Author Archives: Stan Taylor

About Stan Taylor

Avid Jack Kirby fan and scholar Stan Taylor passed away in December 2014. We're honored to be able to present some of his work on the Kirby Effect.

Looking For The Awesome – 16. Kirby’s Kosmic Mystery

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


“A year before Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth, and nine years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, astronomer FRANK DRAKE launched one of the most intriguing space explorations of the millennium. On April 8, 1960, in a windswept valley near Green Bank West Virginia, Drake flipped switches, twisted knobs, and then pointed an 85-foot radio telescope at two nearby stars- Epsilon Eridani, and Tau Ceti. His aim: to listen for signs of communication technology emanating from a civilization beyond Earth.”

So begins the web page introduction of SETI-The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence began that cold and lonely day back in 1960. Dr. Drake’s research and life long dream became a part of the pop culture in 1985, thanks to Dr. Carl Sagan’s fictional book CONTACT, and the subsequent 1997 movie, starring Jodie Foster.

In the story, Sagan tells of an eccentric, combative scientist, endlessly searching the skies for some sign of extra-terrestrial intelligence. When apparent contact is made, the scientist must convince a doubting scientific and military community. Finally convincing the authorities that an alien intelligence has initiated contact, the go ahead is given for an attempt at a rendezvous. The scientist is launched and apparently makes contact with an alien life force, but upon returning to Earth, must face a disbelieving, and skeptical world.

So what does Jack Kirby have to do with this, and why any great mystery? In what might be the strangest case of Kirby’s prognostication wizardry, he beat Dr. Drake to the punch in starting SETI, and he wrote Dr. Sagan’s story 25 years earlier.

Jack Kirby and the master Wallace Wood

The mystery begins in late 1958, Jack Kirby is hired to draw the syndicated strip SKY MASTERS of the SPACE FORCE. The strip, to be written by brothers, Dick and Dave Wood, penciled by Kirby and inked by the master, Wally Wood. The strip was noteworthy primarily for the authenticity and technical assistance provided by NASA. As time went on, the Wood Bros. had less and less to do with the scripting, until the storytelling became completely Kirby’s.

First in 1937 who knew?

On March 18th, 1960, towards the end of the run, a storyline began that would run thru July 6, 1960. This storyline entitled “Message From Space” begins with Sky Masters being introduced to Dr. Martin Strickland, an eccentric loner scientist who has gone off to a remote part of the country to conduct his own research. The research involves using a radio telescope to listen to cosmic garble for signs of intelligent life from outer space. As Dr. Strickland tells Sky “I’ve discovered a definite pattern— a repetition of sounds—“Sky responds hesitantly “You mean…you’ve received signals by radio telescope from outer space?” To which the Dr. answers “More than that Sky! If I’m right, thinking creatures have sent us a message from out there!”

The message that the Dr. has received comes from the star Tau Ceti, and the message contains the location for “rendezvous”. Sky asks Marty why he has kept this message a secret. Marty replies;” Sky….what does history tell us happens to humans when one strange culture comes in contact with another? …They battle each other, Sky! Do we dare rendezvous with an unknown culture without knowing positively they are not hostile?” If I had one reason strong enough to warrant risking contact with a possible hostile culture, Sky.” To which Sky replies; I have one…If we don’t accept the challenge, Marty, we’ll be like wild animals forever listening in a space jungle afraid of ever replying to each other.” “Of course! Let’s head for the Cape.” Strickland answers.

Basics of a radio telescope

After a contentious and at times, quite philosophical debate, among and between the scientific and military communities, it is decided that Dr. Strickland will attempt contact, on a ship piloted by Sky Masters. Once in orbit, they begin receiving more signals from space, then a new blip appears on their radar, a space craft hovering a million miles away. Again Strickland’s wariness intrudes and Sky comes up with an idea to bluff the aliens into thinking we are more advanced than we are. They will bounce a signal off the moon to give the impression that we are colonizers. After receiving the bounced message, the aliens release an atomic bomb that explodes harmlessly in space. After debating the nature of the explosion, Sky surmises that it was a thermonuclear handshake across space, and they rig their own nuclear blast in response. After the return blast, the alien ship moves away, and Sky pilots his ship home. When they make their report about the alien encounter, they are met with skepticism and doubt over what they observed, one scientist responds “The country’s full of irresponsible eccentrics who would squander a king’s ransom searching for space people…” “You have no actual proof of another intelligent life in space.” And the story ends with Dr Strickland, in a huff, taking his charts and graphs and retiring to his island to find a way to decode the blips and to send intelligent messages back to Tau Ceti.

This is some of the most ambitious storytelling Kirby had ever done, full of plot twists, personality conflicts, and deeper philosophical contemplations than ever seen in his comic book work. The detail and technical aspects are amazing.

After reading the story, I was of course struck by the many similarities with the Sagan book. The details surrounding Dr. Strickland’s research, and the actual SETI program was too coincidental, and I first assumed that SETI research must have been well known at the time that Kirby wrote the story. But, being the stickler for facts that I am, I decided to verify, and this is where it got weird!!!!

From the web site mentioned above, I found out that the first SETI project, Project Ozma, did not begin until April of 1960, more than 2 months after Jack Kirby began drawing the story – as verified by then inker Dick Ayers, whose records indicate that he began inking the first days strip at the beginning of Feb. 1960. This first project, run by an eccentric loner, Dr. Drake, in an isolated corner of this country, involved using a radio telescope, targeted on the star Tau Ceti !!!!

Science or God

The more I read about the SETI program, the more coincidences I found, so my assumption was that somehow, either through the project’s public relations, or possibly Kirby’s NASA contacts, Jack had gotten wind about the project and quickly came up with the storyline, in an attempt at making Sky Masters as topical as possible. Yet something didn’t fit, even if Kirby did have knowledge of Project Ozma, this doesn’t explain just how similar Kirby’s storyline was to Sagan’s. So I took a chance and contacted Dr. Drake. Surfing through SETI’s maze of e-mails, I finally tracked down Dr. Drake. I wrote and explained my findings, hoping that he could explain how Jack Kirby could have known about these items prior to the actual experiment. In a series of exchanges, (excerpted here) he answered some of my questions, and frankly, left me with even more.

Dr. Drake









I wrote:

Dear Dr. Drake,

I have gotten your name via the SETI Inst. Home page, I apologize for any inconvenience, but I have come across a mystery involving your initial research, and am hoping you could provide some answers.

In the months directly preceding your Project Ozma, a nationally syndicated newspaper strip called SKY MASTERS OF THE SPACE FORCE, was running a story about an eccentric astronomer who had been doing SETI style research, and had made contact with an unknown intelligence source. The many coincidences between the strip, and your work is astounding: Using a radio telescope to listen to background space garble, pinpointing Tau Ceti as the source, even the central figure, Dr. Martin Strickland bears a physical resemblance to you. Your formula quantifying extraterrestrial possibility is referred to in a passing manner. This raises some questions I hope you can shed some light on.

Dr. Drake responded;

Dear Mr. Taylor,

Thanks for your interesting message. I have no recollection whatsoever of the “Sky Masters” strip or any comic connection to Project Ozma. Perhaps it was because I was then living in West Virginia and the only newspaper available had almost no comics in it.

Question: Was your research project widely known so that a comic strip writer would have this type of specific knowledge prior to the April 8th 1960 date?

Answer: No. There was little public mention of the project in late 1959. I am surprised that anyone was writing about radio contact with ET’s at that time. It certainly was not an idea that popped up anywhere in the media of the time.

Question: Did you release any public statements announcing your research?

Answer: No, none, we kept a very low profile.

Question: Was NASA involved with your research, I ask this because the artist/writer, Jack Kirby did get technical assistance from NASA for his strip?

Answer: No, there was no NASA involvement at all in Project Ozma, or in any SETI work for many years thereafter. The NRAO, (National Radio Astronomy Observatory) was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, but no one from there was involved either.

Question: Did you know Jack Kirby?

Answer: No, this is a new name to me.

Question: Or Dave Wood?

Answer: The name Dave Wood means nothing to me.

Question: Has this strip (Sky Masters) ever been talked about? In the SETI newsletter, or any writings by yourself or others?

Answer: No, none of us has ever been aware of it

Question: The story in the strip takes the research to a similar conclusion that Dr. Sagan did in “Contact”, even going so far as having the unknown source supply a rendezvous point, and initiating contact, and an equivocating ending with no verifiable contact between the two cultures. Do you know if Dr. Sagan ever referred to this comic strip in passing?

Answer: I am pretty sure that Dr. Sagan knew nothing of this strip. He never mentioned it to me, and he probably would have had he known about it.

Greg Theakston’s graphic collection

That pretty much was the extent of our communications, I thanked him for his patience and assistance, and I promised that I would get him a copy of Greg Theakston’s Sky Masters book. (My thanks to the people at Pure Imaginations, especially Richard Bensam for supplying a copy at no cost)

I did manage to find a small article in Time Magazine from late Nov. 1959 that mentions Dr. Drake and his soon to be attempted experiment, but this article lacked the details and similarities between Kirby’s story and Sagan’s. Unfortunately, both men are gone, and can shed no light on the subject. Perhaps it is simply a case of cosmic equipoise, or the subliminal residue from Sagan reading Jack’s strip 25 years earlier. For myself, I choose to consider it a case of great minds thinking alike.

Kirby knew science, and science fiction. He voraciously read novels and sci-fi pulps, and was kept up to date by his friends at NASA; Neal explains;

“Dad was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club,(started in 1953) so robots and aliens and tales of the future abounded. How did he actually have time to read? I have no idea, but the Dungeon collection was no ornamental library; he had read every book and probably more than twice.

Sagan’s book postulates one of the great unanswered realities; Answering a question from the child version of the main character, her father says; “The universe is a pretty big place.  It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before.  So if it’s just us…seems like an awful waste of space.” I think Jack Kirby understood and accepted this concept, and soon populated his world with Krees, Skrulls, Insecticons, Galactus’ and dozens of other alien forms from outside the galaxy; both good and bad. This concept became perhaps the single most quest of Kirby’s fictional life. Jack Kirby saw both the traders, and the tigers.

Soon after the Sky Masters tale, Kirby drew a monster story for Atlas named Sserpo-the Creature that Crushed the World. The story revolved around another scientist doing SETI style research and uses his radio telescope to contact an alien society for help. This story appeared in Amazing Adventures #6 (Nov. 1961)

Kirby reusing the radio telescope bit with the same philosophical fear.

Another connection would occur many years later when Jack Kirby was asked by a magazine for his ideas for the Jupiter Plaque. This was a plaque devised by Carl Sagan to be sent into space to introduce humanity to any alien civilization that might one day come across it. Ever the philosopher, Jack explained that he was wary about sending an invite to aliens, because we don’t know who would answer, “the trader or the tiger”. So Jack’s response was a picture of man as happy superheroes, friendly, but able to protect themselves against invaders, still bluffing our way into space. Jack used this bluff many times in his Atlas monster tales, and in Fantastic Four #2 when he sent clippings of Atlas monsters to scare the Skrull Empire into believing Earth inhabitants were too powerful.

more sentient robot stories

Kirby’s time with Sky Masters wasn’t solitary. He spent a lot of time preparing other strips to sell to the syndicates. None seem to have caught on despite the help of the cream of the comic inkers. Chip Hardy was especially interesting as Kirby added in many sci-fi elements. Some that would be used again later.

Many titles and many presentations, the inkers were a mix of giants; Wood, Giella, Giacoia, Elder.

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Looking For The Awesome – 15. On His Own Again

Previous – 14. The Art Of The Swipe | Contents | Next – 16. Kirby’s Kosmic Mystery

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


While scrambling at Charlton, Joe remained in contact with his buddies at Harvey. Al noticed that Dell was doing well with TV tie-ins. One of the most popular TV shows was Disney’s Davy Crockett which debuted in 1954. Now Davy Crockett was a historical figure so Disney could not copyright the character. Joe was hired to edit some of Harvey’s titles. As part of their Western Tales series Joe hired Jack to draw a Davy Crockett series. After two issues, Davy Crockett was summarily dropped and Jim Bowie was given the lead for the final issue; seemingly based on the movie “The Iron Mistress”. Boy’s Ranch tales were reprinted as back-up stories. Jack would also draw over two dozen covers for Harvey’s romance and war books the next year.

More importantly, now that S&K were no longer producing their own romance books, Prize turned their romance titles back over to Joe and Jack. Immediately they were back drawing an average of 23 pages of romance stories for three bi-monthly titles. But this was different, they were no longer 50/50 part owners, Jack was now freelancing– working for page rates. These 20+ pages a month had to carry Jack for the next year.

On Dec. 1, 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat. She was arrested. Now Rosa wasn’t naïve, she was also the secretary for the local branch of the NAACP. She knew from past experience what her actions would detail. But she was tired after a days work and had had enough. Just a few months earlier she had attended a function where the young Dr. Martin Luther King had called for more response in reaction to Emmitt Till’s death. This singular act coming so soon after the Emmett Till murder, gave rise to what was called the civil rights movement when that young minister from Atlanta, Georgia named Martin Luther King Jr. called for a citywide boycott. There were accusations that this was a planned event to showcase the plight of the blacks. The resulting boycott and lawsuit led to a Federal Court declaring that Alabama’s segregation laws were unconstitutional, and they were disbanded. The resultant violence and outrage would last for decades as blacks in other areas began demanding their dignity and civil rights.

Rosa with Dr. King –  Frank Giacoia

Mama Rose had not taken Ben’s death well. Her own health began to falter and the Kirby boys decided to put her in an assisted living home. In 1956 she quietly passed. It was the worst of times for Jack. His business in shambles, his partnership broken, and now the loss of his mother–the anchor for all that made Jack a quality person. Scenes at the Kirby casa must have been intense.

Times were tight, this down period was lasting a little too long for comfort. Jack looked at other companies with no luck. After fifteen years partnered with Joe Simon, Jack had lost the skill of selling himself. Then a friend, artist Frank Giacoia told him that Atlas always needed artists. Jack explained how he had left Timely/Atlas in a less than positive situation in 1941. Frank said that he would intervene in Jack’s behalf.

Atlas was the latest accepted name for Martin Goodman’s publishing empire. The name derived from the Atlas logo printed on the covers of the comics. After Simon and Kirby left Timely, the editorial reins were handed over to Stan Lee, the young gofer turned text story writer and relative to the owner. Under Stan’s guidance, Atlas had grown to be the most prolific comic company around. What it lacked in an identifying personality, or literary quality, it made up in sheer numbers.

Goodman’s m.o. was to follow trends and blanket the market, smothering the competition. Bill Gaines once said that given a fair chance, his individual books outsold everyone else’s, but what he couldn’t overcome was Atlas’ ability to flood out his books at the retailers. There were months where Atlas published over 50 titles. Stan’s job was not to develop characters and innovate; it was to keep the trains running on time, a facilitator of product dispersement. Perhaps the best proof of Stan’s lack of seriousness was that Gene Colan tells of when he approached Timely for work, he found Stan in his office wearing a beanie with a propeller on top, laughing merrily. But Stan was not without talents, Stan Lee had proven himself very adept at writing peppy teen humor strips. Millie the Model was the closest Atlas had to an iconic title. Millie and her friends Patsy, Hedy, and Sherry frequented almost a dozen titles. Atlas published almost 20 individual war tiles, and more than a dozen interchangeable western, horror and romance titles. Later they had looked to TV as the new source for ideas. More than anything, Stan needed competent artists to crank out all the reams of paper Atlas printed each month.

If there was any negative blowback for Kirby’s earlier exit it didn’t come from Stan Lee. Stan was excited to have Kirby back. Stan had only fond memories of Jack from 1941. It’s doubtful that Martin Goodman even knew Jack was back. Jack was a freelancer, working at home. Martin Goodman might not have been the most honest individual, but he has neither record of being personally spiteful, nor any record of him micromanaging the comic division.

If there was a good side of the breakup, it was that once again Jack was working at home. His little dungeon became his castle. It would be his little spot of the world for next dozen or so years. Neal remembers that little room.

“The door to Dad’s studio was usually closed. That wasn’t to keep noise out, it was to keep all the smoke in. My father’s cigar smoking was legendary and when you opened the door to the Dungeon you were met with a great billowing cloud. It wasn’t so bad if he was smoking something good, like a Garcia Vega, and the smell would be almost tolerable. Unfortunately, that only happened around his birthday or Father’s Day, when boxes of decent cigars came with a bow on top. When Dad was buying he didn’t bother with fancy brands. It didn’t matter if it was rolled-up skunk cabbage, to him a stogie was a stogie.”

The first job Kirby got at Atlas was a war story for Battleground #14 (Nov. 1956) quickly followed by a fantasy story for Astonishing #56 (Dec. 1956) Stan’s favorite artist at the time was Joe Maneely, perhaps the fastest, most facile, and dependable artist of his time, if not, he was second only to Jack Kirby. Joe was fast but somewhat predictable and plain. He was good, but lacked the dynamism and energy of a Kirby. Interestingly, Jack was immediately given control of a new series, Yellow Claw. The first issue was drawn by Joe Maneely. Joe’s version was a straight forward Cold War spy thriller centered on an Asian villain; a weak tea version of 007. Jack’s was different.

Mythological crazies and mutants

When Kirby took over, the whole timber of the series abruptly changed into a hi-tech sci-fi thrill-a-rama. The Yellow Claw became a maniacal arch villain bent on world domination. Kirby brought in mutants, aliens, mythological monsters, and any other weird characters that a clever story could be built around. There had never been a series like it. It was wild and crazy and over the top. While there were no credits listed, Kirby’s hand is all over these changes,in the formatting, in the writing style, and in the thematic changes. Unfortunately the series only lasted for three additional issues.

Hypnotists and Kirby aliens

Unknown to Jack, the world was once again entering a period of unparalleled creative energy. The planets were aligning, and storms were brewing and waves were building that would wash away the stagnant detritus of the 1950’s. Political, artistic, cultural, societal, and philosophical conflicts would converge and erupt and tear the very fabric of society. Families would be torn asunder as the children understood that the times they were a ’changin’. Just as radio had ushered in jazz, now TV showed us an imperfect world beyond our small little neighborhoods. New idols were needed to take over from Roy, Gene, Hopalong and John Wayne. A TV producer and writer would team-up and provide a new template for the American hero, stoic, humorous, sarcastic, with a heart of gold and…feet of clay. At Warner Bros. Wm. T. Orr hired Roy Huggins to create a new western hero. Huggins, a novelist known best for hard boiled pulp fiction, and condemnation from the HUAC Committee due to his Communist Party flirtation in the 1930’s came up with Cheyenne. Cheyenne Bodie was a loner traveling the trails of the old west searching for adventure. His parents were killed during an Indian raid, and the child was raised as a Cheyenne-thus his name. Cheyenne served variously as a scout, Indian fighter, lawman, trail boss, and bounty hunter. (very similar to S&K’s Bullseye.) Roy Huggins explains how he created Cheyenne by recycling scripts from Warner Brothers movies such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), often simply inserting the character of Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) into familiar stories from the studio vaults. These changes brought the series a sense of gravitas and a measure of respect as an “adult” western and made it the studio’s first full-fledged hit. Cheyenne was closer to a Gary Cooper stoicism, but Huggins would stretch his template with his next creation.

Building on this success, Roy and Orr followed this up with what has been called the first TV anti-hero when they introduced Maverick. With Maverick, Huggins turned the western genre on its head, adding self mockery and parody to the stolid genre. The Maverick boys were as brave and honorable as Cheyenne, but their first responsibility was always themselves, and they had to be prodded to put their safety on the line. The heroics were almost accidental by nature. Huggins made the Maverick Bros, reluctant heroes, with distinct feet of clay. Their good humor was as much a weapon as their guns. Huggins would also throw in pop culture references to spice up the stories. Huggins followed this up with Sugarfoot, a pacifistic wannabe lawyer trying to bring law and justice to the west. His aw-shucks easy going manner stood in dark contrast to the hulking brooding Cheyenne; once again a hero with personal limitations. The touch of irony that Huggins brought to the western genre in Maverick and Sugarfoot with their irreverent blend of drama and comedy–has become one of the defining characteristics of dramatic series in the subsequent years, not just for TV but the movies, art, and graphic storytelling as well. If there is any great theme to be found in the culture of the 1960’s it would be self- deprecation and parody. Woody Allen and Stan Kubrick solidified this genre.

Lookin’ out for number one

The three series were huge successes and Huggins would follow these up with even more series. In 1958 he would update his milieu to modern day adventure and detective series. With 77 Sunset Strip, Huggins designed a template for TV group concepts. In series like Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye, and Surfside 6, the team usually consisted of two old friends, one perhaps slightly older, more cerebral, and the other brawnier, earthier, quicker to anger and more apt to think with his fists. Add to that a hot chic to stir up the pot, and a young hot head always getting into trouble. The friends would bicker and fight over methods, girls, and money. The series would become intertwined as the stars would often cross-over and appear in the others show. One facet was an almost cavalier attitude towards authority as the heroes were often called to go around the law to find justice. The subject matter of these shows was often mirrored in the problems of the day, drugs, racial prejudice, class warfare, and greedy businessmen trampling on the small man.

Pop culture would lead the charge as race music- as black rhythm and blues was called- challenged the old guard for the ears, heart and money of their children. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and others begat Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Pat Boone, who begat a wave of imitators from abroad, the result was rock and roll. Perhaps the most important tidal wave of all since it would shape all other trends and fashions for the next decade. R&R was the magnet pulling all the disparate elements together. It’s astounding that an artform born and reared in the US would find its most fervent voices in a small dirty port city in Great Britain.

Just as William Orr and Roy Huggins were beginning a collaboration that would dominate TV and Jack Kirby was beginning a collaborative pairing with Stan Lee that would shake the world of comics, in a small church in England a pair of teenagers were meeting whose partnership would transform not just music, but culture itself. A Liverpool England lad, John Lennon had formed a small skiffle band called the Quarrymen in 1956. While performing at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool, John Lennon and Paul McCartney met and the pair found out that they have similar pop idol interests: “Paul, what kind of music do you like?” asked John. “Well I used to like Lonnie Donnegan but now that skiffle is fading out I love the music of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, Little Richard…”

Hey! John interrupted, “they’re all the people I’m into.”

Joe Simon was still restless, editing at Harvey and Prize was not the same as creating and selling new concepts. He and Jack had been working on a new idea while still at Mainline. The concept was an updated kid gang book, where the kids were now adults. A group of four specialists who sought danger and thrills no one else would face. Jack and Joe put together a presentation for Challengers of the Unknown and probably reluctantly due to their break-up with DC just after the war, took it to National Publications. In July 1956, they made the presentation to Editor Jack Schiff, a familiar face from their earlier time at DC. Jack Schiff liked the presentation, but things had changed at DC. They were no longer allowing outside studios to supply work; all books were tightly controlled by its editors. So Joe Simon would not be allowed to control their new title. With no other duties except perhaps as inker, Joe decided to pass on the project. Jack was perfectly happy to pencil the book for page rate since DC paid the highest rates in the industry. Joe went back to work at Harvey. His attempt at restarting Simon and Kirby failed. Jack Schiff partnered Kirby with writer Dave Wood.

The fearless Foursome

The Challengers was unique, most groups were formed by force fitting existing heroes into a working unit to take on a powerful enemy, a la Justice Society of America, but the Challs were neither drafted, nor brought together to save the world. The Challs became a group as an act of fate, a singular moment in time, a shared unexpected happening that changed their lives and forged a unit. While flying to a radio interview, the four adventurers are blown off course by a fierce storm. Ace Morgan was a test pilot, Red Ryan a circus daredevil, Prof. Haley an Undersea Explorer, and Rocky Davis was an Olympic wrestler. Unable to control the plane, pilot Ace Morgan crash lands the plane in a dark forest. One by one from the wreckage the four men emerge, unscathed. Red says, “We should be dead–but we’re not! My watch should be smashed. yet it’s unharmed-keeping time” Ace replies; “Borrowed time, Red, we’re living on borrowed time.” Realizing that they have faced down death itself, the men decide to band together and take up any challenge that is too scary for normal people. Taking jobs for men who “fear neither devil, nor death”

The new book was scheduled to appear in a tryout series named Showcase. Showcase was started as a way to introduce new concepts and see what the audience response would be. If warranted, the title would receive its own series. The public little noted the first 3 issues, but for issue #4, National decided to reboot a long dormant super hero. The new Flash was the first of a flood of new and rebooted super-heroes. DC had reignited the super-hero craze.

Enter the fifth Challenger

Challenger’s appeared in issue #6, and again in #7, a sure sign that Schiff was excited with the series, ordering a second issue before the first even hit the stand.

The adventures thrown at the Challs rivaled any ever seen in comics. They faced every scary nightmare from the occult to futuristic technology. Sorcerers, aliens, sentient robots, ex-Nazis, even giant rocky mythological warriors, and the League of Death Cheaters never flinched in their duties. There were times when they separated and worked independently and then there were times when the worked together as a tight knit unit. In the second issue they even had outside help as a beautiful computer expert joined the group. June Robbins would become the unofficial fifth Challenger when she was recruited to help defeat Ultivac, a sentient robot created when “the use of radioactive materials in building this machine has somehow developed in its braincase …a thinking process on a par with humans!” One of the unique factors in Challs was that along with the futuristic elements, actual recent scientific developments were included. When Rocky is accidentally shot it is left to the doctors to perform a new process of open heart massage to revive him. The robot seeking sentience and acceptance was a concept Jack would revisit numerous times.

Go into space, crash land, get power to flame on – Romance comes full circle

The art is primo Kirby, powerful, detailed and imaginative. The strange part is the formatting. Harking back to the early 1940’s, the pages are full of the large circular panels and zigzag borders. This was also seen in some of the concurrent Yellow Claw stories and a few DC fantasy tales. The inking in the Challs books was very clean, most likely due to the inking being done by DC stalwarts like Marvin Stein, George Klein and Bruno Premiani. It’s hard to know what editorial demands led to this cleaner, white bread inking. What is missing is the circular shadows, and halos and claustrophobic geometrics. There are a few in the first issue, but none later. This may have been more a Joe Simon technique. The inking on the Yellow Claw stories is dense, full of heavy cross-hatching and the heavy shading of the Simon and Kirby studios-minus the circular shadows and arches. The Yellow Claw pages were probably inked by Kirby himself. Schiff’s instincts were good; the response was positive. He assigned Kirby to do 2 more issues for Showcase # 11 &12.

We will see stone heads and Rocs again

Schiff also assigned Kirby assorted back up stories for National’s fantasy titles. These were similar in theme to the sci-fi fantasy tales that Jack was doing at Atlas for Yellow Claw, concepts like thought control, size shifting, alien visitations, and interdimensional travel, Kirby finally found the genre he was born for.

OK not every monster was a hit – Krackel, krackel, krackel

Jack had rebounded once again, he was back doing steady work for three companies, yet the industry was still in turmoil. Martin Goodman, a seasoned businessman was about to make a big mistake-one that would almost cost him his comic business. In a move with strong similarities to what happened to Mainline, Goodman developed distributor problems.

At the beginning of the decade, several events occurred at Atlas that would have long term results. Perhaps most important was that Goodman summarily fired his large bullpen of artists; instead they would now be considered “freelancers’ who were considered independent contractors responsible for their own taxes, own materials, own vacations, yet have no attachment to their work as the company claimed all rights to their creations. Despite this separation between them and the editor, Stan would keep up the fallacy of a close knit group of friends. Second, Martin Goodman had secured his news stand position by becoming his own distributor. He called it Atlas News Company and made his 50-80 comics a month the core of the company as well as his paperback and magazine divisions. The Atlas insignia became the one uniting feature of the company.

In 1956, in a questionable decision he suddenly and inexplicably dropped Atlas News and joined the largest national distributor American News. American had become prominent because of its 3 tier set-up. The main distribution, a series of sub-distributors covering the country, and a web of retail stores that sold to the public. But all the distributors were suffering from the effects of the Kefauver hearings. Publishers, retailers and readers had been falling by the wayside for the last couple years leaving the national distributors in a tenuous position. Horror struck when in early 1957, American was hit by both the government and customers and was forced to close shop. Dell, its largest client canceled its service and followed with an anti-trust suit over the monopolistic nature of the company, which it says failed to maximize Dell’s place in the market.

Goodman was suddenly left without a distributor and in what has been called “the 1957 Implosion” he closed down the shop and stopped buying new product. Stan Lee had the sad job of telling his friends that there was no more work. John Romita was asked to bring in his unfinished story sans pay, and was told he was laid off by a secretary because Stan was too embarrassed to face him directly.

Goodman quickly scrambled and worked out an agreement with Independent, the distributing arm of National Publications. Goodman sadly accepted the new conditions that forced the closure of the paperback division, and limited his comic output to 8 titles monthly. For the short term, Stan would take the back inventory from upwards of 80 titles and force them into 16 bland bi-monthly books.

Goodman’s empire overnight became one of the smallest comic publishers.
For all the sordid details, try to pick up a copy of Tales of the Atlas Implosion, self-published by Dr. Tom Lammers.

Classy John Severin cover – cute little fishies

Jack had just finished the first issue of a new series for Stan Lee, The Black Rider Rides Again and started on the second issue when word came down that work was halted. Atlas was shut down. Once again outside pressures set Kirby back. The industry was taking a battering, and the artists were the casualties.

Things looked up somewhat when Frank Giacoia asked Jack to ghost his newspaper strip Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. For the next seven months –from July 1957 to Feb. 1958–Jack did the Sunday strip. Kirby also collaborated on several proposed newspaper strips with Frank Giacoia, Marvin Stein, and Will Elder. Rumor has it that Giacoia offered Kirby the work due to the falling out at Atlas. It looked like Kirby may have colored some of them. Over at DC, Jack Schiff increased the page count on his mystery books and offered Jack the Green Arrow strip when George Papp left.

Kirby aping Giacoia

Some more good news came when Joe Simon contacted Jack about some new work for Harvey. Harvey must have noticed the good response that DC was having with their Post-Atomic fantasy books, and decided to update one of his horror titles.

Kirby’s time at Prize in the late 50’s is challenging. Most of the work seems to be Kirby simply providing pencils for Simon edited projects. Yet there are books which claim that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were both editors, and oddly enough, show very little Kirby work. One such is All For Love, a romance book totally separate from Young Romance or the others. In fact, the only issue featuring Kirby work was (Vol. 3#2 Aug. 1959); very late in Jack’s Prize tenure. Yet the other artists seem to have been culled from the Simon/Kirby studio of a year earlier. It’s hard to know just how accurate these credits are, but the ownership blurbs were supposedly notarized and verifiable.

Funny that Young Romance and Young Love no longer had Kirby as editor. Joe Simon would always move in and out of Prize’s editorial chain, even up to the 1960’s, but the credit of Jack Kirby was rarely listed. S&K expert Harry Mendryk speculates that the listing of Kirby as editor on a couple series was a mistake. He points to what he thinks are corrective statements just a few months later, rather than waiting till the next year as was the usual method. He believes Kirby was just a freelance contributor by that time. But I still wonder. Why would Prize mistakenly credit Kirby on a long running series. The listing of Simon and Kirby was not an oversight, since neither was involved in the creation, but rather a specific choice by someone.
What is obvious is that Kirby’s Prize stories were no longer inked by Joe or another S&K studio inker. These stories are rather austere and lacking of crossshatching and the arches, and halos most common during the S&K years. It has been suggested that Jack inked many of these himself; though I still see a couple different inkers at work.

Inking is more planar and sloppy, lacking in depth and texture faces
more formulaic no snaky shadows, or arches

Back at Harvey, Black Cat had started life as Black Cat Comics – a vehicle for their popular female costumed heroine. When super heroes started to fade, the genre changed, first to a western title and then to a horror/suspense title. With issue #58 (Apr. 56) it entered the modern age with four stories by Kirby, all post-atomic sci-fi themed with the usual collection of aliens, mutates, and mad scientists and a new title, Black Cat Mystery.

