August 18th, 2008

The Zombie

"Hello. Welcome to my school."

August 16 -  So, there I was, Fall of 1984, sitting amongst the creme de la creme of the world's wannabe cartoonists.  Gathered in the former high school's theater auditorium, we nervously eyed each other while we waited for the man of the hour, Joe Kubert himself, to address the nerdy throng.  I was already confused (big surprise).  I'd been told - and, in fact, it was printed in the Kubert School's promotional materials - that each year's incoming class was limited to twenty or fewer students, but there had to be...what, like almost a hundred or more sitting there?  Were all of these first year students?  Suddenly (and I do mean second nothing, then, like magic, POOF; there was someone standing in front of us), Joe Kubert's distinctive, booming voice announced "Hello.  Welcome to my school."  Of course, like the geeky fans we were, we applauded.  I mean, this was Joe Freakin' Kubert.  I'd been a genuine fan since I first started reading comic books, and now he was me (oh, and the other students, I suppose).  Joe went on to explain that this was going to be a year of changes and growth for the school.  First, most obviously, there was this new location.  Because of that, Joe said that he had to set some rules.  Students were forbidden to be on any floor other than this main (yet second) floor.  The gymnasium was off limits.  This theater was, after orientation, strictly off limits.  The rooms of the East hallway?  Off limits.  Other than in an emergency, all but the front doors were off limits.  Oh, and the fenced-in playground was off limits except to those students who paid a fee to park their cars there.  Uh...OK.  Next, unlike in years past, the incoming "freshmen" numbered about eighty. We'd be divided into three groups, 1A, 1B, and 1C (I was in 1C), each to be taught, for the most part, by different sets of teachers, most of whom were new to the school...or even to teaching in general.  Joe considered the biggest change, however, to be his unfamiliar role as "principal."  In past seasons, he was constantly available to his students.  His office, at the top of the stairs in The Mansion, was always open (which meant, by the way, that my dorm room had previously been Joe's office!).  This new set-up, though, set him apart from us.  Even if we got past the labyrinth of outer offices, and somehow found Joe in his, there were still just so many students this year that the one-on-one feel of the "classic" Kubert School days was gone.  Worse, because of his schedule and obligations to second and third year students, Joe would only be teaching one-third of us!  By complete dumb luck, I found out that 1C was that third.  More tomorrow.  Now, here are John's Joe Kubert School Classmates of The Day for - August 15 - Dan Parent, and August 16 - Scott MacDonald!

Yep.  I took this pic back in the day.  Oh, and that's the Kubertmobile right there in front.
The Zombie

1C and Me

August 17 -  Back to 1984 and the Joe Kubert School on the first day.  Orientation over, we first year "freshmen" (which we were never called, by the way) were divided into our three subgroups and led away to our classrooms.  These were to be our "homes" for the school year, having all but Life Drawing classes in the same place.  The room was very large, containing five rows of three or four ample drafting tables each.  Seating was assigned, and, if you haven't guessed by the "...Of The Day" classmates' names, roughly alphabetical.  

Front row, left to right - Schayes, Martinez, & Lietha.  
Second row- Pirtel, Nappa, LaForce, Marchegiano, McCluskey, "Ted," Roberts, & Oakley.
Back row - Parent, Hy Eisman (teacher), McClements, & Lipsky.
Not pictured - Aversano, MacDonald, Refsland, & Mundt (cuz I took the pic, natch)

Early on, we did the old "So, where are you from?" thing.  Most of my immediate classmates were from the East side of the U.S., and only a map determined that I'd come from the furthest away (narrowly edging out Dan Lietha, from Michigan's Upper-P).  In other "1" classrooms, students had come from much further, like Louisiana, California, and even Norway, but 1C had mostly New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians.  Here, to the best of my creaky, yellowed memory, is a roll-call of ol' 1C, starting with the front row...

John Aversano - Very quiet, but funny; that's how I remember John.  I didn't get a chance to learn much more about him.  His cartooning forte seemed to be design and New Yorker-style one-panel or gag cartoons.  He had a distinctive face, which I can only describe as "Italian."  He was one of my favorite subjects when we had caricature classes.

