Category Archives: Lettering

In the Beginning, Chapter 10, Captain Marvel and Others


Blue Bolt #8 (January 1941) Blue Bold, pencils and splash inks by Jack Kirby, letters by Howard Ferguson

Blue Bolt #8 initiates a working methodology that Simon and Kirby would use often in years to come. Kirby would ink his own splash panel while leaving the rest of the story to be inked by other artists (besides Joe Simon). Kirby’s inking tops off an already spectacular splash. While in later years Jack’s primary interest was the story art, during his collaboration with Joe much emphasis was placed on covers and splashes. Great stories may have built the Simon and Kirby reputation but covers and splashes are what drew attention and persuaded comic book readers to spend their money. Of course having all the story inked by either Kirby or Simon would be preferable but if that was not possible the next best thing was for Jack to ink the splash.

It has been said that Kirby pencils could withstand even poor inkers. Well the story art to Blue Bolt #8 certainly puts that claim to the test. As I mentioned previously, I will not try to identified the inkers other than either Kirby or Simon but one or more of the assistants from the Timely bullpen were likely candidates for this work. Al Avison, Al Gabriel and Syd Shores were very young and just learning their trade.


Prize Comics #8 (January 1941) Black Owl, pencils and letters by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

Blue Bolt was a serialized comic feature. Not quite like in the movie serials as Blue Bolt did not have “cliff hangers” endings. Instead each story would be complete but with an ending that left open the question of where the tale would go from there. The Black Owl feature from Prize Comics #7 leads to PC #8 in the same manner. However the ending in PC #8 does not suggest further development of the story in the next issue.  This issue was included in a previous post (Simon and Kirby’s Black Owl).


Prize Comics #8 (January 1941) Black Owl, letters by Jack Kirby

Kirby provided the lettering for PC #8 and since I have prepared samples for a previous post (Jack Kirby as a Letterer) I will repeat them here. But truth be told Kirby’s lettering really has not changed from the previous sample that I provided (Red Raven #1, August 1940, shown in Chapter 5).


Marvel Mystery #15 (January 1941) Vision, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby (from Marvel’s Golden Age Masterpieces reprint)

As with Marvel Mystery #13 and #14, Kirby seemingly does it all, or at least all the visuals, for the Vision story in MM #15 (January 1941). Of course Simon might have had something to do with this feature, he was after all the editor.

Ferguson provided the lettering in Marvel Mystery #15 for the Human Torch and Terry Vance features.


Captain Marvel Adventures #1, Pencils by Jack Kirby (from a bleached page)

I have chosen this chapter to include some moonlighting work that Simon and Kirby did for Fawcett. Unfortunately the dating of this work for is uncertain as the comic books lack dates on the covers or in the indices. One of the works was Captain Marvel Adventures #1. This was the first comic book dedicated to Fawcett’s new hit Captain Marvel. It must have seemed a rather troublesome assignment. Not only did the art have to look like the work that C. C. Beck had previously done on the character, but also Simon and Kirby were not allowed to alter the scripts (Joe Simon’s Fawcett Testimony). The pencils had to be returned to Fawcett for lettering and then picked up again for inking. Yet despite all this the final art is rather nice. Kirby was never very good at imitating other artists and despite the simple lines of the artwork Kirby style keeps showing up. Beck might not have been pleased but in my opinion Simon and Kirby’s version was much more interesting. I have no idea who the inker was but it certainly was not Kirby, Simon or any of the assistants from the Timely bullpen. Whoever it was they did a marvelous job.


Wow Comics #1, Mister Scarlet, Pencils and inks by Jack Kirby, letters by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

It is uncertain whether this work was done before or after Captain Marvel. In the Fawcett testimony Simon said it came later however that testimony was given some eight years later and therefore might not be accurate.

Mister Scarlet appears to largely be the work of Jack Kirby but Joe Simon’s presence is revealed in some of lettering. His distinctive ‘W’, ‘M’ and other letters make their appearance in some of the text as for instance in the captions in panels 1, 4 and 6 from page 2 shown above. All the Simon letter that I have spotted so far comes from captions and not the word balloons. This suggests that Joe was trying to make an existing story clearer. This feature is also a good reminder about the problems of identifying Joe’s contributions in Simon and Kirby productions. Had this story been lettered by someone other than Kirby and Simon, Joe’s additions would have gone unnoticed.

In the Beginning, Chapter 9, More Moonlighting


Blue Bolt #7 (December 1940) Blue Bolt, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon, letters by Howard Ferguson

Blue Bolt #7 continues the Simon and Kirby collaboration in its purist form, that is with Jack doing the pencils and Joe providing the inks. The only other feature from December that showed such a degree of collaboration was the Black Owl from Prize Comics #7 which I will discuss below. Both of these features were done while moonlighting. As we will see below the features created for their regular gig at Timely were not quite the same joint effort.

The enlarging World War II, romance, betrayal, spies and assassins are just some of the elements of this engaging story. Simon and Kirby were not satisfied with telling a simple confrontation between a hero and a villain they had to put in as much as possible. Ten pages hardly seemed enough to fit all that they included. It does not seem that Blue Bolt had any significant impact on the rest of the comic book industry of the day but it should have.


Blue Bolt #7 (December 1940) Blue Bolt page 8 panel 1, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon, letters by Howard Ferguson (horizontally flipped image)

Sure Blue Bolt was science fiction but that did not mean that the hero always used a ray gun. Previously Kirby had a penchant for dramatic slugfests but now he began to take that art to a new level.

I present the above image in reverse…


Captain America #1 (March 1941), pencils by Jack Kirby

as I want to highlight that roll Blue Bolt played in laying the groundwork for a future hit. Captain America would appear on newsstands just three months later.


Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) The Black Owl, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon?, letters by Howard Ferguson

Blue Bolt was not the only moonlighting job that Simon and Kirby produced for December they also did Black Owl for Prize Comics #7. Joe and Jack would end up doing a Black Owl story for three issues which I discussed previously (Simon and Kirby’s Black Owl). All three stories were reprinted in Titan’s “Simon and Kirby Library: Superheroes” (shameless plug). The Black Owl was not a Simon and Kirby creation and I really do not know much about previous appearances of the character.  But of course Simon and Kirby added their distinct touch if in nothing more than the story and art.


Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) The Black Owl, letters by Howard Ferguson

Howard Ferguson provided the lettering for the Black Owl story. I have previously provided the lettering samples for Ferguson’s Prize Comics #7 but I have since made a correction and some additions to it. A recap of the more useful features would seem in order. The most useful trait for identifying Ferguson lettering is the little vertical stroke attached to the upper end of the letter ‘C’. Another useful trait is the very shallow hook for the letter ‘J’ but unfortunately that is not a common letter. Some other traits are less useful but still should be noted particularly the way the upper portions of the letters ‘P’ and ‘R’ predominate over the lower portion. The letter ‘S’ is similarly often affected by a predominate upper portion but there is some variation in this feature. Another trait is found in some but not all ‘N’ is the manner that the left vertical stroke is sometimes tilted downward to the left somewhat. Perhaps not as useful than the letter ‘C’ but certainly easier spot is Ferguson’s special handling of the first letter in captions (examples are provided above). I believe all these traits (except the special ‘N’) were retained by Ferguson the rest of his career. I plan to review his entire career after I finish this serial post.

