An Unexpected Simon and Kirby Ashcan

Supergirl (ashcan) (February, with 1944 copyright) (image from the GCD)

I was perusing a list of works attributed to Joe Simon in the GCD database when I spotted something very odd, a Supergirl ashcan by Simon and Kirby. Of course Simon and Kirby did not really do a Supergirl cover, DC staff just used a copy of the S&K art of the cover for Boy Commandos #1 (Winter 1942/1943) and added above it the Supergirl title. The DC staff produced ashcans so that they could copyright the title and so prevent any other publisher from using it. Ashcans can be produced quickly as they are not subject to the months required to publish an actual comic book. It would be unfortunate, to say the least, to published a new title only to have competitor come out earlier with a book with the same title. DC did something similar previously when they made an ashcan for Boy Commandos. I am bothered by some of the details in this particular case. Basically why Supergirl at this time and why use this particular piece of Simon and Kirby art?

Supergirl would not have a debut until Action Comics #252 (May 1959) that is not for about 15 years later. Granted the copyright would still be valid but it does seem an unreasonable long delay. The answer may not be when Supergirl would be first published but when Superboy was. Superboy first appeared in More Fun Comics #101 (January 1945). With Superman and now Superboy, it did not take much of a stretch in imagination DC’s part that perhaps they should protect other variations as well. Well a search of GCD reveals that an ashcan had already been made for Superwoman (copyright 1941 but with a January 1942 cover date). Therefore making one for Supergirl as well seems a reasonable precaution. Simon and Kirby later did something similar when they created Stuntman. Stuntman #2 has an inside cover advertising the coming of Stuntboy and Stuntgirl. Although unpublished Stuntman art still exists none of it includes either Stuntboy or Stuntgirl. Joe Simon has said that he does not remember creating these variations either. But the ad includes copyright and pending trademarks so in all probability Simon and Kirby were just trying to protect what they hoped would be a successful new title.

The Supergirl ashcan cover date provides only the month (February) while the copyright notice gives only the year (1944). Now it may seem obvious to just combine the two for a February 1944 date as GCD has done in their listing. This is not unreasonable but it would indicate that planning for Superboy was done for quite a few months before it was actually release. However if we follow the example given by the Superwoman ashcan and provide a cover date for the Supergirl ashcan as February 1945 we have one very close in agreement with Superboy’s release (January 1945). The means of choosing between the two possibilities would be the actual contents of the ashcan as it would be expected that the most current stories would be used. Unfortunately the interior is not indexed in the GCD listing. Oddly the notes that I toke when I first came across the Supergirl ashcan listing was that there was an unconfirmed report that the contents were from Action #80 (January 1945). If that turns out to be true then the February 1945 would be the correct cover date for the Supergirl ashcan.

My second puzzle was why a cover for Boy Commandos #1 was used for the Supergirl ashcan. It is not that I expect Supergirl to appear on the cover. DC was insuring their copyrights and not planning to actually produce a Supergirl comic at that time. The ashcan for Superwoman had unrelated cover art as well. For me the question is why the cover art for the Supergirl ashcan was not something more current. The Boy Commandos #1 was cover dated Winter 1942/1943. Even if we accept the earlier February 1944 as the cover date for the Supergirl ashcan that still means the art used was about a year old. The only explanation I can hazard, with absolutely nothing to back it up, is that perhaps a foreign edition of Boys Commandos had more recently been prepared. DC did occasionally prepare foreign comics (to be printed in the country it would be released in) and these often were done some time after the initial U.S. release. However I have no idea if DC was doing this during the war or whether Boy Commandos had received that treatment.

One final note, in this blog I try to respect the copyrights of others. After all I am asking everyone to respect not only my rights, but most importantly those of Joe Simon who has generously allows me to include images from his personal collection. Joe’s collection and my own, augmented occasionally by helpful individuals, are generally sufficient to provide enough examples to use in the posts for this blog. But there are rare exceptions where the GCD has images that I otherwise do not have access to. So some time ago I contacted GCD and ask if it would be okay to occasionally use their images (giving them the proper credit). So I would like to thank the GCD (Grand Comic-Book Database) for giving me permission to do so.

2 thoughts on “An Unexpected Simon and Kirby Ashcan

  1. Rand

    Were ashcans about copyright or trademark? Seem more like trademark to me. Interested to learn more one way or another.

    Anyhow, I did some trademark searching at the US Patent & Trademark Office’s website.

    The first filing date I can find for the Supergirl “comic picture magazine publication” trademark is 9 November 1944. (Serial number 71476278, which states it was “first use” and “first use in commerce” as 1 September 1941.

    Superwoman “magazine publication” trademark filing date is 24 October 1941 with the same first use dates as above.

    Superboy “magazine publication” trademark filing date is 25 October 1941 with the same first use dates as above.

  2. Harry Post author


    As I understand it trademarks are filed for, you cannot get a trademark simply by using it on a publication. However you can get a copyright just by publishing it. So the primary purpose of ashcans was probably copyrights. However the part that I am unsure about is whether you can continue to hold a trademark without actually using it. Which is why I think ashcans had something to do with trademarks as well.

    Thanks for your investigation. It makes sense that DC would trademark all the Super variants but somehow initially they did not think of Supergirl. Perhaps when they decided to actually use Superboy they realized their error and corrected it by both applying for the trademark and creating an ashcan. The November 9, 1944 date for the Supergirl trademark suggests that the February 1945 cover date for the ashcan is probably the correct one.

Comments are closed.