Category Archives: 5 Studio

Simon and Kirby and Their True Stories

Real Clue Crime Stories v. 2 n 6 (August 1947) “Let Me Plan Your Murder” pencils by Jack Kirby

During Joe Simon’s deposition given in DC versus Fawcett he described the work that they were presently doing as being based on true stories. At that time (1948) Simon and Kirby were producing crime and romance comics. It is hard to say how true their romance stories were but they did run advertisements offering to pay for reader submitted stories. While romance did not usually make the newspapers, crime certainly did. Therefore it is possible to compare what Joe and Jack created with historical facts.

I plan to research a number of crime stories but here I will start with “Let Me Plan Your Murder, H. H. Holmes the Monster of Chicago”. There really was a murderer with the name Henry H. Holmes, or rather that was the name he was using when finally captured (his original name was Herman W. Mudgett). Holmes was a famous serial killer whose exploits can be found in great detail on the Internet (The Murder Castle of H. H. Holmes, The Master of the Murder Castle, and Wikipedia’s H. H. Holmes  to mention just a few). There is no definitive count of the number of Holmes’ victims. The best estimates are in the range of 20 to 200. I will return to this issue below.

I will not summarize what is known about Henry Holmes as it is covered in detail in the links I supplied above. There is a lot to his story, much too much to cover in seven pages of a comic book. So it is not surprising that that much was left out in the story that Simon and Kirby told. But the question that interests me is how accurate were Joe and Jack for what they did tell? To start with how accurate was their portrayal of Holmes himself. The most prominent feature that Holmes’ possessed was his moustache. Kirby drew a distinctive moustache but that went out and slightly up while the real Holmes had a moustache that went down at the ends.

The story produced by Simon and Kirby have seven essential facts:

  • Holmes constructed his castle with frequent firing of the workers so that no one would understand the true nature of what he was building.

This is an accurate description of how Holmes’ constructed his castle. Frequent dismissal of the work crews not only hid what he was doing but Holmes would also refuse to pay them. Holmes may have built his elaborate building without spending any of his own money!

  • Numerous visitors to Chicago mysteriously disappeared.

Holmes operated his castle during the Chicago World’s Fair. He would rent out rooms to visitors. Apparently many visitors to the Fair never returned home. Did they stay at Holmes’ castle and become his victims or did they just go on to a new life and never return home? I cannot imagine that such a question could not be answered today but in 1892 they were left with only suspicions.

  • Holmes concocted an insurance fraud with Howard Pietzel but instead of substituting the body of some victim actually kills Pietzel.

This is correct. Left out of Simon and Kirby’s account was the story of Pietzel’s wife and children. Holmes somehow convinced Mrs. Pietzel to give him custody of three of her five children. Holmes would end up killing the three children and there are suggestions that was to be the fate of Mrs. Pietzel as well.

  • The cellar to Holmes’ castle was uncovered during the construction of a tunnel.

Simon and Kirby present this as an accident that started the unraveling of Holmes’ killing spree. Actually the tunneling was done after Holmes was apprehended and was done from the castle’s cellar. A large metal tank was found which when opened produced a horrendous stench. Despite the odor someone lit a match to see what was inside. The result was an explosion that fortunately left the workers without serious injury but any evidence of what the tank was used for was destroyed. 

  • Police investigated the Pietzel case for proof of Holmes’ criminal doings.

The tunnel was not what brought Holmes to justice what did that was fallout from the Pietzel insurance scheme. Holmes offered another criminal Marion Hedgepeth, a fee for the name of a lawyer who could be trusted. The lawyer’s name was provided and the fraud executed but Hedgepeth never was given his finder’s fee. A bad move on Holmes part because in revenge Hedgepeth reported Holmes scheme to the police. A examination of Pietzel’s remains did show that he had been murdered.

  • Holmes’ real name was Herman Mudgett.

Not much to say on this point as Simon and Kirby got it right.

  • After conviction Holmes confessed his crimes.

His confessions were well publicized but apparently not specific enough to indicate how many people Holmes actually killed. Probably so many that Holmes lost track.

Simon and Kirby got six of the seven essential facts correct. The one thing they got wrong (Holmes’ cellar discovered during tunnel construction) was not completely made up but did not play the part Joe and Jack presented. I do not know what source Simon and Kirby used for the story. Was the source material inaccurate or did Joe and Jack make the change on purpose? Without know the source we simply cannot tell.

