Joe Kubert: Prolific comic-book artist whose work captured the chaotic, dirty business of war

 

It was the gritty strength of his drawing, simple and emotional, with an unfinished feel, that made Joe Kubert, who has died aged 85, the outstanding comic-book war artist.

No one captured better the chaotic nature of heroism, nor the dirty business of battle, and no one was more committed to using his medium to display war's horror and futility. It was a genre he returned to constantly throughout a working career that lasted more than seven decades, during which he applied his talents to every facet of the industry, as artist, writer, editor, executive. He was also a noted teacher; his Kubert School trained dozens of successful artists, not least his own sons Adam and Andy.

Kubert was born Yosaif on 18 September 1926 in Yzeran, a shtetl obliterated during the Second World War, in what was Jezierzany, Poland and is now Ozeryany, Ukraine. His family arrived at Ellis Island when he was two months old, and settled in Brooklyn, where his father was a kosher butcher. Obsessed with newspaper comic strips, particularly Hal Foster's Tarzan, Kubert taught himself at a drawing board bought by his parents, and by the age of 13 (in his retellings it was sometimes as young as 11!) was working after school for MLJ Studios, which became Archie Comics.

It became easier once he began at Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, and he worked in Harry A Chesler's busy studio. His first solo effort was Volton, the Human Generator, for Catman Comics, when he was 16, and soon he was drawing the Blue Beetle for Fox. He was hired by Quality Comics to add colour to their reprints of Will Eisner's daily newspaper strip The Spirit, and began his long association with DC Comics with a 50-page comic, Seven Soldiers of Victory. DC became his main outlet, and in 1945 he drew Hawkman, the superhero with whom he would be most associated, for the first time.

He stopped freelancing to become managing editor of St. John Comics, where in 1953 he helped produce the first 3-D comic book. Issue one of Three Dimension Comics featured Mighty Mouse, and sold over a million copies, despite its high price tag of a quarter (comics usually cost a dime). Kubert went through hundreds of lollipops, using their red and green plastic wrappers as lenses to see the 3-D effects. For the second issue, Kubert and his schoolmate Norman Maurer created Tor, a prehistoric version of Tarzan, who quickly spun off into his own, two-dimensional comic as the 3-D craze faded. Tor would be revived frequently by multiple publishers over the next four decades, though Kubert was never able to sell it as a daily strip to the newspapers.

Resuming his freelance career, Kubert produced stories for the classic EC Comics title Two-Fisted Tales, before returning to DC, on Our Army at War. Back on staff, he drew Viking Prince, Hawkman, and, for GI Combat, two series: The Haunted Tank and the one which became his signature piece, Sgt. Rock. The adventures of Frank Rock and Easy Company in the Second World War transcended schoolboy heroics, recalling the bleaker tones of classic 1950s films like Anthony Mann's Men in War or Sam Fuller's Steel Helmet. In 1965 Kubert achieved his dream of drawing a daily newspaper strip, Tales of the Green Berets, adapted by Robin Moore from his best-selling book. He extended the range of war comics even further with Enemy Ace, written by Robert Kanigher, whose hero is a First World War German pilot.

In 1967 he gave up Green Berets when he became director of publications for DC. He wound up assigning himself the cover art for many titles, where his dynamic style served well, and also gave himself the chance to finally draw Tarzan, in a comic which ran from 1972-75. The rough-hewn character of his art, so different from the classic Foster strip, was perfectly suited to jungle adventures. In 1976, the final year of his tenure as an executive, his increasing interest in his Jewish roots saw him create, again with Kanigher, Ragman, a Jewish hero based in Batman's Gotham City.

In 1976, Kubert, along with his wife, Muriel, started the Kubert School in Dover, New Jersey. Among its most famous alumni are Tim Truman, Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette. He continued to freelance, and his projects varied from strips for the US Army's PS: Preventive Maintenance magazine to a strip of rabbinical tales called The Adventures of Yaakov and Yosef for the Hasidic newspaper Moshiach Times.

His comics career experienced a renaissance in the age of the graphic novel. He created a Jewish gangster, Abraham Stone, for Country Mouse, City Rat (1991) and two sequels, and brought back Tor in 1993. His masterpiece may well be Fax from Sarajevo (1996), based on the faxes he received from the comics agent Ervin Rustemagic, literally trapped within the Yugoslav conflict.

He revisited his family's roots with Yossel (2003) and Jew Gangster (2005), done in uninked pencils which gives them raw power. Kubert collaborated with writer Brian Azarello on a Sgt Rock miniseries, Between Hell and a Hard Place, and wrote and drew The Prophecy (2006) himself. He did another Tor miniseries for DC in 2008, and a new Sgt Rock story with his son Adam the following year. He was collaborating with his other son, Andy, on a Watchmen prequel featuring Nite Owl, when he died in Morristown, New Jersey, on 12 August, of multiple myeloma.

Kubert won virtually every award a comic artist can win, some of them multiple times. Muriel predeceased him in 2008, and he is survived by four sons and a daughter. From 1967 onward, every war comic he drew ended with a banner in the final panel which read: Make War No More.

Joseph Kubert, comic-book artist: born Jezierzany, Poland 18 September 1926; married Muriel (died 2008, four sons, one daughter); died New Jersey 12 August 2012.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape