Joe Kubert’s Heroic Vision

Cover, Star-Spangled War Stories #138 (1968)


There’s a lot to say about the Big Man of classic American mainstream comics Joe Kubert, who passed away last week. I can hardly do his rich and varied career justice, and in any case he is served well by Bill Schelly’s fine biography Man of Rock (2008), just as his passing was marked appropriately by Schelly over at The Comics Journal. And of course there’s Gary Groth’s epic 1994 interview with him.

What seems to me lacking in the literature I’ve seen is a critical appreciation of his art and how it developed. I cannot hope to do anything but suggest a few lines of inquiry here, but think that an examination of how his late-career non-fiction and reality-based work would be a good place to start. Back when his first and still most notable book of that particular, one might say Eisnerian phase of his work, Fax from Sarajevo was published in 1996, The Comics Journal published a critical review by Kent Worcester in which he compared its visuals with Kubert’s concurrent run on the Marvel hero comic Punisher: War Zone. The point was Kubert was simply too mired in the romantic heroism of the genres in which he had forged his style adequately to represent that book’s protagonist, his European agent Erwin Rustemagic’s real-life experiences during the siege of Sarajevo.

The Week

The week in review

The outrageous sentence of two years in labour camp for the members of the punk/art collective Pussy Riot in Moscow the day before yesterday is the most high-profile recent example of the fragility and corruption of the Russian judicial system. Without knowing much of anything about the subject, I think that suggestions that the Church, rather than the government, may have played the greatest role in the conviction rings true, despite Putin getting most of the bad press. In any case, it reflects terribly on both.

It is also a reminder of the power of art and activism based on creative work to call attention to injustice. Not only is their really very innocuous manifestation (see above) is just plain fun — a perfect youtube phenomenon — the support of a Madonna or a Paul McCartney seems also to have come more naturally because of the nature of their dissent. It certainly carries a different and potentially broader kind of visibility than the usual statements of support for activists of more straightforward political stripe. Fair or not.

Beyond the news stories, a good introduction to the group and their thinking is Nadia Tolokonnikova’s closing statement from the trial. Smart, informed, and naive, it carries the blazing righteousness of youth.

More links:

  • Richard Thompson. It is sad news that Richard Thompson is ending his brilliant daily strip Cul de Sac, and his reasons for doing so infinitely sadder. But at least he pretty much goes out on top. Tom Spurgeon has just published two extensive, older interviews with the cartoonist.
  • Jay-Z and the New Jersey Nets. I liked this article on Shawn Carter’s investment and stake in the New Jersey Nets and their imminent move to Brooklyn. Another example of Hova’s contribution as an hip hop entrepreneur.
  • Tintin at Nummer9


    On the Danish comics site Nummer9.dk I’ve written a bunch of notes on two of Hergé’s earliest Tintin stories, the notorious Tintin in the Congo and the criminally overlooked Tintin in America as they were originally published in the early thirties. I touch upon everything from racism to humanism, from gag construction to panel composition. Unfortunately it’s in Danish, though I might try to translate it into English at some point. But yeah, now you know.

    The Week

    The week in review

    The Olympics ended today. Besides offering plenty of amazing performances, the event for me was interesting in that it something as rare as an (almost) uniformly positive display of national pride by the customarily self-loathing Britons. Lame and messy as it was in parts, it was great to see an opening ceremony that was essentially intellectual and — as most good things British — self-aware, with a political edge (tying into the upcoming US presidential elections!) to boot. No stooping to reach the lowest common denominator, just the inevitable unselfconscious popular lameness.

    And it was gratifying to see the Britons perform so well athletically, home field advantage or not, demonstrating that the healthy mind so effortlessly celebrated in the opening ceremony ties into a healthy body. It remains to be see whether the goal of inspiring a surge of interest in sports in Britain will come about, just as it remains to be seen whether all the big words about rejuvenating some of the most disadvantaged areas of East London through the building of the Olympic Village and attendant infrastructural lift will come to fruition. Right now, it’s just predictably ugly (the Olympic Stadium looks like so much scaffolding, lacking in harmony, and Anish Kapoor’s lumpy twirl in front is just an embarrassment, inelegant and pointless).

    So far, however, it has been a bravura achievement, uniting Britons with the world in a way that reminds us of the the bedrock confidence that underlies the usual self-loathing and doubt. Not bad in this recessed economy, and not bad for something so fundamentally tied up in the negative empowerment of money and political prestige.

    Links:

  • Paul Ryan. Mitt Romney’s announcement of his running mate yesterday has sharpened the presidential race, making it clearer what kind of laternative Romney will be representing to the electorate. This profile on Ryan by Ryan Lizza from last week’s New Yorker provides some helpful background on the tea-party ideologue now gunning for the White House.
  • Ng Suat Tong’s recent reviews of notable comics. The long-time comics critic has really been bringing it lately over at Hooded Utilitarian, weighing in on several of the year’s most notable releases. Here are his reviews of Joe Sacco’s Journalism, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, and Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem — Chronicles from the Holy City. Also, check out his essay on Lovecraft in comics.
  • Cultural Amnesia in Berlin


    I’ve already mentioned it in passing here on the blog and on Twitter, but this is sufficiently important to warrant its own post. There are currently plans to refurbish the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin to the tune of a government grant of €10 million to make space for the Pietzsch Collection, a large and significant collection of modern art donated in 2010 to the German National Galleries, under the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage.

    This will mean that the works currently occupying that space — one of the world’s finest collections of old master paintings have to be relocated. A collection that includes major works by many of the greatest painters of European history, from Dürer, Cranach, Roger van der Weyden and Bruegel, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi , Botticelli, and Bellini, to Titian, Raphael, and Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Vermeer, to name but a few. Apparently, the current plan is to hang a selection of them in the galleries of the Bode Museum on the centrally placed Museumsinsel, while the rest will have to go into storage until at least 2018, when a new museum for the pictures is scheduled to open.

    This is a terrible idea.