A new companion book soon joined. Alarming Tales #1, cover dated Sept. 1957 featured five Kirby stories with themes and plot elements that would reecho throughout the remainder of Jack’s work. The first four issues of this series represent perhaps the most seminal period of Kirby’s later career. Plus for perhaps the first time, Kirby’s work received an illustrative finish to his pencils when Al Willianson brought his Raymondesque sensitivity to the inking. Williamson had a softer more textured line than any inker over Kirby before, and the result over Kirby’s powerful pencils was astonishingly beautiful; a veneer of subtlety and natural lighting with an organic decorative sheen. Reminiscent of Hal Foster’s naturalness and texture, with Alex Raymond’s precision and grace. Al Williamson remembers; “I remember going up to Harvey and getting work there. They said” We haven’t got any work for you, but we have some stories here that Jack penciled. Do you want to ink them? I’d never really inked anybody else before, but I said, “Sure, because I looked at the stuff and thought, “I can follow this. It’s all there.” I inked it. They liked it, and gave me three or four stories to do.”

Joe edits seminal Kirby

Al Williamson inks

On Oct. 4 1957 sci-fi, technology, and Cold War socio-politics collided when the USSR launched Sputnik All eyes were now focused clearly at the skies, and a National purpose was ignited. Joe Simon or Al Harvey realized the importance and immediately assembled a new title. Race for the Moon #1 was rushed out in only 2 months. The Kirby cover was a lie, inside contained reprints of space themed stories culled from Harvey’s archives, mostly by Bob Powell. More interestingly is that the Kirby cover was blurbed in just about every Harvey book, yet the actual cover was changed from the blurb sample. The background world covered 2/3rds of the background on the cover blurbs, but the actual cover shows that the editor, possibly Joe Simon shrunk the background world to a small corner of the cover—perhaps to make the figures stand out stronger. This actually happened regularly as editors continued to make changes up to the last moment. Issues #2-3 contained all new stories by Kirby, centered on space exploration, national paranoia, and alien contact. Simon and Kirby also introduced a new team.

What Sputnik wrought

Following the template seen in Challengers of the Unknown, The Three Rocketeers featured Figures Faraday, an older scientist, Kip McCoy, a fearless pilot leader, and Beefy Brown, a brawny earthy engineer. All that was missing was a young hothead. Jack also mindful of the impact of Sputnik, had recruited Dave Wood, the writer from DC to work up a space based strip for newspaper syndication. The result was called Space Busters, inked by Marvin Stein. There was another unused strip called Surf Hunter with an incredible combination of Jack Kirby and Wally Wood.

Another Kirby group template

Kirby surrealistics – not of this world

Proposed Kirby strip w/Wood

While this was going on, word came down that Challengers of the Unknown was such a success that it was being given its own title. This was the first of the original Showcase features to get the gold ring, even before the resurgent super-heroes. The other editors were working overtime to come up with their own fearless adventure team. The Suicide Squad, Rip Hunter, Sea Devils, all followed the template forged by the Challs. DC had a new hit, and a new genre and Kirby gave it to them.

Joe was not the only one taking notice of the space race. In Jan. 1958, Harry Elmlark walked into the offices of National Periodicals. Harry Elmlark was a sales representative for George Matthew Adams Service, a syndicate house. He was looking for a space based strip that he could sell to the newspapers. He met with Jack Schiff, who showed him several concepts, but Elmlark wasn’t thrilled. Schiff suggested that he might be able to come up with something, and asked Elmlark for a couple days. Schiff went to Jack Liebowitz, General Manager of DC and told him about Elmlark’s request. Liebowitz explained that he had no interest in DC getting involved, but if Schiff wanted to pursue it on his own, he was welcome to try.

Jack Schiff then approached writer Dave Wood, Schiff had remembered that Dave had told him that he and Jack Kirby were working on a space strip concept. After being told of Elmlark’s request, Dave said that he would retrieve the samples and meet up with Schiff the next day.

Dave brought the samples to a Kirby strip entitled Space Busters, while not sure if Elmlark would be happy with the strip, Schiff discussed some story ideas and told Wood that he would show the samples to Elmlark. Later that day, Elmlark met up with Jack Schiff, and presented the samples. He liked the art, but wanted a stronger storyline. He said he was in a hurry as there was another artist’s work in the running.

Schiff met up with Wood and Kirby and they all agreed to take a crack at the strip, with Schiff supervising the script with Wood with Kirby drawing it. Dave Wood went home and along with his brother Dick, worked on an outline and brought it back to Jack Schiff. But Schiff was tied up with other business, he contacted Elmlark and explained that he wasn’t going to be able to do the feature, but would send Wood and Kirby to work directly with him.

Kirby and Wood met up with Elmlark, shared the sample strips, and listened to his ideas. The meeting went well. Wood would finish a script based on their shared ideas and Kirby would prepare new art immediately. Elmlark was heading out of town soon. The samples were soon done; Schiff liked what he saw and turned them over to Elmlark. Elmlark accepted the samples and took them on the road to sell the concept.

The Wood Brothers and Kirby started discussing a proposed contract, and part of the agreement was a 5% finder’s fee for Jack Schiff for his part of the deal. Word came back from Elmlark that he thought he had the concept sold. Negotiations and a binder agreement with the syndicate were drawn up on Feb. 10th, with no mention of Jack Schiff. The negotiations with the syndicate did not quite go to Jack Kirby’s satisfaction. It seemed that too much of the actual production cost of the strip was being placed on Kirby’s end, so the Woods and Kirby renegotiated their contract. Their talks broke down when they couldn’t work out an equitable percentage. Kirby decided to walk.

Later that day Kirby met with Schiff and they discussed Kirby’s reluctance. Schiff tried to reassure Kirby that it was silly to walk away now after his hard work. The next day, Kirby and the Woods met again and ironed out a new contract, this time with a higher split for Kirby, who had to pay for an inker, and letterer, plus supplies. They explained to Schiff that Kirby suggested lowering Schiff’s percentage to 3%, and they cut the difference and decided it would be 4%. Schiff agreed and said let there be no more disputes. They met up later and Schiff suggested they memorialize the agreement. Dave Wood and Kirby signed a letter of intent agreeing that Schiff would be paid 4% for his role.

That’s Jack Schiff’s story. For Kirby’s part he differs in some areas. Kirby was excited about getting a newspaper strip; it was every comic artists dream. But from the very first negotiations, Jack was upset. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of the action. Elmlark was getting it from the top, Wood and Kirby would split the remainder, with most of the expenses coming from Jack’s share. Then Jack Schiff chimed in, he wanted a cut also. Jack didn’t believe that he deserved a share, certainly not an ongoing percentage-possibly a one-time finder’s fee- but nothing more. To Kirby’s way of thinking, Schiff had dropped out of the deal when he turned the negotiations over to the Woods and Kirby, plus it was a Kirby drawn sample, done prior to Elmlark and Schiff, that they had used as a pitching point. It was Dave Wood and Kirby who closed the deal. Schiff was not involved with negotiations on a contract with the syndicate. None of the expected jobs of an agent were done by Schiff. Nothing of the deal was due to Schiff, except for passing along a phone number. Memories of Reese Rosenfield probably clouded Jack’s judgment.

Wally Wood loved drawing the ladies – Kirby’s best femme fatale

Kirby and the Wood Bros. worked on a contract and Dave suggested a gratuity for Jack Schiff. When Schiff heard, he refused a one time offer and demanded a percentage. When told of this, Kirby balked at giving Schiff a cut. Dave Wood said “If we don’t give him a percentage, he’ll be furious with you and maybe with me.” Kirby understood a shakedown when he heard it. His Lower East Side hackles rose up. The idea being that Schiff controlled the assignments for DC, and might cut them back. Jack understood the situation and relented. On April 15th, Kirby and Dave Wood met with Schiff and according to Kirby, Schiff made it obvious that there would be repercussions if Kirby didn’t agree. Schiff typed up a letter of intent and Dave Wood and Jack Kirby signed — Kirby reluctantly. Interestingly, Jack Schiff never signed-anything!

For most of the summer, things were going well. Production on the new strip Sky Masters was proceeding well. Unbelievably, Kirby was able to hire Wallace Wood to ink the strip. Wally Wood was a breath of fresh air that wafted in from the American Mid-West, cocky, restless, and talented. His work was imbued with all the right inspirations; he loved the cartoonists like Hal Foster, Roy Crane. Alex Raymond, and Milton Caniff, but also studied the new masters, like the elegant Lou Fine, and the energetic and dynamic Jack Kirby. He started in the early 1950’s, mostly with the small netherlands of American publishers like Fox, and Avon. He quickly graduated up to EC Comics, where Bill Gaines set him to work on his newly fashioned comics line. Wally produced work for almost all of Gaines titles; the romance, the war and mostly the sci-fi strips. Wally was so adept that he also worked on Mad Magazine doing parodies and caricature. When Gaines closed down the comics in 1956, Wally became one of the major artists on Mad Magazine. He also picked up some work providing covers for sci-fi mags like If, and Galaxy. Wally; both solely and partnered with Joe Orlando had created a body of work unequaled in the 1950’s. Wally was considered a penciler supreme.

He had come along and spearheaded the next great grouping of comic artists, Along with Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, and Al Williamson, et al. he ushered in the second wave of creative talent to the comic world. It was this supreme group that would partner with Jack Kirby to supply the Silver Age of Comics. It’s unknown just how Wally became available, and why Kirby would ever even consider him. It had been a long time since Wally inked other’s work. But it was a match made in comic heaven. Just as Al Williamson had brought an extra dimension with his soft textured inking, Wally Wood brought a talent for sharp as a knife, hi contrast, hyper dramatic inks. It was hard as diamonds, and gave the strip the depth and feeling of isolation and hi-contrast needed for a space based strip. All the surfaces became shiny and reflective with a feeling of artificial light throwing hard and sharp shadows, the perfect ambiance for the hi-tech claustrophobic life in deep space. As to how– the only reference was from Tatjana Wood who recalls Jack Kirby coming to the house and asking Wally to assist him. Why Kirby assumed a penciler of Wally’s talents would agree to ink a strip also remains a mystery. It may have been as simple as economics. The late 50’s were a horrible time for comic artists. With little work they searched other avenues. After producing 4 covers on a book series, Wally lamented “It’s not comic books, but it pays the bills.

Sky Master’s was different; it wasn’t an Alex Raymond space opera. The focus wasn’t on some futuristic world of alien societies or ray gun toting space western. It was set in the near future, with the modern technology of the nascent space race. It starts with man’s first attempt at space flight. The main draw was the attention to detail and the accuracy of NASA’s technology. These were real rockets, and existing space capsules, not the space darts of Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon. It was immediate; the stories were taken from the daily headlines. The sub-orbital flights of Shepard and Grissom–the use of animals rather than humans, and fear of cosmic rays. The cast of characters fit the Kirby pattern. The brave laconic pilot hero,(Sky Masters) the science mentor, (Dr. Royer) and (Will Riot) the beefy Earthy mechanic sidekick, and friend from the Korean War and the quiet girl friend (Holly Martin) daughter of a senior pilot that Sky rescued, and her hot headed younger brother Danny. This strange mix of sci-fi and sci-fact was magical, Kirby bridging the ground and the stars, Wood supplying the texture and. ambience.

Kirby quickly brought in an active female presence in Challengers with June, a computer wizard who assisted the boys in Showcase #7. In Sky Masters, Kirby introduced perhaps his most sexual, animalistic, and driven female protagonist when he introduced Mayday Shannon- an ex-girlfriend of Sky’s and renewed rival for Sky’s affection.

Another radiation affected machine

This relationship was right out of a Simon and Kirby romance story. Mayday is Sky’s equal in every way and the perfect foil for his stodgy, straight assed, uptight military bearing, and no one inked more beautiful woman than Wally Wood. The training scenes are so realistic, due to the fact that Kirby was getting data and photos directly from NASA. Kirby said that NASA even invited him down to Cape Canaveral to experience the actual training program, and to witness flights. Neal Kirby, who loved airplanes and flying as much as his dad, used to look forward with great anticipation the manila folders sent to Jack by NASA.

Jack quickly added June Robbins. Wally Wood made her blond and gorgeous

Work at DC continued unabated. Challs got better and better. A back-up strip, Green Arrow became available when the penciler, George Papp was moved to a different book. Jack Kirby took over the strip in both Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics. Like most of the other DC super-heroes, Green Arrow was being updated, and Kirby supplied the updated origin story. And like every other Kirby title, it became a showcase for every wild sci-fi concept he could think of; alien Green Arrows transporting to Earth, time travel, hypnosis and gadget arrows a-plenty. But there was some blowback from other DC editors who thought the changes on Green Arrow were hurting the book. They went to Schiff and had him make Kirby revert back to the earlier simpler tales.

Thor’s hammer escapes from Journey Into Mystery – Green Arrow meets Kirby wrong one talking

Shortly, Wally Wood also became the inker for Challengers as of issue #4 and the book never looked so well. This accounted for Wally reaching a pinnacle. It was always a goal of comic book artists to get a gig at DC. They paid the highest, they sold the best and working there carried a cache of success in the business. Wally’s work for DC would be hit and miss, but this job was a good start. It also introduced Wally Wood—the inker extraordinaire –to the business, a job that Wally would do for the rest of his life. Interestingly, Jack inked many of the fantasy stories and Green Arrows himself. Roz would help out outlining the pencils in ink, and filling in the black areas. The extra money for inking was nice.

Green Arrow meets Kirby sci-fi

Jack was so into the project that once he met up with Wally at his house and saw Al Williamson—the soft illustrative inker from before at Harvey– working in the studio, and Jack recoiled in horror. Al recalled; “Wally told me later. He’s worried that you might be inking his stuff. I told him, “Don’t worry, he’s a good artist, but he’s not gonna touch this. Wally was a good guy, but Jack was a little concerned: What’s this guy doing here?” And he scared me. You don’t wanna mess with Jack!”

Eat your heart out Vince Colletta—Wally Wood

In June, 1958, Jack Kirby got a call from Stan Lee. The inventoried art that they had been printing during the Atlas implosion was running out. Martin Goodman gave him the green light to buy new art. The reduced output had been a mixture of romance, war, teen humor and old fashioned gothic horror. Incredibly, Stan’s favorite collaborator, Joe Maneely had died just a week before when he fell between train cars on the way home. With the new work, there is a sudden shift to the Post-Atomic sci-fi genre Kirby had been doing for the past year. Within one cycle a full 6 titles had been transformed into the new genre. Jack quickly became the #1 artist and the cover artist for Stan’s adventure books. Stan promised Kirby as many pages as he could provide. Steve Ditko became the de-facto #2. Wally Wood evened helped out inking a job- or maybe it was left over inventory from DC. Strangely, it fell to inker George Roussos to see the books and tell Jack and Stan that they had hit on something good. Stan muttered, “I’ll believe you when I see the sales figures.” The sales on the fantasy books leapt to the top of Atlas’ charts, they led the teen and romance books by 20%

At the same time, the two Liverpool moptops paid a local recorder to make a vanity pressing of the Quarrymen. Given to close friends, only a couple copies of this pressing remain. It contains the first recorded song by Paul McCartney and George Harrison on the back.

The earliest known recording of the Quarrymen on a vanity label doing Buddy Holly (1958)

The genius of Joe Maneely passed too soon – George “Inky” Roussos

In August, Sky Masters was just about to go to press. The strip looked great and all the work Kirby put into it showed on the strip. There had been some rumblings from Jack Schiff. Schiff approached Kirby and talked about renegotiating their verbal agreement for 4%. (The letter of intent was not a contract) According to Kirby, Schiff wanted a bigger piece, perhaps as much as a 10% sliding fee. Kirby was furious, he balked at original 4% because he didn’t believe that Schiff had done anything other than bring DC Elmlark and Wood/Kirby together. It wasn’t a Schiff sample that sold the strip. Schiff didn’t assist on the writing or art chores. Kirby said that Schiff made reference to his work at DC and how it might disappear if he didn’t cooperate. Kirby says it wasn’t done verbally, but with a wink and a nudge, as most strong arming is done. Kirby stood his ground, and in fact implied he might not even pay the 4%. The meeting ended with both sides upset, and still no signed agreement.

In late August tragedy struck. Dick and Dave Wood had a third brother, Bob Wood, a well respected artist who worked for years on Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay. Gleason’s comic company was another casualty of the Comic Code Authority and Wood found work harder and harder to find. Bob Wood took to drinking and occasional work for sleazy magazines doing porno. On Aug 27th Bob was arrested for the grisly murder of his girlfriend. In a drunken rage, Wood battered the woman with an electric iron when she began pressuring him about marriage. Bob Wood would plead guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison for several years. During this period the Wood Bros. became more and more distant. Constant attempts by Kirby to contact them were rebuked or channeled through the mother. Soon, all communications ended and Kirby took on the role of writer as well. Sky Masters finally saw print on Sept. 8, 1958 to great reviews. When sent their first checks, Dave and Dick Wood sent Jack Schiff the promised 4%. Kirby, true to his word, withheld payment. Now it was Schiff who was furious, and true to his implication, Jack was taken off the Green Arrow strip, and the fill-in fantasy tales. This left Kirby with only Challengers of the Unknown

Kirby’s breakthrough classics DC take on post-war fantasy

During this period negotiations continued. At one meeting Kirby agreed to pay Schiff a one time $500 payment for setting up the original meeting. But Schiff would have none of that; he wanted a continuing source of income.

Still later, Schiff had a dinner meeting with Jack Kirby to try to end this stalemate. Kirby held to his position when Schiff changed the subject to Challengers. He claimed that Kirby had stolen some ideas from a Challengers story conference between Schiff and Wood and Kirby, and used it for Sky Masters and that he thought that Jack owed Schiff for the ideas. Schiff went so far as to draw up a contract on a napkin stating Kirby would pay Schiff for the ideas. Jack exploded! First Jack claims they never had any story conferences with Schiff on the Challengers, and even if they had, the dispute would be between Schiff and the writers, not Kirby, the artist.

Masked villains, transistors, inter-dimensional travel and a kidnapped woman. Where’s the FF?
(this was still early in the process before the Woods began disappearing) Second, there is no evidence of shared work in the early Sky Masters and any Challengers story. This was a classic strongarm tactic. But Jack understood what Schiff was doing; he was laying the seeds for pulling Kirby off Challengers. If Kirby complained to Jack Liebowitz about losing the strip, Schiff had a cover my ass story. Shortly thereafter, Jack did lose the Challengers assignment. There was no repairing the riff. In Dec. 1958, Jack Schiff sued Jack Kirby for monies owed.

Kirby on top again

Looking back on his time on Challengers, Jack considers them a malleable venture, unfinished and evolving. “The issues I did were still formative and I can’t answer for what DC did with them. But they were heading for the super-hero image when I left. In many ways, they were the predecessors of the Fantastic Four.”

One interesting bit is that in Challs issue #9 the header reads “The Plot to Destroy Earth” with art by Bob Brown. In Jack’s files were unused pages to a Challs story called The Plot to Destroy Earth showing Kirby had started that issue when summarily told to stop. It’s obvious the breach wasn’t planned by Jack.

Jack was still doing Young Romance for Prize, and as agreed to by Stan Lee, his page count at Atlas continued to grow as he lost pages at DC. Jack was contributing stories to six fantasy titles, a couple westerns and now a war comic entitled Battle. The page rates were 2/3 of what DC paid, and going lower but the extra pages made up some of the difference. The fantasy books had fallen into a pattern. Gone were the gothic horror fantasies, replaced by Post nuclear BEMs. Jack Kirby would do the cover and the lead story, usually a 6-8 page monster story featuring a huge bug eyed alien or mutate trying to take over the world. This was followed by some more stories drawn by stalwarts like Don Heck, Paul Reinman, maybe Jack Davis or Joe Sinnott, and ended with a creepy Steve Ditko thriller. Steve Ditko was called back the same time as Jack and created a bookend duo for all times. As much work as Stan Lee could give him, Jack still had time to spare. Luckily sales had risen a few percent and Martin seemed happy.

Small titles added up

A little reality among the Atlas fantasy

In early 1959, Joe Simon got a call from John Goldwater, the head of Archie Comics. Goldwater had noticed the resurgence of superheroes over at DC, and asked Joe if he could package a couple new books for Archie. Archie had had some success at superheroes back in the forties with titles like the Shield, Hangman, and the Web, but had gotten out as the war ended. Joe told Goldwater that he would work on some ideas.

One of Joe’s first thoughts was of the shelved Silver Spider concept he had pitched Harvey in 1953. Another was an updated version of an old Golden Age character. This made sense since they were both reboots of previous Archie characters—the Web and the Shield.
The next day, Joe made a verbal pitch to Goldwater “A superhero who climbs straight up and down a building using a fine thread that he holsters in his costume like a fishing tackle.” Sounds like Night Fighter or the earlier Spiderman or the Web. The second book involved “an army private who did superhero chores in his spare time in a colorful red, white, and blue costume….Private Strong was….sort of like Captain America.” Goldwater liked both ideas and gave the go ahead for the two books on a regular schedule.

Jack and Joe together again

That night Joe called Jack Kirby. “Jack, I’m tired of the advertising game. We’re back in the superhero business.” Jack replied; “I thought superheroes were dead”’ “Not dead, just sleeping. We’re working on a new one. Come on over, let’s talk. It’ll be like Captain America again.” Joe answered. “A new superhero! Wow! What do you call him? Jack asked. “Spiderman.” Joe said.

It’s not sure if Kirby understood what Spiderman was, there’s some evidence that as early as the Mainline days that Joe had pulled out the old Silver Spider project and had reworked it into a character called Spiderman and even possibly evolving into the proposed Night Fighter; or if the idea of updating the Silver Spider was entirely new and Joe explained the idea of rebooting the old character. However it happened, Jack drew a new character- one with an origin gimmick copied from the Silver Spider- a young orphan finding a mystical ring and after rubbing it transforms into an adult superhero. The superhero aspect was all new, he now had spider like powers such as wall crawling, super-agility, super strength, uncanny extra senses that protected him from unseen dangers and gave him a vague awareness of trouble, plus a web shooter. These new powers were not found in the Silver Spider concept but several may have been borrowed from the Sid Jacobson memos. Jack drew up a couple stories.

Double splashes again

C C Beck’s first try

Somewhere along the line, John Goldwater made a decision to change the character from a spider to a fly. Spiderman was to become the Fly. Speculation is that this was in response to the popularity of the movie The Fly, starring Vincent Price, though it should be noted that in no sense of the word was the movie Fly considered as anything but a monstrous creature. Retconning that concept into a super-hero seems farfetched. Kirby’s first thought upon learning of the change was “A spiderman that walks straight up and down a building” If he’s a fly, why doesn’t he fly? Joe came up with a simple solution “So we’ll give him wings, small wings.” “Attached to his costume….the collar of his costume can be shaped like wings.” Joe told Kirby to “take it home and pencil it over in your immortal style.’ It should be noted that there was several different versions of the wings before it settled into an accepted style.

Jack reworked the idea into a fly, but it appears that Joe wasn’t totally satisfied. After getting the pages back, Joe swiped some Kirby poses from Stuntman and Fighting American and redid some panels. It is not known what the swiped panels covered up-perhaps some specific change in the costume not noticed by Kirby, but what is obvious is that nowhere does the Fly ever fly! Joe states; “except for a few minor details, like why would a fly fall from great heights because he was unbalanced by a bright light? And why does he climb up and down buildings when he should be flying like an honest fly? Neither of us bothered to change those silly problems. Who would notice them anyway?” In his bio, Joe points out a panel of the Fly falling and asks “Why doesn’t the Fly, fly? and answers; “Because he’s a spider.” Jack drew up a couple stories. Joe further explained to Will Murray; “Well, if you examine it carefully you’ll see that it was really the spider instead of the Fly. The Fly was originally the Silver Spider then it was taken to Marvel after we changed the name and became Spider-Man. One interesting quote from Joe highlights the transition. “Out went the web-pistol, The Fly now carried a buzz gun.” The problem with this is that the Silver Spider never had a web-pistol, so the only place a web-pistol could have appeared is from an intermediate character that had spider-like aspects.

Inventory pages finally used In Mainline ad: note blurb under Night Fighter title – where’s Foxhole?

Some of this scenario disagrees with Joe’s recorded version, but I believe this is more accurate than Joe’s often faulty reminiscences. J. David Spurlock, a respected historian agrees with my interpretation, he writes; ‘indicate (as my conversations with Jack did) that Jack updated the Silver Spider to Spiderman prior to switching him to the Fly.” Spurlock suggests that Jack was not brought into the process until it was being changed into the Fly-suggesting that Jack’s Spiderman was done at an earlier period, which might explain some of Joe’s confusion about just how and if Night Fighter fit into the overall picture.

Three inventoried Black Rider stories surfaced as filler stories in the Atlas western books, using up the material meant for Return of the Black Rider #2 pulled during the implosion. Found money.

The Double Life of Private Strong was unique. First the title referred to the hero’s alter ego, not his superhero moniker. The hero was called the Shield. The hero got his powers as a result of genetic engineering by his scientist father. When the father is being chased by Commie spies he flees and has a car accident. The child is thrown clear and found by a mid-western family and raised as their own. Now named Lancelot Strong, when he reaches his teen years the child finds the car remains and a costume. When Lancelot Strong donned the costume, it activated his super powers. He was invulnerable, could fly and had a radar sense that allowed him to see in the dark. When a typical Kirby Alien monster invades earth, the Shield jumps into action, during the fight Lances’ best friend is killed. Lance blames himself and his exuberance; he promises that he will be more responsible so that it would never happen again. A rather unique twist ending I have never seen before, but we would see again.

It’s hard to know just what inspires kids to get into comic art. In England at this time a youngster picked up a copy of this little remembered series, and the spark was lit. “The Double Life of Private Strong, which, incidentally, I had mis-remembered as The Private Life of Double Strong. Although some other hand was evident on the cover’s main figure, it was the background figures, and more-so, the vignette film-strip-like drawings by Kirby that framed the cover that caught my eye: I’d never seen figure drawing like that before, dynamic, fluid, highly romanticized. Kirby stunned me with that first issues interior work.” Barry Smith would draw on that Kirby inspiration years later.

Movie strip madness

Jack stayed on the two series for two issues. Private Strong was canceled after the second issue when DC complained that the hero was too close in several details to Superman. Joe would stay thru 4 issues of the Fly, when Goldwater decided he wanted to go in a different art direction. The strip continued for a few years. This was the last collaboration between Joe and Jack for approx. 15 years. It ended the greatest partnership in comic history.

Lancelot Strong – John Goldwater

Things seemed to be going well for Kirby at Atlas. Stan was giving him all the work he could. But behind the scenes, Martin Goodman was not happy. This wasn’t rare, according to Stan Lee, Goodman threatened to close down the comics division every other month. Sales were flat. In late 1959, while visiting Stan Lee at his office, Dick Ayers was told. “Dick, the sales of comic books are so bad—so bad that Martin Goodman, who is like an uncle to me, and is the publisher, doesn’t even say hello to me when he passes my office in the morning!” It’s like we’re on a ship that’s sinking.” “And like all the rats on the sinking ship—we have to leave.” We have to leave this business—quit drawing stories for comic books, Dick! Do something else!”

It should be noted that Dick Ayers was no fly-by-night artist, even during the implosion, Stan Lee had kept Dick Ayers working regularly on an ongoing strip. Something that artists like Joe Maneely, and Jack Kirby didn’t do. Dick took Stan at his word and got a job for the post office. Other artists, like Jack Davis, Al Williamson got no more assignments or refused the lower rates being offered, and inkers like Chris Rule were let go. Pencilers like Joe Sinnott, and Vince Colletta were downgraded to inkers. Atlas was experiencing another implosion. Kirby seemed not to be affected, the only difference was in the inking assignments, with Chris Rule gone pencilers like Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and Steve Ditko began inking over Kirby. Times were very tough. Though I doubt Steve Ditko was happy, it was always Stan Lee’s opinion that Steve Ditko turned out to be Kirby’s best inker. I find the results mixed, sometimes too heavy and sometimes just right.

Jack said that it was so bad that he went into Stan’s office and they were carting out furniture. Stan was distraught and told Kirby that Goodman was closing down the division. Kirby threw himself on Stan’s desk and wouldn’t let them take it. Kirby told Stan that he would go talk to Goodman and tell him that he personally guaranteed he would come up with new winners.

Most people assume that it’s one of Kirby’s embellished tales, but Atlas historian Jim Vadeboncour disagrees.

“I believe Kirby. Lee, who is still alive, is notorious for genial self-aggrandizing and Kirby’s story puts him in a bad light, just as it emphasizes Kirby’s creative role in the success that Marvel Comics was to realize. I take nothing away from Lee. His contributions channeled Jack’s energies as they’d never been before and magic happened. But, historically, left to his own devices, Lee has failed to create many lasting characters in his 20 years in the biz. Jack never seemed to run out of them”.

Kirby/Ayers the start of a long relationship

After a short hiatus, Stan contacted Dick Ayers to ask him if he would be willing to ink over Kirby’s monster stories. Dick agreed, but it seemed with every issue, the page rate decreased. Kirby liked Ayers inks. So did the readers who finally saw Kirby inked by a sympathetic hand. Chris Rule was the previous inker at Atlas, and his approach was way too timid for Kirby’s art. When Wally Wood left Sky Masters after a few months, Jack asked Dick Ayers to take over the job. While never matching Wood’s distinctive razor sharp sheen, Dick did an admirable job. He always suspected Jack and Stan Lee collaborated when it came to his payment for Sky Masters.

Kirby’s page count at Atlas continued to increase; he was now doing romance stories, war and back-up western tales other artists had been doing. Stan was mining Kirby for everything he could. Once Kirby started doing romance titles for Atlas, Prize Comics dropped him from Young Romance. With Young Romance #103, (Dec. 1959) his 13 year connection with Crestwood came to an end.

Jack’s last work for Prize

On October 16, 1959, the lawsuit with Jack Schiff came to trial. By all accounts, Kirby was a bad witness, stammering and stuttering incoherently in a combative manner. On December 3, 1959 the judge passed judgment. The judge had only two things to consider. Was there a legal contract, and was there any legal reason to void the contract. The first question was answered when the judge allowed the “letter of intent’ signed by Kirby and Dave Wood to stand as a legal agreement. As to the second question, the judge made clear that Kirby did not offer any tangible evidence of Schiff doing anything to void the contract. Though noting that the deal might have been an onerous one for Kirby, the judge had to rule in Schiff’s favor.

There is no evidence that Jack Schiff was anything but an honorable man, in fact there are several accounts of him being one of the more admirable people at DC. And Jack Kirby was also an honorable man, a man to whom constant work was a high priority. One must ask just what it would it take for Jack Kirby to voluntarily throw away the largest and most prestigious portion of his income- and the only logical conclusion is some principle that he couldn’t bypass. It’s possible that this dispute was based on both men misunderstanding signs given from the other and then pride setting in and concretizing their positions until the only way left was the judicial system. But that’s what the courts are for, and unfortunately for Kirby and his family’s finances, he lost. There is no shame to be apportioned, just lessons to be learned and bad feelings to be overcome. It seems that Kirby paid his judgment and continued on the Sky Masters strip for another 14 months until it was cancelled.

Ingenious vertical strip showing cabin depths – collected strips

For his part, according to Carmine Infantino, “Schiff basically had Jack Kirby blacklisted at DC”. Editor George Kashdan recounts it a little harsher, in an interview with Jim Amash.

JA: I’ve heard Jack Schiff said, “As long as I work here Jack Kirby will not work here.”

KASHDAN: He may have. I could believe it. Schiff was mad at Kirby over Sky Masters, and Schiff was temperamental. One day Kirby asked Schiff for assignments, and Schiff virtually kicked him out. and shouted at him, “What the hell do you want here with me?”
Kirby said, “I’m just trying to make a living Jack.”
Schiff said, “Well go make a living somewhere else.”

JA: Marvel was paying about one half of what DC was paying, but Kirby couldn’t get work from any DC editor. Do you think Schiff had something to do with that?

KASHDAN: The other editors joined ranks at the request of Schiff.

JA: Would Schiff have been mad if you hired Kirby?

KASHDAN: I couldn’t have done it with Schiff around.

JA: So was Kirby blackballed?

KASHDAN: Yes, virtually he was.

Kirby wouldn’t work at DC again until after Schiff retired. Joe Simon says that he ran into Kirby at some point after the trial with Kirby nattily dressed in a derby. Joe asked Jack about the strip. Jack replied: “I’ll never do another newspaper strip again!” “What do you think of the derby?” Joe wryly remarked “Watch out for the pigeons.”

But working on Sky Masters wasn’t all negative. Neal Kirby remembers his dad working on Sky. “I honestly think he enjoyed that more than the comic books. I know he loved doing Sky Masters. Neal loved it too; he loved the manilla envelopes that arrived with all the NASA technical data. “Sky was so far ahead of its time, it’s incredible. If you look at some of the things he designed: I remember one thing where he’s got Sky Masters floating outside the spaceship, he’s holding this wand which would shoot out little jets of air, and that’s how he moved around the spaceship. That’s exactly what the first astronauts used outside the early ships. NASA wasn’t in existence at the time,(ed. note NASA started July 1958) but there was this center where they were training jet pilots for early space flight. I guess they picked up on the comic strip, and they started sending him all this classified information. I remember him getting this lithograph in 1957 and it showed the entire rocket boosters built to date, and all the one’s planned out into the future, right up through Mercury, Atlas, the Saturn V, which launched the moon ships. There was one planned after the Saturn V called the Nova, which was even bigger, but was eventually scrapped in favor of the Space Shuttle.” “A lot he did without that material, It took a while for the strip to grab hold, before this little fan club, so to speak, within that early space community started sending him stuff.”

Joe Simon had bounced around between Harvey, Prize and advertising assignments, but in late 1959, Teddy Blier at Crestwood (Prize) proposed that Joe and Crestwood go into partnership on a Mad Magazine knock-off called Sick Magazine.(Aug. 1960) For the next several years this would be Joe’s main concern.

The Quarrymen settled in at a new club called the Casbah, formed when Pete Best’ mother opened up her basement. Sharing the bill with a group called the Blackjacks, John renamed the band Johnny and the Moondogs.

The Quarrymen soon to be Moondoggies

The industry as a whole was in a funk, sales had risen slowly following the Wertham debacle. Many retailers were stilled scared to stock any comics, let alone increase what little they had. Subscription service helped some fans get around weak distribution. DC had been seeing some growth due to the return of the Flash and success of Challengers of the Unknown. In a 1959 article, ABC the auditing bureau for comics sent out a missive in their monthly mailer, trying to spur growth. No mention of Atlas or other companies despite slow increases, which wasn’t unusual for the ABC. DC was still the largest and most respected of the publishers. They do note changes in the reading and entertainment habits of the children as well as adults with the growth of TV and paperbacks.


“During the past decade, retailers of periodicals have been living through tremendous years of decision. The last five years alone have seen several million-dollar developments for dealers, distributors and publishers. Some were gains… others were losses. The spectacular rise of paperback sales, for example, which now tops $12,000 per month. TV GUIDE, the little 15 cent weekly,is now earning around $1,200,000 in dealer profits every month! On the other hand, the Crowell-Collier magazines are no longer with us. The American News Company has folded. Millions of copies of many prominent titles formerly sold on the newsstands now reach their readers (buyers) via subscriptions! Comics dropped some 20,000,000 sales per month but are now creeping upwards again. Retailers do not always have an opportunity to participate in these momentous developments, all of which directly affect their profits. Right now, however, there is a great opportunity, a challenge really, to do something decisive about comics. During the past decade, comics hit the peaks… and the depths. Sales plunged from an estimated 60 million copies per month in 1952 to a low of approximately 30 million during the first few months of 1958. Today, sales are on their way up again, about 20 per cent better than last year! Behind this extreme variation in comics sales, is the dramatic life and death struggle of the most popular publication medium ever devised. Comics were soaring in the early fifties. In December, 1950, 303 new issues were released. This figure jumped to 434 in 1951 and 471 in 1952! These were the days of tremendous oversupply and great public agitation over sexy, gory and crime comics. That was the beginning of the decline. The numbers of issues per month slipped thereafter to 409, 321, 296… and sales proportionately! In the fall of 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America established the Comics Code Authority to establish publishing standards and regulate contents accordingly. This industry organization was spectacularly successful! The minority of “nasty” comics were eliminated. The majority of acceptable titles became even more interesting and appealing. Public opinion wavered, then emphatically endorsed the comic as a healthy, wholesome medium of entertainment. The comic was saved! Normally, sales would have boomed a year or two after the Code Authority went to work, but another problem developed – television. It is no secret that today’s crop of potential young comics fans are plopped into their Baby Tendas and placed in front of the TV screen almost as soon as they are able to sit! They never get to acquire the comics habit as we used to know it. As a result, comics sales are somewhat improved, but they could and should be lots better!”

The decade was coming to an end. Never were Dickens’s words more prophetic. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Kirby was reduced to one comic account, but that one was giving him all he could handle. The decade held Jack’s most successful period. Yet the last couple years were as hard and painful as any he had ever had. His own company tanked, his parents had died, his partnership with his big brother ended, and he had been sued and humiliated by an editor. If there was to be a rebound, Kirby would have to do it by himself.

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Looking For The Awesome – 14. The Art Of The Swipe

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


Jack Kirby was depressed, a mood not usually seen in this overly optimistic person. The cyclical nature of his industry had taken its toll. Jack was no longer young and dumb—immune to the tribulations of an industry so controlled by outside pressures and sudden changes in popularity. Jack had always been adaptable and resilient, but he now had three children and a wife that depended on him. And as he said many times, “a man what don’t do right by his family is no man”

Jack hated these periods of retrenchment; starting out fresh at a new company, with no chits, no position of strength, no ability to force your vision to the forefront. The companies were preset in their ways and visions. They had their own ideas of what a good comic book was. At DC, they had a vision of clean static drawings telling little tales provided by their in-house writers, like John Broome, or Gardner Fox as interpreted by Dan Barry, or Gil Kane. At Atlas, their ideal was a Bill Everett or Joe Maneely with their overwrought scratchy inking telling Stan Lee’s ironic tales. The new guy had to fit in and copy the house styles and fit into the accepted modes. Jack always had trouble fitting into other’s styles. Jack was a leader, not a follower; he hated having to copy another style. He hated having to prove himself one more time. He didn’t need to ape anyone else, let them ape him. But Jack needed to take care of his family, and his personal visions could take a back seat for a while. He would climb the mountain again—or build a new one.

Artist Wally Wood once said “Never draw what you can copy. Never copy what you can trace. And never trace what you can cut out and paste down.

Jack Kirby once said “I loved Alex Raymond, I swiped him unmercifully”

Joe Simon says “hell yes, we all swiped.”

Swiping gets a bad rap. It’s how we learn. What’s the first thing a teacher did? She went to a chalkboard and drew the letter A and told you to copy it. And you did! Why? Because she knew what she was doing. Many of these early comic artists were untrained, so they learned by copying what successful artists were doing. In many instances they were specifically told to copy other artists. Sometimes the swipes are direct, sometimes compositional and sometimes nothing more than thematic, but it’s still the passing on of knowledge.

From Careers in Cartooning, by Lawrence Lariar, 1949;

“The business of learning to cartoon should begin with an imitation of the working habits of the professional. But most important of all for the amateur is the collection and filing of an adequate morgue. This is the term used in all forms of commercial art to describe the check file of reference material from which the artist can get authentic research on detail whenever he needs it. Many amateurs think that a collection of this type isn’t ethical or honest. This is not true at all. It is impossible for any creative artist to have experience with all subjects likely to be demanded of him in his day-to-day drawing assignments. Nobody expects a cartoonist to be able to draw everything and anything with perfect accuracy…..

The building of a morgue has other advantages, too. In the daily clipping and filing of research, the spark of interest in your craft will be kept alive. Some professional artists have morgues worth thousands of dollars, started when they were only students and steadily built into a masterful library of research. A cartoonist too must have research data at his finger tips. You’ll find that a variety of clippings of contemporary comics will be a great help to you. Using the work of the leaders in the field does not mean copying it line for line. But you’ll find endless inspiration in using professional work as a guide when you’re faced with a difficult pose your character must assume to put over a gag. Studying the essential construction of a professional’s cartoon can be mighty helpful and most hardy veterans in the trade use their file throughout a lifetime of cartooning because they know that the process of learning from others can never stop for a real artist. The use of a morgue is considered important in all types of art, including adventure comic strips, commercial art, illustration, lettering and fashion drawing.”

Jack’s early work was full of swipes. He swiped Segar in Socko the Seadog, Alex Raymond in several early stories and of course Hal Foster for the cover of Red Raven. Jack even swiped from a minor league artist at Fox Publications named Pierce Rice for his initial godlike poses for Mercury and Hercules.

Joe’s early works were nothing but swipes. He wasn’t trained in the art of sequential storytelling like Kirby. His background was in composing and producing advertising copy for newspapers and magazines; jobs where swiping was expected. Stories like The Fiery Mask in Daring Comics #6 are nothing but Raymond swipes; even the smallest non-essential panels were swipes.

As they quickly grew and became more confident, Simon and Kirby established their own style and as the Bible might say, it was good; so good that suddenly artist were swiping from them. Gil Kane once said,” I had a job with Mac Raboy drawing Captain Marvel Jr., and I brought in samples made up equally of Jack Kirby and Reed Crandall. He said, “Forget the Reed Crandall. Just stick with Jack.”

One of the earliest and best swipe of a Kirby character was the cover of Blue Beetle #26, Oct 1943, Holyoke) This was swiped from the splashpage of the Manhunter story in Adventure Comics #73, April 1942.

One of the more interesting swipes of Jack Kirby wasn’t even in a comic book. In 1950, a new sci-fi TV series was introduced. Tom Corbett-Space Cadet was written by Joseph Greene, based on the Robert Heinlein novel, Space Cadet. It became very popular, and soon other mediums picked it up. There was a radio program, a newspaper strip, and of course comic books–originally by Dell, but later by Prize Comics. There was also a series of juvenile hardbacks published by Grosset and Dunlap. The first title Stand by for Mars was published in 1952, written by Carey Rockwell and spot illustrated by Louis Glanzman, and had the great Willy Ley as technical advisor.

Louis S. Glanzman was born in Virginia in 1922, and is one of the great illustrators of the last fifty years. He was self-taught, and began his career by illustrating comic books when he was sixteen, alongside his brother Sam. They made the rounds of the comic publishers in the early forties. Their art was simplistic and generic, but they found constant work for companies like Centaur and Harvey. He proceeded to work on the Air Force magazine in the 1940s, and illustrated many children’s books in the 1950s, including the Pippi Longstocking series and Tom Corbett series.

Louis provided about a dozen spot illustrations per issue, and for the first three issues, at least half of them are direct swipes from Kirby sci-fi strips. What makes this interesting is not that he was swiping Kirby, but the variety of source material. He swiped from Cosmic Carson, Blue Bolt, Comet Pierce, Captain Daring, and Solar Legion. That’s at least five strips from five different companies and most unsigned and uncredited. He swiped machinery, weapons, vehicles, and a surrealistic Kirby alien vista; he even swiped costumes and female hairstyles. What an amazing coincidence that as part of his morgue was a collection of early Kirby sci-fi from small print companies, and short run series from a short period of Kirby’s career. It seems the artists of the period recognized Kirby’s work no matter where it appeared. When asked about these coincidences. Glanzman said he couldn’t remember the details, but “everyone swiped back then” “I may not have even known they were by Kirby”

In 1945 a one-shot titled K O Komics featured a reworked Guardian sketch on the cover. Though clearly produced during the war and signed JCA (Jason Comic Art-a small independent studio) the cover has been mistakenly credited to Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby would dip into his reference morgue every so often. Jack’s gorgeous cover to Foxhole #1 was copied from a war reporter’s painting. A wonderful Boy’s Ranch vista was swiped from a painting. A Police Trap splash was taken from an old photograph.

Joe Simon elevated swiping to an artform. Whenever he felt the need to punch up a cover or panel, he would insert a swipe of a Jack Kirby figure. It made no difference if the styles were similar, or not. Many covers credited to Kirby are actually Simon constructs with Kirby swipes added in, especially on Harvey titles.

Joe reversed and swiped

Joe heavily swiped Fighting American

Joe borrows from Stuntman to show Fly’s sixth sense

The Fly and Double Life of Private Strong titles are uniquely assembled by overwhelming swiping. For the origin, Joe Simon claims that Jack took the script home and returned a few days later with beautiful pages “In my opinion, the best ever” This may have been so, but this didn’t stop Joe from redoing many panels of the Fly using Kirby swipes from Stuntman, and Fighting American. The reasons why are discussed in the chapter dealing with the Fly. In the stories not drawn by Kirby, there are these odd insertions of Kirby swipes, usually when the hero is in action. Certain poses are reused in both series. It’s almost like Joe Simon gave the artists copies of Fighting American and told them to randomly pick out Kirby poses and throw them in. Some are mechanically precise, while some appear penciled freehand.

Joe erased Bucky and rotated slightly bottom of Fly’s torso

The reworked stories in Fighting American are more problematic. Obviously reworking a previous Simon and Kirby Manhunter story is well within their rights, but taking a Jack Burnley, Starman story and reworking it into a FA story may cross the line. One or two panels maybe, but not the whole story and a dozen or more panels. That borders on outright plagiarism. It was cheesy and immoral. But when hurting for money, an artist must do what he must do.

Great cover but background swiped from Kirby war story

Even Joe’s biography cover is replete with Kirby swipes reworked.

There is another aspect of swiping, though swiping isn’t the correct word. It is the constant revisiting of concepts’ elements, visuals whatever idea has lodged in their brain and catches their fancy. It is the nature of all artists to rework and evolve their ideas. Kirby was a persistent dabbler in that he constantly would revisit a concept, or an element, maybe just an image that intrigued him. It may be something as simple as an alien baby running amok that the heroes must tame. A favorite was the villainous painter seen in early Cap, Boy Commandos, The Fly and Marvel. The dangerous movie lot got a lot of visits-at all companies.

Atlas – Harvey – DC – Marvel


Or Rock men-usually from Easter Island

Atlas – DC – Atlas

Marvel – DC

Or sentient machines threatening man

Harvey – Atlas – Atlas

Atlas – Atlas – Marvel

Kirby’s epic thinking machine Marvel

Or Aliens disguised as Earthlings

Atlas – Atlas – Atlas

Atlas – Atlas

My favorite—The Promethean Pose

Harvey – Marvel – DC

In a later chapter I will talk about some other Kirby repeat patterns such as Hollywood movies and such. I literally could have chosen over a dozen examples of Jack reusing ideas, premises and elements. It is something he did his whole career. I use this a lot in tracking down whether an idea stemmed from Jack, Stan or Larry etc. The trail of Spider-Man shows that Jack reused ideas from his old partner as well. Fair enough—Joe certainly borrowed enough from Jack over the years.

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


After the war ended, the world once again descended into two great spheres; East vs. West, democracy vs. Communism, us vs. them! With the fall of Hitler, the Communists became the great Bogeyman. In a speech in 1947 the “good Jew” Bernard Baruch described the global situation as a “Cold War” spinning out of control. The Korean conflict and the Reds getting the bomb in 1949 due to Julius Rosenberg’s treachery, dominated the headlines. Movies such as The Red Menace and I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. focused much attention on the country’s paranoia. Sen. Joe McCarthy started a famous campaign to uncover Commies working undercover in the Govt. Could comics be far behind?

On June 19th 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death by way of electrocution; thus ended one of the worst episodes of Jewish shame in U.S history.

Alas, there was no Harry Slonaker for Ethel and Julius. Their method of escape was joining up at Communist Youth clubs, where they rallied with labor unions for the betterment of the workers. The Communist youth groups were popular among the poor. They both graduated into the official Communist Party. When the fighting had ended, suddenly it was Communist Russia—earlier an ally, now seen as our biggest threat. After the war they joined a network of similarly minded people and began slipping American nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Julius and other mostly Jewish accomplices were arrested for spying in 1950. When Julius wouldn’t finger anyone else, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his wife arrested–suspecting it would force him to confess and name names. Julius refused; they were tried and sentenced to death. The only members of the group so sentenced due to their unwavering claims of innocence and unwillingness to finger others. The stain of their treachery attached itself to all labor groups, and other Jewish intelligentsia who had dabbled with Communism in their youth.

Love kept them together-till the bitter end

The Jewish community was torn between the love of country and their fear of retaliation from the anti-Semitic populace- always eager to blame all Jews for the crimes of one. The inequality of the sentences for the Rosenbergs, as compared to their fellow conspirators riled many. Peoples as disparate as the Pope, Albert Einstein, Picasso, and John-Paul Sartre lobbied President Eisenhower for leniency. Sartre would describe the trial as “a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation. By killing the Rosenbergs, you have quite simply tried to halt the progress of science by human sacrifice. Magic, witch-hunts, autos-da-fé, sacrifices — we are here getting to the point: your country is sick with fear… you are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb.” On early Friday evening of June 19th they were executed- the only American civilians ever executed for espionage. Though their guilt is not debatable, the depth of culpability is still debated. Boris V. Brokhovich, the engineer who later became director of Chelyabinsk-40, the plutonium production reactor and extraction facility which the Soviet Union used to create its first bomb material, denied any involvement by the Rosenbergs. In 1989, Boris V. Brokhovich told The New York Times in an interview that development of the bomb had been a matter of trial and error. “You sat the Rosenbergs in the electric chair for nothing”, he said. “We got nothing from the Rosenbergs.”

S&K had an electric chair too

Perhaps in response to the anti-Jewish backlash, or a feeling of shared Jewish guilt, some of the comic owners went out of their way to show their all-American feelings. Reams of spy comics were produced. The Catholic Church began a series of strongly anti-communistic screeds and eventually the super-hero genre. Captain America, the great S&K political hero of World War 2 had been cancelled after the war due to lack of interest, but with the rise of the anti-Commie fervor, Atlas brought back the red, white and blue hero in late 1953 in Young Men Comics #24,  coincidentally timed to the Rosenberg execution. Relabeled as Captain America-Commie Fighter, the character regained his own series in early 1954. Taking on Commie spies and saboteurs, Cap and Bucky acted like they had never left. Submariner and Human Torch soon followed. The new series disappeared after only 3 or so issues, except for Submariner which lasted few months longer in hopes of a TV series.

It wasn’t only the comics that noticed a market for Cold War intrigue. In 1953 a long-time British Intelligence officer named Ian Fleming ignited a whole new genre when he released Casino Royale featuring super-spy James Bond-007.

Joe Simon had noticed the return of their iconic patriotic hero. Not to be outdone, he and Jack decided to get back into superheroes with their own Commie basher. Fighting American debuted with its own series published by Prize, cover dated April/May 1954. FA had a very interesting origin gimmick. Johnny Flagg was a radio commentator who specialized in anti-Communist propaganda. A war hero, left lame from a battle wound, he tirelessly fought to keep America safe. Johnny’s brother, Nelson was a weak milquetoast who loved his brother and country. During a series of broadcasts spotlighting a Commie scam to raise money to finance sabotage Johnny is nabbed and beaten to death. Swearing revenge, Nelson is asked by the Government to help out in a scientific experiment. The government had learned how to revitalize a lifeless body and improve it to almost superhuman limits. What the Gov’t needed was a life force to re-animate the new body. It fell to Nelson to willingly give his life to bring back his brother. After some preparatory procedures Nelson is strapped to a transfer chair where his life force is drawn from him and given to his dead brother. What emerges is the first original Cold Warrior, a hero created and dedicated to bring about the end of the Evil Empire.

All commies had bad teeth

From there, Fighting American would pick up a kid sidekick titled Speedboy when he is caught changing into his costume by a page boy at the radio station. This updated Captain America and Bucky began a spectacular legacy of bashing colorful Commie sympathizers.

It all became a big joke

Around this time, Sen. McCarthy’s popularity nosed dived when the respected journalist Edward R. Murrow took him on in a televised segment and exposed him as a hypocritical bully and blowhard. With the Senator reduced to a joke, Joe quickly changed directions for FA, changing the series from a serious adventure strip into the first satirical super-hero. From deadly saboteurs, the villains suddenly became colorful clowns and buffoons such as Rhode Island Red, Hotsky Trotsky, and Rimsky & Korsakoff. The action changed from seriously deadly to slapstick comedy. Joe commented: “Jack and I quickly became uncomfortable with Fighting American’s cold war. Instead we relaxed and had fun with the characters. As one critic wrote, “The fun ran rampant, Flying fists, facetious frolics and names from The American Dictionary of Silly Surnames set the mood for a series of epic stories of intrigue and idiocy.” Jack recalled in an introduction to a reprint collection. “The magazine had not only “punch and power” but still another flag to wave–satire–ingratiating and wonderful satire!…..To put it bluntly, the formula for the magazine called Fighting American was “laugh a minute in a roller coaster on its way down to the center of a meat grinder.”

Jack’s return to drawing super-heroes was flawless. His power and grace combined with a naturalness drawn from his romance strips gave his art a more illustrative dimension. His extreme stock poses and layouts on FA became the template and guidelines that controlled all his future superhero work. The first appearance of a future Kirby icon showed up in issue #3 when Kirby unveiled a single page 9 panel fight ballet. Another Kirby staple continued when Fighting American went undercover and joined a movie production staged by villains.

The comic industry had rebounded from the immediate post war slump, but by 1954, sales were again plummeting. The combination of the new technology of TV, plus the growing ill repute being heaped upon the industry took its toll. There were municipal hearings to ban comics. Some staes banned the books. There were numerous articles in newspapers and magazines excoriating comics and a supposed connection to juvenile delinquency. Religious and social leaders bonded together to organize book burnings and boycotts. Dell Publishing became the new comic publishing powerhouse due to its squeaky clean child safe Disney and TV and movie take-offs. No barber shop would ever be without them.
From a high of 609 separate titles in 1953, the industry plummeted to little more than 400 by 1955. Though sales and publishers were falling to the wayside, Simon and Kirby maintained their position with 4 solidly selling titles. But Jack and Joe were scrambling, comics were hurting so maybe they should try other venues. Joe Simon had a story he had been working on for a while about a struggling rag industry businessman at the end of his rope; and a savior—a messiah– in the guise of his brother David. The story didn’t lend itself to a comic book treatment, so Joe gave Jack the outline and Jack worked it up into a proposed TV script called The Messiah.

It is a gentle tale of a man given a second chance via his faith and the love of a good woman. The dialogue is gentle, and poignant, and humorous in a Jewish borscht belt vein. In the midst of his despair, the man confronts God and challenges him, his wife chastises him. “Don’t be so smart about the Messiah. He can come tomorrow. He can come now, this minute. He can come through that door over there and He’ll say Milton Farber, you’re as big as any man. You should be ashamed of losing your spirit” It’s not a stretch to imagine that Roz had often confronted Jack with similar encouragement during his dark periods. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the story takes place in a garment district textile factory, and the man is a clothing manufacturer, replete with union concerns and behind the scenes deals. It’s not known if they shopped this script to any producers, but it certainly deserves to be seen on a stage, maybe even a musical to rival Fiddler on the Roof.

Printing presses were looking for clients to fill their lost quota of product. While still maintaining their contractual output for Crestwood just in case they belly-flopped, S&K took every royalty penny they had built up since the end of World War Two, along with the distribution clout of paper and printing broker George Dougherty, Jr. (a long-time paper broker for the lumber industry whose father had been one of the printers at Eastern Color on Funnies On Parade back in 1933) who was fronting the paper. A commonplace 25% deposit was advanced by Leader News to World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois against projected sales to cover the printing and engraving costs. Joe and Jack felt they were making all the right moves utilizing the expertise of Nevin Fidler, who also owned a small piece of the action. Nevin Fidler was a friend who had been an office director at Crestwood, and was familiar with all the production people. Joe had dreamed of this freedom for a long time, at least as far back as when they sold Crestwood on romance comics. So he leapt at the chance. The distributor chosen was Leader News, an independent whose largest client was EC Comics.

Leader came into being when Mike Estrow broke up his pulp Trojan distributor with the new comic distributor to be Leader News. Leader News’ independence meant that the smaller publishers would flock to them as their commission was lower and shipping standards weren’t too high to demand stellar service. Most of Leaders’ clients were the hit and miss small print variety. It’s been said that DC’s Jack Leibowitz was a silent partner. And that he would point small companies to Leader when they were too small to use DC’s distribution firm. Being without the bigger selling books, Leader News had no clout and was always one step from the creditors. William Gaines recalls in an interview for the Comics Journal.

“No, no, we were putting out what we thought was selling. We were like the smallest, crummiest outfit in the field at that point with definitely the worst distributor, Leader News.  When he (Max Gaines) went back in business, he was without contracts, he didn’t have his characters any more, he didn’t even have Shelly Mayer, because Shelly Mayer was up at DC, and this was the best distributor he could get. And when he got killed, Leader News became my distributor.”

Two page spreads back in action

Joe and Jack went all in and immediately produced four new titles, each covering a specific genre. Bullseye was a western with a masked vigilante slant. In Love was a romance book, Police Trap was a crime comic with a pro-police POV, and Foxhole was S&K’s first venture into the growing war comic genre. War comics had increased in popularity since the US involvement in the Korean War.

While the content of the Mainline books were nothing revolutionary, several aspects of the titles deserve mentioning. Foxhole –billed as war stories as seen by the guys in the foxhole– featured tales written by actual vets; Pvt. Jack Kirby among them. Several stories featured Kirby’s byline as writer. Kirby also produced a series of covers for Foxhole as good as any title ever had. Bullseye continued Kirby’s preoccupation with the western orphaned child raised by an older mentor and trained as a sure shot. When the mentor is killed by a villain, the young teen avenges the murder by killing the villain. This time they added the concept where, after mistakenly charged with a crime, the young lad dons a mask and uses his skills as a masked vigilante, and scout. The character had a great visual focus when the child is branded with a bullseye on his chest.

In Love was packaged as a complete novelette in every issue. The story for issue #1 was an incredible 20 pages long. The second issue would feature the rejected strip Inky reformatted into a comic book story. And Police Trap was written from the perspective of the policeman rather than the mobsters—perhaps an homage to the radio and TV series Dragnet.

A new page to tie Inky together for the comic

Joe and Jack never stopped conceptualizing, while working on the four ongoing titles; they still worked on other ideas. They considered bringing back super-heroes. They worked up artwork for at least three new characters, Night Fighter, Sunfire and Sky Giant. Of most interest is Night Fighter.

The two presentation pieces seem to show a goggle eyed hero who could walk up walls, and sported some sort of gun. These specific aspects would be revisited in a couple years for a more important project. It’s not sure if they were connected. One dummy cover shows a split book featuring two super heroes very similar to the format that Marvel would use later, even down to the small graphic in the upper left hand corner.

Times were getting tough for small undercapitalized ventures. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s company folded. Jack’s young protégé Martin Rosenthall had joined Mikeross as a partner. When they failed, Rosenthall contacted Jack and sold some of the company’s assets to Mainline. Several completed stories found homes in S&K publications.

Not bad for a swipe     Hold that hill-Wertham and Kefauver charging hard

The next problem was to be more worrisome. The undercurrent of social protest against comic books reached the surface. The pressure had been building since comics first began. There had been slight eruptions over the years, but in April 1954 the top blew off during a series of Congressional hearings.

2-page classic

As with all low brow entertainment, there had been a segment of the population that had always condemned comics as a hazard to young sensibilities. The raucus, racy, and reckless nature of some publishers had created a climate of disdain and anger from citizens groups, religious leaders, and well known medical people. Organized book burnings were sprouting up. In several well publicized articles a well known psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham had made the dangers of comic books a personal crusade. In April 1954, he published a well received treatise entitled Seduction of the Innocent, which spotlighted the questionable connection between comics and juvenile delinquency. In a format similar to Anthony Comstock’s earlier screed Traps For The Young, that excoriated the juvenile series books, it laid a large segment of juvenile delinquency squarely at the feet of the crime, horror, and romance comics, singling out EC’s horror titles as the worst offender.

The biggest threat was that Dr. Wertham was no glory seeking hack, or political poseur. Wertham was a well respected Dr. who could articulate and verify all his claims-at least to the general public. Born in Germany, in 1895 to Jewish parents he went into psychiatry after communicating directly with Sigmund Freud. He came to the US in 1922 after some religious backlash. He landed at prestigious Johns Hopkins University and joined the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. In 1932 he moved to New York to head up the Courts Psychiatric Evaluation Unit and gave testimony on the various felons and convicts on their behavior and ability to stand trial.

He took up the cause of stopping comics, as well as TV, mass media, and other forms of communication after heading up a juvenile psychiatric ward at Belleveu. He wrote articles, gave talks, and held debates to back up his theories. He published his book Seduction of the Innocent —which led to hearings in front of the US Senate.

A few days later, a Senate Subcommittee held hearings on juvenile delinquency. Chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver the committee heard from many sociologists, medical specialists, (including Wertham) crime fighters, and religious leaders telling of the connection between comics and j.d. Then they turned to comic professionals to get their take. Things were actually going well until EC’s Bill Gaines took the stands, Gaines arrogantly unapologetic testimony seemed to solidify all the prurient uncaring notions thrown at the industry. Charges of prurient females with large protruding breasts, and comic overkill hurt the image. Perhaps the worse testimonies was by Dr. Wertham, who claimed that many stores were reluctant to sell the offending books, but were forced to by the magazine distributors who refused them other magazines if they didn’t take the comics as well.

From Dr. Wertham’s testimony;

Dr. WERTHAM. This tremendous power is exercised by this group which consists of three parts, the comic book publishers, the printers, and last and not least, the big distributors who force these little vendors to sell these comic books. They force them because if they don’t do that they don’t get the other things.

Mr. HANNOCH. How do you know that?

Dr. WERTHAM. I know that from many sources. You see, I read comic books and I buy them and I go to candy stores.

They said, “You read so many comic books.” I talk to them and ask them who buys them. I say to a man, “Why do you sell this kind of stuff?”

He says, “What do you expect me to do? Not sell it?”

He says, “I will tell you something. I tried that one time.”

The man says, “Look, I did that once. The newsdealer, whoever it is, says, ‘You have to do it’.”
“I said, ‘I don’t want to’.”

“‘Well’, he says, ‘you can’t have the other magazines’.”

So the man said, “Well, all right, we will let it go.”

So when the next week came, all the other magazines were late. You see, he didn’t give them the magazines. So his was later than all his competitors, he had to take comic books back.

I also know it another way. There are some people who think I have some influence in this matter. I have very little. Comic books are much worse now than when I started. I have a petition from newsdealers that appealed to me to help them so they don’t have to sell these comic books.

S&K fully involved

One of the stranger aspects dealt with Wertham painting organized opposition to his theories as Communist conspiracies promoted by the comic companies. (perhaps a swipe at Lev Gleason)

Curiously, one Senator tried to get the doctor to condemn the writers and artists who made these horror stories but Dr. Wertham would have none of that.

Senator HENNINGS. Doctor, I think from what you have said so far terms of the value and effectiveness of the artists who portray these things, that it might be suggested implicitly that anybody who can draw that sort of thing would have to have some very singular or peculiar abnormality or twist in his mind, or am I wrong in that?

Dr. WERTHAM. Senator, if I may go ahead in my statement, I would like to tell you that this assumption is one that we had made in the beginning and we have found it to be wrong. We have found that this enormous industry with its enormous profits has a lot of people to whom it pays money and these people have to make these drawings or else, just like the crime comic book writers have to write the stories they write, or else. There are many decent people among them.

Let me tell you among the writers and among the cartoonists ─ they don’t love me, but I know that many of them are decent people and they would much rather do something else than do what they are doing.

Dr. Wertham reads some trash – Sen. Estes Kefauver – Bill Gaines

The owners of squeaky clean Dell Comics tried to add in facts and a subtle dig at the Doc.


Mrs. MEYER. Mrs. Helen Meyer, 231 Montrose Avenue, South Orange, N. J. I am vice president of the Dell Publishing Co.

Mr. MURPHY. My name is Matthew Murphy, of 294 Bronxville Road, Bronxville, N.Y. I am employed by Western Printing & Lithographic Co., as Dell comics editor.

The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed.

Mrs. MEYER. Although we are not here to defend crime and horror comics, the picture is not as black as Dr. Wertham painted it. We must give our American children proper credit for their good taste in their support of good comics. What better evidence can we give than facts and figures. Here they are:

Dell’s average comic sale is 800,000 copies per issue. Most crime and horror comic sales are under 250,000 copies.

Of the first 25 largest selling magazines on newsstands – this includes Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, and so forth ─ 11 titles are Dell comics, with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck the leading newsstand seller. Some of these titles are: “Walt Disney’s Comics”; “Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny”; “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse”; “Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Porky Pigs”; “Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker”; “Margie’s Little Lulu”; “Mom’s Tom and Jerry.”

The newsstand sales range from 950,000 to 1,996,570 on each of the above mentioned titles. I mean newsstands only and I am not including any subscriptions, and we have hundreds of thousands of subscriptions.

