Category Archives: Artists

Joe Simon Cover Art for Harvey’s Pocket-Size Comics

I stopped posting on my Simon and Kirby blog over four years ago, primarily due to pressure from my day job and the restoration work I was doing for Titan’s Simon and Kirby Library. Work on Titan’s publications have since been completed and I have recently retired. Although I now have more free time, I have no plans to resume periodic blogging. But there were some investigations that I feel remained as unfinished business. One of which are the covers that Joe and Jack did for Al Harvey early in the startup of his comic publishing company. I recently did restorations for all these covers; redoing the ones I had done earlier and finally working on the covers that I previously had not gotten around to. Some of my views about these covers have changed and besides which much time has passed from my previous discussions. I feel the best way to handle this would be provide two long posts on all the covers, incorporating those parts of my previous discussions that I feel are still appropriate. It seems appropriate to post this discussion on Joe Simon’s 104th birthday.

In his book “The Comic Book Makers” Joe Simon describes how his friend Al Harvey approached him to do a cover for Al’s new concept, a small-sized comic book. Joe also tells how Harvey offered to make Joe a partner for $250. But Joe was then working on Captain America. At Timely he and Jack Kirby were supposed to get a share of the profits for this very popular comic. So Joe felt the safe decision was to stay at Timely and so turned Al down. It probably seemed at the time like a no brainer, but Simon would never saw much royalty money from Timely and would leave before the year was out. As for Harvey his new comic book concept would not last long but he still managed to build up a very successful comic publishing business.

On a visit to Joe’s place, I brought him printed copies of the pocket-size Harvey covers (Pocket #1-4, Speed #14-16). Initially Joe commented that he only did a couple of pocket-sized covers. But when he looked at the cover he said that Pocket #1, #2 and #4 were his. The only question was about Speed #16. Initially he said that he thought he did it, then later he said he may not have done it. Joe commented that the feathering on the legs of Captain Freedom was not like he would do it. Note that on page 116 of his book “My Life in Comics” Joe says he did the cover for Pocket Comics 1-3. This is Joe misremembering our earlier earlier conversation and confusing doing three of the first four covers with doing the first three covers. I am going to discuss the covers that Joe said he did first.

Pocket #1, Joe Simon (pencils and inks), August 1941

Joe’s first effort for Harvey appeared on Pocket Comics #1 with cover date August 1941. This comic came out in the same month as Captain America #5. Jack Kirby was doing some great stuff at that time, but the true Simon & Kirby style had not yet emerged. The Pocket #1 cover was not in the Simon & Kirby style either, and in fact it does not show much in the way of influence from what Jack was doing. Here we get Joe doing Joe.

There are things about this cover which I find unfortunate. The field of stars gives me a claustrophobic feeling. But the biggest problem may not have been Joe’s fault as he said he was working from a mock-up. Nearly half the top is occupied by the comic’s title. If that was not enough the left side has a list of the comic’s contents. This left little room on an already small cover for Joe to work, but he uses it well. Joe came up with a terrific design which was finely executed. The scene portrayed actually is not logical, but it was not meant to be and it works.

Pocket #1, Splash page from the Satan story, unknown artist, August 1941

There are similarities between Simon’s cover and the splash from the Satan story by the unidentified artist. (The GCD says the artist was Pierce Rice, but I remain unconvinced as all the work attributed to Rice in the GCD do not appear to be done by the same artist and I have yet to find any early work signed by the artist). Both have an oversized Satan holding the Statue of Liberty rising among a cityscape. The Statue of Liberty plays a part in the story whereas the spirit of 76 does not. Therefore I suspect Joe based his cover from the splash and took it into his own unique direction.

A small diversion, the writing of the Satan story was credited to Eando Binder, which is a pseudonym for the brothers Earl Andrew and Otto Binder. According to Wikipedia they used this name for their joint writing of science fiction. But by 1939 the writing was done by Otto with Earl acting as a literary agent. Otto Binder would go on to have a long career as a comic book writer.

Wonderworld #13, Joe Simon (pencils and ink), May 1940

On the cover Simon provides a Satan that is a bit different then that in the comic itself. This is not just due to the colorist use of yellow instead of the classic red. Instead Joe has turned to a cover he did for Fox, Wonderworld #13 (May 1940). For the Fox cover, Joe was trying to work in the style of Lou Fine. His success is shown by the fact that this cover was often attributed to Fine despite the presence of a Joe Simon signature.

Silver Streak #2, Joe Simon (pencils and ink), January 1940

But there is also an even earlier version of Satan. That was the Claw as portrayed on Silver Streak #2 (January 1940). That, along with Keen Detective Funnies #14, were Joe’s first cover work. Simon gave the Claw more of a Frankenstein look in the face, but the hands are similar to both Wonderworld #13 and Pocket #1.

Pocket #2, Joe Simon (pencils and inks) and Barbara Hall (pencils and inks), September 1941

In Pocket Comics #2 the title has been reduced compared to #1 so there is more room for the art. The main scene once again depicts an oversized attaching Satan, being ineffectively fought by a miniature military (in this case some battleships) with a giant Spirit of ’76 coming to the rescue. Whereas in Pocket #1 the Spirit of 76 fought Satan on the cover but not in the story, for Pocket #2 this hero really did battle the villain in both.

On the left side of the cover is the Black Cat, seemingly not part of the scene with Satan, but oversized nonetheless. The Black Cat started in Pocket #1 just a month before, so her presence on the cover is too soon to be due to an unexpected popularity. Rather having depicted Satan and the Spirit of ’76, the Black Cat seemed more unique since the other features were the standard male heroes. The Black Cat on the cover was taken from the splash to the story from Pocket #1. The GCD attributes that story art to Barbara Hall. The story art is unsigned but there seems to be some documentary evidence to that effect. Women in Comics states:

She studied painting in Los Angeles, moving to New York City in 1940. She showed her portfolio to Harvey Comics in 1941, and was hired to draw the comic Black Cat. Her next strip was Girl Commandos, about an international team of Nazi-fighting women. This comic was developed from Pat Parker, War Nurse, about a “freelance fighter for freedom.” When stationed in India, this nurse recruited a British nurse, an American radio operator, a Soviet photographer, and a Chinese patriot. Hall continued this strip until 1943.

