Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Joe Kubert, and the issues are All-New Comics #10 and Black Cat #2, which were published by Harvey and are cover dated September 1944 and August/September 1946, respectively; Hollywood Confessions #2 and Son of Sinbad #1, which were published by St. John and are cover dated December 1949 and February 1950, respectively; The Hawk #2, which was published by Ziff-Davis and is cover dated Summer 1952; and Three Stooges #1 and Meet Miss Pepper #5, which were published by St. John and are cover dated September 1953 and April 1954, respectively. All of these scans are from Weird Horrors and Daring Adventures: The Joe Kubert Archives volume 1, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2012. Enjoy!
I'm cheating more than ever in these later days, but that's just how I roll, man! You do realize that Joe Kubert was inking comics when he was 15 and drew his first published work when he was 16, and his last published work came out after he had died (that's how much he was working until the end of his life), so in a career that stretches 70 years (he died a month before his 86th birthday), there's going to be quite a lot of work to get to. Kubert settled into a fairly recognizable style by the 1960s, but even then, he was still capable of blowing stuff out of the water (as my last entry will show), so I wanted to get through quite a bit of evolution in the first two days before we take a look at the Mature Kubert of the 1960s and beyond. I hope you'll forgive me! So today I'm going to look at stuff from the early days, even if it's not the earliest stuff he did. By the time he drew "Murder at the Terminal" in All-New Comics #10, he was already 18 (it came out in July 1944) and was a grizzled veteran of over two years in the business. Man, Kubert was awesome.
This is fairly standard Golden Age style - Kubert was obviously aping the style of the times, as he was too young at this time to really make a huge mark. His storytelling is perfectly fine - he leads us across the page well, and he uses the bull's-eye motif twice, once in Panel 2 as he gives us a killer's-eye view of Fisher and Jed, and then again in Panel 4 to highlight the gun going off and also to hide the identity of the killer. He does some nice if rudimentary work with the characters - Jed is nervous in Panel 1 while Fisher is confident, and Jed's hat begins to slip in Panel 3, showing us even more nervousness. Kubert's figure work is fairly loose and lithe, which is good to see in an artist so young. Kubert's inks are nice, too - he does good work with Fisher's hair in Panel 5, and the thick lines on the clothing makes it look rumpled and worn. I'm not sure why there's a lantern inside the train station, but there it is.
Kubert again uses the bull's-eye technique, but he uses it in interesting ways. In Panel 2, he and the colorist (obviously, we don't know who colored this, because that's not how it was done in the Golden Age - we're lucky we know Kubert drew this) use the circle as a spotlight to show the car crashing, while in Panel 6 he uses a silhouette on a red background to allow us to see the gas on the ground more clearly. Kubert does some nice work on the page - the wreckage in Panel 3 is twisted well, with Kubert using nice blacks to make it look even worse, while the inks in Panel 7 on the tree and the leaves shading the car add a neat touch to a dull panel.
"Gabriel Blows His Horn!" came out in 1946, and Kubert shows some improvement from the earlier story. His line is stronger, and his figures are more distinctive. His faces are still similar to each other, but he makes Victor a bit more louche than Arnold, who's a stand-up kind of dude. Meanwhile, Gabby Gabriel might as well just announce that he's the killer, as Kubert gives him a fat, smarmy face, which in the 1940s meant you were probably a villain. We can't see the characters' faces too well, but Victor's somewhat downcast face in Panel 4 is well done, especially as he's the kind of guy who tries not to let emotions hamper his style. Kubert sneaks in some monsters, as the walls of the "Zombie Club" are painted, as we see in Panel 6 - it's kind of weird that a monster and a scantily-clad woman would be on the wall of a nice club, but at least Kubert gets to have some fun with it. I love Panel 7, with the three principals in the foreground and Gabriel's shadow on the wall behind them. Gabriel kills Arnold because he's obsessed with Billy, and Victor is suspected for the murder, so Kubert sets up the entire cast with that one panel, and he even makes Gabriel the dark one in the panel, as he's just a silhouette. It's really nice work.