With the least amount of titles, or 15 percent of all titles published by the entire industry; Dell can account for a sale of approximately 32 percent, and we don’t publish a crime or horror comic.

Dr. Wertham, for some strange reason, is intent on condemning the entire industry. He refuses to acknowledge that other types of comics are not only published, but are better supported by children than crime and horror comics. I hope that his motivation is not a selfish one in his crusade against comics. Yet, in the extensive research he tells us he has made on comics, why does he ignore the good comics? Dell isn’t alone in publishing good comics. There are numerous outstanding titles published by other publishers, such as Blondie, Archie, Dennis the Menace, and so forth. Why does he feel that he must condemn the entire industry? Could it be that he feels he has a better case against comics by recognizing the bad and ignoring the good?

Lev Gleason, head of Gleason Publishing and a staunch first amendment defender, volunteered to face down the committee and try to smooth out the ripples from Gaines testimony. Though the committee never acknowledged a concrete link between comics and juvenile delinquency, the damage was done.

This period of history is complicated. I am of at least two different viewpoints. I think the government and legislative overkill is wrong, totally Un-American. The same as the HUAC hearings. The results are always a lessening of American values. But as an adult viewer, I must admit that some publishers crossed a line. Left unstopped, they would have gotten worse. There was no outside brake that controlled the output of these companies. The only control was left to the publishers whose only concern was the bottom line. Self-censurship was really the only way to go. Like the Hays Committee, TV, and other pop culture clashes, these cures had to come from the industry itself, or face the possibility of Government oversight. The details could possibly be argued, but not the intentions. Something had to be done to stop the outrage. This outrage came from the only party that counted, the consumers. Wertham was wrong, but his crusade was right. The comics had overstepped the bounds of decency. And it was left to the comic pros to make it right. One analogy might be found in the later Anti-war movement. Many might agree on the principle, but they were lost when the movement overstepped and blew up College buildings and killed people. Overstepping invites Govt. intrusion, which leads to Govt. overkill. Better to separate from the bomb throwers willingly.

An actual voice of reason Lev Gleason – Dick Ayers troubled

Joe says the din over comics never affected them much, they were sure that their books were wholesome. Imagine their chagrin and consternation when one of the first objectionable comics offered into evidence was a copy of Black Magic. Joe recalls; “Watching this on TV I cringed- like I was suddenly thrown into a steaming vat in a horror comic.” Jack hoped the storm would pass over—but he knew the image of a comic reader was strictly lowbrow. “If you bought a comic book the reaction was there goes a guy who shoots pool—another lowly pastime. But some comic artists were very affected. Dick Ayers, in his biography talks about the horror of reading Parents Magazine and finding that several of his books were listed as objectionable, and being called a pornographer by a guest at a cocktail party and almost coming to blows. Dick became so distraught that he actually held a book burning of his books in his fireplace. Jack was more stoic; “I was only hoping that it would come out well enough to continue comics, that it wouldn’t damage comics in any way, so I could continue working. I was a young man. I was still growing out of the East Side.” Other artists were in a whirl. Jack Cole, creator of the family friendly Plastic Man fled the industry. Doing racy gags, and Playboy cartoons, much like Bob Wood, didn’t help. His personal life took a downturn and one day he drove to a shop, bought a rifle, drove to a secluded area and blew his brains out. Many turned to the advertising field, and some to fine art work. Some adventure artists took lower paying and lower presence work in DC’s romance division. Stan Lee’s Atlas Company tried to absorb many of the EC artists to supply filler stories for the many faceless titles.

In order to avoid legislative censure, the comic industry agreed to once again self-censure the books. An earlier manifestation had petered out with time. With the creation of the Comics Code Authority, the major companies united to self-regulate. They agreed to limit or end all types of violence, horror, and risqué matter. In what is often called the EC section the code states.

burning up a college education

No comic magazine shall use the word “horror” or “terror” in its title.

All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.

All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.

Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.

Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.

Bill Gaines railed against this section, noting that the words “horror” and “terror” were parts of two of his best sellers. Gaines was sure that this section was set up purposely to put him out of business. It seemed to work as sales of EC books dwindled to insignificance.

It was suggested that the word “crime” should also be banned from a comic book title, but Lev Gleason, the publisher of Crime Does Not Pay fought tooth and nail to get that restriction stopped. It didn’t matter, with-in a year Gleason closed up shop for good. Gleason was more respected among his peers and had been fighting the backlash for years—even debating Dr. Wertham on radio and TV. Gaines was seen as more of a Johnny- come-lately and a bomb-thrower among his peers. Ironically, Gaines would get the last laugh. After the code appeared, Mad Magazine became so large of a success that DC bought out Gaines and added it to their portfolio.

Very quickly problems crept up. Their ruse to hide the new company from Prize didn’t last long. Prize’s reaction was that when S&K started their own company Prize cut back their assignments on the romance and crime titles. All that remained was Fighting American and Black Magic. It appears that Prize wouldn’t let them compete head to head on genres, so when S&K did their own romance book, then Prize took them off Young Romance and Young Love. A self published crime book and no more work on Justice Traps the Guilty. The 67 issue run on Young Romance was the longest uninterrupted stint that Jack had produced in his career to that point.

Times were horrible, pressure from outside, pressure from within. Prize kept threatening, Leader News went bonkers, artists kept demanding. Sales on the new titles were lackluster, and very soon money became tight. In an effort to cut back on expenses, Joe reused some artwork and reworked it into new stories, mostly for the Prize titles. Joe swiped a Manhunter story from 1943 for a Fighting American story, plus a Jack Burnley Starman story from 1942 for another Fighting American story. He even cobbled together an old comic strip proposal titled Starman Zero and made a Fighting American story. Nothing went to waste. When the owners of Crestwood caught Joe reusing a previous story and reworded it into a new story they responded angrily by withholding payment, further tightening up the cash flow. Now Jack and Joe’s contract with Crestwood never said anything about reusing existing art, but still Crestwood continued to hold back payment. In Nov. 1954, Joe contacted his accountant Bernard Gwirtzman who demanded a financial audit of all monies to be paid to S&K, as called for in their Young Romance contract. Crestwood was confident that their books were clean but when the auditors were finished, they presented Crestwood with a bill for 130 thousand dollars. The astonished owners threatened to close down the shop rather than pay the money. After some negotiations, they settled on a lump sum of 10 thousand dollars. The money helped stem the immediate cash outlay. The victory was nice, but the long term result was that the boys would get no new work from Prize for the next year, time that saw S&K reeling from the onslaught. An interesting aside, Joe says that the editor Reese Rosenfield was getting five percent of S&K’s royalty shares, for bringing them together. But after the attorneys finished their audit, they told Joe that Reese wasn’t protecting their shares, as he should have done as their agent. He suggested cutting Reese out of the money that Prize paid, which they did. It’s easy to figure this soured Kirby towards editors who demand a payback of the artist’s salary, but don’t follow through on their end.

Some retailers took it out on Leader News, and refused to carry any product from them–this included the Mainline books. Pretty soon, the advances from Leader News stopped and Mainline could no longer continue. Stories of artists not getting paid made the rounds. George Roussos remembered; “When some difficulties arose, a few artists weren’t paid. This caused a lot of resentment towards Joe and Jack, and they avoided them. I met Jack later at an art store at Grand Central Station. He was happy to see me, and I sensed he wanted to talk…. We covered every subject, only he did all the talking. I guess it was pent-up energy and he was rather hurt that people took out their anger on him-unnecessarily he felt.” Mainline left Leader News.

Stamped out

For perhaps the only time, Jack and Joe were on the outs. Roussos recalls; “I don’t know the extent of what really took place, but there was a point when they split up when we were working at Crestwood’ Joe took the business end of it and Jack would do the artwork. That didn’t work out very well, because when you split up two people in the same room…… I never dwelled into the business end; I just knew the superficial end. I knew the results of what happened, but I didn’t know what brought it about. I knew that they split up while in the same room because I was there. There were differences but I was never around when they had any particular argument.”

Soon, Leader News claimed bankruptcy and went completely out of business when EC Comics closed up the comic book division, leaving them with only Mad Magazine–which was not covered by the Comics Code Authority. The first Comics Code stamped book for Mainline were books cover dated Feb. 1955. They were the last published with the Mainline logo and Leader News blurb.

It’s hard to be exact about just how much the code affected the editorial content of the books. There are many silly examples of nitpicking and squeamishness of particular visuals-such as hands without weapons, reaction to unshown threats, and blacked out details. But I can recall only one rather sad and silly argument over content of a story. Despite the romance books delving into societal problems, there were two they would never touch; racial integration and gay lifestyles. S&K never ventured close to either. Interracial relationships or even positive slants on black life were understood to be forbidden. Bill Gaines of EC, shortly after the code was installed offered up a filler story for Incredible Science Fiction. The story, titled Judgment Day was drawn by veteran Joe Orlando, it dealt with a lone Earth astronaut judging whether a young world was ready to be admitted to the greater galaxy of worlds. The astronaut judged them ineligible because their society had been broken up by races with one race considered a lesser entity and treated as such. The irony was that when the astronaut returned to his ship, he took off his helmet revealing himself to be black. A rather positive story in that it showed man had overcome its darkest stain. Judge Murphy, the head of the comics code refused to allow it to be printed, despite the fact that the comics code never addressed racial interests. The story broke none of the listed no-nos of the code. The real insanity of the whole issue was this same story had originally been run three years earlier-pre-code- in the title Weird Fantasy to absolutely no blow back or even negative press from the Southern retailers.

Historian Digby Diehls notes in his article Tales From the Crypt, the Official Archives:

“This really made ’em go bananas in the Code czar’s office. ‘Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us’, recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. ‘I went in there with this story and Murphy says, “It can’t be a Black man”. But … but that’s the whole point of the story!’ Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. ‘Listen’, he told Murphy, ‘you’ve been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business’. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he bellowed. ‘I’m going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I’ll sue you’. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. ‘All right. Just take off the beads of sweat’. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. ‘Fuck you!’ they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.”

Bill Gaines finally gave in and closed down the comic division, but would get the last laugh as the reconstituted Mad Magazine (code free) became one of the great publishing successes of the Twentieth Century.

To make matters worse, at the same time that Mainline folded, S&K were engaged in the legal mess with Prize Comics and work at Prize ended. Fighting American was cancelled after issue #7 and Black Magic after 33 issues. Black Magic’s end should not be dismissed so easily. It was in Black Magic that Jack first worked in a new genre that would play a huge role in his immediate future. It was also the launching point for new artists, like Steve Ditko.

The Fifties would see the rise of new style sci-fi films. With a background of a world divided by an Iron Curtain, man had created a force so strong that it dominated the world’s psyche. The anxieties as seen in the rise of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the fanned Cold War paranoia, the UFO phenomenon, and uncontrollable science found a new source of projection; the introduction of Post Atomic Science Fiction movies.

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction;

“It was films in this mould (Them, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) rather then the landmark Destination Moon (1950) and its sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space, that dominated the decade. Monsters from without and within–Hollywood and comics were investigated by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities– threatened America, as often as not created or awakened by the bomb (as in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 1953) Nature rebelled and a variety of aliens, many of whom, like The Man From Planet X(1951) had peaceful intentions were received with hostility. A few films, like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and The 27th Day (1957) addressed themselves directly to the political implications of such anxieties, while others, notably War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951) had a religious dimension that saw it as a punishment for the catastrophes that befell man.”

TV leads the way

This same style science fiction mode was seen on TV with the new series Science Fiction Theater, produced by Ivan Tors. This was the first anthology devoted to the futuristic world of post-war fears. The series speculated on such things as visitors from other planets, UFO incidents, space fight, espionage… More technology, and miracle drugs that could cure all ills. It contained stories of crackpots; who turn out to be visionaries, and eyewitnesses to the fantastic, fighting to be believed; psychic phenomena straight out of a Reichian nightmare. The show also utilized experts as consultants to help keep the show within the known realm of the scientific possibilities speculated at the time. The show did not last long, but it did lead to even better followers like Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits.

Instead of the old Gothic horrors of Dracula, and the Werewolf, the new films centered on run amok science creating mutates, and allegorical visitation of alien species. Things that didn’t seem so farfetched when viewed thru a current prism. The Thing, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were big hits. And comics always followed the big hits. “The monster phenomenon got started primarily just because people were concerned about science,” Kirby recalled. “People were concerned about radiation and what would happen to animals and people who were exposed to that kind of thing.” Their fears had been awakened at Roswell.

The movie that launched a 1000 comics

Though the sci-fi movies were definitely an inspiration, the author feels the genre change can be traced back to the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, in 1939 by Orson Wells and the paranoid reaction to a sci-fi subject as well as the sci-real atomic bomb.

Jack and Joe always loved sci-fi and the sci-fi movies, and incorporated themes into their stories. The newly formed CCA also prohibited much of the Gothic horror traditions. The next to last S&K Black Magic issue cover featured a strange monster very similar to the fantastic “intellectual carrot” of The Thing, as portrayed by James Arness. The last S&K story in Black Magic centered on, and was narrated by a shark mutated by atomic radiation to the point of sentience. The story Lone Shark was a chilling tale of run amok science and the unforeseen consequences of atomic energy plants and the dumping of atomic waste. There is also an unpublished Black Magic cover featuring a burnt out wasteland with alien scientists in hazmat gear and Geiger Counters checking out the charred remains while a huge mutated creature hovers in the background. In Win-A-Prize #1(Feb. 1955) published by Charlton, Jack drew a wonderful allegorical tale of the first visitation from space and the inherent fear and paranoia in the human reaction. This genre so resonated with Jack, it was said that Jack hoarded reams of science fiction magazines and pamphlets, and when he died, the garage was full of them. Jack was always at his best when his stories had a sci-fi basis. Joe would recall that Jack was “the pulp man-he used to read all of them, especially the sci-fi ones.” Jack would even insert sci-fi scenarios into other genres like western stories, such as a Bullseye story set in a lost prehistoric wasteland populated with pterodactyls, or a land based Fighting American trapped in a deep space dream.

Joe, reeling from the failure of Mainline, still had faith in the books, and took them over to Charlton Comics, an independent company that distributed their own product.  Charlton was started by two ex-convicts named John Santangelo and Edward Levy. Santangelo was an Italian immigrant who worked as a brick layer and masonry contractor. He first began publishing unauthorized lyrics to famous songs (for his soon to be wife) and made enough to quit his job. He would discover the hard way that America had copyright laws and would end up in the slammer. While there he met Edward Levy who was a disbarred attorney who was involved in a billing scandal. The two became friends, got out of prison at roughly the same time and made a handshake deal to go into legit publishing together.

The original logo – an early Charlton attempt at an educational book

Edward was able to get the rights to publish lyrics legally and John would hire people and handle the publishing aspect. The company would buy an old printing press that was typically used to print cereal boxes and would also set up their own distribution network. This made Charlton Comics quite unique as they were very much a “done in one” publisher. They did everything from buying the paper to print on, hiring the people to create the magazines, to delivering the magazines to the newsstands. But like any printing presses, it cost a lot of money to not have the presses rolling. It’s very likely that they got into comic books as a way to print something in between their magazine runs. No doubt they probably also recognized the popularity of comic books and were hoping to cash in. Based in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton was known as a low rent business that paid the lowest page rates, and whose quality control was the worst in the business. It was also known for having a very loose editorial policy that left the artists alone.

Comic by Edward Levy, the indicia soon read Charlton – New S&K at Carlton

Joe recalls, “Charlton was the last port of call for a publishing enterprise on the verge of going under. Santangelo and company were usually willing to continue publication of failing magazines or comic books, taking over the printing, engraving, and distribution at their own plant….and eventually taking over, period.

“When Leader News, our Mainline Publications distributor had failed, Jack Kirby and I turned to Charlton as a last opportunity to continue publishing our line of comic books. We made frequent trips to their plant in Connecticut where the highlight of the day was a tasty Italian lunch at the executive table of the employee’s spacious cafeteria. When the noon whistle blew, the printing crew, mostly Italian immigrants who spoke little or no English, gulped down a hasty sandwich and then retired to an adjacent construction site where they picked up their masonry tools and continued putting up new buildings, a project that seemed endless. After the lunch hour, the men returned to the printing shop to resume their regular work. Kirby and I made a small living at Charlton for a couple years and then went the way of other patrons. Out.

Joe’s memory is somewhat faulty; S&K Charlton work only lasted less than one year. What was never explained was why Joe didn’t take the Mainline titles to Crestwood, or Harvey. Joe decided to chuck the brushes and head to advertising.

The problems of Leader News and some other small distributors left a gaping hole, which Charlton was glad to fill. In 1954, Charlton went shopping, picking up the low hanging fruit. Besides Mainline, they also picked up titles from Superior, St. John, and Fawcett Publications. Besides the four Mainline titles, S&K also produced a new title called Win-A-Prize. This odd anthology title was an amalgam comic book and prize catalog with prizes awarded for all types of contests and reader contributions mixed in with some surprisingly good comic tales. Only two issues were published. They also produced one issue of From Here To Insanity, a humor title in the Mad Magazine vein.

Back to humor and parody

Joe and Jack produced two final issues of each of the four Mainline titles for Charlton before closing down the studio for good. It was a sad ending to the greatest team of comic creators ever seen. Fifteen years of unparalleled innovation and entertainment ending as collateral damage of the social wars fighting for the souls of our youth. Jack recalls those years fondly “It was a wonderful time to work in the field-if you neglect the financial problems. I wouldn’t class the fifties as the greatest period in comics–it was, to be frank, a really ugly period. Ugly clothes, cars, people. But it was a time when the most productive people in comics were still in the field. Marvin Stein was with us-he was a first rate man and one of the best artists we had. Mort Meskin was at his height. Steve Ditko was blossoming out and doing fine work. There were still writers and artists around….Good ones. It was certainly akin to working a Renaissance period.

The age of post-atomic comics had begun.

The cause of freedom does not run smooth, often it feels like a one step forward, two steps back proposition. But occasionally a big step happens that can never be walked back. On May 14, 1954, in a historic decision, the Supreme Court in one fell swoop ended the decades long tyranny of the Jim Crow laws. Plessy v Ferguson was no more. Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore lawyer convinced the high court that separate could never be equal, and all people were in society together. Clashes became more frequent as State governments attempted to stop black students from public education, and forced the Federal branch to enforced the new equal education standards. Suddenly public faces like Orval Faubus, Bull Mongomery, and George Wallace showed the world what had once been the dark secret of Southern life. But the dark underbelly remained.

September of ’55 found the country’s attention riveted to the small backwater town of Money, Mississippi. A body had been fished out of the brackish Tallahatchie River. A black body beaten and decomposed so badly that identification was made by way of an initial ring on one of his fingers. The body was identified as that of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old black Chicago boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi for the summer. The last thing his mother told him before putting him on the bus was that in the South black people had to act different to the white folks and if they tell him to bow and scrape, then he better bow and scrape and look happy doing it.

with his mom in happier days

One day Emmett was playing with his friends and was bragging about how in Chicago he played with white kids, and in fact, he had a white girl friend. His friends oohed and ahhed, and challenged him to go inside and speak up the young white girl behind the counter. Emmett was up to any challenge and went inside, bought a piece of candy and as he left he flirted with the girl. The friends were agog, but there was no immediate response. No one thought anything about it until three nights later Roy Bryant, the owner of the store, and J.W. Milam, his brother-in-law, broke into Emmett’s Uncle’s house and drove off with Emmett. The young girl was Roy Bryant’s new wife, and in Mississippi, no black boy could talk fresh to a young white girl without punishment.

They drove Emmett out to the riverside and brutally beat him, crushing in his head and gouging one eye completely out. After one last act of defiance—or stupidity—Roy Bryant shot young Emmett in the head. They bound his body in barbed wire, weighted him down with a gin mill fan and dumped him in the river.

The body was fished out three days later, and subsequently identified as that of Emmett Till, who had been reported abducted three days earlier by his Uncle. Bryant and Milam were quickly arrested for murder and the stunned nation was in an uproar. The young boy was quickly made into a martyr for the Civil Rights movement and the Northern press berated the South and its Jim Crow ways unmercifully. At first even the local townsfolk were aghast at the crime and neither Bryant nor Milam could get legal representation, but as the press storm continued, the Mississippians began fighting back. Suddenly the defendants had lawyers fighting to represent them.

The defense’s case was based on the problems with identifying the body, that no one could be sure if the body was that of Emmett Till—despite the initialed ring on his hand. But the defense theory was really a ruse. They knew that the all-white jurors wanted to free the two men, but they needed something—anything to which they could hang their case. Defense attorney John C. Whitten told the jurors in his closing statement, “Your fathers will turn over in their graves if [Milam and Bryant are found guilty] and I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men in the face of that [outside] pressure.” The poor condition of the the body was enough of a straw to grasp and after just an hours deliberation, they found the men innocent.

His mother moaned; “Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son“

The Northern press and black leaders were aghast at the decision and quickly mobilized protests, and civil rights volunteers quickly spread around the area trying to calm the black workers of the area. They knew one thing, and that is that one incident like this was bad, but worse, it emboldened other white racists to imitate their actions knowing that they were immune to prosecution. Nothing scared the black populace more than the idea of copycat murders. One lynching usually led to three, four, or more similar occurrences. It was like a bad weed, pull one, and a dozen more sprout up. Every redneck with a grudge now had an avenue to vent his frustrations and bile.

It had been a while since the Civil Rights movement had such a noteworthy face to put on prejudice and injustice. Emmett’s age and Chicago roots were just the ingredient needed to rile up the millions of blacks who had fled the South and remind them that Southern blacks were their brothers. For the first time, northern blacks saw that violence against blacks in the South could affect them in the North. In Mamie Bradley’s words, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Blacks, in the North as well as in the South, would not easily forget the murder of Emmett Till.

Just as Leo Frank’s murder had united Jews against bigotry and prejudice, Emmett Till became the brutalized face of the Black movement demanding their rights. 1955 would be just the first of many a long hot summer in the U.S.

Far too often these singular acts of evil soon fade and blow away, overshadowed by new problems and events but Emmett’s blood seeped into the soil and gave root to a whole spectrum of new offshoots. In Montgomery Alabama, the new Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became galvanized to avenge this slaughter and change this country. He started to talk out and preach a whole new strategy of love and non-violence aimed at changing the tone of the country. A young black woman on her way home from work refused to give up her seat on the bus and was summarily arrested for civil disobedience. Rosa Parks was outraged by young Emmett’s death and had joined the local Montgomery NAACP; she had attended talks given by this new young Pastor and had decided enough was enough. Following her arrest, a new policy of striking back took place when Dr. King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The strike went nationwide and suddenly the black populace had a voice. The eyes of the nation focused on this problem and the violence and led the Court to overturn Alabama’s cruel Jim Crow laws.

A young black man, newly recruited to the Black Muslim crusade, was transformed by Emmett’s death. In prison for rape, the Oakland Ca. native fed his reactionary furor. Two days after discovering the tragedy of young Emmett Till, Eldridge Cleaver had a “nervous breakdown” and “began to look at America through new eyes.” Always entranced by white women, his attitude toward white women changed radically, he suggested. “Somehow I arrived at the conclusion, that as a matter of principle, it was of paramount importance for me to have an antagonistic, ruthless attitude toward white women.”

Using this outrage as a recruiting tool, the Nation of Islam grew from 15 temples in 1955, to over 40 in 1960. The small radical violent offshoot of the Islam religion soon became a large militant alternative for blacks who had grown tired of never fighting back.

Another young revolutionary used Emmett Till’s death as a launching pin to unite the black populace in the cause of Islam. Malcolm X would become perhaps the most feared and famous black leader of the late 50’s and early 60’s; only Martin Luther King came close.

In Louisville, Kentucky a young 15 year old boy playing with some friends saw a newspaper with the story of Emmett Till’s death; complete with the horrid picture of the mutilated body in the open coffin. The young black boy was not a novice to Southern reality, but this new abomination steeled a new radicalism and resolve into his hardening heart.

“Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered… I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn’t get Emmett out of my mind…” – Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)

A somewhat younger southern boy responded differently, seeing this as a learning experience and life warning.

“It was Monday morning when my family got the word about the death of Emmett Till. I was barely two years younger than he and in the South for one of the first times that I was old enough to remember. My mother was particularly disturbed by the incident and spent most of the morning counseling me on “being careful,” a non-specific term which at the time I took to mean watching out for traffic on unfamiliar country roads….

On subsequent trips to the region I was “more careful.” I was also more apprehensive about being there. I was never sure what to do when in contact with Southern whites, and therefore I tried as much as possible never to make such contacts. My personal experience and the story of Emmett Till, which I read in great and gory detail upon my return North, served to confirm my notion that the South and its white people were different and dangerous…. I wondered if I would ever understand these people and their society. The need to understand encouraged my graduate study of Southern history…” – James Horton (historian)

Despite warnings from friends that talking out could hurt his career and legacy, Superstar Jackie Robinson replied; “If I had to choose tomorrow between the Baseball Hall of Fame and full citizenship for my people I would choose full citizenship time and again.” Jackie would begin circling the South giving speeches and voicing his concerns. His popularity was such that he even outsold Dr. King as civil rights speaker.

Perhaps cynically, some have suggested that this event was perfect for the new medium of TV. For the first time, nationwide news stations sent mobile teams to cover a local story. The name Emmett Till became known from New England to California’s sunny shore.

The Civil Rights movement finally had a moment that transformed the whole black population, and with it, the nation.

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Looking For The Awesome – 12. Ghosts In The Attic

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


His studio went from the spacious attic in Mineola, to a small cramped basement at the new house. Neal remembered; “The basement room was tiny (just 10 feet across) and the walls that separated it from the rest of the cellar were covered in stained, tongue-and-groove knotty pine with a glossy varnish. Dad’s drawing table faced a beautiful cherry wood cabinet that housed a 10? black-and-white television. To the left of the cabinet was a beat-up, four-drawer file cabinet that was stuffed with Dad’s vast archive of picture references to, well, everything. I could sit for hours and just mull through musty old folders with bayonets, battleships, medieval armor, cowboy hats, skyscrapers, satellites — countless files on countless subjects. And — much out of character for my father — that metal cabinet sat beneath a stuffed and mounted deer’s head. I can’t remember where he said he got that damned thing, but it was always there. The things you remember…” This brings a smile to the author who stares up at a wooly stuffed Buffalo head his wife unexplainably bought.

Sadly one of the core members of the studio passed when letterer supreme Howard Ferguson died in late 1950. Gone, sadly were those great multi-font splash page blurbs that opened every S&K tale. He was replaced by an almost equally nimble letterer in Ben Oda. Oda was a brave young paratrooper during the war that had come to Simon and Kirby by way of Eisner/Iger. The Japanese/America vet would letter many syndicated news-strip and become a mainstay with Simon and Kirby.

The grumblings about comics content was escalating as local groups began pushing legislators to censure comics. The editors of Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay took a proactive stance. The numbers are wonky, and the following issues showed no difference whatsoever. Worse days were just around the corner.

Dell Comics had reached the pinnacle. Its mix of licensed products and flooding the market moved it to the top of the chain. In an attempt to reach the public, it instituted a new club. In 1950 Dell Publishing Company introduced their Dell Comics Club as a means of attracting new and continuing subscribers to their series of comic books. To become a member of the club, all you had to do was buy a one-year subscription to any of their comic book titles. Then in addition to the comic books, you receive an official membership certificate in the Dell Comics Club along with a group portrait of the principle Dell Comic characters-minus Disney characters. The club lasted a couple years.

Interesting that Dell’s merchandise never featured any Disney characters-their biggest seller

The Fifties started horribly as the long years at a sewing bench caught up to Ben Kurtzberg. His death was a terrible blow to Jack. Jack’s feelings for his dad were conflicted. He knew his father loved him. But Jack found it hard to forgive the poverty and defeat he felt his father bore. The doting father who would carry his son around on his shoulders had too soon become the quiet, passive downtrodden man who struggled to care for his kids. Jack hated the poverty and the shame. He would never let his wife and children down as had his father. Mama Rose did not take the loss easily; she became more withdrawn and reflective. Even the grandkids failed to brighten her spirits. Brother Dave was doing fine with a floor refinishing company, and frequent visitor to the Kirby home; he became the defacto baby sitter when Jack and Roz wanted to hit the town. The kids loved him; he was like a second father.

The entertainment tastes of kids are fickle. What is popular one day is trash can filler the next. So it was incumbent on Joe to keep an eye on trends and for S&K to jump on board when needed. It was impossible to always be the spear head of new trends; some times you must be the caboose, following behind the engine.

After the war, all eyes turned towards a new medium. TV had entered the lexicon and with it a new source of cheap entertainment. By 1949, over 75% of the states had commercially licensed stations. The most popular programming were the hundreds of western movies made in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1949, two of the most popular movie characters got their own all new TV shows. Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger became the country’s most popular stars and the idols of kids everywhere, and the comic industry had a new source for inspiration. They were soon followed by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Davy Crockett and dozens of others. It would become TV’s first big fad. There had been western comics since the very beginning; Joe Simon’s first story was a 6 page western for some long forgotten title. Jack had Lone Rider. But starting in 1948, mirroring the growth on TV, sales of western comics jumped dramatically and by 1950, they had expanded to almost 20% of the market. All the publishers were jumping on this horse. It was too big a segment for Joe to let slide.

Ernst Gerber theorizes;

“The war ended, super heroes faded away and it was time for more likely heroes…. Ask yourself what were the most often viewed movies of the early 50’s. Times up. Westerns, westerns, westerns. What you become fond of on television you want in comic books. TV became the medium which helped western type comic books to immense popularity.

The Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch, or simply Boys’ Ranch premiered with an Oct 1950 cover date. Once again Jack and Joe were working with Al Harvey and Harvey Publications. Joe always seemed to do his best for Al Harvey, and Boys’ Ranch just might be the crowning jewel. Some historians rate the series as the best work ever done by S&K, and possibly the best ever done for comics. Jim Simon, Joe’s son states that “Jack and Joe believed that their kid cowboy comic book was an artistic masterpiece that transcended the comic books of the time.”

Kirby notes in a forward to the Boy’s Ranch reprint; “In view of the meaningful psychological content woven into its total cloth, Boys’ Ranch stands high above the so-called “products of its type,” and attracts the reader with the sheer wholesomeness of its approach. Yes, the timeless struggle between good and evil continues unabated, as it must, in normal human existence. In the world of storytelling, it is severely heightened and probed in order to achieve the level of drama sorely needed when the point must be made. Boys’ Ranch never flinches from this purpose! Boys’ Ranch makes its point!”

The concept was classic S&K; a group of young orphans whose adventures lead them to a small Wild West town, where they band together to help a boy hating rancher caught in an Indian uprising. In the middle comes a typically S&K style stoic ex-scout of heroic proportions to join them. During the battle, the rancher is killed, but not before bequeathing his ranch to the young kids. It was decided that the scout would become the foreman of the ranch, whose job it would be to watch over and teach the young boys.

The young boys followed the usual template for S&K kid groups. Kirby said; “Each of our characters was a part of that formula, and reflected his reactions to it with a sincerity shaped by his individual background.” The handsome all-American boy was Dandy, an ex-Union soldier restlessly traversing the West looking for adventure and romance. The goofy one was Wabash, a Southern hillbilly drifting aimlessly from his home in the Ozarks. In perhaps homage to his hillbilly army buddy, mountain folk would turn up quite often in S&K stories during this time. The young scrapper was Angel, the most neurotic and feared gun in the west, and controlling those guns was the hottest headed little firebrand ever created. The angelic face framed by flowing blond locks masked a fearless cold hearted loner. The heroic guardian had quite a portfolio. Clay Duncan was orphaned as a child, his parents killed by white outlaws. Raised by an Indian chief and half-brother to Geronimo himself. Learned in the ways of the Indians, he is turned over to a white scout to be the voice of peace between the two peoples. He became a scout for the US Army and a legendary Indian fighter. The white scout is killed by a renegade, and it is to avenge his friend that the legend of Clay Duncan begins when he has a gun duel with the killer. This template would be used again and again whenever Kirby created a cowboy hero. Clay Duncan was a man of few words, with great courage and skill. The cast was filled out with Wee Willy Weehawkin the ranch’s grizzled cook. Palomino Sue was a female addition, orphaned when Indians killed her wagon master father, this wild beauty soon developed a crush on Clay Duncan. For Clay’s part, Palomino Sue was just another distracting child who constantly ignored his orders. The last regular was an Indian cub named Happy Boy-ever smiling and silent as a totem, he became the ranch mascot.

