“Trapped on Wax”, art by Joe Simon
Just about everything Simon and Kirby produced was great stuff but I am sure most fans have their favorites. Previously the only superhero work I included among my favorite Simon and Kirby productions was Fighting American. Well that has changed as I now add Vagabond Prince. There are only three Vagabond Prince stories and they were all drawn by Joe Simon. Even Joe admits he is not as good an artist as Jack Kirby, but I like Joe’s art and there are other aspects of the characters he created and the stories he wrote that makes Vagabond Prince so appealing to me.
“Trapped on Wax” page 7 panel 1, art by Joe Simon with touch-up by Jack Kirby
The origin story for the Vagabond Prince, “Trapped on Wax”, has never been published in its entirety. The marking on the artwork shows that the story was initially meant for Boy Explorers #2. However that title was abruptly cancelled (as was its companion title Stuntman) because of the flood of new comic titles that occurred after paper rationing was lifted so that many of the titles never even made it into the actual newsstands racks. Harvey issued a black ink only version of Boy Explorers #2 for subscribers but that was not only much reduced in size but also in the amount of content. Not only did Vagabond Prince fail to be included in the small Boy Explorers #2 but it was never later printed in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat comics like most of the art left over from the cancelled Stuntman and Boy Explorers. The reason “Trapped on Wax” was not printed later was because the art was not finished. Initially the entire story was completely inked but apparently some sections were unsatisfactory. The art was done on two ply illustration board. The term “two ply” refers to the fact that there are actually two layers of surfaces suitable for use. A razor was used to cut around the parts that needed changing and the first ply was carefully pealed off. The newly exposed second ply was penciled and the outlines inked, however the full spotting was never done. You can see the results of one such unfinished correction in a panel from page 7 shown above. Observe the simple outline of the man standing in the background. Although the man of the right, the hero, was fully spotted some additional changes were being done, in this case by Jack Kirby. I wrote about this and some other changes in one of my earliest blog posts (Simon and Kirby as Editors). Because the art for “Trapped on Wax” was not finished it was still in Simon and Kirby’s possession. Joe has said to me that material published in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat was used without their permission. Even though only comparitively little effort would have been needed to complete “Trapped on Wax”, Simon and Kirby never would finish it.
Having escaped publication by Harvey Comics, “Trapped on Wax” was included in “Simon & Kirby Classics published by Pure Imagination in 1987. Only at that point page 9 was missing. Joe wrote a new script for the missing page and Jack penciled new art; this would be the last Simon and Kirby collaboration. This was an interesting approach to provide a complete story but since the new page was done 40 years after the original work it was not a completely satisfactory arrangement. Fortunately in the meantime someone had sent Joe a printout of the original art for the missing page 9 and Titan will be publishing the complete story for the first time in the upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume.
Humor was an important component of all of Simon and Kirby’s superhero work. However the humor was generally not directed at the hero until Joe and Jack did Fighting American (Fighting With Humor). For instance most of the humor in Stuntman was at the expense of Fred Drake (who might be described as an unknowing sidekick for Stuntman). But in Vagabond Prince the hero, Ned Oaks, is often made fun of. Not only does he make a living writing outrageously bad poetry but he sometimes seems quite clueless, as can be seen when the villains of “Trapped on Wax” first meet him:
Ned Oaks: Gentlemen, I welcome you to my domicile as a flower would great a gentle ray of sun!
Henchmen thinking: Zowie! He’s buggy all right!
Even his sidekick considers Ned Oaks a little nutty. Considering the humor I cannot help but wonder if the Vagabond Prince’s costume was purposely a little goofy.
One of the unique characteristics of the hero for Vagabond Prince is that he actually is rather poor. In “Trapped on Wax” we find him living in a run down cottage. In later stories we will see him residing in a tenement. Not only is Ned Oaks poor, but the people he defends in the stories are generally poor as well.
Next week, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”