Joe Kubert started dragging his marker across the blank page.
“You need to plan out your drawing beforehand or it won’t come out correct…”
Nearly every Saturday morning, in the basement of the Baker Mansion in Dover, NJ, Joe would lecture the sketch class as he stood beside a large drawing pad. It was there that he would casually draw masterpieces before our eyes. He would draw superheroes, monsters, beautiful women, dinosaurs, caricatures of us and whatever else was on his mind at that moment. He would ALWAYS talk and discuss his process as he was creating, giving us a rare insight into his head as he worked. One thing was clear…this man LOVED to draw!
“…you can’t just start with an eye…”
Often I would copy what he was doing as he drew. Maybe, just maybe, I could capture a SHRED of that magic. I struggled diligently from 1979 until around 1983. The class boasted a wide range of people that came from all phases and walks of life. From retired plumbers to thirty-something business professionals to young kids…it was a random grouping of folks. But, we were all joined for those three hours by this inexplicable bond to DRAW. I’d always liked to draw, it was something that was encouraged by family and teachers in my elementary school, but I lacked any form of real focus, direction and maturity. Nothing seemed to get through to me. During that first lecture, however, Joe effortlessly drilled right through it all. Just WATCHING how he drew with such confidence…such EASE…it was an inspiration. I wanted to do THAT. I wanted to do what he was doing! It literally changed the trajectory of my life. Joe had this ability to bring all of these people, who would otherwise have no reason to be in the same room, together. We were united for a creative cause. He had this natural spark within him, and it crackled between everyone in the room.
“..and then just lay in a nose…”
I was immediately eager to go to the school “full time”. The assignments from the “regular” class that hung on the walls and lay around their work areas were amazing works of art to my eyes. They served as a major inspiration for me…a stepping stone. In addition, there was the classic original art from seasoned pro’s that hung casually around the mansion that almost illustrated our goal. Joe, who was one of those seasoned pro’s, was always supportive. He made himself available to this kid countless times, one on one, to help me with the texture of a tree or how to make a seated figure look more natural in a chair or the difference between drawing a child’s head compared to an adults head. When I first used the brush he saw me struggling and politely asked me if he could show me something. He took my brush and showed me how to dip it, how to twirl it to a point and then drew an elegant face with a few smooth and knowing strokes.
“…and then add a mouth at the bottom…”
I was accepted into the full-time school for the 1986-87 school year. I have to admit that I was a feeling little cocky going in for my interview. Thinking “I already know, Joe, so I’m totally in”. When the time came, and I was sitting in Joe’s office, I got my head on straight, though. He had this wonderful ability to cut through the bull crap and get me to see clearly. He commanded a certain respect, but not in a bullying kind of way. He truly deserved it because he would treat you with the same consideration. He reviewed my portfolio, commented that I’d improved since I was 12 and was very encouraging. He didn’t guarantee that I was accepted, but he gave me that fatherly look as we said good bye that gave me some confidence that my dream to be a real “Kubie” will probably come true.
“…and then just drop the other eye up here…”
The full-time school opened up a world of drawing that fueled me even more. The teachers and students would often challenge and inspire each other to do better work. We developed relationships that were an important foundation to starting careers and improving our skills. The 3 years at the school showed the rapidest improvement in my drawing ability to date, and I would think the same held true for most my classmates. Joe was very encouraging to me about my skills, but he knew I was still lacking the proper maturity and focus to really pull off professional work. He tried his damndest, but, to my eternal shame, my insecurities held me back from a few opportunities he made available to me over the years.
“..you need to plan where the ears go, you can’t just add one here…”
I would see Joe once in a while after my graduation in 1989. Joe was always there with a hearty pat on the back, where he would ask how my father and brothers were doing and, more importantly, how was my drawing coming along? Have I done anything for DC yet? For Marvel? At these moments, I couldn’t look him in the eyes. I’d look to the ground and just say “No.” One time he just quietly shook his head while looking at me and told me, “You are probably one of the most talented artists I have EVER met…and the LAZIEST!” I don’t remember how that conversation ended but I never left his presence feeling bad or discouraged. He had the ability to go beyond that.
“…and add the other ear on this side, expecting the head to be correct…”
The last time I saw him was in 2003. Jim Keefe, a friend from my graduating class, was kind enough to invite me to a visit he scheduled with Joe. It was a grand trip. We talked art, deadlines, tools, family, everything. I can’t imagine that he had the time to spend, but he did it with the offer to come back ANYTIME. If we were working on a project and needed him to look it over, he assured us, that we could call him. He was so generous with his time. As we were leaving he thanked me for an article I had written about my experiences at the school for Robin Snyder’s newsletter “the Comics” and then I begged him to please publish his sketchbooks. At Joe’s urging in 1979, I’d started regularly sketching from life to help my drawing. A practice I continue to this day.
The teacher’s assistant for the bulk of the Saturday classes when I started was Ben Ruiz, a student from the first ever class at the school.
“That head you just drew… it’s PERFECT!”
Joe laughed to himself as he looked at the perfectly drawn head that seemingly fell out of his marker onto the paper before our eyes…
“I’ve been doing this for many years now, so I’ve got a lot of practice. You guys need to plan it out first. DON’T DO WHAT I DO!”
But I wanted to, and I still do.Thank you, Joe. Your impact to the art field is huge, but I would argue that your influence beyond this is even larger. The profound and lasting impact you’ve had on SO MANY people’s personal and professional lives CAN’T be understated and will be carried on for generations to come.