Dan Parent - Dan, with his beard and feathered hair, was a dead-ringer for unfortunately-popular Kenny Loggins (albeit much younger).  He was absolutely devoted to, and invested in, the Archie style of comics.  He had his own characters, of course (devilish tots Wutesy and Cutesy were my favorites), but his strength was clearly in drawing the gang from Riverdale.  He was among those few students who probably only needed a little help to become complete professionals.  Dan was warm, funny, and very outgoing.

The genie, Wutesy, & Cutesy were drawn by Dan, the "showdown" by Irwin Hasen (teacher)

John Pirtel - John was enthusiastic about everything, but especially cartooning and autograph collecting.  He was a small guy, but he had a big personality.  He, too, was a favorite caricature subject.

Chris LaForce - Chris was one of the many mustachioed classmates.  His artwork was very clean and crisp, revealing a very patient artist.  He was a great guy who was also an amateur boxing historian.

Sorry, Chris...I was going for a "candid" shot and immortalized you sticking your tongue out at me

Chuck Marchegiano (alias Chuck Marciano) - What can I say about Chuck?  He was a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, dipped in booze, and coated with candy.  He didn't like to talk about himself very much, so we were only able to glean bits and pieces.  His backstory only snuck out occasionally, and then only in whimsical asides.  Chuck, in his mid-twenties, had apparently already led a life worthy of a biopic.  He'd been a semi-pro boxer and hockey player, possibly having competed in the Olympics!  I think he might have even been a gang member of sorts.  He was a huge fan of Frank Sinatra, especially after The Chairman of The Board once slipped Chuck a hundred bucks after he fell down a flight of stairs at a casino.  Above all this, Chuck was a gentle, immensely likable guy who drew cute Care Bears and other such sugary characters.  Oh, and he had a graffiti tag, Shapeye, that he spraypainted on trains and bridges!

There's Chuckles.  Hmm.  Is it just coincidence that no clear photos of him exist?

Steve Lipsky - Steve was the epitome of gregariousness.  He had a great sense of humor, a crazy laugh, and about a million projects going at any given time.  He was a collector of original art, a fanzine editor, and a budding publisher.  He drew mostly superhero type stuff, but also detective stories.  Later in the year, after watching the We Are The World video, he'd get the idea to produce a similar project for African hunger relief charities, but, instead of the world's most famous pop stars recording a song, his would be a comic book featuring contributions from the world's greatest comics artists.  His comic, which included art from all of our teachers, would presage similar books released by Marvel and DC years later.

Bill "Buck" Refsland - Bill was a fan of Star Wars, or Star Trek, or just space fantasy stuff in general.  He drew very convincing spaceships.  In spite of this (or because of it?), Bill seemed cut from a 1930's screwball comedy.  His general appearance reminded me of a Preston Sturges stock player, but his sense of humor was very modern.  Oh, and his nickname, "Buck," was self-assigned.  How cool is that?

HIJINX! That's Martinez, Lietha, Refsland, and McClements hamming it up for me.

Scott MacDonald - Scott was one of my favorite classmates.  We were pretty good friends, even though he, too, was a bit older than me.  In fact, very few Kubert School students were directly out of high school like I was.  Scott was one of the handful of students who had no interest whatsoever in the world of comics.  Instead, he was there to study animation.  At the time, the JKS was the only place that had a traditional animation course (outside of one of the major studios), so some students were there specifically for that.  Scott, with his trademark granny specs and suspenders, was a cocky powderkeg of a guy, full of subversive humor.  In retrospect, he was probably a bad influence on me, which, in turn, was oh so much fun. 

George McClements - George was probably my best friend during my Kubert School days.  He was, like Scott, only really interested in animation.  That was his dream job.  If he drew other cartoons (like sad-faced elephants or his seminal character, Radium, the intergalactic bounty hunter dog), it was reluctantly.  George was a great guy, who had a weird sense of humor, a laid-back personality, and proficiency with a bullwhip!  Yes, as a mega-fan of Indiana Jones, George had taught himself how to do tricks and such with a whip just like the one Indy used.

George is seen here standing behind "Buck"

Joey Martinez - Joey was also one of my best friends at the JKS.  He was a fantastic artist and a very funny guy.  He was from Miami (sorta), New York City (mostly), and Puerto Rico (originally).  He also had a lifelong brittle bone condition which had stunted his growth.  What he lacked in height, he made up for in personality.  He was irresistibly charismatic (so much so that he'd once convinced Lauren Bacall to give him a kiss), and a good friend.

