1/12/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Titan Books. 256 page illustrated hardback. Price: GBP17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-184576-930-7).
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
The release of the ‘Captain America’ movie may have had something to do with the timing of this book. Joe Simon co-created Cap with Jack Kirby and the star-spangled Avenger is featured on the cover giving Adolf Hitler a right hook.
Adolf Edler was Joe Simon's first boss at the ‘Rochester Evening Journal’ where our hero worked as an art assistant. Adolf, who looked just like his namesake, taught Joe all about page layouts, cropping, scaling, reproduction and preparing pages for the engraver, all skills that would be useful in his future career. He got the job based on his artwork in the high school magazine and other stuff he did for free.
When Hearst newspapers suffered hard times in 1937, the ‘Rochester Evening Journal’ closed and Joe moved to New York to find work. Soon he got involved in comics, working for Victor Fox and it was there that he met talented penciller, Jack Kirby. They began working at night on projects of their own. The best one, Captain America, they took to Timely publisher Martin Goodman. Jack could draw and Joe could, too, but he also had a knack for business, like Will Eisner, and made a good deal for fifty percent of the profits on ‘Captain America Comics’. He and Kirby started working for Timely, a family business, and had young Stanley Leiber foisted on them as an assistant.
Goodman's interesting accounting procedures drew all the overheads for his business from the fifty percent share of Captain America profits owed to Simon and Kirby so they didn't get much from it. They started preparing projects for DC but were sacked prematurely when Goodman found out. Kirby reckoned that young Stan snitched on them but Joe Simon thought that in such a tight knit business it was impossible to keep secrets. He didn't blame Stan.
Simon and Kirby had more success at DC and even greater success after the war. By the 1950s, they were taking home about $1000 a week each, equivalent to $10,000 in today's money. Then the U.S. Senate, having dealt with Commies, decided to deal with comics. The Kefauver Committee found that they were depraving the young and sales plummeted as anxious parents stopped buying. Without acrimony, Simon and Kirby split up. Joe Simon went back to newspapers, advertising and various editorial jobs in smaller comic companies. He had some success with ‘Sick’, a copy of ‘Mad’ magazine. Jack Kirby did work for hire at DC for a while in the late 50s, then moved back to Marvel to co-create the Marvel universe with Stan Lee. It was still work for hire, so the company owned the characters and he never got rights to them. Mind you, neither did Stan.
Joe Simon was born in 1913 and is still around. The biography of any man who lived through most of the 20th century should be a fascinating historical document and this one is of particular interest to comic historians. Sadly, it's often a tale of crooked publishers and struggling artists but not all publishers were bad and some artists made good. Al Harvey is praised consistently in the book as a fair man who looked after the talent. Joe Simon himself always split everything 50/50 with Kirby.
Kirby and Simon were big hits in the 1940s and 50s. Kirby and Stan Lee were the wonders of the 1960s. Kirby's Fourth World series at DC was one of the most interesting comics phenomena of the 1970s. The common factor is Kirby, of course, as neither of his major collaborators produced anything of note once they split up. This is not to downplay the contributions of either Joe Simon or Stan Lee as Kirby definitely needed both editing and a good scriptwriter.
This enjoyable biography of a decent Joe duplicates some of the material from 'The Comic Book Makers' which Simon did with his son, Jim. However, there is more stuff about his personal life before and after the glory years and about his spell in the coast guard during the war. There are also interesting, gossipy titbits about some of the key characters that it's not fair to give away in a review. After all, Joe wants you to buy the book.
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