Comic book legend Joe Kubert died last Sunday at the age of 85. I’m not going to pretend to know him, nor am I going to explain why his art was so important to the industry as a whole. There are far better qualified people who are more than capable of providing you with information regarding his work and his life. That said, Kubert’s artwork had a profound effect on my life for reasons completely different than most people, and I feel like I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t acknowledge it here today.
I was born hearing impaired. I’ve had hearing aids in my head for as long as I can remember. Since there are a plethora of sounds I’m incapable of hearing, it was a struggle for me to learn how to speak correctly as I was growing up. For instance, s and sh are two sounds my ears don’t pick up, so when someone (or a cat, for that matter) says “suffering succotash,” all I’m capable of hearing is “_uffering _uccota__.” It was a process for me to not only learn how to recognize the gaps in what I heard , but to correctly say sounds I had no reference in understanding.
Back in 1985, when I finished school, my parents would drive me twice a week to the University of South Florida (an hour drive both ways) so that I could get additional speech therapy. And while I never stopped talking in the car with my parents, as soon as I sat down with my speech therapists (who were graduate students at USF), I would completely shut down.
One of my therapists, having learned that I was a big comic book fan, started to bring in DC war comic books, such as Sgt. Rock and G.I. Combat. Sometimes he’d buy them new, and sometimes he’d bring older ones (I’m guessing from his own collection). My experience with comic books were mostly Marvel superhero books, and there was something decidedly grown-up about the DC war comics that appealed to me. More importantly, those covers made it impossible for me not to want to see what was inside. I’d read the comic books out loud and talk about the stories. And if I talked enough, I’d get to keep the comic books. My favorite comic book that was given to me during this time was G.I. Combat #171 (see upper left)
You see, everyone of those comic books I read had a cover by Joe Kubert. When I see his artwork, I can identify its clarity in storytelling (that aforementioned cover pretty much tells a complete story), its craftsmanship, and its ability to convey honest emotions. But I can also see in his work an opportunity for an eleven year old boy to have a fighting chance in a world that ignores mediocrity and hones in on abnormality.
With these war stories, I was able to jump some of the major hurdles that had been holding me back and I made enormous progress with my speaking. To put this in greater context, I’m about to begin my tenth year of teaching English here in Poland. And while I know this is the work of dozens of people who sacrificed their time and energy into getting a young boy to recognize problems he had no way of knowing existed, I will never forget Joe Kubert for creating the spark that finally got me to the finish line.
Thank you, Mr. Kubert.