Behind the Kubert School: Part 1

A comics interview article by: Bryan D. Stroud

I had a germ of an idea not long ago and some of it was spawned by the routine comments I’ve received during some of my interviews. It’s one thing to be a comic book artist of renown, a perennial fan favorite, in fact and to have been at it for many, many years, but to also manage to earn the respect of your peers across the board, to be a successful editor and to have made another significant contribution to the field on top of it all is just tremendous. Who else could I be describing but Joe Kubert? Speaking of Joe, and many have, here are some of the comments from my interviews by other professionals:

I would have to say the all around best comic book artist who ever drew breath is Joe Kubert. -Clem Robins


You know I never met Joe. I always admired his work very, very much. -Jim Mooney


Kubert once said something very nice to his classes at his art school. He was talking about getting photographic reference to do stuff to get it right. “The one exception to that is that you can use Russ Heath’s art work. It is right.” (Chuckle) -Russ Heath


Joe Kubert was terrific. -Carmine Infantino, when asked about other pencilers he admired.


perhaps they ought to go to some of the best artists that were left in comic books and among which were Joe Kubert, who was the perfect guy for the strip. -Neal Adams on recommending Joe Kubert for the Green Beret daily strip.


So finally I started to do it, and I didn't like what I was doing, and the luxury of that particular job was that I didn't have to have it done right away, so I put it away for several days. Then I looked at a whole ton of Kubert comics and I tried to absorb it, and then I inked the thing, and I was really rather pleased by what I had done. I was so pleased that I wanted the okay of the High Father. I sent copies to Kubert, who is a lovely, lovely guy. Anything you hear about Kubert, he's a good guy on all levels. I sent him these Xeroxes, waiting for the feather to drop down the well and hear the splash. The splash didn't come. So finally I called him up. "Joe, did you get the Xeroxes?" He said, "Yeah." "What did you think?" He said, "Well, overall I don't think it turned out badly." And I was crestfallen. I thought to myself, "Well, I think I have to give up and do something else now with my life." But I didn't. And then I told Joe's sons, Adam and Andy the story, and they said, "Oh, that was like a rave from our father." "Oh, okay." I wish I'd known. (Chuckle) -Joe Rubinstein on inking Joe Kubert


Joe Kubert is one of my closest friends. He's a gem. He's a gentleman. He's exactly what the character is: Rock. That's Joe. -Jack Adler


My recent present to myself was a copy of Man of Rock, Joe’s biography by Bill Schelly and it is simply a master work. Schelly beautifully chronicles the amazing and continuing career of this giant in the field and I was particularly intrigued with the discussion of the founding of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in 1976.

It’s been going strong ever since and has created viable professionals for the cartooning industry. I thought it might be fascinating to hear a little from some of the instructors from the earliest days of the school, so I contacted a few for their remembrances, beginning with Dick Ayers.

Ayers has had a lifelong career in the comics business and was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2007. If you've read a handful of Silver Age titles, you can bet that you've seen some of his work, spending much of his time at Atlas and then Marvel.

Bryan D. Stroud for Comics Bulletin: What initially led you to the Kubert School, Mr. Ayers?


Dick Ayers: My friend Henry Boltinoff, the cartoonist, he was teaching there and it was coming toward the end of summer, so he said Joe Kubert was looking for somebody. “Why don’t you ask him?” So I asked him, and he said, “Okay, come on out to indoctrination day, and we’ll introduce you to the students.” So I went out and we met the students and as we left we met some of the other teachers and I said to Joe, “Gee, you never introduced anyone as teaching anatomy.” He said, “Well, you’re doing that.” So I ended up teaching anatomy.


BDS: (Chuckle.) You didn’t even know what you were interviewing for, huh?


DA: No. It was two classes I did and it was the same group because it was a two-year course, and I was pretty proud of the fact that the students asked Joe to have me carry right on with the second year, so I had the whole two years. When it came to the end of the second year, and I had them in front of me for about the last time, I said, “Now you guys are all my competitors.” I quit teaching.


BDS: (Chuckle.) So it was just the two years that you spent teaching?


DA: Just about that, yes. ’76 and ’77 I believe. I liked the class very much. I liked teaching them. In fact there was Jan Desema, Tom Mandrake, the fella that does Archie now.


BDS: How did you come up with your curriculum?


DA: Usually by being a day ahead of them. (Chuckle.) If it was something I didn’t know on the day I was there I’d say, “Well talk about that tomorrow.” I taught on Fridays, come to think of it. Just Fridays.


BDS: Not a whole lot of commuting to do, then. Now you did most of your work at Marvel, so had you met Joe before?


DA: No. Only one time or another when I was looking for work. I never did anything for DC until later on when I did know Joe from the school and somehow I just made my way over to DC and got on Jonah Hex and Kamandi.


BDS: Were you inking after Jack again on Kamandi?


DA: No. When I got over there I was penciling layouts and somebody else would do the inking.


BDS: Okay. My knowledge is geared more toward DC’s Silver Age, but I read recently that you were considered one of the Big Four at Marvel: Kirby, Ditko, Ayers and Heck.