In is at this time that in my opinion Ferguson’s lettering has gone from good to great. This is not due to form of his letters which has changed only a little from previous work. Rather it steady and firm hand used and the spacing and legibility of the final results. Ferguson’s work is not mechanical but neither is it overly variable.

Besides an improvement in quality, the lettering differs from what was done not that long ago for Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940) by three changes.

I have previously pointed out the special handling of the first letter in captions. Such enlarged and specially formed letters are similar to the first letter of chapters often found in older books. The analogy is not perfect but it is close enough that I have decided to adopt the name given to them, drop capitals (or drop caps for short). Drop caps were used by other comic book letterers but Ferguson began using a special version where the letter is created a negative space in a black field such as the two final examples in the image above. I shall refer to these as negative drop caps. It was the introduction of negative drop caps that is one of the things that distinguish Prize #7 from Blue Bolt #5. But there appears to be two flavors of negative drop caps. The first that appeared in Blue Bolt #6 and the Terry Vance feature from Marvel Mystery #13 (both November 1940) had vertically oriented letters. Later in Blue Bolt #7, Prize Comics #7 and the Human Torch and the Terry Vance features from Marvel Mystery #14 (all December 1940) Ferguson introduced negative spot caps that were tilted.

The second change in Ferguson lettering concerns the letter ‘G’. In Blue Bolt #6 (November 1940) and earlier Howard constructed the ‘G’ with a small horizontal element on the left side of the bottom of the character and does not extend to the right. In Prize Comics #7 and the Human Torch story from Marvel Mystery #14 (both December 1940) Ferguson extends the small horizontal so that it appears on both the left and the right side. Interestingly Blue Bolt #7 (December 1940) uses the old form of ‘G’ for most of the first page of the story while otherwise using the new ‘G’. The old ‘G’ is used in BB #5 (October), BB #6 (November) and the Terry Vance stories from MM #13 and #14 (November and December). As mentioned both forms of ‘G’ appear in BB #7 (December). Only the newer ‘G’ appears in the Human Torch of MM #14 (December).

The third change involves the form of the letters ‘I’ and ‘J’. Ferguson’s older form for these letters excluded any horizontal elements while the newer form did. While the letter ‘I’ is common enough, horizontal strokes are not supposed to be added when the letter is used with others to form a word. Unfortunately the isolated use of ‘I’ and the use of ‘J’ are not too common. The old form of ‘I’ and ‘J’ appear in BB #5 (October), BB #6, Terry Vance from MM #13 (November) and BB #7 (December) with the new forms used in PC #7 and the Terry Vance feature of MM #14 (both December).

With these three changes in Ferguson’s lettering it would seem possible to sort out the relative order that Ferguson lettered the work appearing in the months from October to December. Regrettably it turns out that no ordering is possible that will satisfy all three criteria for all cases. The few cases of lettering by Ferguson from later periods suggest that perhaps he was not consistent in his use of ‘G’. Hopefully this question will be answered as my review progresses.


Marvel Mystery #14 (December 1940) The Vision, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby,

The Vision became a regular Marvel Mystery Comics features with his second appearance in MM #14 (December 1940). As in the previous issue, Kirby would provide pencils, inks and letters for the Vision story. Even today the Simon and Kirby Vision is a largely neglected feature and at that time it was very much overshadowed by the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. (This story was reprinted in “The Best of Simon and Kirby”, another shameless plug).

Lettering by Howard Ferguson also appeared in Marvel Mystery #14 in the Human Torch and the Terry Vance features.


Human Torch #2(1) (Fall 1940) the Human Torch “Introducing Toro”, pencils by Carl Burgos, lettering by Howard Ferguson

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Timely did not release a Red Raven #2 issue. Instead that titles mailing license was used instead for a new title, Human Torch Comics #2. That the first issue was numbered 2 has brought about confusion to the numbering of the title even back when it was released. I have added “(1)” to the issue number to indicate it is actually the first issue. The cover is dated as Fall 1940 which means there might be some question as to what month to assign it. However Marvel Mystery #13 (November 1940) and #14 (December 1940) have house advertisement for the Human Torch #2(1). The MM ads provides a release date of September 25. Normally comics are cover dated about two months after their release so it is seems appropriate to assign HT #2(1) to December.

This issue has been reprinted in the Golden Age Masterwork series. Unfortunately Marvel did a horrendous job re-creating it. I have discussed this previously (The Human Torch #2) but I feel I need to emphasize here that the reprint volume is useless for anything beyond a casual reading. It is simply not possible to use this reprint book to examine the art or lettering. Luckily I will be using scans from the original comic in my discussions here.


Human Torch #2(1) (Fall 1940) the Fiery Mask “The Strange Case of the Bloodless Corpses”, pencils and inks by Joe Simon, letters by Howard Ferguson

The Fiery Mask was one of Simon’s earliest creations having first appeared in Daring Mystery #1 (January 1940, Daring Mystery and Joe Simon BK (Before Kirby)). Another artist drew the character for Daring Mystery #5 (June 1940) but Simon returned with Kirby’s help to provide the Fiery Mask for Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940). Simon worked on the Fiery Mask one last time for Human Torch #2(1) (Fall 1940). I periodically get asked, but I really feel this was a solo effort because I cannot find any sign that Kirby had anything to do with this Fiery Mask story, “The Strange Case of the Bloodless Corpses”. Simon’s comic book art improved rapidly so that even though only a short period had past the art style for HT #2(1) Fiery Mask story shows it was definitely drawn when Simon became editor at Timely and was not some older inventoried story from when he first started working in comics. Still it would be nice to provide a more accurate date for the story as it theoretically have been done a few months earlier and inventoried or it could have been drawn later specifically for the HT #2(1) issue.

Fortunately the lettering Howard Ferguson did for the story may provide a clue. As mentioned before Ferguson’s work had been undergoing development during this period. The Fiery Mask story lacks negative drop caps and uses the older form of the letters ‘G’, ‘I’ and ‘J’. Therefore I believe it must have been done no later than the work for Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940). It likely was originally intended for Daring Mystery #7 which possibly was meant to be released in October or November but that publication of that issue was delayed until April 1941. Or alternatively it might have been meant for Red Raven Comics #2 which should have come out in October but that title got cancelled. But in any case the Fiery Mask story was done earlier than the Human Torch story in the same issue as that story was lettered by Ferguson but with the tilted negative drop caps, the new ‘I’ and ‘J’ and mostly using the new ‘G’ all of which suggests a December date.

In the Beginning, Chapter 8, A New Title


Blue Bolt #6 (November 1940), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon, letters by Howard Ferguson and Joe Simon

Blue Bolt #6 is the second feature to include Simon and Kirby credits. Once again Kirby provides the pencils while Simon does the inking. Although it is not known who wrote the script, the story has the special Simon and Kirby quality that already was very different from the standard comic book fare of the day. Now the green sorceress is joined by Marto, a man with enlarged head and an atrophied body who uses a special mechanical device to overcome his physical limitations.


