JOE KUBERT AND NEAL ADAMS: Two Artists, Two Friends, Two Legends

A NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES birthday tribute to the late Kubert, who was born 97 years ago, on Sept. 18, 1926…


Neal Adams and Joe Kubert. Two names linked by their influence, longevity and iconic styles. Vastly different in artistic approach and associated characters, these two men were closer in personal lifestyles than most people were aware.

Neal had five children; Joe had five children. Joe started working professionally when he was 16 years old. Neal started working professionally when he was 19. They both viewed art as a profession, creating working businesses that employed young, hungry artists and writers. Both men quickly became legends and highly respected for their unique work on new and established characters. Sgt. Rock, Deadman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Justice Society of America, Batman, Uncanny X-Men, Tarzan, Conan, Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Avengers and so many more were the titles and characters Neal and Joe made even more famous.

Beyond their personal worlds, the orbits of Joe Kubert and Neal Adams’ professional worlds constantly intersected. From the very beginning of Neal’s love of comics all the way through his professional career, Neal was always aware of what Joe was doing and how he could help one of his icons.

When speaking of his childhood, Neal would often talk about how his father (a military man) was stationed with his family in post WWII Germany in the early- to mid-’50s. Eventually, his father was sent home to the States. By boat. And it was not the Queen Elizabeth, that’s for sure. The Atlantic Ocean may not be the Cape of Good Hope (though that’s where it’s located, on the coast of South Africa) but it has its share of violent storms.

The journey began in England where, while waiting to board the ship, Neal saw a newsstand that sold comics. There he discovered American comic books, especially Tor in a comic called One Million Years Ago, published by St. John in 1953. Cavemen and dinosaurs existed in the same world. Completely ridiculous, but Neal immediately loved Joe’s work. Who know how many times Neal read that comic on his tumultuous journey across the ocean?

That moment cemented a powerful belief in a young Neal Adams: “Comic books are one of the few things that a kid will buy with his own money.” That belief continued throughout Neal’s career, inspiring him to write and draw comics specifically for kids. He even wrote ads and did interviews saying that very thing. Joe, having five children, did very much the same. Even his later, more personal projects were safe for children. Another similarity between the men.

When working at DC Comics, (Joe Kubert was director of publications from 1967 to 1976), he commissioned the great Alex Toth to draw an Enemy Ace story in 1969. A little while later, the story came in and right after it, a young Neal Adams burst into the production room, desperate to see the Toth story. Standing there was Joe Kubert looking miserable. Neal asked what was wrong. Joe showed him the pages from Toth, revealing that he can’t print an Enemy Ace with Toth’s signature tiny planes. Nope, he needed a story that was at least somewhat similar to Joe’s Enemy Ace, with dramatic close ups and powerful air battles. Not Toth’s cerebral storytelling. Joe Kubert was going to have to redraw “Death Takes No Holiday.”

Adams pencils, Kubert inks

Neal saw his chance right there to work with and become a favorite of his idol, Joe Kubert. He immediately offered to redraw the story himself. Neal said he’d even do it in Kubert’s style. Joe, whether out loud or not, probably laughed at this. Neal, however, was quite serious. He took the script and went home, excited to start drawing. Long nights, little sleep, and more long nights produced a fully penciled Enemy Ace story by Neal Adams, who carefully put the story into his portfolio and headed into Manhattan and DC Comics.

Neal described placing the story in front of Joe Kubert, the older man carefully flipping through the story, page by page. When he reached the end, he looked up at the young whippersnapper and said something to the effect of, “It’s like you climbed into my brain and came up with compositions I’ve never drawn. But damn if it doesn’t look like I drew it.” Now, Neal was not the kind of man to jump into the air, screaming “Wa-Hooo” to the heavens, but he says that’s when he knew he’d made it. He’d impressed his idol! He’d beaten the naysayers and the haters. Just like in the old days of his Ben Casey comic strip when he compared his work to Hal Foster, Stan Drake, Alex Kotsky, and Milton Caniff. Some weeks he would win. Some weeks he would lose. But today, standing in front of Joe Kubert, he won big time!

