Friday, February 22, 2013

The Art of Joe Kubert (2011) - Bill Schelly

The Art of Joe Kubert (2011) - Bill Schelly
Hardcover, 232 pages, Fantagraphics Books
ISBN 9781606994870
Retail price $39.99
Amazon $30.39

Anyone who is recognized as a professional in his field at the age of 12 is someone I’m going to pay attention to. That’s what happened to comic book artist Joe Kubert, way back in 1938. For all practical purposes, Kubert’s work begins at the dawn of comic book creation, leading right up to the present. Kubert, who passed away last year after an astonishing 74-year career in comics, has left an incredible mark on the comics landscape, some of which he helped create. 

Schelly takes us through some fascinating periods in the life of Kubert: his early days as a professional when he was still learning his craft, how Kubert navigated the pre-code comics era (when he was still a kid himself), the creation of Sgt. Rock, Tor and others, his groundbreaking work on Tarzan, the later graphic novels, and Kubert’s school of art. 

The work also includes a 50+ page sampling of complete stories featuring Kubert artwork from the pre-code era, many of which are reproduced in color for the first time since their comic book appearances. 

Although Kubert drew a few superhero books (most notably Hawkman), his most memorable characters did not wear costumes, per se. Sgt. Rock, Tor, Tarzan, and Enemy Ace gave comic book audiences characters with something at stake besides supervillains, be it war, survival or both. Kubert’s style always carried shades of darkness, not so much darkness in shading (although that was often the case), but rather in character and tone. Kubert understood that the sunny, fun-filled superhero art that characterized DC Comics during the 50s and 60s was not part of who he was. His characters had depth and they often failed. Something about those characters resonated with readers, showing them in subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways, man’s capacity for evil. Yet they also showed a strong sense of survival, duty and just plain doing the right thing.  

Kubert’s story is compelling, but the generous artwork in the book makes this volume a must-have for Kubert fans and anyone interested in comics history. Highly recommended.  5/5

Full disclosure: Joe Kubert is my “Adopt a Comic Book Character/Artist” choice for 2013, so plan on seeing more Joe Kubert here on Graphic Novel Universe in the coming months. 

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