It’s such a pleasure watching a master at work. And there’s no question that this book is the creation of a master cartoonist who is showing all his skills and making it all seem easy.
Page after page is filled with Kubert’s customary terse, dramatic, spectacular artwork. He puts on a virtual clinic on the art of panel composition and arrangement, pulling out a whole series of tricks to keep the eye involved. There are multi-panel compositions where characters move against static backgrounds and sequences where the perspective is like a film zoom, moving the reader closer to the dramatic image. There’s a sequence on page 135 where soldiers dash up a set of stairs that keeps focus on the stairs as the men run up them. On page 75 Kubert pans around a Nazi internment camp, doing a brilliant job of setting the scene. And the action scene on page 15 captures the intense drama of Sgt. Rock on the attack. Nearly every page has an amazingly smart sequence of art. And yet none of these sequences are distracting at all.
That’s really the most amazing aspect about the comic to me: Kubert never loses touch with the fact that the story is the important thing. He’s concerned with reader flow, with the need to keep the reader involved with the story from page to page. Like a great filmmaker, Kubert uses his dramatic effects to deepen and intensify the reader’s involvement with the story, but the effects seldom call attention to themselves. They sit there in the background, but the reader always keeps their focus on the story because it is so well told and drawn.
Kubert’s line work is gorgeous as well. It’s amazing that Kubert, who has such a minimalist style, is able to convey such drama with his work. If you look too close to one of Kubert’s panels, the lines almost fall apart. He uses the minimal amount of lines to create his scenes, and yet the elements he draws seem to have so much detail in them. Look at the tank on page 14 with cracks in them that somehow make them seem more frightening. Or look at the abstract images of the dead Jews from the concentration camp. Somehow the lack of detail makes the scene even more stark and frightening.
Kubert’s story is the match for his art. It has a simple outline – Sgt. Rock and Easy Company are on a mission to escort a holy man from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Riga, Latvia. But it is in the details of the story that this graphic novel shines. The scenes in the concentration camp are stark and shocking, while the scenes of battle are spectacular and intense.
Joe Kubert has been running a school on comics art for many years, graduating many terrific cartoonists. In this book he shows why he has been such a success in his academic endeavor. The man is a world-class cartoonist still at the top of his skills.