The art was glorious, never more lush and natural. The landscapes were breathtaking. Joe says that the boys really researched this strip like no other. The grandeur of the West may have provided Jack with his greatest inspiration. The double spreads that anchored every issue were eye popping tableaus of mythological stature–The equal of Remington and Charles Russell. The inking was heavy, solid, and naturally textured. It was as rugged as the crags and cliffs of the West.

The geometric shadows used so heavily in the modern day hard and angular architecture disappeared in the naturalistic westerns, no shadow snakes, and no arcs or halos over the heads.

As good as the art was, and it was Kirby’s best, what separated Boys’ Ranch from other western comics was the stories. They were tight, spare little morality plays. They were simple when needed, but complex when called for also. The stories were direct, with little padding. Famed western writer Louis L’amour had some advice for writers that seemed to have been borrowed from S&K’s approach. “A novel’s action should start on page one, line one. Too many writers talk about what they’re going to do before they say it. There are lots of other things competing for people’s entertainment time –they don’t have to read my books. You’ve got to start with something happening.”

These were the most literate scripts ever provided by S&K, and the action began on page one, in fact, the action started on the covers and never subsided. The plots were action filled, and tense. The characters were well developed and concise in their roles. Romance was sprinkled in and the melodrama moved the action. When critics and historian rate various S&K stories, one invariably tops the list–Mother Delilah from BR #3. A story of Biblical allusion, and Shakespearean poignancy, the poetic narrative tells a tale of jealousy, deceit and finally redemption. The titular character is the fiercely proud owner of the local bar. When her romantic feelings for Clay Duncan are rejected, she picks one of the children to get back at him. She chooses Angel, and slowly wins his trust and love. She then betrays the young boy and destroys his confidence and newly learned trust in others. It is Clay’s job to help Angel regain his sense of purpose and in doing so a tragic gunfight occurs. Mother Delilah makes the ultimate choice and sacrifices herself to protect Angel.

Richard Howell describes it thusly;

“The story ends tragically, but with Virgil’s (the town poet) narration underscoring the hope of redemption in masterly effective poetic prose-complemented perfectly by the restrained drama of the visuals. Throughout the story, the conflicting desires of the principals are clearly depicted with an assurance and intensity that transcends craft and moves into art. Boys’ Ranch #3 is moving, involving, touching, exciting and – ultimately- a fitting tribute to the creative vision behind it. Jack Kirby comics–or comics- have rarely, if ever been better.”

Mort Meskin would take on an increasingly important role as the series went on.

Tragically, the series fell victim to poor sales, and Harvey cancelled it after six glorious issues. Once again S&K couldn’t give their friend Al Harvey a hit. The same can’t be said about another new series that S&K introduced the same month.

Horror comics had always been around- usually as a sub-genre of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. When Max Gaines died in 1947, his son Bill took over the small EC label of comics. In 1950, EC was getting by with six titles, none selling particularly well. Gaines and his editor Al Feldstein decided to make a change. The new comics, or “New Trend” as they were to be called included Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and Crypt of Terror. These three titles would usher in a new genre that sparked the next wave of hot titles. EC’s graphic horror titles were the first and best of over a hundred titles devoted solely to the depraved, lurid depiction of violence, gore, and gruesome horror. This was the first genre devoted squarely to man’s inhumanity and its worst instincts, not its best. But boy were they fun! The horror genre encompassed the occult, sci-fi, monsters, crime and any other subject that could scare the bejesus out of a kid–from ghosts and zombies, to madmen with axes.

Headlights and horror – nice mix

Black Magic came about because we saw a trend emerging in comics back in the Fifties; something begun by others but which we had to pick up on if we didn’t want to get left behind. It wasn’t a new idea to use all those ghosts and spooks, but it was a salable idea at the time and we were fortunate to get involved in it early. We had to compete with E.C. so it was tough.” Joe recalled.

S&K and Prize didn’t ignore the trend. Their response was “Black Magic”, with issue #1 bearing a cover date of Oct. 1950, just 5 months after Vault of Horror. The focus was more on the occult than on the blood and guts sociopathic monsters of EC.

Jack explained: “I didn’t have an affinity for horror. But I knew that commercially, it was viable. That’s why we both finally did it.”… We didn’t do horror in the sense of haunted houses or people with masks the way you might see today; something lurking in an anteroom. Our stories were more like peasants sitting around a campfire. Ours didn’t run to bloody horror. Ours ran to weirdness. Joe and I were wholesome characters. We weren’t guys that were bent up on the weird and the bizarre. We were the kind of guys who wouldn’t offend their mother, who wouldn’t offend anyone in your family, and certainly not the reader.”

Stay out of the attic

Joe concurred;

Black Magic was an excellent comic book with art and stories about the supernatural that were pure as Ivory Snow compared to EC Comics and the rest of the horror field.”

Kirby, Simon, Draut, Stein and Oda (seated)

The coloring was the best

Ivory Snow? Maybe not, they had werewolves, and violence, just not the lurid bloody depictions of some companies.

Non-gory maybe but they were scary

Jack might not have had an affinity for horror, but he drew the first 33 covers for the series, and they were beauts! They were scary, atmospheric, horrific but not clinical in their depiction of gruesome. The stories were interesting and suspenseful, thematically connected by Old World mythology, and psychological torment. The series was a hit and would continue, with a short hiatus for 11 years.

Jack notes; “E.C. was very basic in their approach to horror. By that I mean, they left nothing to the imagination; same with most of the other horror producers. That may have been part of their downfall. You can only throw that kind of thing at the public so long before they develop immunity to it. I think we were a little more restrained with our stories, but that may be because we were putting out a lot of romance comics and it mellowed us somewhat.”

You knew Kirby would pull the painter gambit

More than anything, the horror genre would awake the sleeping beast of societal backlash against the industry. So gruesome was the depiction of horror and brutality that mothers, and church groups, and parental groups reacted with calls for boycotts, and book burnings. When in 1954, a prominent psychologist Frederick Wertham published a damning screed on the dangers of youths reading comics, the Government got involved and held hearings concerning the connection between comics, and juvenile delinquency. But that’s a tale for a later chapter.

On June 17, 1950, reality became the horror. Julius Rosenberg, the young Jewish anarchist from Jack’s Lower East Side neighborhood was arrested for espionage—selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Shortly after, his wife Ethel was arrested as an accomplice. Both were children of Jewish immigrant families living on New York’s poor Lower East Side. Their young histories are remarkably similar to Jack Kirby’s in many ways; the Rosenberg’s were very ordinary people. Like many people who came of age during the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were radicalized and joined the social struggles of the time. Julius’s mother and father, both Russian immigrants, worked in garment sweatshops in New York City. “We were so poor,” one of Julius’s sisters recalls, “my mother would hard boil an egg so that she could divide it among us.” Julius’s father was a shop chairman and an active trade unionist. For this, he was blacklisted. Julius was also radicalized by political causes of the time. Ethel came from a similar background. Her father, a Russian immigrant, made a meager living operating a sewing machine repair shop. At the age of 19, Ethel was fired from her job as a clerk at a shipping company after leading 150 women workers in a walkout in 1935. Like Kirby, they were looking to escape. Unlike Kirby, there was no Harry Slonaker to direct their anger and restlessness towards a more promising goal.

Firebombers delight – Coincidental S&K cover

The Jewish community was in chaos; torn between its desire to protect its own vs. their true patriotic fervor. But there was a major problem that the organized Jewish community was forced to confront—a problem stemming from the long involvement of the mainstream Jewish community in communism and the far left, at least until the end of World War II, and among a substantial number of Jews even after this period. They had bonded with the new Communist government after it overthrew the Czar. The Czar was their natural enemy, and as always, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. In Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, Aviva Weingarten points to a “hard core of Jews” who continued to support the Communist Party into the 1950s and continued to have a “decisive role” in shaping the policies of the American Communist Party. (CPUSA) Andhil Fineberg of the American Jewish Committee wrote about devising Jewish defensive strategies over the repercussions of the fact that the great majority of communist spies were Jews. Fineberg suggested that the best way to combat this threat to Jews was to de-emphasize Jewish group identity of ‘good Jews’ like Bernard Baruch as well as ‘bad Jews’ like the communist spies. Identifying people like Bernard Baruch as Jews ‘reinforces the  concept of group responsibility’ and ‘the residue in the mind of the  average American person whom the editorial is intended to influence,  is likely to be, ‘But why is it all those atomic spies are all Jews?’ Fineberg argued that an attempt by Communist Party members to portray their persecution as anti-Semitism would be ‘devastating’ to Jews generally and recommended that the AJCommitttee reply to charges linking Jews and communism to the effect that criminals operate as individuals, not as members of religious or racial groups.'” After a short trial, the Rosenberg’s were sentenced to death.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was just beginning his crusade against Communists in the government when the Rosenberg’s were arrested. Their case became great fodder for all of McCarthy’s histrionics and fear mongering. But even McCarthy was wary of outright opposition from Jewish voters and was very careful in separating anti-Communism from anti-semitism. McCarthy surrounded himself with Jews and let Jews like Roy Cohn and David Schine do all the heavy lifting in going after the many Jews deeply imbedded in pro-Soviet activities.

Serious Sen. Joe McCarthy – the not so serious Jack and Joe

Black Magic issue #22 (Mar. 1953) was especially chilling. The lead story bore one of Jack Kirby’s more inspired splashpages. The center figure showed a man staring out into a small secluded lake looking at a glowing disk. Surrounding this figure was a collage of newspaper stories about UFO’s and unexplained flying disks. The story tells of a brave man who finds and explores a crippled flying disk. It seems a neighbor had already found and claimed the disk for himself. When other neighbors find the disk, the claimant sets to fighting them to enforce his find. A war for control erupts. A small unearthly figure comes out of the shadows and witnessing the brutality pushes a button in order to stop the fighting., The lone brave man sees the figure push the button and decides to run for his life. He escapes just as the disk self-destructs in a soundless explosion. He wakes up in a hospital and tries to tell the doctors of his find. They laugh and pass off his ramblings as that of a madman. Yet forever more the brave man would bear the scars of the cosmic ray burns on his face; warning us that there are monsters–they are the earthlings next door, not the man from space.

Who’s the real monster? – Sometime the “bugs” were bad

Besides being a wonderful S&K morality play this tale really stands out. I think it is an important step in Kirby’s growth. This may be the first use of collage in a Kirby page. Jack specifically cut and pasted newspaper accounts and worked them around a hand drawn scene to create a combined work of art. Some note a difference since using newspaper newsclips is using the material for what it is, the text is the message. . While Jack’s later use uses newspaper and magazine art in a more fantastical nature in order to create a different message and context to the art. He changed the meaning of the chosen art. I understand, but this seems technical and tacky to me. There is no contextual difference in collage– A collage may include newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, portions of other artwork, photographs and other found objects, glued to a piece of paper or canvas. The origins of collage can be traced back hundreds of years, but this technique made a dramatic reappearance in the early 20th century as an art form of novelty—No where is the contextual message mentioned. No mention of fantastical or otherworldly is needed for a collage—it is the added bits taken from a pre-existing work—that make it collage.

The next remarkable aspect is just such a contextual idea. This is the, or one of the earliest use of post-war atomic pop culture by Jack. The use of newspaper clippings spotlighting the cultural rise of UFO appearances, and such conspiracy growth after the war makes the Kirby story just that much more topical. Kirby went out of his way to give an added strength and relevance to his story by showing current fascination, yet avoided the debate and disdain often thrown to the conspirators. Was Kirby’s imagination set off by this cosmic debate?

1952 would see the team expand again as they added in Strange World of Your Dreams as a companion piece to Black Magic. This was based on a Mort Meskin idea and was credited to Mort as editor-though several Black Magic stories had used the same “dream” template. Word is the idea came from Mort’s own reliance of psychotherapy. The title’s host, Dr. Richard Temple was a very busy guy; always had Jack Kirby’s pipe handy. Neal says that at the holidays, Jack was always easy to buy for; A new pipe or a box of cigars. He once had a fixation on corn cob pipes. They also added in Young Brides to help out the romance books.

The horror genre was never as important as many would assume. It had a sociological import, and impact way beyond the actual sales figures. EC was never a top tier publisher. Its lasting impact would come later with satire and MAD Magazine. Even in the mid-50’s, the percentage of horror titles never exceeded 16 percent of the market, and that for only a short period

The early 1950’s were the best of all times for Simon and Kirby. They were working on as many as 5 titles at a time. The studio was a well polished machine with a small core group of top rated artists, and a select group of back-up artists orbiting the main body doing top notch work. More importantly their families continued to grow with the births of Jim Simon, and Barbara Kirby in 1952. Though it was a small tight group, occasionally a new face would show up and shake up the team. Jack said “We did our best to give everybody a chance for a job, but I would be embarrassed to tell you who I turned down and even more embarrassed to tell you who we let go. Jerry Robinson, the great Batman artist, and partner with Mort Meskin, had taken a teaching job at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. Among his students, one stood head and shoulders above the rest. A shy erudite young man from Youngstown PA named Steve Ditko.

Genial Jerry Robinson – Merry Mort Meskin

Reclusive Steve Ditko

Jerry remembers; “When I’m asked about students I of course always mention him. “Steve was quiet and retiring, a very hard worker who really focused on his drawing.” “He was very bright.  I knew it right away. In fact, if I recall correctly, I got him a scholarship for the second year, so he was in my class for two years. When I would see students of Steve’s ability I would recommend them to a publisher.” For Steve Ditko, the respect is mirrored right back to Robinson. “Jerry Robinson was a great teacher for teaching fundamentals in how to tell/show comic book story/art. What one learns, knows from seeing, studying other’s artwork is mostly visual. But what one learns from a teacher like Jerry is how to use one’s mind with solid comic book panel/sequence principles. It is that basic understanding that makes a comic book panel effective, dramatic, [and] visually work for a story/picture integration and continuity creating a whole unique reading/seeing experience.” Ditko’s style was perfect for fantasy genre work. It was heavy in atmosphere and texture. His inking was dark, shadowy, and liquid, oozing with suspense. His characters were uniquely creepy and singular. His compositions were suspenseful and dramatic. Yet Steve recalls his early years, and the lost effort of an amateur. “I was self-taught, and you’d be amazed at the hours, months, and years spent practicing bad drawing habits.” Steve’s recollection mirrors Kirby’s years at a hit and miss beginner.

When brought to the S&K studio, Steve was given a script for a Black Magic story. “A Hole In His Head” appeared in BM #27 (Nov. 1953). This was the second published work in what would become a legendary career. He also contributed stories in BM #28 & 29. Steve’s time at S&K must have been magical; he met and worked in tandem with one of his artistic heroes–Mort Meskin. The reticent Ditko recalls; “Meskin was fabulous. I couldn’t believe the ease with which he drew… I loved his stuff.” “No one who reads a Meskin drawn story is ever in a fog as to what is happening. Not only does Meskin tell a story extremely well, but he does it in the most difficult way.” A testament to Mort Meskin’s talent and gift for avoiding the super-ficial and gimmickry as opposed to concise pacing and clarity of image. After finding a new home at Chartlton, Ditko’s early career was cut short in early 1954 when he returned to Pennsylvania suffering from Tuberculosis. Steve would return in 1955 and his and Jack Kirby’s paths would forever be intertwined. Steve was a fine fit for Charlton; their loose editorial policy was the perfect fit for someone so stringent in his philosophy. Unfortunately whenever Steve came forth with a personal project, even the company least worried about sales was still forced to cancel it quickly.

Classic Ditko isolated questioning subject – The girls weren’t pretty but he told a story

Another itinerant artist, Jack Katz talks about his short time at S&K.

“Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day.
You know how I learned to ink? Jack sat me down one day, He said, “This is what you do.” He took one of my drawings, and he inked it with a brush. I’d never seen inking that good in my life. I said, “Jack if you could ink so good, why do you let—?” He said, “I don’t have the time.”

He said, “This is what I want you to do. You apply the blacks like this. This is what you do with your camera angle to make the background stand out. Jack would fill in all kinds of black areas in the background. As an inker, I don’t think there could have been anybody better if he had done his own stuff himself.”

“One of the things they had in the office was the Sunday Hal Foster Tarzan strips, almost from its inception…everyone in the office was using them for swipes. Kirby never used swipes. I’m being very straight about that. If he did it was for reference, I never saw him erase anything either.

Just breathtaking stuff. Hal Foster Tarzan

Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.”

Katz says the studio was a serious place, but Mort Meskin specialized in getting Kirby’s goat.

Jack would be lost in thought on his pages and Meskin, he says; “Get up!, Get up!” and a girl would be walking around in a bathing suit. And Jack would say, “Would you sit the f**k down. ”This happened almost every day. One day Mort brought in some pornographic toys, Queen-sized fake breasts. He shows them to Kirby. Jack says, “What are you doing?” Mort puts the breasts on the floor and starts jumping up and down on them. Jack told him to stop, and get back to work. Mort said, “I can’t because I had a date with a disgusting pig, and I’m taking out revenge. Mort would also slip nudie pictures silently into the romance artwork just to hear Joe Simon erupt.

Another comic professional also credits Jack Kirby for starting up his career, but in a totally different way. From an interview with Daniel Best, Vic Carabotta says;

“I made some samples up and we canvassed New York City and went to every publishing house you could think of. One of them, of course, was Timely Comics which ended up being Marvel later on, but nothing really happened and I couldn’t get in to see anyone like Stan Lee. Finally my wife and I ended up with a cup of coffee walking the streets of New York and I got to see Jack Kirby. He’s really the one who got me started. My wife and I went over together to Jack Kirby’s office, which was then called Simon and Kirby, and Jack took me into his office and looked at my stuff. My wife sat in the lobby and by this time she was about eight and half months pregnant. So I went into Jack’s office and he looked at my stuff and said, “Well this is nice.”

Jack Katz – and Vic Carrabotta

Because I was an amateur and I don’t think I was very good at the time. [laughter] So he walks out into the lobby and while he’s telling me, “You know Vic, your work is nice, but don’t call me, I’ll call you.” It was the old story, the brush off, and as he walked out my wife stood up and I said, “Jack, this is my wife Connie.” He looked her up and down and he did a double take and saw that she was pregnant and what ran across his mind was, “This poor guy, he needs work,” and he said, “How are you?” and introduced himself to my wife and said, “By the way, have you seen Stan Lee at Timely Comics?” I said, “Yes Jack, I went there but I couldn’t get to see Stan.” I was walking around with a pack full of amateurish work; I couldn’t even afford a proper portfolio. He said, “Well, wait a minute,” and he went back into his cubby hole and he writes a letter and sealed it and said, “Take this back to Stan now.” So I took it back to Stan and got past the secretary and I was sitting across the desk from Stan Lee. Stan was a very casual guy and had his feet up on the desk and he said, “Oh, Jack says you can draw this and that,” and I said, “Yes Stan, would you like to see my work?” and he said, “No, that’s ok. Here,” and he threw a script across the desk and said, “I want this back in a week.” And that was the beginning of my comic book career. I never knew what was in the letter; obviously it was Jack telling Stan to help this poor guy. And that’s how I got started in comics. Had it not been for Jack Kirby I’d probably be laying bricks with my cousin or something. [laughter]

DB: What were Stan and Jack like back in the mid ‘50s?

VC: “Jack Kirby was a heck of a nice guy. He was always a model guy and I felt sorry when he died. A very, very nice man.”

1953 would find the studio with another challenge. A couple months earlier, St John Publishing had produced the first 3D comic. Archer St. John had come from Chicago. His earliest claim to fame is being shot at and beaten by Al Capone when his brother and he printed some scathing exposes on Capone’s attempt at rigging a local election. Archer came east and published some hobby magazines that evolved into comics when he began filling the hobby magazines with comic strips. By some means, he hooked up with the Chesler Studios and began publishing odd comics with their product and artists. His most lucrative work was when he obtained the rights to Mighty Mouse, and when artist Norman Maurer obtained the rights to produce Three Stooges Comics. Norman had married one of the Stooges daughters and controlled several aspects of their finances. It was Leonard Maurer who perfected the 3D process and arranged with Archer to publish all of his comics in the 3D process.

Leon recalled:

We then took the pages and the concept to Archer St. John. Initially skeptical, St John was shocked when he put on the makeshift glasses and viewed the artwork. He bought the concept on the spot and for it received a 25% stake in a partnership with the Maurer’s and Kubert in the American Stereographic Corporation, the company formed to license the new 3-D Illustereo process. For his financial input, St. John also received a six month head start before the process would be offered to other comic book publishers. Archer insisted that they start with his bestselling book, Mighty Mouse. Mighty Mouse 3D (Sept 1953) was a huge success. The 3D artists/creator Joe Kubert claims that it sold over a million copies @ .25 each. In fact, it was initially released on July 3, 1953, and eventually saw the full printing reach 1,200,00 copies.The profits paid for Joe’s first house.

Leonard Maurer, tells all in an interview.

“Even though it was Joe’s remark, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if we could make a 3-D comic book?’ (When he, Norm and I were driving past the marquee of the Paramount Theater where Bwana Devil 3D was playing) that got me thinking about 3-D comics. Later, while driving home to Queens over the Midtown Bridge, the whole process [of] depth shifts suddenly popped into my head. “In one long night, I drew the first 3-D comic page entitled “The Three Stooges in the Third Dimension” Early the next day, we waited for the midtown Manhattan’s Woolworth to open in order to purchase lollipops. “We figured we could get red and green cellophane from lollipop wrappers.” Norman recalled; we bought two packages and made a funny pair of glasses which, believe it or not, worked perfectly.”

“We gave St. John a 25 percent partnership in our licensing company, along with a 6 month’s head start for his publishing company in exchange for financial guarantees for Norman and Joe as Editors, and myself, as supervising producer — with a secret studio to be set up for production of the Mighty Mouse book”.

“I didn’t realize that the 6 month’s exclusive was what triggered Sol Harrison,(DC) Stan Lee(Atlas) and all the others to knock us off as quickly as they could, since my hands were tied in offering everyone a license. I could understand them doing this, however, since the success of Mighty Mouse, with its precision offset printing, along with my carefully designed and engineered die cut glasses insert, and selling for a quarter with the same number of pages as a dime book, was big, big news. And there were equally big financial stakes involved… especially, since it had an unheard of 100 percent sellout of its initial 1,000,000 print order. We even had to reprint an additional million. That was some leap. Considering that the normal print order at the time was under 300 thousand. All of this was based on our combined advice and suggestions to St. John. I also warned him not to go too far overboard with the next books, since I didn’t think the fad would last more than two seasons. I recognized the danger of off register [printing] too, especially in the ‘y’ axis, and knew that as soon as they tried to do it on the standard comic book web letterpresses, with their notoriously poor registration, the resultant headaches would bust the whole market apart.”

“Suffice it to say, by the tenth or eleventh 3-D book, said Joe, sales were down to about 19% sell thru, so we had to stop publication of 3-D’s. Leon always said that the attention span was limited and the fad was waning. What really hurt was the hoped for 6-months head start ended up being non-existent. Just one month after St. John’s Mighty Mouse started the fad, Dell Publication put out 3-D-ell Rootie Kazootie. Since the books took up to 5 months to produce, it remains a strange coincidence, or an unsolved mystery as to how Dell came up with a 3-D magazine so quickly. Before long other companies like Harvey and DC got into the business and really watered down St. John’s creation.

“What eventually bankrupted St. John was his attempt to block all the other publishers by buying up, in carload quantities, all the factory output for over 6 months of dyed acetate (made to my specifications, and produced by Celanese Corp.) He also bought up carload quantities of comic book newsprint paper. He didn’t succeed in blocking everybody, since there were other major acetate and paper manufacturers, but he did hold up a few, and for a while, his books were of the best quality and led the market.”

When DC, and Dell, as well as EC jumped on the fad, Harvey took notice. After a couple of funny animal cartoon books, Al Harvey thought a super hero character was a great way to show off the new process and contacted the premier super hero team to draw it. In August 1953 Al Harvey contacted Joe Simon and asked for the boys to put together a 3D comic.

Though Joe was not impressed with the idea, he could never refuse Al Harvey, especially when promised 2X their usual rate, so Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin and Steve Ditko moved into a vacant studio at the Harvey offices and learned the tedious overlay process for achieving the 3D effect. Due to the tediousness, Archer was paying his artists 2X normal rate. Joe recalls in frustration.

“Drawings were done on hole punched plastic acetates set into pegs on the drawing boards, There were two to four dimensional planes, each a separate acetate requiring individual drawing, all part of the main drawing. It was extremely tedious work, rendering on the slippery, unfamiliar plastic, and matching the registration from overlay to overlay” “We worked on the project a couple of weeks and finally packed up, exhausted, glad to be back to our regular tasks, when we tabulated our time, it proved to be a financial loss to us.”

The result was Captain 3D, a superior effort 3D or not. Rumor says that the title was too late into the fad, and sales died and left Harvey in the lurch.

Harvey floods the market – good results at first

The art was prime Kirby, inked by Meskin and Ditko. The story was a typical mix of action and sci-fi telling of a dimension breaking hero, fighting a civil war with the Cat People. Kirby instinctively realized that for the 3D effect to work, the action must be thrust forward towards the reader. A second issue was planned, but Al Harvey called a halt. Sales had bottomed out. Joe would learn later that Bill Gaines had threatened a lawsuit from EC.

Joe Kubert at table – Norman Maurer standing

version of Flattened Kirby 3D – get some glasses

Bill Gaines was the publisher of the Entertaining Comics (EC) line that included MAD magazine as well as many controversial horror and crime comic books. He had taken over EC comics when his father, the legendary M. C. Gaines had died in a boating accident in 1947. He was also a 3-D photography enthusiast who owned a StereoRealist camera and when the St. John 3-D comics came out, began immediately to make plans for 3 issues of EC 3-D Comics. With a patent search, Gaines discovered an October 13, 1936 Patent (no. 2,057,051) by Freeman H. Owens which was a Method of Drawing and Photographing Stereoscopic Pictures in Relief and described reproduction of a newspaper cartoon drawing as a “stereoscopic relief picture” with separate parts of the cartoon “copied on separate transparent sheets” and “opaque on the back to correspond with the outline in each case.” The sheets, “advantageously celluloid,” were recombined and copied “to make the pair of stereoscopic views” by shifting them laterally.

“A month before its expiration,” notes Maurer, “Gaines bought the Freeman Owens patent — which never turned up in our patent search — from the dying inventor for a few hundred bucks.” Then Gaines initiated suit for patent infringement on all the publishers of 3-D comics including St. John, and Harvey. “That suit,” says Maurer, was “based on surreptitious individual tape recordings of meetings with Joe and Norman, where Gaines accused me of stealing the Owens patent out of the patent office (big joke). The lawsuit was eventually thrown out as baseless, but not before Archer St. John filed for bankruptcy and died soon after.

Last page of Freeman Owens 1936 patent – Ad for St. John’s first

It seems that the young Steve Ditko was impressed. In a very early comic story, Steve has two characters in a quiet moment talk about the 3D fad. The first character says to the other; “And this 3D picture was big as life…and twice as ugly. You felt as if you could reach out and touch the characters! The other adds; “I saw the shot myself! When those guns went off I shook as if I had been shot! The first man responds; “Those old flat pictures are good enough for…”

Perhaps Conway Twitty said it best: Fads are the kiss of death. When the fad goes away, you go with it.

Al Harvey met with EC’s lawyer and was happy to promise they would publish no more 3D comics, as he was left with a huge back stock of the damn things, when sales dropped like a ton of bricks after publishing a few more issues.

Joe Kubert gets the last laugh in Whack Magazine

Joe Kubert said; “”Each succeeding sale was less than the one before. Proving that gimmicks don’t last forever.” The companies were suddenly inundated with returns. St John, the company that originated the process went out of business, and Harvey was stuck with millions of the special glasses piled up in the warehouse. Once again a Harvey project cut short.

Fads do come and go, and this particular fad would come again, and Kirby would once again be involved.

Earlier in 1951, the lawsuit between National Publications and Fawcett Publications over Captain Marvel was heard. Joe made a cursory appearance for DC. The judge ruled that yes, Captain Marvel was a rip off of Superman, but National had let their copyright lapse, so they couldn’t enforce their copyright. National appealed and in late 1952, Famed Judge Learned Hand overturned the lapsed copyright claim and remanded the case back to the original court to decide damages against Fawcett for copying Superman.

In 1953, Fawcett and DC worked an out of court settlement whereby Fawcett would cancel all super-hero titles, plus pay a penalty. Fawcett wasn’t all that upset; the super-hero comics were no longer profitable as sales continued to fall. Their paperback business had become very lucrative. This put many artists out of work. Oddly, Fawcett would continue to print Dennis the Menace comic books.

The main Captain Marvel artist, C.C. Beck contacted Joe Simon and asked if Joe might come up with a new title for him to draw. Joe worked up a concept that he titled Spiderman. He then contacted his brother-in-law, comic writer Jack Oleck, and after a story conference worked out the details, Oleck took the idea home to work out a script. One change was that the title was amended to Silver Spider.

C C Beck, no powers, no uniqueness

Oleck returned with a script, and Joe gave it to Beck to draw. Beck returned with 8 sketchy, partially drawn presentation pages which Joe took to his friend Leon Harvey. The completed pages showed a young orphaned boy finding a magic ring that granted him a wish. His wish; To be as cunning and shiny, and slippery as a spider– a human Silver Spider. Leon turned the pages and script over to a young editor, Sid Jacobson, to review. Sid’s review was less than complimentary.

The name: strictly old-hat. Almost a take off on Green Hornet

Character : What powers does he have? From both stories, it seems that there is no exceptional gimmick involved. He barely being a strong man. I believe a hero should have some special power—a la Human Torch, Submariner or even Captain 3D’s seeing ability

On and on, Sid continued, completely tearing the concept down. His conclusion “I find nothing exceptional “I believe that Jack Oleck is capable of much more than this.” Leon Harvey passed on this project and Joe shelved it. One can wonder why Joe never offered the idea to Crestwood, where He and Jack were doing multiple features, or even produce it themselves under the Mainline banner. But it would play a large role in Jack’s life when it was rescued years later.

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Looking For The Awesome – 11. Tales From the Heart

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


When Joe took his proposal over to Jack Kirby he knew there might be problems. Could Michelangelo paint a mural with stick figures? Could Mozart compose an advertising jingle? Could the pre-eminent action and adventure comic artist make the transition to a quieter mode of story-telling? Could Jack draw a convincing story with one hand tied behind his back–the hand holding all the power?

The romance genre presented a thorny problem. Since these stories dealt with average people and their real life crisis, the solutions had to be realistic. A broken heart wasn’t solved with a blow to the head or a flying shield. Simon and Kirby had no experience with realistic fiction. Prior to the romance books, a typical S&K adventure featured a quick action packed introduction, a brief action packed mid-section where the hero is seemingly trapped and doomed and a fast action packed finale wherein the hero escapes and saves a hapless female, or the country, or even the world. The thread running through everything was non stop action. Don’t let up and allow the kiddies to realize the absurdity of it all. The idea of characterization and humanity and depth rarely arose in the earlier books. At times there were hints of romance such as in Blue Bolt and the Green Sorceress, but it was never developed and nurtured. No back stories fleshing out the characters motivations. We knew little more about Captain America the person after the tenth issue as we did after the first chapter of issue #1. The civilian identities of the Sandman, Manhunter, Guardian, or even Rip Carter never really came into focus; they never evolved, changed, or grew as humans. They were interchangeable archetypes who exist merely to keep the action moving forward. We never learned anything about the early years of the Newsboy Legion or the Boy Commandos. Did they have parents or siblings? Why are they there? What are their dreams? As examples of episodic action tales, these stories were without peer. Kirby’s dynamic artwork and the bare bones plot propelled the action along at break neck speed. But as literature, or even compelling drama, they were sorely lacking.

When romance comics first hit, Joe felt Jack’s style might be a problem. He didn’t want the girls to look muscular and brawny. He first sought out Bill Draut and Mort Meskin, artists whose natural style was more slick and graceful. But when Jack was finished the first script, Joe immediately changed his mind; Kirby had completely rewritten and reinterpreted the script making it more real and better characterized than originally planned.