The work listed by Women in Comics does appear to have been executed by the same artist.

The similarity of design and execution of the Satan and Spirit of ’76 scene with that depicted on Pocket #1 leaves little doubt that this was also done by Joe Simon. Which makes it puzzling as to why the GCD attributes the cover for Pocket #1 to Joe and #2 to Bob Powell.

Pocket #4 Joe Simon (pencils and inks), January 1942,

I want to skip for now Pocket Comics #3, and proceed to #4. This is my favorite of the Pocket Comic covers. It is a great design, particularly since the text has been relegated to smaller areas as compared to the other issues. The Spirit of ’76 is a good match for that on Pocket #1 or Pocket #2. I am sure this cover was also done by Joe Simon. A new feature is the Nazi falling after being hit. It is not the way Jack Kirby would have done it, but you can tell that was the source for Joe’s inspiration. No longer do we find oversized figures. But although the design still works, it really doesn’t make logical sense. How could the Spirit of ’76 have delivered his blow if the Nazi had been standing behind him? Or how could the Black Cat jump through the window in the middle of the room and still manage to grab the arm of the Nazi in the back of the room? But as far as I am concern comics art is not meant to try to capture an instance in time. It is meant to tell a story. Without a single line of text, this cover is complete comprehensible. All the distortions of time and space were all done to advance that aim. The logical flaws are in fact its strengths.

Speed #14, Al Avison (pencils and inks), September 1941

Al Avison was one of the artist that Joe Simon hired to help with Captain America and some other comics at Timely. I suspect that his presence in the early Harvey Comics may have been due to Joe. However it came about, this was the start of a long working relationship between Al Avison and Al Harvey.

Pocket #1, Splash page for the Red Blazer story, Al Avison (pencils and inks), August 1941

Fortunately Al signed this cover and the Red Blazer story from Pocket Comics #1, so they serves as good references when trying to sort out the attributions. This was early in his career, so although he tried to use what he learned from working with Simon and Kirby he could not yet pull it off. But he matured quickly so that when Joe and Jack left Timely in a few months, Al became the head artist for Captain America for a while.

The background for the cover includes some stairs and some advancing adversaries. This theme would be repeated in a number of the early Harvey covers, although in some cases the stairs would be replaced with a long hallway. However Avison never seems to return to this theme in any of his other early work including what he did at Timely after Simon & Kirby had left.

Speed #15 Unknown artist, November 1941

Unfortunately the cover for Speed #15 is unsigned. Compared to Speed #14, Shock Gibson has gotten much younger and less bulky. Although I would hardly call the work that Avison did on Speed #14 advanced, the art for Speed #15 is much cruder.

Speed #15, Splash page for the Shock Gibson story, Al Avison (pencils and inks), November 1941

The story art for Shock Gibson in Speed #15 is also unsigned, but is a good matched for Avison’s cover and story art from Speed #14 and Pocket #1 (both signed). The GCD lists Avison as the artist for the cover of Speed #15 and previously I asserted that as well, but I no longer believe that to be true. The Speed #15 cover artist style is just too dissimilar from the Avison’s story art from the same time period.

Keen Detective #17, Joe Simon (pencils and ink), January 1940

The Speed #15 cover has wispy mists in the background. This feature, sometimes used for smoke or clouds, occasionally appears in Simon’s work both with and without Kirby. For instance it shows up in the cover for Keen Detective #17; one of the two first comic book covers that he did. The presence of the wispy mist as well as the overall Simon and Kirby appearance makes me believe that Joe may have provided layouts for the Speed #15 cover.

Speed #16 January 1942

Everybody makes mistakes, even experts. So when I say that when the Jack Kirby Checklist included Speed #16 it made a whooper, that does not diminish the value of that list. But all that needs to be done to dispel that misattribution is to compare the cover to one by Jack that came out in the same month (January 1942). There can be no question, Speed #16 was not done by Kirby.

But I have a confession to make. I included Speed #16 in the books I once made of the complete Simon and Kirby covers. I did so because I thought it was possible that Joe Simon might have been the artist. Later I attributed it to Al Avison due to some similarities to the layout of Speed #14 (a work signed by Avison). This cover is a pretty good match to the cover of Speed #15 and I do believe they were done by the same artist. But as I have already discussed, I find the art to be a too crude to have been done by Avison, especially compared to signed work done for Harvey at the same time. I may also add that Joe Simon once said that he was not the artist for this cover.

The cover art for Speed #14, #15 and #16 all have a Simon and Kirby feel to them. Speed #14 and #16 also share a theme of advancing enemies come from background stairs or hallway. This was why I once felt they were all done by the same artist. However there is a better explanation, or rather a choice of two explanations. One is that this unknown artist was working for Simon on the Timely comics and had thus learned some of the Simon and Kirby approach. That, or what I believe is more likely, Simon supplied layouts for these Speed covers. I do not credit Kirby as providing the layouts because he has not yet become involved with Harvey’s comics.

I do not believe that the humorous quality to Speed #15 was intentional. But in Speed #16 is clearly was. It is hard to believe that anyone would take seriously an attach by Hitler on the White House. But even if they did, it wouldn’t be this ridiculous Adolf carrying four rifles and three swords. This sort of visual humor would later be a Simon trademark in his comic magazine Sick.

Pocket #3, Unknown artist (pencils and inks) and Joe Simon (pencils and inks), November 1941

I have left this cover last so that it could be compared to the art for the other Pocket and Speed comics. As I mentioned earlier, Joe did not believe he was the artist for this cover. I must say that it is hard to believe that the hooded ghouls were done by Joe, his were always more threatening and not goofy. When we examine the cover, problems set in. The soldier being prepared for shipping (via C.O.D) just does not seem to lay down in the box. The Nazis are white skeletal figures in red hooded clocks. I would describe the robbed figures with the same term I would use for Speed #15 and #16 (covers that look like they were done by this artist), goofy. The track record so far for the pocket comics is that Joe did well executed covers, this unknown artist rather crude ones, Joe presents intimidating villains, this one goofy Nazis.