On a side note, Simon and Kirby present “Let Me Plan Your Murder” as if told to a researcher. The motif of using someone tell the story was commonly used by Joe and Jack. The researcher of this story looks very much like “Red Hot” Blaze who regularly played the story telling roll in the Headline Comics stories that Simon and Kirby were doing at the same time. It is quite likely that “Let Me Plan Your Murder” was originally meant for Prize’s Headline Comics but for some reason switched to Hillman’s Real Clue.

Crime’s Better Half

Headline #26 (September 1947), art by Jack Kirby

Simon and Kirby only worked in the crime genre during two periods. The first, and most extensive one, was from 1947 to about 1950 when the worked on Clue and Real Clue Comics for Hillman, as well as producing Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty for Prize. The second occasion was when they produced Police Trap for the own publishing company Mainline. Joe and Jack were always very creative and the crime genre gave them a wide range of subjects. They produced stories about gangsters, western outlaws, and other historical criminals. Another variation Simon and Kirby seemed fond of were women criminals. By no means were Joe and Jack the sole comic book creators that did work about crime by females (there even was a title Crimes By Women published by Fox). However like pretty much everything Simon and Kirby did, they created some very memorable work about women criminals.

Clue Comics volume 2, number 3 (May 1947) “The Battle For Packy Smith” page 11, pencils by Jack Kirby

The first of Simon and Kirby’s beautiful villains was Velvet. She appeared in the second story about Packy Smith, a gentlemen highly sought after for the element X contained in his body. Packy was much very taken with the charming Velvet Silver, only to end up betrayed by her for the bounty that a crime lord had placed on his head. But once she was paid for her efforts, Velvet then proceeded to betray in turn the crime lord and freed Packy. Velvet may have been larcenous but she also had a heart of gold. A villain you cannot help but love.

Real Clue Crime Stories volume 2 number 6 (August 1947) “Get Me the Golden Gun”, art by Jack Kirby

Packy never made a third appearance, but Velvet returned without Packy in “Get Me the Golden Gun”. It was the hero, Gunmaster, who now fell under her spell. While Packy had been a criminal himself, Gunmaster of course was not. So he found his attraction to Velvet to be very troublesome. While she was not quite so villainous as Velvet, Simon and Kirby developed a similar relationship between Riot O’Hara and Link Thorne in “The Flying Fool” (produced at the same time and for the same publisher Hillman).

Justice Traps the Guilty #4 (May 1948) “Queen of the Speed-Ball Mob”, art by Jack Kirby

Gunmaster and Velvet were clearly meant to be fictional however the work Simon and Kirby produced for Prize were meant to be considered as true stories (or at least initially). So similar mismatched romance between a hero and a criminal were not repeated in Headline or Justice Traps the Guilty. Still women criminals played an important part of the Simon and Kirby repertoire for Prize. Often when the lead character was a female, Simon and Kirby would present the story as if it was told by the woman. Generally in such cases, the story would start with what I describe as a confessional splash. A splash were the main character introduces the story with their speech balloon forming the feature’s title. This device was common in Simon and Kirby romance publications but only seems to be used by Joe and Jack for the crime genre when the protagonist was a woman. Most likely this was because male criminals generally had a very bad ending while the woman repent and paid her debt to society. Apparently Simon and Kirby preferred not to kill or execute even villainous women but had no qualms about providing the male criminals with such fates. In all honesty this form of sexual discrimination is still very much prevalent today.

Real Clue Comics volume 2 number 4 (June 1947) “Mother Of Crime”, art by Jack Kirby

The Simon and Kirby rule was all female villains where young and beautiful and would in the end repent their life in crime. But of course every rule has exceptions. I doubt many would call Ma Barker either young or beautiful. Not only does she come to a bad end, she does not sound very repentful either. It is a marvelous story that fortunately was included in “The Best of Simon and Kirby”. If you have not bought the book yet, what are you waiting for?

