Looking For The Awesome – 13. All Or Nothing At All

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL

After the war ended, the world once again descended into two great spheres; East vs. West, democracy vs. Communism, us vs. them! With the fall of Hitler, the Communists became the great Bogeyman. In a speech in 1947 the “good Jew” Bernard Baruch described the global situation as a “Cold War” spinning out of control. The Korean conflict and the Reds getting the bomb in 1949 due to Julius Rosenberg’s treachery, dominated the headlines. Movies such as The Red Menace and I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. focused much attention on the country’s paranoia. Sen. Joe McCarthy started a famous campaign to uncover Commies working undercover in the Govt. Could comics be far behind?

On June 19th 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death by way of electrocution; thus ended one of the worst episodes of Jewish shame in U.S history.

Alas, there was no Harry Slonaker for Ethel and Julius. Their method of escape was joining up at Communist Youth clubs, where they rallied with labor unions for the betterment of the workers. The Communist youth groups were popular among the poor. They both graduated into the official Communist Party. When the fighting had ended, suddenly it was Communist Russia—earlier an ally, now seen as our biggest threat. After the war they joined a network of similarly minded people and began slipping American nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Julius and other mostly Jewish accomplices were arrested for spying in 1950. When Julius wouldn’t finger anyone else, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his wife arrested–suspecting it would force him to confess and name names. Julius refused; they were tried and sentenced to death. The only members of the group so sentenced due to their unwavering claims of innocence and unwillingness to finger others. The stain of their treachery attached itself to all labor groups, and other Jewish intelligentsia who had dabbled with Communism in their youth.

Love kept them together-till the bitter end

The Jewish community was torn between the love of country and their fear of retaliation from the anti-Semitic populace- always eager to blame all Jews for the crimes of one. The inequality of the sentences for the Rosenbergs, as compared to their fellow conspirators riled many. Peoples as disparate as the Pope, Albert Einstein, Picasso, and John-Paul Sartre lobbied President Eisenhower for leniency. Sartre would describe the trial as “a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation. By killing the Rosenbergs, you have quite simply tried to halt the progress of science by human sacrifice. Magic, witch-hunts, autos-da-fé, sacrifices — we are here getting to the point: your country is sick with fear… you are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb.” On early Friday evening of June 19th they were executed- the only American civilians ever executed for espionage. Though their guilt is not debatable, the depth of culpability is still debated. Boris V. Brokhovich, the engineer who later became director of Chelyabinsk-40, the plutonium production reactor and extraction facility which the Soviet Union used to create its first bomb material, denied any involvement by the Rosenbergs. In 1989, Boris V. Brokhovich told The New York Times in an interview that development of the bomb had been a matter of trial and error. “You sat the Rosenbergs in the electric chair for nothing”, he said. “We got nothing from the Rosenbergs.”

S&K had an electric chair too

Perhaps in response to the anti-Jewish backlash, or a feeling of shared Jewish guilt, some of the comic owners went out of their way to show their all-American feelings. Reams of spy comics were produced. The Catholic Church began a series of strongly anti-communistic screeds and eventually the super-hero genre. Captain America, the great S&K political hero of World War 2 had been cancelled after the war due to lack of interest, but with the rise of the anti-Commie fervor, Atlas brought back the red, white and blue hero in late 1953 in Young Men Comics #24,  coincidentally timed to the Rosenberg execution. Relabeled as Captain America-Commie Fighter, the character regained his own series in early 1954. Taking on Commie spies and saboteurs, Cap and Bucky acted like they had never left. Submariner and Human Torch soon followed. The new series disappeared after only 3 or so issues, except for Submariner which lasted few months longer in hopes of a TV series.

It wasn’t only the comics that noticed a market for Cold War intrigue. In 1953 a long-time British Intelligence officer named Ian Fleming ignited a whole new genre when he released Casino Royale featuring super-spy James Bond-007.

Joe Simon had noticed the return of their iconic patriotic hero. Not to be outdone, he and Jack decided to get back into superheroes with their own Commie basher. Fighting American debuted with its own series published by Prize, cover dated April/May 1954. FA had a very interesting origin gimmick. Johnny Flagg was a radio commentator who specialized in anti-Communist propaganda. A war hero, left lame from a battle wound, he tirelessly fought to keep America safe. Johnny’s brother, Nelson was a weak milquetoast who loved his brother and country. During a series of broadcasts spotlighting a Commie scam to raise money to finance sabotage Johnny is nabbed and beaten to death. Swearing revenge, Nelson is asked by the Government to help out in a scientific experiment. The government had learned how to revitalize a lifeless body and improve it to almost superhuman limits. What the Gov’t needed was a life force to re-animate the new body. It fell to Nelson to willingly give his life to bring back his brother. After some preparatory procedures Nelson is strapped to a transfer chair where his life force is drawn from him and given to his dead brother. What emerges is the first original Cold Warrior, a hero created and dedicated to bring about the end of the Evil Empire.

All commies had bad teeth

From there, Fighting American would pick up a kid sidekick titled Speedboy when he is caught changing into his costume by a page boy at the radio station. This updated Captain America and Bucky began a spectacular legacy of bashing colorful Commie sympathizers.

It all became a big joke

Around this time, Sen. McCarthy’s popularity nosed dived when the respected journalist Edward R. Murrow took him on in a televised segment and exposed him as a hypocritical bully and blowhard. With the Senator reduced to a joke, Joe quickly changed directions for FA, changing the series from a serious adventure strip into the first satirical super-hero. From deadly saboteurs, the villains suddenly became colorful clowns and buffoons such as Rhode Island Red, Hotsky Trotsky, and Rimsky & Korsakoff. The action changed from seriously deadly to slapstick comedy. Joe commented: “Jack and I quickly became uncomfortable with Fighting American’s cold war. Instead we relaxed and had fun with the characters. As one critic wrote, “The fun ran rampant, Flying fists, facetious frolics and names from The American Dictionary of Silly Surnames set the mood for a series of epic stories of intrigue and idiocy.” Jack recalled in an introduction to a reprint collection. “The magazine had not only “punch and power” but still another flag to wave–satire–ingratiating and wonderful satire!…..To put it bluntly, the formula for the magazine called Fighting American was “laugh a minute in a roller coaster on its way down to the center of a meat grinder.”

Jack’s return to drawing super-heroes was flawless. His power and grace combined with a naturalness drawn from his romance strips gave his art a more illustrative dimension. His extreme stock poses and layouts on FA became the template and guidelines that controlled all his future superhero work. The first appearance of a future Kirby icon showed up in issue #3 when Kirby unveiled a single page 9 panel fight ballet. Another Kirby staple continued when Fighting American went undercover and joined a movie production staged by villains.

The comic industry had rebounded from the immediate post war slump, but by 1954, sales were again plummeting. The combination of the new technology of TV, plus the growing ill repute being heaped upon the industry took its toll. There were municipal hearings to ban comics. Some staes banned the books. There were numerous articles in newspapers and magazines excoriating comics and a supposed connection to juvenile delinquency. Religious and social leaders bonded together to organize book burnings and boycotts. Dell Publishing became the new comic publishing powerhouse due to its squeaky clean child safe Disney and TV and movie take-offs. No barber shop would ever be without them.
From a high of 609 separate titles in 1953, the industry plummeted to little more than 400 by 1955. Though sales and publishers were falling to the wayside, Simon and Kirby maintained their position with 4 solidly selling titles. But Jack and Joe were scrambling, comics were hurting so maybe they should try other venues. Joe Simon had a story he had been working on for a while about a struggling rag industry businessman at the end of his rope; and a savior—a messiah– in the guise of his brother David. The story didn’t lend itself to a comic book treatment, so Joe gave Jack the outline and Jack worked it up into a proposed TV script called The Messiah.

It is a gentle tale of a man given a second chance via his faith and the love of a good woman. The dialogue is gentle, and poignant, and humorous in a Jewish borscht belt vein. In the midst of his despair, the man confronts God and challenges him, his wife chastises him. “Don’t be so smart about the Messiah. He can come tomorrow. He can come now, this minute. He can come through that door over there and He’ll say Milton Farber, you’re as big as any man. You should be ashamed of losing your spirit” It’s not a stretch to imagine that Roz had often confronted Jack with similar encouragement during his dark periods. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the story takes place in a garment district textile factory, and the man is a clothing manufacturer, replete with union concerns and behind the scenes deals. It’s not known if they shopped this script to any producers, but it certainly deserves to be seen on a stage, maybe even a musical to rival Fiddler on the Roof.

Printing presses were looking for clients to fill their lost quota of product. While still maintaining their contractual output for Crestwood just in case they belly-flopped, S&K took every royalty penny they had built up since the end of World War Two, along with the distribution clout of paper and printing broker George Dougherty, Jr. (a long-time paper broker for the lumber industry whose father had been one of the printers at Eastern Color on Funnies On Parade back in 1933) who was fronting the paper. A commonplace 25% deposit was advanced by Leader News to World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois against projected sales to cover the printing and engraving costs. Joe and Jack felt they were making all the right moves utilizing the expertise of Nevin Fidler, who also owned a small piece of the action. Nevin Fidler was a friend who had been an office director at Crestwood, and was familiar with all the production people. Joe had dreamed of this freedom for a long time, at least as far back as when they sold Crestwood on romance comics. So he leapt at the chance. The distributor chosen was Leader News, an independent whose largest client was EC Comics.

Leader came into being when Mike Estrow broke up his pulp Trojan distributor with the new comic distributor to be Leader News. Leader News’ independence meant that the smaller publishers would flock to them as their commission was lower and shipping standards weren’t too high to demand stellar service. Most of Leaders’ clients were the hit and miss small print variety. It’s been said that DC’s Jack Leibowitz was a silent partner. And that he would point small companies to Leader when they were too small to use DC’s distribution firm. Being without the bigger selling books, Leader News had no clout and was always one step from the creditors. William Gaines recalls in an interview for the Comics Journal.

“No, no, we were putting out what we thought was selling. We were like the smallest, crummiest outfit in the field at that point with definitely the worst distributor, Leader News.  When he (Max Gaines) went back in business, he was without contracts, he didn’t have his characters any more, he didn’t even have Shelly Mayer, because Shelly Mayer was up at DC, and this was the best distributor he could get. And when he got killed, Leader News became my distributor.”

Two page spreads back in action

Joe and Jack went all in and immediately produced four new titles, each covering a specific genre. Bullseye was a western with a masked vigilante slant. In Love was a romance book, Police Trap was a crime comic with a pro-police POV, and Foxhole was S&K’s first venture into the growing war comic genre. War comics had increased in popularity since the US involvement in the Korean War.

While the content of the Mainline books were nothing revolutionary, several aspects of the titles deserve mentioning. Foxhole –billed as war stories as seen by the guys in the foxhole– featured tales written by actual vets; Pvt. Jack Kirby among them. Several stories featured Kirby’s byline as writer. Kirby also produced a series of covers for Foxhole as good as any title ever had. Bullseye continued Kirby’s preoccupation with the western orphaned child raised by an older mentor and trained as a sure shot. When the mentor is killed by a villain, the young teen avenges the murder by killing the villain. This time they added the concept where, after mistakenly charged with a crime, the young lad dons a mask and uses his skills as a masked vigilante, and scout. The character had a great visual focus when the child is branded with a bullseye on his chest.

In Love was packaged as a complete novelette in every issue. The story for issue #1 was an incredible 20 pages long. The second issue would feature the rejected strip Inky reformatted into a comic book story. And Police Trap was written from the perspective of the policeman rather than the mobsters—perhaps an homage to the radio and TV series Dragnet.

A new page to tie Inky together for the comic

Joe and Jack never stopped conceptualizing, while working on the four ongoing titles; they still worked on other ideas. They considered bringing back super-heroes. They worked up artwork for at least three new characters, Night Fighter, Sunfire and Sky Giant. Of most interest is Night Fighter.

The two presentation pieces seem to show a goggle eyed hero who could walk up walls, and sported some sort of gun. These specific aspects would be revisited in a couple years for a more important project. It’s not sure if they were connected. One dummy cover shows a split book featuring two super heroes very similar to the format that Marvel would use later, even down to the small graphic in the upper left hand corner.

Times were getting tough for small undercapitalized ventures. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s company folded. Jack’s young protégé Martin Rosenthall had joined Mikeross as a partner. When they failed, Rosenthall contacted Jack and sold some of the company’s assets to Mainline. Several completed stories found homes in S&K publications.

Not bad for a swipe     Hold that hill-Wertham and Kefauver charging hard

The next problem was to be more worrisome. The undercurrent of social protest against comic books reached the surface. The pressure had been building since comics first began. There had been slight eruptions over the years, but in April 1954 the top blew off during a series of Congressional hearings.

2-page classic

As with all low brow entertainment, there had been a segment of the population that had always condemned comics as a hazard to young sensibilities. The raucus, racy, and reckless nature of some publishers had created a climate of disdain and anger from citizens groups, religious leaders, and well known medical people. Organized book burnings were sprouting up. In several well publicized articles a well known psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham had made the dangers of comic books a personal crusade. In April 1954, he published a well received treatise entitled Seduction of the Innocent, which spotlighted the questionable connection between comics and juvenile delinquency. In a format similar to Anthony Comstock’s earlier screed Traps For The Young, that excoriated the juvenile series books, it laid a large segment of juvenile delinquency squarely at the feet of the crime, horror, and romance comics, singling out EC’s horror titles as the worst offender.

The biggest threat was that Dr. Wertham was no glory seeking hack, or political poseur. Wertham was a well respected Dr. who could articulate and verify all his claims-at least to the general public. Born in Germany, in 1895 to Jewish parents he went into psychiatry after communicating directly with Sigmund Freud. He came to the US in 1922 after some religious backlash. He landed at prestigious Johns Hopkins University and joined the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. In 1932 he moved to New York to head up the Courts Psychiatric Evaluation Unit and gave testimony on the various felons and convicts on their behavior and ability to stand trial.

He took up the cause of stopping comics, as well as TV, mass media, and other forms of communication after heading up a juvenile psychiatric ward at Belleveu. He wrote articles, gave talks, and held debates to back up his theories. He published his book Seduction of the Innocent —which led to hearings in front of the US Senate.

A few days later, a Senate Subcommittee held hearings on juvenile delinquency. Chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver the committee heard from many sociologists, medical specialists, (including Wertham) crime fighters, and religious leaders telling of the connection between comics and j.d. Then they turned to comic professionals to get their take. Things were actually going well until EC’s Bill Gaines took the stands, Gaines arrogantly unapologetic testimony seemed to solidify all the prurient uncaring notions thrown at the industry. Charges of prurient females with large protruding breasts, and comic overkill hurt the image. Perhaps the worse testimonies was by Dr. Wertham, who claimed that many stores were reluctant to sell the offending books, but were forced to by the magazine distributors who refused them other magazines if they didn’t take the comics as well.

From Dr. Wertham’s testimony;

Dr. WERTHAM. This tremendous power is exercised by this group which consists of three parts, the comic book publishers, the printers, and last and not least, the big distributors who force these little vendors to sell these comic books. They force them because if they don’t do that they don’t get the other things.

Mr. HANNOCH. How do you know that?

Dr. WERTHAM. I know that from many sources. You see, I read comic books and I buy them and I go to candy stores.

They said, “You read so many comic books.” I talk to them and ask them who buys them. I say to a man, “Why do you sell this kind of stuff?”

He says, “What do you expect me to do? Not sell it?”

He says, “I will tell you something. I tried that one time.”

The man says, “Look, I did that once. The newsdealer, whoever it is, says, ‘You have to do it’.”
“I said, ‘I don’t want to’.”

“‘Well’, he says, ‘you can’t have the other magazines’.”

So the man said, “Well, all right, we will let it go.”

So when the next week came, all the other magazines were late. You see, he didn’t give them the magazines. So his was later than all his competitors, he had to take comic books back.

I also know it another way. There are some people who think I have some influence in this matter. I have very little. Comic books are much worse now than when I started. I have a petition from newsdealers that appealed to me to help them so they don’t have to sell these comic books.

S&K fully involved

One of the stranger aspects dealt with Wertham painting organized opposition to his theories as Communist conspiracies promoted by the comic companies. (perhaps a swipe at Lev Gleason)

Curiously, one Senator tried to get the doctor to condemn the writers and artists who made these horror stories but Dr. Wertham would have none of that.

Senator HENNINGS. Doctor, I think from what you have said so far terms of the value and effectiveness of the artists who portray these things, that it might be suggested implicitly that anybody who can draw that sort of thing would have to have some very singular or peculiar abnormality or twist in his mind, or am I wrong in that?

Dr. WERTHAM. Senator, if I may go ahead in my statement, I would like to tell you that this assumption is one that we had made in the beginning and we have found it to be wrong. We have found that this enormous industry with its enormous profits has a lot of people to whom it pays money and these people have to make these drawings or else, just like the crime comic book writers have to write the stories they write, or else. There are many decent people among them.

Let me tell you among the writers and among the cartoonists ─ they don’t love me, but I know that many of them are decent people and they would much rather do something else than do what they are doing.

Dr. Wertham reads some trash – Sen. Estes Kefauver – Bill Gaines

The owners of squeaky clean Dell Comics tried to add in facts and a subtle dig at the Doc.

TESTIMONY OF MRS. HELEN MEYER, VICE PRESIDENT, DELL PUBLICATIONS, ACCOMPANIED BY MATTHEW MURPHY, EDITOR, DELL PUBLICATIONS, NEW YORK, N. Y.

Mrs. MEYER. Mrs. Helen Meyer, 231 Montrose Avenue, South Orange, N. J. I am vice president of the Dell Publishing Co.

Mr. MURPHY. My name is Matthew Murphy, of 294 Bronxville Road, Bronxville, N.Y. I am employed by Western Printing & Lithographic Co., as Dell comics editor.

The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed.

Mrs. MEYER. Although we are not here to defend crime and horror comics, the picture is not as black as Dr. Wertham painted it. We must give our American children proper credit for their good taste in their support of good comics. What better evidence can we give than facts and figures. Here they are:

Dell’s average comic sale is 800,000 copies per issue. Most crime and horror comic sales are under 250,000 copies.

Of the first 25 largest selling magazines on newsstands – this includes Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, and so forth ─ 11 titles are Dell comics, with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck the leading newsstand seller. Some of these titles are: “Walt Disney’s Comics”; “Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny”; “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse”; “Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Porky Pigs”; “Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker”; “Margie’s Little Lulu”; “Mom’s Tom and Jerry.”

The newsstand sales range from 950,000 to 1,996,570 on each of the above mentioned titles. I mean newsstands only and I am not including any subscriptions, and we have hundreds of thousands of subscriptions.

With the least amount of titles, or 15 percent of all titles published by the entire industry; Dell can account for a sale of approximately 32 percent, and we don’t publish a crime or horror comic.

Dr. Wertham, for some strange reason, is intent on condemning the entire industry. He refuses to acknowledge that other types of comics are not only published, but are better supported by children than crime and horror comics. I hope that his motivation is not a selfish one in his crusade against comics. Yet, in the extensive research he tells us he has made on comics, why does he ignore the good comics? Dell isn’t alone in publishing good comics. There are numerous outstanding titles published by other publishers, such as Blondie, Archie, Dennis the Menace, and so forth. Why does he feel that he must condemn the entire industry? Could it be that he feels he has a better case against comics by recognizing the bad and ignoring the good?

Lev Gleason, head of Gleason Publishing and a staunch first amendment defender, volunteered to face down the committee and try to smooth out the ripples from Gaines testimony. Though the committee never acknowledged a concrete link between comics and juvenile delinquency, the damage was done.

This period of history is complicated. I am of at least two different viewpoints. I think the government and legislative overkill is wrong, totally Un-American. The same as the HUAC hearings. The results are always a lessening of American values. But as an adult viewer, I must admit that some publishers crossed a line. Left unstopped, they would have gotten worse. There was no outside brake that controlled the output of these companies. The only control was left to the publishers whose only concern was the bottom line. Self-censurship was really the only way to go. Like the Hays Committee, TV, and other pop culture clashes, these cures had to come from the industry itself, or face the possibility of Government oversight. The details could possibly be argued, but not the intentions. Something had to be done to stop the outrage. This outrage came from the only party that counted, the consumers. Wertham was wrong, but his crusade was right. The comics had overstepped the bounds of decency. And it was left to the comic pros to make it right. One analogy might be found in the later Anti-war movement. Many might agree on the principle, but they were lost when the movement overstepped and blew up College buildings and killed people. Overstepping invites Govt. intrusion, which leads to Govt. overkill. Better to separate from the bomb throwers willingly.

An actual voice of reason Lev Gleason – Dick Ayers troubled

Joe says the din over comics never affected them much, they were sure that their books were wholesome. Imagine their chagrin and consternation when one of the first objectionable comics offered into evidence was a copy of Black Magic. Joe recalls; “Watching this on TV I cringed- like I was suddenly thrown into a steaming vat in a horror comic.” Jack hoped the storm would pass over—but he knew the image of a comic reader was strictly lowbrow. “If you bought a comic book the reaction was there goes a guy who shoots pool—another lowly pastime. But some comic artists were very affected. Dick Ayers, in his biography talks about the horror of reading Parents Magazine and finding that several of his books were listed as objectionable, and being called a pornographer by a guest at a cocktail party and almost coming to blows. Dick became so distraught that he actually held a book burning of his books in his fireplace. Jack was more stoic; “I was only hoping that it would come out well enough to continue comics, that it wouldn’t damage comics in any way, so I could continue working. I was a young man. I was still growing out of the East Side.” Other artists were in a whirl. Jack Cole, creator of the family friendly Plastic Man fled the industry. Doing racy gags, and Playboy cartoons, much like Bob Wood, didn’t help. His personal life took a downturn and one day he drove to a shop, bought a rifle, drove to a secluded area and blew his brains out. Many turned to the advertising field, and some to fine art work. Some adventure artists took lower paying and lower presence work in DC’s romance division. Stan Lee’s Atlas Company tried to absorb many of the EC artists to supply filler stories for the many faceless titles.

In order to avoid legislative censure, the comic industry agreed to once again self-censure the books. An earlier manifestation had petered out with time. With the creation of the Comics Code Authority, the major companies united to self-regulate. They agreed to limit or end all types of violence, horror, and risqué matter. In what is often called the EC section the code states.

burning up a college education

No comic magazine shall use the word “horror” or “terror” in its title.

All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.

All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.

Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.

Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.

Bill Gaines railed against this section, noting that the words “horror” and “terror” were parts of two of his best sellers. Gaines was sure that this section was set up purposely to put him out of business. It seemed to work as sales of EC books dwindled to insignificance.

It was suggested that the word “crime” should also be banned from a comic book title, but Lev Gleason, the publisher of Crime Does Not Pay fought tooth and nail to get that restriction stopped. It didn’t matter, with-in a year Gleason closed up shop for good. Gleason was more respected among his peers and had been fighting the backlash for years—even debating Dr. Wertham on radio and TV. Gaines was seen as more of a Johnny- come-lately and a bomb-thrower among his peers. Ironically, Gaines would get the last laugh. After the code appeared, Mad Magazine became so large of a success that DC bought out Gaines and added it to their portfolio.

Very quickly problems crept up. Their ruse to hide the new company from Prize didn’t last long. Prize’s reaction was that when S&K started their own company Prize cut back their assignments on the romance and crime titles. All that remained was Fighting American and Black Magic. It appears that Prize wouldn’t let them compete head to head on genres, so when S&K did their own romance book, then Prize took them off Young Romance and Young Love. A self published crime book and no more work on Justice Traps the Guilty. The 67 issue run on Young Romance was the longest uninterrupted stint that Jack had produced in his career to that point.

Times were horrible, pressure from outside, pressure from within. Prize kept threatening, Leader News went bonkers, artists kept demanding. Sales on the new titles were lackluster, and very soon money became tight. In an effort to cut back on expenses, Joe reused some artwork and reworked it into new stories, mostly for the Prize titles. Joe swiped a Manhunter story from 1943 for a Fighting American story, plus a Jack Burnley Starman story from 1942 for another Fighting American story. He even cobbled together an old comic strip proposal titled Starman Zero and made a Fighting American story. Nothing went to waste. When the owners of Crestwood caught Joe reusing a previous story and reworded it into a new story they responded angrily by withholding payment, further tightening up the cash flow. Now Jack and Joe’s contract with Crestwood never said anything about reusing existing art, but still Crestwood continued to hold back payment. In Nov. 1954, Joe contacted his accountant Bernard Gwirtzman who demanded a financial audit of all monies to be paid to S&K, as called for in their Young Romance contract. Crestwood was confident that their books were clean but when the auditors were finished, they presented Crestwood with a bill for 130 thousand dollars. The astonished owners threatened to close down the shop rather than pay the money. After some negotiations, they settled on a lump sum of 10 thousand dollars. The money helped stem the immediate cash outlay. The victory was nice, but the long term result was that the boys would get no new work from Prize for the next year, time that saw S&K reeling from the onslaught. An interesting aside, Joe says that the editor Reese Rosenfield was getting five percent of S&K’s royalty shares, for bringing them together. But after the attorneys finished their audit, they told Joe that Reese wasn’t protecting their shares, as he should have done as their agent. He suggested cutting Reese out of the money that Prize paid, which they did. It’s easy to figure this soured Kirby towards editors who demand a payback of the artist’s salary, but don’t follow through on their end.

Some retailers took it out on Leader News, and refused to carry any product from them–this included the Mainline books. Pretty soon, the advances from Leader News stopped and Mainline could no longer continue. Stories of artists not getting paid made the rounds. George Roussos remembered; “When some difficulties arose, a few artists weren’t paid. This caused a lot of resentment towards Joe and Jack, and they avoided them. I met Jack later at an art store at Grand Central Station. He was happy to see me, and I sensed he wanted to talk…. We covered every subject, only he did all the talking. I guess it was pent-up energy and he was rather hurt that people took out their anger on him-unnecessarily he felt.” Mainline left Leader News.

Stamped out

For perhaps the only time, Jack and Joe were on the outs. Roussos recalls; “I don’t know the extent of what really took place, but there was a point when they split up when we were working at Crestwood’ Joe took the business end of it and Jack would do the artwork. That didn’t work out very well, because when you split up two people in the same room…… I never dwelled into the business end; I just knew the superficial end. I knew the results of what happened, but I didn’t know what brought it about. I knew that they split up while in the same room because I was there. There were differences but I was never around when they had any particular argument.”

Soon, Leader News claimed bankruptcy and went completely out of business when EC Comics closed up the comic book division, leaving them with only Mad Magazine–which was not covered by the Comics Code Authority. The first Comics Code stamped book for Mainline were books cover dated Feb. 1955. They were the last published with the Mainline logo and Leader News blurb.

It’s hard to be exact about just how much the code affected the editorial content of the books. There are many silly examples of nitpicking and squeamishness of particular visuals-such as hands without weapons, reaction to unshown threats, and blacked out details. But I can recall only one rather sad and silly argument over content of a story. Despite the romance books delving into societal problems, there were two they would never touch; racial integration and gay lifestyles. S&K never ventured close to either. Interracial relationships or even positive slants on black life were understood to be forbidden. Bill Gaines of EC, shortly after the code was installed offered up a filler story for Incredible Science Fiction. The story, titled Judgment Day was drawn by veteran Joe Orlando, it dealt with a lone Earth astronaut judging whether a young world was ready to be admitted to the greater galaxy of worlds. The astronaut judged them ineligible because their society had been broken up by races with one race considered a lesser entity and treated as such. The irony was that when the astronaut returned to his ship, he took off his helmet revealing himself to be black. A rather positive story in that it showed man had overcome its darkest stain. Judge Murphy, the head of the comics code refused to allow it to be printed, despite the fact that the comics code never addressed racial interests. The story broke none of the listed no-nos of the code. The real insanity of the whole issue was this same story had originally been run three years earlier-pre-code- in the title Weird Fantasy to absolutely no blow back or even negative press from the Southern retailers.

Historian Digby Diehls notes in his article Tales From the Crypt, the Official Archives:

“This really made ’em go bananas in the Code czar’s office. ‘Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us’, recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. ‘I went in there with this story and Murphy says, “It can’t be a Black man”. But … but that’s the whole point of the story!’ Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. ‘Listen’, he told Murphy, ‘you’ve been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business’. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he bellowed. ‘I’m going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I’ll sue you’. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. ‘All right. Just take off the beads of sweat’. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. ‘Fuck you!’ they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.”

Bill Gaines finally gave in and closed down the comic division, but would get the last laugh as the reconstituted Mad Magazine (code free) became one of the great publishing successes of the Twentieth Century.

To make matters worse, at the same time that Mainline folded, S&K were engaged in the legal mess with Prize Comics and work at Prize ended. Fighting American was cancelled after issue #7 and Black Magic after 33 issues. Black Magic’s end should not be dismissed so easily. It was in Black Magic that Jack first worked in a new genre that would play a huge role in his immediate future. It was also the launching point for new artists, like Steve Ditko.

The Fifties would see the rise of new style sci-fi films. With a background of a world divided by an Iron Curtain, man had created a force so strong that it dominated the world’s psyche. The anxieties as seen in the rise of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the fanned Cold War paranoia, the UFO phenomenon, and uncontrollable science found a new source of projection; the introduction of Post Atomic Science Fiction movies.

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction;

“It was films in this mould (Them, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) rather then the landmark Destination Moon (1950) and its sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space, that dominated the decade. Monsters from without and within–Hollywood and comics were investigated by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities– threatened America, as often as not created or awakened by the bomb (as in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 1953) Nature rebelled and a variety of aliens, many of whom, like The Man From Planet X(1951) had peaceful intentions were received with hostility. A few films, like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and The 27th Day (1957) addressed themselves directly to the political implications of such anxieties, while others, notably War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951) had a religious dimension that saw it as a punishment for the catastrophes that befell man.”

TV leads the way

This same style science fiction mode was seen on TV with the new series Science Fiction Theater, produced by Ivan Tors. This was the first anthology devoted to the futuristic world of post-war fears. The series speculated on such things as visitors from other planets, UFO incidents, space fight, espionage… More technology, and miracle drugs that could cure all ills. It contained stories of crackpots; who turn out to be visionaries, and eyewitnesses to the fantastic, fighting to be believed; psychic phenomena straight out of a Reichian nightmare. The show also utilized experts as consultants to help keep the show within the known realm of the scientific possibilities speculated at the time. The show did not last long, but it did lead to even better followers like Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits.

Instead of the old Gothic horrors of Dracula, and the Werewolf, the new films centered on run amok science creating mutates, and allegorical visitation of alien species. Things that didn’t seem so farfetched when viewed thru a current prism. The Thing, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were big hits. And comics always followed the big hits. “The monster phenomenon got started primarily just because people were concerned about science,” Kirby recalled. “People were concerned about radiation and what would happen to animals and people who were exposed to that kind of thing.” Their fears had been awakened at Roswell.

The movie that launched a 1000 comics

Though the sci-fi movies were definitely an inspiration, the author feels the genre change can be traced back to the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, in 1939 by Orson Wells and the paranoid reaction to a sci-fi subject as well as the sci-real atomic bomb.

Jack and Joe always loved sci-fi and the sci-fi movies, and incorporated themes into their stories. The newly formed CCA also prohibited much of the Gothic horror traditions. The next to last S&K Black Magic issue cover featured a strange monster very similar to the fantastic “intellectual carrot” of The Thing, as portrayed by James Arness. The last S&K story in Black Magic centered on, and was narrated by a shark mutated by atomic radiation to the point of sentience. The story Lone Shark was a chilling tale of run amok science and the unforeseen consequences of atomic energy plants and the dumping of atomic waste. There is also an unpublished Black Magic cover featuring a burnt out wasteland with alien scientists in hazmat gear and Geiger Counters checking out the charred remains while a huge mutated creature hovers in the background. In Win-A-Prize #1(Feb. 1955) published by Charlton, Jack drew a wonderful allegorical tale of the first visitation from space and the inherent fear and paranoia in the human reaction. This genre so resonated with Jack, it was said that Jack hoarded reams of science fiction magazines and pamphlets, and when he died, the garage was full of them. Jack was always at his best when his stories had a sci-fi basis. Joe would recall that Jack was “the pulp man-he used to read all of them, especially the sci-fi ones.” Jack would even insert sci-fi scenarios into other genres like western stories, such as a Bullseye story set in a lost prehistoric wasteland populated with pterodactyls, or a land based Fighting American trapped in a deep space dream.

Joe, reeling from the failure of Mainline, still had faith in the books, and took them over to Charlton Comics, an independent company that distributed their own product.  Charlton was started by two ex-convicts named John Santangelo and Edward Levy. Santangelo was an Italian immigrant who worked as a brick layer and masonry contractor. He first began publishing unauthorized lyrics to famous songs (for his soon to be wife) and made enough to quit his job. He would discover the hard way that America had copyright laws and would end up in the slammer. While there he met Edward Levy who was a disbarred attorney who was involved in a billing scandal. The two became friends, got out of prison at roughly the same time and made a handshake deal to go into legit publishing together.

The original logo – an early Charlton attempt at an educational book

Edward was able to get the rights to publish lyrics legally and John would hire people and handle the publishing aspect. The company would buy an old printing press that was typically used to print cereal boxes and would also set up their own distribution network. This made Charlton Comics quite unique as they were very much a “done in one” publisher. They did everything from buying the paper to print on, hiring the people to create the magazines, to delivering the magazines to the newsstands. But like any printing presses, it cost a lot of money to not have the presses rolling. It’s very likely that they got into comic books as a way to print something in between their magazine runs. No doubt they probably also recognized the popularity of comic books and were hoping to cash in. Based in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton was known as a low rent business that paid the lowest page rates, and whose quality control was the worst in the business. It was also known for having a very loose editorial policy that left the artists alone.