Famous Funnies #76 (November 1940) Lightnin’ and the Lone Rider, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby

Kirby seemed to have a fascination with advanced beings with large heads. The earliest prototype appeared in a western feature that Jack work on called Lightnin’ and the Lone Rider. Actually this feature had been appearing in Famous Funnies at the same time as Blue Bolt #6. The Lone Rider was initially developed as a syndication strip back in late 1938 to early 1939 (Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 1, Lighting and the Lone Ranger). However it appears Kirby returned to the feature sometime later. Exactly when is uncertain but I believe it was while Kirby was still working for Fox Comics (Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 3, Moonlighting). However based on the art style I believe it was done before Kirby started working with Joe Simon and therefore outside the current discussion. However the recent appearance of the large headed adversary in Famous Funnies may have inspired Kirby to create an updated version for Blue Bolt.


Tales of Suspense #94 (October 1967) pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott, letters by Sam Rosen

It is surprising how some ideas seem to lay dormant for years before Kirby would return to them. If there was another appearance of the Marto character I do not recall it. But in 1967 Kirby returned to the theme when he created Modok. While the background stories were very different, the similarity between Marto and Modok is too great to be require much discussion.


Blue Bolt #6 (November 1940), letters by Howard Ferguson

The first six pages of the Blue Bolt feature were lettered by Howard Ferguson. The seventh page has some lettering by Ferguson but most of the page was lettered by Joe Simon. The style of the letters has not change at all from examples from the previous month. The use of circular or square shapes attached to the first letter of captions is also the same as what has been seen earlier. One new feature in Ferguson’s repertoire is the use of other abstract shapes with the first caption letter such as the oval and double square show above. The most interesting addition is the rendering of the letter as a negative space on a circular black field such as the ‘C’ and ‘M’ shown above. This simple but elegant design was the most effective design that Ferguson adopted. Unfortunately Ferguson had no control on how the colorist would handle it. When a separate color was added the letter would stand out. But without that special color addition the design becomes more abstract and harder to read as a letter. Unfortunately the colorist failed to apply a separate color to many of these negative letters in Blue Bolt #6.


Blue Bolt #6 (November 1940), letters by Joe Simon

Joe Simon did the lettering for most of page 7 and all of pages 8 to 10. Here Simon does a more careful job at lettering but the basic form of the letters remains the same. As mention previously the ‘W’ that Simon used is very helpful in spotting his work and while not quite as distinct his ‘M’ is useful as well. There still are occasional little elaborations that Simon uses like the ‘S’ and ‘R’ shown above. The lettering for page 9 seems particularly well done. Also found on that page are special first caption letters, something Simon normally did not do. While unusual for Simon, the use of open letters (which allow the addition of a color) was also done by other letterers. However Joe places one ‘B’ as a negative letter on a black circular field. This must have been a response to what Ferguson was doing in the same story. Simon’s design is not as abstract as Ferguson’s but it still an effective device.


Marvel Mystery #13 (November 1940) The Vision, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby

In the previous chapter I mentioned the unusual lack of Kirby art in the Timely comics for October. The one explanation I provided was that Kirby might have done some art for Red Raven #2 only it was never published due to the abrupt cancellation of that title. Here I will suggest another (but not necessarily conflicting) explanation. Kirby might have been busy creating a new feature as in this month Marvel Mystery #13 debuted “The Vision”. The pencils, inks and letters were all done by Kirby. The only thing that suggests that Simon was involved (other than as the editor) was the motif of the Vision being able to appear from smoke of any kind. This is similar to the power of the Flame, a Fox comics feature, who could transport using fire as a portal. While Kirby had worked for Fox Comics he had nothing to do with the Flame. Simon on the other hand was not only the editor for the comics that included the Flame but had also drew the character on some of the covers.

As I mentioned Jack did the lettering for the Vision story. Kirby’s lettering was unchanged from the last time we saw it (Red Raven #1, August 1940 see In the Beginning, Chapter 5). Ferguson provided lettering for the Terry Vance feature from MM #13 in a style that matches his work in Blue Bolt #6.

In the Beginning, Chapter 7, Blue Bolt #5


Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940), pencils by Jack Kirby, inking by Joe Simon, lettering by Howard Ferguson

Blue Bolt #5 has the distinction of being the first time that the Simon and Kirby collaboration was credited in print. BB #4 was every bit a Simon and Kirby production but in the splash it was credited to Joe Simon alone. It is little more than speculation, but perhaps when Joe saw the final results of BB #4 he realized that Kirby’s contribution had gone well beyond being just an assist and that Jack deserved a greater recognition. Since BB #5 was penciled by Jack and inked by Joe, why did Simon get top billing? The simple answer was that Blue Bolt was a Joe Simon creation. While this is very understandable, once this particular order appeared in print from then on it would Simon and Kirby, not Kirby and Simon.

Blue Bolt #5, like issue #4, is a great piece. Simon and Kirby full of action and visually exciting art. Blue Bolt may not have been a top selling comic book, but anyone paying attention should have realize that the Simon and Kirby were producing something unlike what anyone else was doing.


Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “Comet Pierce” page 6 panel 7, pencils, inking and lettering by Jack Kirby

Was Blue Bolt written by Simon and Kirby as well? In the future Simon and Kirby would generally employ writers to develop scripts. However Joe and Jack normally supplied the plot and just as often re-write the returned scripts. We may not know whether Simon and Kirby were working from a script or not for BB #5, but they clearly were involved in the plotting. A man-eating plant appears in the Comet Pierce” story from Red Raven #1 a couple months earlier. The Comet Pierce story seems to be a largely Kirby effort but since Simon was the editor to Timely he may have had input to the story.


Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940), lettering by Howard Ferguson

Howard Ferguson did the lettering for Blue Bolt #5. The form of the general letters has not changed at all from Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940). The special first letters of captions continue to have attached circular or square black shapes. However now these special first letters have migrated to the caption border so that small parts of them may actually extend outside of the caption box. Another addition to the Ferguson repertoire is that some of the captions have first letters that are slightly larger and oddly angled. This angularity sometimes appears in the letters with square or round backgrounds as well.


Marvel Mystery #12 (October 1940), pencils and lettering by Jack Kirby, inking by Joe Simon

In October Simon and Kirby also provided the cover art for Marvel Mystery #12. Featured on it was the Angel. It would be the last appearance of the Angel on a cover of Marvel Mystery Comics as the Human Torch or the Sub-Mariner would dominate all future covers. Kirby did the pencils for MM #12 with Simon adding the inks. The lettering on the cover was done by Kirby (note the horseshoe shaped ‘U’). More time and energy was expended on covers as compared to lettering the story. So it is not surprising that Kirby, who like Simon was normally a rather unprofessional letterer, could provide a real nice job lettering the cover.

At this point I am reminded of a passage from the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze”:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

I too have a “curious incident” to draw attention to. While Simon and Kirby created a number of pages for Timely comics for August and September the MM #12 cover was the only art they provided for October. Now I have to admit there was one Fiery Mask story that could have been done at this time period but I have good reason to assign that work to November and will cover it in the next chapter. But even if it was done in October it was drawn and inked by Simon, what happened to Kirby? One possible explanation was there was such art but it was created for Red Raven #2 which should have appeared in October. However the Red Raven title was abruptly cancelled well before any indication of how well Red Raven #1 sold. Timely owner Goodman apparently had come to realize the popularity of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner and decided to launch titles dedicated to them. Licensing fees could be saved by canceling Red Raven Comics and using that license for the Human Torch Comics which is why that new title started with issue number 2. There is also another explanation for this deficit of Kirby art but that will also be discussed in the next chapter of “In the Beginning”.