The action takes place in a long corridor done in forced perspective. There are more red clocked Nazis advancing from the end of the hallway. This is all similar to the tunnel in Speed #16. This suggests that both covers were done by the same artist. But as I discussed above, may be due to layouts that were supplied by Simon.

It seems clear that the figure of the Black Cat was done by a different artist than the rest of the cover. The style for Black Cat does not match any of the artists who worked on the story art but is a good match for the Black Cat that appears in the cover for Pocket Comics #4, so I am crediting Joe for her figure alone.

Al Harvey thought he had a hit with his idea of pocket-sized comics. But as Joe and Jim Simon said in “The Comic Book Makers”

The size of the little magazines made it easy for kids to slip them into their pockets, or inside the pages of a standard-sized comic book, while browsing through the comic racks. Petty crime was a big problem in the little candy stores. So Pocket Comics were dead. But Al Harvey went on to bigger things.

Pocket Comics #4 and Speed Comics #16 have cover dates of January 1942. Harvey would no longer publish pocket-size comics. Coincidentally this is the same month that the last Simon and Kirby Captain America came out.  The next time Simon and Kirby work would reach the racks it would be dated April. I will discuss the work Simon and Kirby  did for the revived Harvey in a post next week.

Speaking of Art, Secondary Artists

Joe Simon had accumulated a rather large collection of art. Not surprisingly many were works that he created over his long career starting when he was a staff artist for a newspaper. Also as might be expected there are a fair number of works drawn by Joe’s long time collaborator, Jack Kirby. However that does not mean, as I suspect some people believe, that Kirby material dominates the collection. Rather much of Joe’s art collection consists of work by a variety of lesser known artists. I thought I would discuss just a few of them selected for various reasons.


Police Trap #3 (January 1955) “Tough Beat”, pencils and inks by Bill Draut

Long time readers of this blog are by now quite aware that Simon and Kirby were not just a great artistic team but also produced comic books that included work by a large assortment of artists. I have spent much time trying to identify the various artists who worked for Joe and Jack with some, but by no means complete, success. However any reader can correctly attribute the artist for a large majority of Simon and Kirby productions if they can learn to spot three particular artists. I have been fond of calling the three artists the usual suspects. Foremost among the usual suspects was Bill Draut who had a long history of working for Joe and Jack. While Draut contributed a lot of art to S&K productions, Simon’s collection only has work by Bill from three periods; from right after the war at the time S&K were producing Stuntman and Boy Explorers for Harvey Comics, from S&K own publishing company Mainline Comics, and from the 60’s when Harvey briefly tried to cash in the renewed interest in superheroes. The reason for the rather limited periods found in Joe’s collection is that Joe’s collected primarily from work on hand when a projects terminated or art he recovered years later from Harvey, Archie and DC.

Joe’s collection has a fair amount of work created by Bill Draut and the example I provide is from Police Trap a Mainline comic book. Although Draut did a lot of romance work (as did all the Simon and Kirby artists) he could be quite adept at depicting action as can be seen in the lower splash panel. What a great assortment of characters. Note the way Draut depicts the bricks in the background building; inked as simple rectangular black shapes obviously executed without the use of a straight edge and forming small isolated groups. This manner of drawing bricks was quite typical of Draut.

It is hard to tell from the low resolution image that I have provided, but the discoloration at the top of the page is not due to some odd staining but rather the yellowing of tracing paper that has been attached to the illustration board. Bill did this as a time saving device. The final panel of the last page of the story is the same street scene differently inked to suggest another time of day. Rather than redraw the same scene, Draut put tracing paper over the final panel and inked directly on the tracing paper. When finished he just attached the results to the top of the first page.


Chamber of Chills #24 (July 1954) “Credit and Loss”, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

Simon’s collection does not include many examples of original art by the second of the usual suspects, Mort Meskin. This is not because Joe did not like Mort’s art. Quite the contrary as shown by the fact that Joe had gathered together flats* for many of Meskin’s splash pages. This was something that Simon had done for Mort and no other artist. But the absence of Meskin original art was due to the fact that Mort did not work for Simon and Kirby during the Stuntman period and did little work during the Mainline period except for some covers (where apparently Meskin kept the original art). The one good example of Meskin original art that Joe had was not created for Simon and Kirby but for Harvey Comics. I suspect that Joe had retrieved it from the Harvey inventory some years later. It was fortunate that Simon had done so because it is, in my opinion, the finest comic book work that Meskin had ever done since the war. Great control of the story telling through devices like use of the viewpoint, marvelous drawing and superb inking.

OrigArtPrentice3
Bullseye #1 (August 1954) “Bullseye, the Man”, pencils and inks by John Prentice

John Prentice is the final of the three usual suspects. Prentice started working for Simon and Kirby even later then Mort Meskin. Joe’s collection had some examples of Prentice’s art but perhaps the most interesting is the art he did for Bullseye. There was a time that many claimed that Kirby provided layouts for the artists that worked for Simon and Kirby. One of the primary methods that I have used to investigate that claim was the way different artists used panel shapes. From that I feel quite confident that as a rule Kirby did not provide layouts for the other artists. But there are exceptions to that rule and Bullseye maybe one of them. I am not saying that Kirby provided complete layouts for Prentice’s Bullseye work but did appear to do so for at least some parts.

Unfortunately when Simon and Kirby wanted to retell the origin story for Bullseye #3 rather than redraw it Joe simply cut desired panels out of the earlier original art and pasted them together. Because of this it is not unusual to see original art from the first issue of Bullseye missing a panel or two.


Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “The Adventures of Sheriff Shorty”, pencils and inks by Leonard Starr

Joe’s collection not only included art by the three usual suspects but other artists as well. Leonard Starr is much better known for his work on the syndication strip Mary Perkins On Stage but he also had a long career as a comic book artists included occasional work for Simon and Kirby. The example I select comes from Bullseye #3. As it was published the story appears to be unsigned but careful examination of the original art shows otherwise. The vertically oriented signature appears the bottom left edge of the splash panel. Or rather half the signature is there as the panel border now cuts through it. But enough remains to show that it is in facts Starr’s autograph.