Comic by Edward Levy, the indicia soon read Charlton – New S&K at Carlton

Joe recalls, “Charlton was the last port of call for a publishing enterprise on the verge of going under. Santangelo and company were usually willing to continue publication of failing magazines or comic books, taking over the printing, engraving, and distribution at their own plant….and eventually taking over, period.

“When Leader News, our Mainline Publications distributor had failed, Jack Kirby and I turned to Charlton as a last opportunity to continue publishing our line of comic books. We made frequent trips to their plant in Connecticut where the highlight of the day was a tasty Italian lunch at the executive table of the employee’s spacious cafeteria. When the noon whistle blew, the printing crew, mostly Italian immigrants who spoke little or no English, gulped down a hasty sandwich and then retired to an adjacent construction site where they picked up their masonry tools and continued putting up new buildings, a project that seemed endless. After the lunch hour, the men returned to the printing shop to resume their regular work. Kirby and I made a small living at Charlton for a couple years and then went the way of other patrons. Out.

Joe’s memory is somewhat faulty; S&K Charlton work only lasted less than one year. What was never explained was why Joe didn’t take the Mainline titles to Crestwood, or Harvey. Joe decided to chuck the brushes and head to advertising.

The problems of Leader News and some other small distributors left a gaping hole, which Charlton was glad to fill. In 1954, Charlton went shopping, picking up the low hanging fruit. Besides Mainline, they also picked up titles from Superior, St. John, and Fawcett Publications. Besides the four Mainline titles, S&K also produced a new title called Win-A-Prize. This odd anthology title was an amalgam comic book and prize catalog with prizes awarded for all types of contests and reader contributions mixed in with some surprisingly good comic tales. Only two issues were published. They also produced one issue of From Here To Insanity, a humor title in the Mad Magazine vein.

Back to humor and parody

Joe and Jack produced two final issues of each of the four Mainline titles for Charlton before closing down the studio for good. It was a sad ending to the greatest team of comic creators ever seen. Fifteen years of unparalleled innovation and entertainment ending as collateral damage of the social wars fighting for the souls of our youth. Jack recalls those years fondly “It was a wonderful time to work in the field-if you neglect the financial problems. I wouldn’t class the fifties as the greatest period in comics–it was, to be frank, a really ugly period. Ugly clothes, cars, people. But it was a time when the most productive people in comics were still in the field. Marvin Stein was with us-he was a first rate man and one of the best artists we had. Mort Meskin was at his height. Steve Ditko was blossoming out and doing fine work. There were still writers and artists around….Good ones. It was certainly akin to working a Renaissance period.

The age of post-atomic comics had begun.




The cause of freedom does not run smooth, often it feels like a one step forward, two steps back proposition. But occasionally a big step happens that can never be walked back. On May 14, 1954, in a historic decision, the Supreme Court in one fell swoop ended the decades long tyranny of the Jim Crow laws. Plessy v Ferguson was no more. Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore lawyer convinced the high court that separate could never be equal, and all people were in society together. Clashes became more frequent as State governments attempted to stop black students from public education, and forced the Federal branch to enforced the new equal education standards. Suddenly public faces like Orval Faubus, Bull Mongomery, and George Wallace showed the world what had once been the dark secret of Southern life. But the dark underbelly remained.

September of ’55 found the country’s attention riveted to the small backwater town of Money, Mississippi. A body had been fished out of the brackish Tallahatchie River. A black body beaten and decomposed so badly that identification was made by way of an initial ring on one of his fingers. The body was identified as that of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old black Chicago boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi for the summer. The last thing his mother told him before putting him on the bus was that in the South black people had to act different to the white folks and if they tell him to bow and scrape, then he better bow and scrape and look happy doing it.

with his mom in happier days

One day Emmett was playing with his friends and was bragging about how in Chicago he played with white kids, and in fact, he had a white girl friend. His friends oohed and ahhed, and challenged him to go inside and speak up the young white girl behind the counter. Emmett was up to any challenge and went inside, bought a piece of candy and as he left he flirted with the girl. The friends were agog, but there was no immediate response. No one thought anything about it until three nights later Roy Bryant, the owner of the store, and J.W. Milam, his brother-in-law, broke into Emmett’s Uncle’s house and drove off with Emmett. The young girl was Roy Bryant’s new wife, and in Mississippi, no black boy could talk fresh to a young white girl without punishment.

They drove Emmett out to the riverside and brutally beat him, crushing in his head and gouging one eye completely out. After one last act of defiance—or stupidity—Roy Bryant shot young Emmett in the head. They bound his body in barbed wire, weighted him down with a gin mill fan and dumped him in the river.

The body was fished out three days later, and subsequently identified as that of Emmett Till, who had been reported abducted three days earlier by his Uncle. Bryant and Milam were quickly arrested for murder and the stunned nation was in an uproar. The young boy was quickly made into a martyr for the Civil Rights movement and the Northern press berated the South and its Jim Crow ways unmercifully. At first even the local townsfolk were aghast at the crime and neither Bryant nor Milam could get legal representation, but as the press storm continued, the Mississippians began fighting back. Suddenly the defendants had lawyers fighting to represent them.

The defense’s case was based on the problems with identifying the body, that no one could be sure if the body was that of Emmett Till—despite the initialed ring on his hand. But the defense theory was really a ruse. They knew that the all-white jurors wanted to free the two men, but they needed something—anything to which they could hang their case. Defense attorney John C. Whitten told the jurors in his closing statement, “Your fathers will turn over in their graves if [Milam and Bryant are found guilty] and I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men in the face of that [outside] pressure.” The poor condition of the the body was enough of a straw to grasp and after just an hours deliberation, they found the men innocent.

His mother moaned; “Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son“

The Northern press and black leaders were aghast at the decision and quickly mobilized protests, and civil rights volunteers quickly spread around the area trying to calm the black workers of the area. They knew one thing, and that is that one incident like this was bad, but worse, it emboldened other white racists to imitate their actions knowing that they were immune to prosecution. Nothing scared the black populace more than the idea of copycat murders. One lynching usually led to three, four, or more similar occurrences. It was like a bad weed, pull one, and a dozen more sprout up. Every redneck with a grudge now had an avenue to vent his frustrations and bile.

It had been a while since the Civil Rights movement had such a noteworthy face to put on prejudice and injustice. Emmett’s age and Chicago roots were just the ingredient needed to rile up the millions of blacks who had fled the South and remind them that Southern blacks were their brothers. For the first time, northern blacks saw that violence against blacks in the South could affect them in the North. In Mamie Bradley’s words, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Blacks, in the North as well as in the South, would not easily forget the murder of Emmett Till.

Just as Leo Frank’s murder had united Jews against bigotry and prejudice, Emmett Till became the brutalized face of the Black movement demanding their rights. 1955 would be just the first of many a long hot summer in the U.S.

Far too often these singular acts of evil soon fade and blow away, overshadowed by new problems and events but Emmett’s blood seeped into the soil and gave root to a whole spectrum of new offshoots. In Montgomery Alabama, the new Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became galvanized to avenge this slaughter and change this country. He started to talk out and preach a whole new strategy of love and non-violence aimed at changing the tone of the country. A young black woman on her way home from work refused to give up her seat on the bus and was summarily arrested for civil disobedience. Rosa Parks was outraged by young Emmett’s death and had joined the local Montgomery NAACP; she had attended talks given by this new young Pastor and had decided enough was enough. Following her arrest, a new policy of striking back took place when Dr. King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The strike went nationwide and suddenly the black populace had a voice. The eyes of the nation focused on this problem and the violence and led the Court to overturn Alabama’s cruel Jim Crow laws.

A young black man, newly recruited to the Black Muslim crusade, was transformed by Emmett’s death. In prison for rape, the Oakland Ca. native fed his reactionary furor. Two days after discovering the tragedy of young Emmett Till, Eldridge Cleaver had a “nervous breakdown” and “began to look at America through new eyes.” Always entranced by white women, his attitude toward white women changed radically, he suggested. “Somehow I arrived at the conclusion, that as a matter of principle, it was of paramount importance for me to have an antagonistic, ruthless attitude toward white women.”

Using this outrage as a recruiting tool, the Nation of Islam grew from 15 temples in 1955, to over 40 in 1960. The small radical violent offshoot of the Islam religion soon became a large militant alternative for blacks who had grown tired of never fighting back.

Another young revolutionary used Emmett Till’s death as a launching pin to unite the black populace in the cause of Islam. Malcolm X would become perhaps the most feared and famous black leader of the late 50’s and early 60’s; only Martin Luther King came close.

In Louisville, Kentucky a young 15 year old boy playing with some friends saw a newspaper with the story of Emmett Till’s death; complete with the horrid picture of the mutilated body in the open coffin. The young black boy was not a novice to Southern reality, but this new abomination steeled a new radicalism and resolve into his hardening heart.

“Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered… I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn’t get Emmett out of my mind…” – Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)

A somewhat younger southern boy responded differently, seeing this as a learning experience and life warning.

“It was Monday morning when my family got the word about the death of Emmett Till. I was barely two years younger than he and in the South for one of the first times that I was old enough to remember. My mother was particularly disturbed by the incident and spent most of the morning counseling me on “being careful,” a non-specific term which at the time I took to mean watching out for traffic on unfamiliar country roads….

On subsequent trips to the region I was “more careful.” I was also more apprehensive about being there. I was never sure what to do when in contact with Southern whites, and therefore I tried as much as possible never to make such contacts. My personal experience and the story of Emmett Till, which I read in great and gory detail upon my return North, served to confirm my notion that the South and its white people were different and dangerous…. I wondered if I would ever understand these people and their society. The need to understand encouraged my graduate study of Southern history…” – James Horton (historian)

Despite warnings from friends that talking out could hurt his career and legacy, Superstar Jackie Robinson replied; “If I had to choose tomorrow between the Baseball Hall of Fame and full citizenship for my people I would choose full citizenship time and again.” Jackie would begin circling the South giving speeches and voicing his concerns. His popularity was such that he even outsold Dr. King as civil rights speaker.

Perhaps cynically, some have suggested that this event was perfect for the new medium of TV. For the first time, nationwide news stations sent mobile teams to cover a local story. The name Emmett Till became known from New England to California’s sunny shore.

The Civil Rights movement finally had a moment that transformed the whole black population, and with it, the nation.

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Jack Kirby : A Life In Comics

(I was honored to have been asked by the folks at Comic-Con International: San Diego to write a Jack Kirby biography for their convention program this year. I expended it slightly, and it forms the main narrative of the Kirby Museum’s “Jack Kirby: 100 Years” pop up in NYC. – Rand.)

Creator • Storyteller • Visionary • Artist

Born and raised on the Lower East Side, Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) created or co-created some of the most enduring characters and stories in comics (Captain America, Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Darkseid, among hundreds of others). In addition to revolutionizing such comic book genres as crime, war and superheroes, Kirby also co-invented romance comics with his partner Joe Simon. Kirby’s 1960s work with Marvel’s Stan Lee (who dubbed Kirby “King”) may be his most well-known. Another Kirby legacy is that he almost single handedly defined the visual language of comic books with his dynamic page layouts portraying exaggerated anatomy, heartfelt emotion, explosive movement, and cosmic wonder. Kirby died in 1994 at age 76. Evidence of his work and influence surrounds us today, not only in comics, but also in television and movies

In The Beginning…

In August of 1917, Rose and Ben Kurtzberg, two immigrants from Galicia in what what is now Poland welcomed their first born, Jacob. In the early 20th century, New York City’s Lower East Side was the most densely populated two square miles on the planet. Ben sewed pants in sweatshops. Rose did piecework at home when not raising her sons.

Lower East Side kids played in the streets, and fighting was a favorite pastime. Kirby’s gang, the Jewish kids of Suffolk St. would take on the Italian kids from another block, or the African-American kids from yet another block. Jake was small in stature, and once had to rescue his younger brother David from an attack by a rival gang. Jake recalled it happening in slow-motion, as if choreographing the whole fight in his head. Jake loved fighting so much that he once took a long subway trip to the Bronx to see if they fought any differently there.

Rose’s extended family were storytellers. Jake grew up hearing stories about demi-gods, werewolves, and vampires, learning about them long before they appeared in the movie theaters that were everywhere on the Lower East Side.  At 14 Jake found a science fiction pulp magazine in a rain drenched gutter. The image on the cover changed him forever. He took the magazine home, read it, and it fueled his interest in drawing. The stories in the magazine reminded him of the tales his mother and her friends told, but with new, hopeful, futuristic trappings. He began reading as much as he could, something he had to hide from his buddies, and took how-to-draw  books out from the library.

Jake met his “second father” Harry Slonaker around this time. Slonaker graduated from the Boys’ Brotherhood Republic in Chicago and was assigned to New York City to start one there. The BBR helped boys in the worst neighborhoods learn responsibility and useful skills, and it had its own rules, government, and even media. Jake took up boxing and became the cartoonist on the BBR newspaper, which he signed with the name “Jack”.

While Jack’s mother wasn’t going to let him follow neighborhood hero, actor John Garfield (nee Jacob Garfinkle), to Hollywood, his time as an office boy in a newspaper cartoonist’s office  showed him there was another way out of the ghetto. Most of his pals saw careers as  policemen, a politicians, or gangsters in their future.

Jack stayed less than a week in an art class at the Pratt Institute. Not only wasn’t he the kind of artist they wanted – he worked fast – but his father lost his job, and Jack dropped out of school entirely to find work.

After a brief stint as a newsboy, Jack found work at the Fleischer Brothers animation studio, working on Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons as an inbetweener, filling in the necessary number of drawings to complete the illusion of movement. Jack’s steady work allowed the Kurtzbergs to move from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn.

Jack’s time with the Fleischers was short lived. The environment reminded him too much of the sweatshops where his father worked, and the studio was relocating to Florida. He found work with some small newspaper syndicates, preparing his strips (Socko The Seadog, Your Health Comes First) at home on the kitchen table. One series, “The Romance Of Money” didn’t get syndicated, but was collected as a small pamphlet for savings banks as a giveaway. Arguably, The Romance Of Money is Jack’s first comic book.

Kirby Comic Books Begin!

With the success of Superman in 1938, there was a tremendous demand for new, original comic book content. Jack found his way to the Eisner-Iger Studio, preparing stories in a similar fashion to the single pages appearing in Sunday newspapers. Soon, he and his boss Will Eisner realized they were working in an entirely new, multi page art form. Eisner recalled one incident where Jack got in the faces of mobsters who were shaking down the studio for a towel service payment. The goons left.

Unfortunately, Jack came up against too much of that “sweatshop” approach again at Eisner-Iger, and soon found work as a staff artist in the office of Victor Fox, where he drew the first four weeks of the Blue Beetle newspaper strip. While at Fox, Jack hit it off with Joe Simon, and the two began collaborating on Blue Bolt. Simon & Kirby quickly produced Red Raven Comics for Martin Goodman at Timely, which contained a Comet Pierce story where Jack first signed his name as “Jack Kirby.”

Jack soon left Fox to work with Simon exclusively, and moved his family to a nicer apartment in Brooklyn. There, he met his upstairs neighbor, and future wife, Rosalind Goldstein.

Simon & Kirby produced Captain America, and the first cover featured the patriotic hero punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Published in late 1940, a year before the U.S.A. entered the war, the cover was a stark declaration of intent, and the book was a smash hit. Kirby’s choreographed action sequences were a main selling point. At one point, the Nazi-sympathizing group the American Bund were making threatening phone calls to the Simon & Kirby team. When they called again, Kirby went downstairs to confront them, but they weren’t there.

Also for Goodman, they took two superhero sidekicks, Bucky and Toro, teamed them with four non-super-powered kids and created the Young Allies, the first kid gang. While still on staff at Timely, Kirby, Simon, and several inkers produced Captain Marvel Adventures #1 for Fawcett, uncredited, over a weekend. It became one of the top sellers of its time.

The Simon & Kirby Team & WW2

The Simon & Kirby team had such success with Captain America and their Captain Marvel one-shot that when they discovered Goodman wasn’t paying them the agreed percentage of revenue, they quickly moved to National Comics, home of Superman. They revamped existing features Sandman and Manhunter, while Kirby’s youth inspired them to create the Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion. In 1942, the bickering Boy Commandos received their own title which was only outsold by National’s Superman and Batman comics. That same year, Jacob Kurtzberg legally changed his name to Jack Kirby, and married Rosalind.

In the midst of this success, World War II was looming. Jack was drafted into the infantry in June of 1943. In August 1944, Kirby arrived in Normandy, France and was sent to Verdun to join General Patton’s Army on its rapid offensive eastward. His division was sent to south of Metz to rid the area of German resistance. Taking advantage of Kirby’s drawing skill and his knowledge of the German dialect Yiddish, Kirby’s commander sent him into enemy territory to scout and draw up detailed maps.

Kirby’s war experiences were more brutal, horrifying, and violent than anything he experienced on the mean streets of the Lower East Side. His time in combat had a profound effect on him. Since storytelling was such a part of his personality, he shared war stories for the rest of his life. Eventually, Kirby contracted trench foot, and nearly needed both feet amputated. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Roz, at least, expressed that losing his drawing hand would have been much worse.

In January 1945, Kirby made his way back stateside to North Carolina and was honorably discharged in July with several honors including the Bronze Battle Star. In December 1945, Roz and Jack’s first child, Susan, was born.

After The War – The 1950s

With the war behind them, the Simon & Kirby team got back to work, producing the short-lived Stuntman and Boy Explorers for Al Harvey. But action heroes and kid gangs didn’t sell like they used to. Comic books had been popular with soldiers overseas, but now that they were home, they had more reading choices.

By 1947, the team was trying their hand at other genres; crime comics, funny animals, and teen humor. “True Romance” pulp magazines had been selling well to both teen and adult women for a while, so through Crestwood/Prize, Simon & Kirby’s Young Romance, the first romance comic, debuted that summer to great success. After two lucrative years producing romance comics and with growing families, the Kirbys and the Simons moved into houses across the street from each other in the suburbs of Long Island’s Nassau County.

In 1953, Simon & Kirby started their own publishing company – Mainline Comics. Unfortunately, the corrupt newsstand business was collapsing, and social forces that had been building for years came to a head with the publication of Fredric Wertham’s book, Seduction Of The Innocent, which claimed comic books were corrupting America’s children. Subsequently, horror and crime comics were chased off the market, and comic book creators were stigmatized. Comic book quality experienced a sharp decline, with all offerings assuredly safe for the youngest kids.

Eventually, Joe Simon left the team for more lucrative and secure work in advertising and marketing for political campaigns. Kirby brought the team’s Challengers of the Unknown to National (DC), and started working for Goodman (Atlas) again. He also worked up a number of comic strip proposals. Eventually, through a connection made by Jack Schiff, an editor at DC, Kirby, with writers Ed and Dave Wood, began a newspaper strip that capitalized on the nascent space race, Sky Masters Of The Space Force. With inking by Wallace Wood, the strips were beautiful.

Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding of the financial arrangement with Schiff, and what Schiff felt was Kirby’s using ideas from story conferences for Challengers Of The Unknown in Sky Masters, Schiff sued Kirby. Kirby lost. He continued the strip for a while, but the financial arrangement made it a losing proposition, so he quit. He’d also lost DC as a client.

Jack soon found more work under Atlas editor Stan Lee, mostly on monster and science fiction stories. Simon and Kirby teamed up briefly at Archie Comics on The Double Life of Private Strong and The Adventures of the Fly. Kirby even worked briefly for Classics Illustrated.

The Marvelous 1960s

Inspired by his success with starting Challengers Of The Unknown at DC, the slight success of the Archie heroes, and his son Neal’s interests, Kirby felt the time was again ripe for superheroes. Soon enough, Goodman and Lee saw what was happening at DC with the Justice League of America, and decided that Kirby was right. Lee had Kirby take one of his monster stories featuring some adventurers, and give them superpowers. Thus was born Marvel Comics as we know it, with The Fantastic Four.

Kirby’s vivid imagination, his heartfelt humanity, his love of science fiction and mythology, and his amazing dynamic visual storytelling all coalesced in his work for Lee and Marvel when he was in his 40s.

Kirby continued to pitch heroes. Lee had been publishing monster comics, so how about a monster as a lead character, the Hulk? A scientist from a previous story became Ant-Man. Mythology was one of Kirby’s favorites, so Norse god Thor came next. An urban hero who walked on walls came next, with Kirby bringing in a logo from the Simon & Kirby studio days in the early 1950s – Spiderman. Steve Ditko ended up with the assignment.

Next came Iron Man, with the origin drawn by Don Heck; Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, a grown up Boy Commandos; X-Men, a science fiction-based kid gang; and the Avengers, a bickering group of adult heroes. Kirby even had a hand in the creation of Daredevil, evoking his earlier Stuntman. In response to the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee and Kirby revived Captain America.

Marvel’s sales picked up. Lee’s snappy dialogue combined with Kirby’s stories, as well as the familiar, fan club-like tone of Marvel’s editorial copy kept the baby boomers reading comics into their teens and college years. Soon, Kirby was producing so many stories for Lee, that it became more expedient to eschew story conferences before the art was drawn. They’d briefly discuss the next issue, and Kirby would return with a fully drawn story, and describe to Lee what was happening. When even this became too time consuming, Kirby would include story notes on the edges of his artwork for Lee to use while preparing the dialogue script for the letterer.

In one notable example, Lee and Kirby had discussed having the antagonist be “The Big G” – a euphemism for God. Kirby knew that such a powerful, threatening force would be preceded by… a scout, whom he cosmically depicted as a surfer of the spaceways. Lee loved Kirby’s new character, and dubbed him the Silver Surfer. Audiences’ minds were blown.

Goodman started licensing Marvel characters out, which led  to Steve Ditko’s departure since Goodman wasn’t including him in licensing revenue. As a result, Lee tried to strengthen his relationship with Kirby, agreeing to a profile of he and Kirby by the NY Herald-Tribune. Unfortunately, the profile failed. The writer admired Lee’s P.T. Barnum-like chicanery, and denigrated Kirby’s appearance and manner. Upset, Kirby kept producing stories and characters for Lee, but not for long. On one Fantastic Four story where Kirby introduced a new character, Him, Lee ignored the notes, and changed Kirby’s theme. After that, Kirby only delivered stories containing already existing characters.

Full Rein

Kirby couldn’t stop creating new concepts, though. He just kept them to himself. When Goodman sold Marvel to Perfect Film, a more corporate entity, Kirby was stung by the new owner not wanting to negotiate a contract. Kirby felt the need to break out of his situation, so he moved his family to Southern California and began talking to Carmine Infantino at DC.

Infantino, a long ago Kirby protege who had successfully updated Batman for the readers brought in by the TV show, was rising in the editorial ranks. For DC to have an artist in the editorial office was unprecedented, and Infantino was looking to innovate. Once Jack Schiff retired, Infantino was free to bring Kirby aboard. Infantino had wanted Kirby to revamp Superman, but Kirby only took on the Jimmy Olsen series, adding an updated Newsboy Legion to the cast (Olsen was a newsboy, after all). Kirby pitched a new science fiction mythology that filled three ongoing series, but unlike his time at Marvel, he retained creative and editorial control, eventually bringing in California resident Mike Royer to provide inking and lettering.

The New Gods, Mister Miracle, and the Forever People, his “Fourth World” comics, were unfettered Kirby at the top of his game, making comics for everyone, not just kids or teenagers.

Unfortunately, the newsstand business was still corrupt, with distributors selling fan favorite comics like Kirby’s to comic dealers to sell at conventions without reporting those sales to the publishers. As a result, the sales reports for Kirby’s comics were disappointing. Infantino then asked Kirby for a horror comic, like the movies that were then in vogue, and a kids comic to capture the popularity of the Planet Of The Apes movie series. Jack delivered The Demon and Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth. Kamandi became Jack’s longest running series for DC. But as the end of his DC contract neared, Kirby was unsatisfied with his prospects there.

A Return to Marvel and Cartoons

In 1976, Kirby returned to Marvel and Captain America. He also created the Eternals, Machine Man, the Black Panther, Devil Dinosaur, and an adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the end of his two year deal, he worked with Lee on a Silver Surfer graphic novel in the hopes it would be turned into a rock musical movie.

In 1978 Kirby was commissioned by producer Barry Ira Geller to design the sets for a movie based on Roger Zelazny’s science fiction novel Lord Of Light. Geller’s idea was for the sets to act as a theme park called Science Fiction Land once shooting was complete. Royer inked the pieces to perfection. The movie and theme park weren’t to be

At this point. Kirby had enough of comic books, and found work in the production of television cartoons for children. He finished his contract with Marvel by storyboarding Fantastic Four cartoons. He designed characters, props, and situations for Ruby-Spears, sometimes for existing shows like the Kamandi-like Thundarr The Barbarian, but mostly for presentation pitches for new shows. Kirby made some of the best income of his life, and for the first time, even had health insurance benefits.

The Last Kirby Comic Books

In 1981, Kirby returned to comic books with the first issue of Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers. Published by Pacific Comics, Captain Victory and Silver Star were the first Kirby comics that bypassed newsstands for the comic book “Direct Market”.

In 1983, while having a dinner with publisher Richard Kyle, Roz encouraged Kirby to change the subject from WW2, and tell a story about growing up on the Lower East Side. Kyle commissioned Kirby to draw “Street Code”, Kirby’s only explicitly autobiographical work.

To raise money for writer Steve Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel over the rights to Howard The Duck, Kirby drew Gerber’s Destroyer Duck story pro bono. The comic was so successful, Kirby and Gerber would produce four more issues. After the last issues of Captain Victory and Silver Star, Kirby returned to DC to provide covers and editorial material for a new edition of  New Gods. Among other things, he also produced the graphic novel The Hunger Dogs, bringing his Fourth World saga to a close.

In 1984, the comics publishers were realizing that it was in their best interest to return the original art they had been warehousing for years to the artists. Marvel sent a brief release for the artwork to all the artists except Kirby. To him, they sent a four page document with excessive stipulations. Kirby tried to negotiate, but to no avail. His situation gained serious notice in the comics community, who put significant pressure on Marvel to return Kirby’s art as they had to other artists. In 1987 Marvel complied.

Jack and Roz celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1992 surrounded by family and friends. Kirby died the morning of February 6th, 1994 in his hilltop home in Thousand Oaks, California.

All this time, throughout their life together, Jack and Roz attended comic book conventions and welcomed fans into their home. They loved their fellow fans of comics, science fiction, mythology, romance, and action, encouraged them to live their own lives to the fullest, and to tell their own stories. The high profile of comics in our culture today is a testament to the Kirbys’ positive energy, love, and commitment.

Looking For The Awesome – 12. Ghosts In The Attic

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC

His studio went from the spacious attic in Mineola, to a small cramped basement at the new house. Neal remembered; “The basement room was tiny (just 10 feet across) and the walls that separated it from the rest of the cellar were covered in stained, tongue-and-groove knotty pine with a glossy varnish. Dad’s drawing table faced a beautiful cherry wood cabinet that housed a 10? black-and-white television. To the left of the cabinet was a beat-up, four-drawer file cabinet that was stuffed with Dad’s vast archive of picture references to, well, everything. I could sit for hours and just mull through musty old folders with bayonets, battleships, medieval armor, cowboy hats, skyscrapers, satellites — countless files on countless subjects. And — much out of character for my father — that metal cabinet sat beneath a stuffed and mounted deer’s head. I can’t remember where he said he got that damned thing, but it was always there. The things you remember…” This brings a smile to the author who stares up at a wooly stuffed Buffalo head his wife unexplainably bought.

Sadly one of the core members of the studio passed when letterer supreme Howard Ferguson died in late 1950. Gone, sadly were those great multi-font splash page blurbs that opened every S&K tale. He was replaced by an almost equally nimble letterer in Ben Oda. Oda was a brave young paratrooper during the war that had come to Simon and Kirby by way of Eisner/Iger. The Japanese/America vet would letter many syndicated news-strip and become a mainstay with Simon and Kirby.

The grumblings about comics content was escalating as local groups began pushing legislators to censure comics. The editors of Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay took a proactive stance. The numbers are wonky, and the following issues showed no difference whatsoever. Worse days were just around the corner.

Dell Comics had reached the pinnacle. Its mix of licensed products and flooding the market moved it to the top of the chain. In an attempt to reach the public, it instituted a new club. In 1950 Dell Publishing Company introduced their Dell Comics Club as a means of attracting new and continuing subscribers to their series of comic books. To become a member of the club, all you had to do was buy a one-year subscription to any of their comic book titles. Then in addition to the comic books, you receive an official membership certificate in the Dell Comics Club along with a group portrait of the principle Dell Comic characters-minus Disney characters. The club lasted a couple years.

Interesting that Dell’s merchandise never featured any Disney characters-their biggest seller

The Fifties started horribly as the long years at a sewing bench caught up to Ben Kurtzberg. His death was a terrible blow to Jack. Jack’s feelings for his dad were conflicted. He knew his father loved him. But Jack found it hard to forgive the poverty and defeat he felt his father bore. The doting father who would carry his son around on his shoulders had too soon become the quiet, passive downtrodden man who struggled to care for his kids. Jack hated the poverty and the shame. He would never let his wife and children down as had his father. Mama Rose did not take the loss easily; she became more withdrawn and reflective. Even the grandkids failed to brighten her spirits. Brother Dave was doing fine with a floor refinishing company, and frequent visitor to the Kirby home; he became the defacto baby sitter when Jack and Roz wanted to hit the town. The kids loved him; he was like a second father.

The entertainment tastes of kids are fickle. What is popular one day is trash can filler the next. So it was incumbent on Joe to keep an eye on trends and for S&K to jump on board when needed. It was impossible to always be the spear head of new trends; some times you must be the caboose, following behind the engine.

After the war, all eyes turned towards a new medium. TV had entered the lexicon and with it a new source of cheap entertainment. By 1949, over 75% of the states had commercially licensed stations. The most popular programming were the hundreds of western movies made in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1949, two of the most popular movie characters got their own all new TV shows. Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger became the country’s most popular stars and the idols of kids everywhere, and the comic industry had a new source for inspiration. They were soon followed by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Davy Crockett and dozens of others. It would become TV’s first big fad. There had been western comics since the very beginning; Joe Simon’s first story was a 6 page western for some long forgotten title. Jack had Lone Rider. But starting in 1948, mirroring the growth on TV, sales of western comics jumped dramatically and by 1950, they had expanded to almost 20% of the market. All the publishers were jumping on this horse. It was too big a segment for Joe to let slide.

Ernst Gerber theorizes;

“The war ended, super heroes faded away and it was time for more likely heroes…. Ask yourself what were the most often viewed movies of the early 50’s. Times up. Westerns, westerns, westerns. What you become fond of on television you want in comic books. TV became the medium which helped western type comic books to immense popularity.

The Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch, or simply Boys’ Ranch premiered with an Oct 1950 cover date. Once again Jack and Joe were working with Al Harvey and Harvey Publications. Joe always seemed to do his best for Al Harvey, and Boys’ Ranch just might be the crowning jewel. Some historians rate the series as the best work ever done by S&K, and possibly the best ever done for comics. Jim Simon, Joe’s son states that “Jack and Joe believed that their kid cowboy comic book was an artistic masterpiece that transcended the comic books of the time.”

Kirby notes in a forward to the Boy’s Ranch reprint; “In view of the meaningful psychological content woven into its total cloth, Boys’ Ranch stands high above the so-called “products of its type,” and attracts the reader with the sheer wholesomeness of its approach. Yes, the timeless struggle between good and evil continues unabated, as it must, in normal human existence. In the world of storytelling, it is severely heightened and probed in order to achieve the level of drama sorely needed when the point must be made. Boys’ Ranch never flinches from this purpose! Boys’ Ranch makes its point!”

The concept was classic S&K; a group of young orphans whose adventures lead them to a small Wild West town, where they band together to help a boy hating rancher caught in an Indian uprising. In the middle comes a typically S&K style stoic ex-scout of heroic proportions to join them. During the battle, the rancher is killed, but not before bequeathing his ranch to the young kids. It was decided that the scout would become the foreman of the ranch, whose job it would be to watch over and teach the young boys.

The young boys followed the usual template for S&K kid groups. Kirby said; “Each of our characters was a part of that formula, and reflected his reactions to it with a sincerity shaped by his individual background.” The handsome all-American boy was Dandy, an ex-Union soldier restlessly traversing the West looking for adventure and romance. The goofy one was Wabash, a Southern hillbilly drifting aimlessly from his home in the Ozarks. In perhaps homage to his hillbilly army buddy, mountain folk would turn up quite often in S&K stories during this time. The young scrapper was Angel, the most neurotic and feared gun in the west, and controlling those guns was the hottest headed little firebrand ever created. The angelic face framed by flowing blond locks masked a fearless cold hearted loner. The heroic guardian had quite a portfolio. Clay Duncan was orphaned as a child, his parents killed by white outlaws. Raised by an Indian chief and half-brother to Geronimo himself. Learned in the ways of the Indians, he is turned over to a white scout to be the voice of peace between the two peoples. He became a scout for the US Army and a legendary Indian fighter. The white scout is killed by a renegade, and it is to avenge his friend that the legend of Clay Duncan begins when he has a gun duel with the killer. This template would be used again and again whenever Kirby created a cowboy hero. Clay Duncan was a man of few words, with great courage and skill. The cast was filled out with Wee Willy Weehawkin the ranch’s grizzled cook. Palomino Sue was a female addition, orphaned when Indians killed her wagon master father, this wild beauty soon developed a crush on Clay Duncan. For Clay’s part, Palomino Sue was just another distracting child who constantly ignored his orders. The last regular was an Indian cub named Happy Boy-ever smiling and silent as a totem, he became the ranch mascot.