In the Beginning, Chapter 6, Blue Bolt #4


Blue Bolt #4 (September 1940), pencils by Jack Kirby, inking by Joe Simon

Blue Bolt #4 was the first story created in the definitive Simon and Kirby manner with all the pencils done by Jack and the inking by Joe. While previous Blue Bolt installments were quite nice, it is with BB #4 that the Simon and Kirby magic really unfolds. Exciting visuals, unusual perspectives and a great story. Both Joe and Jack had done their own individual work before this but it lacked the special qualities found in BB #4. Even the work they had done together in Blue Bolt #2 and #3 or Daring Mystery #6 is not quite as good. Only Kirby’s “Mercury in the 20th Century” for Red Raven #1 matches BB #4. The Blue Bolt story may have been signed by Joe Simon alone, but it was certainly a Simon and Kirby creation.

The Kirby Checklist states that Simon got assists in the inking from Avison and Gabriele. While I cannot prove this to be incorrect I also cannot find any evidence of it. The inking looks like the hand of one artist and that was Simon. Joe had made great strides in his inking and much of that can probably be credited to his working with Jack. In fact the inking of the robot and some of the other devices was done in the manner that Kirby had already been doing for his science fiction stories. While Kirby was and would remain a better inker, Simon’s inking talent far exceeded the abilities at that time of Avison or Gabriele.

One of the star attractions of the Blue Bolt #4 story was the formidable robot. The splash panel shows a exciting confrontation between Blue Bolt and the mechanical foe. The story takes a different, but still dramatic, turn. The robot’s murderous rampage is handled with what would be typical Simon and Kirby restraint. A restraint that would not diminish but actually enhance the effect. Close-ups, silhouettes and shadows would provide the substance while leaving it to the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest.


Marvel Stories v2 n2 (November 1940) “A Dictator for all Time”, art by Jack Kirby

Both Simon and Kirby would do more than just comic books while working at Timely. They would also supply art for some of the pulps that the company produced. The pulp art was created under different circumstances and with unique techniques. As far as I can tell illustrations were not joint efforts but were individually executed instead. The pencils and inks that were used to create comic book art were replaced with the use of a special textured paper that would translate pencils into dots suitable for printing. While the pulp art may not shed much light on the beginnings of the Simon and Kirby partnership they sometimes are not completely independent of the comic book art. The horrific robot from Blue Bolt #4 makes a reappearance in Marvel Stories volume 2 number 2 a couple of months later. The details may differ but both share one clawed hand with the other arm transformed into a gun. While the robot drawn for the pulp story “A Dictator for all Time” might have been impressive it really had nothing to do with the story. There we find a rather benign machine more of an immense computer than a terrifying weapon.


Blue Bolt #4 (September 1940), letters by unidentified letterer

Another unidentified letter was used for Blue Bolt #4. This letter differed from the one used for BB #3 in the form of the letters used for ‘G’, ‘J’, ‘K’, ‘M’ and ‘W’. It may seem surprising that so many different letterers would work on Blue Bolt but Joe’s position as editor for first Fox then Timely probably provided a lot of resources to turn to. The letterer for Blue Bolt #4 did the most professional work to appear in Blue Bolt to date. One of his interesting contributions was to do caption lettering with a slight slant upward to the right while keeping balloon text as vertical.


Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940) “The Human Torch”, letters by Howard Ferguson

The letterer for BB #4 used some larger and specially formed first letters in the captions. A similar approach was used by Howard Ferguson at this time but his first caption letters are even more special. While the BB #4 letterer provided one of this first caption letter with a 3-D effect shadow he never provides the sort of abstract black shapes that Ferguson used. The difference between the two letterers also shows up in their letters ‘G’ and ‘J’.


Blue Bolt #4 (September 1940), page 9 letters by unidentified letterer

Actually not all of Blue Bolt #4 was lettered by the individual discussed above. One page, page 9, was lettered by yet another artist. This page lacks the slanted lettering to the captions as well as any special effects to the first caption letter. The letters ‘G’ and ‘Y’ are distinct between the two. The second letterer also had a tendency to fail to properly connect the lines in ‘B’ and ‘R’ as shown in the bottom line of lettering examples above. His letter ‘S’ is somewhat variable but often has a bottom that is proportionally larger than the top.

As if it was not enough that there were two letterers to work on Blue Bolt #4, one caption (panel 6 on page 9) was lettered by Joe Simon. It has his very distinctive ‘W’ and recognizable ‘M’.

When Simon and Kirby first started working together for story art it was Jack helping out on a few pages for Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940) and #3 (August 1940). In August and September work was also done for Timely. Some of this later work (Blue Bolt #4) was done in what would be the classic Simon and Kirby manner, that is Jack providing the pencils with Joe doing the inking. But other work seems to have been mostly done by Kirby with little, if any, help from Simon (“Cosmic Carson”, Red Raven #1). Other distribution of working efforts were also done. Even greater variation is found in the lettering. Sometimes Simon or Kirby would do the lettering. Otherwise a number of different letterers were employed. Some more professional than others. One of these was Howard Ferguson who in the future would play an important roll as the definitive Simon and Kirby letterer. However initially Ferguson did more lettering for features not created by Simon and Kirby. What we have seen so far is not the sudden teaming up of Simon and Kirby but rather Joe putting together comic books using a variety of resources in a variety of ways.

In the Beginning, Chapter 5, Timely and Howard Ferguson


Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940) “The Human Torch”, pencils by Carl Burgos, letters by Howard Ferguson

Joe Simon was hired by Timely for the purpose of setting up a bullpen so that the comic book art could be created in-house. Previously Timely’s Marvel Mystery Comics, Daring Mystery Comics and Mystic Comics had be done by Funnies Inc. a shop run by Lloyd Jacquet. In “The Comic Book Makers” Joe says that he was to make things difficult for Funnies Inc. so that they would give up on the features they had doing for Timely. This must have put Joe in a rather awkward situation as he at that time he was also supplying Funnies Inc. with Blue Bolt stories.


Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940) “The Human Torch”, letters by Howard Ferguson

September 1940 is the earliest cover date that I comfortably assign lettering credits to Howard Ferguson. This attribution is mainly based on the special lettering Ferguson applied to the first letter of a caption. This was the comic book equivalent of the oversized and often stylized first letter of a chapter that used to be very popular but has more recently gone out of fashion. A number of letterers emphasized the first letter often by enlarging and opening up its interior so that it could be colored. Some also included a “shadow” affect to the letter. But Ferguson was the only letterer that I am aware of who would place behind the letter not its shadow but an abstract black shape often of a square of circular shape. Todd Klein (Howard Ferguson, letterer) does not seem to appreciate them but I find this technique a great way to attract the attention and provide an element of design to the captions which are often overly plain.

Howard lettered a number of stories release in September but based on the form of the letters he used I believe the earliest ones he did were those for “The Human Torch” and “Terry Vance” stories from  Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940). This may seem odd because these stories were still being provided by Jacquet’s shop. Ferguson seems to make an effort to make his lettering special, in particular the special first letters of the captions. Therefore I find it unlikely that he was moonlighting for Funnies Inc. without Simon being aware of it. Perhaps this was part of Joe’s campaign to make things difficult for the Funnies shop.


