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 The Brave and the Bold #1 and Our Army at War #104 and #162, which were published by DC and are cover dated August/September 1955, March 1961, and January 1966 respectively. The "Viking Prince" scans are from The Viking Prince hardcover, which was published in 2010, while the solo Sergeant Rock story is from Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 1, which was published in 2007. Enjoy!
I'm jumping a lot of years again, but such is life. As we'll see, this decade or so is when the Joe Kubert Style really evolved - we can see many more hints of it in the first issue of The Brave and the Bold than we could in yesterday's early 1950s work (and, of course, in Meet Miss Pepper, which came 18 months or so before this, Kubert was deliberately drawing in a more humorous style), and by 1961, it's pretty clearly Kubert's classic style, and by 1966, it's pretty much what we'll see from him for the rest of his career. So I'm done after today, right? Of course not! I'll still show plenty more of Kubert, especially because he constantly challenged himself to use different tools, which changed the way his art looked, so we can check that out. Plus, Kubert's art is just cool. So there!
This is the first page of the Viking Prince story in the first issue of The Brave and the Bold, and already we can see that Kubert has matured even more from his work a few years earlier. We saw yesterday that he was already good with blacks, and we get more of that on this page, especially that terrific Panel 1, with the black water and the stippling that makes the foam stand out while the ship cuts through the surf. In the background, we get the shadowed cliffs, while Kubert is using more hatching for effect, as we see on the snowy mountains in the distance. His characters are still evolving, but the "youth" is still fairly recognizable as a Kubert drawing. Kubert's line work is still loosening, which gives his action - the horses in Panel 7, for instance - a fluid, dynamic feel to it. Obviously, we'll see much more action in this post and going forward, but we can see a bit of that looseness here.
Thorvald knows who "Jon" is (they call him Jon because his fighting prowess reminds them of a famous Viking prince of old!), and he chases him down before Jon, with the help of the men who rescued him from the sea, fights back. Kubert, as we saw yesterday, had to pack a lot onto each page because that's just how they rolled in the Golden Age, and that served him well in the 1950s and 1960s, when DC still published comics with more than one story in them, which limited the space. These six panels are very busy, but the art is never hard to read, as Kubert leads us well across the page as Jon lands on the sail, cuts it with his sword, swings down and takes out some bad guys, runs across the deck, and then swings back up. In Panel 1, Kubert's point of view gives us a good idea of the height of the Viking ship, and although he crowds the bottom three panels, he knows where to place every character so that he doesn't waste space yet still keeps Jon as the central figure and moving well on the deck. Meanwhile, the rough inking in Panel 3 is nice - it's another move toward Mature Kubert, with the lines a bit loose but still detailed. We can see all the hallmarks of Mature Kubert, but he was still refining them.
Thorvald escapes, and Jon is left with questions about his past. Oh, the drama! We can see his face better on this page, and we can still see indications of the earlier proto-Kubert face, with the jawline that leads up to the cheekbone, which is inked in roughly. Kubert isn't using as thick a line on his faces, so that's fading a bit (although we'll see that it never quite goes away), but the strong chin remains. Meanwhile, Gunnda is a fairly typical Kubert female, but we only see her in profile here (as we only saw her in profile in the first scan), so I won't write much about her. There's more good action and good inking on this page, of course, but that's becoming par for the course with Kubert!
Kubert started drawing Sergeant Rock in 1958, and by 1961, he had a bunch of Rock stories under his belt. As I have noted throughout the year, I try to present these stories as closely to the published versions as possible, but I only own the Showcase Presents version of this story, so that's the way it is. Black and white isn't so bad, though, as we've seen throughout this year.
This is around the time when Kubert became "Kubert," after years of growing toward it. This came out at almost the same time as Kubert's origin of Hawkman (which I do not own, weirdly enough, although I've read it plenty of times), and so we can look at late 1960 as being when we first see the Kubert we know and love and who would pretty much draw in this same style for the next 50 years. On this page, everything feels familiar if you ever picked up a Kubert comic from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and even the new millennium. Kubert's hatching tends to be very controlled, his blacks tend to be very rough, he loves motion lines, and while the hatching might be controlled, the holding lines often aren't, which is part of why Kubert is so fascinating. Look at the final panel, where the netting over the Johnny's helmet is tight and distinct, while the dirt kicked up by the bullets is "sloppy." Of course it would be - it's dirt, after all - but Kubert does this a lot with more "concrete" things. Kubert, of course, knows how to increase the tension in the scene very well, as he angles the dirt in Panel 3 toward Johnny, so that it's clear the bullets are about to find him and he's saved just in time by Rock. He's also very good at showing Johnny's surprise and Rock's anger in Panel 4 - granted, Rock is often grumpy, but Kubert really does a nice job with his different shades of grumpiness, as here he's grumpy that Johnny seems so eager to die.
Neither the Viking Prince hardcover nor the Showcase Presents volume are great for scanning, as DC tends to publish collections with artwork that falls toward the spine pretty severely, so you're going to get some blurriness on the edges. But the stuff I really wanted to show is clear, so there's that. In Panel 1, we get Kubert and the nurse (Jane Honey is her name, Because Bob Kanigher) trying to get out of town because the Germans have pushed the Americans back, and Kubert gives us a nice silhouette in the foreground, while his wonderful inking in the background shows a town that has been beaten up. He doesn't use holding lines for everything, preferring chunks of blacks and thick inks, which makes the buildings look a bit more ragged. Meanwhile, in Panel 4, we get a good look at Nurse Honey, and she's a fairly typical Kubert female. She has thick eyebrows, a long nose, and pretty severe cheekbones. This isn't a terribly unique way to draw women in the 1950s and 1960s, but Kubert does tend to make the faces of his women a bit sharper than other artists. His women seem harder than a lot of women of the era, even if they aren't all members of the armed forces.