The art was glorious, never more lush and natural. The landscapes were breathtaking. Joe says that the boys really researched this strip like no other. The grandeur of the West may have provided Jack with his greatest inspiration. The double spreads that anchored every issue were eye popping tableaus of mythological stature–The equal of Remington and Charles Russell. The inking was heavy, solid, and naturally textured. It was as rugged as the crags and cliffs of the West.

The geometric shadows used so heavily in the modern day hard and angular architecture disappeared in the naturalistic westerns, no shadow snakes, and no arcs or halos over the heads.

As good as the art was, and it was Kirby’s best, what separated Boys’ Ranch from other western comics was the stories. They were tight, spare little morality plays. They were simple when needed, but complex when called for also. The stories were direct, with little padding. Famed western writer Louis L’amour had some advice for writers that seemed to have been borrowed from S&K’s approach. “A novel’s action should start on page one, line one. Too many writers talk about what they’re going to do before they say it. There are lots of other things competing for people’s entertainment time –they don’t have to read my books. You’ve got to start with something happening.”

These were the most literate scripts ever provided by S&K, and the action began on page one, in fact, the action started on the covers and never subsided. The plots were action filled, and tense. The characters were well developed and concise in their roles. Romance was sprinkled in and the melodrama moved the action. When critics and historian rate various S&K stories, one invariably tops the list–Mother Delilah from BR #3. A story of Biblical allusion, and Shakespearean poignancy, the poetic narrative tells a tale of jealousy, deceit and finally redemption. The titular character is the fiercely proud owner of the local bar. When her romantic feelings for Clay Duncan are rejected, she picks one of the children to get back at him. She chooses Angel, and slowly wins his trust and love. She then betrays the young boy and destroys his confidence and newly learned trust in others. It is Clay’s job to help Angel regain his sense of purpose and in doing so a tragic gunfight occurs. Mother Delilah makes the ultimate choice and sacrifices herself to protect Angel.

Richard Howell describes it thusly;

“The story ends tragically, but with Virgil’s (the town poet) narration underscoring the hope of redemption in masterly effective poetic prose-complemented perfectly by the restrained drama of the visuals. Throughout the story, the conflicting desires of the principals are clearly depicted with an assurance and intensity that transcends craft and moves into art. Boys’ Ranch #3 is moving, involving, touching, exciting and – ultimately- a fitting tribute to the creative vision behind it. Jack Kirby comics–or comics- have rarely, if ever been better.”

Mort Meskin would take on an increasingly important role as the series went on.

Tragically, the series fell victim to poor sales, and Harvey cancelled it after six glorious issues. Once again S&K couldn’t give their friend Al Harvey a hit. The same can’t be said about another new series that S&K introduced the same month.

Horror comics had always been around- usually as a sub-genre of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. When Max Gaines died in 1947, his son Bill took over the small EC label of comics. In 1950, EC was getting by with six titles, none selling particularly well. Gaines and his editor Al Feldstein decided to make a change. The new comics, or “New Trend” as they were to be called included Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and Crypt of Terror. These three titles would usher in a new genre that sparked the next wave of hot titles. EC’s graphic horror titles were the first and best of over a hundred titles devoted solely to the depraved, lurid depiction of violence, gore, and gruesome horror. This was the first genre devoted squarely to man’s inhumanity and its worst instincts, not its best. But boy were they fun! The horror genre encompassed the occult, sci-fi, monsters, crime and any other subject that could scare the bejesus out of a kid–from ghosts and zombies, to madmen with axes.

Headlights and horror – nice mix

Black Magic came about because we saw a trend emerging in comics back in the Fifties; something begun by others but which we had to pick up on if we didn’t want to get left behind. It wasn’t a new idea to use all those ghosts and spooks, but it was a salable idea at the time and we were fortunate to get involved in it early. We had to compete with E.C. so it was tough.” Joe recalled.

S&K and Prize didn’t ignore the trend. Their response was “Black Magic”, with issue #1 bearing a cover date of Oct. 1950, just 5 months after Vault of Horror. The focus was more on the occult than on the blood and guts sociopathic monsters of EC.

Jack explained: “I didn’t have an affinity for horror. But I knew that commercially, it was viable. That’s why we both finally did it.”… We didn’t do horror in the sense of haunted houses or people with masks the way you might see today; something lurking in an anteroom. Our stories were more like peasants sitting around a campfire. Ours didn’t run to bloody horror. Ours ran to weirdness. Joe and I were wholesome characters. We weren’t guys that were bent up on the weird and the bizarre. We were the kind of guys who wouldn’t offend their mother, who wouldn’t offend anyone in your family, and certainly not the reader.”

Stay out of the attic

Joe concurred;

Black Magic was an excellent comic book with art and stories about the supernatural that were pure as Ivory Snow compared to EC Comics and the rest of the horror field.”

Kirby, Simon, Draut, Stein and Oda (seated)

The coloring was the best

Ivory Snow? Maybe not, they had werewolves, and violence, just not the lurid bloody depictions of some companies.

Non-gory maybe but they were scary

Jack might not have had an affinity for horror, but he drew the first 33 covers for the series, and they were beauts! They were scary, atmospheric, horrific but not clinical in their depiction of gruesome. The stories were interesting and suspenseful, thematically connected by Old World mythology, and psychological torment. The series was a hit and would continue, with a short hiatus for 11 years.

Jack notes; “E.C. was very basic in their approach to horror. By that I mean, they left nothing to the imagination; same with most of the other horror producers. That may have been part of their downfall. You can only throw that kind of thing at the public so long before they develop immunity to it. I think we were a little more restrained with our stories, but that may be because we were putting out a lot of romance comics and it mellowed us somewhat.”

You knew Kirby would pull the painter gambit

More than anything, the horror genre would awake the sleeping beast of societal backlash against the industry. So gruesome was the depiction of horror and brutality that mothers, and church groups, and parental groups reacted with calls for boycotts, and book burnings. When in 1954, a prominent psychologist Frederick Wertham published a damning screed on the dangers of youths reading comics, the Government got involved and held hearings concerning the connection between comics, and juvenile delinquency. But that’s a tale for a later chapter.

On June 17, 1950, reality became the horror. Julius Rosenberg, the young Jewish anarchist from Jack’s Lower East Side neighborhood was arrested for espionage—selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Shortly after, his wife Ethel was arrested as an accomplice. Both were children of Jewish immigrant families living on New York’s poor Lower East Side. Their young histories are remarkably similar to Jack Kirby’s in many ways; the Rosenberg’s were very ordinary people. Like many people who came of age during the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were radicalized and joined the social struggles of the time. Julius’s mother and father, both Russian immigrants, worked in garment sweatshops in New York City. “We were so poor,” one of Julius’s sisters recalls, “my mother would hard boil an egg so that she could divide it among us.” Julius’s father was a shop chairman and an active trade unionist. For this, he was blacklisted. Julius was also radicalized by political causes of the time. Ethel came from a similar background. Her father, a Russian immigrant, made a meager living operating a sewing machine repair shop. At the age of 19, Ethel was fired from her job as a clerk at a shipping company after leading 150 women workers in a walkout in 1935. Like Kirby, they were looking to escape. Unlike Kirby, there was no Harry Slonaker to direct their anger and restlessness towards a more promising goal.

Firebombers delight – Coincidental S&K cover

The Jewish community was in chaos; torn between its desire to protect its own vs. their true patriotic fervor. But there was a major problem that the organized Jewish community was forced to confront—a problem stemming from the long involvement of the mainstream Jewish community in communism and the far left, at least until the end of World War II, and among a substantial number of Jews even after this period. They had bonded with the new Communist government after it overthrew the Czar. The Czar was their natural enemy, and as always, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. In Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, Aviva Weingarten points to a “hard core of Jews” who continued to support the Communist Party into the 1950s and continued to have a “decisive role” in shaping the policies of the American Communist Party. (CPUSA) Andhil Fineberg of the American Jewish Committee wrote about devising Jewish defensive strategies over the repercussions of the fact that the great majority of communist spies were Jews. Fineberg suggested that the best way to combat this threat to Jews was to de-emphasize Jewish group identity of ‘good Jews’ like Bernard Baruch as well as ‘bad Jews’ like the communist spies. Identifying people like Bernard Baruch as Jews ‘reinforces the  concept of group responsibility’ and ‘the residue in the mind of the  average American person whom the editorial is intended to influence,  is likely to be, ‘But why is it all those atomic spies are all Jews?’ Fineberg argued that an attempt by Communist Party members to portray their persecution as anti-Semitism would be ‘devastating’ to Jews generally and recommended that the AJCommitttee reply to charges linking Jews and communism to the effect that criminals operate as individuals, not as members of religious or racial groups.'” After a short trial, the Rosenberg’s were sentenced to death.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was just beginning his crusade against Communists in the government when the Rosenberg’s were arrested. Their case became great fodder for all of McCarthy’s histrionics and fear mongering. But even McCarthy was wary of outright opposition from Jewish voters and was very careful in separating anti-Communism from anti-semitism. McCarthy surrounded himself with Jews and let Jews like Roy Cohn and David Schine do all the heavy lifting in going after the many Jews deeply imbedded in pro-Soviet activities.

Serious Sen. Joe McCarthy – the not so serious Jack and Joe

Black Magic issue #22 (Mar. 1953) was especially chilling. The lead story bore one of Jack Kirby’s more inspired splashpages. The center figure showed a man staring out into a small secluded lake looking at a glowing disk. Surrounding this figure was a collage of newspaper stories about UFO’s and unexplained flying disks. The story tells of a brave man who finds and explores a crippled flying disk. It seems a neighbor had already found and claimed the disk for himself. When other neighbors find the disk, the claimant sets to fighting them to enforce his find. A war for control erupts. A small unearthly figure comes out of the shadows and witnessing the brutality pushes a button in order to stop the fighting., The lone brave man sees the figure push the button and decides to run for his life. He escapes just as the disk self-destructs in a soundless explosion. He wakes up in a hospital and tries to tell the doctors of his find. They laugh and pass off his ramblings as that of a madman. Yet forever more the brave man would bear the scars of the cosmic ray burns on his face; warning us that there are monsters–they are the earthlings next door, not the man from space.

Who’s the real monster? – Sometime the “bugs” were bad

Besides being a wonderful S&K morality play this tale really stands out. I think it is an important step in Kirby’s growth. This may be the first use of collage in a Kirby page. Jack specifically cut and pasted newspaper accounts and worked them around a hand drawn scene to create a combined work of art. Some note a difference since using newspaper newsclips is using the material for what it is, the text is the message. . While Jack’s later use uses newspaper and magazine art in a more fantastical nature in order to create a different message and context to the art. He changed the meaning of the chosen art. I understand, but this seems technical and tacky to me. There is no contextual difference in collage– A collage may include newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, portions of other artwork, photographs and other found objects, glued to a piece of paper or canvas. The origins of collage can be traced back hundreds of years, but this technique made a dramatic reappearance in the early 20th century as an art form of novelty—No where is the contextual message mentioned. No mention of fantastical or otherworldly is needed for a collage—it is the added bits taken from a pre-existing work—that make it collage.

The next remarkable aspect is just such a contextual idea. This is the, or one of the earliest use of post-war atomic pop culture by Jack. The use of newspaper clippings spotlighting the cultural rise of UFO appearances, and such conspiracy growth after the war makes the Kirby story just that much more topical. Kirby went out of his way to give an added strength and relevance to his story by showing current fascination, yet avoided the debate and disdain often thrown to the conspirators. Was Kirby’s imagination set off by this cosmic debate?

1952 would see the team expand again as they added in Strange World of Your Dreams as a companion piece to Black Magic. This was based on a Mort Meskin idea and was credited to Mort as editor-though several Black Magic stories had used the same “dream” template. Word is the idea came from Mort’s own reliance of psychotherapy. The title’s host, Dr. Richard Temple was a very busy guy; always had Jack Kirby’s pipe handy. Neal says that at the holidays, Jack was always easy to buy for; A new pipe or a box of cigars. He once had a fixation on corn cob pipes. They also added in Young Brides to help out the romance books.

The horror genre was never as important as many would assume. It had a sociological import, and impact way beyond the actual sales figures. EC was never a top tier publisher. Its lasting impact would come later with satire and MAD Magazine. Even in the mid-50’s, the percentage of horror titles never exceeded 16 percent of the market, and that for only a short period

The early 1950’s were the best of all times for Simon and Kirby. They were working on as many as 5 titles at a time. The studio was a well polished machine with a small core group of top rated artists, and a select group of back-up artists orbiting the main body doing top notch work. More importantly their families continued to grow with the births of Jim Simon, and Barbara Kirby in 1952. Though it was a small tight group, occasionally a new face would show up and shake up the team. Jack said “We did our best to give everybody a chance for a job, but I would be embarrassed to tell you who I turned down and even more embarrassed to tell you who we let go. Jerry Robinson, the great Batman artist, and partner with Mort Meskin, had taken a teaching job at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. Among his students, one stood head and shoulders above the rest. A shy erudite young man from Youngstown PA named Steve Ditko.

Genial Jerry Robinson – Merry Mort Meskin

Reclusive Steve Ditko

Jerry remembers; “When I’m asked about students I of course always mention him. “Steve was quiet and retiring, a very hard worker who really focused on his drawing.” “He was very bright.  I knew it right away. In fact, if I recall correctly, I got him a scholarship for the second year, so he was in my class for two years. When I would see students of Steve’s ability I would recommend them to a publisher.” For Steve Ditko, the respect is mirrored right back to Robinson. “Jerry Robinson was a great teacher for teaching fundamentals in how to tell/show comic book story/art. What one learns, knows from seeing, studying other’s artwork is mostly visual. But what one learns from a teacher like Jerry is how to use one’s mind with solid comic book panel/sequence principles. It is that basic understanding that makes a comic book panel effective, dramatic, [and] visually work for a story/picture integration and continuity creating a whole unique reading/seeing experience.” Ditko’s style was perfect for fantasy genre work. It was heavy in atmosphere and texture. His inking was dark, shadowy, and liquid, oozing with suspense. His characters were uniquely creepy and singular. His compositions were suspenseful and dramatic. Yet Steve recalls his early years, and the lost effort of an amateur. “I was self-taught, and you’d be amazed at the hours, months, and years spent practicing bad drawing habits.” Steve’s recollection mirrors Kirby’s years at a hit and miss beginner.

When brought to the S&K studio, Steve was given a script for a Black Magic story. “A Hole In His Head” appeared in BM #27 (Nov. 1953). This was the second published work in what would become a legendary career. He also contributed stories in BM #28 & 29. Steve’s time at S&K must have been magical; he met and worked in tandem with one of his artistic heroes–Mort Meskin. The reticent Ditko recalls; “Meskin was fabulous. I couldn’t believe the ease with which he drew… I loved his stuff.” “No one who reads a Meskin drawn story is ever in a fog as to what is happening. Not only does Meskin tell a story extremely well, but he does it in the most difficult way.” A testament to Mort Meskin’s talent and gift for avoiding the super-ficial and gimmickry as opposed to concise pacing and clarity of image. After finding a new home at Chartlton, Ditko’s early career was cut short in early 1954 when he returned to Pennsylvania suffering from Tuberculosis. Steve would return in 1955 and his and Jack Kirby’s paths would forever be intertwined. Steve was a fine fit for Charlton; their loose editorial policy was the perfect fit for someone so stringent in his philosophy. Unfortunately whenever Steve came forth with a personal project, even the company least worried about sales was still forced to cancel it quickly.

Classic Ditko isolated questioning subject – The girls weren’t pretty but he told a story

Another itinerant artist, Jack Katz talks about his short time at S&K.

“Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day.
You know how I learned to ink? Jack sat me down one day, He said, “This is what you do.” He took one of my drawings, and he inked it with a brush. I’d never seen inking that good in my life. I said, “Jack if you could ink so good, why do you let—?” He said, “I don’t have the time.”

He said, “This is what I want you to do. You apply the blacks like this. This is what you do with your camera angle to make the background stand out. Jack would fill in all kinds of black areas in the background. As an inker, I don’t think there could have been anybody better if he had done his own stuff himself.”

“One of the things they had in the office was the Sunday Hal Foster Tarzan strips, almost from its inception…everyone in the office was using them for swipes. Kirby never used swipes. I’m being very straight about that. If he did it was for reference, I never saw him erase anything either.

Just breathtaking stuff. Hal Foster Tarzan

Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.”

Katz says the studio was a serious place, but Mort Meskin specialized in getting Kirby’s goat.

Jack would be lost in thought on his pages and Meskin, he says; “Get up!, Get up!” and a girl would be walking around in a bathing suit. And Jack would say, “Would you sit the f**k down. ”This happened almost every day. One day Mort brought in some pornographic toys, Queen-sized fake breasts. He shows them to Kirby. Jack says, “What are you doing?” Mort puts the breasts on the floor and starts jumping up and down on them. Jack told him to stop, and get back to work. Mort said, “I can’t because I had a date with a disgusting pig, and I’m taking out revenge. Mort would also slip nudie pictures silently into the romance artwork just to hear Joe Simon erupt.

Another comic professional also credits Jack Kirby for starting up his career, but in a totally different way. From an interview with Daniel Best, Vic Carabotta says;

“I made some samples up and we canvassed New York City and went to every publishing house you could think of. One of them, of course, was Timely Comics which ended up being Marvel later on, but nothing really happened and I couldn’t get in to see anyone like Stan Lee. Finally my wife and I ended up with a cup of coffee walking the streets of New York and I got to see Jack Kirby. He’s really the one who got me started. My wife and I went over together to Jack Kirby’s office, which was then called Simon and Kirby, and Jack took me into his office and looked at my stuff. My wife sat in the lobby and by this time she was about eight and half months pregnant. So I went into Jack’s office and he looked at my stuff and said, “Well this is nice.”

Jack Katz – and Vic Carrabotta

Because I was an amateur and I don’t think I was very good at the time. [laughter] So he walks out into the lobby and while he’s telling me, “You know Vic, your work is nice, but don’t call me, I’ll call you.” It was the old story, the brush off, and as he walked out my wife stood up and I said, “Jack, this is my wife Connie.” He looked her up and down and he did a double take and saw that she was pregnant and what ran across his mind was, “This poor guy, he needs work,” and he said, “How are you?” and introduced himself to my wife and said, “By the way, have you seen Stan Lee at Timely Comics?” I said, “Yes Jack, I went there but I couldn’t get to see Stan.” I was walking around with a pack full of amateurish work; I couldn’t even afford a proper portfolio. He said, “Well, wait a minute,” and he went back into his cubby hole and he writes a letter and sealed it and said, “Take this back to Stan now.” So I took it back to Stan and got past the secretary and I was sitting across the desk from Stan Lee. Stan was a very casual guy and had his feet up on the desk and he said, “Oh, Jack says you can draw this and that,” and I said, “Yes Stan, would you like to see my work?” and he said, “No, that’s ok. Here,” and he threw a script across the desk and said, “I want this back in a week.” And that was the beginning of my comic book career. I never knew what was in the letter; obviously it was Jack telling Stan to help this poor guy. And that’s how I got started in comics. Had it not been for Jack Kirby I’d probably be laying bricks with my cousin or something. [laughter]

DB: What were Stan and Jack like back in the mid ‘50s?

VC: “Jack Kirby was a heck of a nice guy. He was always a model guy and I felt sorry when he died. A very, very nice man.”

1953 would find the studio with another challenge. A couple months earlier, St John Publishing had produced the first 3D comic. Archer St. John had come from Chicago. His earliest claim to fame is being shot at and beaten by Al Capone when his brother and he printed some scathing exposes on Capone’s attempt at rigging a local election. Archer came east and published some hobby magazines that evolved into comics when he began filling the hobby magazines with comic strips. By some means, he hooked up with the Chesler Studios and began publishing odd comics with their product and artists. His most lucrative work was when he obtained the rights to Mighty Mouse, and when artist Norman Maurer obtained the rights to produce Three Stooges Comics. Norman had married one of the Stooges daughters and controlled several aspects of their finances. It was Leonard Maurer who perfected the 3D process and arranged with Archer to publish all of his comics in the 3D process.

Leon recalled:

We then took the pages and the concept to Archer St. John. Initially skeptical, St John was shocked when he put on the makeshift glasses and viewed the artwork. He bought the concept on the spot and for it received a 25% stake in a partnership with the Maurer’s and Kubert in the American Stereographic Corporation, the company formed to license the new 3-D Illustereo process. For his financial input, St. John also received a six month head start before the process would be offered to other comic book publishers. Archer insisted that they start with his bestselling book, Mighty Mouse. Mighty Mouse 3D (Sept 1953) was a huge success. The 3D artists/creator Joe Kubert claims that it sold over a million copies @ .25 each. In fact, it was initially released on July 3, 1953, and eventually saw the full printing reach 1,200,00 copies.The profits paid for Joe’s first house.

Leonard Maurer, tells all in an interview.

“Even though it was Joe’s remark, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if we could make a 3-D comic book?’ (When he, Norm and I were driving past the marquee of the Paramount Theater where Bwana Devil 3D was playing) that got me thinking about 3-D comics. Later, while driving home to Queens over the Midtown Bridge, the whole process [of] depth shifts suddenly popped into my head. “In one long night, I drew the first 3-D comic page entitled “The Three Stooges in the Third Dimension” Early the next day, we waited for the midtown Manhattan’s Woolworth to open in order to purchase lollipops. “We figured we could get red and green cellophane from lollipop wrappers.” Norman recalled; we bought two packages and made a funny pair of glasses which, believe it or not, worked perfectly.”

“We gave St. John a 25 percent partnership in our licensing company, along with a 6 month’s head start for his publishing company in exchange for financial guarantees for Norman and Joe as Editors, and myself, as supervising producer — with a secret studio to be set up for production of the Mighty Mouse book”.

“I didn’t realize that the 6 month’s exclusive was what triggered Sol Harrison,(DC) Stan Lee(Atlas) and all the others to knock us off as quickly as they could, since my hands were tied in offering everyone a license. I could understand them doing this, however, since the success of Mighty Mouse, with its precision offset printing, along with my carefully designed and engineered die cut glasses insert, and selling for a quarter with the same number of pages as a dime book, was big, big news. And there were equally big financial stakes involved… especially, since it had an unheard of 100 percent sellout of its initial 1,000,000 print order. We even had to reprint an additional million. That was some leap. Considering that the normal print order at the time was under 300 thousand. All of this was based on our combined advice and suggestions to St. John. I also warned him not to go too far overboard with the next books, since I didn’t think the fad would last more than two seasons. I recognized the danger of off register [printing] too, especially in the ‘y’ axis, and knew that as soon as they tried to do it on the standard comic book web letterpresses, with their notoriously poor registration, the resultant headaches would bust the whole market apart.”

“Suffice it to say, by the tenth or eleventh 3-D book, said Joe, sales were down to about 19% sell thru, so we had to stop publication of 3-D’s. Leon always said that the attention span was limited and the fad was waning. What really hurt was the hoped for 6-months head start ended up being non-existent. Just one month after St. John’s Mighty Mouse started the fad, Dell Publication put out 3-D-ell Rootie Kazootie. Since the books took up to 5 months to produce, it remains a strange coincidence, or an unsolved mystery as to how Dell came up with a 3-D magazine so quickly. Before long other companies like Harvey and DC got into the business and really watered down St. John’s creation.

“What eventually bankrupted St. John was his attempt to block all the other publishers by buying up, in carload quantities, all the factory output for over 6 months of dyed acetate (made to my specifications, and produced by Celanese Corp.) He also bought up carload quantities of comic book newsprint paper. He didn’t succeed in blocking everybody, since there were other major acetate and paper manufacturers, but he did hold up a few, and for a while, his books were of the best quality and led the market.”

When DC, and Dell, as well as EC jumped on the fad, Harvey took notice. After a couple of funny animal cartoon books, Al Harvey thought a super hero character was a great way to show off the new process and contacted the premier super hero team to draw it. In August 1953 Al Harvey contacted Joe Simon and asked for the boys to put together a 3D comic.

Though Joe was not impressed with the idea, he could never refuse Al Harvey, especially when promised 2X their usual rate, so Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin and Steve Ditko moved into a vacant studio at the Harvey offices and learned the tedious overlay process for achieving the 3D effect. Due to the tediousness, Archer was paying his artists 2X normal rate. Joe recalls in frustration.

“Drawings were done on hole punched plastic acetates set into pegs on the drawing boards, There were two to four dimensional planes, each a separate acetate requiring individual drawing, all part of the main drawing. It was extremely tedious work, rendering on the slippery, unfamiliar plastic, and matching the registration from overlay to overlay” “We worked on the project a couple of weeks and finally packed up, exhausted, glad to be back to our regular tasks, when we tabulated our time, it proved to be a financial loss to us.”

The result was Captain 3D, a superior effort 3D or not. Rumor says that the title was too late into the fad, and sales died and left Harvey in the lurch.

Harvey floods the market – good results at first

The art was prime Kirby, inked by Meskin and Ditko. The story was a typical mix of action and sci-fi telling of a dimension breaking hero, fighting a civil war with the Cat People. Kirby instinctively realized that for the 3D effect to work, the action must be thrust forward towards the reader. A second issue was planned, but Al Harvey called a halt. Sales had bottomed out. Joe would learn later that Bill Gaines had threatened a lawsuit from EC.

Joe Kubert at table – Norman Maurer standing

version of Flattened Kirby 3D – get some glasses

Bill Gaines was the publisher of the Entertaining Comics (EC) line that included MAD magazine as well as many controversial horror and crime comic books. He had taken over EC comics when his father, the legendary M. C. Gaines had died in a boating accident in 1947. He was also a 3-D photography enthusiast who owned a StereoRealist camera and when the St. John 3-D comics came out, began immediately to make plans for 3 issues of EC 3-D Comics. With a patent search, Gaines discovered an October 13, 1936 Patent (no. 2,057,051) by Freeman H. Owens which was a Method of Drawing and Photographing Stereoscopic Pictures in Relief and described reproduction of a newspaper cartoon drawing as a “stereoscopic relief picture” with separate parts of the cartoon “copied on separate transparent sheets” and “opaque on the back to correspond with the outline in each case.” The sheets, “advantageously celluloid,” were recombined and copied “to make the pair of stereoscopic views” by shifting them laterally.

“A month before its expiration,” notes Maurer, “Gaines bought the Freeman Owens patent — which never turned up in our patent search — from the dying inventor for a few hundred bucks.” Then Gaines initiated suit for patent infringement on all the publishers of 3-D comics including St. John, and Harvey. “That suit,” says Maurer, was “based on surreptitious individual tape recordings of meetings with Joe and Norman, where Gaines accused me of stealing the Owens patent out of the patent office (big joke). The lawsuit was eventually thrown out as baseless, but not before Archer St. John filed for bankruptcy and died soon after.

Last page of Freeman Owens 1936 patent – Ad for St. John’s first

It seems that the young Steve Ditko was impressed. In a very early comic story, Steve has two characters in a quiet moment talk about the 3D fad. The first character says to the other; “And this 3D picture was big as life…and twice as ugly. You felt as if you could reach out and touch the characters! The other adds; “I saw the shot myself! When those guns went off I shook as if I had been shot! The first man responds; “Those old flat pictures are good enough for…”

Perhaps Conway Twitty said it best: Fads are the kiss of death. When the fad goes away, you go with it.

Al Harvey met with EC’s lawyer and was happy to promise they would publish no more 3D comics, as he was left with a huge back stock of the damn things, when sales dropped like a ton of bricks after publishing a few more issues.

Joe Kubert gets the last laugh in Whack Magazine

Joe Kubert said; “”Each succeeding sale was less than the one before. Proving that gimmicks don’t last forever.” The companies were suddenly inundated with returns. St John, the company that originated the process went out of business, and Harvey was stuck with millions of the special glasses piled up in the warehouse. Once again a Harvey project cut short.

Fads do come and go, and this particular fad would come again, and Kirby would once again be involved.

Earlier in 1951, the lawsuit between National Publications and Fawcett Publications over Captain Marvel was heard. Joe made a cursory appearance for DC. The judge ruled that yes, Captain Marvel was a rip off of Superman, but National had let their copyright lapse, so they couldn’t enforce their copyright. National appealed and in late 1952, Famed Judge Learned Hand overturned the lapsed copyright claim and remanded the case back to the original court to decide damages against Fawcett for copying Superman.

In 1953, Fawcett and DC worked an out of court settlement whereby Fawcett would cancel all super-hero titles, plus pay a penalty. Fawcett wasn’t all that upset; the super-hero comics were no longer profitable as sales continued to fall. Their paperback business had become very lucrative. This put many artists out of work. Oddly, Fawcett would continue to print Dennis the Menace comic books.

The main Captain Marvel artist, C.C. Beck contacted Joe Simon and asked if Joe might come up with a new title for him to draw. Joe worked up a concept that he titled Spiderman. He then contacted his brother-in-law, comic writer Jack Oleck, and after a story conference worked out the details, Oleck took the idea home to work out a script. One change was that the title was amended to Silver Spider.

C C Beck, no powers, no uniqueness

Oleck returned with a script, and Joe gave it to Beck to draw. Beck returned with 8 sketchy, partially drawn presentation pages which Joe took to his friend Leon Harvey. The completed pages showed a young orphaned boy finding a magic ring that granted him a wish. His wish; To be as cunning and shiny, and slippery as a spider– a human Silver Spider. Leon turned the pages and script over to a young editor, Sid Jacobson, to review. Sid’s review was less than complimentary.

The name: strictly old-hat. Almost a take off on Green Hornet

Character : What powers does he have? From both stories, it seems that there is no exceptional gimmick involved. He barely being a strong man. I believe a hero should have some special power—a la Human Torch, Submariner or even Captain 3D’s seeing ability

On and on, Sid continued, completely tearing the concept down. His conclusion “I find nothing exceptional “I believe that Jack Oleck is capable of much more than this.” Leon Harvey passed on this project and Joe shelved it. One can wonder why Joe never offered the idea to Crestwood, where He and Jack were doing multiple features, or even produce it themselves under the Mainline banner. But it would play a large role in Jack’s life when it was rescued years later.

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Looking For The Awesome – 11. Tales From the Heart

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

TALES FROM THE HEART

When Joe took his proposal over to Jack Kirby he knew there might be problems. Could Michelangelo paint a mural with stick figures? Could Mozart compose an advertising jingle? Could the pre-eminent action and adventure comic artist make the transition to a quieter mode of story-telling? Could Jack draw a convincing story with one hand tied behind his back–the hand holding all the power?

The romance genre presented a thorny problem. Since these stories dealt with average people and their real life crisis, the solutions had to be realistic. A broken heart wasn’t solved with a blow to the head or a flying shield. Simon and Kirby had no experience with realistic fiction. Prior to the romance books, a typical S&K adventure featured a quick action packed introduction, a brief action packed mid-section where the hero is seemingly trapped and doomed and a fast action packed finale wherein the hero escapes and saves a hapless female, or the country, or even the world. The thread running through everything was non stop action. Don’t let up and allow the kiddies to realize the absurdity of it all. The idea of characterization and humanity and depth rarely arose in the earlier books. At times there were hints of romance such as in Blue Bolt and the Green Sorceress, but it was never developed and nurtured. No back stories fleshing out the characters motivations. We knew little more about Captain America the person after the tenth issue as we did after the first chapter of issue #1. The civilian identities of the Sandman, Manhunter, Guardian, or even Rip Carter never really came into focus; they never evolved, changed, or grew as humans. They were interchangeable archetypes who exist merely to keep the action moving forward. We never learned anything about the early years of the Newsboy Legion or the Boy Commandos. Did they have parents or siblings? Why are they there? What are their dreams? As examples of episodic action tales, these stories were without peer. Kirby’s dynamic artwork and the bare bones plot propelled the action along at break neck speed. But as literature, or even compelling drama, they were sorely lacking.

When romance comics first hit, Joe felt Jack’s style might be a problem. He didn’t want the girls to look muscular and brawny. He first sought out Bill Draut and Mort Meskin, artists whose natural style was more slick and graceful. But when Jack was finished the first script, Joe immediately changed his mind; Kirby had completely rewritten and reinterpreted the script making it more real and better characterized than originally planned.

If the reader was to be drawn into the romance tales the writer and artist had to capture them with riveting plots and solid true-to-life characters acting in a realistic, yet dramatic fashion. There would be no instantly recognizable hero or a recurring villain to draw upon month after month. Each issue had to attract the reader on its own merits. With the romance books, the reader had to be brought back with the promise of new and different stories that would pique their interest, pull at their pathos, and stoke their fantasies of a world more daring and sensational than their own moribund reality. The tales were ripped from the headlines; racial intolerance, class warfare, even juvenile delinquency were presented as part of their human dramas.

Defiant but chastised

The need for better plotlines, and more literate scripts forced Jack and Joe to use muscles never used. The emotions of desire, rejection, jealousy, fantasy, and shame had rarely if ever been used in their action tales, and in the absence of the flying bodies, fist fights and explosions so vital to the adventure strips, they had to learn to excite the readers through words, facial expressions, and subtle gestures. The stories had to become even more cinematic, they would have to perfect a different attitude to pacing- the slow build up of passions and release. They had to set scenes by use of atmospherics, lighting and staging, changing moods with close-ups, and panoramic vistas. All of these were present in the action tales, but the timing and direction needed for romantic tales was totally different. They learned the value of subtlety and pathos, the need for punishment and redemption, and that in real life, no one is all good or all bad. They embraced humanity in all its messiness and glory. Their earlier simpler characters had to become flesh and blood. Simon and Kirby became dramatists.