Marvel Mystery #10 (August 1940) “The Human Torch”, pencils by Carl Burgos, letters by an unidentified letterer (from Marvel Masterworks*)

Most captions for the “The Human Torch” and “Terry Vance” from Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940) have a wavy line for a border. That is except for the one caption found on the splash page. The double line border has been cited as a Ferguson trademark and in fact we will see its use by Ferguson in the future. A double line border also appears in the captions throughout “The Human Torch” from Marvel Mystery #10 (August 1940).


Marvel Mystery #10 (August 1940) “The Human Torch”, letters by an unidentified letterer (from Marvel Masterworks*)

Comparison of the lettering in “The Human Torch” of Marvel Mystery #10 to that found in the same feature from Marvel Mystery #11 suggests that they were not done by the same letterer. Nowhere in MM #10 does the letterer use the special first letters for the captions like Ferguson used for MM #11. The closest the unknown letter gets to that is some over sized and open interior letters. Note the different form used for the letter ‘M’. In MM #10 the letter ‘S’ has the lower portion larger than the upper “half” while Ferguson typically did the reverse. But most importantly the letters for MM #10 just did not have the firm hand that Ferguson had. Often the strokes for the letters are not quite straight but curve slightly instead. In some places the letters ‘R’ and ‘K’ are not correctly connected (I provide some examples at the bottom of the letter guide above). I just do not believe Ferguson lettered “The Human Torch” from Marvel Mystery #10. Because of this and the use of this technique by other letterers it does not seem advisable to use double line caption borders as sufficient criteria for crediting lettering to Howard Ferguson.


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) letters by unidentified letterer

Now that I have Ferguson’s lettering for Marvel Mystery #11 to compare with I want to briefly return to examples from the previous month that some have credited to him. First I would like to compare it to Blue Bolt #3. Note the difference in the letters ‘M’ and ‘W’. In BB #3 the center angle of each does not extend are far as the outer lets while in MM #11 the center angle extends the full distance. Also note the differences between the two for the form of the letter ‘G’ or ‘K’.


Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “The Red Raven”, letters by unidentified letterer

The lettering for Red Raven #1 also differs from Ferguson’s for Marvel Mystery #11. The letters ‘K and ‘Y’ are different between the two. The outer legs for ‘M’ are almost vertical in MM #11 while they have a distinct slant in RR #1. However it will be shown below that Ferguson’s lettering changed somewhat for Daring Mystery #6 done the same month as Marvel Mystery #11. I believe we are seeing Ferguson in the process of learning what for him was a new craft. It is quite possible that Howard had done some lettering for earlier comics. Perhaps the lettering for Red Raven #1, Blue Bolt #3 or Marvel Mystery #10 might have been done by Ferguson only in yet a more primitive stage of his development. The problem is how to identify which, if any, were done by Ferguson particularly since each seems to have been done by a different letterer. At this time I will simply attribute RR #1, BB #3 and MM #11 to an unknown letterers and accept the work in MM #11 as the earliest examples that can confidently be credited to Ferguson.
 

Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940) house ad

The inside front cover for Marvel Mystery #11 has a black and white house ad which shows the three other titles that Timely was publishing at that time. Red Raven #1 was released in the previous month but being a bi-monthly was still considered the current issue. The fourth panel for the advertisement does not show a cover but advertises a feature, the Fiery Mask. This was a Joe Simon creation that had been included in Daring Mystery although the last couple appearances (Daring Mystery #4 and #5) were not drawn by Simon. The presence of the Fiery Mask in this ad together with the two Kirby covers clearly was an attempt to promote those features which Simon was most responsible for.

Simon probably had little to do with Mystics Comics #4 that was in the Marvel Mystery #11 house ad. It seems that there is an inconsistency in the dating of that comic with the cover indicating August and the indicia listing it as July. Such discrepancies are not that unusual and I always go with the cover date since it was used for indicating when the comic might be removed from the rack and therefore would generally provide a more reliable date.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) house ad

The house ad found in Daring Mystery #6 is entirely given over to the Red Raven #1. All Red Raven features are listed including the short comic filler “Officer O’Krime.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) pencils by Jack Kirby, inking and lettering by Joe Simon

Simon and Kirby involvement in Daring Mystery #6 is obvious as they produced two stories for that issue. The cover was also a Simon and Kirby production with Jack providing the pencils, Joe the inking and lettering. That it was Simon’s lettering is clear by the letter ‘R’ in the word “their” which sometimes turns up in his lettering (see below for an example). Also the ‘W’ in “new” is done in the typical Simon manner (see below as well). The lettering for the covers of Daring Mystery #6 and Red Raven #1 are really well done. This might come as a surprise considering that Joe himself describes his lettering as not professional. However a really well done story lettering requires both precision and speed, a combination that Joe never mastered in his lettering. On the other hand more time would be expended on covers allowing Simon to use his talent for design and his skills with the brush.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “Introducing Marvel Boy” pencils and inking by Joe Simon, lettering by Howard Ferguson

The art for “Introducing Marvel Boy” was created by an unusual assortment of artists. The first three pages were drawn and inked by Joe Simon with no sign of any involvement by Jack Kirby. The hero’s gloves, boots and skull cap show would be used again six months later in another Simon and Kirby creation, Captain America.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “Introducing Marvel Boy” lettering by Howard Ferguson

The lettering for the first three pages of the Marvel Boy story, the same pages Simon drew, was done by Howard Ferguson. One of the things that identifies this as Ferguson’s work is the presence of the same first caption letters that we saw in Marvel Mystery #11 (September 1940). Ferguson has even gone further and on the splash page provided the first caption with an enlarged, scripted and colored word “the”. This highlighting of the first word of a caption would appear again in future lettering by Ferguson. I have previously described Marvel Mystery #11 as providing the earliest work that can be confidently credited to Ferguson. The reason I gave MM #11 that distinction and not this story from DM #6 is that the Marvel Boy story shows the first appearance of a small vertical stroke applied to the letter ‘C’. This would be virtual trademark of Ferguson throughout most of his career and an easy and reliable indicator of his lettering. Ferguson has adjusted the letter ‘M’ to his more frequent format with distinctly slanted outer legs although since so many other letterers use this form it is of lesser importance in identifying Howard’s work. Oddly for DM #6 Ferguson has altered his letter ‘K’ to a shape not typical for him at all. But the letter ‘G’ still has not been altered to Ferguson’s more typical later form.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “Introducing Marvel Boy” page 8, pencils by Jack Kirby, lettering by Joe Simon

While Simon drew the first three pages of the Marvel Boy story it was Jack Kirby who penciled the remaining seven pages. The inking credit for these Kirby pages is hard to determine. Certainly Jack was not inking this work. Perhaps Joe was involved but to me it looks like the work of a number of different inkers. So it seems likely that by this time Simon had hired some studio assistants to help with choirs such as inking. I have been asked a number of times about who did what inking in this early Timely bullpen but to be honest I have not worked that out myself and I am dubious that such inking attributions can be reliably determined. So except for those cases where the inking was done primarily by Kirby or Simon I will leave off inking credits in this serial post.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “Introducing Marvel Boy” lettering by Joe Simon

The lettering for the Kirby pages was not done by Ferguson but by Joe Simon. This clearly indicated by the presence of Joe’s rather unique letter ‘W’. While not quite as useful, Joe’s letter ‘M’ is also of use in spotting his lettering. For the most part Simon tries to be more professional than some of his earlier lettering work but occasionally he provides his letters with dramatic extensions such as the ‘R’ and ‘E’ show at the bottom of the above letter samples. Even today Joe likes to use such flairs in his signature.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 3, pencils by Joe Simon

Both Simon and Kirby worked on “The Fiery Mask” story in Daring Mystery #6. Once again it is Joe that penciled the start of the story (pages 1 to 4). Also like the Marvel Boy story, Joe inked his own pages. Simon’s pages contain a number of swipes from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 5).


