Joe Kubert passed away yesterday and I’ve been thinking about the times we shared and the profound influence he had on my life. I was twenty-five when I met him (and yes, his handshake is rightfully legendary). It was 1976 and I was interviewing for Joe’s soon to open cartooning school. Knowing he was a golden age artist, I guess I expected an older gentleman but Joe was in his early fifties and looked like he was thirty-five. He welcomed me warmly and spoke passionately about his hopes and plans for the school. He explained how fortunate he had been to come up under a studio system where older cartoonists had made time to teach him the tricks of the trade. His goal was to give back by keeping that tradition alive.
I was terrified that my portfolio wouldn’t make the grade but when he saw the printed copy of TWO-FISTED ZOMBIES he responded with grinning amazement. I tried to explain it was a couple years old and not my best stuff and the content was a little *kof* undergroundy but he didn’t care. He was seeking out young artists for whom comic books were a “calling” and I think he recognized this quality in me on our first meeting. He carefully went through my other samples and showed me French magazines with Drulliet and Moebius. He looked me right in the eye and said “You are just the kind of guy this school wants.”
I didn’t have a pot to piss in, much less the money for tuition. But Joe’s wife, Muriel, told me about a new government job training program called CETA. That summer I talked my way up the Vermont CETA hierarchy trying to convince them to pay for cartooning college. They were skeptical and couldn’t provide a decision before school went into session. I called Joe to let him know and he said “Come down anyway. I’ve spoken with Muriel and we’ll make it work somehow.”
Right there, the two of them handed me the first key to the kingdom.