Headline #25 (July 1947), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

David Wigransky for the Defense

Frederic Wertham

The May 29, 1948 issue of the Saturday Review of Literature included an article “The Comics…Very Funny” by Dr. Fredric Wertham. Yes the very same Wertham whose 1954 book “The Seduction of the Innocent” initiated the events that crippled and nearly destroyed the comic book industry (The Real Reason for the Decline of Comics). The article was written in the same style used in his later book and likewise condemned the reading of comic books by children. Much of the article’s beginning is devoted to numerous descriptions of crimes perpetrated by children. As an example:

Think of the many recent violent crimes committed by young boys and girls. A twelve-year-old boy who kills his older sister; a thirteen-year-old burglar who operates with a shotgun; a seventeen-year-old boy who kills a thirteen-year-old boy a leaves a note signed “The Devil”…

The supposed links between the children’s’ crime and the reading of comics is provided in only a very few places but otherwise the connection between the crime and comics is largely ignored except for this rather surprising statement:

All these manifestations of brutality, cruelty, and violence and the manner in which they are committed–that is the folklore of the comic books.

In the article Wertham provided 17 points that he claimed supporters of comic books make and the arguments that can be made against them. For example:

7) That the children don’t imitate these stories. (But the increase of violence in juvenile delinquency has gone hand in hand with the increase in the distribution of comics books.)

(You can read the entire article at Seduction of the

“The Comics…Very Funny” certainly provide critics of comic books with useful ammunition. Frederic Wertham’s status as an authority and scientist carried much weight with the public. Wertham was effective in disarming his critics by pointing out that they were paid by comic book publishers. What was needed was someone independent from the comic book industry who could provide an articulate challenge to Wertham. Unexpectedly the most successful rebuttal was made by a 14 year old boy, David Wigransky.

David Pace Wigransky

Wigransky’s defense of comic books was published in the July 24th issue of the Saturday Review of Literature, the same periodical that published Wertham’s article. Wigransky’s letter was published under the title “Cain Before Comics” but the biblical reference that seemed more appropriate was David and Goliath. On the face of it, it would seem unlikely that a boy could offer very much of an intellectual challenge to an authority figure like Wertham. However of the two, Wigransky’s is the much more thought out discussion. When I read Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” I was greatly bothered why everyone from that time did not see through his badly argued and poorly supported attach on comic books. Well David Wigransky did see right through it.

Wigransky pointed out that violence proceeded the creation of comic books. Further that good upbringing and reading good books were not proof against the adoption of murderous behavior in the young. While there were numerous readers of comic books, there were comparatively few delinquents. Wigransky noted that Wertham’s strong antipathy to comic books colored his investigations and reports. David suspected, correctly in my opinion, that Wertham manipulated his children patients to provide the evidence against comics that he, Wertham, expected. That the crusade against comic books was actually not really new; 1896 saw a crusade against the syndication comic strip “The Yellow Kid”. Crime and violence were looked at by comic book readers as adventure and excitement, not a something to experience. Wigransky predicted that generation of comic book readers would in the end turn out all right.

My summation of Wigransky’s article hardly does it justice. The reader can find the entire letter reprinted in “Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt” by Michael Gilbert (Alter Ego 90, December 2009).

David Wigransky did a fabulous job of defending comic books against Frederic Wertham’s critical article. Wertham’s response was to totally ignore him. Wigransky is not once mentioned in “Seduction of the Innocent” nor were his arguments every addressed by Wertham.

But not everyone ignored Wigransky’s defense. An editorial piece, probably written by Stan Lee, appeared in some Atlas Comics. The editorial not only mentions David Wigransky by name but includes quotes from his letter. Comic artists gratefully noted Wigransky as well. Alfred Andriola sent David the original art for a Kerry Drake strip titles “There’s your case against D.D.T., Mr. D.A.!”. The strip is dated December 26, 1947. It was signed “best wishes to David Wigransky from Kerry Drake and Alfred Andriola” (Cartoon Drawings: Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon).

Headline #25
Headline #25 (July 1947), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon, letters by Joe Simon?

More pertinent to this blog is that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby also recognized Wigransky’s contribution by presenting his with original art, the cover for Headline #25 (July 1947). The inscription was by Joe but Jack signed it as well. The cover is an early one from the start of Simon and Kirby’s work for Prize Comics after the war. Simon and Kirby had only produced two previous issues of Headline while Justice Traps the Guilty and Young Romance had yet to be launched. This cover was an apt choice to give to Wigransky considering that at this time it was the crime comics that were receiving the most negative criticism. Headline #25 was certainly the most graphic crime cover that Simon and Kirby had done to date. While there were some later covers that depicted dead or dying figures, this was the only one that showed the victim’s wound.