If the reader was to be drawn into the romance tales the writer and artist had to capture them with riveting plots and solid true-to-life characters acting in a realistic, yet dramatic fashion. There would be no instantly recognizable hero or a recurring villain to draw upon month after month. Each issue had to attract the reader on its own merits. With the romance books, the reader had to be brought back with the promise of new and different stories that would pique their interest, pull at their pathos, and stoke their fantasies of a world more daring and sensational than their own moribund reality. The tales were ripped from the headlines; racial intolerance, class warfare, even juvenile delinquency were presented as part of their human dramas.

Defiant but chastised

The need for better plotlines, and more literate scripts forced Jack and Joe to use muscles never used. The emotions of desire, rejection, jealousy, fantasy, and shame had rarely if ever been used in their action tales, and in the absence of the flying bodies, fist fights and explosions so vital to the adventure strips, they had to learn to excite the readers through words, facial expressions, and subtle gestures. The stories had to become even more cinematic, they would have to perfect a different attitude to pacing- the slow build up of passions and release. They had to set scenes by use of atmospherics, lighting and staging, changing moods with close-ups, and panoramic vistas. All of these were present in the action tales, but the timing and direction needed for romantic tales was totally different. They learned the value of subtlety and pathos, the need for punishment and redemption, and that in real life, no one is all good or all bad. They embraced humanity in all its messiness and glory. Their earlier simpler characters had to become flesh and blood. Simon and Kirby became dramatists.

Jack Oleck, Joe Simon’s brother-in-law became the mainstay of the writing corp, filled out with Ed Herron, Carl Wessler, Otto Binder, and others like Kim Aamodt and Walter Geier. In a revelatory interview by Jim Amash, Kim and Walter talk about the inner workings of the S&K studio.

Aamodt: Well Simon and Kirby wrote the plots. They sat there and wrote them, and that’s what we followed.

Aamodt: Jack did more of the plotting than Joe. Jack’s face looked so energized when he was plotting that it seemed as if sparks were flying off him.

Aamodt: I remember Jack Kirby was very good at making up titles. I remember giving him a lame title, and Jack said,” No we’re going to call it ‘Under the Knife.’ ” It was a surgical story. I was impressed that Jack came up with titles so quickly.

Aamodt: I really sweated out plots, unlike Jack Kirby. Jack just ignited and came out with ideas, and Joe’d just kind of nod his head in agreement.

Aamodt: Joe was on the ground, and Jack was on cloud nine. Jack was more of the artist type; he had great instincts.

Geier: Every time I went up there I saw both of them (Simon and Kirby). And they always gave the writers the plots. Jack Kirby was great about that; he always came up with the plots. Jack had a fertile mind.

Geier: Joe used to sit there when the writers came in for conferences. They sat there and made up the plots for the writers. Jack did most of that. Joe would say something once in a while, but Jack was the idea man.

Geier: Joe didn’t talk much. He could come up with decent plots, but it was usually very sketchy stuff. A lot of times Joe would say, “Awww…you figure out the ending.” Jack would give me the ending, because he was good at figuring out stories. It was not hard to work with Jack.

Geier: They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue.

Simon notes: “All stories were shamelessly billed as true confessions by young women and girls, when in actuality, all were authored by men. In the years of producing love comics, we were unable to come up with one female script writer who could satisfy our requirements for dramatic love confessions in comic book script form.”

For Kirby this must have been excruciating, for this was a guy who had perfected the art of balletic pandemonium; bodies in constant motion taking up not just a panel, but at times whole pages! Jack was a scrapper, a fighter, a man of action, and his art mirrored this. To ask him to limit the scenes to quiet head shots, slight gestures and gazing eyes was akin to hacking off his arms. It took away his reason for being! Kirby meant power! Kirby meant action! But Kirby also meant making a living and doing what was needed to tell a story and sell a book.

Can you recognize the inking traits?

How could he be true to his artistic nature and still sell comics to girls? New problems called for new solutions: Jack created a new sub-genre. The romantic adventure thriller! He would tell his tales of pride, and lust, and redemption, but he would structure them in action settings full of passionate people in dramatic moments set in exotic locales, leavened with humor and caring. While other artists would settle for the talking head route, Kirby found that unthinkable. His characters would always be in motion, even when talking there was action. The rare times when they were standing still, they would still be active; eating, drinking, smoking anything but hands at their sides. It was the hands, always the hands! Kirby’s tales were full of gangfights, sporting displays, and war torn locales; active bodies on display in dramatic situations. You could envision Humphrey Bogart, or Spencer Tracy wooing Kate Hepburn or Vivien Leigh in Tangiers or Tibet. The cinematic influence was once again Kirby’s model for story-telling.

Another difference was the serious nature of these tales; no more the slapstick approach. With passions ripped right out of the headlines, they wrote of class warfare, prejudice, peer pressure, and the duality of human nature. Though they had to take the “for the more adult reader” blurb off the cover, they never talked down to the readers, the stories were adult fare. Overt sexuality was never displayed, but it certainly was hinted at. These weren’t Betty and Veronica teenage cartoon gags, these were real, the people were real, the crises were real, and the feelings were real. The readers could recognize their own situations, fears and dreams in these tales.

One of the classics of this sub-genre is The Savage In Me from Young Romance #22 Jun 1950. The story takes place in post-war China and centers on Augusta Hatcher. The splash page is a classic Joe Simon lay-out; the prim, elegant Augusta Hatcher standing along the left side confessing her problems. The lettering is among Howard Ferguson’s best. Using five different fonts in the confession’ each emphasizing a different thought, he built to a large bold font, proclaiming the title. In the lower right corner is an inset of a furious fight. The lack of details adds to the suspense, though we do know it’s not a friendly scuffle. The splash page is an excellent example of the two sides of Kirby working together. First we see Miss Hatcher in a confessional introduction, telling us she has always been two women: one, the obedient prim and proper daughter of a missionary; the other, a passionate hellcat wanting to be unleashed. Yet she is never certain which was the real Augusta Hatcher until a wild scoundrel named Gary Donovan tried to awaken…The Savage in Me! The beautiful, but school-marmish appearance of Miss Hatcher seems to be beckoning to a smaller inset panel where we see a man roughly forcing his intentions upon her. She is fighting back, furniture flying, her hair awry, and face clenched in fury. So on one page we get the new Simon/Kirby dramatically introducing us to the dual personality of Augusta by dramatic text, and cinematic juxtapositioning of the two natures of Augusta, while the old Kirby captivates us with the vitality and dramatic action of the art.

Pages two and three also demonstrate the different modes of storytelling by Jack, which ingeniously highlight the two personalities of the main character. Page two is a quiet page where we see the prim figure of Augusta patiently teaching her charges. The first five panels are small, quiet gestures and easy conversation with a most inquisitive boy inquiring about the “dragon” she possesses inside her—not knowing it is an allusion to her latent passion. In the last panel, the mood quickly changes as she is abruptly grabbed from behind and a man roughly kisses her, much to the amazement of the kid. On page three the first five panels present a classic Kirby battle. Augusta fights off her attacker like a wild woman, kicking and screaming for all she’s worth. Until panel six, where the action ends and the attacker walks away with a jaunty shrug. Just going by the pictures one could get the impression that the man was trying to rape her, but being a comic magazine the text assures us that he merely wanted to kiss her. On these two pages Kirby shrewdly shows again her two opposing sides, the quiet dignified lady and the she wolf protecting her virtue. Visually, Augusta is shown in a high buttoned dress with long sleeves, her hair in a tight bun. No skin would ever be displayed from this straight laced lady. Kirby also uses the panel layouts as a means of leading the reader from page to page by making the final panel as a change of pace and a change of direction pushing the reader to the next page; a very clever story telling technique.

Page four is pure cinema. Augusta is shown sitting in front of a dressing table looking in the mirror. The two faces are seen in direct opposition and she is fighting with herself about the attack and what she was feeling inside. She is clearly upset, but her reflection is taunting her for secretly wanting it to happen. This is very powerful stuff; this is a Kirby we haven’t seen before. Using only facial expressions he has created tension producing more emotion, passion and energy in these four panels than in the five panel fight scene that preceded it. Kirby has given this character more depth, passion, pathos and humanity than in all his super-hero stories combined. Kirby had used the mirror reflection gimmick many times before, but never so intimately or psychologically engrossing. The page ends with Augusta arriving for dinner and surprisingly being introduced to the man who had attacked her just a short time ago. She is defiantly in her haughty composed persona and true to form, he is unrepentant and ungentlemanly.

The next page introduces us to Gary Donovan. He is supremely confident and brash, and fond of talking about himself. He is used to getting his way. This is not a typical Kirby hero; they tend to be stoic and humble. Donovan makes his brash intentions towards Augusta known, much to her disgust. Donovan explains that he has been injured fighting with a warlord named Yang-Hu who will soon reach the town and ransack it. Donovan suggests that the missionary and his daughter leave for safety. The missionary tells him that warlords come and go and he can handle them. Augusta tells her father that Donovan sound like a scoundrel and will probably hang for his insolence.

The next few days, while Donovan is on the mend he entertains the kids, slowly melting Augusta’s hard heart. He ultimately confronts her and forces her to admit her passion for him. Just as they fight over their future, Yang’s men appear in the distance. The father and daughter are determined to stay, but Donovan has other ideas and knocks out the father and bodily forces Augusta to hide out in his boat. Donovan had worked out a deal with a local smuggler to get them safely through the lines. While Donovan is apologizing to Augusta for the rough way he handled her and her father we see the town going up in flames, justifying Donovan’s actions. Then Donovan explains that his actions were not just to save her life, but to keep them together. He tells her “Besides we want each other, hang it! All the principles in the world can’t condemn that! It’s a law of nature—born before any other ideas came into being. Now listen to me carefully Augusta! There’s a real woman inside you! A woman who will cast aside all else to answer her instincts.” Finally she has reached the point where she must decide which side of her personality she wants to control her. While she is lost in thought, her father approaches, she explains to him the quandary she finds herself. Her father listens, and then offers her advice. “Then be true to the woman you are—the woman who loves Donovan!” The story ends when we see Augusta sneaking up behind Donovan and throws her arms around him, he turns around is astonished to see her with her hair down in loose curls and she is wrapped in a body hugging cleavage baring sarong. He laughs at the change, and tells her that he is not a river pilot, or smuggler, but an agent of a large textile exporter and that her future is secured and safe, but he will never lose his enthusiasm for his wild woman. The bad boy became a good boy, and the good girl became a freak.

This can’t end well eyebrows too big

A nicely told story, somewhat chauvinistic, but both characters are not whom they seem, but by the end, they are who each other wanted. A very mature theme, well presented in a dramatic cinematic format light years ahead of what Jack was doing two years earlier. There was action, but in a realistic fashion, and there was tension and climax in a satisfying fashion. There are small bits of continuity problems such as Augusta’s red dress switching from long sleeves to short sleeves from panel to panel. But the passion and sexual tension was real and evident. The anguish of her search for self was so strong and her frustration so plain in her Kirby drawn face. Donovan’s smugness was so obvious even without reams of text explaining his personality. This part of storytelling became so strong for Kirby that when he later reverted back to super-heroes with flaws, his characterization skills helped the stories come alive.

Gil Kane once said, “You don’t realize the underlying strength of their storytelling until you see them working that kind of material, anyone can make a page interesting when they’re blowing up planets or having a monster devour a city. Joe and Jack made it interesting when two people were just standing there having a quarrel, or professing their love. They employed the same mastery of character in all their work but in the romance books, it was stripped down to the essentials and you saw how well they could make their people breathe. Later, when they brought in the planets blowing up, it was so much more effective”

Once again Richard Howell;

“Simon and Kirby’s approach their romance comics with the same attitude they brought to superhero, adventure, humor and crime comics: Make them exciting! S&K’s electric compositions, active posing, and raw expressive inking were at a high point. Those qualities, coupled with the team’s command of comics storytelling and the touching and incisive stories they had to tell, enabled them to create some of the most dramatic, affecting comics stories ever produced”.

The artwork followed on the nourish stylings of the crime books with much crosshatching and deep shadow work. The swirling snaking shadows danced through the pages. The geometrics at times overwhelmed the performers in these passion plays. Kirby played the physiques straight, no outlandish perspectives, or post-steroidal hulks to be seen, just healthy normal men and beautiful, sexy women. The faces took on an increased variety and the facial expressions became startlingly eloquent. Kirby’s women had always been on the lean wiry side, but now they would run the gamut from Hepburn haughty, to the vampishness of Rita Heyworth or Veronica Lake. View the splashpage to “Was Love to be my Sacrifice” (YR #9) or “The Girl Who Tempted Me” (YR #17) and then claim that Kirby couldn’t draw sexy, beautiful and varied females.

WOW!!! No costumes, masks, or cowls, just real people 3 fonts one blurb building in intensity

Joe Simon’s layouts for the covers and splash pages were works of genius; usually laid out with the sexy female “confessor” introducing the readers to the premise and warning them to avoid her mistakes and fly right. This aspect engaged the reader with its immediacy and drama. This formatting evolved from Joe’s earlier dramatic layouts on the pulp magazines. Ferguson’s multi font word balloons were the perfect enhancement to the splash giving it a weight and artistic flourish the equal of only Will Eisner.

The Simon and Kirby sheen was at its highest peak.

Over on the crime titles they soon ran out of true stories and they changed from historical factual reenactment to fictional stories using the same confessional style of the romance books. “The Last Bloody Days of Babyface Nelson” gave way to “I was a Come–On Girl for Broken Bones Inc.” using the same first person don’t do as I did template as the romances. Once again, the boys had more work than they could handle. Work at Hillman had ended, but at Prize/Crestwood they had three full bi-monthly comics to produce, plus they were editing some of Prize Comics other titles, like Prize Comic Western, and Charlie Chan. Joe’s small studio needed to expand. In an interview for the Jack Kirby Collector artist Carmine Infantino remembers being asked by Joe to work on Charlie Chan

Kirby cover template used many times – Signed Infantino definitely Kirby

TJKC: When you started working in the business, did you cross paths with them very often?
CARMINE: …. They worked for Hillman, and so did I. That’s when we met. Then they went to Crestwood and they invited me over to Crestwood to do Charlie Chan for them and I went over there.

TJKC: Did you do Charlie Chan directly for them?

CARMINE: Yep, for them directly.

TJKC: So how did that work? Did you ask for the assignment or did they call you?

CARMINE: No, no, Joe called me and he said-and he knows I’m working with DC-“Will you come over here and do Charlie Chan?” I said, “I make a lot more money than you can pay for this thing,” but then I thought about it. I could be there working with Kirby and Mort Meskin. I thought it’d be worth it. I worked for less money and I worked for him for about a year. It was a great learning curve.

TJKC: Did you work in the studio?

CARMINE: In the studio and I would go home and do DC’s work at night. After a year, I was collapsing, I couldn’t continue.

TJKC: What was it like working in the studio with them?

CARMINE: Oh, Jack taught me-tremendous. He was unbelievable.

TJKC: When he worked, did he ever make conversation?

CARMINE: He’d make conversation. You’d ask him a question and he’d answer you. One time I did a story-it was about these two guys beating up an old lady-and I was drawing it and I was having trouble with it. I said, “Jack, what do I do to get this thing right?” and he says, “Don’t show them hitting her. Have one villain on the couch smiling and watching the shadow of the other villain hitting the old lady. That’ll work in the reader’s mind more than seeing the actual action,” and he was right; little things like that he taught me.

The Simon and Kirby team of the 1950s Joe Genalo, Joe Simon Jack Kirby (standing) Mort Meskin, Jimmy Infantino, letterer Ben Oda

Another couple of legendary artists who made their comic book debut in a Simon/Kirby produced book were John Severin and his partner Will Elder. In issue #32 (Oct. 1948) of Headline Comics John and Will began doing back-up strips and soon began helping out on the romance and western books. With issue #72 (Nov 1948) of Prize Comics Western John and Will began a steady job on several strips. Jack would provide a couple nice covers for this series. John recalls the early meeting in an interview in JKC #25.

“We- Bill Elder and I were partners at the time- were lucky enough to be given a script for one of the crime comics. The story was about two children- a young girl and her brother who murdered their mean stepfather.

Soon we were doing westerns for Crestwood sister series Prize Western. “The Black Bull and The Lazo Kid were two of the series we did before the editor Nevin Fiddler spoke to me about a new character they were creating called American Eagle. I agreed to take it on and that ended our work with Simon and Kirby They had been very helpful with their constructive criticism to two novices in their business.”

Quite a team – Elder and Severin – gritty realism

Elder remembers as well:

ELDER: Yeah. And then Johnny Severin came around and got jobs for the two of us. Severin could draw very well. He had a good memory for mechanical things. And I could ink really well. I could ink fast; he drew fast. We were both the opposites of each other. I couldn’t draw as fast as him. To make money in that business, you have to be pretty fast and turn out a lot of material. We turned out the best we could at that stage of the game. We hit it off with the few samples that we showed Simon and Kirby.

GROTH: How did you get hooked up with Joe Simon’s shop?

ELDER: Through Kirby, because Kirby was the artist and Simon was the businessman.

GROTH: How did you know Kirby?

ELDER: Well, through some of the artists. We came up to his office and we saw some of the work that was being done, and I said, “We can do it.” John Severin was the same way.

GROTH: Well, how did you discover the Simon/Kirby shop?

ELDER: It’s hard to put my finger on. I can’t know exactly when that happened.

GROTH: And you went up to Simon’s shop, and he gave you some work…

ELDER: He gave us some work. It worked out pretty well. We weren’t getting paid very much, but that was the reason we got the work. “There was a guy in the office who was very funny. I wonder if you know who I’m talking about if I mention what happened. This guy would follow us down the stairs, get out in the middle of the street and start directing traffic. Severin and I looked at each other: See any cops around? I look at this guy, directing traffic. I think he had a nervous breakdown; I found out later. Couldn’t stand the traffic. I couldn’t blame him for that. But to direct it?”

GROTH: I see. How much work were you doing for Simon and Kirby?

ELDER: Not much. I’d say about maybe a half a year’s worth.

One day, an inker named Jack Abel saw something that amazed him. He quietly watched Jack pencil a figure. “When most artists start to draw a figure, they do little ovals for the head, and action lines for the legs, arms, etc. Well he simply started at the feet and just continued on up with one continuous line. And the figure was perfectly drawn, doing what it was supposed to do in the panel. When he finished, he turned to me and said, “How do you like that kid?” “I was flabbergasted, I never knew it was even possible for a guy to do a well drawn figure without making little sketchy guide lines.”

As good as Jack was, George Roussos says that Joe Simon continually beefed up Jack’s confidence. “Get on drawing Jack. How many times do I have to tell you not to use the eraser. And then Joe would take it away. With that kind of encouragement, you grow muscles; and Jack grew and grew because he had no restraints of any kind. “Joe, being a bright guy, foresaw the giant in this man and encouraged him. No one in the business ever did that.“

The boys may have been busy, but romance wasn’t lost on them. Joe and Harriet brought forth Jon- their first born, soon to be followed on May 25, 1948 when the Kirby’s welcomed Neal into the family. Jack had a son!!!

With growing families came the need to expand. Harriet hated the city and on weekends the group would pile into Joe’s car and head to the suburbs to find new digs. With Levittown style developments sprouting up like weeds, they soon found a new development in Mineola, Long Island.

Class warfare was never far – the tragedy of wartime romances

Mineola was one of the many small rural villages that stretched across Long Island. Its main claim to fame was nearby Roosevelt Air Field, where the young Charles Lindberg began his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. Post WW2 with the Long Island Railroad making it a convenient trip into New York City, the town more than quadrupled in size as the suburban explosion transformed Long Island. A comfortable 35 minute ride would find the traveler at the hub of New York’s Penn Station, just a few minutes walk to the center of the publishing district.

With GI Bill loans secured, the families moved into adjacent houses and set up studios in their attics. The move was not entirely positive.

Joe explains; “When we arrived, there was something different about the place. It seemed ugly and barren. Harriet was fuming. ”We’ve got rocks for a lawn!” The developer had stripped the topsoil from the entire development and sold it to finance his construction. “Maybe he’s gonna give us new dirt,” Kirby, the city boy commented. We all looked at him. “Well, the damn stuff was old,” Kirby persisted. Roz shook her head perplexed. We stormed into the builders home a few blocks away, screaming mild obscenities. The crook didn’t even have an office. I never sold you topsoil,” he blustered. “If you must have topsoil, I’ll sell you some.” Much as we tried, we couldn’t get satisfaction. “It’s like dealing with a goddam comic book publisher,” Kirby lamented.

The families were close, but because of the boys’ nighttime schedules, they never socialized much. As Roz put it;

“We were good neighbors, and I socialized more with Joe’s wife Harriet because the kids were all the same age. We’d go to the beach a lot. There was another couple… we’d all pile into the cars and go to the beach We were all so busy, the boys were working at night and we were busy with the kids. We didn’t really socialize that much, but we socialized as neighbors, took walks with the children, took them for ice cream and things like that. I wouldn’t say they (Jack and Joe) were close, but they got along very well. Jack always thought of Joe as a big brother.” Roz’s only complaint was that Jack and Joe’s constant cigars turned everything a horrible yellow shade.

Living this far from the city presented a new problem. Joe would jokingly tell of Kirby’s driving acumen; “Jack had a problem with road rage. When we were living out on Long Island, if he was driving and a little old lady cut in front of him, he’d get so angry that he’d want to ram her car from behind. He used to get into one accident after another, and finally Roz took his car away from him.

With the Aug 1949 issue of Detective Comics (#150) Jack’s work on Boy Commandos ended; casualty of a war comic without a war. But not before Jack once again dipped into his iconic bag of stories. In Designer of Doom (Boy Commandos #32, 3/49) the villain is once again a painter who paints the deadly future of his victims. A theme used over and over. The attempts to transform the group from soldiers to civilian adventurers never really clicked, though Kirby gave it a damn good try. It had been a wonderful and successful run for DC and for S&K. It would be a decade before Jack returned to DC.

Movies take from S&K

At the same time as Boy Commando’s cancellation, there was another shakeout at DC. Mort Meskin, who had been a mainstay at DC since 1942, lost his job on several long running assignments. It’s been said that he was no longer reliable, and suffered from periods of depression. There is some speculation that Mort was undergoing treatment from cult figure—Dr. Wilhelm Reich. Mort guaranteed the end of his tenure when he jumped up on a desk, wielding a T-square like a sword, challenging the editors. But Mort was one of the acknowledged masters of the form. Joe and Jack had known Mort for quite a while. Mort was a peer. Born a year before Jack in Brooklyn, it was destined that their paths would cross. He had been at Eisner/Iger the same time as Jack. He was most known for originating Sheena, Queen of the Jungle for E&I. Mort was at DC when Jack was working at the offices loading up on inventory pre-draft. Mort also had a regular patriotic strip at Prize, named Know Your America; where he and Jerry probably had contact with Joe Simon. With his partner Jerry Robinson, Mort had done a strip at Fiction House, plus a few small freelance romance jobs previously for S&K. Mort had become famous for concise, terse well-rendered stories. Steve Ditko once said about Mort; “There is a vast difference between a comic artist who tells a story and a comic “technician” who draws detailed items or objects.” This difference rears its head quite often in the history of comics as new “hot” artists—often sensational detail men—soon give way back to the real storytellers. (see Neal Adams).

The yin to Kirby’s yang Morton Meskin

With Mort accepting the job, S&K now had 2 top tier talents on the roster, a one-two punch the envy of the industry. The pairing got off to a rocky start when Mort went into an artistic block period and was unable to draw. Joe explains; “Since I had been a long time fan of Mort’s, I urged him to try one of our scripts. It was a story for Black Magic, the comic advertised as “The Strangest Stories Ever Told”….Mort took the script home and didn’t show up for weeks. When he did return, he shoved the script at me. It was rumpled and soiled. There was not a single drawing….”I can’t do it” he sighed. “There’s no way I can get started”…. An idea struck home. “Why don’t you work here Mort in the office with us”. Mort agreed. We gave him a drawing table and a fresh script. He examined it for hours. All of us pretended not to notice his work-or lack of it. “I can’t,” he said I can’t face a blank page, I panic”. I walked over to his desk and penciled in some lines and circles on the board. “There. It’s not blank now”. Mort sat down, glanced at the script, and then drew around the lines and circles, continuing with the most expert penciled drawings until the page was complete. From that day on, every morning, I or one of the other artists would draw meaningless lines and circles on his blank page and Mort would draw without further problems all day. He was probably the fastest, most inspired artist in the room, and certainly one of the most dependable.” Mort was a mainstay until the studio disbanded. Also coming over from DC was inker extraordinaire George “Inky” Roussos.

George was born in Washington D.C. but moved to New York when orphaned. Self taught as an inker he ended up at DC inking over Jerry Robinson and others such as Mort Meskin on the Vigilante. He also helped out Jack Lehti on that new comic Picture News. Always busy, George came over to S&K with Mort Meskin to fill in his workload. George Roussos recalls the studio in an interview for the Jack Kirby Collector;

“In fact I worked in the office sometimes. They were up somewhere off Broadway. It was not bad, a small outfit, a lot of fun. Ben Oda, the letterer was there. Carmine Infantino’s younger brother (Jimmy) worked there for a while; very nice guy. Marv Stein, Mort Meskin were there. I was working there on a freelance basis. I liked working with Joe and Jack. Joe was the real business manager; a very clever, efficient guy, and also an excellent artist. He was the brains.”

“Jack was there at the drawing board. He hardly talked; he just produced. So there was a lot of energy inside of him and he didn’t waste on talking and kidding around. He’d do six or seven pages, starting from the left side and go right across, the next line and the next line….(laughter) amazing guy, really. It was a pleasant atmosphere and I enjoyed working there.”

The versatile George Roussos – Marvin Stein

The next long time member to join up was Marvin Stein; he came over from Quality and Croydon and immediately picked up work in Black Magic, and the romance books. Marvin would become a top producer and work for S&K and then Prize for many years. Jack considered him one of the best. He also inked a lot of Jack’s romance stories at Prize.

In 1949; the Kirby’s once again picked up stakes and moved; this time just a short distance to the next town. Neal, though young remembers most of the details; “Buying a house in East Williston, Nassau County, it was to be our home for the next 20 years.

The decade of the 40’s ended with Jack in a secure and stable work situation, just the opposite of how it started; with great periods of doubt ending in victory, while moments of great promise ended in disaster. Jack had been through crazy publishers, war, stretches of unemployment and pre and post war bust and boom, but he was now doing the best work of his life, and his family life was never better, he was at a high plateau and enjoying the view. With a now four ongoing titles they were on a roll. Bring on the Fifties!!!

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Looking For The Awesome – 10. The Girls Take Over

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

An age old question

An age old question


America was changing. The war changed everything. Much like the old post World War 1 song “How You Gonna Keep ‘em Down on The Farm” post WW2 soldiers weren’t ready to return to pre-WW2 America. The far reaching GI Bill meant that many soldiers would return to school, open their own businesses, and move out of the city. In early 1947, Abraham Levitt and his sons began work on Levittown, a small tract just east of New York, in Long Island. Levittown was the first truly mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar developments throughout the country.

This wasn’t happenstance, the Levitts had planned for just this moment. In perhaps the clearest example of monopoly the Levitts owned the forest where the lumber was forested, the mill in Oregon where the lumber was manufactured, made their own nails, and cement, and prefabricated the structures used to construct homes. In addition, they controlled prices for appliances by purchasing directly from the manufacturers. Well paid, but non-union labor also aided in the construction of the homes. Production was broken down into twenty-seven discrete steps, which at one point enabled the Levitts to construct a house in a matter of minutes. Once the houses were constructed the Levitts added baseball fields, swimming pools, shopping centers, schools, parks, and churches to their neighborhoods. The Levitts remained the largest home builders in the United States throughout much of the 1950s, and initiated a trend towards rapid suburbanization that continues today

America grew up; more tolerant and more curious. Their world expanded. Though two-piece bathing suits had been around,(especially in comics) a French designer shrunk down the garment below the navel, and barely covering the breasts, and named it the “bikini”. Taking the name of the American atomic testing atoll he described the reaction of men to this small clothing accessory-explosive. The bikini became a major hit.

Never underestimate your audience

Concurrently, movies were changing; TV had come along and replaced it as the arbiter of entertainment and cultural tastes. In many ways the movies became more adult oriented, or simply turned inward; with stories of lewd and deviant behavior. During the postwar period Hollywood produced a growing number addressing such problems as ethnic and racial prejudice, anti-semitism, juvenile delinquency, authoritarian distrust, suffering of maltreated mental patients, and the problems of alcohol and drug addiction. Think Gentlemen’s Agreement, Rebel Without a Cause, Asphalt Jungle, and Psycho. These films depicted sexual frustration; anxious parents; paranoia, alienated children; defiant adolescents, and loveless marriages. It was a far cry from the soothing and funny fare available on TV.

Hollywood found that it was losing market share as other countries placed high tariffs on American goods in order to improve its own products. Hollywood had depended on overseas markets for as much as 40 percent of its revenue. But in an effort to nurture their own film industries and prevent an excessive outflow of dollars, Britain, France, and Italy imposed stiff import tariffs and restrictive quotas on imported American movies.

Worse, as tastes were changing the whole paradigm of movie-making altered when an anti-trust ruling separated the manufacturer from theater chains. In 1948, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Paramount case, which had been working its ways through the courts for almost a decade. The court’s decree called for the major studios to divest themselves of their theater chains. In addition to separating theater and producer- distributor companies, the court also outlawed block booking, the fixing of admissions prices, unfair runs and clearances, and discriminatory pricing and purchasing arrangements. With this decision, the industry the moguls built–the vertically integrated studio–died. If the loss of foreign revenues shook the financial foundation of the industry, the end of block booking (a practice whereby the exhibitor is forced to take all of a company’s pictures to get any of that company’s pictures) shattered the weakened buttress. Film making had become a real crap shoot. In many ways, comics mirrored all of these problems.

One unexpected change was the rise of the independent film-makers as they now had a chance to get their product to market. The majors tried to use gimmicks and technology to brake the fall. Theaters were filled with 3-D, Cinerama, stereophonic sound, smell-a-rama, and cinemascope–attendance continued to fall. The foreign films shocked and amazed the American audiences with adult themes, and characters not allowed by the stuffy Hays Committee guidelines.

France’s Brigit Bardot single-handedly made the bikini acceptable-at least to all red-blooded men. Italy’s Sophia Loren brought an earthy passion, and organic quality not found in Hollywood’s prissiness, and prudishness. Hollywood gave us Doris Day.

Not a fair fight- did Doris Day have a bellybutton?

Politically, Hollywood also suffered from Congressional probes of communist influence in the film industry. In the late 1930s, the House of Representatives established the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to combat subversive right-wing and left-wing movements. Its history was less than distinguished. From the first it tended to see subversive Communists everywhere at work in American society. HUAC even announced that the Boy Scouts were Communist infiltrated. During the late 1940s and early 1950s HUAC picked up the tempo of its investigation, which it conducted in well-publicized sessions. Twice during this period HUAC traveled to Hollywood to investigate Communist infiltration in the film industry.

HUAC first went to Hollywood in 1947. Although it didn’t find the party line preached in the movies, it did call a group of radical screenwriters and producers into its sessions to testify. Asked if they were Communists, the “Hollywood Ten” refused to answer questions about their political beliefs. As Ring Lardner, Jr., one of the ten, said, “I could answer…but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.” They believed that the First Amendment protected them. In the politically charged late 1940s, however, their rights were not protected. Those who refused to divulge their political affiliations were tried for contempt of Congress, sent to prison for a year, and blacklisted. Congress had found a way around the personal protections provided by the Constitution by pressuring the industry to control its employees.

America’s three ring circus

HUAC went back to Hollywood in 1951. This time it called hundreds of witnesses from both the political right and the political left. Conservatives told HUAC that Hollywood was littered with “Commies.” Walt Disney even recounted attempts to have Mickey Mouse follow the party line. Of the radicals, some talked but most didn’t. To cooperate with HUAC entailed “naming names”–that is, informing on one’s friends and political acquaintances. Again, those who refused to name names found themselves unemployed and unemployable. All told, about 250 directors, writers, and actors were black listed.

