August 21st, 2008

The Zombie

A/A

 
August 20 -  Alphabetically, the next on the list of my 1984-1985 Joe Kubert School teachers is...



(picture swiped directly from the JKS Site)

Joe Kubert himself - As I have noted, I was very fortunate to have Joe as an instructor, and I feel bad that not everyone who has gone to his school since just before my day has had that same opportunity.  Truth is, the school was going to expand sometime, and I just happened to be there when it did.  With that growth, Joe had to cut back. Although truly bigger than life, he's still just one guy...a guy now in his 80's, might I add.  Back in my time there, Joe was an impressive figure (still is, I suppose).  He had a shock of wavy, receding dark gray hair that was turning white at the temples.  He wore large, light-weight eyeglasses, and kept a trim beard which was spiked with tiny white streaks.  He was an average man in size, but had overly developed forearms, Popeyed from years of masterful brush work.  As I have hinted, his voice was very strong and distinctive.  He was prone to smiling most of the time, but also had flashes of deep seriousness and a devastating glower.  If possible, my respect for him only grew while I was enrolled in his school, and continues to grow still.  Much has been written about Joe Kubert as an artist, but his talent for teaching - for inspiring - is second to none.  I have, like, a thousand Joe Kubert stories, some of which I haven't yet blogged about, but I wanted to try (again?  Seems like I did this a few years ago) to give you a sense of what he's like as a teacher.  Joe taught storytelling.  Different than layout or composition, this class was meant to develop the hidden language of panel to panel narrative illustration.  Joe put emphasis on clarity of story, versus, say, intricacy of the artwork.  He wasn't interested in the least with fancy details.  Joe was all about the narrative flow.  If readers couldn't tell what was going on, even the most beautifully drawn comic was a failure.  This was perfect for me.  I was an OK young artist, I suppose, but I felt that I had a pretty good idea of how to do exactly what Joe was looking for.  For example, one of Joe's assignments - and I'm going to paraphrase here - went something like this; "Two pages, inked.  No captions or other lettering.  On the first page, we see a specific place and historical time period - whichever era you're comfortable with.  There's a kid running, away from something.  You decide what that is.  By the second page, he's had a close call, barely escaping.  The kid hides, and the something runs right past him and away.  Relieved, the kid emerges, just as, in the last panel, something much worse grabs him."  The assignment seemed perfect to me.  I couldn't wait to get to it!  I tore into that, and all of Joe's assignments, with zeal.  When finished, Joe had each of us present our completed works to the entire class, encouraging comment...and criticism.  Although nerve-wracking, it was part of his genius.  Whatever we might someday draw professionally would be picked apart by far more critical eyes than first year Kubert School students.  Joe expected us to defend our artistic choices, forcing us to make some in the first place.  All assignments were graded with a two-part evaluation.  First, we would be judged on effort, then on the effectiveness of that effort (resulting in grades like "B/B," "A/B," etc.).  Joe was the toughest grader, rarely handing out "A's" for anything.  He said that he'd rather be tough, even if it meant that he'd lose students who couldn't handle the pressure, than falsely represent the expectations of potential employers.  Makes sense.  And why would anyone leave the Joe Kubert School anyway?  No matter how tough it got, where else could you have access to this kind of education, or these legends of cartooning?  Besides, Joe's assignments were never hard.  Challenging?  Maybe, but never more of a challenge than I was willing to delve into.  Another of my favorites was to draw a man and a woman, each at several steps in the aging process, from toddler to senior citizen.  As everyone began to draw frontward facing, mugshot style images of semi-clad, blank-faced models, I just felt that I could do more.  If half of my grade was based on effort, I was always going to do more than was required of me.  So, in a fit of creativity, my man and woman became characters whose life stories were revealed as they aged.  The man was wrapped in a newspaper when born in New York slums, became a newsboy as a kid, eventually became a reporter, editor, and publisher of the paper.  Eventually, he'd lost his job, ending up a homeless, bitter old man, again wrapped in newspapers on the street.  The woman was a child model for an artist, then took dance classes, became a flapper, and found herself in early movies.  She gained a little weight, took bit parts (as a maid in one frame), retired to Florida, and is now sometimes asked for her autograph as she pushes her walker down the street.  That really got to Joe, who said that no-one had ever turned that assignment into a story before.  He even gave it an "A/A" rating.  I have never been more proud of my own art.  There, for one moment, I had impressed a master.  Like I said, I have many Joe stories, but some will have to wait.  As I continue this walk down memory lane, I hope I'll get to a few more.  Now, though, it's time for your non-1C John's Joe Kubert School Classmate of The Day -  Jeff Shelly!