Foxhole #3 (February 1955) “The Face”, pencils and inks by Joaquin Albistur

Some artists that worked for Simon and Kirby are pretty much unknown entities for today’s fans. Jo Albistur only worked for Joe and Jack for a little over a year but produced a fair amount of art during that time. But Albistur did very little comic book art for any other publisher and only a small number of his original art have ever appeared on the market. The gimmick used for Foxhole was that the stories were created by actual war veterans. Because Albistur was from Argentina and had not served in the U. S. military, he was not suitable to receive any credit in Foxhole. But when credit was provided in Foxhole it was not always just for the graphic artists for instance writer Jack Oleck also occasionally received Foxhole credits. For “The Face” credit is given to Jack Kirby. Now Kirby certainly was a war veteran but he neither drew nor laid out this story. Further (and I may get in trouble among certain fans) I am convinced he did not write this story either. However it is known that Jack provided plots to some of the script writers that Simon and Kirby employed and perhaps it was in that capacity that this story is credited to him.


Chamber of Chills #24 (July 1954) “Grim Years”, pencils? and inks? by Manny Stallman

The Simon collection includes work by Manny Stallman. I attribute the work to Stallman with some trepidation. Stallman provided signed work for Simon and Kirby productions but when that art is carefully examined it becomes obvious that four different artists did the penciling (It’s A Crime Chapter 7, Chapter 8 and Chapter 9). Apparently Stallman was using ghost artists to pencil the work that he would then ink and often sign as his own. The work by Stallman from Joe’s collection was not created for Simon and Kirby but rather for Harvey Comics. Unfortunately it was unsigned and the pencils done in yet another style so the attribution is very provisional. But whoever penciled and inked the work the final results are rather nice.

Artists like the ones discussed in this post do not get much recognition these days. That is a shame because they really were talented artists. Now I do not want sound disdainful of contemporary artists because there is a lot of great comic book work being produced today. But let us face it, not all of them are superstars. But I am sadden that original art by secondary contemporary artists sell for much, much more than that by earlier artists. That despite the fact that relatively little of the work of the older artists has survived. It is obvious that most of today’s fans really have little interest in older original comic book art. If the reader is a collector of original art that does not share this low opinion of older work, keep an eye on the upcoming Heritage auctions as I am sure some great deals can be made.

* flats – Proofs of the line art printed on sheets in the same way finished comic book would be.

Speaking of Art, Joe Simon’s Hector Protector

Hector Protector was dressed all in green;
Hector Protector was sent to the Queen.
The Queen did not like him,
Nor more did the King;
So Hector Protector was sent back again.

This, Like so many other nursery rhymes, may seem like nonsensical verse. One theory is that Hector Protector was based on a Richard, Duke of York from 15th century England. I really cannot say how true that theory is but I can say that Joe Simon was aware of the nursery rhyme and based some of his advertisement work on Hector Protector. Joe once told me that he also called the character something like Forester Bill but whenever I found a name applied to the character it was always Hector Protector.

I had previously briefly discussed Hector Protector (Joe Simon’s Career in Advertising) where I provided some examples of layouts that Joe made in preparation for publication. The work Joe did was for Mechanics National Bank which I believe was located in New Jersey. I have never actually seen the published results but that is not too surprising because it would likely have been used as advertisements in small regional newspapers.

All the finished Hector Protector art was executed in color. This despite the fact that all the layouts I have seen made for black and white publications. At the time Joe had his own stat camera so that it was easy for him to prepare art for black and white publications but and color work had to be handled by others.

For the most part, Joe did not apply text to the actual artwork presumably as this allowed for repeated use of an image with different text. The art would be used to advertise a bank so it is not hard to imagine what sort of text might be applied to art like the one shown above. I am sure it would promote getting loans from Mechanics National Bank.

A chipmunk with all the nuts he saved was another natural image for use in a bank advertisement.

Others are a little harder to deduce what the accompanying text might be like. All the Hector Protector images share a similar sense of humor. Not sarcastic as Joe might use for Sick magazine but similar in other respects.

Perhaps my favorite of the Hector Protector art although I wonder if younger viewers would know about rabbit ear antennas. I am not sure if the Captain America image is was part of the original creation or added later. Today Marvel would not tolerate such a usage. I remember them successfully suing a restaurant from either Ireland or England that called itself Captain America. But Marvel was not so such a financial juggernaut when Joe was creating this art (probably in the 70’s) and the advertisement would have been very regional and therefore not likely to attract the attention of the Manhattan located comic book publisher.

New York Times Advertisement Section (November 27, 1966) by Joe Simon

It is a little bit out of place among the Hector Protector art, but I have one last example of Joe Simon’s advertisement work. This was the cover to an advertisement section of the New York Times. Joe used to have a framed example of the actual publication hanging up in his apartment but I do not believe I ever got a chance to scan the published version. However it was printed in color and except for the yellowing of the paper was a good match to the original art.

Speaking of Art, Simon and Kirby’s “Remember the Alamo”

Simon and Kirby were a brand name during the golden age of comics. Their fame began with their creation of Captain America and continued for many years. There are a number of reasons that Simon and Kirby work was so admired and influential but they can be summed up by saying Joe and Jack produced great comics. One thing that often made Simon and Kirby comics so distinctive was their fantastic double page spreads. Not that every comic produced by Simon and Kirby included a double page splash but those spreads were created throughout their years of collaboration (and Kirby would continue to do them form many years after). Nor were Simon and Kirby the first to create double page splashes. The Ka-Zar story by Ben Thompson from Marvel Mystery Comics #11 (September 1940) is the earliest that I am aware off. Joe Simon was the editor of Timely comics at that time so he was certainly knew of the Ka-Zar splash which may have prompted him along with Jack to produce more exciting double page splashes in Captain America Comics.


Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Remember the Alamo”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby
Enlarged View

It would be hard for me to pick the very best double page splash that Simon and Kirby ever produced. But that does not mean that they were all equally good. I personally would include “Remember the Alamo” among the choice few of the best Simon and Kirby wide spreads. The pencils are first rate, the inking superb and it has a well designed composition. The only drawback is that the original art is a bit confusing because mass of fighting figures. However Jack drew with the knowledge that the final work would be colored which totally clarified the published image.

