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Checking in on the Kubert School

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a column. Lately I’ve been doing my best to keep my head down and get some work done. After an extended convention season during which it’s easy to get sidetracked from the creative side of things, I have a better understanding for those who choose the work-for-hire side of this industry.

To that effect, I recently had my annual state of the industry discussion with my former teacher, Joe Kubert.

You might not know this, but Joe had his own short stint as a creator-owned publisher. After getting his first paying job at the age of 11 (a debatable fact, but the approximation is there), Joe worked for some of the big publishing houses, including DC, before moving to St. John’s Publishing in 1953 where he became the managing editor and published his creator-owned series, Tor. This series only lasted for 5 issues and Joe returned to work for DC in 1955 where he began his famous run on the war books including Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace. Incidentally, Joe has published Tor through DC on 2 different occasions, first in 1975 and again in 2008, and through Marvel in 1993, yet he still retains complete ownership of the property. Talk about setting a standard for creator rights that still hasn’t been matched.

So back to the meeting. After showing Joe the newest pictures of my wife and daughter and agreeing with his advice that they come first no matter what, I moved on to show him my comics on the iPhone. Though Joe lamented how everyone had one of “these things,” he also admitted to having no idea how they worked. So, in a moment that I will be able to brag about for years to come, I taught Joe how to read a comic on the iPhone. He patience lasted for about half an issue before he shook his head and handed the device back to me.

Anticipating his negative reaction, I explained that even for me, devices like the iPhone weren’t my favorite way to read comics, just a convenient option. Swayed somewhat by this argument, Joe agreed that we did need to replace the loss of the news rack, and if indeed “everyone” was getting “one of these things,” then it would be a good opportunity to make comics more available to the masses again.

What came next was the ripping apart of my layouts for an upcoming story of mine. Joe even asked if I was sure I didn’t want to come back to the school for an extra year. But that’s Joe for you; he’d have the same reaction even if you had put down last month’s top selling comic in front of him. Or maybe I’m just telling myself that to make myself feel better.

Having received my valuable critique, I set off into the classrooms at the school to talk to the students. Yes, I thought, I will now get my revenge by critiquing their work.

But actually, I was quite impressed with the general quality of the work being done by the Kubert students at this year. However, I still had some valuable advice to share. For instance, after carefully looking through a 7 page story where a muscle-bound barbarian type tore apart assailants numbering in the hundreds, I remarked that the pages where indeed impressive, but what happens when the script calls for character development and scenes with emotions other than rage? Could he draw that?

Most of the questions the students asked me were about breaking into the business, which, if this is defined by someone else giving you a paycheck, I’m no expert. Instead, I tried to get them to focus on how to get the most out of the school while they were there, and how to own the responsibility of developing their own work. Only they can make sure they put in the work and make the right decisions to improve their ability.

The big talk of the school though was Zuda, the online DC comics platform. Most of this was due to one of the 3rd year students having a comic in most recent Zuda lineup, Joe Bowen’s Model Student. I can’t tell you how many times a student brought up their pages to me saying it was the Zuda pitch that they were working on.

All this made me appreciate how the digital movement is at the very least opening up possibilities for new artists. It gives them a path for getting new work out and a goal for getting noticed. Before these digital options, the best way of showing your work to the big companies was to stand in a line for portfolio reviews with hundreds of other artists to see a tired and overworked editor who was reaching new levels of hating his job by the time you finally got to him.

All and all, I think the future of comics, and the ability to find reasonable employment in comics, is looking up. The most important thing to remember, and this is advice that I tried to impart on the students just as Joe had imparted it to me, is that if you just make great stories, then people will pay to read them.

###

Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2008 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com
www.awaveblueworld.com

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