The cover featured the black humor that often accompanied Simon and Kirby’s crime covers. The female protagonist’s name was not random but was modeled on that of Barbara Stanwyck. Not that long previously Stanwyck had starred in “Double Indemnity” (released April 24, 1944). However in the movie it is Stanwyck’s husband that was murdered for the insurance, while for the cover it was the step-father.

Joe and Jack’s gift to David Wigransky was rather fortunate. Very little original art remains for Simon and Kirby’s early work on the crime genre. Today there is much more art for the earlier Stuntman and that only lasted two issues. The only other original art from Simon and Kirby’s early crime comics that I am aware of is one splash panel (“The Case of the Floating Corpse”, Headline #24, May 1947 that originally came from Joe Simon’s collection) and one unfinished cover (intended for Headline #44, November 1950 that had been kept by Jack Kirby).

The four corners of the original art for Headline #25 shows the imprint left by thumb tacks which can be seen even in the low resolution image I have provided. I like to think that they were used by Wigransky to fasten the art to his bedroom wall.

David Wigransky kept his interest in comic books at least for a couple of years. The December 1949 issue of Popular Mechanics includes an advertisement he ran looking for old comic books or original art. As an adult he wrote a book on the singer Al Jolson (“Jolsonography”, 1974). That rare work (a copy is being offered for $400) must have been published posthumously as David died in 1969 at what must have been about the age of 36.

Dating a Simon and Kirby Studio Photograph

Simon and Kirby studio Left to right: Joe Genalo, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Jimmy Infantino and Ben Oda. Caricatures (probably drawn by Joe Simon) of Marvin Stein and Jimmy Infantino.

I have seen a number of photographs of the Simon and Kirby studio but the one above is my favorite. One reason is that it shows more of the individuals who worked there than any other photo I have seen. But also I just enjoy the camaraderie that is depicted. Jack Kirby seems ready to leap at the viewer, Mort Meskin raises his leg to, shall we say, pass gas and Joe Simon looks amused by it all. The two caricatures in front of Joe were not meant for publication but were executed for the shear pleasure of it. Because of the limitations of the photograph it is hard to be certain but the caricatures look like Joe’s work. The fact that one of them is Marvin Stein who is not present in the image leads me to believe that Marvin was the photographer.

The original print for this photograph was severely damaged. I restored a scan of it using Photoshop some years ago and saved it on a CD. I have made a lot of scans for material from Joe Simon’s collection and the CD with this photo got lost among the numerous CDs and DVDs that I have accumulated. I had low resolution copies of it and knew I had a high resolution version somewhere but I just could not locate it. Sometime ago I discovered that CDs and DVDs are really poor for archival storage. With my recent completion of work on “Simon and Kirby Superheroes” I decided it would be best to transfer all my CDs and DVDs to hard disks with USB interfaces. Fortunately I had made two copies for every disk I saved and I was able (with much work) to retrieve almost all the archived files (I lost a very few files but nothing that could not be replaced). In the process I finally came across my original high resolution file for the studio photograph.

There was nothing written on the original photograph to indicate when it was made. The photo included Jim Infantino and judging from his rather limited appearance in Simon and Kirby romance comics I earlier concluded this photo was probably taken in either 1951 or 1952. However there was a lot of uncertainty in that estimate and in any case a more accurate one would be desirable. Now that I had recovered the detailed scan I resolved to see what I could do about it.

Joe Genola is shown coloring a comic cover. I was pretty certain that the cover was for the Prize Comics Western title. Unfortunately the viewing angle is so severe that it is impossible to make out exactly what the cover looked like.

Close-up of studio photograph
Close-up of the studio photograph

There are a couple pages of unfinished art behind Mort Meskin; one on his drawing table and the other propped up next to Kirby. When enlarged the photo shows this art to have been done by Mort. The art revealed in the detail of this photograph is of interest in and of itself because it shows a stage in the art production that I have not seen before for either Meskin or the Simon and Kirby studio. We can see a penciled but as yet an uninked page. The speech balloons and the accompanying text are all penciled in.

Young Romance #38
Young Romance #38 (October 1951) “His Dancing Teacher” page 2, art by Mort Meskin

After much searching I managed to locate Meskin’s two art pages. The easiest one to identify was the more vertical one beside Mort’s drawing table. It was page 2 of “His Dancing Teacher” from Young Romance #38 (October 1951). The pencils look pretty tight with no indication of where spotting should be added.

