Sunday, August 12, 2012

The day I met Joe Kubert

A few months ago, my colleague at Marvel, Senior Editor Nick Lowe, was kind enough to invite me to join him to spend a day working off-site at the Kubert School in Dover New Jersey, the three year technical school specializing in sequential art story telling.  In short, it's comic book college, and it was founded by a legend of the profession, Joe Kubert.

Our job that day was to review the portfolio of the school's soon-to-graduate senior class.  The day went very well--the school clearly doesn't just teach it's students how to be artists but also how to be professionals.  They were a group of smart, hard working students with some real talent, and I was happy to give them my advice and insight for whatever it was worth.

As the day wound down and we wrapped up with the students and were taken downstairs too spend some time with Joe Kubert in his office.  As we walked downstairs, I felt this sudden rush of anxiety.  I was nervous, and with good reason.

First of all, the Kubert School itself uses an old high school building for it's campus.  It was picked, in part, because the tall, wide windows provide optimum lighting for the students to work on their projects.  Joe's office was once, I assume, the principal's office.  I instantly felt like a seventeen year old boy in trouble.  But more importantly, Joe Kubert is, as I mentioned before, a legend in our industry.  The man's first paying work was technically in 1938 when he was 13 years old.  He started drawing in the Golden Age of Comics.  He was (I believe) still working up to this year.  His school produced some of the finest artists working in comics today.  It could be argued that he's responsible for a generation of comics art.

I'm telling you all of this so that you'll understand why I entered his office and instantly said to myself, "You have no business offering your opinions on comics to this man."

Yet, Mr. Kubert was an incredibly warm, welcoming man who treated myself and Nick as equals -- as fellow professionals in the field. At eighty-five years old, he was sharp as ever.  Still, I stayed pretty quiet and listened. I coasted on my expert listening face until Joe turned to me and asked me directly, "Tom, what do you think?"

Seriously? Joe Kubert just asked me what I "thought"? Joe. Kubert. Really? This was happening in my life?
I'm quick to mock myself as one of the comic biz's least knowledgeable editors when it comes to my knowledge of the business's history.   So I can't say I was ever intimately familiar with Joe's work as a reader.  But I know his impact.  I work with artists who studied under him.  I work with artists who worked as art assistants to him.  To have this man ask me my opinion felt important.  Perhaps even wrong.  How can this legend ask me, at best a novice and at worst a cowardly fraud what he "thinks" about comics?

But then something amazing happened.  I answered. And I listened to myself -- I was making sense.  I was speaking like a knowledgeable professional.  Again, I have no memory what we were talking about.  I just know I was right.

"I agree with you, Tom." Joe told me when I finished my point, adding, "I couldn't have said it better myself."

I'll bet he could.  Shortly after that conversation, we left Joe's office and began our trip back to New York.

When I found out a few hours ago that Joe Kubert died today, I froze.  I was walking down a busy sidewalk and stopped right in my tracks.  This is a man who I spent about 30 minutes of my life talking with, and yet, the effect he had on me may have very well changed my life.  And all he had to do was ask me my opinion and then confirm for me that maybe, just maybe, I'm not an idiot.  I believed in myself that day.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Kubert family today.  The man lead an amazing life and while we should celebrate that fact, there's nothing harder than losing someone you've loved who has always been there.  I don't know what I want my life to be, but I know one thing -- if I'm the kind of person whose death can stop a man I met once in his tracks and whose words can inspire a near stranger, well, then, I'll feel I did all right.

Thanks for making me believe in myself, Mr. Kubert.


Skalded said...

Thanks for this.

Alisha said...

I wish I met him too :-(

Alisha said...

I wish I met him too :-(