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 5, pencils by Jack Kirby

Kirby penciled pages 5 to 10 of “The Fiery Mask”. While Simon’s pages include a number of swipes I am not aware of any in those penciled by Kirby. The most likely conclusion is that in this story Kirby is not working from Simon layouts or if he was Jack felt free to alter them.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 5, pencils by Jack Kirby with some inking by Joe Simon

Like the Kirby pages from the Marvel Boy story, the inking seems to have been done by a number of different hands. But Simon’s inking seems present in some places particular the lower half of the last page. However there is some inking using fine lines, such as in the second panel of page 5, that is untypical of Simon. None of the inking seems attributable to Kirby.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” lettering by Joe Simon?

The lettering for the Fiery Mask story was handled by two letterers. I very questionably attribute the lettering of the first two pages to Simon. Completely missing is Joe’s characteristic ‘W’ or anything that could be described as flaring of the letters. However the ‘M’ looks very much like Joe’s. The question mark is similar to Simon’s as well. Further the rather amateurish quality to the lettering is very much in agreement with Simon’s ability. Letter size varies and while all the lettering is vertically oriented in some places it actually slants slightly upward to the left. But I would like to emphasize that the attribution of this letter to Simon is provisional as I have not have had a chance to study some of Joe’s later lettering.


Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” lettering by unidentified letter

Pages 3 to 10 of the Fiery Mask story were done by a different lettering. I have taken all the letter examples shown above from the speech balloons where the letters are all vertically oriented. However in all the captions the letters are slanted upward to the right. The letters ‘M’ and ‘Y’ are not like Joe’s. The second letterer does a little more profession job. Letter sizes are more consistent and the letters themselves seemed done with firmer control. However sometimes the letter ‘R’ lacks the connection as shown at the bottom of the lettering examples above. Also occasionally the ‘U’ gets an almost horseshoe shape.


Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “Mercury in the 20th Century” lettering by Jack Kirby

I somehow failed to include an example of Kirby lettering when I discussed Red Raven #1 and so I provide it here. As reported previously, Jack had a very distinctive, horseshoe shaped, letter ‘U’ that is very useful in identifying his work. Kirby’s ‘G’ is also rather distinctive with its small vertical stroke attached to the letter’s hook. While the second letterer for the Fiery Mask story occasionally makes a horse shoe shape ‘U’ Kirby only occasionally makes one that does not have that shape. Further the second letterer’s ‘G’ lacks Kirby’s unique form. So I do not believe the second letter in the Fiery Mask story is Jack.

Still to be discussed is Blue Bolt #4 also cover dated September which I will cover in the next chapter.

* I have been forced to use the Marvel Masterworks because I do not have access to original comics for some of the issues that I will be discussing. This is not without risks because Marvel is notorious for the use of recreated art for their reprints.

In the Beginning, Chapter 4, Red Raven #1

Red Raven #1 (August 1940), pencils by Jack Kirby, layouts, inks and letters by Joe Simon

It is not surprising that Joe Simon became Timely’s first comic book editor in August 1940 (cover date, the calendar date would be around February or March). After all he had been working with that title for Fox Comics so he certainly had the credentials. Fox was a small publisher that had recently started up with an output limited to comic books while Timely was a larger outfit with a variety of publication formats who wanted to take control of and expand their comic book line. Just the place to provide better opportunities and probably a financial boast as well. What is surprising is that at that same time Simon managed to get Timely to release a new comic book title, the Red Raven.

The cover was penciled by Jack Kirby however the layouts were probably provided by Joe Simon. This conclusion is supported by a cover with a similar theme that Joe did for Science Comics #5 (June 1940). Further the Red Raven #1 cover has an unusual perspective. Simon had used similar unusual and distorted perspectives for the covers for Science Comics #5 and Blue Beetle Comics #3 (July 1940) (for both see Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 3, Working for the Fox). While previously Kirby had not done anything similar. The Red Raven covers is a swipe from Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant (Jack Kirby, Fanboy) which both Joe and Jack followed.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “The Red Raven”, pencils by Louis Casenueve

The artists that have been identified with work in Red Raven #1 did not seem to have previously worked for Timely. This is not surprising because before Joe Simon’s arrival as editor Timely comic books were put together by Funnies Inc. run by Lloyd Jacquet. Joe was expected to create a comic art bullpen for Timely and therefore would likely use artist not affiliated with the Funnies shop. The choice of the artist, Louis Casenueve, to draw the feature story is a bit surprising. Did Joe think Casenueve was a better artist than Jack Kirby? I doubt it. In “The Comic Book Makers” Joe tells how Kirby did not immediately follow him to Timely but instead continued at Fox. Joe said it took three months for Kirby to come to Timely however the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. The last Blue Beetle strip that Kirby did for Fox was published on March 9, 1940. Syndication strips are usually created only a week or so before publication. Comic books however have a longer period between creation and release. Further the cover date is actually advanced to indicate when it might be removed from the newsstands. All together the cover date is expected to be dated five to six months after the work began. This means that the first comic books that Jack would work on after Fox would be cover dated August or September. I therefore believe that Joe was correct about Jack staying at Fox but not a few months but instead a couple of weeks or so. Therefore when Joe started working on Red Raven #1 Jack may still have been working at Fox and available only on a moonlighting basis. Simon may have assigned the feature story to another artist and by the time Kirby transferred to Timely it was too late to change artists.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “The Red Raven”, letters by unidentified letterer

The lettering for “The Red Raven” feature story uses the same double line border for captions as had been seen in the Blue Bolt #3 story that appeared the same month. As mentioned previously, some have stated that this was trait that was characteristic for Howard Ferguson.

Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) “The Black Owl” letters by Howard Ferguson

However I do not believe Ferguson lettered “The Red Raven”. Above is an early but very typical example of Ferguson’s lettering. Note the differences between the two in the letters ‘G’, ‘K’ and ‘Y’. The letterer for Red Raven also had an unusual ‘E’ with unequal arm lengths. There is a bit of variation but generally the shortest is the upper arm and the longest the middle one. I have to caution that the earliest lettering that I do attribute to Ferguson differs from the Black Owl example that I have provided. For instance it lacks the small vertical stroke on the letter ‘C’ that was characteristic of Ferguson. I will provide examples when I return to this subject in a future chapter.

Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) letters by unidentified letter

I repeat above the lettering for Blue Bolt #3. Note the differences between ‘G’, ‘J’, ‘M’, ‘W’ and ‘Y’. Since there were both published the same months these certainly were done by different letterers.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “The Human Top”, pencils and inks by Dick Briefer

Dick Briefer had previously worked at the Iger and Eisner shop (Jumbo Comics) at the same time as Jack Kirby so perhaps that was the association that gave him the opportunity to be included in this comic. In a few months Briefer would create his first Frankenstein story (Prize Comics #7, December 1940, The Early Frankenstein of Dick Briefer) so this story gives a view of his style before Dick began his more cartoon-like approach began. The lettering for “The Human Top” is unlike that found in any of the other stories included in Red Raven so perhaps it was lettered by Briefer himself. Briefer provided initials on the last page of the story.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “Mercury in the 20th Century”, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby did two stories for Red Raven #1. The first, “Mercury in the 20th Century”, was an early example of a mythological theme. Kirby would return to the use of mythology frequently in the future. The story was written by Martin Bursten (the correct spelling should have been Burstein). It is unclear how closely Kirby followed Burstein’s script as in later years Simon and Kirby often altered scripts that they drew. Certainly Kirby had the opportunity since not only did he do the pencils but he also did the lettering. The inking on the first page appears to be Kirby’s as well but the rest of the story looks like it was inked by another artist). I believe the other inker was Joe Simon. If my inking attribution is correct this would be the first story drawn by Kirby and inked by Simon. Simon inked Kirby’s pages for Blue Bolt #3 but Jack only contributed three pages to that story. Together they seem to mark a change in the working relationship between Joe and Jack. Probably not yet a full partnership but different than the relationship between an editor and an artist.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “Comet Pierce”, pencils, inks and letters by Jack Kirby

Kirby also drew “Comet Pierce” which was the first piece to bear the Jack Kirby name. This story’s science fiction theme is so similar to others that Kirby had previously done that the suggestion is that he was involved in either the plotting or the writing of the script. The inking is consistent throughout the story and I am pretty certain that it was inked by Kirby himself. Jack also provided the lettering.

The question is should “Comet Pierce” be considered Simon and Kirby creation. There is no way that this can be answered with any certainty. Joe Simon was the editor of the comic and therefore likely provided some input to the story as well as those done by other artists. However so far I can find no definitive evidence that Joe’s involvement in “Cosmic Carson” was any different from that of any editor. So while Joe and Jack were working together I do not consider this a Simon and Kirby story.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) Magar the Mystic, “Re-Creator of Souls”, art by unidentified artist

The lettering for each story in Red Raven seems different and the Magar the Mystic story is no exception. I suspect that most if not all the stories were lettered by the same artist who drew it. This was not that unusual during these early days of the comic book industry and Joe Simon had just arrived at Timely and likely had just begun putting an artist bullpen together. Perhaps the Red Raven story is an exception as the lettering seems more professional than the rest of the stories.

Red Raven #1 (August 1940) “Eternal Brain”, art by Robert Louis Golden

Robert Louis Golden initialed the last page but in later years he seemed to have dropped using Robert. Golden was another former Iger and Eisner studio artist and therefore perhaps another Kirby connection. Golden would do a few stories for Simon and Kirby in 1948 (Its A Crime Chapter 7 and Chapter 8). His drawing style for the Eternal Brain story agrees very well with a Captain Aero story he did a couple of years later (The Captain Aero Connections).

In the Beginning, Chapter 3, Blue Bolt #3


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) pencils and inks by Joe Simon

Although Simon and Kirby did 10 issues of Blue Bolt, they only provided 2 covers. The cover for Blue Bolt #3 is based on a panel from the story that also was done by Joe and it in turn was a swipe from Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond (Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 4, Footnote). But none of them could be described as close copies. For the cover Simon takes an extremely low view point so that we can see the sole of his boot. The men that Blue Bolt is leading appear to be coming over a ridge through a narrow pass.


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) page 10, pencils and inks by Joe Simon

The same Blue Bolt figure appears in panel 3 of page 10. The view point is a little higher than on the cover but still rather low. The background figures are not the same and in the story we can see the soldiers as they advance over a plain. But the story panel still has the narrow pass. 


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) page 6, pencils and inks by Joe Simon

Most of the panels on page 10 are distant views which make it harder to see how far Joe’s art has advanced. Page 6 provides closer views allowing that better show his artistic improvement. Simon’s work had already been steadily improving but working with Kirby probably helped.

There is a regular improvement as well in the quality of the writing in the first three issues of Blue Bolt. Actually the story for BB #3 is greatly advanced over BB #2. Was this due to Joe learning as he went? Or is it possible that the script was written by someone else? I doubt if Kirby had anything to do with the improvement as his contribution to BB #3 seems so small (see below). In the future most stories would be written by others after which Joe and Jack would rewrite them to give their stories the special Simon and Kirby quality.


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) page 1, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

Although the splash panel credits Joe Simon alone, Jack Kirby drew the first page and two other (pages 2 and 7). Whatever their working arrangement was it seems clear that it was not the full partnership that would exist later. Kirby provides even fewer pages for Blue Bolt #3 that he had for BB #2. While Kirby inked his own pages for BB #2 it was Simon that inked Kirby’s pages for BB #3. So Kirby’s contribution had actually diminished.


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) page 7, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

Joe Simon became quite good at inking Jack Kirby’s pencils. So good that it is often difficult to determine who providing the inking. But for BB #3 Joe’s hand is revealed by his handling of eyes and eyebrows which are merged into one angular form. In the previous chapter I suggested someone other than Joe or Jack inked the cover to Champion #9 (July 1940). Now seeing pages from BB #3 like the one shown above I realize that cover was in fact inked by Simon. Note the smooth and stylized folds on the clothing which are like those found on the Champion #9 cover.


Champion #10 (August 1940) pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

While there is disagreement on what credits should be applied to the art for the covers of Champion #8 (June 1940) and #9 (July 1940) it is pretty much agreed that Kirby drew the Champion #10 cover. Jack is already showing some of his typical traits such as the hero’s unruly hair, the use of exaggerated perspective and a running stride that is more impressive than realistic.


Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940) letters by unidentified letter

The lettering for Blue Bolt #3 is different from that of BB #1 (by Joe Simon) or BB #2 (by an unidentified letterer). Absent from BB #3 are Simon’s rather unique ‘W’, Kirby’s special horseshoe shaped ‘U’ or BB #2 letterer’s unusual ‘E’. The BB #3 letterer uses a special ‘G’ with a long straight segment that pushes the horizontal bar to a great height. The angular ‘J’ is also unusual but that is not a commonly used letter. Other letters to note are the ‘W’ and ‘M’ where the inner angle does not extend as far as the outer leg segments. Further the ‘M’ has vertical outer lines.


Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) “The Black Owl” letters by Howard Ferguson

Some have suggested that Howard Ferguson did the lettering for BB #3. The timing is certainly possible because at that time Joe Simon had left Fox to become Timely’s first editor where Howard Ferguson was working. I have discussed Ferguson’s lettering (Some Lettering by Howard Ferguson) and I include above an example of his work from just a few months later. They do not look like the same letterer to me. Note the very different forms for the letters ‘C’, ‘G’, ‘J’, ‘K’, ‘M’, and ‘W’. Some have argued that at Ferguson had just begun to do lettering at this time and his work was not initially as professional as it would be later. The suggestion has been made that the unusual double line border to the captions found in BB #3 (see above images) is a  Ferguson trademark. However as we will see in a future chapter Ferguson was not the only one using this special caption border.

When I started this serial post my intentions were to concentrate on Blue Bolt using it to show the beginnings of the Simon and Kirby collaboration. However I find myself referring more and more to sources outside of that title to clarify what is going on. So I have decided to make this a serial post on the early stages of the Simon and Kirby team up with Blue Bolt as just one of the comics included in the discussion. My new plan is to examine Simon and Kirby up to the creation of Captain America. The first two chapters have been re-titled accordingly but otherwise remain unchanged.

