Double Life of Private Strong, the Last Issue

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Double Life of Private Strong #2 (August 1959) “The Toy Master” page 5, art by unidentified artist

While the first issue of Double Life of Private Strong was almost completely drawn by Jack Kirby, he played a much smaller part in the second. I am not sure who drew the first story, “The Toy Master”, but he obviously was working from some sort of directions. In “The Comic Book Makers, Joe Simon writes about using Carl Burgos to create layouts. In fact Joe’s collection still includes layouts for a Fly story (Carl Burgos does the Fly). By supplying the artists with layouts, Joe was able to give the comic a distinct Kirby feel. Scattered through the art are swipes; most of them from the previous Simon and Kirby superhero, Fighting American. For instance the Shield in panel 4 of page 5 was based on a splash from Fighting American #1. Some experts have claimed that these are either stats or mechanical copies but I have disproved that by overlaying the art (The Fly, A Case Study of Swiping). Apparently all that was done was a free hand copy was created for the layout and the artist would finish it. This would provide the desired Kirby-feel to the story without making the swipe too incongruous with the rest of the art. There are other examples were the copy deviated even more from the original. I believe, for instance, that the Shield in panel 3 was swiped by the one Kirby did for the splash of “The Menace of the Micro-Men” from Private Strong #1.

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Double Life of Private Strong #2 (August 1959) “Upsy Daisy”, art by George Tuska?

I going out on a limb because I am not familiar enough with his work, but I believe “Upsy Daisy” might be the work of George Tuska. Joe Simon has written in “The Comic Book Maker” that Tuska worked on the Archie comics for him so it is not an unreasonable guess. Perhaps I missed them, but I do not spot any obvious swipes from Kirby in this story.

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Double Life of Private Strong #2 (August 1959) “I Wish I Were the Shield”, art by George Tuska?
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The two tier panel layout is pretty much identical to the one used for the double page splashes found in Adventures of the Fly #1 and #2. However there is no mention of “the wide angle scream” nor are the curved black bands of the top and bottom of the splash (The Wide Angle Scream, What Was Old Is New Again). Again my attribution of this story to George Tuska is by no means firm.

Here there are some examples of swiping from Kirby. For instance the Shield in the splash was based on the cover logo that first appeared on Fighting American #4 (October 1954). The presences of these swipes and the overall superiority of the story art over that for “Upsy Daisy” suggests that this story was done from layouts.

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Double Life of Private Strong #2 (August 1959) “The Ultra-Sonic Spies”, art by Jack Kirby

The use of swipes was clearly an attempt to improve the look of the art not actually drawn by Kirby. But of course it was only partially successful since after all nothing beats the real thing. The single story by Kirby in this issue, “The Ultra-Sonic Spies”, just out shines all the rest of the comic. What a mixture of action and humor. Since the Shield’s alter ego, Lancelot Strong, was a private in the U.S. army, Jack was able to return to and improve upon the humor that was done years previously in Captain America. While Simon and Kirby had always preferred less powerful and more human heroes, Kirby makes exciting use the Shield’s greater power. I would say Jack was much more at ease with the Shield than he was with the Fly. What Kirby did in Private Strong prefigures more than any of his other work what was to blossom in the Marvel superhero line in a few years.

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Double Life of Private Strong #2 (August 1959) “The General’s Favorite Private”, art by Joe Simon

There is a single page text piece about the Shield which tells how Lancelot Strong’s secret identity is discovered by General Smith. The story is nothing special but it contains an illustration by Joe Simon. Since the work that he did for the J. C. Penny (1947, A History Lesson) Joe drew very little comic book art. Probably the most significant work was “Deadly Doolittle” for Fighting American #6 and even that was a reworking of an earlier Sandman piece originally drawn by Kirby. After the Simon and Kirby studio broke up Joe did some more work on his own. Simon mostly did some covers but he also occasionally did an interior illustration such as the one accompanying the General Smith text story.

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Double Life of Private Strong #2 (August 1959) “The Boy Sentinels” page 2, art by Joe Simon

For the most part one thing Joe Simon did not draw late in his career was full stories. Private Strong #2 included what is essentially an advertisement for the Fly, “The Boy Sentinels”. Should this two page piece be considered a story? What is interesting to me is that Joe makes little, if any, use of swipes from Kirby. Instead Simon drawing reflects back to the work he did for backup pieces for Stuntman and Boy Explorers, especially Vagabond Prince. The villain in the piece resembles that from “Trapped on Wax” (meant for the unpublished Boy Explorers #2), the close-up of the Fly hitting the villain seems taken from “The Madness of Doctor Altu (Black Cat #8, October 1947), and the young boys look like the one from “Death Trap De Luxe” (Black Cat #7, August 1947).