The art is laid out in two tiers with the largest fighting figure and Clay Duncan forming the center axis. While the figures in the upper tier are spread out across the top, those in the bottom occupy the center. The bottom left is filled by text which is balanced on the right by a relatively empty scene with a darkened sky.


Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Remember the Alamo”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby (close-up of the top left)

The left side of the fighting scene is dominated by the Mexican soldiers while the more informal Texas militia fill most of the right. But this is not an absolute division because combating figures from both sides are found throughout the top. Kirby preferred his fighting as up close and personal, so while many figures hold pistols or rifles few of them seem to be actually ready to be fired. Instead the combatants brandish swords or knives or just grapple with one another.


Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Remember the Alamo”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby (close-up of the top right)

The right side includes a frontier man about to strike a Mexican soldier with his rifle. A similar pose would be used for the cover of Western Tales #32 (see Happy Birthday Jack Kirby and Chapter 4 of The End of Simon & Kirby although in the later I incorrectly attributed the art to Joe Simon, the correct credit is pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Mort Meskin).


Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Remember the Alamo”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby (close-up of the top center)

Another Texan visual dominates the center of the upper field. His head bandages and his clothing tattered he has seized a Mexican’s rifle while preparing to finish off his foe with a knife. As I said Kirby liked his battles up close and personal. The inking for the entire piece is just marvelous but the center area provides a showcase of a Jack’s energetic brush. Yes all the drop strings and picket fence crosshatching (see my Glossary) serve a purpose of providing form to the figures but the brush strokes are so bold that they also take on an abstract life full of its own rhythms and movement.


Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Remember the Alamo”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby (close-up of the bottom center)

All the action depicted on the top of the splash is shown to be the imaginary viewing of a tale told by Clay Duncan in the bottom of the splash. The rest of the Boys’ Ranch crew listen with rapt attention. What boy from the 50’s would not day dream of being part of that scene.

While Simon and Kirby did a number of double page splashes few have previously entered the hands of private collectors. The only one I am aware of is shown on that great web site What If Kirby. That may be about to change as Heritage will be auctioning off much of Joe Simon’s former collection in the coming months starting with an auction on November 15 and 16. Among other great art, the first auction will include double page splashes from what would have been Stuntman #3, Adventures of the Fly #1 and #2 and the “Remember the Alamo” splash (see Heritage’s art by Simon and Kirby).

The Wide Angle Scream, The Unpublished Stuntman

Some years ago I wrote a serial post called the Wide Angle Scream  where I discussed the various Simon and Kirby double page splashes that were published over the years. I did include one Stuntman double page splash that had not been published (Terror Island) but there were two others that I did not discuss. Actually it is a not quite accurate to say these wide splashes had not been published as they were included in Joe and Jim Simon’s “Comic Book Makers” (colored, I believe, by Greg Theakston) and more recently in “The Simon and Kirby Library: Superheroes” (colored by yours truly). At the time I did not have scans of the original art and “Terror Island” was the only spread that I had a reduced size copy of. Now I would like to return to these unpublished Stuntman splashes as a crossover with my serial post Speaking of Art.


Stuntman Comics #3 (intended) “Terror Island”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby
Enlarged view

As mentioned above, I had discussed the splash for “Terror Island” previous but a few comments about the original art seem appropriate. This splash is missing a heading at the top of the page. One probably was present as there appear to be stains left by rubber cement. The Stuntman logo is a recent addition as the original also fell off. But most noticeable about the original art is the damage found along the margins of the illustration board. In Joe Simon’s autobiography “My Life In Comics” he writes:

The spreads had been kept in the attic where they suffered decay at the hands of the weather and damage at the paws (and teeth) of marauding squirrels.

While I am sure that this original art, and the splashes for “Jungle Lord” and “The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc” spent some period in an attic, I doubt that the damage that they show was due to squirrels as I found no sign of marks from teeth or claws. Rather I believe that the heated conditions frequently found in attics has left the illustration boards brittle. Comic book collectors are familiar with the brittle pages sometimes found in golden age comics caused by the presence of acid in the newsprint paper. The illustration boards that Simon and Kirby used probably did not have as much acid as found in comic book newsprint but there seems to be enough that these art boards typically yellow with age. In the case of the Stuntman original art the heat has accelerated the detrimental effect of the acid making the boards brittle. Most of the damage occurs at the corners which would be expected since that is where the boards are most likely to hit up against more unforgiving objects. The boards are not actively crumbling but must be handled with care.

I should also mention the Stuntman Comics issue number I have assigned these pieces to. Simon and Kirby only used double page splashes in the centerfold of the comics. That way there would be no problems aligning pages properly with the rather primitive publishing methods used for comic books of the day. Only two issues of Stuntman ever reached the newsstands. A third issue was mailed to subscribers but it was much reduced in size and contents. Most importantly the third issue did not use a wide splash. The three unpublished Stuntman wide splashes would have appeared in Stuntman Comics issues #3, #4 and #5 if not for the unfortunate sudden cancellation of the title. I have assigned the different splashes to the intended issues based on completeness of the art. The splashes for “Terror Island” and “Jungle Lord” were both completed. However on “Terror Island” has story art at least some of which was completely inked while the story art for “Jungle Lord” on received outline inking without any spotting. As we will see the inking of the splash for “The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc” was never finished and therefore it was worked on last.


Stuntman Comics #4 (intended) “Jungle Lord”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby
Enlarged view

Like “Terror Island” the inking of “Jungle Lord” appears to have been completed. Only a small area in the lower right corner seems to have only received outline inking. The board is stained in this area so it seems that originally a square piece of paper or stat covered the area until it was lost when the rubber cement failed. The Stuntman logo is a new addition to replace the original which also seems to have become detached.

Previous Stuntman double page splashes had been visually complex but in “Jungle Lord” Simon and Kirby have distilled it to the essentials. Or as essential as could be expected with five main characters. A dramatic fight scene between Stuntman and a gorilla is balanced with a humorous scene of a skinny individual in a Tarzan suite carrying off a similarly clad Sandra Sylvan while below the ironically named Don Daring bridges the two. While visually complex would be done in the future (“Social Night in Town” and “Remember the Alamo”) simpler designs like this one would dominate.


