An Unexpected Gift from Muriel Kubert This Week; and Another from Howard Cruse; and…
This past week has been an emotional rollercoaster ride, marked by tragedy and sorrow, but I have to grace this Saturday post with a few of the gifts the week brought, too. I’m an optimist by nature, which is easy to come by when life is so full of surprises and — well, gifts.
About a week prior to receiving the sad news this Wednesday of Muriel Kubert’s passing (please see yesterday’s post, below), I’d received an email from my ol’ Kubert School classmates about our first-year instructor Ric Estrada being terribly ill.
Along with fellow XQBs like Rick Veitch, Tom Yeates, Sam Kujava and others, I rushed to renew contact with Ric and his wife Loretta. Ric was among my favorite instructors at the Kubert School, though I often butt heads with him: I in my early 20s, full of piss and vinegar, and fueled by the transgressive power of the underground comix and European mindblowers like Metal Hurlant, and Ric was quite the opposite. We both engaged with one another on all cylinders, and I learned more than I can say from Ric. I’ll write at some length about Ric, his work and our teacher-student relations in the coming week; suffice to say here, though, that this had put a number of us very much attuned to our memories of the Kubert School.
When the news of Muriel’s death hit us all like a ton of bricks, I believe it was also the brush of mortality we were already very much feeling via our renewed contact with Ric Estrada that made the decision to make the pilgrimage to Dover, NJ a done deal.
We had to go, for Joe, for Muriel, for the Kuberts — and for ourselves.
So, Rick Veitch and I drove to the service and funeral on Thursday. It was a sad, beautiful day. We went down together and the sky was clear and sunny — and I’m happy to say Rick and I re-bonded over the entire trip. It hadn’t been the same since I left comics in ’99, and relations had been unavoidably strained prior to that, what with all that went down in the direct market implosion of ’96-’97 and the acrimony that emerged from old friends toward me that ended in ‘exile’ — enough said. That’s all behind us now.
We talked all the way down and back, over 600 miles of talking; I’d brought a backpack load of CDs, but we didn’t tap ‘em once. We got to Dover early enough to approach town on Route 46 instead of off the highway, and thus experienced Dover as we each had in 1976.
Mind you, this was the route I first drove into Dover on with my father and my Johnson State College amigo Scott Sampietro, the day before my Dad and I first met Muriel and then Joe; the day my life changed forever. This was the route the buses from New York City came in on, and we used to go to NYC weekly; these were the storefronts we knew and frequented, the route to classmates and friends and places we used to go. On our way into Dover, we saw the new Walgreens that now stands behind the Kubert School, and a bit of the renovations to the school resulting from that construction. But this is (to us) the new Kubert School — our school, just off Lehigh Street, once known as the Baker Mansion, still beckoned.
Rick and I had breakfast at Travelers Diner, where we often used to dine (when we lowly pauper students had the money, or when Joe would treat us to lunch after a morning working at the original Tell-A-Graphics office on Blackwell Street). It was delicious; the last time I was here, I sat with my son Daniel, the day he toured the Kubert School with me (Dan ultimately decided not to attend any college, preferring to explore the country, life and his music for a while).
Rick and I then drove to the Baker Mansion and spent almost half an hour on the old school grounds. This is where we’d first met, in the fall of ’76.
Back then, the Baker Mansion was the school, year one; we were the first-ever class, it was a whole new experiment that Joe and Muriel had launched, and we were lucky enough to be on board. We roomed in the mansion’s carriage house, right across the parking lot from the mansion. We walked all around — no one was there — and aired our memories, individual and shared, of that first year, of our classmates and events. The porch and woodwork is newly painted, the building still intact. As we walked around to the side porch, I craned my neck to see the second-floor gable where I snugly fit my drawing board in place and studied, worked and drew my entire second year here.
The swimming pool is still there, green and clean and functional; I remember first meeting Adam Kubert here, when he was still a teenager in high school, swimming in the pool with his buddies. I remember meeting Andy Kubert on the walkway, when he was a preteen; now, they’re two of the best cartoonists working in the business. They were both shaggier fellows then, and had their whole lives ahead of ‘em; we were geezers by comparison. Now, we are geezers.
Rick pointed to the spot on the gazebo where he first met Larry Loc, who later became my roommate. The stairs where our first-year class photo was shot for the inside cover of our class comics anthology Manticore has a new pair of railings, but it’s still in fine shape. We both laughed about still expecting to see our classmate Ben Ruiz step off the back porch, coffee in one hand, glasses dangling from the loop around his neck, greeting the day — Ben stayed on after graduation to work at the school, alongside Mike Chen, who is still working there. Ben’s “no longer with us,” as they say, and we miss him terribly — but he was there with us on Thursday.
The massive trees behind the mansion still stand tall; in these branches, we used to climb and sit with Tom Yeates (Korak!) and draw in our sketchbooks. The entryway to Muriel’s office along the side and off the back walkway brought back vivid memories of Muriel. It’s still beautiful and bucolic, though suburbia encroaches a little more than it used to. Still, the majestic trees, the expansive lawns, the squirrels dominating the landscape; the mansion is repainted and still awe-inspiring. It’s the school’s dorm, now, I believe, but man oh man, it’s still the school, our school, to us. It’s where Rick and I first met, and worked together; where Joe and Ric and folks like Lee Elias, Kelly Harris, Dick Giordano, Hy Eisman and others passed their knowledge and the torches to us.
