Saturday, June 20, 2015

Man Of Rock!

Man of Rock, the biography of Joe Kubert by Bill Schelly was written when Joe was still alive. That's a great thing and speaks to the influence of Kubert which came quietly and relentlessly upon the industry he thrived in all his long career.

We follow Joe Kubert from before his beginning when his father and mother come to the United States as so many Jews did, when Joe was but a baby. But unlike many of the Jewish artists who filled the bullpens which generated so many comic book pages in the Golden Age, Kubert's story is not one of angst and suffering and resentment, but one of confidence and success and friendship.

From his earliest days, not yet twelve when he was helping out in notorious art shop of Harry "A" Chesler, he talks of artists who were willing to impart advice to a youngster eager to learn. He says of Chesler that he was a major influence and help when so many stories of Chesler's parsimony resonate through most comics histories of the era.

We follow Joe as he grows up, makes fast friend such as Norman Maurier with whom he worked on the very first 3-D comics, a place where his signature character Tor was first created. After the collapse of the 3-D craze, Kubert is able to find work at DC where unlike so many of his peers, he was able to stay for many uninterrupted years working on all sorts of things such as a Hawkman revival and war books which eventually yielded Sgt. Rock created by his long time collaborator Robert Kanigher.

Not all of it worked. Hawkman was the least successful of the Golden Age revivals and grand creations such as Enemy Ace were only able to find a strident but small audience.

Then Kubert began work on a comic strip with a war theme, recommended for the job by a young Neal Adams who was himself then going into comics. Tales of the Green Beret was a mild sensation but in the face of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War not a long term success.

Returning to DC (he never actually left) Joe finds his friend Carmine Infantino in charge and himself elevated to editor and handed his dream assignment, Tarzan. This is where I first fell in love with the masculine and brawny work of Joe Kubert, on these stories which dynamically evoked the savagery of ERB's immortal creation. Alas the Tarzan work was a limited success and other comics work called.

That and the Kubert School which was a blockbuster event in the Bronze Age of comics and offering opportunity to talents like Tim Truman, Tom Yeates, Stephen Bissette, and many more. It still exists to this day as far as I know.

And finally we follow Kubert as he enters his fully mature period with works like Fax from Sarajevo and Yossel, "graphic novels" which allow Kubert to express his exuberance in all its magnetic glory.

All through the saga of his life, Schelly tells us of a man who is supremely confident in his skills and his ability to live life on his own terms. A man with a steady eye and a ferocious handshake who inspires confidence in those around him, including his large family.

Joe Kubert's life stands out as a stark contrast to the usual comics artist saga, which is often filled with anxiety, poverty, animus, and regret. Kubert was apart from that, and he was lucky. He knew it then and we know it now.

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