August 28th, 2008

The Zombie

Then The Cracks Began To Show

August 27 -  OK.  Let's get down to it...but, first, let me just once more remember the good times...and there were so many.  Oh, the crazy fun we had!  There was never a boring day at the Joe Kubert School, and some were even more interesting than others. 

OK, so I can't take a good picture...but cut me some slack!
That was a dark hallway (past many off-limits rooms), and I was
way down at the far end when everyone froze in those poses.

I've talked in the past about Halloween of 1984, when we all dressed up in odd costumes just for the heck of it (an event which has since evolved into an annual contest).  I told you a couple of years ago about how Joey Martinez became the model for the Munchkins in Greg Hildebrandt's
The Wizard of Oz special edition illustrations.  I think I once even told you about the time that, as a favor, I "was" classmate Chuck Marchegiano, even dressing like him, so that "he" could present an assignment on time.  There were practical jokes, deep discussions, great friends, and all sorts of geeky, comics-related fun.   Over the years, and over last few weeks, I've related lots of stories from my JKS experience.  What I've never tried to explain is the feel of what it was like to have been there.  Former classmate, and great guy, Dan Lietha commented recently that he was surprised that I remembered so much about those days...and that I was still drawing, for that matter.  This brought to mind two things.  First, it only recently hit me that for decades I have been perceived as (and was, in literal terms only) a "Kubert School dropout."  I guess it's not surprising that my classmates might see me that way, even though I have never thought of myself as a "dropout," per se.  Moreover, though, it reminded me of just why I do remember so much from that brief period of my life now nearly a quarter-century removed.  For those few months, I was living with a heightened sense of being somewhere important, of experiencing important events.  I was actively committing to memory the extraordinary situation in which I had found myself.  I always felt like I was at the center of a comic book Algonquin Roundtable or in on the ground floor of a cartooning version of NASA.  Every person walking past me in the hall could be the next Walt Disney, every classmate the next Jack Kirby.  History may request - or require - that I someday dredge up even the most trivial bit of my memories from those days, so I have tried to keep them fresh in my mind.  The feel of those days was...well, it felt like I was not just witnessing history, but helping to make it.  In those days, I had no reason to believe that I, too, might not be the next...well, not Jack Kirby, certainly, but maybe, oh, I don't know...Ross Andru?  Al Milgrom?  Pat Boyette, maybe?  I suppose I've always known that I wasn't going to be The Next Big Thing, but I thought that I was at least going to be The Next Another Thing.  That's something that just being at The Joe Kubert School instilled within me, and all students...for one, brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot.  Then...then cracks began to show.  First, it was the fact that Joe did not, in spite of what was said when we were enrolling, teach every first year student.  Understandable.  Next, there was the grumbling about all of the copying of other artists' work that we had to do.  Even if such strict regimen of blatant plagiarism produced results (and that's a pretty big "if"), some complained that they could have stayed home, saved the money, and copied artwork for free.  "We're here to learn, not copy" some said.  OK, there was some validity to that.  Even non-copying assignments were often ridiculously simple or mind-numbingly tedious.  We had to fill pages and pages with straight lines, draw a single window, or produce circles within circles. 

While arguably necessary, these were all, nonetheless, things which we could have, or perhaps even had already, done at home for free.  Another grumble came when so much was immediately expected of us as if it were common.  For example, many of our assignments, right off the bat, were supposed to be inked when turned in, but we were given absolutely no instruction on how to "ink."  I definitely struggled with that, feeling that I had ruined many good pencils with "I don't know what the heck I'm doing" inking (and that's a direct quote from Bill Sienkiewicz about my inking "style"). 

Look!  It's Page Two from that Joe assignment I talked about a few
nights ago.  Yes, look...but not at the terrible inking, please.  Ugh.

So, yes, that wasn't
good, but it wasn't awful.  I've always enjoyed a challenge, and that's all it really was.  No.  The big grumbling within the student body came from the fact that many teachers flat out didn't teach.  While some teachers actually showed us ideas and techniques, others relied on the assignment critique phase to offer any instruction if required.  Others still, though - and I won't name names - came, took attendance, then left.  At first, I was just happy to have had the free time to get other assignments done (homework loads were purposely very heavy, which was actually very good training for "life").  Eventually, though, this was put into perspective by my first roommate Dave.  He argued with me that we were paying those teachers to be there for us, whether we were up to it or not.  I argued, over and over, that even so, just being around these comics masters was worth the cost.  When it came right down to it, so what if some were lousy teachers?  It was an opportunity to study at their sides, get inside their heads, and to gather whatever crumbs may fall.  And, don't forget the Great Kubert School Promise; any student who graduated from the JKS was guaranteed a job in the comics/animation field.  GUARANTEED.  For Dave, though, that wasn't enough.  Up to a certain date, the school offered a partial refund of tuition to anyone who wanted out, so Dave took it and left.  Wow.  I didn't see that coming.  Sure, things weren't perfect, but to leave...?  With Dave gone, I was alone in dorm room back at The Mansion, giving me lots of time to think.  What if he was right?  Nah...I was right.  Even a lousy education from great artists was better than no education from anyone...and, due to the nature of my student loan and my general lack of money, that would have been my only alternative.  Yes.  I was smart to stay.  But...well, then things started to get worse.  I hate to leave ya hanging, but this has already gotten a little too wordy, so I'm going to leave you with your last Joe Kubert School Upper-Classman During John's 1984-1985 School Year of The Day (for the 26th) -  Mike Chen, and your first Joe Kubert School Alum of The Day -  Eric Shanower!