That first semester at Kubert School in 1976 was a complete buzz. Not just for me and the other twenty-two students, but also for Joe and Muriel and the brace of professional artists they’d brought in to teach us. The curriculum was surprisingly well developed for a first year school. The facility, an old brick mansion set on private park-like grounds was gorgeous and utilitarian. At the center of it was Joe; the human dynamo.
Joe was teaching four days a week, editing books for DC Comics on the fifth day and knocking out covers and stories evenings and weekends. He would often work at a board he had set up in his office which opened out into the studio rooms where we students did our assignments. He was always patient with our general goofy behavior and the many interruptions we presented him with.
I was struck by the incredible focus he brought to the act of drawing. All the nuttiness a group of young people can generate going on around him never broke the powerful attention Joe gave his drawings; his pen and brush flying over near-imaginary pencils. He had rolls of wide white tape that he used for corrections; razoring a patch and laying new ink-work over old viewed through the light-box built into his board. He was insanely fast; able to turn out a 24 page story over a weekend. And you don’t need me to tell you the work was always extraordinary.
On top of everything he had going, Joe set-up and ran a busy work-study program. There was paying studio work for everyone who was caught up on their assignments, beginning with a big paste-up and relettering project for SRA; an educational publisher repackaging silver age comics. We painted a life size mural of a gaggle of superheroes for a comic book shop. We did covers and illustrations for local magazines and papers. We cranked out a number of catalogs for a company that sold superhero toys. We did advertisements that ran in the back of Marvel and DC comics. A few of us began to assist Joe on higher end promotional comics like SPARKY THE FIREDOG and MAGAZINELAND USA. These jobs brought in much-needed coin for the students and a real-world hands-on experience that was invaluable. There were many, many sessions that went into the early morning hours and we students would drag into class the next day to find a Joe who was bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
I understood, even then, what a sacrifice this gifted cartoonist was making for us. He was at the top of his field yet spent his precious board time on things like catalogs and ads to help train a bunch of kids.
And in the second semester he worked a deal with DC for us to do back-up stories to SGT. ROCK comics! More on that next time.