A small group of us who were really motivated to break into professional comics, Tom Yeates, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and myself, decided to rent a place to share expenses, inspiration and contacts. Joe let us stay in the school dorms until we got set up. He also continued to feed us work through a small graphics studio he opened in downtown Dover. He paid a fair hourly wage for us to do ad production and such. We also jammed on comics with Joe; completing some of the back-up stories that for whatever reason had gone unfinished during the school year.
Joe gave Steve Bissette the Scholastic account, a very good one that kept Steve’s rent paid for years. John Totleben had been unable to enroll for his second year at the school. So Joe reached out and found him a patron; Harry “A” Chesler, who had ramrodded a comic book production studios at the birth of the industry. Harry hired John to illustrate the Rubaiyat which served as a perfect training ground for John’s maturing pen and ink style.
All of us were from the hinterlands and greatly benefited from Kubert School’s location of a forty minute bus ride to downtown Manhattan. After graduation we were hustling the New York publishing world for whatever comics or illustration work we could get. Joe arranged meetings for us with editors at DC Comics but the company had recently cancelled a dozen new titles and there wasn’t enough work for their regular people. It looked a little grim that summer and autumn so the paying jobs Joe fed us were a lifeline. Then, miraculously, things broke our way.
The comics industry was changing radically, both in content and distribution, and we found our skills and vision in demand. We were all proud to present Joe with our early successes and I fondly remember how delighted he was to see the stuff. I may not have understood it at the time, but I know it now: our coming to fruition as artists was his coming to fruition as a teacher. And therein lies the bond between us all.
My calling had always been to do comics and live in Vermont, and once I’d attained the career part, I headed back to the transcendental beauty of Green Mountains. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t see Joe as much. But he was always on the other end of the telephone line if I needed advice and he always wrote back a lovely note if I sent him a stack of my comics. When I was in New Jersey I’d make a point of dropping in on Joe and talking to a class or two. I helped organize the school’s ten year reunion which brought a couple hundred graduates back to the old stomping grounds in 1988.
The most fun was running into Joe on the convention and festival circuit. He was often at San Diego or New York showing the amazing new direction his work was taking. We did Angouleme the same year, then took the bullet train to Paris. And in 2010 we spent a week in Granada, Spain where he was guest of honor and we both spoke at the University. We ate boiled octopus.
It was the last time I saw Joe and he was as vibrant as ever, although still mourning for Muriel who had died the year before. These pictures are from the festival.
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