By Dovid Zaklikowski – Chabad.org
Joe Kubert, the pioneering comic artist who passed away Monday night at the age of 85, drew for a variety of audiences and outlets, including a Chabad-Lubavitch children’s publication whose storylines saw a pair of American kids exploring key moments of Jewish history.
“I feel that the subject matter with these pages is as viable today as they were in biblical times,” he once wrote as an introduction to a compilation of the entire body of “The Adventures of Yaakov and Isaac,” which originally appeared in The Moshiach Times magazine. “I wrote and illustrated these stories with those thoughts in mind.”
In the early 1980’s, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, called for the creation of a Jewish children’s club. Formerly called Tzivos Hashem, the organization explored the idea of adding a magazine to its list of activities and several Chabad rabbis searched for artists and writers.
From the start their goal was to obtain the highest quality written and illustrated content. They phoned DC Comics and reached Paul Levitz, a future president and publisher who at the time was an editor and writer. Levitz suggested Kubert, knowing him as “a person who valued his own Jewish religion and tradition.”
Kubert recalled his initial visit with the rabbis at his home in Dover, N.J., as “fascinating and engrossing.” They had brought mezuzahs to nail to the doorframes of his house.
“Young men, bearded, all wearing black hats and long curly sideburns, black suits, white shirts, no ties,” Kubert described of his visitors. “I could see their tzitzis, the fringes of their prayer vestments, when they opened their jackets.”
Kubert eventually accepted the job of creating two-page strips for each magazine issue. He’d be given a storyline, and would “have full freedom to develop and illustrate these stories as I saw fit.”
Kubert spent hours on the phone with Rabbi Dovid Pape, the editor of The Moshiach Times.
“He had a challenging intellect,” Pape said of Kubert, “and did not just accept what I told him. He quizzed me and had lively discussions on the topics.”
“During that time,” recalled Kubert, “it was a delight to discuss the stories and their origins with David. We had many discussions concerning the application and validity of the source material, which was both enlightening and educational to me.”
Kubert, in turn, “never wanted to misguide the child” and wanted his illustrations to be truthful, said Pape. “He had very strong ideas about drawing and everything he did was powerful.”
In a 1985 comic titled “Kutim,” Kubert told the story of Alexander the Great and a group of assimilated Jews who claimed their brethren were plotting against him. When the High Priest approached the ruler in all of his vestments, the conspirators were happy, thinking that Alexander would “think [the priest] is boasting power.”
In the end, Alexander saw the priest as embodying “a vision that stood beside me, encouraged me, [and] strengthened my heart” through every battle.
For Kubert, the story offered contemporary readers “a perspective on both that which occurred thousands of years ago and events that are happening in the world today. Those that wish to gain power or favor, like the Kutim, will use any device to do so, even if it means lying, cheating or bringing harm to the innocents.”
On the other hand, the High Priest’s remaining true to his manner of dress earned him respect, said Kubert. Alexander “recognized the honesty of the Jewish priests and listened to their plea of justice.”
Both Pape and Levitz referred to Kubert’s thankfulness.
“He knew he was a great person, but he did not bear it with arrogance; he felt that he was very fortunate,” said Pape.
“He was a very positive man,” added Levitz. “He would repeatedly tell people, ‘I am the luckiest guy on earth.’ ”
Two weeks before he passed, Kubert told Pape to reprint his very first comic strip on the concept of returning to a life of goodness by regretting and repenting from the deeds of the past.
“Print it in the original black and white,” he said. “It looks best that way.”