Think you know everything about the holocaust? You should read “Yossel” by Joe Kubert to see a powerful graphic novel written and drawn by the best there ever will be in the art of comic storytelling.
I’ll leave it to Google to share the incredible body of work Joe produced. I want to write about the man I knew.
The comic industry has lost a great educator and comic artist who inspired me while I was attending the Kubert School. I travelled from Nigeria to attend the Kubert School, then known as the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, in a small town called Dover, New Jersey. His sons, Adam and Andy, were my classmates (in fact, my drawing table was next to Adam’s).
Andy picked me up from JFK International airport and drove me to my Dover accommodation, the Carriage House, where I lived and eventually shared with other students. Joe would come to me during his Narrative Art class, held back then at Baker Mansion, to ask if I was OK and was settling in nicely. I had travelled from Nigeria to the U.S. in my teens and on my own. He and his wife Muriel, the backbone of the school, were very protective of me. His family was so good to me.
He asked me to assist with the Saturday Sketch Classes at the school and also passed on commissioned work to me to do from clients who had approached the school for one project or the other. He would also arrange for me to go to events, mostly in New Jersey and not far from the school, to do caricatures. He also entrusted the school’s keys to me to open up the school as at when needed. My first drawing in a DC comic book was through him.
Each time I travelled to New York, I would hop on a NJ Transit train from New York to Dover to visit the Kubert School. Joe, always humble, would make himself available to see me anytime I made the visit and would give me a hug. He wouldn’t do that to many.
I’m still feeling emotional, but we have to resign ourselves to the fact that good people here today will not be around forever. In 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jersey City, Joe was honoured with National Cartoonist Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. I made it a point of duty to be there and see him being honored. It was an opportunity to see two of my mentors, Kubert and the late Jerry Robinson, at the same gathering, and what a happy reunion it was. Many swarmed around the great man like flies wanting to talk to him. That alone epitomized his achievement and greatness. Listening to Joe during the Reuben awards weekend, it was obvious that he was already passing on the day to day running of the prestigious school to his sons, Adam and Andy and his loyal team including the Mike Chen.
Not only was he a great comic artist, he also was a shrewd business man. He showed us more than just how to draw. In face, one of the courses I did while at school was called Business of Art.
Joe never retired – he kept drawing and worked at a high level until the very end. When he took ill, I understand that he even took along his final work with him to the hospital.
The Kubert School is America’s only accredited trade school for comic book artists, which Joe founded in 1976 with his wife Muriel. I became a much better professional artist after attending. I believe this is the case with alumni Kubert school mates and professionals such as Graham Nolan, Bjorn Ousland, Rob Smith Jr, Adam and Andy Kubert, Bart Sears, Jay Geldhof, Jerry Fuchs, Eric Shanower and Bill Schultz, to mention a few.
I was so close to Joe, London-based journalist Paul Gravett asked for me to arrange a meeting with Joe when he visited London with Muriel. When we saw each other, Joe gave me an autographed graphic novel of his “Fax from Sarajevo.” In it he wrote: ”To my “adopted” son with regards and warmth – Joe Kubert”.