In response to Gentleman’s Agreement — a movie about anti-semitism, winning the best picture Oscar, Congress subpoenaed its cast. I assume Jew was the same as Communist. It seems HUAC was upset by the picture’s theme. The House Un-American Activities Committee, called Elia Kazan, Darryl Zanuck, John Garfield, and Anne Revere to testify before the committee. Revere refused to testify outright and although Garfield appeared, he refused to “name names”. Both were placed in the Red Channels of the Hollywood Blacklist. Due to the blacklist, Garfield went back to Broadway for work. Several members of the Group acting theater were named by Clifford Odets as Communists. They were all blacklisted. The stress was incredible and in late 1951, two of the accused Mady Christians and J. Edward Bromberg died as a result. A year before, a young black actor named Canada Lee was hauled before the Committee. The Committee was trying to force Lee to testify against Paul Robeson, and the fight against apartheid. Garfield had worked with Canada in Body and Soul. So harried was Canada Lee, that he suffered a heart attack and died in May,1952. Garfield remained on the blacklist for one year. He was called again to testify against his wife. Despondent over his deteriorating marriage, and fearful over his fading career, Garfield agreed to testify. After a strenuous afternoon of sports, Garfield fell ill and died of a heart attack at the age of 39 two weeks after his friend, just before his second hearing date.

Anti-Semitism becomes Communistic – born Julius Garfinkel near Jacob

One writer brought before the committee was screenwriter Roy Huggins; who had been an avowed anti-Fascist while in school. He reluctantly acknowledged that several others had been fellow communists in a long defunct branch. HUAC already had the names and he simply agreed with them. Due to his testimony, he was allowed to continue his work, but not before leaving them with one last blast.

“There is a great need for democracy to do something about the subversive drives which intend to overthrow it. This is one of the things that disturbed me deeply about the Communist Party, is that they do not believe in individual freedom, and yet they shout to the housetops in defense of individual freedom in all of the democratic countries in which they exist. They become champions of complete political freedom. It seems to be one more evidence of their complete lack of integrity or scrupulous or anything else.

It would be a terrible thing if we were to fight tyranny by becoming a tyranny ourselves, isn’t that so. This would be a terrible thing if we are anti-Communist because we feel that Communists destroy individual freedom and liberty, and in fighting Communism, we destroy individual freedom and liberty. This would be a fight in vain.”

Herblock takes on the hysteria

Sports were changing too. In 1946 football broke its color line when Kenny Washington and Woody Strode joined the new Los Angeles Rams when part of the new charter stated that the team must be integrated. Oddly football had originally been desegregated, and it wasn’t until 1933 that it became all-white in order to reach the newfound southern market. In fact, Paul Robeson, noted singer, actor, and civil rights leader played in the NFL in the 1920’s. Kenny and Woody had made themselves folk heroes with their exploits at nearby UCLA. They were a natural move for the new team. A third black member of UCLA’s black backfield had a different path to glory. He was a four letter man who chose baseball as his future. He found it the next year, 3000 miles further east.

Just a few miles from the Kirby’s Brooklyn house Mr. Branch Rickey’s Noble Experiment came to fruition when, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, after a stellar one-year minor league stop, the falsely accused Black Panther tank crewman, took his place at first base in Ebbett’s Field as the Brooklyn Dodgers new infielder. Robinson broke the decades old color line and his instrumental move ignited the Civil Rights Movement. Robinson had first come to the public attention as a footballer at the University of Calif. at Los Angeles and then as an officer in the military. Rickey searched far and wide for just the right candidate to make the leap- talented, personable and a strong will to take the abuse. A score more joined very soon after. Imagine baseball without Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, or Frank Robinson. Unfortunately it happened too late for Josh Gibson or a prime Satchel Paige.

Jackie Robinson succeeded in putting the prejudice and racial strife aside, and showed everyone what a talent he was. In his first year, he hit 12 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant. That year, Robinson led the National League in stolen bases and was selected as Rookie of the Year. He continued to wow fans and critics alike with impressive feats, such as an outstanding .342 batting average during the 1949 season. He led in stolen bases that year and earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Roy Campanella, perhaps the best catcher ever, joined in 1948. In 1955, they led “dem bums” to their first World Series win.

Neal Kirby told an interviewer that as a child, Jack’s war times were not spoken of; “But, as I mentioned, I didn’t hear any of his war stories until I was older. Perhaps he thought I was too young, or more likely, the painful memories were still too fresh. Besides, we had plenty to talk about with the Brooklyn Dodgers and boxing.” Jack loved “dem bums” and baseball in particular. “I’m not a Mantle (Mickey) fan but I know about him, and I know people talk about him so I know something about him that made him distinctive. In my day it was Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Satchel Paige, who were really great and as good as any ballplayer I ever heard of. These men were distinctive; they had something and whatever they did in the game, they did as personalities.” Of course he downplayed Mickey Mantle, the Yankee great was one of the great Brooklyn Dodger killers of the time. In 1955, when the Dodgers finally won the World Series, one writer made it very clear. “There are times when a valid reason exists to explain an event. The Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Championship in 1955 because Mickey Mantle was hurt.”

He had the right stuff – The paper says flying saucer

On a small ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, on July 8, 1947 the Air Force announced that military personnel had recovered a crashed “flying disc”, setting off the UFO phenomenon in the U.S. A day later the Air Force changed their story and said they recovered a weather balloon, not a flying disc. This followed closely on the heels of UFO reports in Maury Island, Washington, and Mt. Rainier.

Soon, rumors of alien bodies, secret government installations, and official cover-up arose. These incidents ignited the cottage industry of conspiracy theorist that look for secret cabals, hidden government agencies, and powerful interests behind every action of the government, or political tragedy. Jack loved the various interpretations and theories behind the visitation of alien beings and they soon became a central theme in his cosmic tales.

Jack never asked anyone to believe him, but he told people that he had seen mysterious lights flying in formation that suddenly shot out and vanished.

TV was becoming a major source for child entertainment as more and more markets started supplying morning and afternoon kiddie fare that captured the school aged demographic. In 1947, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Howdy Doody, and Bozo the Clown became phenoms and Disney soon followed. The later both soon appeared in comic books. The TV genre became an accepted competitor and source for the market.

The comic book industry also had changed; the return of the soldiers to jobs and families robbed the industry of an audience, and a natural focus. The pulp magazine market was on its last leg. No longer did the comic publishers have that captive military audience. In fact, a new medium would pop up to grab that more mature audience. Paperback publishers had been around since the late 30’s, using their cheap format to bring books to the masses,- mostly with reprints of classics, and entertainment books like crosswords, and puzzles. In 1945, Fawcett, the comic publisher acquired a distribution company. It expanded by adding two paperback book publishers-with the agreement not to publish their reprints in book form. To get around this proviso, Roscoe Fawcett contracted out for original product to publish and distribute. Joe Gill, the prolific comic writer for Charlton Comics mentioned this new avenue to his friend and fellow comic writer Mickey Spillane who had been fooling around with a new character. Spillane was a young man who joined the comic industry just after his time in the service. He became known for being fast and dynamic. 19 days later Spillane had a manuscript, and paperbacks would get a character. Mickey tells about how his new job came about to interviewer Michael Carlson.

“Now at that time you had to go through hardback. So I wrote I, the Jury and turned it in to E. P. Dutton. It had been rejected by four different publishers, saying no, no, this is too violent, too dirty … and it was picked up by Roscoe Fawcett, Fawcett Publications. He was a distributor, doing comic books, but he saw the potential, and he went to New American Library, which was Signet Books, and he said “If you print this book, I’ll distribute it.” Now they can’t get distribution, so they go to Dutton and say “if you print this, we’ll do the paperback”. So now it’s win-win-win, and they offer me $250, and I say no, I need a thousand dollars to build a house in Newburgh, so I get a $1,000 advance, which was unheard of. So Roscoe ordered a million copies, and that was unheard of! So somebody in his outfit says, oh, that wasn’t what he meant, he must’ve meant a quarter million. So they bring out a quarter of a million at the wrong time, cause books sell great at Christmas time, but my book came out between Christmas and New Year, which is death, and it went straight to the top, because it was word of mouth, and it’s sold out, and Fawcett says get the rest of them out, and the guy says there aren’t any more and Roscoe says “whaddaya mean, I ordered a million, and a guy got fired!”

Mickey Spillane’s “I The Jury” starring detective Mike Hammer, became the first breakout hit for the nascent paperback market. Further print sales soon topped 6 million copies. Like with Superman, the new genre had a superstar writer and character. More important, the publisher had sales numbers not seen in several years in the comic business. Bruno Fischer’s House of Flesh sold 1,800,212 copies. In 1951, Charles Williams’ Hill Girl sold 1,226,890 copies, Gil Brewer’s 13 French Street sold 1,200,365 and Cassidy’s Girl by David Goodis sold 1,036,497.[12] Authors were attracted to Gold Medal because royalties were based on print runs rather than actual sales, and they received the entire royalty instead of a 50-50 split with a hardback publisher. Gold Medal paid a $2000 advance on an initial print run for 200,000 copies. When a print run increased to 300,000, the advance was $3000. This new payment concept attracted many writers from the pulp and comic tradition never to return. The covers continued the same salacious nature of the pulps, unlike pulps, there were no illustrations in the text portion.

Ralph Deigh the first editor recalls; “From our entrance into the paperback business, we paid authors at a more generous rate than had been the custom. In 1955, when we started the Crest line to reprint hardcover books, we extended this practice to what we offered for soft cover rights. It caused quite a sensation in the trade when we paid $101,505 for James Gould Cozzen’ By Love Possessed and later $700,000 for James A. Michener’s The Source. Giving the author a bigger share of the pie paid off handsomely.”

Spillane would go on to great fame, and never returned to comics. Paperbacks would soon expand and cover all the older pulp genres such as sci-fi, westerns, and the romance titles. Lack of any censorship allowed for a whole new level of adult reading material.

Paperback books were a new option for the lurid pulp and magazine publishers and soon all the major comic book publishers had added this new division. Paperback books added a new more salacious entry into the marketplace. The smaller size gave the retailers more buck for the footage. Racks were developed to minimize space to a minimum. From the beginning of the paperback revolution, the paperback rack has been as ubiquitous a fixture as the books themselves. These racks, placed in everyday locations such as drugstores, department stores, newsstands, candy stores and train stations were instrumental in bringing literature directly to the people.

Paperback girls didn’t wear many clothes – Higher pricepoint for publishers and retailers

According to Paperback Originals by Ben Crider;

“World War II brought both new technology and a wide readership of men and women now in the military or employed as shift workers; paperbacks were cheap, readily available, and easily carried. Furthermore, people found that restrictions on travel brought them more time to read more paperbacks. Four color printing and lamination developed for military maps made the paperback cover eye catching and kept ink from running as people would examine the cover of the book.

Salacious meant protruding heaving breasts — pulps in a more convenient package

Comics even advertised paperback books as owners tried to regain market share

It’s been reported that over 17 million paperbacks were sold in 1947 alone. The comic book industry would have to fight and earn a new audience. The publishers didn’t care because they simply swallowed up this new market. Just as the change from pulps to comics showed an evolution by the publishers, the change from comics and pulps to paperbacks likewise showed the publishers evolving. The audience for the disposable entertainment income of children and adults was diluted by newer technologies and more diverse products. Joe Simon had stabilized their immediate situation, now was the time for the boys to once again innovate and make a difference.

Confessional soap style romance stories had been a part of every other medium for a long time. Mills and Boon, a longtime fiction publisher, became a strictly romance publisher of hardcover books in the 1930’s. A little factoid; One distinctive feature of both Mills & Boon and Harlequin (in the US) is the length of time their books are available to buy. They publish a set number of books each month which are sent to subscribers and displayed on stands in bookshops. At the end of the month, any unsold copies in the shops are withdrawn and returned to be destroyed. Titles are available to buy direct from Mills & Boon for 3 months or until they are sold out, whichever is sooner. Again, any remaining books are disposed of. Fans looking for particular books after this time must find them second-hand. Not unlike the comic book market; which by this time was building a large second-hand system? Street and Smith published the first pulp romance title in 1921 with Love Story. The pulps had dozens of romance titles by the ‘40s. Bernarr Macfadden published the slick magazine True Romances to great success in 1926. Radio soap operas were very popular by the 1920’s with titles like The Romance of Helen Trent, Our Gal Sunday and The Guiding Light entertaining the female market. Even the newspaper strips fished for the ladies with strips like Mary Worth and Brenda Starr.

The only reason romance wasn’t introduced to the comic book market earlier is because there was no need. The publishers were selling out anything they printed. It seemed an endless market devouring any and all super hero title published. So why experiment and fool with success? Then with the paper restriction during the war there was no extra paper to try new genres. The teen romance books like Archie certainly had a large audience. There was no reason not to believe that comic books couldn’t do straight romance stories.

Strange reprint one-shot by Vin Sullivan — the real deal by the big dogs

In his book, Joe says that the idea first took hold while he was in the service. “It had long been a source of wonder to me that so many adults were reading comic books designed for children, and now I was finding myself increasingly wondering why there was such a dearth of comic book material for the female population. Women factory workers, housemaids, housewives, and teen-age girls were settling for Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and the adventure books. I wondered how they would accept a comic book version of the popular True Story Magazine, with youthful, emotional, yet wholesome stories supposedly told in the first person by love-smitten teenagers.” Jack said “The romance genre was all around us. There were love-story pulps, and there were love story sections in the newspapers. There were love stories in the movies. Wherever you went there were love stories. That’s how we got our new material, and it suddenly struck me that that’s what we haven’t done. We haven’t done romance stories! So Joe and I sat down one night and came up with the title Young Romance and Young Romance sold out!”

Most likely Joe worked up a dummy cover titled Young Romance and took it over to Jack Kirby. Despite being the preeminent penciler of the bombastic art of the superhero genre, Kirby immediately understood the possibilities. The concept was so powerful that Joe immediately thought of reforming the studio, and self publishing. As Joe described his plans Jack was hesitant “At this time? It’s too much of a gamble; let’s get someone else to publish it!” Jack’s wariness won out and put the brakes on that idea, but Joe was so confident that he decided to push to keep the copyrights himself, and get a publisher to front the money. Joe, Jack and Bill Draut prepared the stories for the first issue and put together a finished presentation to show to prospective publishers.

It was always Joe Simon’s advice to have a complete visual item to show editors, so that it would be impossible for them make changes or to steal the concept for themselves.

At Crestwood, Editor Maurice Rosenfield expressed an interest and when he asked Joe what he wanted for the idea, Joe told him “50% of the profits!” Maurice called in the owners Mike Blier and Teddy Epstein and an arrangement was worked out. Rosenfield was given a 5% fee for brokering the deal. Crestwood would publish Young Romance under their Prize imprint. Probably the smartest decision Crestwood ever made. As part of the deal, to ease Crestwood’s fears S&K would also produce a companion crime title to Headline Comics, which was really showing good sales. Young Romance #1 hit the stands with a Sept 1947 date, sporting a unique first. In the indicia it shows as copyright holders Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the first time the artists had been listed as such. Justice Traps the Guilty #1 followed a month later in Oct. 1947.

The cover to YR #1 was another Kirby classic. It featured a young girl walking in unaware as her artist fiancé is fending off the romantic advances of the girl’s older sister. The older sister was drawn with a low cut cleavage baring blouse and a hi-cut slit to there dress. The overt sexuality was obvious. The cover featured a subtitle–DESIGNED FOR THE MORE ADULT READERS OF COMICS, plus a smaller blurb promising ALL TRUE LOVE STORIES. This wasn’t Archie and Veronica. Prize’s in-house ads highlighted the new book as “It’s here at last!!! The new, more adult comic magazine you’ve been waiting for. Chock full of romantic true love stories that will make your blood tingle…and your heart beat faster!!! Pictured in vivid, moving drawings that will come to life before your eyes” The cover was prime S&K, full of their symbolic halos, arches, snaky shadows, and good vs. bad fashions.

Joe explained; “Young Romance consisted of confession stories told by teenage girls, illustrated in comic book format, with speech balloons and captions longer than commonly used in adventure comic books. It offered more reading material and less art Each romance “confessor” was typically plagued by guilt for such acts as falling in love with a delinquent or kissing an older man of, perhaps 25. All stories ended happily however with the girls thoroughly cleansed of “sins” The first issue of Young Romance was cover-dated September-October 1947.

Richard Howell claims the title sold 92% of its print run. With the third issue, Crestwood increased the print run to triple the initial number of copies. Circulation jumped to 1,000,000 copies per month. Initially published bimonthly, Young Romance quickly became a monthly and generated the spin-off, Young Love — together the two sold two million copies a month. Kirby noted the books “made millions.” For collectors there is a conundrum. These were the largest read, but the least collected. They were read and thrown away. So collecting old copies is hard.

Love that hair

The confessional and racier nature of the stories was spotlighted with the very first story; I was a Pick-up. The comic also featured helpful advice and short morality vignettes. Bill Draut also provided one of the stranger back-up tales where every panel was framed by the insides of the main characters eyes. Creepily, it took eyewitness account just a little too far!

The response to YR was immediate; it sold out its initial print run; some have said as high as 92%. The word of mouth was incredible as young girls flocked to the stands for a copy. Joe says that he was rushing Harriet to the hospital to deliver Jon when he stopped into a store to get her something to read. He noticed a group of girls standing around the comic rack looking and squealing over a magazine. When Joe looked closer he saw that it was Young Romance they were all atwitter about. Take it with a grain of salt, Joe’s son Jon was born months before YR hit the stands. You know you hit the jackpot when a rival publisher badmouths your book. Martin Goodman the owner of Atlas Comics (nee Timely) wrote a letter to Harry Donenfeld, the owner of DC Comics. Crestwood’s books were distributed by Independent News, a division of DC Comics. Goodman complained about Young Romance. “It borders on pornography; it will do irreparable harm to the field”. This was petty and ridiculous as Goodman’s pulp division had been printing racy romance pulps for years without incident. Martin soon followed it up with the first copycat title.

The idea that there could be blow back due to a comic’s content wasn’t completely irrational. In the early 1900’s, during the heyday of the fifty-cent juveniles (the serialized juvenile books such as Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and The Motor Boys) there was an organized sector calling for their ouster. Fortune Magazine noted that the juvenile series books lacked any literary value. “The fifty-cent juvenile is, precisely, a book for boys and girls between the age of ten and sixteen. It has few literary pretensions; it is a flat-footed account of the superhuman exploits of adolescent Ubermenschen- and if it is successful it may have sequels that ramble on for as many as thirty-six volumes. It is a fortuitous cross between compound interest and perpetual motion. The Rover Boys is its quintessence; a substantial profit for author and publisher is its only and unblushing purpose.” (Imagine how incensed this author had to be to portray profit for a company as a negative aspect in Fortune Magazine!) Anthony Comstock, the famous American bluenose of the time railed against those most harmless of titles, as well as their predecessors the penny dreadfuls, and the dime novels, in his book Traps For The Young. “Satan adopts…devices to capture our youth and secure the ruin of immortal souls. Of this class the love story and cheap work of fiction captivate fancy and pervert taste. They defraud the future man or woman by capturing and enslaving the young imagination. The wild fancies and exaggerations of the unreal in the story supplant aspirations for that which ennobles and exalts.” Series books were considered to “cause ‘mental laziness,’ induce a ‘fatal sluggishness,’ and ‘intellectual torpor.'”

DC fights back rare – reprint oddity from 1948 w/Boy Commandos

Franklin K. Mathiews, the official librarian of the Boy Scouts made his disdain for Edward Stratemeyer’s juvenile title empire into a crusade, saying the books overexcite young minds “A child intoxicated with Tom Swift would be not only intolerable but permanently warped by an over stimulated imagination.” He wrote an article stating that Stratemeyer’s series books were the same as letting a child “blow out their brains.” In Newark, the series books were banned from the public libraries.

If those most cherished of juvenile books such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys faced a crusade, then comics, with their garish base nature and even fewer nods to literary pretension certainly brought out the bile in those easily incensed. “For years–even during the war–when comics were considered a patriotic staple there had been a segment of the population complaining about comics harm to the morals of the young kids addicted to them. Sterling North, of the Chicago Daily News in 1940 once called them “Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed – a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems – the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is child’s natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make them that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic’ magazine.” Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest and other “family” oriented mags printed similar diatribes about the growing concern between comics and youthful bad behavior.

Just the year before the General Federation of Women forced several companies to self-censor, and when more didn’t follow, they went to government agencies to move their agenda.

Politician mixing comics and nudie mags together – Anthony “bluenose” Comstock

Just a month or so earlier a New York newsstand owner was arrested for selling a detective magazine considered obscene. A direct result of Anthony Comstock’s imposed legal censorship. The magazine was published by Alex Hillman, the owner and publisher of the Hillman comic line that published S&K’s My Date comic. Martin Goodman’s concern was misguided as to romance comics, but would be prescient when years later a public outcry over risqué, tawdry and scandalous content almost ended the comic industry.

At first there were local newspaper stories about how ‘bad’ comic books were and the negative effects they had on children. Then in February 1947 Marya Mannes wrote an article critical of comics in the New Republic magazine. In March of 1948 ABC radio did a program called ‘What’s Wrong with Comics?’ and it to criticized unwholesome comics. Marya Mannes, Al Capp and Publisher Magazine’s George Hecht were among the debaters. The show created massive response of 6,000 letters, a record for ABC at the time. Reporting on the program appeared soon afterwards in Newsweek and Saturday Review of Literature.

In 1950, behind the scenes, a demand sent shivers through the industry. On Aug 5 1950 The Kefauver Committee surveyed all the top comic book companies asking for circulation figures, demographics, income, opinions about juvenile delinquency and whether or not their books have been approved by psychiatrists. This was getting serious.

Being proactive Donenfeld did ask the boys to tone down the more salacious elements by removing the blurb “Designed for the more adult readers of comics” from the covers. In 1951, the legislature of New York, published the reports of a two year study looking at the comic industry. It produced a ten point finding that lambasted the comic publishers and proposed changes.

burning up a college education

Young Romance quickly shot to the top of the sales chart. The boys were back on top. Comic sales had stabilized after the end of the war to around 30 million units a month; but starting in 1947 sales shot thru the roof. They reached a high of 60 million plus units per month by 1950. This is matched by evidence that showed that the romance genre went from 0% to a high of 27% of the market in 1950. That means that in 1950, romance comics accounted for more than 1 in 4 of every book sold by the industry. The introduction of the romance books shook up and reenergized the industry. The success of the romance books, and the expansion of the crime titles allowed Jack and Joe to let go of Hillman as an account. Prize was now home. Joe says that it was rumored that Hillman was getting out of the comic business. They did quit in 1953 to speculate in the nascent rightwing propaganda market and the bustling paperback business.

Gil Kane in an interview for The Jack Kirby Collector;

TJKC: What was the effect of the romance comics on the industry?
Gil: It was an enormous boost and a lifesaver. Comics were going down for the second time and here, all of a sudden, came this thing and for the next fifteen years, romance comics were about the top sellers in the field; they outsold everything. I worked on them for DC and they were hard to do. You really had to have a draftsman’s style which was different from a cartoon style. Most of us came out of Popeye, so turning Popeye into something believable was tricky enough. Others came in from advertising, bringing a more realistic representation of people so their character heads and figures were better.

Ernst Gerber in his book The Photo Journal Guide to Comic Books (1989 Gerber Pub) makes an observation.

”there does seem to be a significant correlation between the birth and boom of romance comic books (1948-1950) and the historic baby boom of the same period. For several years, it appeared that most publishers, and even a quarter of all comic books sold, dealt primarily with romance. Like the fabled pendulum comparison, war and hatred had swung the pendulum too far and its return to normal after the war couldn’t help but swing it a tad too far toward romance. Certainly romance invaded the sanctity of comic books with a vengeance- from none in 1947 to domination of the comic book market in 1950!

From an article in Newsdealer entitled The Comics Are Growing Up by Crestwood’s General Manager M.R. Reese.(March 1952)

“It remained for an astute observer to foresee the coming of the cycle and to make future plans accordingly. A case in point is the team of Simon and Kirby. They are two artist-writers whose high flying hard punching Captain America and Boy Commandos had already earned them a prominent place among the best selling comic characters of their type. It took a war to give Jack Kirby and Joe Simon a new perspective, a position where they could observe at close range the people who were reading comics- the boys who were now men and demanding comics for men. And it stood to reason there were also the little girls who once saw in the comic’s super-hero a protecting brother, and were now willing to trade vigor for tenderness.”

But even among comic people the response wasn’t all positive. Noted comic creator and resident grouch Harvey Kurtzman, in his book From Aaargh to Zap! (1991 Simon and Schuster) comments on the rise of romance books;

“Here’s a measure of how much the comic-book world changed after [World War II]: The very first romance comic-book, Young Romance, in 1947, was the brainchild of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby—the same team that had brought so much vitality to the super-hero comic books a few years earlier. So far had the mighty fallen.” Spotlighting the cover of Young Romance #1 Kurtzman noted “The talents of Kirby and Simon were wasted on romance titles.”

Kurtzman never explained why super-heroes were somehow more classy than romance, and I believe S&K’s bank statements might prove Kurtzman wrong. The title became a best seller and soon reached the vaunted million copy mark. Within 2 years the market went from one romance title to over 130. I would doubt that sales meant anything to Harvey Kurtzman, the term romance was simply a pejorative and something not done by real artists, as if steroidal hulks and bombastic women are that much more compelling a subject. Simon and Kirby followed up Young Romance with a second companion book. Young Love would feature the same style stories by the same artists culled from a common growing inventory. They further extended these with Young Brides, and Real West Romances. Every publisher jumped on the romance bandwagon, even Martin Goodman got over his hissy fit from when YR was first released and released more than a dozen romance titles, yet no other romance titles would ever match S&K’s books in quality and sales.

Sold by the millions

Comic Historian Richard Howell, editor of Real Love (1988 Eclipse), a collection of Simon and Kirby’s romance tales, published in 1988 by Eclipse Books wrote in the introduction;

“The Simon and Kirby titles, however, remained unique unto themselves, and remained the most successful line of romance comics. They adopted the “Prize Comics” identity and the “Prize” seal on the covers became the easiest means for readers to tell the S&K produced love comics from the legion of imitators. For the first five years, S&K contributed at least one story (usually a lengthy lead feature) per issue, but the other material also maintained a high standard of quality with such artists as Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin, Bruno Premiani, Bill Draut, Ann Brewster, John Prentice and Leonard Starr. Simon and/or Kirby were obviously involved with every story-even the ones they didn’t write or draw- since many efforts by other artists show the distinctive S&K layout style, and it was not uncommon for a newer artist’s work to show signs of S&K retouching (as on the teams famous “Cliffs of Dover cheek lines, kinetic clothing folds, or oil slick lip gloss).”

Heavy advertising for the new title

One new innovative feature was the addition of photo covers on the romance and crime titles; these were common enough on the western and other licensed movie and TV titles, but not on the in house fictional books. These were either publicity photos of Hollywood stars such as Robert Wagner, or Montgomery Cliff teamed up with an up and coming starlet like Joy Adams, or Elizabeth Taylor, or occasionally a local photographer was hired using local models in staged poses; once Jack and Joe even got into the act when they posed as a cop and a gangster for a cover of an issue of Headline Comics. Kirby finally got to play a heavy. Joe explained, “We tried to make it look more like a fancy magazine, but it turned out that it made no difference to the sales. Because we had our following, you see? Like you take Time magazine and change the cover, and TV Guide, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.” The boys experimented constantly trying to make their product stand out from the rest. Joe again;”We were always trying to be creative. Yes, that was the big challenge in comics in those days, trying to do something different, trying to beat the next guy. That’s why I think doing Young Romance was our biggest pleasure—because everybody said no.”

Yet some have argued that romance comics merely narrowed down the accepted female role into a docile domestic cleaning woman-totally dependent on a good providing husband; simply reinforcing the idealized version of the all-American life. Boring became good, while independence became bad. The basic formula for the romance comic story was established in Simon and Kirby’s Young Romance of 1947. Other scriptwriters, artists, and publishers tweaked the formula from time to time for a bit of variety. Stories were overwhelmingly written by men from the male perspective, and were narrated by fictional female protagonists who described the dangers of female independence and touted the virtues of domesticity.

Women were depicted as incomplete without a male, but the genre discouraged the aggressive pursuit of men or any behaviors that smacked of promiscuity. In one story, the female protagonist kisses a boy in public and is thereafter labeled a “manchaser” to be avoided by decent boys. An advice page in one issue blamed female public behavior, flirting, and flashy dress for attracting the wrong sort of boys. Female readers were advised to maintain a passive gender role, or romance, marriage, and happiness could be kissed good-bye.

Bad choice of guys-big eyebrows bad girl

In romance comics, domestic stability was made obviously preferable to passion and thrills. Women who sought exciting outlets were depicted as suffering many disappointments before settling down (finally) to quiet home lives. In “Back Door Love“, the heroine learns that the man she is infatuated with is a “rat”. She degrades herself to be with him, but comes to her senses and eventually marries an unexciting man who provides her with stability. In “I Ran Away with a Truck Driver”, the tale’s small town heroine runs off with a handsome truck driver who promises her thrills. After being robbed and abandoned in Chicago, she returns home, chastened and wiser, to share the company of a decent local boy.

Comics may have been the only media in which the nerd eventually got the pretty girl- at least until the Marvel books.


Previous9. Picking Up The Pieces | top | Next – 11. Tales From The Heart

Looking For The Awesome – 9. Picking Up The Pieces

Previous8. Call To Duty | Contents | Next – 10. The Girls Take Over

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

9 - mushroom clouds


Jack’s war was over, and he was on his way home, but the world had some unfinished business. In July, at Potsdam, Truman, Stalin, and Churchill carved up the ravaged shell of Europe. With the signing of the Potsdam Pact, once again the world settled for temporary peace at the sacrifice of future turmoil. All efforts turned to Asia. On August 6 and 9, with a flash of light, and a burst of energy (see above photos) never imagined, except in the comic books, the Japanese Empire ended in a suddenness that shook the world. Life would never be the same.

Life back home was blissful. Roz pampered Jack and his legs were getting better by the day. Mama Rose’s cooking was putting back some of the weight he had lost. Best of all, Roz broke the news that she was expecting their first baby. Jack was ecstatic; “That’s the American way. Fight the war, come back, and start your family.” They continued living with Roz’s parents in Brooklyn with plans to get a new place once Joe returned and work was back in full production. Jack was receiving military disability, plus DC was still sending him small checks as they continued to use the pre-war inventory. It was mostly for covers, as the interior stories had run through months earlier.

Jack was determined to jump back into the saddle, and by September he had contacted DC about resuming work. DC welcomed him back gladly. While he and Joe were away, the strips had all continued with lesser artists. Oddly enough, his first new published work wasn’t for DC. As a favor for Jack Lehti, a friend from DC who had drawn the Crimson Avenger before going into the service, Jack provided a four page back-up story for a new comic book titled Picture News #1, (Lafayette Street Corp., Jan.1946.) The only aspect of this work worth mentioning was the lack of Simon-style inking is noticeable. At DC, Kirby was immediately returned to the Newsboy Legion strip and his first new Legion story appeared in Star Spangled Comics #53 cover dated Feb. 1946. That same month he also provided a Sandman story for Adventure Comics #102.

Jack soon returned to S&K’s best selling strip Boy Commandos, and quickly produced stories for World’s Finest, Detective Comics, and the self-titled Boy Commandos. With the end of the war, the Boy Commandos also came home, and Jack gave them a riotous welcome home. The boys return to New York, and Brooklyn wants the boys to see his hometown, so they sneak out to see his Brooklyn borough. No sooner do the boys arrive that they meet up with an old tormenter of Brooklyn’s, Big Nose Murgatroyd, (Is this a Jimmy Durante reference?) and his street gang. It seems that Big Nose has escalated from street punk to real hardcore burglary type. The typical Kirby gang fight ensues. The story ends with the Commandos bringing down the gang and helping Brooklyn’s old girl friend extricate her brother from Big Noses’ gang and sending him on the straight and narrow. Commandos, welcome to Kirby’s New York! You can take Kirby out of the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of Kirby. Jack also drew some filler strips for a new title, Real Fact issues #1&2 and later on #9. This was DC’s attempt at “good” comics.

Jack jumps back in

Kirby kept busy waiting for Joe to return, but not too busy to take a young eager beaver type under his wing. Martin Rosenthall was a high school student who would hang out at the DC studio. In an interview with historian Daniel Best, Martin recalled his relationship with Kirby.