Forgive me for flashing back to 1965 and speaking of Ben Casey. Neal had already met Joe Kubert a few years earlier, but only as a fan and professional artist. Ben Casey, the TV show, was going off the air and that meant the strip was also dying. The syndicate offered Neal a new strip called Tales of the Green Beret. Neal considered drawing the strip because, back then, having a comic strip was the best thing to have. He had a wife and a daughter whom he had to support so he had to make money, but the Green Beret strip was just not his thing. But there was someone out there that this strip was perfect for – Joe “Sgt. Rock” Kubert.

Neal showed the syndicate Joe’s work, getting an immediate response. This guy was perfect for Green Beret. In 1959, Joe had co-created Sgt. Rock, drawing WWII war stories about this hard-as-nails war hero fighting Nazis. As America was getting more and more involved in Vietnam, the Green Berets had a movie with John Wayne and now a comic strip written by Robin Moore. Unfortunately, the United States’ feeling about the war changed and Kubert only drew the strip for little more than two years. The shift in the country’s attitude made him uncomfortable so he stepped away. However, Neal had a warm place in his heart because Joe had made some money thanks to his recommendation.

Now, we shoot forward a few years. In 1976, Joe and his wife Muriel, opened the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. It was the only school of its kind, cultivating wannabe comic artists into professionals. It was a three year associates degree program and Joe himself taught the third-year students. The list of alumni from the Kubert school is impressive: Dave Dorman, Steve Bissette, Lee Weeks, Amanda Conner, Alex Maleev and Timothy Truman are just a few.

Both Neal and Joe created businesses outside of just drawing comics. Neal went the route of a commercial art studio and Joe Kubert went the route of teaching and schooling. Not many comic artists created businesses with employees and mission statements. Once again, a powerful similarity between the two men.

Flashing forward another few years, Neal again had an opportunity to send some work Joe’s way. When the U.S. Army offered Continuity Studios a contract for their P.S. The Preventative Maintenance Monthly, a comic that told the enlisted man how to do a variety of everyday chores. “How to clean your boots”, “How to clean your rifle” and other somewhat mundane activities, were the kind of things that had to be illustrated. It had to be drawn perfectly. The motions and explanations couldn’t be faked. Much like the Green Beret strip, Neal knew this wasn’t his cup of tea, but there was someone out there that could do it easily. Joe Kubert.

Neal once again recommended Joe and once again, the client (the Army) thought he was perfect. Joe and Neal talked about the job years later. Joe revealed that he used the school in much the same way Neal used his studio for commercial art. Joe would do the layouts of the pages. Then he would use the students, especially the third-year students, to pencil, ink and letter those finished pages. He would ink the images that the students couldn’t handle yet, but they learned the essentials of commercial art – how to work with a client, how to make changes, how to meet a serious and realistic deadline and how to letter professionally. That was the best part of Joe’s plan — that the third-year students walked off that graduation stage having been printed and working on a multitude of commercial jobs.

Neal taught many of the same skills to his own employees. Attacking a commercial job like, say, the Power Records jobs, Neal would create layouts, allow his “front room” to pencil and ink and letter the job. As with Joe, Neal would ink the difficult images or make sure Captain Kirk looked like, well, Captain Kirk.

Again, the similarities between these two men are surprising.

In 2006 or 2007, I met Joe Kubert in Continuity’s conference room. I had never met him, but I looked up from my work to see a good-looking older man come through the front door, flanked by two younger men who I quickly learned were his sons, Andy and Adam. Neal and his daughter Kris ushered them into the conference room where I stood quietly off to the side, just listening. The best thing one can do in those situations is to take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. DC was reprinting a ton of Joe’s work in hardcover. Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace and even Dark Horse Comics was reprinting Kubert’s Tarzan. DC was also reprinting Neal’s work almost constantly. Neal had made a deal with DC to get a better royalty and a large number of copies that Neal could sell at conventions with his signature. (Later on, Neal sold them through the internet.)