Jack Oleck, Joe Simon’s brother-in-law became the mainstay of the writing corp, filled out with Ed Herron, Carl Wessler, Otto Binder, and others like Kim Aamodt and Walter Geier. In a revelatory interview by Jim Amash, Kim and Walter talk about the inner workings of the S&K studio.

Aamodt: Well Simon and Kirby wrote the plots. They sat there and wrote them, and that’s what we followed.

Aamodt: Jack did more of the plotting than Joe. Jack’s face looked so energized when he was plotting that it seemed as if sparks were flying off him.

Aamodt: I remember Jack Kirby was very good at making up titles. I remember giving him a lame title, and Jack said,” No we’re going to call it ‘Under the Knife.’ ” It was a surgical story. I was impressed that Jack came up with titles so quickly.

Aamodt: I really sweated out plots, unlike Jack Kirby. Jack just ignited and came out with ideas, and Joe’d just kind of nod his head in agreement.

Aamodt: Joe was on the ground, and Jack was on cloud nine. Jack was more of the artist type; he had great instincts.

Geier: Every time I went up there I saw both of them (Simon and Kirby). And they always gave the writers the plots. Jack Kirby was great about that; he always came up with the plots. Jack had a fertile mind.

Geier: Joe used to sit there when the writers came in for conferences. They sat there and made up the plots for the writers. Jack did most of that. Joe would say something once in a while, but Jack was the idea man.

Geier: Joe didn’t talk much. He could come up with decent plots, but it was usually very sketchy stuff. A lot of times Joe would say, “Awww…you figure out the ending.” Jack would give me the ending, because he was good at figuring out stories. It was not hard to work with Jack.

Geier: They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue.

Simon notes: “All stories were shamelessly billed as true confessions by young women and girls, when in actuality, all were authored by men. In the years of producing love comics, we were unable to come up with one female script writer who could satisfy our requirements for dramatic love confessions in comic book script form.”

For Kirby this must have been excruciating, for this was a guy who had perfected the art of balletic pandemonium; bodies in constant motion taking up not just a panel, but at times whole pages! Jack was a scrapper, a fighter, a man of action, and his art mirrored this. To ask him to limit the scenes to quiet head shots, slight gestures and gazing eyes was akin to hacking off his arms. It took away his reason for being! Kirby meant power! Kirby meant action! But Kirby also meant making a living and doing what was needed to tell a story and sell a book.

Can you recognize the inking traits?

How could he be true to his artistic nature and still sell comics to girls? New problems called for new solutions: Jack created a new sub-genre. The romantic adventure thriller! He would tell his tales of pride, and lust, and redemption, but he would structure them in action settings full of passionate people in dramatic moments set in exotic locales, leavened with humor and caring. While other artists would settle for the talking head route, Kirby found that unthinkable. His characters would always be in motion, even when talking there was action. The rare times when they were standing still, they would still be active; eating, drinking, smoking anything but hands at their sides. It was the hands, always the hands! Kirby’s tales were full of gangfights, sporting displays, and war torn locales; active bodies on display in dramatic situations. You could envision Humphrey Bogart, or Spencer Tracy wooing Kate Hepburn or Vivien Leigh in Tangiers or Tibet. The cinematic influence was once again Kirby’s model for story-telling.

Another difference was the serious nature of these tales; no more the slapstick approach. With passions ripped right out of the headlines, they wrote of class warfare, prejudice, peer pressure, and the duality of human nature. Though they had to take the “for the more adult reader” blurb off the cover, they never talked down to the readers, the stories were adult fare. Overt sexuality was never displayed, but it certainly was hinted at. These weren’t Betty and Veronica teenage cartoon gags, these were real, the people were real, the crises were real, and the feelings were real. The readers could recognize their own situations, fears and dreams in these tales.

One of the classics of this sub-genre is The Savage In Me from Young Romance #22 Jun 1950. The story takes place in post-war China and centers on Augusta Hatcher. The splash page is a classic Joe Simon lay-out; the prim, elegant Augusta Hatcher standing along the left side confessing her problems. The lettering is among Howard Ferguson’s best. Using five different fonts in the confession’ each emphasizing a different thought, he built to a large bold font, proclaiming the title. In the lower right corner is an inset of a furious fight. The lack of details adds to the suspense, though we do know it’s not a friendly scuffle. The splash page is an excellent example of the two sides of Kirby working together. First we see Miss Hatcher in a confessional introduction, telling us she has always been two women: one, the obedient prim and proper daughter of a missionary; the other, a passionate hellcat wanting to be unleashed. Yet she is never certain which was the real Augusta Hatcher until a wild scoundrel named Gary Donovan tried to awaken…The Savage in Me! The beautiful, but school-marmish appearance of Miss Hatcher seems to be beckoning to a smaller inset panel where we see a man roughly forcing his intentions upon her. She is fighting back, furniture flying, her hair awry, and face clenched in fury. So on one page we get the new Simon/Kirby dramatically introducing us to the dual personality of Augusta by dramatic text, and cinematic juxtapositioning of the two natures of Augusta, while the old Kirby captivates us with the vitality and dramatic action of the art.

Pages two and three also demonstrate the different modes of storytelling by Jack, which ingeniously highlight the two personalities of the main character. Page two is a quiet page where we see the prim figure of Augusta patiently teaching her charges. The first five panels are small, quiet gestures and easy conversation with a most inquisitive boy inquiring about the “dragon” she possesses inside her—not knowing it is an allusion to her latent passion. In the last panel, the mood quickly changes as she is abruptly grabbed from behind and a man roughly kisses her, much to the amazement of the kid. On page three the first five panels present a classic Kirby battle. Augusta fights off her attacker like a wild woman, kicking and screaming for all she’s worth. Until panel six, where the action ends and the attacker walks away with a jaunty shrug. Just going by the pictures one could get the impression that the man was trying to rape her, but being a comic magazine the text assures us that he merely wanted to kiss her. On these two pages Kirby shrewdly shows again her two opposing sides, the quiet dignified lady and the she wolf protecting her virtue. Visually, Augusta is shown in a high buttoned dress with long sleeves, her hair in a tight bun. No skin would ever be displayed from this straight laced lady. Kirby also uses the panel layouts as a means of leading the reader from page to page by making the final panel as a change of pace and a change of direction pushing the reader to the next page; a very clever story telling technique.

Page four is pure cinema. Augusta is shown sitting in front of a dressing table looking in the mirror. The two faces are seen in direct opposition and she is fighting with herself about the attack and what she was feeling inside. She is clearly upset, but her reflection is taunting her for secretly wanting it to happen. This is very powerful stuff; this is a Kirby we haven’t seen before. Using only facial expressions he has created tension producing more emotion, passion and energy in these four panels than in the five panel fight scene that preceded it. Kirby has given this character more depth, passion, pathos and humanity than in all his super-hero stories combined. Kirby had used the mirror reflection gimmick many times before, but never so intimately or psychologically engrossing. The page ends with Augusta arriving for dinner and surprisingly being introduced to the man who had attacked her just a short time ago. She is defiantly in her haughty composed persona and true to form, he is unrepentant and ungentlemanly.

The next page introduces us to Gary Donovan. He is supremely confident and brash, and fond of talking about himself. He is used to getting his way. This is not a typical Kirby hero; they tend to be stoic and humble. Donovan makes his brash intentions towards Augusta known, much to her disgust. Donovan explains that he has been injured fighting with a warlord named Yang-Hu who will soon reach the town and ransack it. Donovan suggests that the missionary and his daughter leave for safety. The missionary tells him that warlords come and go and he can handle them. Augusta tells her father that Donovan sound like a scoundrel and will probably hang for his insolence.

The next few days, while Donovan is on the mend he entertains the kids, slowly melting Augusta’s hard heart. He ultimately confronts her and forces her to admit her passion for him. Just as they fight over their future, Yang’s men appear in the distance. The father and daughter are determined to stay, but Donovan has other ideas and knocks out the father and bodily forces Augusta to hide out in his boat. Donovan had worked out a deal with a local smuggler to get them safely through the lines. While Donovan is apologizing to Augusta for the rough way he handled her and her father we see the town going up in flames, justifying Donovan’s actions. Then Donovan explains that his actions were not just to save her life, but to keep them together. He tells her “Besides we want each other, hang it! All the principles in the world can’t condemn that! It’s a law of nature—born before any other ideas came into being. Now listen to me carefully Augusta! There’s a real woman inside you! A woman who will cast aside all else to answer her instincts.” Finally she has reached the point where she must decide which side of her personality she wants to control her. While she is lost in thought, her father approaches, she explains to him the quandary she finds herself. Her father listens, and then offers her advice. “Then be true to the woman you are—the woman who loves Donovan!” The story ends when we see Augusta sneaking up behind Donovan and throws her arms around him, he turns around is astonished to see her with her hair down in loose curls and she is wrapped in a body hugging cleavage baring sarong. He laughs at the change, and tells her that he is not a river pilot, or smuggler, but an agent of a large textile exporter and that her future is secured and safe, but he will never lose his enthusiasm for his wild woman. The bad boy became a good boy, and the good girl became a freak.

This can’t end well eyebrows too big

A nicely told story, somewhat chauvinistic, but both characters are not whom they seem, but by the end, they are who each other wanted. A very mature theme, well presented in a dramatic cinematic format light years ahead of what Jack was doing two years earlier. There was action, but in a realistic fashion, and there was tension and climax in a satisfying fashion. There are small bits of continuity problems such as Augusta’s red dress switching from long sleeves to short sleeves from panel to panel. But the passion and sexual tension was real and evident. The anguish of her search for self was so strong and her frustration so plain in her Kirby drawn face. Donovan’s smugness was so obvious even without reams of text explaining his personality. This part of storytelling became so strong for Kirby that when he later reverted back to super-heroes with flaws, his characterization skills helped the stories come alive.

Gil Kane once said, “You don’t realize the underlying strength of their storytelling until you see them working that kind of material, anyone can make a page interesting when they’re blowing up planets or having a monster devour a city. Joe and Jack made it interesting when two people were just standing there having a quarrel, or professing their love. They employed the same mastery of character in all their work but in the romance books, it was stripped down to the essentials and you saw how well they could make their people breathe. Later, when they brought in the planets blowing up, it was so much more effective”

Once again Richard Howell;

“Simon and Kirby’s approach their romance comics with the same attitude they brought to superhero, adventure, humor and crime comics: Make them exciting! S&K’s electric compositions, active posing, and raw expressive inking were at a high point. Those qualities, coupled with the team’s command of comics storytelling and the touching and incisive stories they had to tell, enabled them to create some of the most dramatic, affecting comics stories ever produced”.

The artwork followed on the nourish stylings of the crime books with much crosshatching and deep shadow work. The swirling snaking shadows danced through the pages. The geometrics at times overwhelmed the performers in these passion plays. Kirby played the physiques straight, no outlandish perspectives, or post-steroidal hulks to be seen, just healthy normal men and beautiful, sexy women. The faces took on an increased variety and the facial expressions became startlingly eloquent. Kirby’s women had always been on the lean wiry side, but now they would run the gamut from Hepburn haughty, to the vampishness of Rita Heyworth or Veronica Lake. View the splashpage to “Was Love to be my Sacrifice” (YR #9) or “The Girl Who Tempted Me” (YR #17) and then claim that Kirby couldn’t draw sexy, beautiful and varied females.

WOW!!! No costumes, masks, or cowls, just real people 3 fonts one blurb building in intensity

Joe Simon’s layouts for the covers and splash pages were works of genius; usually laid out with the sexy female “confessor” introducing the readers to the premise and warning them to avoid her mistakes and fly right. This aspect engaged the reader with its immediacy and drama. This formatting evolved from Joe’s earlier dramatic layouts on the pulp magazines. Ferguson’s multi font word balloons were the perfect enhancement to the splash giving it a weight and artistic flourish the equal of only Will Eisner.

The Simon and Kirby sheen was at its highest peak.

Over on the crime titles they soon ran out of true stories and they changed from historical factual reenactment to fictional stories using the same confessional style of the romance books. “The Last Bloody Days of Babyface Nelson” gave way to “I was a Come–On Girl for Broken Bones Inc.” using the same first person don’t do as I did template as the romances. Once again, the boys had more work than they could handle. Work at Hillman had ended, but at Prize/Crestwood they had three full bi-monthly comics to produce, plus they were editing some of Prize Comics other titles, like Prize Comic Western, and Charlie Chan. Joe’s small studio needed to expand. In an interview for the Jack Kirby Collector artist Carmine Infantino remembers being asked by Joe to work on Charlie Chan

Kirby cover template used many times – Signed Infantino definitely Kirby

TJKC: When you started working in the business, did you cross paths with them very often?
CARMINE: …. They worked for Hillman, and so did I. That’s when we met. Then they went to Crestwood and they invited me over to Crestwood to do Charlie Chan for them and I went over there.

TJKC: Did you do Charlie Chan directly for them?

CARMINE: Yep, for them directly.

TJKC: So how did that work? Did you ask for the assignment or did they call you?

CARMINE: No, no, Joe called me and he said-and he knows I’m working with DC-“Will you come over here and do Charlie Chan?” I said, “I make a lot more money than you can pay for this thing,” but then I thought about it. I could be there working with Kirby and Mort Meskin. I thought it’d be worth it. I worked for less money and I worked for him for about a year. It was a great learning curve.

TJKC: Did you work in the studio?

CARMINE: In the studio and I would go home and do DC’s work at night. After a year, I was collapsing, I couldn’t continue.

TJKC: What was it like working in the studio with them?

CARMINE: Oh, Jack taught me-tremendous. He was unbelievable.

TJKC: When he worked, did he ever make conversation?

CARMINE: He’d make conversation. You’d ask him a question and he’d answer you. One time I did a story-it was about these two guys beating up an old lady-and I was drawing it and I was having trouble with it. I said, “Jack, what do I do to get this thing right?” and he says, “Don’t show them hitting her. Have one villain on the couch smiling and watching the shadow of the other villain hitting the old lady. That’ll work in the reader’s mind more than seeing the actual action,” and he was right; little things like that he taught me.

The Simon and Kirby team of the 1950s Joe Genalo, Joe Simon Jack Kirby (standing) Mort Meskin, Jimmy Infantino, letterer Ben Oda

Another couple of legendary artists who made their comic book debut in a Simon/Kirby produced book were John Severin and his partner Will Elder. In issue #32 (Oct. 1948) of Headline Comics John and Will began doing back-up strips and soon began helping out on the romance and western books. With issue #72 (Nov 1948) of Prize Comics Western John and Will began a steady job on several strips. Jack would provide a couple nice covers for this series. John recalls the early meeting in an interview in JKC #25.

“We- Bill Elder and I were partners at the time- were lucky enough to be given a script for one of the crime comics. The story was about two children- a young girl and her brother who murdered their mean stepfather.

Soon we were doing westerns for Crestwood sister series Prize Western. “The Black Bull and The Lazo Kid were two of the series we did before the editor Nevin Fiddler spoke to me about a new character they were creating called American Eagle. I agreed to take it on and that ended our work with Simon and Kirby They had been very helpful with their constructive criticism to two novices in their business.”

Quite a team – Elder and Severin – gritty realism

Elder remembers as well:

ELDER: Yeah. And then Johnny Severin came around and got jobs for the two of us. Severin could draw very well. He had a good memory for mechanical things. And I could ink really well. I could ink fast; he drew fast. We were both the opposites of each other. I couldn’t draw as fast as him. To make money in that business, you have to be pretty fast and turn out a lot of material. We turned out the best we could at that stage of the game. We hit it off with the few samples that we showed Simon and Kirby.

GROTH: How did you get hooked up with Joe Simon’s shop?

ELDER: Through Kirby, because Kirby was the artist and Simon was the businessman.

GROTH: How did you know Kirby?

ELDER: Well, through some of the artists. We came up to his office and we saw some of the work that was being done, and I said, “We can do it.” John Severin was the same way.

GROTH: Well, how did you discover the Simon/Kirby shop?

ELDER: It’s hard to put my finger on. I can’t know exactly when that happened.

GROTH: And you went up to Simon’s shop, and he gave you some work…

ELDER: He gave us some work. It worked out pretty well. We weren’t getting paid very much, but that was the reason we got the work. “There was a guy in the office who was very funny. I wonder if you know who I’m talking about if I mention what happened. This guy would follow us down the stairs, get out in the middle of the street and start directing traffic. Severin and I looked at each other: See any cops around? I look at this guy, directing traffic. I think he had a nervous breakdown; I found out later. Couldn’t stand the traffic. I couldn’t blame him for that. But to direct it?”

GROTH: I see. How much work were you doing for Simon and Kirby?

ELDER: Not much. I’d say about maybe a half a year’s worth.

One day, an inker named Jack Abel saw something that amazed him. He quietly watched Jack pencil a figure. “When most artists start to draw a figure, they do little ovals for the head, and action lines for the legs, arms, etc. Well he simply started at the feet and just continued on up with one continuous line. And the figure was perfectly drawn, doing what it was supposed to do in the panel. When he finished, he turned to me and said, “How do you like that kid?” “I was flabbergasted, I never knew it was even possible for a guy to do a well drawn figure without making little sketchy guide lines.”

As good as Jack was, George Roussos says that Joe Simon continually beefed up Jack’s confidence. “Get on drawing Jack. How many times do I have to tell you not to use the eraser. And then Joe would take it away. With that kind of encouragement, you grow muscles; and Jack grew and grew because he had no restraints of any kind. “Joe, being a bright guy, foresaw the giant in this man and encouraged him. No one in the business ever did that.“

The boys may have been busy, but romance wasn’t lost on them. Joe and Harriet brought forth Jon- their first born, soon to be followed on May 25, 1948 when the Kirby’s welcomed Neal into the family. Jack had a son!!!

With growing families came the need to expand. Harriet hated the city and on weekends the group would pile into Joe’s car and head to the suburbs to find new digs. With Levittown style developments sprouting up like weeds, they soon found a new development in Mineola, Long Island.

Class warfare was never far – the tragedy of wartime romances

Mineola was one of the many small rural villages that stretched across Long Island. Its main claim to fame was nearby Roosevelt Air Field, where the young Charles Lindberg began his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. Post WW2 with the Long Island Railroad making it a convenient trip into New York City, the town more than quadrupled in size as the suburban explosion transformed Long Island. A comfortable 35 minute ride would find the traveler at the hub of New York’s Penn Station, just a few minutes walk to the center of the publishing district.

With GI Bill loans secured, the families moved into adjacent houses and set up studios in their attics. The move was not entirely positive.

Joe explains; “When we arrived, there was something different about the place. It seemed ugly and barren. Harriet was fuming. ”We’ve got rocks for a lawn!” The developer had stripped the topsoil from the entire development and sold it to finance his construction. “Maybe he’s gonna give us new dirt,” Kirby, the city boy commented. We all looked at him. “Well, the damn stuff was old,” Kirby persisted. Roz shook her head perplexed. We stormed into the builders home a few blocks away, screaming mild obscenities. The crook didn’t even have an office. I never sold you topsoil,” he blustered. “If you must have topsoil, I’ll sell you some.” Much as we tried, we couldn’t get satisfaction. “It’s like dealing with a goddam comic book publisher,” Kirby lamented.

The families were close, but because of the boys’ nighttime schedules, they never socialized much. As Roz put it;

“We were good neighbors, and I socialized more with Joe’s wife Harriet because the kids were all the same age. We’d go to the beach a lot. There was another couple… we’d all pile into the cars and go to the beach We were all so busy, the boys were working at night and we were busy with the kids. We didn’t really socialize that much, but we socialized as neighbors, took walks with the children, took them for ice cream and things like that. I wouldn’t say they (Jack and Joe) were close, but they got along very well. Jack always thought of Joe as a big brother.” Roz’s only complaint was that Jack and Joe’s constant cigars turned everything a horrible yellow shade.

Living this far from the city presented a new problem. Joe would jokingly tell of Kirby’s driving acumen; “Jack had a problem with road rage. When we were living out on Long Island, if he was driving and a little old lady cut in front of him, he’d get so angry that he’d want to ram her car from behind. He used to get into one accident after another, and finally Roz took his car away from him.

With the Aug 1949 issue of Detective Comics (#150) Jack’s work on Boy Commandos ended; casualty of a war comic without a war. But not before Jack once again dipped into his iconic bag of stories. In Designer of Doom (Boy Commandos #32, 3/49) the villain is once again a painter who paints the deadly future of his victims. A theme used over and over. The attempts to transform the group from soldiers to civilian adventurers never really clicked, though Kirby gave it a damn good try. It had been a wonderful and successful run for DC and for S&K. It would be a decade before Jack returned to DC.

Movies take from S&K

At the same time as Boy Commando’s cancellation, there was another shakeout at DC. Mort Meskin, who had been a mainstay at DC since 1942, lost his job on several long running assignments. It’s been said that he was no longer reliable, and suffered from periods of depression. There is some speculation that Mort was undergoing treatment from cult figure—Dr. Wilhelm Reich. Mort guaranteed the end of his tenure when he jumped up on a desk, wielding a T-square like a sword, challenging the editors. But Mort was one of the acknowledged masters of the form. Joe and Jack had known Mort for quite a while. Mort was a peer. Born a year before Jack in Brooklyn, it was destined that their paths would cross. He had been at Eisner/Iger the same time as Jack. He was most known for originating Sheena, Queen of the Jungle for E&I. Mort was at DC when Jack was working at the offices loading up on inventory pre-draft. Mort also had a regular patriotic strip at Prize, named Know Your America; where he and Jerry probably had contact with Joe Simon. With his partner Jerry Robinson, Mort had done a strip at Fiction House, plus a few small freelance romance jobs previously for S&K. Mort had become famous for concise, terse well-rendered stories. Steve Ditko once said about Mort; “There is a vast difference between a comic artist who tells a story and a comic “technician” who draws detailed items or objects.” This difference rears its head quite often in the history of comics as new “hot” artists—often sensational detail men—soon give way back to the real storytellers. (see Neal Adams).

The yin to Kirby’s yang Morton Meskin

With Mort accepting the job, S&K now had 2 top tier talents on the roster, a one-two punch the envy of the industry. The pairing got off to a rocky start when Mort went into an artistic block period and was unable to draw. Joe explains; “Since I had been a long time fan of Mort’s, I urged him to try one of our scripts. It was a story for Black Magic, the comic advertised as “The Strangest Stories Ever Told”….Mort took the script home and didn’t show up for weeks. When he did return, he shoved the script at me. It was rumpled and soiled. There was not a single drawing….”I can’t do it” he sighed. “There’s no way I can get started”…. An idea struck home. “Why don’t you work here Mort in the office with us”. Mort agreed. We gave him a drawing table and a fresh script. He examined it for hours. All of us pretended not to notice his work-or lack of it. “I can’t,” he said I can’t face a blank page, I panic”. I walked over to his desk and penciled in some lines and circles on the board. “There. It’s not blank now”. Mort sat down, glanced at the script, and then drew around the lines and circles, continuing with the most expert penciled drawings until the page was complete. From that day on, every morning, I or one of the other artists would draw meaningless lines and circles on his blank page and Mort would draw without further problems all day. He was probably the fastest, most inspired artist in the room, and certainly one of the most dependable.” Mort was a mainstay until the studio disbanded. Also coming over from DC was inker extraordinaire George “Inky” Roussos.

George was born in Washington D.C. but moved to New York when orphaned. Self taught as an inker he ended up at DC inking over Jerry Robinson and others such as Mort Meskin on the Vigilante. He also helped out Jack Lehti on that new comic Picture News. Always busy, George came over to S&K with Mort Meskin to fill in his workload. George Roussos recalls the studio in an interview for the Jack Kirby Collector;

“In fact I worked in the office sometimes. They were up somewhere off Broadway. It was not bad, a small outfit, a lot of fun. Ben Oda, the letterer was there. Carmine Infantino’s younger brother (Jimmy) worked there for a while; very nice guy. Marv Stein, Mort Meskin were there. I was working there on a freelance basis. I liked working with Joe and Jack. Joe was the real business manager; a very clever, efficient guy, and also an excellent artist. He was the brains.”

“Jack was there at the drawing board. He hardly talked; he just produced. So there was a lot of energy inside of him and he didn’t waste on talking and kidding around. He’d do six or seven pages, starting from the left side and go right across, the next line and the next line….(laughter) amazing guy, really. It was a pleasant atmosphere and I enjoyed working there.”

The versatile George Roussos – Marvin Stein

The next long time member to join up was Marvin Stein; he came over from Quality and Croydon and immediately picked up work in Black Magic, and the romance books. Marvin would become a top producer and work for S&K and then Prize for many years. Jack considered him one of the best. He also inked a lot of Jack’s romance stories at Prize.

In 1949; the Kirby’s once again picked up stakes and moved; this time just a short distance to the next town. Neal, though young remembers most of the details; “Buying a house in East Williston, Nassau County, it was to be our home for the next 20 years.

The decade of the 40’s ended with Jack in a secure and stable work situation, just the opposite of how it started; with great periods of doubt ending in victory, while moments of great promise ended in disaster. Jack had been through crazy publishers, war, stretches of unemployment and pre and post war bust and boom, but he was now doing the best work of his life, and his family life was never better, he was at a high plateau and enjoying the view. With a now four ongoing titles they were on a roll. Bring on the Fifties!!!

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Looking For The Awesome – 10. The Girls Take Over

Previous9. Picking Up The Pieces | Contents | Next – 11. Tales From The Heart

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

An age old question

An age old question

THE GIRLS TAKE OVER

America was changing. The war changed everything. Much like the old post World War 1 song “How You Gonna Keep ‘em Down on The Farm” post WW2 soldiers weren’t ready to return to pre-WW2 America. The far reaching GI Bill meant that many soldiers would return to school, open their own businesses, and move out of the city. In early 1947, Abraham Levitt and his sons began work on Levittown, a small tract just east of New York, in Long Island. Levittown was the first truly mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar developments throughout the country.

This wasn’t happenstance, the Levitts had planned for just this moment. In perhaps the clearest example of monopoly the Levitts owned the forest where the lumber was forested, the mill in Oregon where the lumber was manufactured, made their own nails, and cement, and prefabricated the structures used to construct homes. In addition, they controlled prices for appliances by purchasing directly from the manufacturers. Well paid, but non-union labor also aided in the construction of the homes. Production was broken down into twenty-seven discrete steps, which at one point enabled the Levitts to construct a house in a matter of minutes. Once the houses were constructed the Levitts added baseball fields, swimming pools, shopping centers, schools, parks, and churches to their neighborhoods. The Levitts remained the largest home builders in the United States throughout much of the 1950s, and initiated a trend towards rapid suburbanization that continues today

America grew up; more tolerant and more curious. Their world expanded. Though two-piece bathing suits had been around,(especially in comics) a French designer shrunk down the garment below the navel, and barely covering the breasts, and named it the “bikini”. Taking the name of the American atomic testing atoll he described the reaction of men to this small clothing accessory-explosive. The bikini became a major hit.

Never underestimate your audience

Concurrently, movies were changing; TV had come along and replaced it as the arbiter of entertainment and cultural tastes. In many ways the movies became more adult oriented, or simply turned inward; with stories of lewd and deviant behavior. During the postwar period Hollywood produced a growing number addressing such problems as ethnic and racial prejudice, anti-semitism, juvenile delinquency, authoritarian distrust, suffering of maltreated mental patients, and the problems of alcohol and drug addiction. Think Gentlemen’s Agreement, Rebel Without a Cause, Asphalt Jungle, and Psycho. These films depicted sexual frustration; anxious parents; paranoia, alienated children; defiant adolescents, and loveless marriages. It was a far cry from the soothing and funny fare available on TV.

Hollywood found that it was losing market share as other countries placed high tariffs on American goods in order to improve its own products. Hollywood had depended on overseas markets for as much as 40 percent of its revenue. But in an effort to nurture their own film industries and prevent an excessive outflow of dollars, Britain, France, and Italy imposed stiff import tariffs and restrictive quotas on imported American movies.

Worse, as tastes were changing the whole paradigm of movie-making altered when an anti-trust ruling separated the manufacturer from theater chains. In 1948, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Paramount case, which had been working its ways through the courts for almost a decade. The court’s decree called for the major studios to divest themselves of their theater chains. In addition to separating theater and producer- distributor companies, the court also outlawed block booking, the fixing of admissions prices, unfair runs and clearances, and discriminatory pricing and purchasing arrangements. With this decision, the industry the moguls built–the vertically integrated studio–died. If the loss of foreign revenues shook the financial foundation of the industry, the end of block booking (a practice whereby the exhibitor is forced to take all of a company’s pictures to get any of that company’s pictures) shattered the weakened buttress. Film making had become a real crap shoot. In many ways, comics mirrored all of these problems.

One unexpected change was the rise of the independent film-makers as they now had a chance to get their product to market. The majors tried to use gimmicks and technology to brake the fall. Theaters were filled with 3-D, Cinerama, stereophonic sound, smell-a-rama, and cinemascope–attendance continued to fall. The foreign films shocked and amazed the American audiences with adult themes, and characters not allowed by the stuffy Hays Committee guidelines.

France’s Brigit Bardot single-handedly made the bikini acceptable-at least to all red-blooded men. Italy’s Sophia Loren brought an earthy passion, and organic quality not found in Hollywood’s prissiness, and prudishness. Hollywood gave us Doris Day.

Not a fair fight- did Doris Day have a bellybutton?

Politically, Hollywood also suffered from Congressional probes of communist influence in the film industry. In the late 1930s, the House of Representatives established the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to combat subversive right-wing and left-wing movements. Its history was less than distinguished. From the first it tended to see subversive Communists everywhere at work in American society. HUAC even announced that the Boy Scouts were Communist infiltrated. During the late 1940s and early 1950s HUAC picked up the tempo of its investigation, which it conducted in well-publicized sessions. Twice during this period HUAC traveled to Hollywood to investigate Communist infiltration in the film industry.

HUAC first went to Hollywood in 1947. Although it didn’t find the party line preached in the movies, it did call a group of radical screenwriters and producers into its sessions to testify. Asked if they were Communists, the “Hollywood Ten” refused to answer questions about their political beliefs. As Ring Lardner, Jr., one of the ten, said, “I could answer…but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.” They believed that the First Amendment protected them. In the politically charged late 1940s, however, their rights were not protected. Those who refused to divulge their political affiliations were tried for contempt of Congress, sent to prison for a year, and blacklisted. Congress had found a way around the personal protections provided by the Constitution by pressuring the industry to control its employees.

America’s three ring circus

HUAC went back to Hollywood in 1951. This time it called hundreds of witnesses from both the political right and the political left. Conservatives told HUAC that Hollywood was littered with “Commies.” Walt Disney even recounted attempts to have Mickey Mouse follow the party line. Of the radicals, some talked but most didn’t. To cooperate with HUAC entailed “naming names”–that is, informing on one’s friends and political acquaintances. Again, those who refused to name names found themselves unemployed and unemployable. All told, about 250 directors, writers, and actors were black listed.

In response to Gentleman’s Agreement — a movie about anti-semitism, winning the best picture Oscar, Congress subpoenaed its cast. I assume Jew was the same as Communist. It seems HUAC was upset by the picture’s theme. The House Un-American Activities Committee, called Elia Kazan, Darryl Zanuck, John Garfield, and Anne Revere to testify before the committee. Revere refused to testify outright and although Garfield appeared, he refused to “name names”. Both were placed in the Red Channels of the Hollywood Blacklist. Due to the blacklist, Garfield went back to Broadway for work. Several members of the Group acting theater were named by Clifford Odets as Communists. They were all blacklisted. The stress was incredible and in late 1951, two of the accused Mady Christians and J. Edward Bromberg died as a result. A year before, a young black actor named Canada Lee was hauled before the Committee. The Committee was trying to force Lee to testify against Paul Robeson, and the fight against apartheid. Garfield had worked with Canada in Body and Soul. So harried was Canada Lee, that he suffered a heart attack and died in May,1952. Garfield remained on the blacklist for one year. He was called again to testify against his wife. Despondent over his deteriorating marriage, and fearful over his fading career, Garfield agreed to testify. After a strenuous afternoon of sports, Garfield fell ill and died of a heart attack at the age of 39 two weeks after his friend, just before his second hearing date.

Anti-Semitism becomes Communistic – born Julius Garfinkel near Jacob

One writer brought before the committee was screenwriter Roy Huggins; who had been an avowed anti-Fascist while in school. He reluctantly acknowledged that several others had been fellow communists in a long defunct branch. HUAC already had the names and he simply agreed with them. Due to his testimony, he was allowed to continue his work, but not before leaving them with one last blast.

“There is a great need for democracy to do something about the subversive drives which intend to overthrow it. This is one of the things that disturbed me deeply about the Communist Party, is that they do not believe in individual freedom, and yet they shout to the housetops in defense of individual freedom in all of the democratic countries in which they exist. They become champions of complete political freedom. It seems to be one more evidence of their complete lack of integrity or scrupulous or anything else.

It would be a terrible thing if we were to fight tyranny by becoming a tyranny ourselves, isn’t that so. This would be a terrible thing if we are anti-Communist because we feel that Communists destroy individual freedom and liberty, and in fighting Communism, we destroy individual freedom and liberty. This would be a fight in vain.”