DA: Yeah. We were at the beginning. Kirby came along a little bit later. In that period it was mostly Paul Reiman and [Don] Heck and Ditko and me and then along came Jack just about the time when Stan started the monsters. And he was a natural for that, boy. That was a good series.


BDS: Oh, yeah. He made a real reputation with that even though the later hero stuff eclipsed it. That time period can’t be underestimated.


DA: No. I loved it. The pencils I got done were delivered by mail. Special delivery. And he always came at 7:30 in the morning and when I opened it up that was when I first saw the stories, for the first time. The monster stories. And I’d be really elated to see these gigantic monsters, and at the time we were drawing them we were doing them on 12 x 18 pages.

BDS: Oh, yeah, the twice-ups.


DA: Twice-ups, yeah. It was great. Get a No. 6 brush and really lay on it.


BDS: Never to be seen again. I’m sure you’ve seen how much is done on the computer now.


DA: It’s horrible. And the guys using the color overdo it. They haven’t been taught when to stop. It’s all just a mish mash and runs in together. They don’t see the pictures by themselves and progress with the story, if you follow me.


BDS: Yeah. Stan Goldberg said something similar. He thought the modern coloring techniques weren’t stacking up at all.


DA: I’ll get one of the westerns sometimes and they’ll have some new title of western and they’re well drawn, but the color is horrible. You don’t have the distinction. With Stan it stayed simple: Reds, yellows and blues. I loved Warren Beatty for that, because when he did Dick Tracy the movie, he stuck to those colors. He had Dick Tracy wearing a yellow hat and a yellow coat.


BDS: Any other significant memories?


DA: I remember Henry Boltinoff telling me that Joe will never ask you to work for him, you’ve got to ask to work for Joe.


I’d enjoyed a nice interview with Irwin Hasen awhile back, but we didn’t talk much about his time at the Kubert School. Irwin was a long-timer, only retiring in the recent past after a 30+ year run.

BDS: How did you happen to start at the school, Mr. Hasen?


Irwin Hasen: Well, I’ve known Joe Kubert since we were both about 19 years old. That goes back about 70 years ago. So that’s a long time to know somebody. And we became friends and then he went on his way and I went on my way doing my strip and everything and one day he said, “I’m opening up a school.” This is 30 years ago. He said, “Would you like to come and teach?” I said, “Yeah. Once a week would be fine.” That’s the way it worked out.


BDS: Terrific. I’ve seen that famous photo of you and Joe on the beach in California back in the day.


IH: That’s right.


BDS: When I talked to Joe he thought most people who came to teach at the school did it mostly out of a sense of giving something back.


IH: Well, it wasn’t for the money, that’s for sure.


BDS: (Laughter.)


IH: All I wanted to do was get the hell out of the house in the morning once a week.


BDS: I can’t blame you a bit. I’m sure being a freelancer like that you’d start climbing the walls.


IH: Yeah, that’s right. So this is a good chance for me to have a nice day; a full day and also I was interested in those kids.


BDS: Good for you. What was your specialty?


IH: My specialty was how to draw. Not how to draw a comic strip, but just how to draw for comic books mostly.

BDS: So sequential art then.


IH: Yeah.


BDS: Were there any students that really stand out in your mind?


IH: Oh yes, quite a few, but the names are not coming to mind right now. Steve Bissette was one of them, who is now a top guy in the business. There were some people who left that school in very good shape.


BDS: Oh, yes. Joe said one of his goals was to create an environment that would make them viable candidates to go into the industry.


IH: That’s right.


BDS: Apparently it’s been very successful.


IH: Very much so.


BDS: Did you find it rewarding to be a teacher?


IH: Oh, yes. That’s why I did it. I wouldn’t have done it if I got bored. There have been a few top guys in the business who come there to teach and inside of two months they leave. It’s the nature of the beast. An instructor or teacher really has to put his heart into it.


BDS: I’m sure it’s a labor of love.


IH: Absolutely.


BDS: You were at it for over 30 years?


IH: 30 years. I can’t believe it. While I was doing my strip, Dondi, I was teaching once a week. Why, I don’t know.


BDS: (Chuckle.)


IH: I have no idea what drove me to do this.


BDS: Several factors, I’m sure, not the least of which enjoying what you were doing.


IH: Yes, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t.


BDS: How did you come up with your curriculum?


IH: I just went home one day before I started and worked out a curriculum that I thought would be advantageous to the students that would cover what they’d encounter when they got out of school.


BDS: Kind of a practical guide then.


IH: Absolutely.


BDS: Since you were there so long you must have run across some other good teachers.


IH: Oh, yes. Hy Eisman, who does Popeye and the Katzenjammer Kids. He does a syndicated strip and he was the first instructor, by the way, before me. The Hildebrandt brothers did wonderful poster work. They were illustrators and they came for a couple of years. There was a wide spread of different artists who felt they wanted to teach. Very few of them lasted as long as Hy and myself. Some I never saw because we all taught on different days.


BDS: Did either Adam or Andy come back to teach?


IH: I believe so, but of course they’re busy working for DC.


BDS: They’re definitely in demand.


IH: Oh, yes. Very talented. I taught them everything they knew.


BDS: (Laughter.)


Click here for the second installment, featuring the late Ric Estrada and Joe Kubert himself.

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