Review: The Joe Kubert Archives Vol. 1: Weird Horrors & Daring AdventuresA comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Twenty facts and opinions about The Joe Kubert Archives Vol. 1: Weird Horrors & Daring Adventures:
1. It's a wonderful book, but that should be no surprise
The great Bill Schelly, the longtime fan who authored 2008's Man of Rock and 2011's The Art of Joe Kubert, has assembled a collection of 33 classic stories by Kubert from the 1940s and early 1950s – a range of material including pre-code horror, humor, war, super-hero and sci-fi stories, all lovingly assembled behind two hard covers and published on nice, thick paper. Schelly and the always sterling Fantagraphics production team do a nice job of preserving the look and feel of these comics while also cleaning up some of the ugly problems with registration and coloring often found when reprinting old comics.
2. Joe Kubert was amazingly talented, even when he was young
Kubert's art had a lot of rough edges when he was young, just like pretty much any artist. You can see strong traces of many of Kubert's influences in this work, such as Milton Caniff and Frank Robbins, but you can also see the slashing intensity typical of Kubert in many of his pages. That's along with the brilliant skills Kubert had with his page arrangements and storytelling – just look at that panel above if you want to see an example of a pretty perfect panel composition.
3. That said, Kubert was still a work in progress when he was young
Then again, look at the panel above for an example of Kubert at both his most awkward and most intriguing. The action in the background is a bit awkwardly drawn and the static black background in the scene takes away drama from the scene. But the storytelling elements of the scene are immaculate and the shots of the football player in the pink uniform (pink??) missing the player in the green uniform is wonderful storytelling.
4. Kubert started young
Kubert was only 18 when he drew "Murder in the Terminal", excerpted above, and you can see the awkwardness of youth on display in that tale. For the true Kubert fan, this sort of material is proof that the master cartoonist was actually young and inexperienced at one point, that the master cartoonist didn't just spring from the artistic skull of Athena, brush in hand and ready to draw brilliant comics. Just like everyone else, Joe Kubert did start out awkward and stiff before getting really great. Bill Schelly provides fans welcome proof of that fact that gives hope to mere mortals that we could actually create great comics too.
5. Kubert drew some stunning women
Packed all throughout this book are stories featuring some of the most beautiful women ever drawn in comics – exotic beauties, amazons, schoolgirls and gun molls. And each of those women is spectacularly gorgeous.
6. Kubert drew broad humor really well
The above page, from 1953, shows that the master cartoonist was equally at home doing broad humor as intense action/adventure…
7. He drew teen humor really well
…as well as lighter, Archie-style teen humor. Look at the wonderful emotion and charm of the page above!
8. Sometimes, though, Kubert would draw one image that could just stop you in your tracks
One page after the humor page posted a couple entries above this one comes the showstopping image directly above. When I saw that image, my heart skipped a beat and I had to stop cold for a minute, admiring the intensity and intelligence that went into creating an image like that illustration of death on skis. Everything about the image of "Death on Skis" is intended to maximize your attention to the image. From the way the creature seems suffused with an immediacy of effort, to the perfect use of blacks contrasting with the pop-out white background, everything draws your eye to this story and makes you want to read more.
9. If you hate Nazis, this is a good book for you
Yes, this book reprints lots of stories from the 1940s and '50s, so if you share that era's hatred of the evil Nazi menace, you get to see dozens of the Ratzis wiped out in this book.
10. You'll need to forgive a few racist images, though
Umm, yeah, it does have some of that shit, too. What can I say? We had just finished fighting the Japanese in 1946 and we were still mad at them. Umm, no? Damn, well, some stuff's just dated. What can you do? You kind of can't avoid that stuff in comics from the WWII and post-war eras.
11. Bad coloring can really add drama to certain scenes
One of the reasons I'm so glad that Schelly and Fantagraphics didn't add modern coloring to this book is that the original, shitty coloring in these stories can sometimes add a whole lot of intensity to potboiler stories. There's no reason for the monster in the panels above to be red or the people green (and I'm not clear why the monster changes color), but isn't that an intense and fun page anyway?
12. If you want intensity, draw a bunch of lions
Doesn't that panel above make you want to read the story it's excerpted from? All of 1946's "The Golem" is like that – a fever dream of revenge drawn by a Jewish kid who is still struggling with the incredible horrors of the Holocaust. In his The Art of Joe Kubert, Bill Schelly calls this story "one of the highlights of Kubert's early career", and he's right – this is a mindblower on most every level.
13. Sometimes early Kubert can remind you of early Steve Ditko
That sequence above reminds me a lot of the work of the early Steve Ditko, with the ugly face, massive intensity and overwhelming sense of items building up for stress in peoples' lives. Of course, Kubert started in comics a decade before Ditko, so the influence probably went the opposite way.
14. But most of the time early Kubert reminds readers of Milton Caniff…
The great Caniff of Terry and the Pirates fame was perhaps the most influential cartoonist of his time, and people like Kubert, Ditko and Carmine Infantino were deeply influenced by Caniff in their early days. Caniff's rich chiaroscuro brushwork was tremendously important to readers in the '40s and '50s, and some of comics' greatest cartoonists emulated Caniff.
15. …or of Frank Robbins
Robbins had an even more chiaroscuro oriented style, along with some often surreal intensity. For those of us who read Marvel Comics in the 1970s, Robbins was a chore to get through. But for artists in the '50s, Robbins was a master. Those artists were right, of course, and young Jason was wrong. Frank Robbins was an amazing cartoonist.
16. Honestly, a lot of the stories in this book are pretty much crap
Kubert was a great cartoonist, but lots of the stories in this book are cheesy or arbitrary or feel really dated. No surprise there. If you're the kind of person who will want to buy this book, you know that coming in and are surprised and happy when a story is as good as the art.
17. This book stands alone…
Any fan of Kubert will find a lot to love in this book. I mean, there are 33 classic strips reprinted Weird Horrors, and as you've seen, they're all pretty damn interesting at the very least and real classics at best. Some are available on the web, but none of those have been lovingly restored in the same way that these stories are restored, let alone published between two hard covers.
18. …but there are some real flaws in the book
Bill Schelly's introduction and biography are a bit slim in this book. There's no bibliography of the work that appears here, nor notes about when each story was created by Kubert. That makes for a really jarring experience when readers jump between a newer story that shows great confidence and an older story in which Kubert is still working out the kinks in his style. Also, the introduction is a mere three pages – barely enough to set a good context for what follows. Readers these days are so used to detailed and thoughtful intros to this sort of artistic collection that it seems strange to not receive an intro like that here.
19. You might want to read The Art of Joe Kubert to supplement this book
Thankfully, Schelly has already written the biographical information I'm asking for. Fantagraphics' The Art of Joe Kubert gives lots of context about the artist's life and career and – even better – reprints even more rarely-seen comics by the master cartoonist.
20. But overall this book is well worth picking up
There are many wonderful stories in here. "The Golem" is a true early classic, and Kubert's Sinbad stories are thrilling high adventure in the Rafael Sabatini mold. His horror stories are wonderful in that classic bizarre pre-code way that makes them thrill, and his crime stories are full of beautiful dames and flashing machine guns. If you're the sort of person who gets excited by the idea of a new book that reprints classic work by Joe Kubert, you will need to have this book. Despite its flaws, Weird Horrors & Daring Adventures is essential for anyone who loves the art of one of the greatest American cartoonists.