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Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert Paperback – November 17, 2008
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“Kubert’s story is basically the story of American comics.”
- Steven Grant, ComicBook Resources
“Man of Rock gives you a sense of a life in comics very well lived. Bill Schelly’s sunny biography...captures for posterity Kubert’s winning, take-no-guff spirit.”
- Tom Spurgeon, Comics Reporter
“Journeyman artist, editor, entrepreneur and educator gets his due in this smart and readable volume”
- Richard Pachter, The Miami Herald
About the Author
Bill Schelly is an Eisner-nominated comic-book and film historian; he lives in Seattle.
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This book looks at the origins of Kubert's family, his Jewish parents' wise decision to leave Poland in the 1920s and their struggles to make it in the United States as newly-arrived legal immigrants. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Joe began his career in the field of comic book art, doing piecework and learing from the very best in the field at the time. He was given entire stories to do on his own at a fairly early age and even worked his own comic series for a time. Eventually he became an artist for DC comics, where he has made an indelible mark on pop culture.
The book is well-illustrated with examples of Kubert's artwork as well as pictures of him and his family through the years. Told in an anecdotal style, it sometimes wanders from the main subject yet manages to give the reader a feel for the man. An excellent study of this great artist.
However it wasn't the character but the artwork that made Hawkman a standout among the super heroes of the early 1960s. Most of those super doers were drawn with a very slick line and the spotting of blacks were used sparingly. The artist on Hawkman, however, used a deceptively rough line and made liberal use of blacks which gave the artwork a rather foreboding atmosphere. I learned that this artist was Joe Kubert. As a young teenager just beginning to look at comic book art seriously I gravitated toward the more slick work of people like Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene. A year later I started to become aware of emerging comics fandom. One of the first rallying cries of this young movement was "Save Hawkman by Kubert" The Brave and Bold issues of Hawkman that I had purchased were the second tryout for the Winded Wonder and apparently the sales were not warrant giving the character his own book. Fans began besieging National Comics (now DC Comics) with a letter campaign to not only publish Hawkman but to keep Kubert as the artist. Part of Kubert's appeal as artist was that he had drawn the strip years earlier during the Golden Age. It was natural for the fans of the older comics to want to see one of their favorite artists work on a strip that he had cut his eye teeth on years earlier. However that was not to happen. Hawkman next appeared as a backup strip in Mystery in Space with the very slick Murphy Anderson doing the art. Eventually in 1964 Hawkman received his out bi-monthly title again with Anderson doing the art chores. I'll have to admit I preferred Anderson's Hawkman work at that time to Kubert's.
However over the years I became more and more to appreciate the virtues of Kubert's wonderful storytelling abilities. I even began to like his work on things like Enemy Ace. He was (is) simply a great comic book designer and even his use of blacks and that not so slick line worked very well. He is truly a master of the comic book medium.
In 1977 at the San Diego Comic Convention had the pleasure of sitting at his banquet table and told him that I'd grown to really appreciate his work.
Bill Schelly has written an excellent and thorough summary of Kubert's life. He starts his story with Kubert's grandparents in Poland setting the stage for Kubert's parents emigrating to America in 1925 shortly after Joe was born. Schelly skillfully weaves the tapestry of Kubert's life with anecdotes, comic book history, his family context and how Kubert approaches his craft. How do you critique a living legend's work. Schelly does a commendable job in describing and analyzing Kubert's growth as a artist. Kubert wasn't always the flawless visual storyteller. Kubert grew and improved in his craft from the very start in 1938 as a 11 1/2 year old boy visited Harry "A" Chesler's comic book production shop and began asking the artists a lot of questions and actually doing some work. Schelly follows Kubert's career trajectory through the 1940s with his work on Hawkman to the 1950s with his friendship/partnership with Three Stooges manager Norman Maurer and his part in launching 3D comics and his caveman strip Tor. The late 1950s saw him returning to National where he teamed up with writer Robert Kanigher to create one of comic's most enduring war heroes, Sgt. Rock. Then came the revival of Hawkman. Why didn't Kubert stay with Hawkman? Mostly Sgt. Rock was a much more popular character and Kubert was needed to chronicle his adventures. Then came the amazing Enemy Ace and in the late 1960s he got his chance with a syndicated newspaper strip called the Tales of the Green Berets. In the early 1970s DC Comics acquired the rights to publish Tarzan and Kubert produced some of his greatest work--a homage to one of his artistic heroes-Hal Foster. After that we discover the circumstances behind founding of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Arts in New Jersey. In more recent years Kubert has been involved in writing and drawing excellent and well-received autobiographical graphic novels such as Fax from Sarajevo and the alternative reality biography Yossel April 19, 1943.
Bill Schelly has matured as a writer and toward the end of the book renders a profound, sensible and articulate summary to a man who has given much to his family, his profession, his art and society. For anyone interested in comics history or Joe Kubert this book is highly recommended. While this reviewer believes in divine providence I appreciate Joe Kubert's positive estimate of his own life, "I really am the luckiest man on earth."
He arrived at the Harry A Chesler shop, a precoucious 11 year old eager to learn. At $5 a week, he practised and watched the industry grow from the Shops. Growing up as a professional artist while still in school, Joe's early work can be found in books from Fox, Quality, Fawcett, MLJ, and eventually DC comics. His stops at the Demby, Eisner, and finally the DC shop under Shelly Mayer proved valuable.
His age presented no barrier to his development. He learned at the elbows of the early practishoners that included Irv Novick, Tex Blaisdell, Alex Kotzky, Lou Fine, Will Eisner, Nick Cardy, Reed Crandall, Jack Coke, and many other talented individuals. His first published work was for Hollyhoke, a back up story that featured Voltron that Kubert thought stunk. For a young artist of 13, it was the beginning of a long career that still continues today.
"Man of Rock" is an amazing, in depth, passionate, detailed, living chronology of the story of Yosaif Kubert. Schelly discusses his beginings in the Jewish ghetto, and his rise to prominence from janitor to art school owner/director/teacher. The book is addictively fascinating, with each chapter unveiling the genesis of Kubert through his work and interests. It is very fitting that he and his late wife Muriel, created the Kubert School to mentor future artists given his steep learning curve in the shops at the tables of the legends.
Within the pages, Schelly discusses the Sgt Rock, the Green Beret, Tarzan, his graphic novels, his school, his early work at DC with All American, and St John on the 3-D titles. In discussion with Mr Kubert once, he told me that this book was coming out, and that he had no choice but to co-operate as Schelly had talked to all of his friends already!
I am glad that he did.
This book is truly amazing. If you can imagine that this man, in his early 80's now, is still creating published material for DC, and teaching, then you need to read this book. As passionate as WIll Eisner was about sequential art, Kubert is about passing on his skills and storytelling.
Thank you Mr Schelly and Mr Kubert.