Herblock takes on the hysteria

Sports were changing too. In 1946 football broke its color line when Kenny Washington and Woody Strode joined the new Los Angeles Rams when part of the new charter stated that the team must be integrated. Oddly football had originally been desegregated, and it wasn’t until 1933 that it became all-white in order to reach the newfound southern market. In fact, Paul Robeson, noted singer, actor, and civil rights leader played in the NFL in the 1920’s. Kenny and Woody had made themselves folk heroes with their exploits at nearby UCLA. They were a natural move for the new team. A third black member of UCLA’s black backfield had a different path to glory. He was a four letter man who chose baseball as his future. He found it the next year, 3000 miles further east.

Just a few miles from the Kirby’s Brooklyn house Mr. Branch Rickey’s Noble Experiment came to fruition when, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, after a stellar one-year minor league stop, the falsely accused Black Panther tank crewman, took his place at first base in Ebbett’s Field as the Brooklyn Dodgers new infielder. Robinson broke the decades old color line and his instrumental move ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Robinson had first come to the public attention as a footballer at the University of Calif. at Los Angeles and then as an officer in the military. Rickey searched far and wide for just the right candidate to make the leap- talented, personable and a strong will to take the abuse. A score more joined very soon after. Imagine baseball without Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, or Frank Robinson. Unfortunately it happened too late for Josh Gibson or a prime Satchel Paige.

Jackie Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside, and showed everyone what a talent he was. In his first year, he hit 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant. That year, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was selected as Rookie of the Year. He continued to wow fans and critics alike with impressive feats, such as an outstanding .342 batting average during the 1949 season. He led in stolen bases that year and earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Roy Campanella, perhaps the best catcher ever, joined in 1948. In 1955, they led “dem bums” to their first World Series win.

Neal Kirby told an interviewer that as a child, Jack’s war times were not spoken of; “But, as I mentioned, I didn’t hear any of his war stories until I was older. Perhaps he thought I was too young, or more likely, the painful memories were still too fresh. Besides, we had plenty to talk about with the Brooklyn Dodgers and boxing.” Jack loved “dem bums” and baseball in particular. “I’m not a Mantle (Mickey) fan but I know about him, and I know people talk about him so I know something about him that made him distinctive. In my day it was Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige, who were really great and as good as any ballplayer I ever heard of. These men were distinctive; they had something and whatever they did in the game, they did as personalities.” Of course he downplayed Mickey Mantle, the Yankee great was one of the great Brooklyn Dodger killers of the time. In 1955, when the Dodgers finally won the World Series, one writer made it very clear. “There are times when a valid reason exists to explain an event. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Championship in 1955 because Mickey Mantle was hurt.”

He had the right stuff – The paper says flying saucer

On a small ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, on July 8, 1947 the Air Force announced that military personnel had recovered a crashed “flying disc”, setting off the UFO phenomenon in the U.S. A day later the Air Force changed their story and said they recovered a weather balloon, not a flying disc. This followed closely on the heels of UFO reports in Maury Island, Washington, and Mt. Rainier.

Soon, rumors of alien bodies, secret government installations, and official cover-up arose. These incidents ignited the cottage industry of conspiracy theorist that look for secret cabals, hidden government agencies, and powerful interests behind every action of the government, or political tragedy. Jack loved the various interpretations and theories behind the visitation of alien beings and they soon became a central theme in his cosmic tales.

Jack never asked anyone to believe him, but he told people that he had seen mysterious lights flying in formation that suddenly shot out and vanished.

TV was becoming a major source for child entertainment as more and more markets started supplying morning and afternoon kiddie fare that captured the school aged demographic. In 1947, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Howdy Doody, and Bozo the Clown became phenoms and Disney soon followed. The later both soon appeared in comic books. The TV genre became an accepted competitor and source for the market.

The comic book industry also had changed; the return of the soldiers to jobs and families robbed the industry of an audience, and a natural focus. The pulp magazine market was on its last leg. No longer did the comic publishers have that captive military audience. In fact, a new medium would pop up to grab that more mature audience. Paperback publishers had been around since the late 30’s, using their cheap format to bring books to the masses,- mostly with reprints of classics, and entertainment books like crosswords, and puzzles. In 1945, Fawcett, the comic publisher acquired a distribution company. It expanded by adding two paperback book publishers-with the agreement not to publish their reprints in book form. To get around this proviso, Roscoe Fawcett contracted out for original product to publish and distribute. Joe Gill, the prolific comic writer for Charlton Comics mentioned this new avenue to his friend and fellow comic writer Mickey Spillane who had been fooling around with a new character. Spillane was a young man who joined the comic industry just after his time in the service. He became known for being fast and dynamic. 19 days later Spillane had a manuscript, and paperbacks would get a character. Mickey tells about how his new job came about to interviewer Michael Carlson.

“Now at that time you had to go through hardback. So I wrote I, the Jury and turned it in to E. P. Dutton. It had been rejected by four different publishers, saying no, no, this is too violent, too dirty … and it was picked up by Roscoe Fawcett, Fawcett Publications. He was a distributor, doing comic books, but he saw the potential, and he went to New American Library, which was Signet Books, and he said “If you print this book, I’ll distribute it.” Now they can’t get distribution, so they go to Dutton and say “if you print this, we’ll do the paperback”. So now it’s win-win-win, and they offer me $250, and I say no, I need a thousand dollars to build a house in Newburgh, so I get a $1,000 advance, which was unheard of. So Roscoe ordered a million copies, and that was unheard of! So somebody in his outfit says, oh, that wasn’t what he meant, he must’ve meant a quarter million. So they bring out a quarter of a million at the wrong time, cause books sell great at Christmas time, but my book came out between Christmas and New Year, which is death, and it went straight to the top, because it was word of mouth, and it’s sold out, and Fawcett says get the rest of them out, and the guy says there aren’t any more and Roscoe says “whaddaya mean, I ordered a million, and a guy got fired!”

Mickey Spillane’s “I The Jury” starring detective Mike Hammer, became the first breakout hit for the nascent paperback market. Further print sales soon topped 6 million copies. Like with Superman, the new genre had a superstar writer and character. More important, the publisher had sales numbers not seen in several years in the comic business. Bruno Fischer’s House of Flesh sold 1,800,212 copies. In 1951, Charles Williams’ Hill Girl sold 1,226,890 copies, Gil Brewer’s 13 French Street sold 1,200,365 and Cassidy’s Girl by David Goodis sold 1,036,497.[12] Authors were attracted to Gold Medal because royalties were based on print runs rather than actual sales, and they received the entire royalty instead of a 50-50 split with a hardback publisher. Gold Medal paid a $2000 advance on an initial print run for 200,000 copies. When a print run increased to 300,000, the advance was $3000. This new payment concept attracted many writers from the pulp and comic tradition never to return. The covers continued the same salacious nature of the pulps, unlike pulps, there were no illustrations in the text portion.

Ralph Deigh the first editor recalls; “From our entrance into the paperback business, we paid authors at a more generous rate than had been the custom. In 1955, when we started the Crest line to reprint hardcover books, we extended this practice to what we offered for soft cover rights. It caused quite a sensation in the trade when we paid $101,505 for James Gould Cozzen’ By Love Possessed and later $700,000 for James A. Michener’s The Source. Giving the author a bigger share of the pie paid off handsomely.”

Spillane would go on to great fame, and never returned to comics. Paperbacks would soon expand and cover all the older pulp genres such as sci-fi, westerns, and the romance titles. Lack of any censorship allowed for a whole new level of adult reading material.

Paperback books were a new option for the lurid pulp and magazine publishers and soon all the major comic book publishers had added this new division. Paperback books added a new more salacious entry into the marketplace. The smaller size gave the retailers more buck for the footage. Racks were developed to minimize space to a minimum. From the beginning of the paperback revolution, the paperback rack has been as ubiquitous a fixture as the books themselves. These racks, placed in everyday locations such as drugstores, department stores, newsstands, candy stores and train stations were instrumental in bringing literature directly to the people.

Paperback girls didn’t wear many clothes – Higher pricepoint for publishers and retailers

According to Paperback Originals by Ben Crider;

“World War II brought both new technology and a wide readership of men and women now in the military or employed as shift workers; paperbacks were cheap, readily available, and easily carried. Furthermore, people found that restrictions on travel brought them more time to read more paperbacks. Four color printing and lamination developed for military maps made the paperback cover eye catching and kept ink from running as people would examine the cover of the book.

Salacious meant protruding heaving breasts — pulps in a more convenient package

Comics even advertised paperback books as owners tried to regain market share

It’s been reported that over 17 million paperbacks were sold in 1947 alone. The comic book industry would have to fight and earn a new audience. The publishers didn’t care because they simply swallowed up this new market. Just as the change from pulps to comics showed an evolution by the publishers, the change from comics and pulps to paperbacks likewise showed the publishers evolving. The audience for the disposable entertainment income of children and adults was diluted by newer technologies and more diverse products. Joe Simon had stabilized their immediate situation, now was the time for the boys to once again innovate and make a difference.

Confessional soap style romance stories had been a part of every other medium for a long time. Mills and Boon, a longtime fiction publisher, became a strictly romance publisher of hardcover books in the 1930’s. A little factoid; One distinctive feature of both Mills & Boon and Harlequin (in the US) is the length of time their books are available to buy. They publish a set number of books each month which are sent to subscribers and displayed on stands in bookshops. At the end of the month, any unsold copies in the shops are withdrawn and returned to be destroyed. Titles are available to buy direct from Mills & Boon for 3 months or until they are sold out, whichever is sooner. Again, any remaining books are disposed of. Fans looking for particular books after this time must find them second-hand. Not unlike the comic book market; which by this time was building a large second-hand system? Street and Smith published the first pulp romance title in 1921 with Love Story. The pulps had dozens of romance titles by the ‘40s. Bernarr Macfadden published the slick magazine True Romances to great success in 1926. Radio soap operas were very popular by the 1920’s with titles like The Romance of Helen Trent, Our Gal Sunday and The Guiding Light entertaining the female market. Even the newspaper strips fished for the ladies with strips like Mary Worth and Brenda Starr.

The only reason romance wasn’t introduced to the comic book market earlier is because there was no need. The publishers were selling out anything they printed. It seemed an endless market devouring any and all super hero title published. So why experiment and fool with success? Then with the paper restriction during the war there was no extra paper to try new genres. The teen romance books like Archie certainly had a large audience. There was no reason not to believe that comic books couldn’t do straight romance stories.

Strange reprint one-shot by Vin Sullivan — the real deal by the big dogs

In his book, Joe says that the idea first took hold while he was in the service. “It had long been a source of wonder to me that so many adults were reading comic books designed for children, and now I was finding myself increasingly wondering why there was such a dearth of comic book material for the female population. Women factory workers, housemaids, housewives, and teen-age girls were settling for Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and the adventure books. I wondered how they would accept a comic book version of the popular True Story Magazine, with youthful, emotional, yet wholesome stories supposedly told in the first person by love-smitten teenagers.” Jack said “The romance genre was all around us. There were love-story pulps, and there were love story sections in the newspapers. There were love stories in the movies. Wherever you went there were love stories. That’s how we got our new material, and it suddenly struck me that that’s what we haven’t done. We haven’t done romance stories! So Joe and I sat down one night and came up with the title Young Romance and Young Romance sold out!”

Most likely Joe worked up a dummy cover titled Young Romance and took it over to Jack Kirby. Despite being the preeminent penciler of the bombastic art of the superhero genre, Kirby immediately understood the possibilities. The concept was so powerful that Joe immediately thought of reforming the studio, and self publishing. As Joe described his plans Jack was hesitant “At this time? It’s too much of a gamble; let’s get someone else to publish it!” Jack’s wariness won out and put the brakes on that idea, but Joe was so confident that he decided to push to keep the copyrights himself, and get a publisher to front the money. Joe, Jack and Bill Draut prepared the stories for the first issue and put together a finished presentation to show to prospective publishers.

It was always Joe Simon’s advice to have a complete visual item to show editors, so that it would be impossible for them make changes or to steal the concept for themselves.

At Crestwood, Editor Maurice Rosenfield expressed an interest and when he asked Joe what he wanted for the idea, Joe told him “50% of the profits!” Maurice called in the owners Mike Blier and Teddy Epstein and an arrangement was worked out. Rosenfield was given a 5% fee for brokering the deal. Crestwood would publish Young Romance under their Prize imprint. Probably the smartest decision Crestwood ever made. As part of the deal, to ease Crestwood’s fears S&K would also produce a companion crime title to Headline Comics, which was really showing good sales. Young Romance #1 hit the stands with a Sept 1947 date, sporting a unique first. In the indicia it shows as copyright holders Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the first time the artists had been listed as such. Justice Traps the Guilty #1 followed a month later in Oct. 1947.

The cover to YR #1 was another Kirby classic. It featured a young girl walking in unaware as her artist fiancé is fending off the romantic advances of the girl’s older sister. The older sister was drawn with a low cut cleavage baring blouse and a hi-cut slit to there dress. The overt sexuality was obvious. The cover featured a subtitle–DESIGNED FOR THE MORE ADULT READERS OF COMICS, plus a smaller blurb promising ALL TRUE LOVE STORIES. This wasn’t Archie and Veronica. Prize’s in-house ads highlighted the new book as “It’s here at last!!! The new, more adult comic magazine you’ve been waiting for. Chock full of romantic true love stories that will make your blood tingle…and your heart beat faster!!! Pictured in vivid, moving drawings that will come to life before your eyes” The cover was prime S&K, full of their symbolic halos, arches, snaky shadows, and good vs. bad fashions.

Joe explained; “Young Romance consisted of confession stories told by teenage girls, illustrated in comic book format, with speech balloons and captions longer than commonly used in adventure comic books. It offered more reading material and less art Each romance “confessor” was typically plagued by guilt for such acts as falling in love with a delinquent or kissing an older man of, perhaps 25. All stories ended happily however with the girls thoroughly cleansed of “sins” The first issue of Young Romance was cover-dated September-October 1947.

Richard Howell claims the title sold 92% of its print run. With the third issue, Crestwood increased the print run to triple the initial number of copies. Circulation jumped to 1,000,000 copies per month. Initially published bimonthly, Young Romance quickly became a monthly and generated the spin-off, Young Love — together the two sold two million copies a month. Kirby noted the books “made millions.” For collectors there is a conundrum. These were the largest read, but the least collected. They were read and thrown away. So collecting old copies is hard.

Love that hair

The confessional and racier nature of the stories was spotlighted with the very first story; I was a Pick-up. The comic also featured helpful advice and short morality vignettes. Bill Draut also provided one of the stranger back-up tales where every panel was framed by the insides of the main characters eyes. Creepily, it took eyewitness account just a little too far!

The response to YR was immediate; it sold out its initial print run; some have said as high as 92%. The word of mouth was incredible as young girls flocked to the stands for a copy. Joe says that he was rushing Harriet to the hospital to deliver Jon when he stopped into a store to get her something to read. He noticed a group of girls standing around the comic rack looking and squealing over a magazine. When Joe looked closer he saw that it was Young Romance they were all atwitter about. Take it with a grain of salt, Joe’s son Jon was born months before YR hit the stands. You know you hit the jackpot when a rival publisher badmouths your book. Martin Goodman the owner of Atlas Comics (nee Timely) wrote a letter to Harry Donenfeld, the owner of DC Comics. Crestwood’s books were distributed by Independent News, a division of DC Comics. Goodman complained about Young Romance. “It borders on pornography; it will do irreparable harm to the field”. This was petty and ridiculous as Goodman’s pulp division had been printing racy romance pulps for years without incident. Martin soon followed it up with the first copycat title.

The idea that there could be blow back due to a comic’s content wasn’t completely irrational. In the early 1900’s, during the heyday of the fifty-cent juveniles (the serialized juvenile books such as Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and The Motor Boys) there was an organized sector calling for their ouster. Fortune Magazine noted that the juvenile series books lacked any literary value. “The fifty-cent juvenile is, precisely, a book for boys and girls between the age of ten and sixteen. It has few literary pretensions; it is a flat-footed account of the superhuman exploits of adolescent Ubermenschen- and if it is successful it may have sequels that ramble on for as many as thirty-six volumes. It is a fortuitous cross between compound interest and perpetual motion. The Rover Boys is its quintessence; a substantial profit for author and publisher is its only and unblushing purpose.” (Imagine how incensed this author had to be to portray profit for a company as a negative aspect in Fortune Magazine!) Anthony Comstock, the famous American bluenose of the time railed against those most harmless of titles, as well as their predecessors the penny dreadfuls, and the dime novels, in his book Traps For The Young. “Satan adopts…devices to capture our youth and secure the ruin of immortal souls. Of this class the love story and cheap work of fiction captivate fancy and pervert taste. They defraud the future man or woman by capturing and enslaving the young imagination. The wild fancies and exaggerations of the unreal in the story supplant aspirations for that which ennobles and exalts.” Series books were considered to “cause ‘mental laziness,’ induce a ‘fatal sluggishness,’ and ‘intellectual torpor.'”

DC fights back rare – reprint oddity from 1948 w/Boy Commandos

Franklin K. Mathiews, the official librarian of the Boy Scouts made his disdain for Edward Stratemeyer’s juvenile title empire into a crusade, saying the books overexcite young minds “A child intoxicated with Tom Swift would be not only intolerable but permanently warped by an over stimulated imagination.” He wrote an article stating that Stratemeyer’s series books were the same as letting a child “blow out their brains.” In Newark, the series books were banned from the public libraries.

If those most cherished of juvenile books such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys faced a crusade, then comics, with their garish base nature and even fewer nods to literary pretension certainly brought out the bile in those easily incensed. “For years–even during the war–when comics were considered a patriotic staple there had been a segment of the population complaining about comics harm to the morals of the young kids addicted to them. Sterling North, of the Chicago Daily News in 1940 once called them “Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed – a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems – the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is child’s natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make them that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic’ magazine.” Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest and other “family” oriented mags printed similar diatribes about the growing concern between comics and youthful bad behavior.

Just the year before the General Federation of Women forced several companies to self-censor, and when more didn’t follow, they went to government agencies to move their agenda.

Politician mixing comics and nudie mags together – Anthony “bluenose” Comstock

Just a month or so earlier a New York newsstand owner was arrested for selling a detective magazine considered obscene. A direct result of Anthony Comstock’s imposed legal censorship. The magazine was published by Alex Hillman, the owner and publisher of the Hillman comic line that published S&K’s My Date comic. Martin Goodman’s concern was misguided as to romance comics, but would be prescient when years later a public outcry over risqué, tawdry and scandalous content almost ended the comic industry.

At first there were local newspaper stories about how ‘bad’ comic books were and the negative effects they had on children. Then in February 1947 Marya Mannes wrote an article critical of comics in the New Republic magazine. In March of 1948 ABC radio did a program called ‘What’s Wrong with Comics?’ and it to criticized unwholesome comics. Marya Mannes, Al Capp and Publisher Magazine’s George Hecht were among the debaters. The show created massive response of 6,000 letters, a record for ABC at the time. Reporting on the program appeared soon afterwards in Newsweek and Saturday Review of Literature.

In 1950, behind the scenes, a demand sent shivers through the industry. On Aug 5 1950 The Kefauver Committee surveyed all the top comic book companies asking for circulation figures, demographics, income, opinions about juvenile delinquency and whether or not their books have been approved by psychiatrists. This was getting serious.

Being proactive Donenfeld did ask the boys to tone down the more salacious elements by removing the blurb “Designed for the more adult readers of comics” from the covers. In 1951, the legislature of New York, published the reports of a two year study looking at the comic industry. It produced a ten point finding that lambasted the comic publishers and proposed changes.

burning up a college education

Young Romance quickly shot to the top of the sales chart. The boys were back on top. Comic sales had stabilized after the end of the war to around 30 million units a month; but starting in 1947 sales shot thru the roof. They reached a high of 60 million plus units per month by 1950. This is matched by evidence that showed that the romance genre went from 0% to a high of 27% of the market in 1950. That means that in 1950, romance comics accounted for more than 1 in 4 of every book sold by the industry. The introduction of the romance books shook up and reenergized the industry. The success of the romance books, and the expansion of the crime titles allowed Jack and Joe to let go of Hillman as an account. Prize was now home. Joe says that it was rumored that Hillman was getting out of the comic business. They did quit in 1953 to speculate in the nascent rightwing propaganda market and the bustling paperback business.

Gil Kane in an interview for The Jack Kirby Collector;

TJKC: What was the effect of the romance comics on the industry?
Gil: It was an enormous boost and a lifesaver. Comics were going down for the second time and here, all of a sudden, came this thing and for the next fifteen years, romance comics were about the top sellers in the field; they outsold everything. I worked on them for DC and they were hard to do. You really had to have a draftsman’s style which was different from a cartoon style. Most of us came out of Popeye, so turning Popeye into something believable was tricky enough. Others came in from advertising, bringing a more realistic representation of people so their character heads and figures were better.

Ernst Gerber in his book The Photo Journal Guide to Comic Books (1989 Gerber Pub) makes an observation.

”there does seem to be a significant correlation between the birth and boom of romance comic books (1948-1950) and the historic baby boom of the same period. For several years, it appeared that most publishers, and even a quarter of all comic books sold, dealt primarily with romance. Like the fabled pendulum comparison, war and hatred had swung the pendulum too far and its return to normal after the war couldn’t help but swing it a tad too far toward romance. Certainly romance invaded the sanctity of comic books with a vengeance- from none in 1947 to domination of the comic book market in 1950!

From an article in Newsdealer entitled The Comics Are Growing Up by Crestwood’s General Manager M.R. Reese.(March 1952)

“It remained for an astute observer to foresee the coming of the cycle and to make future plans accordingly. A case in point is the team of Simon and Kirby. They are two artist-writers whose high flying hard punching Captain America and Boy Commandos had already earned them a prominent place among the best selling comic characters of their type. It took a war to give Jack Kirby and Joe Simon a new perspective, a position where they could observe at close range the people who were reading comics- the boys who were now men and demanding comics for men. And it stood to reason there were also the little girls who once saw in the comic’s super-hero a protecting brother, and were now willing to trade vigor for tenderness.”

But even among comic people the response wasn’t all positive. Noted comic creator and resident grouch Harvey Kurtzman, in his book From Aaargh to Zap! (1991 Simon and Schuster) comments on the rise of romance books;

“Here’s a measure of how much the comic-book world changed after [World War II]: The very first romance comic-book, Young Romance, in 1947, was the brainchild of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby—the same team that had brought so much vitality to the super-hero comic books a few years earlier. So far had the mighty fallen.” Spotlighting the cover of Young Romance #1 Kurtzman noted “The talents of Kirby and Simon were wasted on romance titles.”

Kurtzman never explained why super-heroes were somehow more classy than romance, and I believe S&K’s bank statements might prove Kurtzman wrong. The title became a best seller and soon reached the vaunted million copy mark. Within 2 years the market went from one romance title to over 130. I would doubt that sales meant anything to Harvey Kurtzman, the term romance was simply a pejorative and something not done by real artists, as if steroidal hulks and bombastic women are that much more compelling a subject. Simon and Kirby followed up Young Romance with a second companion book. Young Love would feature the same style stories by the same artists culled from a common growing inventory. They further extended these with Young Brides, and Real West Romances. Every publisher jumped on the romance bandwagon, even Martin Goodman got over his hissy fit from when YR was first released and released more than a dozen romance titles, yet no other romance titles would ever match S&K’s books in quality and sales.

Sold by the millions

Comic Historian Richard Howell, editor of Real Love (1988 Eclipse), a collection of Simon and Kirby’s romance tales, published in 1988 by Eclipse Books wrote in the introduction;

“The Simon and Kirby titles, however, remained unique unto themselves, and remained the most successful line of romance comics. They adopted the “Prize Comics” identity and the “Prize” seal on the covers became the easiest means for readers to tell the S&K produced love comics from the legion of imitators. For the first five years, S&K contributed at least one story (usually a lengthy lead feature) per issue, but the other material also maintained a high standard of quality with such artists as Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin, Bruno Premiani, Bill Draut, Ann Brewster, John Prentice and Leonard Starr. Simon and/or Kirby were obviously involved with every story-even the ones they didn’t write or draw- since many efforts by other artists show the distinctive S&K layout style, and it was not uncommon for a newer artist’s work to show signs of S&K retouching (as on the teams famous “Cliffs of Dover cheek lines, kinetic clothing folds, or oil slick lip gloss).”

Heavy advertising for the new title

One new innovative feature was the addition of photo covers on the romance and crime titles; these were common enough on the western and other licensed movie and TV titles, but not on the in house fictional books. These were either publicity photos of Hollywood stars such as Robert Wagner, or Montgomery Cliff teamed up with an up and coming starlet like Joy Adams, or Elizabeth Taylor, or occasionally a local photographer was hired using local models in staged poses; once Jack and Joe even got into the act when they posed as a cop and a gangster for a cover of an issue of Headline Comics. Kirby finally got to play a heavy. Joe explained, “We tried to make it look more like a fancy magazine, but it turned out that it made no difference to the sales. Because we had our following, you see? Like you take Time magazine and change the cover, and TV Guide, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.” The boys experimented constantly trying to make their product stand out from the rest. Joe again;”We were always trying to be creative. Yes, that was the big challenge in comics in those days, trying to do something different, trying to beat the next guy. That’s why I think doing Young Romance was our biggest pleasure—because everybody said no.”

Yet some have argued that romance comics merely narrowed down the accepted female role into a docile domestic cleaning woman-totally dependent on a good providing husband; simply reinforcing the idealized version of the all-American life. Boring became good, while independence became bad. The basic formula for the romance comic story was established in Simon and Kirby’s Young Romance of 1947. Other scriptwriters, artists, and publishers tweaked the formula from time to time for a bit of variety. Stories were overwhelmingly written by men from the male perspective, and were narrated by fictional female protagonists who described the dangers of female independence and touted the virtues of domesticity.

Women were depicted as incomplete without a male, but the genre discouraged the aggressive pursuit of men or any behaviors that smacked of promiscuity. In one story, the female protagonist kisses a boy in public and is thereafter labeled a “manchaser” to be avoided by decent boys. An advice page in one issue blamed female public behavior, flirting, and flashy dress for attracting the wrong sort of boys. Female readers were advised to maintain a passive gender role, or romance, marriage, and happiness could be kissed good-bye.

Bad choice of guys-big eyebrows bad girl

In romance comics, domestic stability was made obviously preferable to passion and thrills. Women who sought exciting outlets were depicted as suffering many disappointments before settling down (finally) to quiet home lives. In “Back Door Love“, the heroine learns that the man she is infatuated with is a “rat”. She degrades herself to be with him, but comes to her senses and eventually marries an unexciting man who provides her with stability. In “I Ran Away with a Truck Driver”, the tale’s small town heroine runs off with a handsome truck driver who promises her thrills. After being robbed and abandoned in Chicago, she returns home, chastened and wiser, to share the company of a decent local boy.

Comics may have been the only media in which the nerd eventually got the pretty girl- at least until the Marvel books.

 

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Looking For The Awesome – 9. Picking Up The Pieces

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

9 - mushroom clouds

PICKING UP THE PIECES

Jack’s war was over, and he was on his way home, but the world had some unfinished business. In July, at Potsdam, Truman, Stalin, and Churchill carved up the ravaged shell of Europe. With the signing of the Potsdam Pact, once again the world settled for temporary peace at the sacrifice of future turmoil. All efforts turned to Asia. On August 6 and 9, with a flash of light, and a burst of energy (see above photos) never imagined, except in the comic books, the Japanese Empire ended in a suddenness that shook the world. Life would never be the same.

Life back home was blissful. Roz pampered Jack and his legs were getting better by the day. Mama Rose’s cooking was putting back some of the weight he had lost. Best of all, Roz broke the news that she was expecting their first baby. Jack was ecstatic; “That’s the American way. Fight the war, come back, and start your family.” They continued living with Roz’s parents in Brooklyn with plans to get a new place once Joe returned and work was back in full production. Jack was receiving military disability, plus DC was still sending him small checks as they continued to use the pre-war inventory. It was mostly for covers, as the interior stories had run through months earlier.

Jack was determined to jump back into the saddle, and by September he had contacted DC about resuming work. DC welcomed him back gladly. While he and Joe were away, the strips had all continued with lesser artists. Oddly enough, his first new published work wasn’t for DC. As a favor for Jack Lehti, a friend from DC who had drawn the Crimson Avenger before going into the service, Jack provided a four page back-up story for a new comic book titled Picture News #1, (Lafayette Street Corp., Jan.1946.) The only aspect of this work worth mentioning was the lack of Simon-style inking is noticeable. At DC, Kirby was immediately returned to the Newsboy Legion strip and his first new Legion story appeared in Star Spangled Comics #53 cover dated Feb. 1946. That same month he also provided a Sandman story for Adventure Comics #102.

Jack soon returned to S&K’s best selling strip Boy Commandos, and quickly produced stories for World’s Finest, Detective Comics, and the self-titled Boy Commandos. With the end of the war, the Boy Commandos also came home, and Jack gave them a riotous welcome home. The boys return to New York, and Brooklyn wants the boys to see his hometown, so they sneak out to see his Brooklyn borough. No sooner do the boys arrive that they meet up with an old tormenter of Brooklyn’s, Big Nose Murgatroyd, (Is this a Jimmy Durante reference?) and his street gang. It seems that Big Nose has escalated from street punk to real hardcore burglary type. The typical Kirby gang fight ensues. The story ends with the Commandos bringing down the gang and helping Brooklyn’s old girl friend extricate her brother from Big Noses’ gang and sending him on the straight and narrow. Commandos, welcome to Kirby’s New York! You can take Kirby out of the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of Kirby. Jack also drew some filler strips for a new title, Real Fact issues #1&2 and later on #9. This was DC’s attempt at “good” comics.

Jack jumps back in

Kirby kept busy waiting for Joe to return, but not too busy to take a young eager beaver type under his wing. Martin Rosenthall was a high school student who would hang out at the DC studio. In an interview with historian Daniel Best, Martin recalled his relationship with Kirby.

“Kirby was my mentor. I saw him five days a week. When I was going to high school, DC Publishing was five blocks away. …” “Jack and I used to go out for coffee. I went to high school and the Cartoonist and Illustrators School at the same time, day and night. Jack was very kind to me. He was a cigar smoker, and one day for Christmas, I got him a box of cigars. It was the cheapest cigar in the world, but he graciously accepted it and he took me out to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner. I had my first shrimp cocktail over there. He was a very great, gracious man. He gave everything and shared everything with you. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy.” Martin would honor Mr. Kirby by making one of his earliest heroes Jim Kirby, a bright detective who took on a sinister scientist.

WOW! Thinking robots- whoda ever figure?

WOW! Thinking robots- whoda ever figure?

One day, Jack was taking the subway from his home in Brooklyn to the city. A tall, rangy young man spied him and his portfolio, came over to him and introduced himself as Frank. He said he had just started in the business and wondered if Jack had any advice. Jack and the man talked for awhile, Jack showed him his samples, which included a couple Captain America pages. The man was thrilled and took in every word Jack offered. Serendipitously, that man and Jack would meet again, under different circumstances.

Joe Simon was stationed in Washington D.C. After a year of patrolling the shores of Jersey, he had been reassigned to the Coast Guard Public Information Division, of the Combat Art Corps.

From Real Fact #2 solo Kirby, he even inked it Look what’s she’s reading, note - no hay.

From Real Fact #2 solo Kirby, he even inked it Look what’s she’s reading, note – no hay.

The job was a public relations position whose goal was presenting the Coast Guard as heroically as possible. Joe would produce comic strips that spotlighted a member of the Coast Guard and the heroic deeds that he did. These would be syndicated and printed in Sunday newspaper comic sections titled True Comics. This led to a commission for a newsstand comic that was to be used as a recruitment tool for the Coast Guard Academy. Joe produced Adventure Is My Career. Street and Smith Publications was hired to publish and distribute. For this Joe received an official commendation and promotion.

While in Washington, Joe had resumed contact with his friend Al Harvey. Al, now a Captain, was stationed at the Pentagon where he did similar PR duties for the Army. Yes there was a caste system where owners and editors had stateside safe jobs (see Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Al Harvey or Joe Simon) while the lowly artists found themselves on the front. Joe and Al had decided that when the war was over, Simon and Kirby would finally work at Harvey Publications. There they would have free rein over their creations, and as a further enticement, Simon and Kirby would receive a fifty/fifty profit split. This was unheard of at most publishers, but Harvey had been having success publishing licensed properties like Green Hornet. Part of the agreement was that S&K would also edit other titles for the line.

Al’s one of the good guys Harvey self-promoting

Al’s one of the good guys Harvey self-promoting

Soon after Jack returned home, he and Roz visited Joe. Joe and Al explained the new set-up and Kirby agreed- if Joe thought it was a good deal, who was Kirby to disagree- Joe always got them square deals. Yet Jack was already back at work for DC Comics. So they decided that Jack could continue at DC, as long as DC would allow it, while also working at Harvey–a decision that would prove helpful later on. Joe had also met some other artists while stationed in Washington, and asked them to join in this new venture.

Perhaps more important during one visit Joe met someone else who would become important in his life. From his bio, he retells;

“There was a secretary there who was the bookkeeper, as well. Her name was Harriet Feldman, and she was sorting mail or something. As I sat there, waiting for Al to be available, she looked over at me.”

“Would you lift your pants leg up?” she said.

“What?” I responded, wondering if she meant me.

“Lift up your pants,” she said.

So I lifted my pants leg.

“Go up to the knee,” she instructed.

So I did. Those pants had wide legs, so it wasn’t difficult.

