The Arty Semite

Joe Kubert, Comic Book Legend, Dies at 85

By Rafael Medoff

  • Print
  • Share Share

Iconic comic book artist and writer Joe Kubert spent most of his life drawing brawny super heroes, lionhearted jungle men and rampaging dinosaurs. But at age 75, Kubert began a journey back to his roots that led him to illustrate Warsaw Ghetto fighters, Holocaust survivors, and ethical mini-lessons for the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement. Kubert, who passed away August 12 in New Jersey at age 85, left behind an enormous fan base in the comic book world as well as a growing audience of admirers in the Jewish community.

Courtesy of the Israeli Cartoon Museum

“I’ve known and interviewed many older comic book artists, and I usually find that their abilities diminish after a certain age,” noted comics historian and publisher Craig Yoe. “But the amazing thing about Joe was that in his 70s and 80s he was at the top of his game, still constantly and passionately drawing new comics and graphic novels of the highest caliber.”

Kubert’s most recent phase was his immersion in his Jewish roots. While keeping up a heavy schedule of comic book illustration he began making time for a number of Jewish projects. He helped design “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust” for the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, a traveling exhibit of 1940s political cartoons from American newspapers about the Jews in Nazi Europe, and served as a judge in a student cartooning contest. For the Lubavitch magazine “Moshiach Times” he drew a series of two-page adventures with moral lessons called “The Adventures of Yaakov and Isaac.” He also wrote and illustrated “Jew Gangster,” a graphic novel about the Jewish underworld figures of yesteryear.

The Jewish project that attracted the most attention was his 2003 graphic novel, “Yossel.” Comic book fans who were used to Kubert drawing the likes of Hawkman were startled to find their favorite artist recreating the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. “Yossel” utilized a “What if…” technique of storytelling familiar to comic book readers.

In real life, Kubert’s family came to the U.S. from Poland in 1924 when he was a small child; in the book, the family stayed in Poland, and young Joe —Yossel — was a budding teenage cartoonist when the Germans invaded and World War II began. Yossel’s cartoons come to the attention of the Nazi authorities and his life is spared because his artwork amuses them. Ultimately Yossel chooses to join the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Kubert was more than a little surprised when I called him in 2006 to tell him about Dina Babbitt, a cartoonist and illustrator who, like the Yossel character, was spared because of her art — in her case, Josef Mengele needed her to paint portraits of victims of his experiments in Auschwitz. “I had never heard of a real-life example of that [when I wrote ‘Yossel’] — I just imagined that it could have happened,” he told me.

Kubert became one of the leaders of a campaign by the Wyman Institute to persuade the Auschwitz State Museum, in Poland, to return to Babbitt eight of her paintings, which they have been holding. A petition he spearheaded netted the signatures of 450 comic book creators from around the world and international attention for Mrs. Babbitt’s cause.

J. David Spurlock, publisher of several books of Kubert’s art and formerly an instructor at Kubert’s School of Cartooning and Graphic Art, in Dover, N.J., worked with Kubert on the Dina Babbitt campaign. “Joe entertained entire generations of young Americans with his tales of the good guys beating the bad guys,” Spurlock recalled. “But he also knew when it was time to step into the real world and be one of the good guys, trying to help an elderly Holocaust survivor recover her property. That’s what my Jewish friends call ‘a mensch.’”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rafael Medoff, Comic Books, Obituaries, Joe Kubert, chabad, hasidic, holocaust, jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.