There are few people who worked in comics longer than Joe Kubert. In over seventy years in the business, the prolific artist, writer, editor, and educator left a rich legacy and incredible stamp on the medium he loved.
Kubert was the definitive war comics artist, most notably on Sgt. Rock. He drew groundbreaking sci-fi and superhero stories, as in Hawkman. He did horror, he did fantasy, he did pulp, he did everything, and he did it all with an intensity and deliberation that made him a standout artist in his field for his entire, very long career.
Perhaps even more important than that, though, was his influence on the generations that followed him. In 1976, Kubert founded the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, now known simply as The Kubert School, in Dover, New Jersey. There many of the industry's top artists from the last several decades have honed their craft at the guidance of Joe and his staff. And of course there's also his two superstar artist sons, Adam and Andy Kubert, and his granddaughter Katie, a successful editor.
Born in Poland on September 18, 1926, Joe Kubert would have been 91 years old today, but sadly passed in 2012. His work lives on, which is why we've gathered 15 of his most striking covers through the decades, featuring some of his most beloved characters ... and hopefully one or two you haven't seen before.
Check out the covers below, and join us in wishing the late, great Joe Kubert a happy birthday by telling us about your favorite Kubert classics in the comments.
The Atom and Hawkman #40
No one can — nor will they ever be able to — draw Hawkman like Joe Kubert. This is easily one of his most memorable covers featuring the character, as this one is powerfully composed, and simply oozes with melodrama.
For working at DC for as long as he did, Kubert didn't do a ton of work on the company's big names. He stopped by occasionally, though, like for this incredible Batman cover from 1980 that depicts the Dark Knight in a straight jacket. The looming mob is nightmarish without being cliched and contrasts hauntingly with Batman, their hunched bodies barely looking like the same species as the superhero.
The Brave and the Bold #36
Not many artists could make a compelling cover out the book's hero punching through nothing, but Kubert makes it work. He give a wild texture and mass-less-ness to Shadow Thief, and fiercely heroic stoicism to both the hawks that makes you want to immediately open the book right up to get more of the action.
The Flash #189
Another appearance on a mainstream superhero book, this time Kubert makes an iconic cover for the Fastest Man Alive! No one ever wants to see the sidekick get yelled at, but Kubert really makes you feel it with this cover. Barry's rage and disappointment are palpable, and Wally's confusion and helplessness are equally so. Kubert's masterful control of emotion is on full display here.
G.I. Combat #52
The first of many war comic covers on this list, this 1957 G.I. Combat cover is a great example of the more advanced framing and geometry that Kubert was using ahead of many of his peers. The soldier's body and legs parallel with the “X” emphasizes the dynamism of the shot, while at the same time, the recurring x-motif makes the reader feel the tank bearing down on them, too.
G.I. Combat #88
Kubert's contributions to the visual language of war stories can't be overstated, and this cover proves as much. This is very Stanley Kubrick-style imagery, but the comic predates Full Metal Jacket by 26 years. Kubert was creating iconic, haunting, and cinematic images of war that would influence generations of storytellers.
House of Mystery #285
To paraphrase a terrible comedian: "I don't care who you are, that's scary." This is a bone-chilling cover from DC's legendary horror anthology, House of Mystery, and Kubert delivered an absolutely killer cover, which has just enough dark humor contrasted with the sheer terror to make it intriguing.
Sgt. Rock #335
Finally, we arrive at everyone's favorite sergeant! Sgt. Rock was clearly the character closest to Kubert's heart, and he used him to convey some unexpectedly complex ideas about war. Here we see the struggles of command, as a visibly suffering Rock has to keep his team alive under impossible circumstances. Kubert's line work on Rock's face here is absolutely captivating.
Sgt. Rock #350
While there were plenty of serious war covers, like the last one, there were also a handful of fun ones as well, like this one from 1981. Because what's more fun than Sgt. Rock using a snowman decoy to blow away a bunch of unsuspecting Nazis? Nothing, that's what.
This is one of Kubert's most recognizable covers, to be sure, but beyond that, it's probably one of the most recognizable images of Tarzan in pop culture. Kubert's run on Tarzan is a well-loved and faithful adaptation of the Burroughs novels and some of the defining work of Kubert's career.
Joe Kubert and Norman Maurer originally created the prehistoric tough guy known as Tor in 1953 for a short-lived series, but DC revived him for a limited run in 1975. This cover to the second issue of the DC series put on display one of Kubert's secret weapons: The man could draw the heck out of a triceratops.
The Unexpected #220
While this is the cover to another classic DC horror anthology, there's a certain warmth to this cover that's irresistible. The misadventures of the little boy buying comics from the monster who runs the corner newsstand is the setup to a comic I want to read immediately. This cover has everything: color, imagination, and charm. How could you not buy this off the spinner rack?
The Unknown Soldier #265
Kubert created Unknown Soldier with Robert Kanigher, and he quickly became one of DC's most interesting war characters. Kubert did a number of incredible covers for him, but this one stands out from the rest, thanks to the brilliant use of the title logo to obscure nearly every soldier in the crowd's face, with the few that aren't are shrouded in shadow. The symbolism with the Unknown Soldier's own covered face is unmistakable, and makes for a cover that tells a powerful story.
DC Special #12
Viking Prince was another Kubert co-creation with Kanigher for DC's The Brave and the Bold anthology. He is a classic Viking adventure character, and Kubert really flexed his fantasy muscles with him. Here we get to see what looks like a Viking version of Moby Dick on the cover of an issue of DC Special that collected the character's The Brave and the Bold stories.
Weird War Tales #6
So if we've learned anything thus far, it's that Kubert could do sci-fi and fantasy comics, but he could really do war comics, so it seems appropriate to wrap things with a cover where he does both. The classic trope of a wounded soldier telling his buddy he's okay when he really isn't is turned on its head here, as the reader gets an eerie peek at the soldier's exposed mechanical body. A flawlessly executed cover from Joe Kubert, a true comics legend.