That's Joey coming down the hall...oh, and the lockers were also off limits.

Charlie Nappa - Charlie was my second roommate.  He was a very good artist and a fairly refined person, really.  He was much more "adult" than I, for sure.  I enjoyed his company, but I got the feeling that he felt a bit like my babysitter (which I needed...if only to watch over me during my semi-frequent sleepwalking!).

Gary McCluskey - Gary was such a nice guy.  He was a fantastic artist, too, specializing in delicate fantasy art.  Gary was so good-natured and unassuming that George took special delight in teasing him mercilessly.  Gary would just sigh and shrug it off.  Of course, every once in a while, he'd draw a beautiful swordswoman skewering a bounty hunting dog with her rapier.  Ah, the fun they had.

Dan Lietha - Dan was another of those students who seemed to only need a little help to become professional.  So, how to describe Dan?  1980's mustache?  Check.  Nice guy?  Double check.  Great cartoonist, funny guy, and older than me?  Check, check, and barely check.  I hesitate to say that Dan always seemed a little hesitant when asked to draw his rollerskating Rollerdog character.  Only in these last few weeks have I learned why this might have been the case.  Unknown to me at the time, Dan had just been through a terrible, life-changing event before coming to the JKS.  That he was still so outgoing and fun is a testament to his character. 

Bill Oakley - Without a doubt, Bill was the most advanced of all of my classmates.  He had already been ghosting the Sgt. Preston of the Yukon comic strip, even though he was only a little older than me.  Bill was also a rocker.  He was a big fan of groups like Poison, and, come to think of it, he looked like he might be a member of Poison (his distinctive curly "rockstar hair" made him another one of my favorite caricature subjects).  He was also generous to a fault, saying "yes" to any request.  Steve asked him to do lots of stuff for his fanzines, including inking one of my crummy drawings.

Tom Roberts - Tom was a huge Batman fan, especially as drawn by Neal Adams...which makes sense, since Tom looked like he, too, had been drawn by Adams.  Handsome and outgoing, Tom was an unlikely comics fan (at least as I knew them).  No offense to everyone else (myself included), but I saw him as the classmate most dedicated to artistic improvement, no matter the cost in time or trouble.  Within my short time at the JKS, Tom's excellent artwork did improve dramatically, too. 

Terry Lee Schayes - Terry Lee was built like a college basketball player...which makes sense, since he came from a family of famous basketball players.  He was a very good artist who liked superhero type characters.  I even had him draw my character Vladic.  I enjoyed hanging around with affable Terry Lee, but I didn't have the chance to do so very much.

That's Terry Lee in the middle.  Scott is in front, Bill behind him, and Charlie leaving the scene.

Ted "Somebody" - OK, so I can no longer recall Ted's last name off the top of my head!  Sorry!  Ted was EXTREMELY laid back, almost to the point of appearing sleepy.  He was a good artist and a nice guy, as well as an interesting character.  Oh, and he was a chain smoker.  In fact, as I've recently looked back through my vintage photos from those days, I can find no picture of Ted without a cigarette in hand...even in the classroom!  Remember, this was the 1980's. 


Ted smoking during class.  Man, this was a long time ago.

And then there was me.  I was a fairly unformed and creepy-weird person then (as opposed to now?).  I was an oddly-packed bundle of ideals, neuroses, dreams, and apprehensions.  I'm not a big fan of the "me" of those days, but I am happy to have had the opportunity to grow in that environment.  Every day, even bad ones, was fun, and every classmate was a joy to be around.  I was so happy to be there - just to be there - that it's hard to believe that I'd ever leave under unhappy circumstances.  But I did, eventually.  How I got from Day One to Day Done is a long, weird story, but I plan to tell it to you anyway.  Later.  Tonight, I leave you with a plea; if you know Ted's last name, please e-mail it to me.  I also have this request; if you were one of my classmates, please drop me a line to tell me what you've been up to for the last...ugh...nearly quarter-century.  Here, then, is the last of the "1C" John's Joe Kubert School Classmate of The Day -  Ted "Somebody" (RIDDLE)!