Victor tries to track down the killer and accidentally discovers Gabriel did it (he was just going to see Gabriel to ask if he might have seen something suspicious), which makes Gabriel crazy with rage and he tries to kill Victor while calling the police (which is more difficult than it sounds). Victor fights back, and we get this nice page. Kubert's figures are, as we saw above, pretty loose, which makes their movement across the page work well. Kubert's storytelling is a bit wonky - Gabriel is by the window in Panel 1, but in Panel 2, he's punching Victor through what appears to be the same window, so there's a bit of a time jump there. But the fight is well done inside each panel - Victor pushes Gabriel off in Panel 1, we can believe that Gabriel's punch sends Victor through the window in Panel 2, and the two figures locked in combat in Panel 3 is vicious and real-looking. Kubert turns Gabriel's face because Victor just punched him, while Victor's face is scuffed and bruised from the punishment he's endured. The two figures falling in Panel 4 are drawn really well, and it's very neat how Kubert makes it the centerpiece of the page, with no panel border and just negative air around the two men, making their fall more dramatic. Kubert does nice work with the lettering trailing off in Panel 5, and then shows how Victor survived the fall. I have no idea what happened to Gabriel's head in the final panel, but I like to think he fell onto a sharp fence and got it lopped right off.
By the time of "Success or Else!" from 1949, Kubert had gotten more confident in his ability and had begun to develop a visual style that would slowly become his. It's not quite recognizable as "Kubert" yet, but it's more of his style than his earlier work, which could have been drawn by any talented artist. His male jawlines were getting stronger and a bit rounder, with deep vertical furrows for cheekbones, as we see with Jack Diamond in the bottom row of this page. His inking was improving, as he was creating more brushy-looking blacks for eyebrows and on faces to make them more rugged. The montage in Panel 1 is very nice, as Kubert is completely in control of all the elements of the drawing, from Jack's face that repeats across the panel the horses clashing in the middle of the page. Kubert got a reputation for drawing manly men, and he's coming up with a template for that kind of dude with Jack, even if Jack is a megalomaniac. A snazzy dresser, to be sure, but still a megalomaniac!
This is a terrific splash page showing Jack's fall from his heights of power and fame. In the center, of course, we get Jack himself, plagued by demons (a nice touch by Kubert). Kubert inks him beautifully, and that jawline and those cheekbones and that nose are early Kubert markers for males, as we can see with the smaller men in the same panel and as we saw with Victor, who was kind of a proto-Kubert man. Kubert moves our eyes around the page very well - Joan looks down at Jack from the right side of the page (I'm not sure that's Joan, but let's just say it is), who points downward to the mélange of actors and Hollywood players and horses in the lower left. Kubert really draws the horses well - they're powerful and fluid, flowing as one across the bottom of the page toward the came, which also helps frame Jack's giant face. It's a really well constructed splash, and we can see Kubert's strength as a penciler and storyteller growing.
A few months later, Son of Sinbad came out, and Kubert drew a couple of stories in it, including "Ransom of Shipwreck Shoals!" Kubert, who tends to be (I think) associated with more masculine work (mainly because of his war comics), shows that he has some chops when it comes to drawing sexy women, too. He draws Elene lithely, with smaller breasts that fit her frame (I know, crazy), and he does nice work with the rope elevator in Panel 5, too. That panel itself is terrific - Kubert draws a nice setting behind Elene, using inks to create a mosque, while he covers the wall on the right with vines and remembers to put Elene's shadow on the wall, too. The diamond-shaped design of the panel is clever, too - it cleaves the page and separates Panels 7 and 8, sure, but Kubert still links the panels with the rope in Panel 7 and the view in Panel 8. However, the diamond shape is more subtle than that, as it tapers Elene down to her thin ankles, and of course, a downward pointing triangle is a feminine shape, so it keeps readers in that frame of mind. It's a clever device.
