Early Lettering by Joe Simon

Like most comic book artists from the earliest period, Joe Simon lettered his own art. Actually Joe was doing lettering long before he began his career in comic books. While working as a newspaper staff artist Simon would letter his sport illustrations. Joe’s lettering for these sport drawings was quite variable even within the same individual work.

Silver Streak #2
Silver Streak #2 (January 1940) “Solar Petrol” letters by Joe Simon

Simon’s lettering for his earliest comic book work was rather amateurish as even he admits. Letter size varied a bit in different parts of the same page as did line spacing. I tried to get most of my letter samples from “Solar Petrol” from the same regions but even so there some of this variation can be seen above. Interestingly, Simon did his ‘G’ similarly to the way Jack Kirby did it. This was just a coincidence because when Joe did “Solar Petrol”, his first published comic book story, he had not yet met Jack. While some of the other letters are not very useful in distinguishing Joe from Jack one helpful one is the letter ‘M’ where Joe’s version has vertical side strokes while Jack made his ‘M’ with slanting sides. Further Joe never gave his ‘U’ the horse-shoe shape that Kirby used. The most useful letter for spotting Simon’s hand is ‘W’. Joe did this letter in a very distinctive manner that I have not seen others use.

One of Simon’s characteristics found in his earliest lettering is the way he would occasionally embellish a letter. I provide examples for the letters ‘R’, ‘S’ and ‘W’ at the bottom of the image. It is important to note that Joe did not do this sort of embellishment often but some can found in all the early stories and are quite distinctive when found.

The samples from Silver Streak are pretty typical for Simon’s early comic book art. Similar lettering can be found in the following:

  • Daring Mystery #1 (January 1940) “The Fantastic Thriller of the Walking Corpses” (Fiery Mask)
  • Daring Mystery #2 (February 1940) “The Phantom Bullet”
  • Daring Mystery #2 (February 1940) “Trojak the Tiger Man”
  • Target #1 (February 1940) “The Case of the Black Widow Spider”
  • Amazing Man #10 (March 1940) “Ranch Dude”
  • Target #2 (March 1940) “Sabotage”

Daring Mystery #3
Daring Mystery #3 (April 1940) “Trojak” letters by Joe Simon

In later works Simon seemed to restrain his use of embellished letters although they still occur with some examples on the bottom line shown above. Joe changed the way he usually did the letter ‘Y’ writing it with a vertical lower stroke. However there are occasional uses of a diagonal lower stroke of the ‘Y’ with an example on the last line from Daring Mystery #3. Such mixed use of letter forms is often the sign of two different hands; one the original letterer and the other making alterations. But I do not believe that this is the case here because we will see later works where the use of the two versions of “Y” seems characteristic of Joe.

I only had the time to put together these two samples of Joe Simon’s lettering so I will be return later with some other examples.