In “The Comic Book Makers” Joe writes:

Years later, I learned why John Goldwater had dropped his beloved Shield like a hot potato. DC Comic’s lawyers had sent him a cease-and-desist order which put forth the amusing claim that The Shield’s powers aped Superman’s too closely.

On the face of it this seems rather remarkable. After all the only important powers that the Shield and Superman seems to be the ability to fly and run at super fast speeds. The Fly can also, well fly, but there seems to have been no problem with that similarity. While not denying the question about some shared powers between the Shield and Superman, I would suggest there were other features that made the Shield more vulnerable to legal action than the Fly. While the Shield’s uniform was modeled on that Simon and Kirby created for Captain America, it unfortunately shared a color scheme with Superman; the same overall blue with red shorts and boots. Also regrettably the Shield’s origin story shared features with Superman’s; orphaned as a baby and raised by an elderly farming couple. All these factors probably contributed to Goldwater’s cold feet when presented with a legal challenge. After all the Shield had not yet shown whether it was a large enough money maker to warrant fighting a legal battle.

4 thoughts on “Double Life of Private Strong, the Last Issue

  1. Ger Apeldoorn

    As someone who has recently looked at a lot of Tuska art, I concur with your assesment of the two stories. They look like Tuska art to me. Around that time, Tuska was also doing Buck Rogers, which can be seen at my blog these weeks. It’s too bad that Tuska never did more for Sick than he did. Now that I mention sick, we should really get together on doing a series on Sick after I return from my honeymoon. Or maybe I could start a Sick series on my own, have you add to it… I think this magazine waarants a closer look as a Simon creation. he did not draw a lot for it (though more than for any of his previous efforts of the years before that), but he sat in on the writer’s conferences and devoted a large aprt of his life to it.

  2. Bob Cosgrove

    Two unrelated comments: 1. I agree that your Tuska attributions are right on the money. 2. It’s interesting that Archie in its Red Circle incarnation brought back both “Private Strong” and the original Shield, though the Simon & Kirby character was soon dropped. I wonder what part, if any, the rumored threat of a lawsuit had in the decision to again discontinue the character.

  3. Steve Robertson

    I agree with your Tuska attributions also. I notice on your entry about the “Ultra-Sonic Spies” story that you credit “Art by Jack Kirby”. Usually when you do this, I believe you are crediting Jack with the pencils and inks? This story is defintely penciled by Jack, and much of the inking looks like him as well, but there sure are some inking anomalies! Check out the inking on the soldier in the foreground of the last panel on page 1. Reserve me a place in the funny farm, but that inking reminds me of Reed Crandall. Pages 2 and 3 look predominently like Kirby inks to me. Pages 4 and 5 do too, except for a lot of fine pen inking lines that don’t seem to fit the Kirby bill to me. On the final page (6)you see a lot of these fine pen inking lines again, and the face of PVT. Strong in panel 5 sure looks strange! Part of the allure of these oddball Kirby projects is the mystery of such things to me!

  4. Harry Post author

    Thanks to all about your opinions about George Tuska being the correct attribution. Let’s see what happens when I move on to the first couple of Fly issues.

    I must apolgize about my use of the term “art by”. When I first adopted its use it was to mean that both pencils and inks were done by that artist, just like you wrote. However in more recent times I have become rather sloppy in my terminology. Frankly my current projects have made it impossible to find enough time to adequately research inking attributions. So generally I avoid assigning inking credits. But I am going to return to a more precise terminology and reserve “art by” to cases covering both pencils and inks by the same artist.

    Because of my time restrictions I will not be trying to identify the inking for Private Strong or the Fly. But although it sometimes takes time to come up with a proper inking credit it sometimes it is not hard at all to say who did not do the inking. In the case of the Shield and the Fly I think I can pretty confidently say that Jack Kirby did not do any of the inking.

    Joe Simon tells a story about how the inking of one of his project was done. However I do not feel it would be right for me to repeat that story. The story comes up when we talk about another Simon comic however I have come to believe it might actually concern the Archie superheroes. If I’m right then your spotting Reed Crandall may not be so crazy. Hopefully Joe will include the story in the upcoming autobiography.

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