Kubert uses blacks in that first panel (well, I guess it's the second panel, but work with me!), as Sinbad's son's ship enters Shipwreck Shoals, and the effect is really neat. Kubert uses the blacks to create the mighty ocean, while he stipples on the edges to show the foam rising up. He billows out the sails of the ship, and his art is so brilliant we can almost feel the spray and smell the salt air. He uses blacks really well again in the final panel, as he roughly inks Kemal's hair and beard and throws his face into deep darkness. By this time, Kubert was an old vet of 23, so he had really learned a lot about the use of spot blacks. This page shows that nicely.
Kubert was 25 when he drew "Iron Caravan of the Mojave," and even more of the Kubert style is taking shape. Hawk looks more like a Kubert Hero than anyone we've seen so far, as Kubert de-emphasizes his cheekbones just a little while still keeping the strong and rounded jaw. His loose line work, which is still not too evident here, can be seen a little with the inking on Luke's hand in Panels 2 and 4. Kubert is still using shadows really well, as the black on Luke - his hat, beard, and jacket - all blend together into one mass, making him look more evil, while the blacks on the horse make its mane stand out more and the black cactus in Panel 6 makes its prickles stand out more and also highlights the rough desert through which Hawk rides. It's a really neat use of blacks, and Kubert is becoming a master at it.
In a shocking twist, the "injuns" aren't really to blame for the attacks on the trains - it's the owner of the stagecoach, who wants the railroad to fold so his stagecoaches will still be the dominant way to travel. Boy, was he on the wrong side of history! The Hawk figures this out, of course, and he and the Apaches take care of Dude Mullins's men, but it's up to Hawk to take care of Mullins himself! So we get this excellent page, where Kubert does really great work with the action-packed finale. Both his figures on the top of the train are nice and fluid, moving like two men fighting on top of a train, and Kubert does a really nice job with Hawk's final punch in Panel 5 - it really looks like it hurts. Once again, his use of blacks is excellent, from the dark engineer's room to the shadows on the train cars. He inks the smoke from the train beautifully in Panels 3 and 4, as the thick but puffy smoke swirls around the two fighters. Kubert uses white ink as speed lines, which gives a nice impression of the train moving fast, making the fight even more dangerous. Aguila has a way-too-rosy outlook on Anglo-Indian relations, but other than that, this is a cool page.
Why wouldn't there be a story about a Hollywood stunt woman in a comic called Three Stooges? Anything goes in the Golden Age, man! Kubert really packs this story with a lot of panels - it's seven pages long, and one of those is the splash page before this one, so he needs to get to it! Once again, we see that he's getting very good at action, as Jeanie Steele - yes, that's her name - tumbles from the horse and rolls to a standing position in Panels 1-3. Kubert draws a really fluid Jeanie as she flips over, and he uses smudgy inks well to show the dirt flying up around her. His ancillary characters - Mr. Schnotzelfritz in particular - are a bit cartoony, showing the versatility from Kubert that we've seen since his early work. His women - Jeanie and Grace - are nicely distinguished from each other, as Jeanie is the cute "good girl" and Grace the conniving "bad girl." Grace's eyes are thinner and therefore less trustworthy, while she has more eye make-up and lipstick. Jeanie, meanwhile, has wide, friendly eyes, freckles, and a wider, more open face. It's just SCIENCE!!!! that she's the good one! Kubert, as we've seen, does some wonderful inking in her hair, making it lush but also the smallest bit spiky, slightly de-emphasizing her feminine side (while playing up Grace's) so that Jeanie becomes less of a sex object (which doesn't stop Danny there from dating her). It's an interesting way to divide Jeanie from Grace, and Kubert does a good job with it, even it's a bit reductive.
