Fernando Ruiz is creating a face. His students watch, rapt, as the oval he sketches on a sheet of white paper morphs, through Ruiz’s deft penciling, into an old, familiar countenance from the comics realm. “Voila!” he announces to the class. “Archie!”
It’s another “Bam!” moment at the Kubert School, the country’s only graphic arts school devoted to cartooning. Founded in 1976 by celebrated comic book artist Joe Kubert, who made his name working on the DC Comics characters Hawkman and Sgt. Rock, the school is housed in a former high school building in Dover—though at present, many of its classes are taking place remotely or in hybrid form (online and in person), options that will continue past the pandemic.
The school is a kind of Harvard for comic nerds, attracting students, both male and female (though slightly more of the former), from around the world and instructors from the highest ranks of the comic book universe—talents like Ruiz, a longtime artist for Archie Comics. Many of its instructors are also former students, drawn back by a sense of camaraderie. “Everyone is here for the same reason. It’s corny to say, but you just feel like you’re home,” says Anthony Marques, the school’s owner since 2019 (and yes, another alum).
Kubert offers a full-time, three-year curriculum. Graduates emerge proficient in every aspect of comic book creation and production, including drawing, inking, lettering, storyboarding, narrative art and graphic design, as well as fluency in digital art, a 21st-century necessity. “With the skills they learn here, students can do almost any type of art job out there, not just in comics, but in the commercial art-field,” says Carol Thomas, the school’s director.
That’s important, because there are many more aspiring comic creators than there are full-time jobs. Many Kubert graduates, Marques says, find work as storyboard artists, creating scene-by-scene visuals for films, TV shows and commercials. And in spite of a recent downturn in the sales of comic books, interest in comics is intense, and new opportunities are arising as the field evolves, as evidenced by the growth of web comics, graphic novels and other comic book offshoots—not to mention Japanese manga and anime.
The intensity of that interest is mirrored in the school’s part-time classes, like Ruiz’s course in basic drawing, which attract passionate amateurs of all ages. On a recent Monday evening, a dozen youngish men (and one female reporter of a certain age) spent an hour and a half learning the trade secrets of drawing a face (hint: it involves ovals sliced in half and half again) at the feet of a comic sensei. Even the reporter was thrilled to have her mind blown (Ruiz’s expression) upon learning that, in all his 60 years as a gawky but loveable teen, Archie Andrews has never once regarded his readers face forward. “He’s always looking a little bit to the right or the left,” Ruiz lets on.
It’s the kind of insider’s info that makes Kubert a special place for anyone whose life has unfolded, panel by panel, among genius arch-enemies, genial atomic robots, anthropomorphic aardvarks, marvelous mutants, masked men and women, and justice fighters of every stripe and species. Take that, Harvard!