Stuntman Comics #4 (intended) “Jungle Lord” close-up, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

All the unpublished Stuntman double page splashes had terrific inking, not surprising since Jack was doing his own spotting. But in my opinion “Jungle Lord” has the best inking of the three. Jack used his blunt brush in a free but controlled manner that is just marvelous to behold.


Stuntman Comics #5 (intended) “The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby
Enlarged View

Clearly Kirby was working on “The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc” when Simon and Kirby received the news that Stuntman had been cancelled. Three of the figures appear to be fully inked, one (the Tumbler) may be almost but not quite completed (mainly work is lacking on his left forearm) and two only have outline inking. Stuntman figures large, probably the largest figure in a splash that Kirby ever drew during the period he partnered with Simon.


Stuntman Comics #5 (intended) “The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc” close-up of Lash, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Standard inking procedure for Simon and Kirby was to first provide simple line inking. Because Kirby’s pencils were pretty tight this task could be assigned to a less talented artist. It is interesting to compare the lined inked Lash with an unfinished Boys Explorer page that did not progress beyond the line inking (Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking). The lines found in the Boys Explorer page show little variation in width almost as if they were made from wire. On the other hand the lines used to construct Lash show variation in thickness line as compared to line and also along the length of a line. The difference is not great but it does suggest a more talented hand did the line inking for the Stuntman #5 splash. Although it is hard to be certain, but I believe that on this splash Jack did the line inking himself.


Stuntman Comics #5 (intended) “The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc” close-up of Stuntman, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The figure of Stuntman is almost certainly complete, it is hard to imagine how anymore spotting could be applied without having a detrimental effect. While the spotting does not have quite the bravura brushwork as found in the “Jungle Lord” splash it can still take the breath away.

Speaking of Art, True Kirby Kolors

A number of years ago I wrote about my skepticism about the many fans who believe they can identify numerous works that Jack Kirby supposedly colored (Kirby Kolor, A Kirby Myth). But Kirby did sometimes color work as for instance some of his later presentation pieces done to promote some of his many ideas. Jack also colored some of the original art he had (see What If Kirby for a scan of a Kirby colored double page splash from Boys’ Ranch #4). Oddly Kirby colored some original art that he did not draw most notably a couple of covers by John Severin (True Kirby Kolors and Joe Simon Too).


Bullseye #5 (April 1955) “Tough Little Varmint”, original art with involvement by Mort Meskin?, coloring by Jack Kirby

Kirby also colored another artist’s work. In this case the determination of who the original artist was is somewhat problematical. Parts of the art looks similar to work by Mort Meskin. My latest thought is that Mort was actually involved in the work but I am uncertain as to exactly what that involvement was. The inking does not appear to have been by Mort, or by his most frequent inker George Roussos. While some of the pencils look like Mort’s work (although perhaps modified somewhat by the inker) there are some other parts that do not. My current guess is that “Tough Little Varmint” was a group effort but that Meskin was part of that group.


Bullseye #5 (April 1955) “Tough Little Varmint”, art with involvement by Mort Meskin?

The coloring of the original art was not part of the typical process used in producing a comic book. Normally color guides were made using silver prints taken photographically from the original art. A comparison of the current state of the original art and the published comic book shows they are quite different. The type of coloring shown on the original art would not have been suitable for the comic books of the day. Generally speaking comic book interior art was printed with a limited set of colors as flat areas of color without any gradations. Earlier comic books sometimes included simple gradation of a background color but that technique had been largely given up by the time Bullseye #5 was published. Complicated tonal effects such as exhibited in Kirby’s coloring would not have been attempted for the interior of a comic book.

The original art for the splash page is from Joe Simon’s collection. It may seem odd that I am attributing the coloring to Jack Kirby for a piece in Joe’s collection. There is an explanation how this came about but for now let it suffice that this piece had been in Kirby’s possession for many years after the breakup of the Simon and Kirby studio and was only returned to Joe relatively late but while Jack was still alive.


Bullseye #5 (April 1955) “Tough Little Varmint” page 2, original art with involvement by Mort Meskin?, coloring by Jack Kirby (image provided by Steven Brower)

It seems odd that Jack colored the splash page for “Tough Little Varmint” but odder still that he colored the second page as well. This page had remained in the Kirby estate until fairly recently. Simon’s collection includes the original art for the rest of this story but none of it was colored. Most of the coloring that Jack did on original art seems to have been for display purposes. But I doubt that was the reason that he colored two pages from “Tough Little Varmint”. Not that there is anything wrong with the art but with all the art that Kirby had there was much more material available that would be much more suitable for hanging up in his house.


Bullseye #5 (April 1955) “Tough Little Varmint”, original art with involvement by Mort Meskin?, coloring by Jack Kirby

The coloring was applied quickly but with control. Most of it appears to be done using dyes. Dyes are convenient since they are not opaque and therefore would not obscure the original inking. However dyes can fade with age particularly when exposed to light without proper protection. The colors on these two pages seem quite fresh so I suspect that neither of them were displayed for any significant length of time. Most of the coloring is rather interesting. but I have to admit that I find the bluish shadow effect on the man from the second story panel rather unnerving.

Speaking of Art, Young Love #66


Young Love #66 unused cover (August 1955), pencils by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, inks by Bill Draut? and Jack Kirby

Joe Simon’s collection includes the original art for an unused cover. I do not believe that this cover art has every been made public before and once again I have permission from the Simon estate to do so here. Although subsequently crossed out, the notation in the upper left indicates it was initially intended for Young Love #66. This work was created during a difficult period for Simon and Kirby. Joe and Jack had launched their own publishing company, Mainline, with Bullseye #1 (cover date July 1954). But Mainline quickly became in trouble as its distributor, Leading News, entered into its own difficulties. By the time of Young Love #66 the former Mainline titles would be published by Charlton, notorious for their low payment to their artistic creators.

