Reproduced entirely from Joe’s pencil art, the emotion and vitality of Joe’s work has never been as effective, enduring and heart-stopping.
When Joe suddenly got ill a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about him. I remembered that in 1980, the first cover I commissioned as an editor was from him for House of Mystery #292. During the next several years while Joe was still editing Sgt Rock, he would come into the offices at 75 Rock once a week to handle business and to meet with writer Bob Kanigher, his longtime collaborator. The two of them couldn’t have been more different. But, they were both storytelling masters who loved to challenge each other. I always remember hearing loud voices coming from Joe’s office and seeing that gleam in his eye as he and Bob would go at it.
Joe was a man of unerring principle and conviction. And though he respected a lot of what Vertigo published, he would often tell me that he was worried that some of it was too strong, and he didn’t want me to get into trouble. Still, I think he was proud of me, and that’s what matters the most. And although most of his books weren’t published under Vertigo, it meant the world to me that he insisted that all of his most personal work be handled under my purview along with fellow Vertigo editor, Will Dennis.
Joe was up in the office just a couple of months ago and he looked as great as ever. Who would’ve thought that this almost 86 year old man who lived life to its fullest would be leaving us so soon. Artist, writer, teacher, father, grandfather, friends to many, Joe Kubert always claimed that he was a lucky man to have such a wonderful family and such a wonderful life. For those of us who have known this one-of-a-kind and genuine soul, we were also the lucky ones. What a talent, what a legacy, what a man.
Rest in peace, dearest Joe.