(USA Today) -- He flew high with Hawkman, stormed the battlefield with Sgt. Rock, and along the way Joe Kubert's art and comics work inspired a whole generation of creators, including those in his own family.

The award-winning illustrator and founder of New Jersey's The Kubert School died Sunday at the age of 85, his son David confirmed to the Newark Star-Ledger and DC Comics announced.

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"Reliable source confirms that Joe Kubert had been in hospital and has passed away. So sorry to hear this. A great artist and a great man," Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons stated via Twitter on Sunday.

Born in Poland, Joe Kubert moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., with his family when he was an infant and fell in love with drawing and cartooning at an early age. He started working in comics in the early 1940s, and found a home at DC Comics where he fostered close ties for the rest of his life.

He began drawing Hawkman in issues of Flash Comics in 1942, and in the 1950s he illustrated the adventures of the prehistoric hero Tor, worked on the war comic G.I. Combat and co-created Sgt. Frank Rock, the hard-nosed World War II leader of Easy Company who has proven a staple in comic culture since his debut in 1959.

In the late 1960s and '70s, Kubert worked as a director of publications at DC but still found the time to illustrate Tarzan comics for the publisher.

A father of five, Kubert also found it important to teach young artists. With wife Muriel (who died of breast cancer in 2008), he founded The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, N.J., in 1976. Alumni of the school include Amanda Conner, Shane Davis, Dave Dorman, Alex Maleev and Rags Morales.

Two of Kubert's sons attended the school, are now on the faculty and have become popular artists in their own right over the years. Adam Kubert drew issues of Ultimate X-Men and Action Comics, among others - he teamed with his father for a serialized Sgt. Rock story in DC's Wednesday Comics in 2009 - and Andy Kubert illustrated Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 and the DC event series Flashpoint.

"We are saddened to learn of the death of our colleague and friend Joe Kubert. An absolute legend in the industry, his legacy will live on through his remarkable talent, with his sons and with the many artists who have passed through the storied halls of his celebrated school," read a DC Comics statement.

"An important member of the DC Comics family, Joe made an indelible mark on the entire DC Comics universe including his renowned and award-winning work on iconic characters such as Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, Hawkman and most recently Nite Owl. We are so honored to have worked side-by-side with such an unforgettable force in both comics and in life."

Kubert became a trending topic on Twitter Sunday night with the news of his death, and several comic creators used social media to pay tribute.

"RIP Joe Kubert. My first comic ever was an issue of Tarzan he illustrated back when I was just a kid and read comics at the barbershop," said DC co-publisher and artist Jim Lee.

"One of the nicest things ever was having Joe Kubert do a Winter Soldier cover," writer Ed Brubaker tweeted. "Tried to convince him to do an issue. #RIPJoeKubert"

"I have many artists I love, I have one artist that's my favorite," said writer Gail Simone. "Rest in peace to Joe Kubert, maker of heroes."

"I loved Joe Kubert as a kid, and dammit, he was still doing vital work. We should all follow his example," artist/writer Cully Hamner said.

In addition to the Before Watchman:Nite Owl series, which currently features Joe Kubert as inker and son Andy as primary artist, the late creator's work will be seen posthumously as well in Joe Kubert Presents, a miniseries from DC debuting Oct. 31 with an all-new Hawkman story he wrote and illustrated.

"I've been given the privilege to design the kind of comic book that I would enjoy reading and one in which I'd like to participate. This is it. I'll be doing Hawkman, Spit, The Redeemer, Sgt. Rock and The Biker in this 6-issue anthology," Kubert told the official DC blog in July. "I had a blast doing it. I hope it blows you away."

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