While previously Jack Kirby had provided the pencils for almost all the cover art for the titles that Simon and Kirby produced, his contributions during the Mainline and subsequent period was very limited. In particular the covers for the Prize romance titles were done by other artists such as Bill Draut, Mort Meskin, John Prentice and Bob McCarty. Joe Simon’s drawing of any comic book art was even more limited. Basically Joe and done no actual pencils since the Stuntman and Boy Explorers titles failed in 1946 except for 48 Famous Americans (a J.C. Penny giveaway from 1947). So Joe and Jack’s involvement in this cover is quite unusual.


Young Love #66 unused cover (August 1955), pencils by Joe Simon, inks by Bill Draut?

The art is a bit of an construction on the illustration board that Simon and Kirby preferred. Only the foreground young couple were executed on the original illustration board. They were penciled by Joe Simon however the inking does not appear to be his. I am not certain but the brushwork looks like it was done by Bill Draut. The final results does look like a cross between the styles of the two artists.


Young Love #66 unused cover (August 1955)

Another layer was added to the illustration board; a larger piece on the left side and a smaller one on the right together covering the former background. Unfortunately the larger piece has been almost completely covered up and cannot be examined. The smaller piece was also covered up but the glue (probably rubber cement) has subsequently failed. That is the part that is shown above. Regrettably it does not seem sufficient for determining of an attribution and I would not want to hazarded a guess.


Young Love #66 unused cover (August 1955)

The third layer is also in two parts; a larger left piece and a smaller right that pretty much match the shape and size of the underlying pieces. However they two pieces are of different paper. The right piece seems to have been tracing paper with white-out applied to make it more opaque. The art work consists of little of a couple of pencil lines depicting drapery.


Young Love #66 unused cover (August 1955), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The more substantial third layer from the left side was drawn and inked by Jack Kirby. Kirby is well known, and rightly so, for his action drawing but here we have as simple yet warm portrayal as one could hope to find.

It is simply no longer possible to determine what the background was for the initial work on the illustration board. A small area of white-out remains that covers some inking indicates that there was some sort of background. What little can be seen of the second layer suggests a poorly constructed fence, perhaps a street scene from a poor neighborhood. The final layer has hanging drapery, maybe a wedding chapel.


Young Love #66 (August 1955), pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

The back of the original art has two Comic Code Authority Approval Stamps; one dated March 2, 1955 and the other March 8. But note that both are approval stamps and  therefore the rework was not due to any rejection from the Comic Code. The changes appear to be an effort to improve the cover but in the end they decided to use a cover created by Mort Meskin. While I find the Simon and Kirby cover interesting I believe it was the correct decision. The Meskin cover is just a wonderful one with the contrast between the casually dressed teenager and the fancifully attired couple that she is daydreaming about.

Speaking of Art, Jack Kirby’s True Life Divorce


True Life Divorce, layout and lettering by Jack Kirby

One of the more unusual pieces from Joe Simon’s collection can be easily over-looked. A simple photo-layout with some very light writing in pencil. It is only when the writing is actually read that it becomes apparent that this is a rather odd piece indeed. True Life Divorce seems a rather bizarre title or subject for a comic book. I had known about Jack Kirby’s art from the 70’s for this title, or by its alternate name True Divorce Cases. But since this piece was in Joe’s collection I wondered if it was for some earlier proposal that Joe had some involvement with. When I ask him about this piece of art Joe had a little story to tell. Considering the sometimes negative reaction of a small side comment I made recently, I will decline to repeat a story that some fervent Kirby fans might take offence to. But suffice it to say that Joe had nothing to do with the creation of this piece and that it was the work of Kirby from the 70’s.


True Life Divorce, layout and lettering by Jack Kirby

While I enjoy movies, I cannot claim to be very knowledgeable about them or the actors who appeared in them. Although I cannot identify the individuals in these photographs, with one notable exception, I believe they all were movie stars. Perhaps some of my readers can help me out. The paper for this particular image has yellowed and although it cannot be made out in the image I provide it has been screened for publication. Most likely it was taken from a movie magazine many of which were printed on newsprint paper which generally yellows with age.


True Life Divorce, layout and lettering by Jack Kirby

The second image is actually two. The upper left corner was cut from the same image that appears above and has similarly yellowed with age. The rest is an unscreened silverprint probably originally created by some Hollywood movie company. By the 70’s such photographs would have been done in color. I think the original for this would have been done in the 50’s or early 60’s.


True Life Divorce, layout and lettering by Jack Kirby

I am certain that is Gregory Peck in the final image but I will not hazard a guess on the identification of the lady. Let us be practical, the use of movie stars in a comic book would never have happened. No publisher would take the risk of using such images without reaching some type of compensation for the actors. And any such compensation would have unnecessarily diminished any possible profits of a new title. Yes I know about Don Rickles but that was for an established title. Further the True Life Divorce actors would only appear on this introductory page and not in any of the stories. Of course these problems were never really of any importance as no publisher of the time would seriously consider releasing a comic book with stories about divorce. Kirby was trying to come up with ideas to find new audiences since the size of the comic book readership was in decline. We should commend Kirby for even realizing that something had to be done even if all his suggestions were not always the best.

You can read some more abut True Life Divorce in an article that John Morrow wrote for the Jack Kirby Collector #23. While I am not as enthusiastic about Kirby’s stories as Morrow is, I agree with him that there has been a great improvement in the art. Kirby’s female characters from the 60’s all look alike. Actually I should not say Kirby’s women as this really trait was not restricted to him but was characteristic of most comic book artists at that time. I think of it as the Barbie effect where most women looked the same save for changes in the hair and clothing. It is refreshing to see Kirby return to a more individualistic portrayal of the female lead characters.

Speaking of Art, Jack Kirby’s “The Face On Mars”


Race For The Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face On Mars”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Al Williamson

This is another group of pieces from the late Joe Simon’s collection. Joe was really fond of the inking that was done on these and other Kirby pencils from Race For The Moon and Blast-Off titles. I have discussed this work recently and why I believe it was inked by Al Williamson (Kirby Inkers, Al Williamson). In the interview Williamson gave for the Jack Kirby Collector #15 he says he did about four or five stories, although I think he may have done a little more than that. One of his statements from the interview:

TJKC: I was just reading some of those Race For The Moons. There’s some beautiful stuff there.