“That’s good,” she said.

I put the pants leg back down, and she went back to work.

Alfred came out of his office, and gestured to me. We had our meeting, and then I headed toward the door. As I did I turned to Harriet.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go out with a guy who had white pasty legs,” she explained.

She went back to what she was doing, and I left. As I did, I thought to myself, Did I ask her out?”

He hadn’t, but he would.

Joe arrived home in Oct. and took up residence at the Great Northern Hotel–owned by renowned boxer Jack Dempsey. Simon and Kirby set up shop in a small studio room at Harvey Publications, and for the first time a staff complimented them. Ken Riley, Jack Keeler, and Bill Draut, all colleagues with Simon in Washington joined up with lettering wizard Howard Ferguson to form the nucleus of the new studio. Joe would later lament that he didn’t at least give DC a chance to match Harvey’s offer, and he thinks it left a bad taste in some DC editor’s mouths. As it was when Jack started working for Harvey, DC cut his output way down to just a few pages a month.

Advanced notice of new strip by the biggest names in comics Simon and Kirby

Advanced notice of new strip by the biggest names in comics Simon and Kirby

Everything was set; they would hit the ground running, full bore, no hesitations while editors hemmed and hawed a la DC. Joe had thought long and prepared well for this moment. Joe and Jack went straight to their strengths; costumed acrobats, kid gangs, exotic locales, and non-stop action. Advertisements in Harvey’s books highlighted a new title “Stuntman! Written and drawn by the biggest names in comics! –SIMON and KIRBY—their first book since their return from the fighting fronts.” Once again the Simon-Kirby brand was the selling point for quality comic stories-despite Joe Simon never seeing the front.

Stuntman was set in, and part of, the world of Hollywood. Fred Drake, was a circus trapeze performer whose partners were murdered. While tracking down the killer, he learns that he is an exact double for Don Daring, one of film’s leading men, and amateur detective. Daring was the typical S&K leading man, obnoxious and conceited, but since this was going to be a recurring role, they softened his manner with humor, and made him more a buffoon than a lout–the perfect foil for the clever, athletic, laconic and heroic Fred Drake.

Loved the vehicle to vehicle jump

Loved the vehicle to vehicle jump

Since they are both on the hunt for the same killer they team up. Don offers Fred a job as his stunt double. They are soon joined by the beautiful, but bemused actress Sandra Sylvan. After another brush with the killer, Drake decides that he must go undercover, and retrofits his circus costume into a masked crime fighter’s costume. The origin story ends with the newly outfitted avenger tracking down the killer, and saving the bumbling Don Daring and faint-hearted Sandra Sylvan from an attack by ever-present Hollywood man-eating lions. Stuntman berates the hapless actor for his less than sterling detective work. “Next time, you may not have a ‘stuntman’ around to double for you,” Drake is overheard telling Daring and the headlines in the morning’s newspaper read “STUNTMAN SOLVES CIRCUS KILLINGS.” This is how a new hero should be introduced!!!! This was Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., all rolled into one character. Stuntman #1 was cover dated April, 1946. This was S&K using their love of Hollywood for all it’s worth.

There were three Stuntman stories and two back-up strips; Junior Genius by Jack Keeler, and the Furnished Room by Bill Draut. Also tucked in was a two page text story of their other new creation.

dark and dense and look what he’s reading! – never ending action

The other new title was Boy Explorers; a classic S&K kid aggregate, this time under the guidance of Commodore Sindbad. To save the Commodore from an unwanted marriage, the boys must embark on the “Seven Tasks of Sindu San”, a series of dangerous adventures and return with selected treasures. This update of the 1001 Arabian Nights Sinbad tale was a crackerjack, roller coaster thrill ride full of that unique blend of Simon/Kirby slapstick action, mixed with sci-fi, mythology, exotic locales, and a wacky assortment of adversaries. Boy Explorers #1 was dated May, 1946. They even managed a trip to the moon.

Concurrently, Harvey published a Stuntman story in their anthology title All-New Comics #13; (July 1946) a neat little stolen jewelry caper. This book also featured ads for Stuntman #3 and Boy Explorers #2. Neither would ever see print.

S&K never slowed down: Stuntman vaulted from adventure to adventure saving the ever-bumbling Daring and enchanting the beautiful, but slightly air-headed Sandra Sylvan. The Boy Explorers travels took them to the South Seas, lost islands, and even the Moon. The plots were lean and silly. Very reminiscent of the Hope and Cosby” road” pictures; they allowed Joe and Jack to plug in their every cinematic fantasy. Cowboys, gangsters, Robin Hood, jungle tales, Amazons, dinosaurs-they all got the S&K treatment, with double-page splashes, great cinematic perspectives, and lush, detailed backgrounds. This was the pinnacle of S&K swashbuckling and derring-do. Jack was also busy at DC doing mainly Boy Commandos.

Shades of Treasure Island

Shades of Treasure Island

Jack’s art was hitting a new high point; added to the power and fluidity was an improved eye for background detail. He added a lushness of texture and an evolved sense of depth as his perspectives became more extreme. Joe’s inking became heavier, with a more stylistic approach to shadows and cloth folds that gave added weight to Kirby’s pencils. Howard Ferguson would add another level of dynamics with his decorative narrative panel flourishes, and multi-font style banners. The cover to Boy Explorers #1 is a classic example. They returned to two page centerfolds of spectacular and mass excitement.

2-page splashes are back

2-page splashes are back

Promises of things to come

The boys all had their own back-up strips filling out the books. The back-up tales were an interesting amalgam of genres. Jack Keeler did “Junior” Genius, a humor strip, while Bill Draut provided Furnished Room, The (Red) Demon and Calamity Jane. Ken Riley drew Danny Dixon, Cadet. Joe even picked up the pencils and produced three back-up strips; Vagabond Prince, a greeting card poet turned crime fighter, The Duke of Broadway, a Damon Runyonesque look at the underbelly of the Great White Way, and a humorous boxing feature titled Kid Adonis.

Jack on Boy Commandos, Joe on Kid Adonis meets Superman

Joe doing Will Eisner on Duke of Broadway Bill Draut cuts his teeth on Red Demon

Joe did most of his drawing at the hotel later at night, the office at work was a mite crowded; with all the others working in what Joe Simon called a “small office supply room and the executive men’s room”. They were in full production mode and building inventory. The boys were in it for the long haul.

Joe Simon solo – Growing family Neal and Susan

On Dec. 6th 1945, Roz gave birth to their first child, Susan. Jack was ecstatic. Meanwhile, Joe got up the nerve to ask that flirty secretary out, and things were heating up. Things couldn’t be better, when disaster struck!

Heavy advertising but never followed up

Heavy advertising but never followed up

The end of the wartime paper restriction was the signal for all of the comic book companies to increase production. All the publishers from the big boys at DC, Timely and Fawcett, to the smaller firms like Fox, Gleason and Quality jumped at the chance to add new titles, and increase printing runs. Well over a hundred new titles were published between September 1945, and September 1946. The trouble was that the retailers– the newspaper stands, and the Mom and Pop drug stores–didn’t have the physical space to take in all the new titles. They were forced to pick and choose which titles to carry, and all too often the choice would be the familiar and well known titles from the larger companies. Truckloads of new books were being returned unopened due to lack of space. Just as fast as the glut of new titles happened, the bubble burst and a major contraction in the business occurred. Small companies went belly up when they couldn’t repay the money fronted by the distributors, while many had to fall back and regroup.

later ones a digest sized

Even DC, the industry leader was forced to address the problem. In an amazing letter to advertisers and distributors in late 1946, DC tried to spin the “slump” by using carefully selected stats and dates to put the best face possible on the situation:

COMIC MAGAZINE SALES ARE AT ALL-TIME HIGH!

“There has been some talk about a “slump” in newsstand comic sales and it is about time the record is straightened out. A recent increase in returns has blinded many dealers to the fact that comic magazine sales are at an all-time high. Speaking for ourselves, “Superman-DC Publications, we can say with full authority, sold 26,264,000 copies in the first four months of 1945 and 34,020,000 copies in the same period of 1946 — a gain of 29 per cent!” During the war-time magazine shortage, returns disappeared almost completely. Today, as business adjusts to normal conditions, returns are again a problem. They are a handling problem to wholesalers and dealers but to publishers like ourselves they represent a dollar-and-cents cost. For this reason alone you can be sure of our cooperation in holding returns to a normal minimum”.

Historian/artist Coulton Waugh explained his observation of market share and natural limits;

“There are approximately one hundred and fifty comic books which jam red and blue elbows together on the newstands, fighting for space to shreik in, and this factor may help keep the number from expanding to any great extent. Mortality is high among new comics.

Joe says he saw the writing on the wall, and tried to warn Kirby. For his part, Jack didn’t believe it could affect them. To him, S&K was 10-foot tall and bulletproof. Stuntman #1 hit the stands in late January or early February 1946, followed by Boy Explorers #1 in March. By February, Alfred Harvey ordered a complete halt to production. Simon and Kirby was shut down! The warehouse was overrun with returned and unopened stacks of the new titles. Only two issues of Stuntman and the one issue of Boy Explorers ever made it to the streets. For the next six months, Harvey would assemble the inventoried stories and bleed them out little by little. They averaged only one book a month published for that period.

Joe and Jack were devastated; never had a project started with so much promise only to die on the vine. To make things worse, DC had cut back on Jack’s production. For the next year, Jack would provide art for just one issue of Boy Commandos, plus a few covers for Star Spangled Comics. In fact, for the 8 months following Harvey’s implosion, Jack Kirby – the human dynamo – would be limited to 42 pages of comic art, and 6 covers.

Joe recalls; “Jack drew a handful of Newsboy Legion stories late in 1945, and some Boy Commandos adventures in 1945–46. I had done a few things for DC while I was in Washington. Once I was back in New York, I joined him on the Boy Commandos stories.”

The sales slump wasn’t the only problem; the social outcry was reaching a crescendo. In 1946 the General Foundation of Women’s Clubs focused their efforts on the comic publishers to the point where some of the publishers created a self regulating body. Unfortunately the social groups were left unimpressed due to the lack of participation and took their complaints to other bodies.

So yes, it should be noted that the industry was reeling, but it was not in its last throes of life. Sales had fallen dramatically, but not to death’s door.

Artist Coulton Waugh explained in his history of the comic strip and comic book The Comics (1947, McMillan)

“We should understand that comic books are not, on the whole, appendages to the world of the newspaper strips, nor are they supported by advertising, like a good many other periodicals. They stand on their own pink and green feet as a separate, unique, publishing accomplishment. How this is possible is indicated by the fact that they have been selling at a rate of forty million a month. Comic books are a self-sustaining business, a very profitable and important one.”

It was only in comparison to their meteoric success during the war that the industry now looked in peril. DC was correct in their industry wide article, though returns had increased; the industry was still selling mountains of books. What was needed was a smarter approach to printing volume, and a new focus for the industry away from the almost accidental dependency on the wartime desire for superhuman fantasy fare. Waugh talks about this unexpected explosion.

“In their history, (periodical publishing) the magnitude of such a development was unsuspected for quite a while after the books had appeared. The drama in the stories came at precisely that wild and roaring moment when, into the lives of the matter-of-fact business men who were handling the books, burst an unprecedented blast of public demand, millions of voices all screaming at once, Let ‘em come!”

It was the unexpected and unexplained dominance of the superhero in the comic market during the war years that made the sudden drop so dramatic. Though a source of bemused irony to Mr. Waugh, he could not deny that those colorful little pamphlets had created an important and viable industry.

Once more from Coulton Waugh;

“We had better add comic books to the list of important discoveries made in the last ten years. This hurts many people; it doesn’t seem possible that anything so raw, so purely ugly, should be so important. Comic books are ugly; it is hard to find anything to admire about their appearance. The paper–it’s like using sand in cooking. And the drawing; it’s true that these artists are capable in a certain sense; the figures are usually well located in depth, they get across action…But there is a soulless emptiness in them, an outrageous vulgarity; and if you do find some that seem, at least funny and gay, there’s the color. Ouch! It seems to be an axiom in the comic book world that color which screams, shrieks with the strongest possible discord, is good. Even these aspects of comic book art are mild and dull when contrasted with the essence of it; the layout, the arrangement of ideas and that goes, too for the ideas themselves.”

Crotchety old man but he could draw

Waugh had little trouble showing his utter disdain for the comic industry yet even he couldn’t deny its impact. One wonders if he had ever read a Simon and Kirby book. The bottom line; comics were just great for the businessman and bean counters but not yet fit discourse for those with delicate sensibilities. Waugh never tried to hide his prejudices; instead he spotlighted and explained his choices. It may have been a history, but it was not exempt from his prickly views. His disdain was not just focused on comic books—he was not a big fan of many of the adventure newspaper strips. He declared that Alex Raymond’s characters in Flash Gordon “have an empty look” that “show little of their hearts and minds.” He thought Milton Caniff suffered from a bout of “smart alecky” with “static figures” and his plots “artificial and snarled” He really disliked Zack Mosely’s Smilin’ Jack calling it “one of the most painful jobs to look at in the business.” Surprisingly, (perhaps to save what little hair I have left) Waugh lavishes nothing but praise on the master—Hal Foster—of whom he gushed “the man was so good at his particular job that there remained little for subsequent workers to improve on”.

From the introduction to a later printing by M. Thomas Inge;

“Though intended as a study of one aspect of American culture, Waugh’s book itself has become a part of that culture through its influence on all the commentary that was to come. His was the enviable but difficult task of the pioneer, the first in the field. So he could lay down the guidelines and principles without fear of contradiction. He did it so well that The Comics still makes a legitimate claim to our attention and therefore deserves a continued life in print.” Waugh’s own prejudices are clear…comic books he found raw and ugly.”

Coulton Waugh was no fan of the superhero comic book, but he wasn’t an effete snob; he was the scion of a well respected New England artist family. He was a fine painter, textile designer, map-maker, and sometime cartoonist. He took over the fantasy strip Dicky Dare after Milton Caniff left. This was the story of a 12 year boy who imagined great adventures with historical characters like Robin Hood, or George Custer. He was also a comic historian, perhaps the first and he was an optimist. He ended his treatise on an upbeat note.

Dicky Dare started by Milton Caniff taken over by Waugh

Dicky Dare started by Milton Caniff taken over by Waugh

“In spite of all the learned arguments of the college professors who endorse the lurid form of the comic book, the great mass of American people have been getting thoroughly annoyed at the alarming mass of cheap sensationalism their children have been buried under. These human torches and hornet men seem to have little connection with the sound values which the American people, generally speaking, strive for, and it seems that the people in a number of ways have been making this clear to the publishers. An example of the things so many people object to, for instance, is the army of hooded and masked men, women, boys, and even girls, who were threatening to push the normal heroes off the stands. (Obviously heroes such as Dicky Dare, drawn by Mr. Waugh – ST) Why in the name of a free Republic, is all this hooding necessary? True, these people are always on the side of right, of democracy; but democracy’s justice does not need to mask itself. From the picture point of view—and this means a great deal in comics– such hooded people suggest the Ku Klux Klan more than anything else, the very reverse of the process of democratic law. Protests of many kinds, from many sources, have poured in, to the point where at last a change is taking place; the furious sensationalism of the super-people is not as popular as it was. A new and healthier trend is on the way. The big news of the moment is not the emergence of a new super creature; it is the growing in popularity of the gay, animal comic book of the general Walt Disney type, and the various titles devoted to teen-age interests.”

“Teen age comics are very normal and healthy as a rule. In addition, the animal group can develop fantasy, can supply the experimental adjustment to life through childish symbols, which the educators advise as good for the young mind. Another happy point—these are funny books; the super-screamers were not. And to laugh is one of our greatest national habits, one of our finest talents.”

Waugh may have been right, his problem was not that super-humans were bad or sensationalistic; his worry was that there was once a reason for these cartoons to be labeled “funnies”. The super-heroes weren’t funny. They lacked, or worse, were the antithesis of humorous. As Waugh mentioned, he felt that the funny animals or teen-aged tales returned to the idea of making kids laugh. One should note that Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Mighty Mouse, Captain Marvel Bunny and other anthropomorphic animals were rising to the top when printed by Dell, St. Johns, or other companies. Waugh was wrong; the next wave would not be funny animals, in fact, it was human relations in all their vulgar, animalistic horror. And Waugh’s fear of social uprising was accurate.

I hope you don’t think bad of Coulton Waugh, it was not my intention of belittling his opinions. I am not out to shoot the messenger. Waugh was not a grouchy old man endlessly screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. His arguments against comic books were honest; he did know that they could be better. They were lowest common denominator entertainment that never required of the artists or the publishers to do better. Yes there were gems to be found, but they were amongst a huge stash of trite, ugly, and morbid books of their kind. Waugh did want better, and he attempted his own higher quality output. Coulton Waugh left Dicky Dare to his wife Odin Burvick to create his own strip. He titled it Hank. Unlike most strips of the time, there was no handsome, athletic, adventurer, and sexy slinky, exotic femmes. Hank was introspective and wheel chair bound due to losing a leg during the war, looking at the world through self-absorbed eyes. His stories were attempts at finding and understanding ones place in society and coming to grips with loss. The differences weren’t just thematic. Waugh used a very decorative and florid style that seemed to isolate Hank’s own lack of movement. He sometimes avoided the static rectangular panels and exaggerated the motion. He added in black dialogue balloons with white words to give them depth and solemness. He brought a level of social conscious and conflict. He humanized it somewhat by using upper and lower case fonts for the dialogue.

Hank

Hank

The humanity and pathos was overwhelming, Waugh admitted that this was an exercise in “social usefulness” and as such lacked exaggerated drama, and action. Waugh’s attempts were sadly cut short due to too many years in front of a board. He stopped when his eyesight finally failed him. Hank was printed in the left leaning New York tabloid PM, and had a rather small circulation. Not a hooded avenger in sight, Waugh tried to walk the walk. Though short lived, PM magazine also featured the art of Dr. Seuss, Crockett Johnson and Jack Sparling, and the writings of Ernest Hemingway, James Thurber and Erskine Caldwell. It was often compared to the Daily Worker, though formatted closer to Gilmore’s and Gleason’s Friday magazine.

During this down time both Stuntman and Boy Explorers had a small black and white digest type book mailed out to subscribers, which featured inventoried stories. The cover explained that for the present emergency, newsstand sales will be temporarily discontinued and subscribers would be sent these small digests. There was only one issue per title sent out.

Joe was scrambling, for months he and Jack had no work. The industry was changing; the super hero genre was dead. World War 2 was over, and with it went the need for fantasy power figures to handle overwhelming evil. The interests of the populace were now more mundane and close to home. Being the premier costume hero creators meant little. For S&K to come back, they would have to reinvent the business to reach a new market and reinvent themselves.

But comics weren’t Joe’s only thought. On June 3, 1946, Joe and Harriet Feldman slipped away to Elkton Md. and got married. Elkton, a small town just below the Pennsylvania border, had become famous for quick, unquestioned marriages due to Maryland’s lax marriage laws. Hundreds if not thousands would sneak over the border to get hitched.

Like out of a romance book - still had a nice suit

Like out of a romance book – still had a nice suit

As to the problem at hand they had to find work and form a new base to operate from. One of the few genres that continued unabated after the war was the crime genre. Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay was a good selling title that seemed to be growing. Lev Gleason was a rarity, a comic publisher who wasn’t Jewish or shady. What he lacked in shadiness he made up for in political passion. Son of a well to do Protestant Massachusetts doctor, he attended Harvard University but dropped out during WWI.

Returning from the war he found himself working for Eastern Color Printing Company. Lev was a salesman for Eastern when Max Gaines approached the company about publishing a pamphlet sized cartoon book. Within a few years, Lev became the editor for Tip Top Comics. In 1939, after the success of Superman, Lev partnered with magazine publisher Arthur Bernhard and formed Silver Streak Publications.

Looking debonaire – the boys at play

Lev Gleason was also a friend of Communists. He had become involved during a two year sabbatical to France after the WW1. He worked for some front magazines and collected for Communist front companies. He assisted Dan Gilmore on the left leaning Friday magazine. He had attracted the ire of the F.B.I. and had a thick file at the bureau. He was fined by the H.U.A.C. for his part in a suspected Commie organization. In the FBI file they noted his part in publishing comics. (thanks to the Comics Detective website) Their response was not so positive. “..the publishing of the cheap pulp paper type comic booklets is a common practice and is considered a racket in the publishing fraternity in New York as little capital is needed to engage in this type of business, which is not highly regarded by reputable publishers.” (Obviously they never saw the bottom line of these publishers)

The company had its first hit with a character named Daredevil, a long-running costumed crime fighter. Its next big success came in 1942 with a comic focused entirely on crime. Crime Does Not Pay was the first and best of a long line of crime comics. Its initial success was good but not great. Other companies took note, and slowly copied. Gerard Jones, in his book Men of Tomorrow (2004 Basic Books) stated; “It (Crime Does Not Pay) sold solidly all through the war, but not well enough to inspire imitations. Then, in 1947, as America’s fascination with crime and corruption intensified, its sales soared. By the end of the year, it was outselling even Captain Marvel and Superman. It seems in fact, to have stolen much of the super-hero audience.”……”After years as the only crime comic on the stands, by late 1948 Crime Does Not Pay was just one of forty.

But the crime genre came with some baggage. As Jones notes; “There was pungency and narrative vigor in the best of them, but there was a sickness of sprit in them too. Comics had a freedom to indulge in gore and cruelty that the more closely watched media of movies, radio, and “slick” magazines didn’t and they tapped into American appetites that those other media hadn’t revealed. The success of the material was unsettling to the very men who made and sold it—so much money for such seamy stories peddled under such smarmy, phony messages about the folly of crime. There was viciousness in the crime comics that assumed sadism in the reader and, in its exquisite intensity, revealed sadism in the artist.” Gleason even tried to blunt this complaint early with an editorial fiat.

Gleason trying to pre-empt the Comics Code 1948

Gleason trying to pre-empt the Comics Code 1948

Joe approached Crestwood Publications with an idea concerning a news reporter who specialized in sensational murder cases. The catch was that the reporter, Red Hot Blaze worked for a pulp type comic magazine and the featured artist resembled Jack Kirby. Blaze first appearance was a 6 page tryout back-up story in Treasure #10 (Dec. 1946) and featured one of Kirby’s best covers along with an advert blurb showcasing the new series in Headline Comics–another Crestwood title. Several oddities about that advertising blurb; first they show the issue (#23) with a Jan/Feb cover date. #23 in actuality had a delayed Mar/Apr cover date. The cover shown in the blurb was not the actual cover to #23, which showed a convicted gunmoll holding off the cops by threatening a hostage. The blurb cover was actually used for issue #24 (May/June 1947). It’s amazing how much inventory Jack and Joe had accrued that a cover meant for a May dated issue had already been drawn, inked and colored for an advertising blurb back in a Dec. dated book.

Nice blurb—wrong cover wrong date

Nice blurb—wrong cover wrong date

Now this is action, hateful little monkees

Now this is action, hateful little monkees

Crestwood was a small publisher which S&K had crossed paths with during their freelance days in 1940 when they rebooted Prize Comics. Owned by Teddy Epstein and Mike Bleir, Crestwood never had more than a few titles at one time. Their most popular title was Frankenstein, the Dick Briefer created strip that expanded out of Prize Comics into its own title. Headline Comics was a low selling anthology title populated by easily forgettable super-heroes like Atomic Man and the kid gang, the Jr. Rangers.

Crestwood comics full of S&K in and on the comics

Three months after Treasure #10, Headline Comics #23 (Mar. 1947) hit the stands with a total do over. Gone were the superheroes and adventure stories, to be replaced with cover to cover crime tales penciled and inked by Jack and Joe. Often narrated by Red Hot Blaze, these stories were violent and bloody. These tales were billed as “all true” famous detective cases and starred real gangsters and mobsters. Babyface Nelson, John Dillinger, Ma Barker and other Depression era hoods populated these gritty, hard boiled tales. S&K filler crime stories would appear in other Crestwood titles like Prize Comics and Frankenstein. By the late Forties one in seven comic titles were crime themed. Certainly not the humorous tales Coulton Waugh envisioned, but the focus was on physically normal people as opposed to ultra steroidal hulks.

Jack and Joe were back at work, they attacked these crime tales in a heavy noirish style never seen before from the pair. The faces were heavily shadowed; the clothing was heavy, with deep folds and dark shadows. The backgrounds expanded the heavy geometric patterning in the shadows and became claustrophobic with the detail and spotting of blacks.

It is obvious that the pair were taking their cues from the Noir style films that became the rage after the war…. the badder the girl the larger her eyebrows. Jack even fulfilled a dream when he played a gangster on one of the covers. (Joe played the cop)

Bad girls with gats and eyebrows

Crestwood wasn’t the only company that Joe had contacted. Hillman Publishing was another small time magazine publisher that had scraped by during the war years on the strength of Hollywood pulps, automobile manuals and a couple of comic book titles. Its bestselling title was Airboy Comics which starred the titular teen-aged globetrotting flyboy with a miraculous plane named Birdie. Interestingly, during the war Hillman cancelled many of his pulps and comics to publish a glossy girly digest named Pageant, only to return to comics after the war. The peripatetic editor Ed Cronin bought into Joe’s feeling about crime books and turned over Clue Comics – a rudderless anthology title that started as a showcase for the heroic Boy King and the kid gang Jackie Law and the Boy Rangers- and evolved into a showcase for the Gunmaster, a sharp shooting private dick type. Starting with issue Vol 2 #1 (Mar. 1947) S&K supplied crime stories. With the second issue; they also took over the Gunmaster strip. With their fourth issue, the title was changed to Real Clue Crime Stories. It seems that Jack and Joe drew more historically inspired stories dealing with crime in the 1700 and 1800’s for Hillman; perhaps the reason for adding “Real” to the original cover. It seems their inspiration was the 1928 book Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury—a recalling of the many street gangs and gangsters prior to Prohibition and the mafia. This book was also an inspiration to a later film by Martin Scorcese. And just to round out the feast to famine and back, DC had started re-commissioning new work from Jack for Boy Commandos.

Hillman comes thru

Joe and Jack were back in the game, producing 50-60 pages a month between Hillman and Crestwood. Harvey was also starting back up the road to full recovery, and S&K inventoried strips and reprints began showing up in Harvey titles. One, a back-logged Boy Explorers story features an easily recognizable Frank Sinatra clone, trying to hide out from his many female admirers; he joins up with the boys and is shipwrecked ironically on the Amazonian “Isle Where Women Rule”; a nice play against type story. Joe swears that they were never paid for these stories. Another comic industry lesson reinforced–even your friends will screw you.

A year and a half later – teasing and kidding at Hilman

It should come as no surprise that Jack Kirby, crime reporter, once again returned to his BBR roots for another take on the problems of pinball and back store gambling. In issue #24 of Headline Comics in a story titled “Grim Payoff for the Pinball Mob,” Kirby once again centers on the youthful gambling being forced on the candy stores and the mom and pop shops. Once again the law cracks down on the thieving mobs and a strident DA sends the guilty up the river. Kirby’s drawings of candy stores being packed with pinball machines could have been taken directly from the BBR report on petty gambling and Kirby’s earlier Newsboy Legion tale. But the crime titles were simply treading water, Jack enjoyed portraying the mobsters and his all-too familiar Depression life, and they sold reasonably enough, but held no lasting interest for Joe.

Hillman did allow the boys to try their hands at other genres. For the first time since his Lincoln syndicate days Jack drew some Bigfoot funny animals. Lockjaw the Alligator and Rover the Rascal appeared as filler strips in Punch and Judy Comics. They even took over another funny animal strip from Tony Dipreta called Earl the Rich Rabbit. In Airboy Comics, S&K took over the aviation strip Link Thorne-The Flying Fool. Kirby’s fondness for flying once again found root and they energized this mundane aviation strip and produced another action classic. The strip was reminiscent of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, complete with sexy oriental assistant and even sexier femme fatale competitor. But S&K’s strip preceded Steve Canyon by a month or so. Truth be told, after the war there were a plethora of adventure strips based on fly jockies in business in Asia. Harvey Publications even had their own Flying Fool strip.

Perhaps most important, Hillman gave Joe free rein on an original title, one of Coulton Waugh’s preferred teen-aged titles. One character that had never slowed down was Archie, America’s favorite teenager. With the end of the war, this title had found a renewed vigor. Joe decided that they should try their hand at teen humor. The result was My Date. #1, July, 1947. It starred the teenaged wunderkind Swifty Chase and his main girl Sunny Daye and their riotous romantic adventures with the insufferable bore Snubby Skeemer, and pesky Housedate Harry. In typical S&K fashion, the first story centers on Hollywood and Humphrey Bogart in particular. Swifty and Sunny help Humphrey escape from his manager so he can elope with the much younger Chandra Blake-mirroring Humphreys real life escapades with Lauren Bacall. A lone teen humor strip “Pipsy” even found its way into Laugh Comics #24 Sept. 1947, an Archie Publication. The foundation was set. Two months later, the dam broke.

Flying Fool great adventure and a true femme fatale

Previous8. Call To  Duty | top | Next – 10. The Girls Take Over

Looking For The Awesome – 8. Call To Duty

Previous7. The Well Diggers Legacy | Contents | Next – 9. Picking Up The Pieces

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

CALL TO DUTY

In early June, Kirby received his draft notification. “I was drafted June 7, 1943. I found out the same way as everybody else: They sent a telegram. You get two free telegrams from the Army: One to tell you that you are drafted and one to tell your wife that you are coming home in a casket. Sure, I was drafted, but I didn’t mind going. You didn’t complain about it because it was the thing to do. All my friends were gone, even Joe.” They gave up the Carlton Place apartment, and Roz would move back with her parents for the duration. On June 21, with a final tearful kiss from Roz, Jack turned in his #2 pencil and picked up a gun. According to Kirby; “My card was stamped NAVY. And then some guy came in and said ”We need six guys for the ARMY.” I swear it was stamped NAVY and you know I feel to this day I was meant for the NAVY. This guy came out and being a loser, I was one of the six.” Coincidentally Mort Weisinger, an editor at DC who bedeviled Simon and Kirby while they were at DC, boarded the same embarkation bus. Jack forever swore it was Mort’s way of further tormenting him.

There's a couple of juvenile delinquents mid-'45

There’s a couple of juvenile delinquents mid-’45

Camp Stewart was the largest Army facility east of the Mississippi, encompassing over 640 square miles of Georgian lowlands and swamp. Originally set up as an anti-aircraft artillery training center, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it became a primary training facility for the Army. It was here that Jack Kirby would receive his basic training and then spend a year at special training. “I tried to stay out of the Infantry like mad. So they first sent me to anti-aircraft, and I thought that was pretty rough. Then I went to Ordinance and I became an auto mechanic and I told them I took 2 years of it at school, I used to lie under the wheels and I used to knock on the wheels and the guy thought I was working.”

Though Jack would constantly explain that he was a famous artist, the Army saw fit to make him an auto mechanic. Now Jack may have been great at drawing huge machines, and constructs, but in reality, he was one of the least mechanically gifted people alive. His friends wouldn’t drive with him for fear of their lives. His kids swear he couldn’t even change a light bulb. It was so bad that even the Army soon realized the error of their ways- and the Army doesn’t admit mistakes easily- and reassigned Kirby as a rifleman. Jack’s attempts at working for Yank Magazine, or other military publications were all rebuffed. Yet one publication did take note of Kirby’s presence. The Savannah Evening Press, a local newspaper in their October 1, 1943 edition had an article that spotlighted Kirby. It was a small article praising Jack for his work on Boy Commandos- it even mentioned Jack’s birth name of Kurtzberg, though it was misspelled Kurtzerg. An expanded article would appear in the Camp Stewart Newspaper a week later. They spelled his name correctly.

Army life wasn’t much to Jack’s liking. He wasn’t built for military precision and uniformity. He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t punch out this burly guy constantly yelling in his face. ”You’d get ten years for punching a sergeant so I couldn’t punch a sergeant.” And he couldn’t draw. How could he survive without a pencil in his hand and paper in front of him? “I hated it there and they always gave me a hard time. I am not a guy who likes to be disciplined. I hate discipline of any kind except the kind of discipline I make for myself, like when I draw. If it is not right I’ll redraw it 19 times until I get it right, but Army discipline I wasn’t ready for. “Stand straight. Get up. Lay down. Do this. Do that.” They would wake us up at two o’clock in the morning and make us hike 50 miles, 25 miles up and 25 miles back. That is a long walk with a full pack, a rifle and everything else—that’s a long walk without them. And at two o’clock in the morning, are you sleeping or walking? And you are doing this all on roads as rough as hell.

He needed an outlet for his aggression. He gravitated towards hand to hand combat. “I took judo. Out of a class of 27, just me and another fellow graduated.”

A thousand miles, and light years from his familiar surroundings of city life, the culture shock was overwhelming; mosquito swarms, pigs running thru the street, gators in the lakes. Jack could not fathom what life in the Deep South was like. “I met Southerners for the first time. That was a big experience. I didn’t know anybody who spoke like that. Well, they spoke like that in the movies, but here it was live and real. I met Texans.”

“The thing is that we all met. I met people from Georgia. I found people of my own religion living in Georgia. There are a lot of Jewish people living in Savannah and there were a lot of Jewish people living in other parts of Georgia, in all parts of the South—even in Texas. I realized that there were a lot of similar people living all over the place. I began to get a feel for the United States in a way I never had before. I could envision the United States as the American flag. The stars and the stripes–the meaning of it. Jack explained to Ray Wyman Jr, in an interview.

