Word passed through the Internet, Sunday, that comic book great, Joe Kubert, had passed away.
Now, Joe Kubert is not a household name — certainly not like Stan Lee or Walt Disney or Jack Kirby. (Jack who? Jack Kirby. Co-created The Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men, and just about everything good about superhero comics in 1960s into the 70s.) Probably best known for his work on Sgt. Rock, he also drew Hawkman and contributed to piles upon piles of comics anthologies in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Again, these are not accomplishments that Spudnik Q. Public would likely feel.
However, Joe Kubert’s influence on graphic design, illustration, sequential art (i.e. comics), animation, storyboarding, and the entire breadth of storytelling entertainment will be felt for centuries to come because of his greatest public legacy: The Kubert School.
Joe Kubert created a post-secondary school for cartooning and graphic art. Its focus is at once singular and comprehensive. Curriculum requires students learn the essentials of quality draftsmanship and composition in the analog pencil-and-paper world while also learning how to operate, create, and communicate in a digital world. Students learn how to tell story while also learning how the industry of storytelling functions. Alumni and other industry professionals return to mentor, teach, and coach. Recent graduates each received an original piece of comic book art from multiple-Eisner award-winning creator, Darwyn Cooke, a symbol of his belief in their talent and his own investment in the school that Kubert built.
Kubert’s school isn’t the only graphic art and cartooning program, or even school, in the country. The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont is fantastic, the Savannah College of Art and Design has a remarkable program as well. And there are others.
Here’s the thing about The Kubert School: I grew up knowing about it. It was advertised in the back of every issue of G.I. Joe and X-Men I read. I looked at that image of the caveman standing next to a lizard/dinosaur thing and thought, “That’s where I want to go to college.” I thought about it all the time. I drew all the time. I saw the names of the people who graduated from there, who were instructing there, and thought, “That’s it. That’s the place.”
And then I met a couple of guys who were also thinking of applying. I saw their work.
I didn’t bother wasting the Kubert School’s time.
So, I didn’t become a comic book artist or an illustrator or a graphic designer. That’s not because the opportunity wasn’t there or the support — I just didn’t work hard enough at it. I lacked the tenacity and resiliency it takes to become an artist. And that’s okay. I became an English teacher instead and it’s work out pretty great so far.
My point — and I do have one — is not that I didn’t go to the Kubert School.
It’s that I wanted to go.
Through a single rectangular ad, The Kubert School captured my imagination of what I could become. What I could do. I was excited about college and a career — and I was old enough to be beyond dreams astronauts or firefighters. This was legit.
A single ad. With a single picture. The catalyst, when combined with my raw interests, for an entire career path.
How can we get kids that excited about middle school and high school? How can we ignite those feelings of possibility and wonder, those amazing games of “What if?” that start with a drawing and end with a lifetime achievement award?
When I attend a Friday night football game at Mt. Blue, you can see the future generations of linebackers and wideouts screeching across the practice fields, darting in and out around the concession stands, hanging over the chain-link fences watching their older brothers, cousins, neighbors, move the sticks up and down the field. They wear similar colors. They recreate the last big play. They imagine themselves in three, four, five years, doing just the same.
It is awesome.
How do we get kids excited about performing a biotech experiment in the same way? Or constructing a remarkable piece of engineering? Or performing a gorgeous bluegrass fiddle tune? Or composing a profound line of verse?
How do we encourage them to dream of fondant icing, restoring an old growth forest, or retrofitting an engine? Of coding video games, creating public policies, or improving foreign relations?
All of the above happens in our high schools and technical centers. Right now.
And educators, we all know this. This isn’t news. We know amazing things transpire every day in our schools — meaningful, important work that translates into meaningful, important product. And yet, far too many students aren’t excited about the prospect of school. They might be looking forward to the big game, the dance, the bus stop, some other aspect of school — but not so much the learning.
How do we change that?
I reckon a big part of it lay in image. We simply do not sell schools on their number one customer: students.
We’ve done a great job of casting schools as the places where you are stuck, where you have to follow loads of rules, where you have to take tests that may or may not mean your teachers’ continued employment, where if you do all the things you are supposed to you can leave in as few as three years, and as many as five.
What we haven’t done — yet — is cast them as places where students can pursue their passions and possibilities for a career. What if we better engaged alumni, encouraged them to come back and mentor students down similar paths? What if we took a public relations and image consultation strategy to work for us? What if our elementary school students were as excited about having the high school’s logo on their stuff as an RVCA design?
And honestly, I would still love to go to The Kubert School. Drawing ain’t like a bicycle — I wouldn’t be much of a student there. I would love to just tour the place, have a few conversations and see how it operates. Talk to the students. To hear people passionate about their craft and their school.
I am going to miss Joe Kubert. I plan on reading some Sgt. Rock later, digging out out my Hawkman Showcase, and look at the covers to the handful of Our World at War issues I have. And though I never attended his school, just thinking about going there has done almost as much for my career.