Here's some more really nice work - the blacks in Panel 1, the ragged inking in Panel 2, the bullets in Panel 3 (not to mention the framing so we can still see Nurse Honey), the zealous hatching in Panel 4 that makes Rock look like the grizzled veteran he is, the oily gouts of smoke in Panel 5, and the angry Kubert Face in Panel 6. Kubert has become more subtle with his faces, but in times of stress, his characters still show the long furrows up the side of their faces to rough cheekbones, as we see in Rock in that final panel. Obviously, in his war comics, his characters were often filthy, so their faces were more ragged, but this device to thin their faces while still keeping the rounded jawline is pretty clever, as we see in Panel 6 that it helps stretch the face, too. That's a pretty flexible face.
By 1965, Kubert was 39, and he was doing great work regularly. In Our Army at War #162-163, Sergeant Rock teams up with the Viking Prince, Because, you guessed it, Bob Kanigher (I know he preferred to be called "Robert," but "Because Bob Kanigher" rolls off the tongue so much better). Early on, Rock is on a mission in Norway, and they get away from their transport before the Nazis blow it to bits (Rock promised the British lieutenant he would share a drink with him after the mission, but now the lieutenant's dead, which is what's going on in Panel 2). So we get the wonderful Kubert inks in the background of Panel 1, as the ship explodes in a horrifying explosion, and we get the great Kubert hatching on the waves in the foreground of that panel, on Rock's face in Panels 2 and 6, and on the cliffs in Panel 3. Again, while Kubert's line got looser (as we'll see below), he was still very much controlled with his hatching, which added nice texture to so much of the page. And if Kanigher didn't remind us on almost every page that Little Sure Shot was Apache, I'd be disappointed in him. We get it, Kanigher!!!
We can see Kubert's looseness clearly here, as his drawings of Rock in the final three panels look almost unfinished, except for the strong inking that adds folds to his clothing, roughness to his shoes (those don't look like boots, do they?), and sturdiness to his bandolier. But look at Panel 4, where he's kneeling. His left hand is very abstract, while his right fingers don't seem to end but just bleed into the sand. His left leg is defined by strong inking and no holding lines. We see similar work in Panel 5. However, Kubert's hatching in the first two panels makes the cliffs look solid and the dunes loose and sandy, even though the line work is very strong. Kubert never became as abstract as some artists, but that's because his inking was so strong. His uninked pencil work, I imagine was probably quite abstract, if the hints we get from this comic are any indication.
Rock finds the Viking Prince encased in ice, and a Nazi grenade breaks him out, and he then tells Rock his story about heading off to Valhalla, where he fights Haggor the Headless. Kubert, we have seen, was always good at action, but as his work became looser, his action became more dynamic, so the brief fight is nicely done. Both Haggor and Jon move well, and while Panel 2 is a bit confusing - how does Jon swing his sword to cut Haggor's axe in half? - it's still a smooth drawing, and when we remember that Kubert didn't have a ton of space (these are special issues in which this story takes up the entire page count, but if you think that Robert Kanigher would rein it in to allow Kubert more room, then you've never read a Kanigher comic before!), it's not a bad drawing. Once again, Kubert's wonderful work with blacks lends gravitas to Panel 4, where Jon helps the "Valkyrior" off her horse, and while Odin is in profile, we can see that he's a pretty typical "unpleasant" Kubert male - not necessarily a villain, but not a hero, either, as Kubert tends to give his "unpleasant" men longer, sharper noses.
Here's one final example of the way Kubert's loose line works in his favor. First, we have some nice Kubert Faces on this page - Jon has the long nose, square jaw, and somewhat rough cheekbones of the typical Kubert hero, while Odin gives us another "unpleasant" face, this time from straight on, and we can see Kubert's use of thick blacks to thin his face around his mouth even though we know, instinctively, that his face is wider than that. The Valkyrior, meanwhile, is a beautiful Kubert female, with the more severe cheekbones. Meanwhile, we get the nice inking on the page, Panel 1 especially, as Kubert creates a good feast. But it's Panels 4 and 5 that show why this style works for him so well. Odin's lightning zaps Jon, and Kubert drops the holding lines and uses thick blacks to show his electrocuted figure, with the crackling blacks on the left side giving way to little flecks that show his hair standing on end, and his arms suitably shadowed from the light. Then, in Panel 5, Kubert uses hatching to create a mist that surrounds the figures, with part of them having no border, as they're just defined by where Kubert stops drawing the lines. The horse is drawn with lines, as we can see, but they're thin, weak lines and he doesn't use them throughout, making the horse fade into the mist a bit. Neither of these panels is terribly detailed, but the way Kubert inks over the very loose lines allows us to see them very clearly and get the tone Kubert wants for both scenes. It's well done.
So that's the evolution of Kubert into JOE KUBERT. Where to go from here? Well, tomorrow we'll head into the 1970s and see what's what. You know it will look keen! Find more keen art in the archives!