“Kirby was my mentor. I saw him five days a week. When I was going to high school, DC Publishing was five blocks away. …” “Jack and I used to go out for coffee. I went to high school and the Cartoonist and Illustrators School at the same time, day and night. Jack was very kind to me. He was a cigar smoker, and one day for Christmas, I got him a box of cigars. It was the cheapest cigar in the world, but he graciously accepted it and he took me out to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner. I had my first shrimp cocktail over there. He was a very great, gracious man. He gave everything and shared everything with you. He was a wonderful, wonderful guy.” Martin would honor Mr. Kirby by making one of his earliest heroes Jim Kirby, a bright detective who took on a sinister scientist.

WOW! Thinking robots- whoda ever figure?

WOW! Thinking robots- whoda ever figure?

One day, Jack was taking the subway from his home in Brooklyn to the city. A tall, rangy young man spied him and his portfolio, came over to him and introduced himself as Frank. He said he had just started in the business and wondered if Jack had any advice. Jack and the man talked for awhile, Jack showed him his samples, which included a couple Captain America pages. The man was thrilled and took in every word Jack offered. Serendipitously, that man and Jack would meet again, under different circumstances.

Joe Simon was stationed in Washington D.C. After a year of patrolling the shores of Jersey, he had been reassigned to the Coast Guard Public Information Division, of the Combat Art Corps.

From Real Fact #2 solo Kirby, he even inked it Look what’s she’s reading, note - no hay.

From Real Fact #2 solo Kirby, he even inked it Look what’s she’s reading, note – no hay.

The job was a public relations position whose goal was presenting the Coast Guard as heroically as possible. Joe would produce comic strips that spotlighted a member of the Coast Guard and the heroic deeds that he did. These would be syndicated and printed in Sunday newspaper comic sections titled True Comics. This led to a commission for a newsstand comic that was to be used as a recruitment tool for the Coast Guard Academy. Joe produced Adventure Is My Career. Street and Smith Publications was hired to publish and distribute. For this Joe received an official commendation and promotion.

While in Washington, Joe had resumed contact with his friend Al Harvey. Al, now a Captain, was stationed at the Pentagon where he did similar PR duties for the Army. Yes there was a caste system where owners and editors had stateside safe jobs (see Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Al Harvey or Joe Simon) while the lowly artists found themselves on the front. Joe and Al had decided that when the war was over, Simon and Kirby would finally work at Harvey Publications. There they would have free rein over their creations, and as a further enticement, Simon and Kirby would receive a fifty/fifty profit split. This was unheard of at most publishers, but Harvey had been having success publishing licensed properties like Green Hornet. Part of the agreement was that S&K would also edit other titles for the line.

Al’s one of the good guys Harvey self-promoting

Al’s one of the good guys Harvey self-promoting

Soon after Jack returned home, he and Roz visited Joe. Joe and Al explained the new set-up and Kirby agreed- if Joe thought it was a good deal, who was Kirby to disagree- Joe always got them square deals. Yet Jack was already back at work for DC Comics. So they decided that Jack could continue at DC, as long as DC would allow it, while also working at Harvey–a decision that would prove helpful later on. Joe had also met some other artists while stationed in Washington, and asked them to join in this new venture.

Perhaps more important during one visit Joe met someone else who would become important in his life. From his bio, he retells;

“There was a secretary there who was the bookkeeper, as well. Her name was Harriet Feldman, and she was sorting mail or something. As I sat there, waiting for Al to be available, she looked over at me.”

“Would you lift your pants leg up?” she said.

“What?” I responded, wondering if she meant me.

“Lift up your pants,” she said.

So I lifted my pants leg.

“Go up to the knee,” she instructed.

So I did. Those pants had wide legs, so it wasn’t difficult.

“That’s good,” she said.

I put the pants leg back down, and she went back to work.

Alfred came out of his office, and gestured to me. We had our meeting, and then I headed toward the door. As I did I turned to Harriet.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go out with a guy who had white pasty legs,” she explained.

She went back to what she was doing, and I left. As I did, I thought to myself, Did I ask her out?”

He hadn’t, but he would.

Joe arrived home in Oct. and took up residence at the Great Northern Hotel–owned by renowned boxer Jack Dempsey. Simon and Kirby set up shop in a small studio room at Harvey Publications, and for the first time a staff complimented them. Ken Riley, Jack Keeler, and Bill Draut, all colleagues with Simon in Washington joined up with lettering wizard Howard Ferguson to form the nucleus of the new studio. Joe would later lament that he didn’t at least give DC a chance to match Harvey’s offer, and he thinks it left a bad taste in some DC editor’s mouths. As it was when Jack started working for Harvey, DC cut his output way down to just a few pages a month.

Advanced notice of new strip by the biggest names in comics Simon and Kirby

Advanced notice of new strip by the biggest names in comics Simon and Kirby

Everything was set; they would hit the ground running, full bore, no hesitations while editors hemmed and hawed a la DC. Joe had thought long and prepared well for this moment. Joe and Jack went straight to their strengths; costumed acrobats, kid gangs, exotic locales, and non-stop action. Advertisements in Harvey’s books highlighted a new title “Stuntman! Written and drawn by the biggest names in comics! –SIMON and KIRBY—their first book since their return from the fighting fronts.” Once again the Simon-Kirby brand was the selling point for quality comic stories-despite Joe Simon never seeing the front.

Stuntman was set in, and part of, the world of Hollywood. Fred Drake, was a circus trapeze performer whose partners were murdered. While tracking down the killer, he learns that he is an exact double for Don Daring, one of film’s leading men, and amateur detective. Daring was the typical S&K leading man, obnoxious and conceited, but since this was going to be a recurring role, they softened his manner with humor, and made him more a buffoon than a lout–the perfect foil for the clever, athletic, laconic and heroic Fred Drake.

Loved the vehicle to vehicle jump

Loved the vehicle to vehicle jump

Since they are both on the hunt for the same killer they team up. Don offers Fred a job as his stunt double. They are soon joined by the beautiful, but bemused actress Sandra Sylvan. After another brush with the killer, Drake decides that he must go undercover, and retrofits his circus costume into a masked crime fighter’s costume. The origin story ends with the newly outfitted avenger tracking down the killer, and saving the bumbling Don Daring and faint-hearted Sandra Sylvan from an attack by ever-present Hollywood man-eating lions. Stuntman berates the hapless actor for his less than sterling detective work. “Next time, you may not have a ‘stuntman’ around to double for you,” Drake is overheard telling Daring and the headlines in the morning’s newspaper read “STUNTMAN SOLVES CIRCUS KILLINGS.” This is how a new hero should be introduced!!!! This was Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., all rolled into one character. Stuntman #1 was cover dated April, 1946. This was S&K using their love of Hollywood for all it’s worth.

There were three Stuntman stories and two back-up strips; Junior Genius by Jack Keeler, and the Furnished Room by Bill Draut. Also tucked in was a two page text story of their other new creation.

dark and dense and look what he’s reading! – never ending action

The other new title was Boy Explorers; a classic S&K kid aggregate, this time under the guidance of Commodore Sindbad. To save the Commodore from an unwanted marriage, the boys must embark on the “Seven Tasks of Sindu San”, a series of dangerous adventures and return with selected treasures. This update of the 1001 Arabian Nights Sinbad tale was a crackerjack, roller coaster thrill ride full of that unique blend of Simon/Kirby slapstick action, mixed with sci-fi, mythology, exotic locales, and a wacky assortment of adversaries. Boy Explorers #1 was dated May, 1946. They even managed a trip to the moon.

Concurrently, Harvey published a Stuntman story in their anthology title All-New Comics #13; (July 1946) a neat little stolen jewelry caper. This book also featured ads for Stuntman #3 and Boy Explorers #2. Neither would ever see print.

S&K never slowed down: Stuntman vaulted from adventure to adventure saving the ever-bumbling Daring and enchanting the beautiful, but slightly air-headed Sandra Sylvan. The Boy Explorers travels took them to the South Seas, lost islands, and even the Moon. The plots were lean and silly. Very reminiscent of the Hope and Cosby” road” pictures; they allowed Joe and Jack to plug in their every cinematic fantasy. Cowboys, gangsters, Robin Hood, jungle tales, Amazons, dinosaurs-they all got the S&K treatment, with double-page splashes, great cinematic perspectives, and lush, detailed backgrounds. This was the pinnacle of S&K swashbuckling and derring-do. Jack was also busy at DC doing mainly Boy Commandos.

Shades of Treasure Island

Shades of Treasure Island

Jack’s art was hitting a new high point; added to the power and fluidity was an improved eye for background detail. He added a lushness of texture and an evolved sense of depth as his perspectives became more extreme. Joe’s inking became heavier, with a more stylistic approach to shadows and cloth folds that gave added weight to Kirby’s pencils. Howard Ferguson would add another level of dynamics with his decorative narrative panel flourishes, and multi-font style banners. The cover to Boy Explorers #1 is a classic example. They returned to two page centerfolds of spectacular and mass excitement.

2-page splashes are back

2-page splashes are back

Promises of things to come

The boys all had their own back-up strips filling out the books. The back-up tales were an interesting amalgam of genres. Jack Keeler did “Junior” Genius, a humor strip, while Bill Draut provided Furnished Room, The (Red) Demon and Calamity Jane. Ken Riley drew Danny Dixon, Cadet. Joe even picked up the pencils and produced three back-up strips; Vagabond Prince, a greeting card poet turned crime fighter, The Duke of Broadway, a Damon Runyonesque look at the underbelly of the Great White Way, and a humorous boxing feature titled Kid Adonis.

Jack on Boy Commandos, Joe on Kid Adonis meets Superman

Joe doing Will Eisner on Duke of Broadway Bill Draut cuts his teeth on Red Demon

Joe did most of his drawing at the hotel later at night, the office at work was a mite crowded; with all the others working in what Joe Simon called a “small office supply room and the executive men’s room”. They were in full production mode and building inventory. The boys were in it for the long haul.

Joe Simon solo – Growing family Neal and Susan

On Dec. 6th 1945, Roz gave birth to their first child, Susan. Jack was ecstatic. Meanwhile, Joe got up the nerve to ask that flirty secretary out, and things were heating up. Things couldn’t be better, when disaster struck!

Heavy advertising but never followed up

Heavy advertising but never followed up

The end of the wartime paper restriction was the signal for all of the comic book companies to increase production. All the publishers from the big boys at DC, Timely and Fawcett, to the smaller firms like Fox, Gleason and Quality jumped at the chance to add new titles, and increase printing runs. Well over a hundred new titles were published between September 1945, and September 1946. The trouble was that the retailers– the newspaper stands, and the Mom and Pop drug stores–didn’t have the physical space to take in all the new titles. They were forced to pick and choose which titles to carry, and all too often the choice would be the familiar and well known titles from the larger companies. Truckloads of new books were being returned unopened due to lack of space. Just as fast as the glut of new titles happened, the bubble burst and a major contraction in the business occurred. Small companies went belly up when they couldn’t repay the money fronted by the distributors, while many had to fall back and regroup.

later ones a digest sized

Even DC, the industry leader was forced to address the problem. In an amazing letter to advertisers and distributors in late 1946, DC tried to spin the “slump” by using carefully selected stats and dates to put the best face possible on the situation:


“There has been some talk about a “slump” in newsstand comic sales and it is about time the record is straightened out. A recent increase in returns has blinded many dealers to the fact that comic magazine sales are at an all-time high. Speaking for ourselves, “Superman-DC Publications, we can say with full authority, sold 26,264,000 copies in the first four months of 1945 and 34,020,000 copies in the same period of 1946 — a gain of 29 per cent!” During the war-time magazine shortage, returns disappeared almost completely. Today, as business adjusts to normal conditions, returns are again a problem. They are a handling problem to wholesalers and dealers but to publishers like ourselves they represent a dollar-and-cents cost. For this reason alone you can be sure of our cooperation in holding returns to a normal minimum”.

Historian/artist Coulton Waugh explained his observation of market share and natural limits;

“There are approximately one hundred and fifty comic books which jam red and blue elbows together on the newstands, fighting for space to shreik in, and this factor may help keep the number from expanding to any great extent. Mortality is high among new comics.

Joe says he saw the writing on the wall, and tried to warn Kirby. For his part, Jack didn’t believe it could affect them. To him, S&K was 10-foot tall and bulletproof. Stuntman #1 hit the stands in late January or early February 1946, followed by Boy Explorers #1 in March. By February, Alfred Harvey ordered a complete halt to production. Simon and Kirby was shut down! The warehouse was overrun with returned and unopened stacks of the new titles. Only two issues of Stuntman and the one issue of Boy Explorers ever made it to the streets. For the next six months, Harvey would assemble the inventoried stories and bleed them out little by little. They averaged only one book a month published for that period.

Joe and Jack were devastated; never had a project started with so much promise only to die on the vine. To make things worse, DC had cut back on Jack’s production. For the next year, Jack would provide art for just one issue of Boy Commandos, plus a few covers for Star Spangled Comics. In fact, for the 8 months following Harvey’s implosion, Jack Kirby – the human dynamo – would be limited to 42 pages of comic art, and 6 covers.

Joe recalls; “Jack drew a handful of Newsboy Legion stories late in 1945, and some Boy Commandos adventures in 1945–46. I had done a few things for DC while I was in Washington. Once I was back in New York, I joined him on the Boy Commandos stories.”

The sales slump wasn’t the only problem; the social outcry was reaching a crescendo. In 1946 the General Foundation of Women’s Clubs focused their efforts on the comic publishers to the point where some of the publishers created a self regulating body. Unfortunately the social groups were left unimpressed due to the lack of participation and took their complaints to other bodies.

So yes, it should be noted that the industry was reeling, but it was not in its last throes of life. Sales had fallen dramatically, but not to death’s door.

Artist Coulton Waugh explained in his history of the comic strip and comic book The Comics (1947, McMillan)

“We should understand that comic books are not, on the whole, appendages to the world of the newspaper strips, nor are they supported by advertising, like a good many other periodicals. They stand on their own pink and green feet as a separate, unique, publishing accomplishment. How this is possible is indicated by the fact that they have been selling at a rate of forty million a month. Comic books are a self-sustaining business, a very profitable and important one.”

It was only in comparison to their meteoric success during the war that the industry now looked in peril. DC was correct in their industry wide article, though returns had increased; the industry was still selling mountains of books. What was needed was a smarter approach to printing volume, and a new focus for the industry away from the almost accidental dependency on the wartime desire for superhuman fantasy fare. Waugh talks about this unexpected explosion.

“In their history, (periodical publishing) the magnitude of such a development was unsuspected for quite a while after the books had appeared. The drama in the stories came at precisely that wild and roaring moment when, into the lives of the matter-of-fact business men who were handling the books, burst an unprecedented blast of public demand, millions of voices all screaming at once, Let ‘em come!”

It was the unexpected and unexplained dominance of the superhero in the comic market during the war years that made the sudden drop so dramatic. Though a source of bemused irony to Mr. Waugh, he could not deny that those colorful little pamphlets had created an important and viable industry.

Once more from Coulton Waugh;

“We had better add comic books to the list of important discoveries made in the last ten years. This hurts many people; it doesn’t seem possible that anything so raw, so purely ugly, should be so important. Comic books are ugly; it is hard to find anything to admire about their appearance. The paper–it’s like using sand in cooking. And the drawing; it’s true that these artists are capable in a certain sense; the figures are usually well located in depth, they get across action…But there is a soulless emptiness in them, an outrageous vulgarity; and if you do find some that seem, at least funny and gay, there’s the color. Ouch! It seems to be an axiom in the comic book world that color which screams, shrieks with the strongest possible discord, is good. Even these aspects of comic book art are mild and dull when contrasted with the essence of it; the layout, the arrangement of ideas and that goes, too for the ideas themselves.”

Crotchety old man but he could draw

Waugh had little trouble showing his utter disdain for the comic industry yet even he couldn’t deny its impact. One wonders if he had ever read a Simon and Kirby book. The bottom line; comics were just great for the businessman and bean counters but not yet fit discourse for those with delicate sensibilities. Waugh never tried to hide his prejudices; instead he spotlighted and explained his choices. It may have been a history, but it was not exempt from his prickly views. His disdain was not just focused on comic books—he was not a big fan of many of the adventure newspaper strips. He declared that Alex Raymond’s characters in Flash Gordon “have an empty look” that “show little of their hearts and minds.” He thought Milton Caniff suffered from a bout of “smart alecky” with “static figures” and his plots “artificial and snarled” He really disliked Zack Mosely’s Smilin’ Jack calling it “one of the most painful jobs to look at in the business.” Surprisingly, (perhaps to save what little hair I have left) Waugh lavishes nothing but praise on the master—Hal Foster—of whom he gushed “the man was so good at his particular job that there remained little for subsequent workers to improve on”.

From the introduction to a later printing by M. Thomas Inge;

“Though intended as a study of one aspect of American culture, Waugh’s book itself has become a part of that culture through its influence on all the commentary that was to come. His was the enviable but difficult task of the pioneer, the first in the field. So he could lay down the guidelines and principles without fear of contradiction. He did it so well that The Comics still makes a legitimate claim to our attention and therefore deserves a continued life in print.” Waugh’s own prejudices are clear…comic books he found raw and ugly.”

Coulton Waugh was no fan of the superhero comic book, but he wasn’t an effete snob; he was the scion of a well respected New England artist family. He was a fine painter, textile designer, map-maker, and sometime cartoonist. He took over the fantasy strip Dicky Dare after Milton Caniff left. This was the story of a 12 year boy who imagined great adventures with historical characters like Robin Hood, or George Custer. He was also a comic historian, perhaps the first and he was an optimist. He ended his treatise on an upbeat note.

Dicky Dare started by Milton Caniff taken over by Waugh

Dicky Dare started by Milton Caniff taken over by Waugh

“In spite of all the learned arguments of the college professors who endorse the lurid form of the comic book, the great mass of American people have been getting thoroughly annoyed at the alarming mass of cheap sensationalism their children have been buried under. These human torches and hornet men seem to have little connection with the sound values which the American people, generally speaking, strive for, and it seems that the people in a number of ways have been making this clear to the publishers. An example of the things so many people object to, for instance, is the army of hooded and masked men, women, boys, and even girls, who were threatening to push the normal heroes off the stands. (Obviously heroes such as Dicky Dare, drawn by Mr. Waugh – ST) Why in the name of a free Republic, is all this hooding necessary? True, these people are always on the side of right, of democracy; but democracy’s justice does not need to mask itself. From the picture point of view—and this means a great deal in comics– such hooded people suggest the Ku Klux Klan more than anything else, the very reverse of the process of democratic law. Protests of many kinds, from many sources, have poured in, to the point where at last a change is taking place; the furious sensationalism of the super-people is not as popular as it was. A new and healthier trend is on the way. The big news of the moment is not the emergence of a new super creature; it is the growing in popularity of the gay, animal comic book of the general Walt Disney type, and the various titles devoted to teen-age interests.”

“Teen age comics are very normal and healthy as a rule. In addition, the animal group can develop fantasy, can supply the experimental adjustment to life through childish symbols, which the educators advise as good for the young mind. Another happy point—these are funny books; the super-screamers were not. And to laugh is one of our greatest national habits, one of our finest talents.”

Waugh may have been right, his problem was not that super-humans were bad or sensationalistic; his worry was that there was once a reason for these cartoons to be labeled “funnies”. The super-heroes weren’t funny. They lacked, or worse, were the antithesis of humorous. As Waugh mentioned, he felt that the funny animals or teen-aged tales returned to the idea of making kids laugh. One should note that Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Mighty Mouse, Captain Marvel Bunny and other anthropomorphic animals were rising to the top when printed by Dell, St. Johns, or other companies. Waugh was wrong; the next wave would not be funny animals, in fact, it was human relations in all their vulgar, animalistic horror. And Waugh’s fear of social uprising was accurate.

I hope you don’t think bad of Coulton Waugh, it was not my intention of belittling his opinions. I am not out to shoot the messenger. Waugh was not a grouchy old man endlessly screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn. His arguments against comic books were honest; he did know that they could be better. They were lowest common denominator entertainment that never required of the artists or the publishers to do better. Yes there were gems to be found, but they were amongst a huge stash of trite, ugly, and morbid books of their kind. Waugh did want better, and he attempted his own higher quality output. Coulton Waugh left Dicky Dare to his wife Odin Burvick to create his own strip. He titled it Hank. Unlike most strips of the time, there was no handsome, athletic, adventurer, and sexy slinky, exotic femmes. Hank was introspective and wheel chair bound due to losing a leg during the war, looking at the world through self-absorbed eyes. His stories were attempts at finding and understanding ones place in society and coming to grips with loss. The differences weren’t just thematic. Waugh used a very decorative and florid style that seemed to isolate Hank’s own lack of movement. He sometimes avoided the static rectangular panels and exaggerated the motion. He added in black dialogue balloons with white words to give them depth and solemness. He brought a level of social conscious and conflict. He humanized it somewhat by using upper and lower case fonts for the dialogue.



The humanity and pathos was overwhelming, Waugh admitted that this was an exercise in “social usefulness” and as such lacked exaggerated drama, and action. Waugh’s attempts were sadly cut short due to too many years in front of a board. He stopped when his eyesight finally failed him. Hank was printed in the left leaning New York tabloid PM, and had a rather small circulation. Not a hooded avenger in sight, Waugh tried to walk the walk. Though short lived, PM magazine also featured the art of Dr. Seuss, Crockett Johnson and Jack Sparling, and the writings of Ernest Hemingway, James Thurber and Erskine Caldwell. It was often compared to the Daily Worker, though formatted closer to Gilmore’s and Gleason’s Friday magazine.

During this down time both Stuntman and Boy Explorers had a small black and white digest type book mailed out to subscribers, which featured inventoried stories. The cover explained that for the present emergency, newsstand sales will be temporarily discontinued and subscribers would be sent these small digests. There was only one issue per title sent out.

Joe was scrambling, for months he and Jack had no work. The industry was changing; the super hero genre was dead. World War 2 was over, and with it went the need for fantasy power figures to handle overwhelming evil. The interests of the populace were now more mundane and close to home. Being the premier costume hero creators meant little. For S&K to come back, they would have to reinvent the business to reach a new market and reinvent themselves.

But comics weren’t Joe’s only thought. On June 3, 1946, Joe and Harriet Feldman slipped away to Elkton Md. and got married. Elkton, a small town just below the Pennsylvania border, had become famous for quick, unquestioned marriages due to Maryland’s lax marriage laws. Hundreds if not thousands would sneak over the border to get hitched.

Like out of a romance book - still had a nice suit

Like out of a romance book – still had a nice suit

As to the problem at hand they had to find work and form a new base to operate from. One of the few genres that continued unabated after the war was the crime genre. Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay was a good selling title that seemed to be growing. Lev Gleason was a rarity, a comic publisher who wasn’t Jewish or shady. What he lacked in shadiness he made up for in political passion. Son of a well to do Protestant Massachusetts doctor, he attended Harvard University but dropped out during WWI.

Returning from the war he found himself working for Eastern Color Printing Company. Lev was a salesman for Eastern when Max Gaines approached the company about publishing a pamphlet sized cartoon book. Within a few years, Lev became the editor for Tip Top Comics. In 1939, after the success of Superman, Lev partnered with magazine publisher Arthur Bernhard and formed Silver Streak Publications.

Looking debonaire – the boys at play

Lev Gleason was also a friend of Communists. He had become involved during a two year sabbatical to France after the WW1. He worked for some front magazines and collected for Communist front companies. He assisted Dan Gilmore on the left leaning Friday magazine. He had attracted the ire of the F.B.I. and had a thick file at the bureau. He was fined by the H.U.A.C. for his part in a suspected Commie organization. In the FBI file they noted his part in publishing comics. (thanks to the Comics Detective website) Their response was not so positive. “..the publishing of the cheap pulp paper type comic booklets is a common practice and is considered a racket in the publishing fraternity in New York as little capital is needed to engage in this type of business, which is not highly regarded by reputable publishers.” (Obviously they never saw the bottom line of these publishers)

The company had its first hit with a character named Daredevil, a long-running costumed crime fighter. Its next big success came in 1942 with a comic focused entirely on crime. Crime Does Not Pay was the first and best of a long line of crime comics. Its initial success was good but not great. Other companies took note, and slowly copied. Gerard Jones, in his book Men of Tomorrow (2004 Basic Books) stated; “It (Crime Does Not Pay) sold solidly all through the war, but not well enough to inspire imitations. Then, in 1947, as America’s fascination with crime and corruption intensified, its sales soared. By the end of the year, it was outselling even Captain Marvel and Superman. It seems in fact, to have stolen much of the super-hero audience.”……”After years as the only crime comic on the stands, by late 1948 Crime Does Not Pay was just one of forty.

But the crime genre came with some baggage. As Jones notes; “There was pungency and narrative vigor in the best of them, but there was a sickness of sprit in them too. Comics had a freedom to indulge in gore and cruelty that the more closely watched media of movies, radio, and “slick” magazines didn’t and they tapped into American appetites that those other media hadn’t revealed. The success of the material was unsettling to the very men who made and sold it—so much money for such seamy stories peddled under such smarmy, phony messages about the folly of crime. There was viciousness in the crime comics that assumed sadism in the reader and, in its exquisite intensity, revealed sadism in the artist.” Gleason even tried to blunt this complaint early with an editorial fiat.

Gleason trying to pre-empt the Comics Code 1948

Gleason trying to pre-empt the Comics Code 1948

Joe approached Crestwood Publications with an idea concerning a news reporter who specialized in sensational murder cases. The catch was that the reporter, Red Hot Blaze worked for a pulp type comic magazine and the featured artist resembled Jack Kirby. Blaze first appearance was a 6 page tryout back-up story in Treasure #10 (Dec. 1946) and featured one of Kirby’s best covers along with an advert blurb showcasing the new series in Headline Comics–another Crestwood title. Several oddities about that advertising blurb; first they show the issue (#23) with a Jan/Feb cover date. #23 in actuality had a delayed Mar/Apr cover date. The cover shown in the blurb was not the actual cover to #23, which showed a convicted gunmoll holding off the cops by threatening a hostage. The blurb cover was actually used for issue #24 (May/June 1947). It’s amazing how much inventory Jack and Joe had accrued that a cover meant for a May dated issue had already been drawn, inked and colored for an advertising blurb back in a Dec. dated book.

Nice blurb—wrong cover wrong date

Nice blurb—wrong cover wrong date

Now this is action, hateful little monkees

Now this is action, hateful little monkees

Crestwood was a small publisher which S&K had crossed paths with during their freelance days in 1940 when they rebooted Prize Comics. Owned by Teddy Epstein and Mike Bleir, Crestwood never had more than a few titles at one time. Their most popular title was Frankenstein, the Dick Briefer created strip that expanded out of Prize Comics into its own title. Headline Comics was a low selling anthology title populated by easily forgettable super-heroes like Atomic Man and the kid gang, the Jr. Rangers.

Crestwood comics full of S&K in and on the comics

Three months after Treasure #10, Headline Comics #23 (Mar. 1947) hit the stands with a total do over. Gone were the superheroes and adventure stories, to be replaced with cover to cover crime tales penciled and inked by Jack and Joe. Often narrated by Red Hot Blaze, these stories were violent and bloody. These tales were billed as “all true” famous detective cases and starred real gangsters and mobsters. Babyface Nelson, John Dillinger, Ma Barker and other Depression era hoods populated these gritty, hard boiled tales. S&K filler crime stories would appear in other Crestwood titles like Prize Comics and Frankenstein. By the late Forties one in seven comic titles were crime themed. Certainly not the humorous tales Coulton Waugh envisioned, but the focus was on physically normal people as opposed to ultra steroidal hulks.

Jack and Joe were back at work, they attacked these crime tales in a heavy noirish style never seen before from the pair. The faces were heavily shadowed; the clothing was heavy, with deep folds and dark shadows. The backgrounds expanded the heavy geometric patterning in the shadows and became claustrophobic with the detail and spotting of blacks.

It is obvious that the pair were taking their cues from the Noir style films that became the rage after the war…. the badder the girl the larger her eyebrows. Jack even fulfilled a dream when he played a gangster on one of the covers. (Joe played the cop)

Bad girls with gats and eyebrows

Crestwood wasn’t the only company that Joe had contacted. Hillman Publishing was another small time magazine publisher that had scraped by during the war years on the strength of Hollywood pulps, automobile manuals and a couple of comic book titles. Its bestselling title was Airboy Comics which starred the titular teen-aged globetrotting flyboy with a miraculous plane named Birdie. Interestingly, during the war Hillman cancelled many of his pulps and comics to publish a glossy girly digest named Pageant, only to return to comics after the war. The peripatetic editor Ed Cronin bought into Joe’s feeling about crime books and turned over Clue Comics – a rudderless anthology title that started as a showcase for the heroic Boy King and the kid gang Jackie Law and the Boy Rangers- and evolved into a showcase for the Gunmaster, a sharp shooting private dick type. Starting with issue Vol 2 #1 (Mar. 1947) S&K supplied crime stories. With the second issue; they also took over the Gunmaster strip. With their fourth issue, the title was changed to Real Clue Crime Stories. It seems that Jack and Joe drew more historically inspired stories dealing with crime in the 1700 and 1800’s for Hillman; perhaps the reason for adding “Real” to the original cover. It seems their inspiration was the 1928 book Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury—a recalling of the many street gangs and gangsters prior to Prohibition and the mafia. This book was also an inspiration to a later film by Martin Scorcese. And just to round out the feast to famine and back, DC had started re-commissioning new work from Jack for Boy Commandos.

Hillman comes thru

Joe and Jack were back in the game, producing 50-60 pages a month between Hillman and Crestwood. Harvey was also starting back up the road to full recovery, and S&K inventoried strips and reprints began showing up in Harvey titles. One, a back-logged Boy Explorers story features an easily recognizable Frank Sinatra clone, trying to hide out from his many female admirers; he joins up with the boys and is shipwrecked ironically on the Amazonian “Isle Where Women Rule”; a nice play against type story. Joe swears that they were never paid for these stories. Another comic industry lesson reinforced–even your friends will screw you.

A year and a half later – teasing and kidding at Hilman

It should come as no surprise that Jack Kirby, crime reporter, once again returned to his BBR roots for another take on the problems of pinball and back store gambling. In issue #24 of Headline Comics in a story titled “Grim Payoff for the Pinball Mob,” Kirby once again centers on the youthful gambling being forced on the candy stores and the mom and pop shops. Once again the law cracks down on the thieving mobs and a strident DA sends the guilty up the river. Kirby’s drawings of candy stores being packed with pinball machines could have been taken directly from the BBR report on petty gambling and Kirby’s earlier Newsboy Legion tale. But the crime titles were simply treading water, Jack enjoyed portraying the mobsters and his all-too familiar Depression life, and they sold reasonably enough, but held no lasting interest for Joe.

Hillman did allow the boys to try their hands at other genres. For the first time since his Lincoln syndicate days Jack drew some Bigfoot funny animals. Lockjaw the Alligator and Rover the Rascal appeared as filler strips in Punch and Judy Comics. They even took over another funny animal strip from Tony Dipreta called Earl the Rich Rabbit. In Airboy Comics, S&K took over the aviation strip Link Thorne-The Flying Fool. Kirby’s fondness for flying once again found root and they energized this mundane aviation strip and produced another action classic. The strip was reminiscent of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, complete with sexy oriental assistant and even sexier femme fatale competitor. But S&K’s strip preceded Steve Canyon by a month or so. Truth be told, after the war there were a plethora of adventure strips based on fly jockies in business in Asia. Harvey Publications even had their own Flying Fool strip.

Perhaps most important, Hillman gave Joe free rein on an original title, one of Coulton Waugh’s preferred teen-aged titles. One character that had never slowed down was Archie, America’s favorite teenager. With the end of the war, this title had found a renewed vigor. Joe decided that they should try their hand at teen humor. The result was My Date. #1, July, 1947. It starred the teenaged wunderkind Swifty Chase and his main girl Sunny Daye and their riotous romantic adventures with the insufferable bore Snubby Skeemer, and pesky Housedate Harry. In typical S&K fashion, the first story centers on Hollywood and Humphrey Bogart in particular. Swifty and Sunny help Humphrey escape from his manager so he can elope with the much younger Chandra Blake-mirroring Humphreys real life escapades with Lauren Bacall. A lone teen humor strip “Pipsy” even found its way into Laugh Comics #24 Sept. 1947, an Archie Publication. The foundation was set. Two months later, the dam broke.