Roz would tell of a trip where she and her sister Anita visited Jack while he was stationed at Stewart. While visiting, Jack had arranged for a date for Anita, to be accompanied by a soldier friend from Texas. They were taking a bus to their destination when an older black woman entered the crowded bus. Anita graciously stood up to offer the woman a seat at the front, wherein the bus came to an immediate halt. When the driver demanded that the black woman move to the rear Anita protested. Both Anita and her Texan date were thrown off the bus, and when they returned to the base, the soldier friend told Jack, “I’m through with her; get her out of here!”

Anita was sort of high spirited, and Jack set up another date for her, this time with his sergeant, Morris Katz. It was hate at first sight; they fought for the whole date; pure oil and water. Three years later, Morris Katz would show up at the Goldstein residence looking for Anita, and they married soon after.

While Kirby was doing his service, Republic Pictures released a Captain America serial. Nowhere to be found were the names Joe Simon or Jack Kirby. It seems that Martin Goodman had given the rights to Cap to Republic free of charge, expecting the free publicity to make it worthwhile.

The 1944 “Captain America” film serial is a bit of an oddity. Unlike the new Chris Evans feature, or any other incarnation of the hero for that matter, it totally abandons the basics of the comic book character. In place of US Army Private Steve Rogers the striped suit is filled by District Attorney Grant Gardner. There’s no Super-Soldier Serum, no massive patriotic shield, no temple wings, and there aren’t even any Nazis. It’s an odd cross between the superhero genre and the noir/crime serials that Republic Studios put out around the same time. Simultaneously entertaining and a little confusing, it poses an odd question about what a superhero film should look like.

The choreographed action and brashly structured suspense lend a momentous energy to this entertaining serial. It’s not just that they spent a ton of money, which they did. After going 22% over budget, “Captain America” ended up costing Republic around $220,000 and is the most expensive serial they ever made. Yet instead of just tossing around effects left and right, every moment of explosion and destruction is used perfectly. Guillotines, exploding cars, and massive bulldozers come and go across the screen, raising the bar for each successive moment of suspended climax.

It’s been claimed that the large budget convinced Republic to get out of the serial business.

By June ‘44, the camp originally built to house 40,000 swelled to over 55,000 soldiers awaiting the build-up for D-Day. Jack, now assigned to Company F, 11th Infantry under the overall command of Gen. Patton left for Europe in the middle of Aug. “I think we reached England at nightfall. We landed in Liverpool. England was in a terrible state. They were still suffering from the Blitz. The German Stukas and bombers had dropped bombs everywhere. The people were still sleeping in the subways—the Germans had made a mess of Liverpool—but we didn’t stay there long; they immediately took us out of Liverpool and we reached Gloucester. I remember a lot of walking and a lot of waiting. We were tramping through the streets there and were on our way to another POE. I got a glimpse of the English countryside when we reached the embarkation area near Dartmouth and it was like a garden; it was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. We were there for about 2 days, then we left for France and landed on Omaha Beach”. He stepped foot on the still body strewn shores at Omaha Beach, on Aug. 23rd. From there he quickly met up with the rest of the 11th Infantry as they marched through Eastern France.

After the grinding landing on D-Day, the allied troops had moved quickly across Northern France, and thru Paris. The success was such that as September approached, there was a great feeling of optimism among the commanders. The German’s were backtracking so fast that they had little time to resettle and dig in to stop the advances, and when they did the Allied forces quickly overwhelmed them. “They moved us very quickly into the hedgerow country and into waiting trucks, put us on more trucks and drove down so many roads that I could never tell you where I went. After a while you just forget how long it took and where you were. But I remember the villages that we drove through. Those villages are still etched in my memory, really, because they were in utter ruins. Utter ruins! You could see the former beauty of these places and I felt very sorry for the former inhabitants because I am certain that many of them were killed. I felt sorry because I knew that we would probably add to the destruction, but it was a necessary sacrifice, one that was apparent to everyone. We bypassed Paris—I never saw the city—and joined the rest of the forces that were being gathered together for Patton.”

With control of Northern France, and reinforcements now firmly in place, Eisenhower made the controversial decision to split up the Allied forces and make a pincher move on the heavily guarded German military industrial centers in the Ruhr, and from there on to Bastogne, and then to Berlin. Many of his Generals had counseled him to keep the Army together and make a direct assault with overwhelming forces and crush the enemy in one fell swoop. Yet Eisenhower was wary, he still feared the German’s could regroup and mount a rear offensive looping around from the South. By splitting his forces, he protected his southern flank, and with two fronts forced the Germans to spread out their remaining forces. Eisenhower decided he would send the largest segment of the army on the more direct northeastern route through Antwerp, above the Ardennes, and a smaller army on the more circuitous route south and then east through Metz and Saar. This smaller army was Patton’s Third Army Corp, a faster, more mobile force known for covering territory very quickly. This was to be called the Lorraine Campaign.

Spearheaded by the famed 761st battalion– the all-black tank regiment that would lead the fight from France through Belgium, and into Germany– Patton’s Panther’s better known by their battalion name The Black Panthers with their bold motto “Come Out Fighting”.

This elite tank group would engage in a record 183 continuous days of combat, clearing out numerous German held cities, freeing concentration camps, and inflicting over a 130,000 casualties to the Germans. Their fighting spirit and never say die attitude emboldened the fighting men and the honor of meeting up with the Russian allies fell to the 761st after breaking through the Seigfried Line. A sad note that one of their leaders could not join up with the battalion; their moral leader Jackie Robinson, the college football great was fighting a court-martial due to his refusal of giving up his seat on a public bus. Jackie was cleared of all charges and left the service with full honors, He would be heard from later.

“I was a replacement–a replacement for people who had already been wounded or killed. I went into action right away, my outfit was on assault. We were heading towards Metz, and the objective of my outfit was to take Metz.” Kirby reminisced.

Patton's Brain Trust

Patton’s Brain Trust

Almost immediately there were problems. The Armies were advancing so rapidly that they outran their supply system. The Generals fought and fumed over who would get the gasoline; Field Marshal Montgomery won out. Gasoline supplies were dangerously low, and re-supply ground to a halt. General Patton, though warned of the situation ordered his officers to continue on, but by Aug. 28 they came to a stop, just west of the Meuse River. Though his main force couldn’t move, Patton ordered small expeditionary forces to cross the Meuse bridges and try to feel out the enemy strength. By Sept.1 they had made several beach heads across the Meuse, and on to the west bank of the Moselle River, just outside of Metz, but that was as far as they got, on Sept. 2 the Third Army was at a stand still, there was no gasoline to take the tanks and trucks across the Moselle bridges. The German generals were told to hold position at any cost.

The resulting lull allowed the Germans to do what Eisenhower most feared; it gave them time to regroup, dig in and bring in reserves. From then on, the march towards Metz would be a bloody fight, over farms and embankments, small towns and well built fortifications, criss-crossed with rivers and canals. Victory would be measured in yards, not miles. It would be one of the bloodiest episodes on the road to Berlin.

To make matters worse, the rainy season for the Lorraine Valley begins in September, and in 1944, there would be three times the average amount of rain. The clay terrain would turn to a viscous texture that swallowed up tanks, trucks and marching feet.

The armies were now at a stalemate staring across the Moselle River; every attempt by the Allied forces to cross it was met with a fierce counter-attack that drove it back. The rains made land travel difficult, and the rising river made boat travel treacherous.

Jack told Will Eisner. “The only one who took me seriously was my Lieutenant! He says “Kirby, you drew Captain America,” he says, “you‘re an artist.” I said, “Yes, I’m that kind of artist.” He says, “Well here’s a map. Take the map. We’re both going across the river tonight.” The Moselle River, this was, outside Metz. He says, “When you see a tiger Tank, you put a cross where it’s been.” He says, trying to find these tanks.” And of course, that’s what I did.”

8-mmap

On Sept. 8, a small Allied force attempted to cross the Moselle at a small hook in the river called Dornot. Their target was a fortification named Fort St. Blaise, one of several Maginot Line forts retrofitted by the Germans after taking control of France. It was a well built medieval fortification on top of a bluff overlooking the river. Among this force was Kirby’s Company F of the 11th Infantry. The rain was horrible, but under cover of blistering artillery fire Companies F and G worked their way across river. They gathered at a small patch of trees on the east side and formed a horseshoe shaped line of trenches. German resistance was light, but whenever there was a lull in the Allied artillery fire, the Germans would lob mortar shells with deadly accuracy. In late afternoon, the two companies broke from the trees and made a frontal assault up the hill towards the fortress. During this assault, two more companies made their way across the river and occupied the horseshoe trenches.

From U.S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR II – The European Theater of Operations-Lorraine Campaign – the official documentation as compiled by the Department of the Army:

“The forts themselves were strangely quiet, and the Americans suffered no loss until a sniper killed the commander of Company F near the top of the hill. Here the infantry came to the wire at the north fort (Fort Blaise), cut it, and then, faced by a moat and a causeway barred by an iron portcullis, drew back to radio for help from the artillery. While so disposed the two companies suddenly were hit by the 2d Battalion of the 37th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment which swept in on both flanks and filtered through to their rear. Captain Church called for Companies E and K to come forward from the east bank, to which they had crossed during the afternoon; but they could not advance through the heavy enemy fire now traversing the slope, and the two forward companies began to withdraw, leaving dead and wounded marking the path. For nearly three hours the infantry crawled back through the gauntlet. The company aid men tried bravely to give help to the wounded left behind but were shot down at their tasks. Most of the survivors did not reach the clump of woods near the river until 2300, (11 PM) here joining the rear companies in the defense of the minuscule bridgehead.”

“East of the woods a highway paralleled the tree line and in the darkness enemy Flak tanks drove up and down, spraying the bridgehead with bullets and shell fragments. Fortunately, the German tanks, though protected by “bazooka pants,” would not close with the Americans in the woods.”

The Allied troops on the west side of the Moselle were helpless to send reinforcements. The area was too small for larger vehicles to maneuver, and they were being shelled by large German 88’s that made boat crossings impossible. For two more days the four Companies were left to fend for themselves. It was decided that the Allied forces would move further down river and hope to make a safer crossing while the Germans were occupied with the four companies at the tree line.

“Time after time the German grenadiers came forward in close order, shouting “Heil Hitler” and screaming wildly, only to be cut down by small arms fire from the woods and exploding shells from the field guns on the opposite side of the Moselle. But each attack took its toll of the defenders in the horseshoe. The wounded were forbidden to moan or call out for aid, so that the Germans would not know the extent of the losses they had inflicted. The mortar crews abandoned their weapons, whose muzzle blast betrayed the location of the foxhole line, and took up rifles from the dead. A lieutenant operated his radio with one hand and fired his carbine with the other. Nearly all the officers were killed or wounded when they left their foxholes to encourage the riflemen or inspect the position. Each night volunteers carried the wounded to the river, crossed them in bullet-ridden and leaking assault boats, then returned immediately to the firing line.”

Kirby would tell in an interview with Warren Reese about an incident. “I had a guy die on me once, during the war, and he looked up at me he said, “What the hell happened? What happened?” And here I was, just a schmoe from the East Side…from New York City, y’know, and what do you answer the guy? I told him, “You happened.” See? And that was real. It got me to think how valuable human beings are, and at that moment I discovered my own humanity, in that moment, I discovered everybody elses.”

“The plan to sideslip the meager forces in the 11th Infantry bridgehead, opposite Dornot, and join them with the 10th Infantry was abandoned when the regimental commander reported that “the men are all shot.” Since the 10th Infantry now had a foothold on the east bank of the Moselle, General Irwin ordered the evacuation of the Dornot bridgehead.”

Just a little walk in the park

Just a little walk in the park

The report of the loss of all men resounded across the battlefield with no correction ever made. Jack Kirby had his baptism by fire, and in the fog of war, thought dead.

The official report would state that this episode was:

“….colored by countless deeds of personal heroism and distinguished by devotion to duty. Thirty-six separate assault attempts had been hurled against the men in the horseshoe without breaking the thin American line. Indeed, on the morning of 10 September, the Americans had the superb effrontery to send a demand that the Germans surrender, The War Diary of the 37th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment noting that the Americans promised such a concentration of fire as their enemies had never seen before if they did not capitulate forthwith. The determined infantry and their supporting artillery killed an estimated six hundred Germans in this bitter fight, and the toll of enemy wounded was probably very high. Detachments of at least four enemy battalions, reinforced by tanks and assault guns, were thrown against the bridgehead in the three-day battle, making their attacks with a ferocity and determination that astounded the Americans.”

The remnants of the four companies made their way back across the Moselle River and rejoined the main line. Their casualties were so high that they combined together and became one new company. The intelligence was mass confusion. Kirby learned the lesson of the “fog of war”. He said; “Suddenly, there was my colonel and with my colonel was General Patton, and Patton looked at us and looked at a map. He says, “You guys are supposed to be dead, Why aren’t you dead? He was dismayed. Something on his map was wrong, because we were supposed to be dead. The Germans were supposed to have overrun us, and they had. We just didn’t like the idea.” “But like I said, I couldn’t hear most of what he was saying, except when he raised his voice and all the other officers stepped back like he was going to slap them. Of course, that wouldn’t happen in an American army, not in public at least where all the GIs could see. So, this went on for—I don’t remember, I was too frozen to care, but it went on for quite a while. I heard that Patton ordered replacements. He thought my outfit had been wiped out. So some foul-up I guess, signals crossed, messages mixed up; it happened quite a lot during the war.

The plans for Dornot—nothing went right

Shortly after Dornot, Kirby’s troop is sent to help out in taking an old fort southwest of Metz, no more than a kilometer from Dornot. Fort Driant—sometimes called Triumph– is another part of the old Siegfried line of medieval fortifications protecting Metz; made of reinforced concrete complete with a moat, underground bunkers and barbed wire. It sat on a hill and rained down withering cover fire on the troops below. Patton decided they had to take Ft. Driant and a direct assault was the best way. Kirby said that after a few days of stalemated fire, the Germany General came out to talk to the Allied General. The German commandant, dressed in all his finery told the general that the Allies should give up because the Germans don’t want to fight them anymore. When asked why, the German said that his men were ashamed of fighting such ill equipped, foul smelling and uncouth soldiers “they look like bums” “Look at them, they are all dirty, they don’t wear helmets, their hair is all over their faces….they are an insult to my outfit.” The Germans were a determined fighting outfit, and after too many losses, for the only time during WW2, Gen. Patton changed his mind and retreated from Ft. Driant. Driant was never defeated; when Metz was taken they voluntarily gave up. One soldier wrote about the weather and horrors of war. “A drizzling rain fell. Through the haze, artillery, rifles and machine guns worked without rest. The men crouched in trenches, in curious, strangely intimate warfare, often within the sound of the enemy’s voice. In the nearby town of Dornot, American and German dead lay sprawled together in too hot a corner for immediate recovery. Occasionally, when the rain lifted, Thunderbolt fighters whipped in to dive-bomb and strafe strong points. “

Driant was a failure for several reasons; The weather didn’t permit aerial coverage. The men were not trained for this type of direct assault on a fixed position; they did not have the proper equipment and Patton’s intelligence let him down. He was told the fort was manned by a small poorly trained and tired staff while in reality, the defense had been taken up by a group of well trained, arrogant, and resourceful units from a nearby officer candidate school full of fanatical Nazis. They were bright, shiny, and well entrenched at the strongest of the Metz’ forts; they weren’t trained to lose.

After the battle, the combined count of E and F was less than a hundred men. When asked by high command, the Captain told them; ”The situation is critical. A couple more barrages and another counterattack and we are sunk. We have no men, our equipment is shot and we just can’t go on. The troops in G are done, they are just here, what is left of them…The enemy artillery, especially the 88’s are butchering these troops until we have nothing left to hold with. We cannot get out our wounded…” The soldiers didn’t care if it was a win or loss; they just wanted the hell out of that meat grinder. It was a small bit of land that they could easily go around. The enemy wasn’t going anywhere; they were surrounded and cut off from supplies. Let the Jerries camped in that big mound of dirt sit and play with themselves, they had other targets to hit.

The undefeatable Ft. Driant—high on a hill

The undefeatable Ft. Driant—high on a hill

For the next two months it continued in this pattern. Constant attacks by the Allies, only to be repulsed- two steps forward, one back. “War is a sequence of events; you’ve probably heard that there were these long periods where there was nothing to do but to sit and wait. Then you walked a lot, and then there were those times that you knew that any second it was curtains. I had a few of those moments. Most of the time was when they were shooting 88s at us; the German 88 was an anti-armor gun, but it was also a very effective anti-personnel weapon and they used it quite a lot on us. You could shoot hundreds of 88 rounds in a minute; a battery of 88s would churn the ground around you and pulverize bricks in an instant. The 88 was a fairly big shell, not like long-range artillery, but big enough that if you came into contact with one of these things you’d never see tomorrow. Once we came up against some of these things; they were all coming in and stepping up and shooting, pumping lead. I was lying there just shooting away with my rifle—that’s all I had. My whole division was pinned down. Eventually our artillery cleared them out, but not until a bunch of us were killed. It was a holy mess. You could hear the shells fly past your head like a high-speed mosquito. That was when you knew you had a close call. But not just the sound, you could feel the pressure. I experienced that more than once.”

The mighty German 88 could be mounted on rails, on trucks or stationary

In early 1944, Russia had come across the first provable concentration camp. That was Majdanek. Though empty and the prisoners reassigned, the carnage visible was catastrophic. As Patton’s army crossed Western France, it became obvious that the Nazi’s had peppered France with a large system of concentration, and work camps, Some were large, like Fort de Queuleu, while the area around Metz and Nancy contained many smaller individual camps as well as sub camps of larger compounds like Orhdruf. The soldiers often came upon these out of the blue with the last of the guards running away and looking for shelter. Most of the prisoners—at least the healthier ones had been reassigned to Germany or Poland with the advancement of the US Army. Yet some were found full and horrible, containing some of the worst of the human hunger dogs commanded by the Nazis.

Captain Alois Liethen, an intelligence officer was one of the first American soldiers to see the camp, wrote the following to his family in a letter dated April 13, 1945: He toured with Gen. Eisehower noting the atrocities as they were found. Eisenhower promised full reporting so that no one could ever deny or sugar-coat what was found. With them traveled a group sarcastically called “The Ritchie Boys” a group of Jewish refugees who became translators and interrogators of the found Nazis.

The quarters which they had were about as bad as I have ever seen. In a building about 100 x 30 there were from 200 to 250 men and their bunks were less than two by two by six — just like pigeon holes along the whole wall. I didn’t even go into these buildings because of the fact that there were definite signs of infestations of typhus bearing lice as well as many other communicable diseases. Bathing facilities were just non-existent, but that is not the worst of it — when a man was killed or died of beatings he was simply stripped of his clothes and these were reissued immediately to some other living cadaver. Shoes were out of the question and all of the footwear was a wooden sandal — not even so much as a whole wooden shoe.

As long as I am writing a horror tale I might as well describe some of the people who were in charge of this camp. The commandant (a man whose name I knew back in the states and who I am looking for now more than ever was an SS Hauptsturmführer BRAULING, and his right hand man was another SS man by the name of STIBITZ. Their favorite pasttime together with one or two other camp officials was to go out to the burning pit with a bottle of whisky each where they would sit and watch the burning of the weeks accumulation of dead bodies while they joked and drank their whiskey. Personally, the stench of the pit was enough to drive me nuts and a bottle of whiskey might have been a good thing for me while I was there. I have smelled a lot of foul odors — like out at the rendering works and other places — but this one was the worst. Evidently they were in such a hurry that they didn’t get enough tar and wood on the last pyre for there were about fifty half burned cadavers lying there in chars.

As I have stated this is not the first one I have seen — I saw another which was a more or less refined version of a concentration camp — this one was in the vicinity of Metz. Here, that is in the one near Metz, were kept the pure political prisoners and they had better conditions and the crematory was a fancy thing, not unlike a bake oven which they showed in a series of pictures in LIFE some time ago. At this one I was mildly surprised and I don’t think that I even mentioned having seen it — this latter one tho is really getting into the real thing. And, when one considers that this place was just a branch unit of a bigger one, well, then you can well imagine what the larger ones are like.

The vision of these horror pits was nothing ever to joke about. The effect was chilling. Jack Kirby would occasionally mention just such a camp, yet for this anecdote alone he never laughed or embellished to make it more palatable. He told it straight and sadly. He never placed a specific name to this tale.

Captain Liethen and Gen. Eisenhower inspect camps note gallows

Captain Liethen and Gen. Eisenhower inspect camps note gallows

While on patrol one day an older man with a gray wispy beard approached him. The man looked inquisitively at Jack and slowly said. “Are you Jewish?’

“Yeah, I’m Jewish.” Jack queried back, unsure of who was asking.

“Come with me” beckoned the old man

Not sure who he was following Jack moved forward slowly. They approached a small enclosed wooden tower.

“There….there” the man pointed anxiously with shaky fingers.

Jack stared at the encampment. He saw German guards fleeing at top speed, yet not too fast to forget to scream epithets at the G.I. After the Germans had cleared the area, Jack and his men approached. He opened the stockade hoping to find a few recent prisoners. What he saw astonished him. Hundreds of old, starving, pitiful prisoners came forward hoping to get relief. These were the sicker, more elderly workers not up to being reassigned to other camps, so they were left to fend for themselves. These were the absolute dregs, starving, tattered, and sickly.

Jack just stared at this horror, his mind numbed by the sight, he just muttered. “Oh God! Oh God! Over and over.

How did people let this happen?

How did people let this happen?

The camp near Metz, which Captain Liethen referred to in his letter, was Natzweiler–Struthof in Alsace, which was discovered by American soldiers in September 1944 after it had been abandoned. This was a small sub-camp of the infamous Struthof Gulag. Metz, with its heavy medieval fortifications, its central railroad and many factories had many such camps to put the people to work. As the Allies neared prisoners were sent across the border to even worse camps in Germany and Poland. At the Fort de Queuleu camp just west of Metz, they uncovered a mass grave with over 20,000 corpses—perhaps the worst case in France. Jack would occasionally draw a concentration camp in his war books, yet he would never gloss them over or spoof them up for laughs.

There was to be a slight lull in the fight for Metz in Oct. as both sides sought to secure their position and prepare for the major assault on the city. Yet this period was a busy one for the 11th. They would march through the farms and small towns looking for German patrols. They had constant unplanned close range skirmishes when opposing patrols crossed paths. The enemy was close enough to shriek epithets at. There was the constant cat and mouse games with enemy snipers, and well hidden booby-traps. “Most Americans have an image of war—especially that war—that it was a carefully planned event; groups of men—groups of professional fighting men—going up against other professional soldiers, moving in columns, aiming their rifles, all under the orders of their commanding officers. Well, let me say that guys are guys no matter what the circumstances may be and different rules apply. We called each other names all the time; we were cursing each other in English, German, French, Hebrew; I had quite a large vocabulary by the time I got back—I could cuss somebody out in four different languages. Sometimes a shot was never fired but we’d still be yelling at each other to ‘go to hell’ or ‘go sh*t on yourself’; but you never said anything about somebody’s mother, not unless you wanted somebody to take a potshot at you.” Jack Kirby occasionally served as a scout, separated from his main group for hours, as he searched for enemy placements, and made maps of the forward area. He would string communication cables. There would be frightful minesweeping duties, clearing paths for trucks and heavy equipment. “I was a Scout in the infantry. If somebody wants to kill you, they make you a Scout. So, I was a Scout. I don’t know who wanted to kill me—maybe somebody that I upset somewhere, I don’t know. You don’t pull that kind of duty just because you’re a nice guy. Nice guys don’t get Scout duty. Maybe I was the new guy, so they said, “Give Scout duty to the new guy.” That’s probably what happened. You don’t pick some guy that you like to be a Scout; you’ll never hear the end of it.”

The anxiety and tedium was broken only by the infrequent letters from back home. Jack told biographer Ray Wyman: “I would go into these towns that nobody had yet, and there would be German patrols there, and I would head the patrol and we would scout around this God-forsaken town, and we would mix it up with the Germans. And there would be hell to pay. And then we would get back to our lines, and they are passing out the mail. I was dazed you know, by this time. It was a kind of post-anger; I hadn’t finished with the situation yet and was still in the throes of the most vicious intentions when I came back to this mail. They were insane but beautiful love letters. They were so beautiful that I couldn’t believe it.” But mostly there was endless marching, followed by standing watch in knee deep mud or sleeping on the cold wet ground. The weather had turned cold, and the rain continued. The only change was the occasional reprieve when the forces were rotated and rested for a day or two.

U.S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR II – The European Theater of Operations- Lorraine Campaign;

“General Eisenhower, in a visit to the Third Army headquarters on 29 September, had set forth the policy of a continuing rotation of front-line and reserve battalions in order to rest the tired divisions and get them in shape for a future offensive. ….. As troops came into reserve they were billeted in the shell-torn Lorraine towns and villages, given clean clothes, and-if they were lucky-trucked to Nancy, St. Nicholas, and other leave centers for a bath, a movie, or possibly attendance at Marlene Dietrich’s USO show, which, was even more popular than Bing Crosby’s Third Army tour had been in early September. But the men in the line lived under continual rain and in seas of mud.”

Jack recalled: We were stuck in one of those spots where the enemy was just plastering us. They were ripping up the earth with heavy machine gun fire, tearing us up with 88’s. They opened up some kind of an offensive, or they were just plain sore at us. It was the end of the world. Guys were flying through the air, guys hitting the ground. They were ripping everything in sight- trees, bushes, the entire shoreline. We didn’t know what to do, so we lay there, and a guy crawls up to me from out of the rear, and says, “Take five guys and crawl back about two hundred yards and there is a truck waiting- and go see Marlene Dietrich!” I’m looking at this guy like he’s a nut. I figured the war had got him and I should say something nice to him, but I was sore because I was scared. Everything was going up–the whole shoreline was now a ragged chewed up bit of earth. I mean, it was chewed up and more was coming in. This guy says, “Do what I tell you, take five men” I did what I was told, so I picked five men who were just as amazed as I was. I said,” We’re going to see Marlene Dietrich- and these guys thought I was nuts! But this was our big opportunity, they would go nuts too. So they followed me, and we went back, and there was this truck.

Fine looking G.I.

The truck takes us seven miles back to a ruined church. She gets out of a car filled with officers, about 6 guys get out, and then Marlene. They must have been sitting on her. We’re sitting there and I’m falling asleep because I’m overtired, and Marlene Dietrich comes out. She’s dressed in a knitted wool cap and long G.I. underwear. That’s all she’s got on, and she’s playing this friggin’ saw and singing “See What the Boy’s in the Back Room Will Have” It made the war very human for me. When I woke up, she was gone.”

Late Oct. would see the fighting intensify as the Allies prepared for the assault on Metz. In early Nov. the rain got worse, and the Moselle River began to flood, the terrain was almost impassable and the saturated clay soil sucked in boots and shoes till there was no way to keep dry and warm. A dam, holding back the rain water had been breached and extra water flooded out entrenchments for both sides. The 11th Infantry was still recovering from its early battles when they lost much needed clothes and shoes. Foot problems were taking as many men as the enemy. From the official record of the Lorraine offensive:

“Some winter equipment came forward during October: blankets, overcoats, new-type sleeping bags, stoves, and other necessities. Most of the combat troops had three blankets and an overcoat. But in extremely wet or cold weather this issue would be insufficient to protect the soldier properly, especially in view of an acute shortage of waterproof ground sheets and raincoats. Rubber overshoes, a critical item as the Lorraine plains turned to mire in the constant fall downpour, were so scarce that they could be issued only on the basis of one pair for every four enlisted men. Shelter halves, woolen clothing, and socks also were lacking in sufficient quantity.”

Wellington boots or rubber field boots had been created late in World War 1 to help fight frostbite common in the trenches of that war. When WW2 started the factory was revived in order to produce boots for the British military. With the additional feet of the Americans, the factory could not keep up with demand. The weather was taking its tool.

The major offensive began on Nov. 8, rain continued unceasingly. The walking troops were ordered to remove their rubber overshoes, as they made maneuvering difficult. On the night of the 10th, a cold front hit, and a light snow began to fall.

Slim and trim and looking for Huns – soldiers trying to avoid trenchfoot

“France is a terrible place during the winter. One day, I took my leg out of the mud and it was deep purple. This was before we had combat shoes. We had plain shoes; I had a battle with my own shoes. I had to break my shoe off, and before I could break the other shoe off I was out like a light! Unconscious, it happened to a lot of men in the field- you just keel over. On Nov. 14 the 11th joined up with the 10th Infantry in a push against a new German line of defense southwest of Metz. Jack Kirby wouldn’t be with them. The day before Jack had collapsed, probably while stringing some barb wire and been sent to a field hospital with a severe case of trench foot. Immersion foot, as it is now called, is caused when the feet become wet and cold while wearing tight footwear. The affected feet become numb and turn bluish. Advanced trench foot can blister and cause open wounds, which can become infected and turn gangrene. The infection period was commonly called “jungle rot” as it could eat large portions of the foot or toes. Jack’s condition was such that he was rushed to a hospital in Paris for immediate care where the doctors at first considered amputation. Trenchfoot was the plague of World War 1, but the medical profession had learned if trench foot was treated properly, complete recovery was normal, though it is marked by severe short-term pain when feeling returns. One soldier said that it became almost impossible to tolerate the pain. Luckily, Jack’s circulation began to improve. Soon he was transferred to a hospital in England. Full recuperation would take a long time, Jack prepared for coming home. Jack recalled; Don’t think I just got nippity-ippity frozen—they were frozen. It took them a year to even get back some of the original color.” I was in the hospital for several months for my legs and I was in the hospital for a little over a year waiting for my feet to recover. They were considering amputation; my toes were black, but I eventually recovered.”

Soldier with severe trenchfoot

Roz was frantic. The frequent V-mails from Jack had stopped. Then one day she got a telephone call from England. She was informed that Jack was in a hospital. When informed that his injuries were to his feet, she sobbed with relief and thought; “Thank God he’s OK!” Then self mockingly; “Thank God it’s his feet, not his hands.” Soon the letters began coming on a regular basis.

In a letter dated Nov, 22, 1944, Jack jokingly told Roz of his arrival in England. “Surprise! Am in merrie ole H’england again with my gazoola still resting ‘neath comfortable sheets and my brogans [feet] stuck daringly out in the ozone to defrost in gradual stages. Nice enough place – chow is good and attendance pleasantly given. Have certainly made the rounds since I last wrote you and am still uncertain as to the extent of this amazing situation… However, with the exception of a dull numbness in the tootsies and a rheumy drawing in the joints am still intact and functioning. Love you more’n ever. Hope you’re not worrying, Please don’t, honey. Jackson.

In another, dated Nov.25, 1944, Jack remarked about the lovely women who surrounded him at the hospital. “Dear Long Limbed and Lovely, “My brogans may be frozen, but my glands are steaming to a rapid high in Fahrenheit. Have reams of gorgeous Petty and Varga girls plus numerous other streamlined sirens preening themselves enticingly in the mags about me. Being a very virile type of individual, I’m afraid this contact with these captivating hussies is gonna be one to beware of biologically”. It was signed affectionately with his nickname, Jackson. It appears that that “virile” individual succumbed to that temptation and, true to his stated fears it was a blow to his biology. Like so many other soldiers, Jack had to take a series of four penicillin shots for being so social. Jack was a man, not a saint.

One memory not so easily bypassed, would tie Jack to England forever. It seems the British populace tried to pay back those wounded in battle. He explained how he came upon a 2000 year old Roman coin that he passed on to Neal. “Back in 1944, he explained, he had been pulled from combat with a dangerous case of frozen feet and frostbite and then sent to a hospital in Britain. English farmers would plow ancient coins up by the dozen and while they kept the gold ones they gave the lumpy lead coins to “the boys in the ward” as souvenirs of Europe.”

In Jan. 1945, Jack boarded a hospital ship ultimately headed for Camp Butner, home of one of the larger military convalescent hospitals. “I caught a cold in England and they wouldn’t let me go aboard; so I missed the Queen Mary and they put me on this goddamn tug, a hospital tug that went like this, back and forth all the way across the ocean. I heard that they gave us the best meals in the world, but I couldn’t eat them. I almost starved myself to death because I was so seasick”. At Butner he would undergo therapy and fill up his days doing maintenance at the motor pool, and complaining to the doctors about imaginary ailments. The doctors added Psychoneurosis and anxiety (inc. hypochondrias) to his medical diagnosis

In March, Roz traveled down to North Carolina for a much needed visit. She found her once burly husband slimmed down to a meager 130 lbs. “He was so thin!” she would proclaim. It seemed that seeing Roz again did wonders for him. Jack had been put on restriction for some rinky dink reason and couldn’t get a weekend pass. So Jack came up with a clever ruse. He flashed his medical card (which was the same color as a pass) to an uncaring guard and as Jack would explain. “I took it out like this, see? I held it so the guard couldn’t see the front. And there are all these guys, they’re going out to see their wives and girlfriends, too. It was a parade! So the guards, they weren’t taking the time to look at everything so carefully. I just walked out with the rest of them.” He met up with Roz at her hotel room and as Jack would say: “We didn’t even close the door.” Author’s note: Susan was born nine months later!

On Kirby’s military records, it would show Kirby with an AWOL violation, but since it was so close to his release, nothing ever came of it. “What were they going to do?” Jack would ask incredulously.