I won’t write of the service or the funeral; that’s private, and belongs most of all to the Kubert family. Joe’s always been a private man, especially when it comes to family, and I’ve probably already broken too many confidences simply writing yesterday and today’s post, here (forgive me that, Joe, I mean well).
Afterwards, our ol’ Kubert School classmates Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema invited Rick and I over to their place, and we went and hung out with them for an hour or so. We were very thankful for the invite — we weren’t ready to leave yet, and feeling as we were then, likely would have had a rough ride home. This allowed us to reconnect to Tom, Jan, their daughter, Pete Carllson, Rich (didn’t catch Rich’s last name, sorry) and Mike Chen This allowed us to talk and catch our breathes (and ‘ground’ a bit) before the long drive back to VT.
Sad as the circumstances were, heartbreaking as the loss remains, here is life, our roots as friends, artists and fellow cartoonists — and for Rick and I the day was brimming all that, and more. We re-established contact with our fellow pioneer classmate Ron Zalme, who still works freelance as a cartoonist full time, among others; I got to hug and talk to Karen Berger, my fearless editor on Saga of the Swamp Thing and one of the three best editors I ever was privileged to work with in comics (the other two were Joe Kubert and Archie Goodwin). I miss you, Karen, though I’m sure life is easier without me in your freelance pool!
There was a powerful sense of renewal, too: earlier in the day, Joe and Muriel’s daughter Lisa Kubert kindly introduced her sons to us. Her oldest is starting at the Kubert School this fall, and Tom and Jan’s daughter is starting her college there, too. Rick and I smiled to one another at one point; having just revisited our first year, old men walking the grounds, this made it even more alive to us. A new generation is sharing the experience, circa 2008, making their own way — it’s beautiful. Thanks to all that I experienced here, at the Kubert School, I’m now a teacher, too, following in Joe’s and Ric Estrada’s and all my JKS teachers’ footsteps; I look forward to my own coming fall semester with fresh hope and vigor.
Coming as this has so suddenly on the heels of our rekindling contact with our beloved teacher Ric Estrada, the entire experience Thursday intensified a feeling of all we share as artists, as human beings, and how important that shared of experience of 1976-78 was and remains and always will be for us.
The drive home wasn’t as sorrowful as it might have been, since we now had the bond between us restored, the warmth of a friendship renewed, old friends found anew, and the deep abiding love of the Kubert clan — our friends, and surrogate family to Rick and I, it must be said — carrying us home.
Muriel brought Rick and I together back in 1976 — though we were both from Vermont, kindred souls who didn’t know one another, we’d likely have never met were it not for the Kubert School.
Muriel above all had made it possible for Rick to even attend, working closely with him 32 years ago to ensure Rick could afford the tuition, room and board, and everything else — — and, in a way, Muriel brought us back together this week.
That’s another one I owe Muriel and Joe, and will never, ever be able to repay.
Still, I’ll try.
Amid the email exchanges with Ric Estrada, I have to bring your attention to something Rick Veitch shared this week online from all this activity.
– but this was amazing to see again after 32 years!
Another gift arrived out of the blue in the mail from our friend and my long-time cartooning compadre Howard Cruse. As I’ve mentioned here before, Howard and I go back to the ’80s, when our work appeared side-by-side in the pages of various Scholastic magazines, including a lovely ‘all comics’ issue of
Bananas editors Bob and Jane Stine and art director Bob Feldgus put together.
Anyhoot, Howard graciously gifted Marge and I with a signed copy of his new book, Felix’s Friends. We loved it — and for those of you who also read Joe Hill’s marvelous stories, Howard’s children’s book is a companion of sorts to Joe’s exquisite “Pop Art.”
One expected item that arrived from another dear friend this week came from
– we’ve been working since March on a new book project, and completed our proposal (including six polished illustrations from yours truly this week) this past week. We’ve begun shopping it around, but it’s too soon to say anything more at this time.
More on this project once there’s news to report. Just — please, wish us luck.
One last thing, shameless huckster that I am — Hey, I learned it all from Hy Eisman at the Kubert School! Speaking of gifts, as you drive into White River Junction, VT en route to the Center for Cartoon Studies, there’s a massive building on Route 5 with a red roof that screams, “20,000 Gifts!”. Well, we’re not there yet at the Bissette/CCS booth in
but we’ve just crossed our first thousand mark of items racked in our booth.
That’s right — as of yesterday, I’ve now racked one thousand retail items (bagged sets count as one item; I’m not ‘padding’ the count here) in dealer booth #653 at the Antique Mall in Quechee.
I opened that booth’s activities in April 2007 with no expectations, but it’s still doing fairly well. I’ve run it alone, and hope to pass the baton to someone at CCS this year, or at least share the workload, but we’ll see. In any case, I’ve been cutting checks twice a month to the lucky CCS students who have wares to sell in the booth, which range from vintage comicbooks and records to original art, one-of-a-kind paintings and signed prints, and of course plenty of CCS-created minicomics and comics.
It’s also your one-stop shopping venue for my recent work and some ‘antique’ Bissette collectibles, not to mention a pretty diverse selection of books, paperbacks, magazines, videos and DVDs, with a locked cabinet of the really rare stuff and/or ‘adults only’ items (e.g., Taboo volumes, 18-and-up cult and European horror rarities on DVD, first-editions, etc.).
So, stop by sometime this summer if you’re driving through. Drop a few quid — buy a few memories.
That’s one thousand down, trillions to go.
I — we — seem to have plenty to go around today.