The End of Simon & Kirby, Chapter 3, Unlikely Port In The Storm

Bullseye #5
Bullseye #5 (April 1955) by Jack Kirby. It and Foxhole #4 were the last Mainline comics.

Previously in the end of Simon and Kirby I discussed the rise of anti-comic book sentiments and the ill timed launched of S&K’s Mainline comics. A number of publishers seemed to be having problems, including Prize for which Simon and Kirby produced some titles. In the end Mailine failed with the last comics dated April 1955.

Win A Prize #1
Win A Prize #1 (February 1955) by Jack Kirby

Two months before the last Mainline comic, Joe and Jack launched a new title Win A Prize published by Charlton. Charlton was notorious for their low page rates. There can be a couple of explanations for this choice of publisher. One explanation is that part of the idea behind Win A Prize was the giving away of prizes. The cover announces “500 free prizes, anyone can win”, and Joe Simon insists that they really did give away prizes. For a small company like Mainline this could be a problem. Not only the cost of the merchandise but the logistics of sending the prizes to the winners. But Charlton had a vertical company structure, they did everything from producing the comics, printing them and doing the distribution. They probably were the ideal outfit to handle this sort of thing. Well except for the problem of being cheap.

The second explanation for making a deal with Charlton to publish Win A Prize is that Joe and Jack might have already known that Mainline was in trouble. With decrease profits from the comics they produced for Prize, S&K may not have had enough cash to finance the launch of another title. The Mainline comics were distributed by Leader News and that company may already have seem like a poor choice. Charlton may not have paid much, but Simon and Kirby may have been desperate at this point.

Win A Prize was unique for Simon and Kirby. They had produced anthologies before but they were always genre specific. They did crime, horror and romance, but Win A Prize with just a general anthology. That sort of thing was common during the war, but I suspect it was unusual in the mid 50’s. Here is a rundown of the stories to show the sort of mix it was.

Win A Prize #1
“The Emissary” by Jack Kirby (science fiction)
“The Tragic Clown” (drama)
“That Giveaway Guy” by Jack Kirby (humor)
“Telltale Heart” (horror, adaptation of story by Edgar Allan Poe)
“War Diary” (war)

WP #1 That Giveaway Guy
Win A Prize #1, “That Giveaway Guy” by Jack Kirby

Win A Prize #2
“Bullet Ballad” by Bill Draut (western)
“Sir Cashby Of Moneyvault” by Jack Kirby (humor)
“Torpedoed” (war)
“The Handsome Brute” by Joe Albistur (science fiction)
“The Bull” (sports)

WP #2 Bullet Ballad
Win A Prize #2, Uncle Giveaway by Jack Kirby and “Bullet Ballad” by Bill Draut

They are all relative short stories, the longest is 7 pages. We have seen Bill Draut before, but also included is Joe Albistur. Joe was a relatively recent artist to work for S&K, he first appeared in Police Trap #1 (September 1954). He also did a number of romance stories taking up some of the slack left by Kirby then absent from the Prize romances. All the Win A Prize stories are really nice and I promise to highlight some of them in the future. Although I rather like Win A Prize, it did not last long, ending with issue #2 in April 1955, the same month that Mainline ended. The “hook” really wasn’t the contents, it was the prizes. With all the logistical problems these prizes brought I am sure Charlton wanted to see really good sales really quick. When they failed to materialize, the title was cancelled.

In Love #5
In Love #5 (May 1955) by Jack Kirby

In May 1955, one month after the last Mainline comics, In Love #5 would be published by Charlton. Charlton would soon print the rest of the former Mainline titles; Bullseye, Police Trap and Foxhole. But these former Mainline comics would only last a couple of issue each, the last (Police Trap #6) is dated September. But their termination may not have just been due to poor sales. I think the these Charlton issues were made using material already completed or in progress when Mainline abruptly ended. It would be better for S&K that they get low payment for this artwork from Charlton, then get nothing at all. In September Charlton would change the title of “In Love” to “I Love You”. I Love You #7 has a (rather weak) Kirby cover but the contents do not look like they were produced by Simon and Kirby. I think Charlton was just reusing the volume number, a not uncommon technique to save postal registration fees. Charlton probably assembled the contents and Simon and Kirby only supplied the cover. I Love You turned out to have a run of 115 issues for Charlton ending in December 1976.

I Love You #7
I Love You #7 (July 1955) by Jack Kirby

At the same time as Charlton was publishing the remnants of the Mainline comics, they also started to publish Charlie Chan. This was a title that Simon and Kirby originally produced for Prize. Under Prize Charlie Chan lasted 5 issues with the last one dated February 1949. In the original series Jack Kirby penciled all the covers but did not do any of the contents. In the first Charlton issue we again find Jack providing the cover but none of the contents. But I don’t believe that this cover is just unused material from the Prize run. First the inking style is more like the late shop style then what was used during the Prize version of Charlie Chan. Second, originally the Charlie Chan covers were static with the “number one son” getting ready to spring into action. On the Charlton cover the son is in the middle of jumping from one motorcycle to another. This sort of emphasis on action is more in tune with later Simon and Kirby covers. And lastly #6 cover includes Burmingham Brown. This stereotype sidekick did not appear on the Prize covers or contents but would appear on the cover to Charlie Chan #7 and #9. Although Kirby did not do any other pencils for the Charlton Charlie Chan, Simon and Kirby did produce those comics. Issue #7 has the stamp that announces “another Simon and Kirby smash hit” that was used on the late Mainline titles. Joe Simon still has color proofs to all the Charlton covers. Charlie Chan is unique for Simon and Kirby’s work with Charlton in that it lasted a full 4 issues ending in March 1956. Regardless of whether they started with unused Prize artwork, clearly S&K also produced some new material for Charlton.

Charlie Chan #6
Charlie Chan #6 (June 1955) by Jack Kirby

Charlie Chan #9
Charlie Chan #9 (December 1955) by unknown artist

Chapter 2, Problems in the Industry

Chapter 4, A Friend Provides a Helping Hand

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