Like most of my friends in grade school, I was an avid fan of comic books. Unlike most of my friends, I would spend hours and hours drawing my own comic characters in a never-ending battle with evil-doers. Fascination with comic books wains for most during high school but, mine continued and grew even stronger. As graduation loomed ever closer I had to figure out what to do with my life.
I kept seeing ads in comic books for the Joe Kubert school of cartoon and graphic art located in Dover, New Jersey. Joe Kubert is best known for drawing such characters as Hawkman, Tarzan and the World War II hero - Sgt. Rock! And he has a school that teaches you how to draw comic books?! Cool! I quickly put together a sampling of my work and submitted it then... I waited. The call eventually came and it was none other than Joe Kubert himself. Basically he said it's a lot of work and you're accepted.
Accompanied by my Mother and Great Aunt Rose I arrived in Dover, New Jersey late in the summer of 1983. To be honest, I was amazed that I had made it out of Indiana in the first place. Money was always tight for my Mother but she was able to scrape together just enough to get me here... the rest was up to me. No pressure. The first order of business was to visit the school. My initial reaction was, "OK, this is small." In retrospect, that probably made the experience not seem as impersonal as some larger institutions of higher learning.
The next order of business was to find affordable housing off campus because I wasnt able to find accommodations on campus in the Carriage House. To complicate matters, I didnt have a car so wherever I stayed would have to be within walking distance. After several locations proved either too expensive or too distant, we came across a Cuban-American family with rooms in their basement for rent. There was only one problem, they werent quite finished with the rooms yet. So, my belongings and I spent a couple of days in the nearby family room as construction continued. After reluctant goodbyes are exchanged, Mom and Aunt Rose began the long trip back to Evansville.
School officially begins. Even though its not supposed to be a competition, one cant help but compare themselves to other students. I wasnt the best nor the worst in my class... I was probably a little better than average. The whole experience was very intimidating at first. The sheer amount of time spent at the drawing board was new to me. It took me almost a month to get comfortable in the classroom setting and used to the enormous amount of homework. Another thing I had to learn to deal with was constructive criticism, from teachers and students alike.
I think that many of us were considered the best artists in our respective schools and communities but at the Kubert school, we were very small fish in a rather large pond. Its somewhat humbling, while at the same time, very inspirational. I think the imagined competition drives you that much more to improve your work. By the end of my one and only year at the school, I felt as if my art had improved by a factor of ten.