In the Beginning, Chapter #2, Blue Bolt #2

Blue Bolt #2


Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940) page 9, pencils and inks by Joe Simon

The story art for Blue Bolt #2 looks rather different from that from its predecessor. One reason for this is that (as mentioned in the previous chapter) the first issue was created earlier then the cover date would suggest. While Blue Bolt was drawn earlier it really was not that much earlier, probably just a matter of a few months. The difference between Simon’s art for the two stories show how rapidly he was adapting to working on comic books. The figure art has improved as well as what can be best described as his ability to graphically tell a story. There also appears to be a greater use of design. For example the interesting architecture in the first panel. Even better examples can be found in the long third panel. The wall is built with round stones giving an overall pattern to the background. Frankly this was not so successful as it gives the image a rather cluttered look. More effective are the chains which besides reflect on the imprisonment of Blue Bolt’s men add interest to the panel without disturbing what is important to the story. The chains are inked as silhouettes which removes them of the third dimension but emphasizes their function as a design element.


Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940) page 4, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The other reason that the art for Blue Bolt #2 looks so different from that in #1 is that some of it was created by Jack Kirby although only Joe Simon was given credit in the splash. In the future Kirby would be the primary penciller of Simon and Kirby productions but that was not the case here. Simon created 6 1/3 of the pages while Kirby only did 3 2/3 pages. Fractions are used in these counts because on the first page Joe did the splash while Jack did the story art. The precise tally is that Simon did pages 1 (splash only), 3 and 6 through 10 while Kirby did pages 1 (story only), 2, 4 and 5. Each artist inked his own pencils.

Note that Kirby introduces a foreground chain in the first splash-like panel but to very different effect. Here the chain is not so much a design element as a means of adding depth to the image. The chain is also carefully inked to provide it with a full dimensionality that is very different from the flat silhouettes that Simon used.


Blue Bolt #1, art by Joe Simon
Blue Bolt #2, page 10, panel 7, art by Joe Simon
Blue Bolt #2, page 1, panel 2, art by Jack Kirby

It is interesting to compare Simon’s artistic progress from Blue Bolt #1 to #2 as well as Kirby’s efforts from issue #2. I have chosen close-up of Dr. Bertoff to provide these comparisons. In BB #1 and much of BB #2 Simon portrays Dr. Bertoff as a rather “ratty” looking individual. A surprising unflattering depiction of a scientific genius. However Dr. Bertoff gets better treatment in some of Simon’s BB #2 art. Now part of this improvement can be credited to Joe’s rapid advancements as a comic book artist. However comparing Simon’s best depiction of Dr. Bertoff with that by Kirby suggests that Joe was also being influenced by Jack. Kirby was never very good at adopting other comic book artists styles but that was something that Simon was very adept at. During this time Joe was doing the cover art for the Fox Comics successfully mimicking Lou Fine. Now Joe was trying to copy Jack’s style. This was desirable because it would give stories produced by Simon and Kirby a unified look. At this early time Simon only achieved limited success at mimicking Kirby but he would greatly improve in the future.


Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940) page 3 panel 5, pencils and inks by Joe Simon

Kirby drew impressive machinery throughout his career. This can be seen even at this early stage in his career as for example the “electro-beam atom smasher” from the splash-like first panel of page 4 shown earlier. Jack did similarly impressive devices on every page of this Blue Bolt story that he drew. Machinery appeared on some of the pages that Simon did but generally more distant views less rich in details. Even in the few close-ups that Joe provided (such as the example from page 5 provided above) his versions were no match for Kirby’s more interesting depictions. It is not clear whether Kirby was given those pages to draw because they would contain such machinery or that Jack inserted such fantastic devices whenever he could.


Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940) story letters by unidentified letterer

From past work that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did it might be expected that either they would letter the pages that they drew or the lettering would be done by one of them. But neither of these likely possibilities was the case. Both Joe and Jack had very distinctive lettering styles (see Early Lettering by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as a Letterer). But nowhere in Blue Bolt #2 can be found the unique lettering such as Joe’s ‘W’ or Jack’s ‘U’. Instead the story has one rather remarkable ‘E’, shaped like a ‘C’ with a bisected with a short horizontal stroke. I have never seen either Joe or Jack use anything quite like it. Joe’s lettering would improve in years to come and some of his more eccentric traits would become more conservative. In particular his peculiar ‘W’ would become more standardized. So while it is possible that Joe might have temporarily stopped using his more unusual ‘W’ and adopted an equally unique ‘E’ the rest of the lettering still do not look like Simon’s. The BB #2 letters seem rather squat and blocking compared to Joe’s. The ‘R’ often exhibit a curved right leg however when Joe curved that same leg it he curved it in the opposite direction. As for Kirby not only does the Blue Bolt #2 lack Jack’s horseshoe shaped ‘U’ but the manner of writing ‘K’ is also different between the two. My conclusion is that just like Simon brought Jack in to help with the art, he brought in someone else to do the lettering.


Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940) splash letters by unidentified letterer

The lettering in the splash looks different from the story lettering. Of course much of this is due to the fact that the splash lettering is slanted while in the story the letters are all very vertical. But the splash lettering also looks less squat and uses a more standard form for the ‘E’ and ‘R’ letters. There is one exception found on the last panel on page 8 where the tilted splash lettering is used for a single word. The switch in lettering could have been done to put more emphasis on the word (nowhere in the story does the letterer use the common technique of employing bold lettering to provide emphasis). But it is also possible that the tilted lettering was added later to correct some problem with the original script or lettering. Without the original art it is hard to be sure. My suspicion is that all the lettering, including the splash, was done by one individual. The main piece of evidence to support this is the form of the letter ‘G’ common to both where there is a straight vertical or near vertical segment attached to the horizontal stroke.


Champion Comics #9 (July 1940) art by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Champion Comics #9 came out the same month as Blue Bolt #2. It featured cover art that should be credited to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. As I mentioned in the previous chapter of this serial post (Blue Bolt #1) I suspect that the Champion #8 (June 1940) cover was the first joint work by Simon and Kirby but I admit not everyone may favor that opinion. Most agree that Champion #9 was a Simon and Kirby production. It appears that Kirby was involved in at least some, if not most, of the penciling. Some have pointed out the way the sole of the runner’s foot is turned to the viewer and have credited this as a Kirby trait. However both Joe and Jack would use this device in the future. As far as I know this is the earliest occurrence of the peculiar technique and therefore it cannot be used to distinguish between the two artists. For it to be used an earlier example would have to be found used by one but not the other artist and to date I have not seen one. While the figure art has a Kirby appearance it is not completely typical of Kirby. I attribute that to Simon’s involvement in the art. The form lines on the runner’s boots look like the work of Simon but much of the rest of the inking does not look like either Joe’s or Jack’s work. So I suspect a third artist may have been involved in the inking.

A Review of Lettering by Howard Ferguson

Todd Klein provides a fascinating post of Simon and Kirby letterer Howard Ferguson. I do not always agree with him but it is great to read one letterer’s opinions about another. One word of caution, Todd includes a quote that claims Ferguson was an African American, not true. I even called Joe Simon to make sure.