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Joe Kubert Has Passed . . .

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I never met Joe Kubert in either of my stints in the comic-book world, but I spoke with him on the phone a few times. Mr. Kubert, a pioneering artist who worked mainly for DC Comics, had started a school for cartooning and graphic arts in Dover, New Jersey. There were two young friends and employees of mine in whom I saw great potential.

I spoke with Mr. Kubert about them both. These conversations were about ten years apart, but Mr. Kubert had the same two questions about the young men I was touting: “Are they good? Will they listen?”

Both young men attended his school to their decided benefit. He and his staff taught them what they needed to know to augment their talent with real-world chops. After a couple of years at the Kubert School, both these young men were not only pro-level cartoonists, but could handle any graphic assignment someone might throw at them. They not only knew the theory but how to get it done without a lot of floundering around. Both young men have done well in their careers, thanks to Joe Kubert. There are many others who can say the same thing.

When I first saw Joe Kubert’s work, in some of the DC war comics, I didn’t like it. It was gritty and a tad ugly to my eye.

Then I saw his work on the revamping of the Hawkman feature in the early 1960s. His work on Hawkman soared; it was lyrical and clearly showed the joy and freedom of flight.

Thus I began to realize that Joe Kubert was simply a better artist than I had encountered before. He was capable of creating more than pretty drawings; he was gifted enough to produce emotional drawings based upon realism. War was ugly, so he drew it ugly; flying was about grace in the air, and he drew it that way.

His composition skills were equal to his draftsmanship; he did tons of covers for DC where his covers were the best thing about the book and where the poor artist who did the interior pages just wasn’t Kubert’s equal.

He was a pioneer, yes, but he also was driven to teach what he had learned to new generations of artists. He gave back and provided leadership to many young people who will carry his legacy into the future.

Thanks, Mr. Kubert.

Sorry, Kid . . .

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Here’s the announcement DC Comics had on their inside front covers in December, 1961, announcing their 20-percent price increase to twelve cents an issue. I can clearly remember that, though I was only nine years old at the time. Notice the prices of other items DC mentions in this “letter” to the boys and girls who bought the comic:

Of course, the other comic publishers quickly jumped on the bandwagon; Dell Comics, who outsold everyone with their Disney/Warner Brothers-licensed comics and movie/TV-adaptations, went to fifteen cents for a 36-page comic earlier in 1961, at least for a while. From the sales figures I’ve seen, and some folks have published a lot of info on this, sales of comics went into a decided slump after this increase and the slump lasted for a long time. Marvel had just begun their superhero output with the Fantastic Four, but one of their pre-hero monster comics lost 30-percent of its sales.

Today, when a DC or Marvel Comic costs three or four dollars, a couple of pennies doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was to a kid back then.

For our younger readers, here are some common prices and such from 1961, by way of comparison:

Average cost of new house: $12,500.00
Average income per year: $5,315.00
Cost of a gallon of gas: 27 cents
Average cost of a new car: $2,850.00
23″ black-and-white television: $219.99
Bacon, one pound: 67 cents
Loaf of bread: 20 cents
Eggs, per dozen: 30 cents
Ounce of gold: $35.25

Great Scott!

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As a kid, I loved comic books and the one I loved the most was DC’s World’s Finest Comics. It had originally started as New York World’s Fair Comics, in 1939. Then it became World’s Best Comics and finally World’s Finest Comics. Its early issues were 96-pagers, but soon settled in at 76 pages for fifteen cents for many years. Superman and Batman each had their own stories, along with a bunch of lesser characters.

The covers showed Superman and Batman together in a poster setting that had nothing to do with the contents of the books. All this was way before my time. The page count began slimming down by the late 1940s, as seen here, but the price stayed at fifteen cents. I have to wonder how many of these comics were sold at a dime, since that was the going rate for a comic book.

In 1954, when things got tough for comics publishers, DC changed the format to 36 pages (including the covers), cut a lot of the secondary features and reduced the price to ten cents, like most all other comics. They also combined Superman and Batman into one story, which seems an obvious move after all those previous covers showing them both together. Those are the comics I loved; they gave great value for your dime. The art was crisp and well-drawn; the stories were interesting with intriguing plots. And the idea of superheroes being friends was wonderful to a kid.

The Justice League of America, which came out a few years later, had most all the DC heroes, including Superman and Batman, but the art was lame and the stories confusing with seven or eight heroes bouncing around. World’s Finest was more to my liking. Now, too, the covers related to the stories found in the issue.

For about 50 issues, World’s Finest Comics were a real hoot, and there were two things about the covers I really liked. Usually, someone (Superman, Batman or Robin) would exclaim, “Great Scott!” at whatever was going on.

And Robin, being rather a fifth wheel, would often be stuck in the bottom corner of the cover.

My favorite covers had both the Great Scott! AND Robin in the corner.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a real person say, “Great Scott!” but comic books were aimed at 12-year-olds, and the publishers had to be careful. The very early Superman used a lot of “What the–“ exclamations, and the reader could fill in the blank but that only lasted a couple of years. Thus, “Great Scott!” And see that “Still 10¢” in bold type on the pink cover? That was a hint that something was in the works at DC, and it wasn’t good.

After a while, someone at DC must have issued an order about these recurring items, and Great Scott! was replaced with a couple of Great Kryptons! or Great Guns! and once even with a Great Gosh! Robin, instead of being stuck in the corner, was just left off the cover entirely as often as not.

By then the comics had gone up in price to twelve cents each (that previously noted “Still 10¢” really meant “Not Yet 12¢”) and the art wasn’t as lively or well-drawn as it had once been. It was the end of an era.

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