Grace is trying to kill Jeanie (and it's played a bit like a comedy), so we get this page, in which Jeanie has triumphed over a bunch of football players who can't touch her and then rides a motorcycle which blows a tire. This is great character work on this page. Kubert continues to draw Jeanie as bright and fresh-faced, as she saunters over to the football players and later chides Danny for his concerns.. The football players are big lunks, with Northrup in Panel 3 looking particularly downcast that he disappointed the mean lady yelling at him. Grace, meanwhile, continues to be a shrew, and while her hair style is fashionable for 1953, it still makes her look too much like a harpy, which is of course the point. Kubert's use of thick, splotchy inks on Jeanie's hair is in marked contrast to the lacquered look of Grace's hair, which is just one way to distinguish between the stereotypes. Danny in Panel 5 is excellent, too, as he sets his face grimly because he overheard Grace's plans to hurt Jeanie. Kubert does an excellent job with his contempt as he flicks the cigarette away, and of course Danny can blow superb smoke rings. Damn you, you sexy, sexy man!
Our final example from Kubert's very early years comes from Meet Miss Pepper #5, which is the first issue in the series? How does that work? I've looked around on yonder Internets, and nobody seems to think it's strange that Kubert and Norman Mauer numbered this first issue "#5." I'm sure I'm missing something, but I don't know what it is!
Anyway, by the time he drew this story, Kubert was 27 and a veteran of a dozen years in comic book thralldom. This story, as you can see, is a humorous book, and while it's more cartoony than what we've seen so far, we can still see some Kubertian touches. While Mr. Phizz is greatly exaggerated, he's conforming to the Kubert template to a degree, which his strong, rounded jaw. This is a brighter comic than a lot of what we've seen above, so Kubert doesn't use shadows very much, but he does get to show off his facial expressions a bit, with Maxmillian looking forlorn in Panel 1 and Miss Pepper and Mr. Phizz looking suitably embarrassed when they get called out for being late for the meeting. Mr. Beagle's facial expression in Panel 6 doesn't quite fit his words, but it's still a pretty good one, as Kubert gives him side-eyes and a pinched mouth as he considers his predicament. Meanwhile, as much as I liked high school (and I did, quite a bit), I would have liked it better if I had had a teacher that looked like Miss Pepper. Dang, woman.
Kubert draws some very nice physical comedy on this page, as the students - Jigger and Ginny - help Miss Pepper and Maxmillian make the paint for the school. That first row is great, as Jigger casually throws the brush over his shoulder - Jigger seems a bit like an oblivious douchebag jock, like the kind who would go to a Klan meeting just because they have good beer - and hits Maxmillian. Kubert spreads this over two panels, which keeps the row regimented into basically the same-sized rectangles, but it also adds a slight touch of absurdity to the proceedings, as comics readers probably weren't used to seeing action leap across a panel border like that (it's still a bit jarring to see today, after years of artists doing it). Kubert draws a goofy Ginny flopping backward when she slips on the balls that have fallen on the floor. (I have no idea what kind of balls they are - the box reads "CAM-something," but I can't make out the rest of it.) This leads to a wonderful Rube Goldberg sequence where powder falls on Miss Pepper, who can't see and therefore pushes Jigger, who drops the chemical into the vat, which then explodes. It's really a neat bit of cartooning, as Kubert does such a nice job with the way the characters move around the page, from Maxmillian staggering to Ginny flopping to Miss Pepper reaching to Jigger falling. He uses the silhouette well in Panel 11 to show the explosion, and then we get the great final panel, with Maxmillian covered in paint, Jigger's top half a silhouette, Miss Pepper still powdered, and Ginny rubbing her head as she sits on the floor. Kubert doesn't need to show us Miss Pepper's face as she sneezes, because her body language - the arms pulled up and the knees pushed together - sells it so well. Plus, Kubert's sound effects are terrific, too. Never underestimate good sound effects!
So that was Kubert in his early years. As I mentioned, he was 27 years old in early 1954, and had already created Tor (which I'm not going to show) and he had begun refining his style. Obviously, at this time superheroes weren't that big a thing, but Kubert decided to conquer DC anyway. So tomorrow, we'll look at what happens when Kubert joined forces with one of the wackiest writers in DC's stable. I promise it won't be as long as this post, but can you really ever have too much Kubert art? Find more groovy art in the archives!