Red Raven (August 1940), art by Jack Kirby
Somewhere around February 1940 (calendar dates) Joe Simon left his position as editor for Fox Comics and became Timely’s first comic book editor. It would seem that the first thing Joe did on arriving at Timely was to produce a new title, Red Raven Comics (August 1940, cover date). My understanding is that until a salaried position was arranged for Jack Kirby, he stayed at Fox. Perhaps that is why the title feature of Red Raven was done by another artist, but Jack would do the cover and some backup features (Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 5, Timely and the Red Raven). It was a very imaginative cover showing the Red Raven rescuing a damsel in distress. It looks like a scene from some medieval castle and for good reasons.
Prince Valiant (January 15, 1938), art by Hal Foster
Kirby’s cover was clearly swiped from the popular Prince Valiant syndication strip. This is not new information that I am presenting here as my understanding is that the swipe was reported a number of years ago in Robin Snyder’s newsletter. I have not seen this particular newsletter but Joe Simon discussed it with Carmine Infantino and me around 2000 or 2001 so it should have been prior to that. Joe remarked that originally the Red Raven cover was attributed to Kirby but when it was found to be swiped from Hal Foster some now said it was by Simon. Joe was complaining about the attitude, pretty common at the time, that Jack would never swipe but Joe always did. Hopefully that false concept has been put to rest by the discovery of a number of swipes that Kirby did from various sources, many of them discovered by the diligent efforts of Kirby scholar Tom Morehouse. In the case of the Red Raven cover the drawing style leaves no doubt that Jack was the penciller. By the way when Joe made the remark about the newsletter Carmine asked “But Joe did you swipe”? Joe answered, “Sure, back then everybody did”.
It is interesting that Jack used a newspaper comic from about 2 years prior as material to base the Red Raven cover. Although Prince Valiant was very popular, I do not think it had yet been reprinting as a book. That meant that Kirby had kept at least this particular strip for some time. One normally does not think of Jack Kirby as a fanboy but it appears he was, at least for Hal Foster.
The Demon #1 (September 1972), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Royer
Of course that was all when Jack was very young; surely he wouldn’t do something like later in his career. Would he? Mark Evanier wrote a foreword to DC’s reprint “Jack Kirby’s The Demon”. Mark is such a marvelous writer and Kirby scholar that all of his introductions are great, but this one is particularly special. In it describes Jack creating and outlining the first issue of the title, The Demon, over the course of a family outing to a restaurant. On his return Jack would pull out a reprint volume and declare he would use it to model the new character as a sort of inside joke. You guessed it; it was a reprint of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. Over twenty years later and Jack still was a fanboy!
Prince Valiant (December 25, 1937), art by Hal Foster
Both Prince Valiant images that I used above come from a new reprint volume by Fantagraphics (Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938). This is a gorgeous volume with coloring that is absolutely breath taking. I highly recommend it.