Green Hornet #8 (August 1942), art by Joe Simon
When I started this blog, one of my projects was to review the covers that Al Avison, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did for early Harvey comics. I love cover art and these early Harvey covers have some of the best work that Simon and Kirby did during that period. Unfortunately these are rare comics and generally in poor shape making restoration difficult. During the first eight months of my bloggin I was able to post on twenty Harvey covers, but a few remained to be restored and reviewed. Speed #23 presents some formidable restoration challenges. Every so often I take a look at it, however so far I just have not felt ready to take in on. I would love to write a better review of Champ #22, but I do not have a good enough of a scan to do a proper restoration. That was also the problem with Green Hornet #8, at least up to now. Now after a year, I am finally able to add another chapter to my writing on the Harvey covers.
Harvey covers can be divided into two time groups. The first were for the pocket sized comics that Al Harvey first published. The cover art was drawn by Al Avison or Joe Simon. Jack Kirby did not do any of them despite the fact that all three were involved with creating Captain America comics at that same time. Coincidentally the pocket sized Harvey comics ended at the same time as Simon and Kirby’s termination at Timely. This was followed by a gap of a few months and then Harvey started publication again, this time using the standard comic book size. Avison no longer supplied any covers, he was probably too busy doing Captain America for Timely now that Simon and Kirby were gone. Simon would draw some Harvey covers, but most were done by Jack Kirby. Oddly Joe Simon was responsible for three covers done in one short period of time; Champ #22 and Speed #22 (September) and Green Hornet #8 (August). Green Hornet was a bimonthly. Although Joe had done Champ #19 and Speed #19 (both June) in a Kirby style, the later trio of covers did not seem to reflect much influence from Jack.
It would appear that for Green Hornet #8 Joe resorted to the use of swiping that was so prevalent in the start of his comic book career. I cannot supply the source, but I am sure the witch was swiped from someplace. The captive young lady has a Will Eisner look to me. The Spirit had been published as a newspaper insert for some time so Joe was certainly aware of it. However my search through the DC archive editions has failed to reveal any possible sources for the lady on Simon’s cover. The Green Hornet’s two opponents look like Simon creations. Note their similarity of their checks and jowls with that found in the Hitler from Speed #21 (August), the smaller villain from Champ #19 (June), and the sketch of Hitler in a Zoot suit. Yes Joe used swipes for this cover, as he so often did, yet he has created a very original composition.
The cover tells a story, as just about all Joe Simon covers do. A lady is held captive, terrified of the future revealed in a crystal ball by a truly gruesome witch. But the background shows the Green Hornet arriving to the rescue. But our hero must be careful to negotiate the obstacles separating himself from the damsel in distress, a pit at his feet and a chain stretching across his path. As we follow the Green Hornet’s eyes we find it is no ordinary chain as it ends with a collar on what is the not quite human equivalent of a guard dog. A very effective guard indeed as shown by his blood stained knife. The guard is intent on preventing the Green Hornet from interfering while his diminutive companion’s concentration remains on fulfilling the crystal ball’s prediction of the woman’s fate.
Simon makes effective use of props to heighten the drama. A drip covered candle provides an eerie touch to the scene, it is a device that Simon and Kirby would introduce often for such an effect. A spot light seems come from someplace low off our field of vision. It is a very selective spot light indeed, no shadows are cast by the legs of the two subhuman figures. However shadows are cast by the hand held knife, the chain and the Green Hornet himself. All the shadows that would provide drama to the scene, as always realism is not as important as telling the story. The spot light also aids the composition, diagonally dividing the two darker fields occupied by the villains. The captive is not in the spot light but is highlighted by it, visually connecting her to the hero. It may not have anything to do with Joe, but the colorist use of a green dress also effectively links the damsel with the hero.
Joe Simon may not have been as talented a penciler as Jack Kirby, and some will say that he depended too much on the use of swipes. When it came to laying out a cover and making it tell a story, few at the time were his equal. Green Hornet #8 was truly a thrilling cover. But Joe was not content with just drama, he also included humor, albeit a dark humor. There is a similar touch of black humor in Joe’s cover for Champ #19. Here Simon scatters cob webs about the place as part of the effort to give a dungy look to the scene. How many artists would then turn around and attach webbing from the staff to the witch herself? My favorite piece of humor in this piece is how the beastly guard leads his small partner by the hand, as if he is taking part in a “take your child to work” day. This type of humor is an early manifestation that would fully blossom when Joe was editor of Sick magazine.
In order to the receive lower mailing costs for literature, comic books had to include a text story. Often not much effort seemed to be given to this story, as a young comic book reader I never read them. Harvey comics had an interesting approach to the text stories, as some of their covers declared:
READ the THRILLING Story behind the COVER — INSIDE —
What is interesting about the text story for Green Hornet #8 is not what it adds to the understanding of the cover, rather how it deviates. In the story the lady is held captive in a building across the street from the offices where the Green Hornet’s alter ego works as a newspaper reporter. Nothing in the story suggests that woman was held in the sort of dungeon that the cover portrays. Rather the story describes her place of confinement as a small room adorn to look like a fortune telling shop. In the story there is a fortune teller whose crystal ball reveals a fatal future for the beautiful captive, but without an indication that the soothsayer was an ugly witch. The short tale includes two “toughs” without giving the impression that they were almost subhuman. Neither is described in the story as small as the one shown on the cover depiction. Nor does the story mention the use of knives by the toughs. I find it hard to believe that an author presented with a copy of this exotic cover art would have written this more mundane story. More likely Joe Simon received the finished story and, realizing that the cover would have to be more exciting if it was going to sell the comic, spiced it up.