Neal tried to convince Joe to fight for the same royalties, but Joe was happy with his school and rarely went to conventions. His sons were fiercely loyal to their dad as was Kris with her father. But Adam loved Neal’s work and Kris loved “Daddy Joe” as a man and a father. After all, if you’ve ever shook his hand, you knew he could take the lug nuts off a car tire with his bare hands. Joe would switch the conversation to other artists they knew, but Neal would bring it back to improving their royalty system. It was kind of funny and focused on the differences between the two men.

Joe shook my hand as he introduced himself as if I was a somebody. I was in heaven. JOE F’ING KUBERT shook my hand!

Years later, I was asked to go to the Kubert School as a representative of Continuity. You see, to be accredited, the Kubert School needed companies within the industry to meet at the school once a year. Neal had gone once and asked the third-year students how they drew a tree. They said they looked at the internet, magazines, even from their memories. Neal laughed as he walked to the window. Dramatically, Neal pointed to outside the school toward the sparse woods of Dover, N.J. He said something like, “What do you see out there? Trees? Maybe, just maybe, you could look out the window.” I remember him laughing loudly. “Instead of finding your old Jack Kirby comics and drawing a phone from one of his panels, maybe you could look at the phone you’re going to have on your desk. Draw real things! Draw real life!” Joe just rolled his eyes.

Neal channels Joe for this famed Detective Comics cover

Several years later (maybe 2010), it was my turn. I went to Dover and sat in a room with Joe, Adam, representatives from Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. Joe asked the group if he should teach hand lettering to his third-year students. Marvel, DC and Dark Horse all said no, we all do computer lettering now. I raised my hand as if I were in second grade and said nervously that I disagreed. I thought they should. “Computers don’t do letting or line spacing well. You have to go to Photoshop to do display lettering,” I said. The very week before I had seen Robin kick a bad guy with the sound effect “kick” lettered on computer. It was terrible and unprofessional.

I fully expected Joe to go with DC, Marvel and Dark Horse, but I forgot he was old school. He agreed with me. JOE KUBERT AGREED WITH ME! I was as happy as Neal was when Joe said he had crawled into his brain.

I will always be grateful to Neal Adams for giving me a chance to get into the industry and there is only one piece of original Neal Adams art that I truly want. It’s not the cover to Green Lantern #76 or Batman #251 or X-Men #58. Nope, I only want the drawing that Neal did of Joe Kubert after he passed. It’s an homage to Joe’s drawing of Sgt. Rock and the members of Easy Co. It’s a beautiful piece and it reminds me of the great moments I will always remember of Joe Kubert.

Kubert, left. Adams’ tribute, right.

The only time I’ve seen Neal truly angry about losing someone he was close to was when he found out Joe had passed away in the hospital. Neal and Joe were two peas from the same pod. Legends, icons, businessmen, educators, warriors against the system, husbands, fathers, grandfathers and even great-grandfathers. The world is a far lesser place without these two. They weren’t just great artists, but great men.


— THE NEAL ADAMS CHRONICLES: 13 REASONS Neal Adams’ BATMAN: ODYSSEY Deserves Your Respect. Click here.


Peter Stone is a writer and son-in-law of the late Neal Adams. Be sure to check out the family’s twice-weekly online Facebook auctions, as well as the, and their Burbank, California, comics shop Crusty Bunkers Comics and Toys.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. What a great article. Makes the Monday morning coffee taste that much better. Shoot…… now I’m late for the office. Thanks for the great opening of a new week.

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  2. Sorry to say that I’m sickened by the story about Kubert and Adams joining forces to screw Alex Toth, whose art for the usual weak story about the pathetical crybaby Enemy Ace was doubtlessly far superior. We’ll never know because Toth was so hurt by the rejection that his pages were destroyed, gone forever

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