Groundbreaking comic artist, educator Kubert dies

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By KATIE ZEZIMA and MATT MOORE, Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Joe Kubert, a groundbreaking comic artist and educator best known for co-creating DC Comics' iconic Sgt. Rock character, has died. He was 85.

Kubert died Sunday, according to the Kubert School in Dover, N.J., which he founded in 1976 to train and teach illustrators and artists. The school did not disclose a location or cause of death.

Kubert co-created Sgt. Frank Rock, a World War II hero with a dangerously accurate shot, an uncanny ability to survive numerous war rounds and who led his patrols with a fierce sense of duty and courage. Kubert also co-created Tor, a prehistoric strongman, and reinvigorated Hawkman, who flew above New York City, fighting crime with a mace.

Kubert was known for his war comics and expressionistic drawings of macho men, muscles rippling as they performed heroics.

"He told stories, he drew stories where you could smell the sweat, you could feel the fear these guys were experiencing as they went into war," said Pete Carlsson, the art director at Tell-A-Graphics, a company Kubert founded.

Kubert was long interested in arts education, and tried to teach a correspondence course in the 1950s, Carlsson said. In 1976, he and his wife, Muriel, founded the Kubert School as a way to educate aspiring comic book artists and illustrators.

"Joe fostered a portion of an entire generation of cartoonists and storytellers through that school," said Steve Bissette, an artist who was in the school's first class. "Probably two generations at this point."

Bissette remembers watching Kubert working in his studio. Classical music was playing on the radio. Kubert had a brush behind each ear, pen nibs nestled between the fingers he wasn't working with, and was quickly switching tools. He drew a cover in about a half-hour, Bissette said.

Kubert was born in Poland in 1926. He came to the United States as a baby and grew up in Brooklyn.

Kubert started working in comics as a young teenager in the shop of Harry "A'' Chesler, according to Carlsson. He did his first work for DC Comics in the 1940s, Chesler said, and signed on with now-defunct houses St. John and Hillman. At the time, Kubert and friends introduced the first 3-D comics to the U.S. Kubert started working for DC permanently in the 1960s. More recently, he illustrated a manual for the U.S. Army on how to fix Humvees.

His work is also poignant. "Yossel April 19, 1943" explored the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in World War II and what his life would have been if his parents did not emigrate from Poland when he was a baby. In the 1990s, he published "Fax from Sarajevo," a graphic novel he created from faxes sent from a friend documenting life in a war zone.

Kubert was known for working seven days a week and through vacations. His work continued unabated, with two new projects this year from DC, including the four-issue miniseries "Before Watchmen: Nite Owl" that he illustrated with son, Andy, and the upcoming six-issue anthology series titled "Joe Kubert Presents."

The first issue, due out Oct. 31, includes a Hawkman story that Kubert wrote and illustrated. Other issues will include stories about Sgt. Rock, The Biker and Spit.

Ivan Brandon, who wrote most of the "Men of War" series for DC last year that featured a relaunched Sgt. Rock, told The Associated Press on Monday that losing Kubert "feels like losing the ground under our feet. He was that important. That permanent. And he was that strong."

Brandon noted that Kubert's life followed the "arc" of the comic book medium and industry.

"He was a kid when it started and he did his best to help it grow as he did," he said. "If you could look back at a single career in American comics to emulate, all the way back to the very beginning, it would be his."

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Moore reported from Philadelphia.

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