Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Late Great Joe Simon

Legendary comic book writer and artist Joe Simon died yesterday, 14, December 2011, at the age of 98.  With partner Jack Kirby, Mr. Simon created Captain America, The Boy Commandos, The Newsboy Legion, and The Fly. Messrs. Simon and Kirby virtually created the romance comic book genre with the title Young Romance in 1947. On his own Joe Simon created Blue Bolt, Brother Power, and Prez.

Joe Simon was born Hymie Simon in Rochester, New York on 11 October 1913. His mother disliked the name "Hymie" so much that she insisted on calling him "Joseph" until it was finally accepted as his name. Mr. Simon took to art while very young. He drew cartoons and comic strips for the newspaper at Benjamin Franklin High, which he attended. After he graduated from high school Mr. Simon took a job as assistant art director at The Rochester Journal-American. After two years he took job as an artist at The Syracuse Herald. At age 23 Joe Simon moved to New York City. His first job there was with Paramount Pictures, where he retouched publicity photos of movie stars. Mr. Simon also did freelance work for the various magazines published by McFadden Publications. It was the art director at McFadden Publications, Harlan Crandall, who recommend to Joe Simon that he could find plenty of work in the young industry of comic books. It was then that Joe Simon took a job with comic books packager Funnies Inc.

Among Mr. Simon's first comic books would be stories for a publisher who would have a significant impact on his life--Martin Goodman, the head of what would later become known as Marvel Comics. Joe Simon wrote stories for Daring Mystery Comics #1, January 1940. In doing so he created the characters The Firey Mask and Trojak the Tiger Man. While working for Funnies Inc. Mr. Simon's best known character may have been Blue Bolt, created for comic book publisher Novelty Press. Eventually Joe Simon would go to work for Fox Publications as an editor in chief, working on such titles as The Blue Beetle. It was at Fox Publications that Mr. Simon would meet artist Jack Kirby, the man who would become his business partner for many years and his friend for decades.

The team of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon would leave Fox Publications to go to work for Martin Goodman at what would later become known as Marvel Comics. There Mr. Simon would become an editor; however, their biggest impact at the company, perhaps their biggest impact in the history of comic books, would be the creation of Captain America. It was in 1940 that Joe Simon made a sketch of a character he initially called "Super American." Mr. Simon decided the name would not work and soon renamed the character "Captain America." He gave Captain America a boy sidekick, named "Bucky" after his friend Bucky Pierson. Martin Goodman not only gave his approval for the character, but also dictated that he should debut in his own title (something unprecedented at the time). Captain America Comics soon became the company's best selling title (even selling more than such magazines as Time) and Captain America became the company's most popular character.

Unfortunately the success of Captain America would not guarantee that Simon and Kirby would remain with Martin Goodman. The pair believed that Mr. Goodman was not paying them the percentage of the profits from the character that he had promised. As a result the two of them moved to National Comics Inc. (one of the companies that would become DC Comics) in 1941. It was at National Comics Inc. that Simon and Kirby would revamp the characters of Sandman and Manhunter. It was also at National Comics that they would create The Boy Commandos and The Newsboy Legion. The team would also freelance for other companies as well, working on the first issue of Fawcett Publications' Captain Marvel Adventures.

During World War II Joe Simon enlisted in the Coast Guard while his partner Jack Kriby was drafted into the United States Army. With cartoonist Milt Gross, Mr. Simon would be assigned to create a comic book that would help drive up enlistment in the Coast Guard, Adventure is My Career. Following World War II Joe Simon and Jack Kirby resumed their partnership. The two would help Crestwood Publications develop a new comic book imprint, Prize Comics, under which they published a Western title, Boy's Ranch, and an early horror title, Black Magic. It was also under the Prize Comics imprint that the team created what is believed to be the first romance comic book, Young Romance. The team also created The Fighting American for Crestwood in 1954.

It would be a salesman at Crestwood who would encourage Simon and Kirby to found their own comic book company. Mainline Publications would founded in either 1953 or 1954. It would ultimately publish four titles: Bullseye (a Western title), Western Scout, Foxhole (a war title), and In Love (a romance title). Unfortunately, Mainline Publications would not prove successful and ended at the end of 1955. Worse yet, Crestwood Publications failed to pay Simon and Kirby for their work for the company. After the team's attorneys reviewed the company's finances, they determined Crestwood owed them $130,000 for work done over the past seven years. Crestwood paid them $10,000. At the same time the comic book industry was starting to fail in the wake of the moral panic over comic books in the early Fifties, which led to a slump in sales in the mid-Fifties. Simon and Kirby then dissolved their partnership, although the two remained friends.

While Jack Kirby remained in the comic book industry, Joe Simon went to work in commercial and advertising art. The two would reunite in 1959 when they collaborated on The Double Life of Private Strong and created The Fly at Archie Comics. In 1960 Mr. Simon founded the satirical magazine Sick, providing the magazine with material for over a decade.  In the Sixties he also worked as an artist for the advertising agency of Burstein and Newman. In 1964 he became the art director for Burstein, Phillips, and Newman. In 1966 Simon and Kirby reunited to work for Harvey Comics. There they revived The Fighting American for a single issue. Mr. Simon also worked on Harvey's titles Unearthly Spectaculars and Double-Dare Adventures.

In 1968 Joe Simon would return to National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics Inc.). There he created Brother Power the Geek.  In 1973 he teamed with artist Jerry Grandenetti to create Prez, a series about a teenage United States president. In 1974 Simon and Kirby reunited for one last time, working on a new Sandman title for National Periodical Publications. With Jerry Grandenetti, Mr. Simon would do two one-shots in the company's try-out title, 1st Issue Special: The Green Team: Boy Billionaires and Outsiders.

In 2003 Joe Simon reached an agreement with Marvel Comics whereby he would receive royalties for the merchandising and licensing of Captain America and he and the late Jack Kirby would always be credited as the character's creator.

If Joe Simon had only created Captain America and done nothing else, he would still have had an enormous impact on comic books. As it is, both in combination with Jack Kirby and on his own, Joe Simon would have an enormous impact on comic books in the Golden Age and later. In fact, it is quite possible that the only man to have more impact on comic books than Messrs. Simon and Kirby was the legendary Will Eisner. Not only did Simon and Kirby create Captain America, they also created the two most popular boy gang features (The Boy Commandos and The Newsboy Legion), created the first romance title (Young Romance), created an early horror title (Black Magic), and much more. Of course, the reason Joe Simon would have such an impact on comic books was simple. Both with and without Jack Kirby, Joe Simon's work was always excellent. In the Golden Age and later Mr. Simon created stories and art that was far ahead of many of his peers. Joe Simon was utterly unique in the field of comic books and I doubt the industry will ever see another writer and artist like him ever again.

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