The war in Europe was finally over, and on July 20, 1945 Kirby was honorably discharged and sent home. Given a combat infantry badge, a European ribbon and a bronze star, he returned home a conquering hero. For the rest of his life Kirby would revel in relating his war exploits. Real or exaggerated it made no difference; the war had left an impact on Kirby’s psyche that would never leave. He had witnessed the butchery that men can do, and seen the bravery and shared the camaraderie with men of all faiths, and backgrounds. His stories were always representative of the humanity he found amongst the horror. “There is nothing that you would call “romantic” about war. “Sure, in the movies and on television they paint a great picture of the fellowship that it creates. I’ve seen war bring lots of people together, but I can tell you that the cost is extremely high: Not just in terms of lives, but in the human spirit.” “I think that we are diminished by war; our character as a race is somehow reduced by each war that we allow to happen.” He further stated; “Well, I can’t remember what happened yesterday; I could not tell you what I ate for breakfast this morning, but I recall the faces of everybody that was in my unit. I recall their names, I recall where they came from, I recall the manner of their speech and even the common everyday things they did; unimportant things that make the whole event real. That is how the mind works: It retains the significant events of our lives by memorializing the important moments. It happens when we are faced with events that are pleasurable and those that are unpleasant, especially when we are faced with danger—at times when our lives are hanging by a thread. It was like that nearly every day of the war. The threat was never far from our thoughts, I can tell you.” Jack did his duty, but the nightmares lasted a lifetime.

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Looking For The Awesome – 7. The Well Diggers Legacy

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

THE WELL DIGGERS LEGACY

There’s no record exactly when Jack left the Boys Brotherhood Republic. From published illustrations we know that he was involved in 1937, and stayed in contact into 1938, when he attended a testimonial dinner in Harry Slonaker’s honor. Yet the experiences and the teachings of the BBR never left him. It is no surprise that when Jack Kirby finally had the freedom to create his own books that he would use the slums, the BBR and Harry Slonaker as his inspiration.

With the formation of the legal partnership with Joe Simon, Jack was no longer an artist assigned by the editor to a strip; he was now a full participant in the creative process. With the creation of The Newsboy Legion, Jack had found a place to tell his stories. This was Jack’s book, it didn’t matter if it said Simon and Kirby on the splash page, and there was no doubting who the captain of this series was. This was Kirby’s chance to pay homage to the man and group that had guided him to manhood, and responsibility. This was Jack’s way of paying the debt forward, and continuing the legacy of Harry Slonaker.

The Newsboy Legion was a group of slum dwelling orphans rescued from a stretch in Juvenile Detention by a do-gooder cop. The origin is a direct swipe of the romanticized version of the founding of the BBR, with kind hearted copper Jim Harper substituting for Harry Slonaker. When Harper sees the judge about to sentence the boys for some petty crimes, he steps forward and begs the court to turn them over into his care. The judge relents and makes Jim Harper their guardian. Back on the street, the boys get into some serious trouble, and this time the young policeman is forced to change out of his police uniform and don a colorful costume in order to save the boys from a mobster. Thus the guardian becomes The Guardian- the new scourge of criminals and protector of the innocent of Suicide Slum. Jack Kirby would note: “We thought we could take on the world, as kids always do. Nothing is impossible. The Newsboy Legion came from that period of my life. Of course we never had a Guardian, but Harry Slonaker came close.”

 

While Harry Slonaker didn’t really save the founding members from a cruel stay in JD, the success of the BBR would lead some judges to turn over young charges into its care. The records show that in one instance a boy was even turned over to the BBR in lieu of going to the penitentiary.

The members of the Newsboy Legion were all facets of Kirby’s adolescent fantasy self, and one was the spitting image of the young turtle neck wearing Jacob Kurtzberg. Scrapper was always the one getting into trouble, leading with his fists instead of his brains. The group also included the handsome leading man/boy archetype named Tommy, the ever loquacious Big Words, and a curly haired terror with a big mouth named Gabby. . “The kid gang comics were a natural part of my life, and it was something I knew very well,” Kirby explained. “What I did was take the kids from my environment and put them into strips. There was always one tough kid in every strip, and that kid would be modeled on myself.”

In one early story, the evil of back store gambling was the starting point for a spirited tale of mob control over gambling, and the Newsboys and the Guardian’s determination to break it. In 1934, the BBR Reporter ran a report of an investigation by a BBR committee on gambling-especially the penny slots found in the back rooms of candy stores. The head of the investigation was Kirby’s best friend Georgie Comet.

SSC30

The slum boys take on da rackets

“Two weeks of watching, and playing in these stores, resulted in a mass of information that astounded the citizens, It was found that families who receive emergency relief from the city have their money spent by sons who hang out at these game rooms all day. The proprietors encourage truancy from school, because they do not

The boys printed their own paper and ran the city for a day

object when boys come in during the day to stay away from school. It is in these game rooms that 16 and 17 year old boys make the contacts that take them into backyards to shoot craps, and up tenement fire escapes to rob and steal…… No official notice has been given to this evil, and it is up to the BBR to do something.”

When the BBR’s new City Hall was dedicated on Jan. 19, 1934 Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia officiated. George Comet gave an update of their investigation to the Mayor and Judge Samuel Seabury. Comet ended by promising the Mayor “My men and I are hoping to get the goods on these penny game rooms soon.” A NY Times reporter wrote of the broad smile that crossed Judge Seabury’s face when Georgie made this promise.

A copy of the BBR’s investigation was sent to the Mayor’s office and the New York City police. The new Police Commissioner was then given thirty days to rid the city of all slot machines. After one trial Mayor LaGuardia made this pronouncement: “I want to serve notice now on the owners, operators. racketeers, criminal, the riff-raff and the pimps who own them. (penny slots) They will find no comfort now. The imposition on the people is clearly described by the penal law. The player hasn’t even a gambler’s chance. It is plain, mechanical larceny.”

 

They learned responsibility – Sci-fi was never far

Lived their civic duties

Taking the cue from other BBR experiences, Kirby’s Newsies would start up their own newspaper, very similar to the BBR’s Reporter, and there was Scrapper/Kirby as staff photographer. In another tale, they even get to run the city for a day, just as members of the BBR did when invited by New York Gov. Lehman to Albany. There were the brushes with the uptown swells, and it was common for celebrities and sports figures to stop by and kibitz with the BBR kids, and in one Newsboy Legion story the Newsies were feted by a galaxy of Hollywood’s finest.

Every issue would have plot elements and characters ripped from Kirby’s child hood memories and his time at the BBR. The villains were big time mobsters, slum lords, street gangs, and crooked politicians; the human rats of Jacob Kurtzberg’s past, as well as a new threat that had wormed its way into the American fabric, Nazi bundists and fifth columnists. And when things got tough, the mysterious Guardian was always there to help bail the Newsboys out. The stories are fun action filled super-hero fantasy tales, but rooted in the real life experiences of Jacob Kurtzberg and his life in NY’s Lower East Side, and his time with the BBR.

The story doesn’t end there.

In 1940, Harry Slonaker took his beloved wife Besse back to Chicago. In 1942, while waiting to be drafted, the Slonaker’s moved to California so that Besse could stay with her brothers. While out West, the Overage Exemption law was passed, and the 38 year old Slonaker learned he would not be drafted, but Harry had fallen in love with the San Jose area, so he and Besse chose to remain in California.

Harry was restless, the time away from his kids gnawed at him, so in 1944, while working for a wholesale cosmetics firm, Harry spotted a group of youngsters playing in the rock strewn, litter filled area of San Jose, known as Backestro Park. He noticed the lack of supervision and poor quality of the facilities. His response was to recruit a new group of boys and form the Boys City Boy’s Club. Just as in New York, the group patterned themselves on republican styled government, elected their own officials, and policed themselves.

From 1944, till 1971, the man known to thousands of boys as Uncle Harry directed the Boys City Boys Club of Santa Clara County. From a rent free vacant neighborhood grocery, the BCBC moving pillar to post would eventually outgrow 8 temporary homes, until in 1951, Harry cajoled, pleaded, and otherwise convinced a consortium of architects, building supply companies, labor unions, public officials, and other concerned citizens, to pitch in and build a permanent site on land leased from the city of San Jose for one dollar a year.

Jack stayed in touch with his Guardian, and when asked Jack provided some cartoons for a San Jose newspaper article on the Boys City Boys Club.

In 1947, the New York chapter of the BBR established the Harry Slonaker Association in honor of this man.

In 1964, Santa Clara County in California named a new Elementary School after him.

Despite such accolades, Uncle Harry remained a humble and gracious gentleman. In announcing his retirement he likened himself not to the Captain of the ship, but more as a “kind of navigator and harbor pilot serving with many a Captain and crew’ whose role was to offer guidance to help the ship maintain “its proper, direct, and even course”.

In 1969, Jack Kirby would move to California, and finally settle in the Thousand Oaks area, several hours south from San Jose. In 1970, now with DC, and given the freedom to again produce his own stories, Jack Kirby would revive the Newsboy Legion and a new generation would thrill at their exploits, and the Guardian was still there to watch over them. In his magnum opus, the Fourth Word tetrology, Kirby introduced a new character, one who would be a bridge between the young Scott Free’s savage life on the slum-world Apokolypse, and his dream of a world of self-fulfillment and civility. Himon was to become one of Kirby’s more symbolic, intriguing, and iconic characters.

Jack may have moved to California, but his presence is still felt back at the BBR. Peter Boyle, recreation director remembers: “Kids don’t have an awful lot of role models,” “You can talk about Jimmy Cagney, but that was 50 years ago. But Jack is still a role model for these kids because, well, it’s comic books. It’s great that this guy who was here so long ago is still giving kids hope. Many of these kids really feel that they’re going to end up on the street with no future, but when they see that Jack Kirby, the father of Marvel, went to the BBR, it gives them a little more hope. That’s why we keep his picture up downstairs.”

Harry Slonaker died on Jan. 6th, 1989. Jack Kirby attended the funeral. The obituary in the San Jose Mercury News stated that; “He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Besse Slonaker, of San Jose. They had no children.”

Never was an obituary more wrong. Harry Slonaker had thousands of children, and they would grow to be writers, professional athletes, policemen, actors, and even Presidential advisors. One would die heroically, spitting in the face of terrorism, and one would become the greatest storyteller of his generation.

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Jack Kirby’s Steppenwolf – 1st Appearance

Below are adjusted scans of photocopies taken in the Kirby home of Jack Kirby’s pencil script and art containing the first appearance of Darkseid’s uncle, Steppenwolf. There he is in the first, upper left panel of page 2 of “The Pact!”, Kirby’s epic Fourth World/New Gods backstory published in New Gods #7. Steppenwolf attacks Izaya (a.k.a. High Father) and Avia in a moment of peace on New Genesis. Trouble ensues.

NewGods_07_p01_a1_800h

NewGods_07_p02_pp_a

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Note that Kirby originally numbered the fifth page in the sequence “7”

Looking For The Awesome – 6. Love, Betrayal, And The Rumors Of War

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

LOVE, BETRAYAL, AND THE RUMORS OF WAR

Jack was drawing 40 or more pages a month on Captain America and another 6-7 on the Vision, plus the occasional spot illustration for the pulp magazines. His life settled into a routine – a busy routine – but at least one that allowed him some time with the family, and with Roz. Jack and Roz would double date with Joe and his various girlfriends. Jack would occasionally bowl with his colleagues, and even once tried horseback riding; much to the hilarity of Roz when he couldn’t get the horse to move. Jack had even less luck with a bicycle. Jack had never ridden a bike while growing up, and Roz was determined to teach him. Roz recalled “So the first time he went on a bike he hit the back of a truck and he went flying into the horse drawn wagon.”

Captain America’s success emboldened Martin Goodman into another round of expansion. If one title with Captain America sold well, could another be far behind? With the publication of All Winners Comics, Goodman collected all his best sellers into one title. Headlined by Captain America, it also had tales of the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and the Angel. Simon and Kirby would provide the art for Cap’s stories in the first two issues.

From the very first issue of Captain America, there was an effort to get the kid readers directly involved. With the formation of the Sentinels of Liberty, S&K asked the kids to join in the fight to stop Nazi terrorism– and it would only cost a dime! As the series progressed, a small group of Sentinels would show up to help Cap and Bucky in their exploits. It was a quick step for a small band of teenaged Nazi fighters to get their own book. The Young Allies would introduce Tubby, Knuckles, Jeff and Whitewash Jones (an African American) as Sentinel of Liberty members joining Timely’s two teenage super heroes, Bucky and Toro (The Human Torch’s buddy) in deadly battle against saboteurs. The first issue even guest starred the Red Skull.

The idea of kid gangs – even integrated ones – was not a new concept. Kid groups were the stock in trade of the juvenile series books that both Joe and Jack grew up reading. Titles like Boy Spies, The Rover Boys, Motor Boys, and Boy Allies were staples for the kids during the pre-comic era. In the movies the Dead End Kids, and Our Gang were both very popular long running series. The Dead End Kids even had their own comic strip in The Shadow comic books for a short period. Yet the idea of unsupervised civilian kids forming their own group and fighting saboteurs was unique for comic books, and fed into the fevered patriotism of the time. Jack recalls; “Well the kid gangs had been around and, of course, I’ve had the experience in my own childhood. I’m quite familiar with them, and I draw what humor I can from them. I feel that kids have always bunched together and had a good time. It’s a form of group activity and the color of the gang depends on the kind of atmosphere around them.”

Giving the super hero kid sidekicks their own book and exploits separate from their adult supervision was also a nice touch. Jack would provide the cover, and some splash pages for the first issue, and Charles Nicholas, a Fox veteran who had joined the Timely staff penciled the rest. Gil Kane said that Charles Nicholas had an agreement with Joe Simon that he would go wherever Simon and Kirby went; mostly as an inker.

Sometime in the spring, Joe got a phone call from Al Harvey. Al had left Fox Publications and joined an ad agency, but his heart was still in the funny books. He had come up with an idea where by folding a regular sized comic in two, making the books smaller, the page count could be larger, and the reader would feel like he was getting more for his or her dime–yet the cost to the publisher would be less. Al was looking for a partner to go in with him. Joe thought the idea novel, but he had a good thing going with Timely and begged out of the deal. He did offer to help out by providing a cover for the presentation. Al took his idea and sold it to a national distributor, who bankrolled him in his new venture named Harvey Publications. Joe then provided a few covers for the digest sized books. Unfortunately the digest sized books proved more a temptation to theft than a sales strategy, and were quickly abandoned.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly, Captain America was selling, the artwork continued to improve. Simon and Kirby became a recognized brand name. The new books were a success, and Timely had become a major player in the comic biz, yet Joe had a gnawing feeling that he and Jack weren’t being rewarded to the level called for in the personal agreement. Then, according to Joe Simon, he ran into Morris Coyne, one of Goodman’s accountants, and oddly enough, a part owner of MLJ Publications, the company that would become Archie Publications. Coyne, for some inexplicable reason, told Joe that Martin Goodman was stiffing them on the royalty payments for Captain America. “They’re piling salaries and overhead for most of the operation on Captain America. You’re getting the short end, but I doubt if there’s anything you can do about it.” It has been speculated that Coyne said this to try to get Simon and Kirby to jump Timely and come over to MLJ- something that MLJ had coveted for a while. Earlier, during a dispute over the CA villain named the Hangman, John Goldwater, the head of MLJ came right out and openly courted the boys in front of Goodman. Whether it’s true or not, no one knows. They did supply one cover to MLJ.

What we do know is that Joe Simon was relentlessly ambitious. He never stopped wanting to get the best deal he could for himself, and now, his new partner. If the team of Simon and Kirby were coveted by MLJ, then maybe it was possible that DC was also interested. DC was the pinnacle of comic art success. They were the New York Yankees of the comic book business, and the nirvana for all would be comic professionals. Whether Timely reneged on their deal or not, it was inevitable with Joe’s drive that contact with DC eventually would be initiated. Joe Simon called Jack Liebowitz, the operating manager at DC and was pleasantly surprised that in fact, DC was aware of Simon and Kirby and they were intrigued with the idea of S&K joining their stable. A meeting was set up.

A couple of stories up, and a world removed from Fox Publications, Joe and Jack were shown into the spacious office of Jack Liebowitz. Treated with a respect and warmth unimaginable from Victor Fox or Martin Goodman, the boys felt appreciated, and wanted. Harry Donenfeld stopped by and after the proper introductions, welcomed the pair into the DC family. The business negotiations went smoothly, and ended with Liebowitz promising to have his lawyers draw up the proposed contract. Jack Kirby was ecstatic! Even though the Cap and the Blue Bolt stories were signed Simon and Kirby, there really wasn’t a partnership. As editor, Joe was always Jack’s boss, and Kirby just an artist assigned by Joe to certain strips. With the new contract at DC, that would change. Simon and Kirby was now a legitimate 50/50 partnership with both rewarded equally.

The DC brass Harry and Irwin Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz in the middle

The DC brass Harry and Irwin Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz in the middle

Things began slowly at DC. The editors and Joe and Jack would throw ideas out and most were thrown back. Concepts like a super powered Sherlock Holmes were shot down for fear of legal problems. The editors sent them scripts for current back up strips, which were refused or rejected.

Not sure why they were worried, all comics were selling. No matter how silly the premise, if the lead character wore a multi-colored union suit, the title sold. New companies were crawling out of the woodworks, and many old characters were updated into super-heroes. The timing was remarkable, a perfect storm of financial collapse, and foreign disaster combined to create a need for cheap entertainment and for fantasy figures powerful enough to face the daily onslaught of bad news. The now growing military presence was a huge captive audience for every new feature.

Yank Magazine Nov.23, 1945
”At PX’s in the states purchases of these (comic) books run 10X higher than the combined sales of the Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest. What’s more, we’ve got market research’s word for it that 44 percent of all Joes in training camps read the books regularly and another 13 percent take a gander at them now and then.”

A Joe Simon drawing for inker George Roussos Jack did one for George also 1942

The first accepted project was a revision of an earlier DC hero. The Sandman was originally a pulp style hero in the Green Hornet vein. He had donned a skin tight costume, and taken on a kid sidekick several months before Simon and Kirby had arrived, but the stories were as dull as the artwork, and the character was seemingly headed for the scrapheap. When Simon and Kirby took over in Adventure Comics #72, cover dated March 1942; they ramped up the action and added in a thematic aspect centered on dreams. They updated his gadgets and modernized his appeal. Sandman and Sandy became top flight Simon and Kirby action figures and soon took over as the cover character for Adventure Comics. They also became part of the Justice League of America in All-Star Comics.

In the following issue of Adventure Comics, Simon and Kirby would take a little known back-up strip and completely redo the character, concept, and genre. The earliest incarnation of Manhunter was a plainclothes detective assigned to find missing persons, and track down criminals. Jack and Joe’s adaptation was a big game hunter who dons a colorful costume and tracks down the deadliest human quarry and brings them to justice.

The same month that Manhunter appeared on the racks; the first all original Simon and Kirby strip debuted in Star Spangled Comics. Star Spangled Comics was a title that had never featured a breakout character. Neither the Star Spangled Kid, the Tarantula, nor Captain X had caught the buyers fancy. With issue #7 (April 1942) the title became the showcase for S&K’s Newboy Legion, a group of inner city kids about to be sent to juvenile detention for petty crimes. To their rescue comes a policeman who promises to watch over these kids and lead them to the straight and narrow. Unfortunately these tykes couldn’t stay out of trouble and it became necessary for the cop to remove his police uniform and put on a cowled mask, a tight blue costume and a shiny gold helmet and shield to become the Guardian. Part Dead End Kids, and part Boys Brotherhood, the action was furious and joyous. This was Kirby at his most eager. This was Jack smacking down the gang from the next block, the small time hoods, slum lords, and crooked politicos- as well as fifth columnists and Nazi sympathizers. Simon and Kirby were on their way.

SSC7-cover

After the initial problems with the digest sized comic books, Al Harvey had rebounded nicely. Al was the eldest son of Russian Jewish immigrants, originally named Alfred Harvey Wiernikoff. He had met Joe over at Fox. He had quit to work in advertising when providence came by. With his brothers he had been able to buy up some failing comic companies and turn them around and restarted the titles. He dropped the last name, rented an office and began in earnest. He turned to his friend Joe Simon and asked for some covers to spark up some interest for the revitalized books at the news stands. Joe and Jack provided a dozen or so covers for titles such as Green Hornet, Speed Comics, and Champ Comics, sometimes signing them Jon Henri, but usually with no credits. Speed Comics featured a character named Captain Freedom, a typical patriotic character with a red, white and blue costume similar to Captain America. Several of the covers that S&K provided appear to have been unused Captain America covers with a few minor modifications. Jack and Joe could never get Captain Freedom’s costume correct, and none of them ever matched up. I don’t think Jack ever understood that Captain Freedom had bare legs. Why would a super-hero have bare legs? Al would always call on his friends when in need.

Jon Henri or Simon and Kirby help Al Harvey

On Dec 7 the inevitable happened. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered the war. Yamamoto’s secret plan worked to perfection, as wave after wave of Japanese planes bombed, torpedoed and strafed the anchored American fleet.   Jack recounted, “We went to a show at the Roxy and when we came out, people were crowding around on the sidewalk, talking and looking worried.  It turned out the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and we were going to war.  That’s how we heard.  It was a moment I’ll never forget The comic world had to adapt to the new reality.”

DC had always kept a hands off approach where Hitler and the European war were concerned. Where Timely and some other companies had been boldly using Hitler and the Nazis as villainous foils for months, DC was more cautious. Now that was to change. Simon and Kirby were given the go ahead for their next new series– one that would strike deep to the heart of the Axis powers.

The idea started when they asked themselves what would happen if the Newsboy Legion went to war. Not an unusual question since they were also asking the question; what would happen if we have to go to war? The answer became the Boy Commandos. The Boy Commandos were a rag tag group of orphans, thrown together by the horrors of the war. They represented the U.S. (Brooklyn) and Great Britain,(Alfy) France (Pierre Chavard and later Andre ) and Holland (Jan). Trained and led by American Captain Rip Carter, they would work behind the lines paving the way for the advancing Allied armies. With a more realistic and serious tenor than Captain America, this strip portrayed the heroism and sacrifice of the everyday soldier and those who would oppose tyranny. There was craziness, and slapstick, and lots of comic book humor, but there was also death, and loss of innocence. The concept was absurd, the idea of teen aged uniformed soldiers doing commando raids behind enemy lines is ridiculous, but as portrayed by Joe and Jack, it was easy to suspend disbelief. Joe said one inspiration was the juvenile series books The Boy Allies, about a couple kids caught up in World War 1 battles.

Almost as an apology for their earlier timidity, National felt the need to explain the Boy Commandos to an audience not used to pure nationalistic fervor. At the bottom of the first page was an explanation;

“What is this strip doing in Detective Comics, you say? The supercriminals who hold an entire continent in shackles can tell you! From the cauldron of war have risen new agents of justice, striking swiftly…silently! From across the Channel comes a new challenge! The Nazi brute cringes in fear…for the day of liberation is on its way…Nothing can stop it! The Commandos are coming!” Thank god since the other DC heroes kept their distance.

The Boy Commandos first appeared in Detective Comics #64, June 1942, as a back-up strip to Batman and Robin. The cover to Detective #65 would feature the group being welcomed by the dynamic duo. The Batman art was drawn by Jerry Robinson. Jerry explained at a panel discussion; “I remember collaborating with Jack so I was very pleased about that. The only time I think that Jack collaborated with anyone on the creation of a cover, except for Joe Simon.” A few months later, the Boys Commandos would get their own title. With stories also appearing in World’s Finest, the strip was regularly found in three different titles, an honor shown to only a few characters. BC was the perfect title for that captive audience of new military recruits.

Great layouts and colorful covers

Jack Schiff, an editor at DC recalled the team with fondness, despite a later altercation with Jack Kirby. He told noted pop culture journalist Will Murray: “I still regard him (Kirby) as one of the finest artists in the business. Both as a writer and artist, he has enormous talent. Now Joe Simon was a great part of that team. Most people don’t realize it because Jack came to the fore all the time. Joe was in the background. Joe did the business arrangements, Joe did the inking. I personally think that in some ways, Joe had the better story sense.” He added: “Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos, two great features we had for quite some time. And they were very popular. I would say that Jack was more creative, but wilder. Joe was the guy who would pull it all together.”

Simon and Kirby’s art took another giant step forward. Perhaps at a command from DC higher ups, or a personal decision to separate themselves from their Timely style, they stopped the crazy zigzag and “s” shaped borders between the panels. The circular panels continued, and in fact increased, but always as part of a rectangular larger grid. This cleaned up the art, but never diminished the flow of the action. Several strips were now set in the urban milieu, and Kirby’s architectural rendering was magnificent. From the slum shanties to soaring skyscrapers, and great Art Deco palaces, Kirby’s attention to detail astonished. The inking added to the atmospherics with the addition of a geometric approach to the shadows. Instead of realistic shaped shadows, they became bold abstract geometric patterns that focused the attention on the characters and directed the flow of attention from panel to panel. There was a pattern of arcs and circles that would dominate the backgrounds of Kirby’s art for years to come; abstract black snakes that wound their way through the panels, and great circular designs that spotlighted the action. It was masterful and unique; it was the beginning of Simon and Kirby’s rococo period.

The boys were really cooking. In the space of a few months, they were back to producing 40 or more pages a month, and seen in 6 different books. They had matched the success at Timely, and surpassed it. Siegel and Shuster didn’t have 4 concurrent titles, and neither did Bob Kane. Yet it was not all loves and kisses at DC. Several editors, Mort Weisinger chief amongst them would rag on the team: jealous of their independence. Complaints about S&K’s inking style, and rejections of scripts found their way to deaf ears at the DC office of Jack Liebowitz. Simon and Kirby were in a class to themselves. Their names were highlighted on the covers- an honor no other creative team received.

Frank Dorth, an artist who started in the forties and spent a lifetime in comics had this to say;

“My biggest complaint about the New York comic book publishers in the 1940’s was that they were all like a herd of circus elephants. They grabbed the tail of the one in front of them and followed each other around in a circle. They were not interested in quality, only what some accountant told them was selling.”

“I think that there’s a cultural thread underlying the superhero concept,” says Will Eisner, whose The Spirit is still being reprinted, more than 60 years after its creation.

They loved their Holywood Names in the books

They loved their Holywood Names in the books

Jack’s personal life had been idyllic. His family was now comfortable and secure in Brooklyn thanks to his steady $75 paycheck. Roz was helping out working for a lingerie shop producing lacy ladies undergarments. They were saving for their wedding, which they personally bankrolled. Work at DC was proceeding smoothly, with no let up in sight, and Roz was a rock, who doted over him and smoothed out his rough edges. Jack was flush and wanted to show it. He bought a used Lincoln-Zephyr. One of those large 12 cylinder jobbies that looked like the King of Siam would own. Jack had a problem, his mind wasn’t wired for the simple tasks we take for granted. His attention span was amazing when focused on stories or drawing. He could focus like a laser. But the mundane tasks of everyday life could never hold his attention and his mind would wander to the outer reaches of the universe. One day while driving the beast with Rose in the back seat, he took a turn into Central Park. His mind wandered for just an instant when he ran into one of those big granite stanchions with the big round ball on top. The ball broke free and rolled menacingly towards some picnicker. The impact jarred Rose and hurt her back. Jack soon got rid of the beast. Jack became gun-shy towards driving ever after.

On May 23rd, 1942 Jacob Kurtzberg and Roz Goldstein were married. Roz related a chilling tale about the wedding day. “Nearly all our friends were being drafted, and I remember the day that we got married, we were all dressed up. He (Jack) wore a tux and I wore my gown, and we were going to the reception, and people were yelling through the car, calling him a draft dodger because he was getting married.” Jack added: “Yeah, on our way to the ceremony, they were calling me a “slacker”.” The irony must have been palpable; the creator of Captain America, and the Boy Commandos being called a damned “slacker”!

They moved into a spacious apartment in Carlton Place near the beach. Roz recalled: “The apartment was so large that we could have a party and sit 12 people in the foyer. That’s how large it was.” Nights were spent with long walks by the ocean, often working as air raid wardens, making sure that the blackout was followed. “It was a very lonely time, because Roz and I would walk down Broadway, we’d go…anywhere we’d go, we’d walk around Brighton Beach and there were no young people there. It was a ghost town” Jack recalled.

The fear of going into the service, and leaving families with no steady paycheck worried everybody. DC was worried that the loss of Simon and Kirby would leave them with a less than satisfactory product. Jack and Joe instituted a plan, for as long as possible, they would work unceasingly to stockpile as many covers and stories as they could, so when they were in the service, DC would still have S&K stories to print and continue to send paychecks to the families.

It was during this stretch that Jacob and Roz Kurtzberg went to City Hall and filled out forms to officially and forever be known as Jack and Roz Kirby. Momma Kurtzberg wasn’t happy. Jack would bristle when people would claim that he was trying to hide his Jewish background. To Jack it was simply adopting an Anglicized name that was easy to remember, and sounded more American and artistic.

Once again, the boys hunkered down and with some additional inkers and writers began cranking out page after page. They opened a studio in Tudor City, a great Art Deco structure near where The United Nations building now stands. To enter, one had to cross a foot bridge that spanned a moat in front of the entrance. The studio consisted of a large room, bathroom and small kitchen. “We were in the shop at all hours.” Kirby told biographer Ray Wyman; “I don’t recall that we ever slept there, but I’m sure that at one point or another we all wanted to.” Now the Tudor City apt. was no hole in the wall. Tudor City was the brainchild of Fred French, the same developer as Knickerbocker Village. The difference being that KV was built as a low income residence, while Tudor City was upscale and high class. French built this as an enticement for the well to due to move back into the city proper—urban sprawl had begun a decade earlier. Built on the historic area known as Corcoran’s Roost it was French’s idea of utopia. It was the first skyscraper hotel development—consisting of twelve buildings, the largest residential unit in the U.S. Called Tudor City after the design style of medieval Britain, the architecture was actually neo-Gothic. The beautiful lobbys, mini-golf course, and grounds were breathtaking-quite a step up from the Lower East Side—no wonder they spent so much time there. It was originally built as a combination residential, hotel, and retail location all in one. Will Eisner also opened up a shop in Tudor City. Comics were getting swanky. On TV, the building was used as the Jefferson’s residence after they moved on up to their deluxe apartment in the sky. All rooms faced away from the East, due to the slaughterhouses and heavy commerce—this changed when the United Nations bought the land and erected their modern building. The project is listed as an historic district.

Tudor City – the boys were moving on up

One of the artists brought in to assist was Gil Kane, just a young boy of 17 or so. In an interview with Gary Groth, he remembered the time well. “Simon was business-like. He did all the handling, all the talking, he did all the standing. He didn’t write—it was Jack who wrote, Jack would either write a script or get one and adjust it as he saw fit.” “Jack was always sitting and working. Jack would take the scripts and he’d either write them or re-write them. Jack was simply a workhorse who never sweated. It just came to him.” Kane elaborated. “Jack was straightaway, he used to share confidences with me about himself, about his life. Simon wasn’t like that, Simon wasn’t my pal. But Simon was easy-going.” “he (Jack) used to confide, he used to talk intimately with me as a co-worker. I never felt anything except kindness and friendship.” “He was like an accountant: Always chewing on his cigar and always working. When you looked at his taboret, it was just littered with dozens of No. 2 pencil stubs. He would just wear them down; put them aside, until ultimately there was a logjam on top of his board!”

It wasn’t all work, Jack found ways to squeeze in some quality time with his sweetie. Kane talked about times when Roz would visit Jack at the Tudor City studio. “When his wife used to come up, I used to get so uncomfortable with the two of them there that I had to leave. It was familiar, you know? But still it was enough to show that they were warming up. So I would just sigh and go home.”

National service was no longer avoidable, Joe enlisted into the Coast Guard, where he was given a horse and told to patrol the beaches of New Jersey. Meanwhile Jack had been issued a temporary deferment due to his “sole provider” status for 2 families. He knew that it was a short term stay, so after closing down the Tudor City studio, he continued stockpiling inventory from the DC studio. Though short, the time at the DC studio was entertaining. Surrounded by Mort Meskin, Joe Shuster, Jerry Robinson, Jack Lehti and others, Jack’s amazing talents were often the center of attention, and a source of bemused consternation to the other pros.

Jack Schiff told Will Murray of a meeting of the Masters. “We (DC studios) once had a sort of race in the front office. We had a big artist’s room. Jack and Mort Meskin were sitting next to each other and there was some copy we needed pretty quickly from both of them. Each of them turned out five pages of pencils. Beautifully. It was really something. After a while, people began to crowd around watching. And they would both go ahead undisturbed.”

Gil Kane again: “…I was there for six months — first Joe Simon went into the Coast Guard in late spring and during the summer Jack finally gave up the studio and started to work right in the bullpen at DC. He went in mid-summer. I remember Mort Meskin saying that he just hated Jack working up there because Jack would sit down, working on those 13-by-18 page sizes and he would simply draw five to seven pages a day — once I saw him do ten pages in a fucking day — just incredibly beautiful. I mean, he demoralized everybody he worked next to. Meskin… who was a superb artist, and at that time he was really rolling, used to look at that stuff and just eat his heart out because it was so strong.”

Jerry Robinson on Kirby: “Jack was unique. As I recall he was very quiet, very self-contained, very unassuming. When I looked at his work, I thought, “Where does this come from? He looked like an ordinary mortal but he did this fantastic work. It seemed like all his inner fires and energies that you didn’t see on the surface came out on the page. He could take a piece of paper, and make–instead of two dimensions–ten dimensions. Dimensions that didn’t exist, perspectives that you couldn’t imagine; things that were impossible.”

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