AL: Well, he did a beautiful job. Some of it was redrawn by somebody there, I guess because it didn’t pass the Comics Code or something. There’s parts that I didn’t ink, because it’s not my drawing or Jack’s drawing. Somebody went over it and changed some things, like a monster or something to make it more pleasing to the eye, which bothered the hell outta me. I never really thought I did him justice, though. The drawing is there, because it’s Jack Kirby’s drawing, but I just traced what he penciled.

Once again I have to disagree with Williamson. I have examined all the original art in question with the exception of one story (“The Long, Long Years” from RFTM #3) and none of the art has been altered, at least not after inking. And Williamson is wrong about having “just traced what he penciled”. It is true that Williamson followed Kirby’s pencils very accurately and I am sure Jack’s pencils were very tight. But the spotting was all Williamson’s. Not that I believe Al ignored Jack’s directions. It was Kirby’s practice at that time to just provide the outlines indicate everything else with simple lines. The rest was up to the inker to provide and in the case of Williamson’s inking with spectacular results.


Race For The Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face On Mars”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Al Williamson

The inking is detailed but not at all dry. A lot of it was done using a pen, in fact the splash panel was done almost entirely in pen. The low resolution image of the art that I provide just cannot give it justice. So above I also give a close-up to show the care taken in the pen work. Perhaps the reader noticed the small ink dots scattered around the image. It is not unusual to find small ink drops on original comic book art although usually not as densely as here. So the reader could be forgiven if they assumed that was what was happening here. However these dots are all the same size and are not found either in the gutters between the panels or inside areas of crosshatching. The dots are another example of the care Williamson took in inking Kirby’s pencils. This work was done early in Al’s career but by this time he certainly should have been aware of the limitations of the primitive printing that was used in the publication of comic books of his day. Williamson knew, or should have known, that much of his efforts would be lost in the final published results.


Race For The Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face On Mars” page 3, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Al Williamson

Pen was used for the inking throughout the story but unlike the splash panel the pen work was augmented with much user of the brush. Clearly Williamson was as proficient with the brush as he was with the pen. The inking is precise and flawless but nonetheless retains a fresh and lively quality. There is no use of white-out or any other corrective measures on any of the pages of this story. That is except for the white-out applied to page identification in the upper left corner on all the pages. Apparently there was second thoughts about what comic book this work would actually appear in. It is possible to read through the white-out and surprisingly the original use was identical to the final use right down to the page number.

An “F5” has been added to the page identification by another hand. This is the flat number that the page belongs to. Comic books were printed on four sheets of paper with four art pages on each side of the sheet. After printing the sheets would be folded and trimmed. Because of this process the sheet was not organized in a simple sequential order and the flat number added was an aid to insure the art was placed on the proper sheet. Another notation from the production process is the pencil number 500 found at the bottom of the page. This was an instruction to reduce the art size to exactly one half. The splash page had the number 496 for a reduction that was close but not exactly one half. It has been years since I last used a stat camera but I believe that this would indicate a slightly greater reduction in size than the other pages.


Race For The Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face On Mars” panel 6 page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Al Williamson

Williamson liked to leave out the panel borders for some of the art. Apparently the art was already lettered with panel borders before the art reached him for inking. Not a problem because it was two ply paper, that is there was another usable surface right below the original one. So Williamson was able to use a razor to carefully cut along side the panel borders and then peal them off. Although faint, the reader should be able to see the cut marks on the close up above.


Race For The Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face On Mars” back of the original art for page 5

The back of much of the art used in Race For The Moon and Blast-Off was used by the inker to prepare his brush. Or at least that is what I interpret the streaky inking such as seen on the back of page 5 shown above. A similar marking, although much less extensive, was found on the back of one of the pages of a Fly story that Williamson drew about a year later (Speaking of Art, Al Williamson’s Fly). With one exception such markings only appear on the back of pages that I believe were inked by Williamson.

The Comic Code Authority approval stamp is dated December 18, 1957. The approval stamp was only applied to finished art ready for publication which means that date was the latest the original art could have been created. Normally the work would be published shortly later. Cover dates are not the date of publication, but rather the date the comic could be removed from the racks. The approval date for Williamson’s work for Adventure of the Fly #2 was a short three months earlier than the cover date. Art for Race For The Moon #1 was approved about four and a half months before the cover date. But for “The Face On Mars” the approval stamp is dated October 24, 1957, over nine months before the cover date. I do not claim that everything by Simon and Kirby could have been a financial success but Harvey’s habit of holding up publication of some of their work did not help.


Race For The Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face On Mars” close-up of the back of the original art for page 5

The back of page 5 also has a pencil sketch. I provide a close-up above that has been adjusted in Photoshop to provide greater contrast. Cracked was a clone of the popular Mad magazine. Mad had a lot of copy-cats but only two had any real success, Cracked and Sick. The double border in the sketch matches design of the early issues of Cracked. The logo in the sketch matches the one found on issues #1 to #9 (March 1958 to May 1959). I have no idea what the image is supposed to represent but it does not match any found on the nine initial published issues. But an even bigger mystery is why there should be a sketch of a Cracked layout at all. As far as I know none of the parties involved in the creation of this piece (Jack Kirby, Al Williamson and Joe Simon) had any relationship to Cracked magazine.

Happy Birthday Jack Kirby!


Crash Comics #1 (May 1940) “Solar Legion” page 3, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby

Tuesday, August 28, is Jack Kirby’s birthday. In his honor I include a page from Titan’s up-coming Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction. Although at this point Jack probably had already met Joe, I believe his work on the first three appearances of the “Solar Legion” was a solo affair. If this is true, then it is as pure a Kirby as can be found. Kirby pencils, inks, letters and probably writing. I know a number of fans credit Kirby with writing during the Simon and Kirby period but all surviving evidence indicates that is not quite true. Simon and Kirby employed script writers but would alter what they received. Thus it would be more accurate to say Kirby would re-write scripts that he drew as opposed to being the original writer. But during the early days of comic books, artists often wrote what they drew. The rather unique “Solar Legion” stories seems the writing of Jack himself.

This birthday is particularly special as one of Jack’s granddaughters has made an appeal, see Join the Kirby4Heroes campaign for details and a link to her appeal.