Young Romance #38
Young Romance #38 (October 1951) “His Dancing Teacher” page 5, art by Mort Meskin

While the page that Mort is currently working on is a little harder to see I am still very confident it is page 5 from the same story. The pencils for panel three seem tight. It is harder to make out the other panels but they really seem to be little more than outlines. It would appear that Mort laid out the entire page then went back and finished it off with some more detailed penciling.

There is another page of art on the floor that also appears to have been drawn by Meskin. Unfortunately only a single panel can be made out and I have so far not been able to identify it. But I do not believe it is from the same “His Dancing Teacher” story.

Because comics were typically cover dated a couple of months later then the actually release and because time also has to be allocated for printing and distribution of the comic, cover dates have to be adjusted to indicate the calendar date for when the art was created. This adjustment would date this photograph to about May 1951. Happily this is well within the range of my original estimate (1951 or 1952).

I had hoped that I would be able to even more closely date this photograph. In the lower left corner by Joe Genola there is a tabloid sized newspaper. It shows two lines of a headline but I can only make out the first line which I believe reads “Beat Red China” although I am not certain about the China word. Still it makes sense since during this time the Korean war was being waged. It is still harder to make out the paper’s name but the first part looks like “Daily”. Two logical candidates are the Daily News and the Daily Mirror. A check of the microfilm of the Daily Mirror from that period pretty much rules it out; the Mirror included a black band at the top of the title page that is clearly not present in the close-up of the photograph. The top of the Daily News does look very much like the paper in the studio. Unfortunately hours of searching through microfilm failed to disclose a matching headline.

Mort Meskin’s “Kirby” Faces

Young Love #10
Young Love #10 (June 1950) “My Backwoods Love” page 5, art by Mort Meskin

There is a great web site devoted to Mort Meskin. Among its many attractions is a biography that includes a picture of Mort working on a romance page. I have often wondered what story the page was from but until recently I never could place it. A few weeks ago I spotting it while looking at “My Backwoods Love” (Young Love #10, June 1950). Actually I should have noticed it earlier since I included the splash in one of posts (The Art of Romance, Chapter 11, After the Glut). But Meskin did 1033 pages of romance art for Simon and Kirby so a single page is easily overlooked. Comic books dates are a guide to when a title should be removed from a newspaper stand and so are a couple months advanced from the actual release date. Also time must be allotted for printing and distribution. Generally the cover date must be adjusted by 5 or 6 months to arrive at the calendar date for when the art was done. This would place the photograph as being done around January 1950. All indications are that Simon and Kirby did not keep much of an inventory so that date is probably accurate to within a couple of months.

Simon and Kirby studio (probably from 1951 or 1952) Left to right: Joe Genalo, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Jimmy Infantino and Ben Oda. Caricatures (probably drawn by Joe Simon) of Marvin Stein and Jimmy Infantino.

It may not be obvious, but Meskin biography photograph of Mort has been staged. You can tell because he is holding a pencil despite the fact that the entire page has already been drawn and all but the final panel inked. I have seen other photos from this period taken of the Simon and Kirby studio and they are less candid than they try to appear. I show above one of my favorite pictures where obviously no attempt was made to portray this as a candid scene. They might have been hard working artists but you got to think they all enjoyed a laugh from time to time.

The Meskin website biography states that the rugged man in the upper right panel was drawn by Jack Kirby. I have often wondered whether this was correct. Certainly this character type appears in Meskin’s art very rarely. I can think of only one other example. However it should also be said that not many of the stories Mort worked on at that time would call for such a character either. Meskin actually worked in the Simon and Kirby studio (almost all artists working for Joe and Jack did not) so Jack was certainly available to provide a little penciling. But is that what actually happened? While the features of the man in “My Backwoods Love” are unusual for Meskin remove some of the abundant hair and the facial characteristics do not deviate that much from Mort’s typical man; perhaps only a bit heftier.

The rest of the page is typical Meskin. Nor is Kirby providing layouts as has so often been claimed. The panel layout includes a lot of vertical captions that Meskin preferred at that time but which Kirby did not. It seems unlikely that Jack would switch his preferences when creating layouts for another artist to use.

Young Romance #58
Young Romance #58 (June 1953) “Too Good For Me” page 4, art by Mort Meskin

The other story with a “Kirby” face that I mentioned is “Too Good for Me”. A comparison between the two stories suggests two commonalities. They both have a lot of hair and are close-ups. Beards and mustaches were not commonly depicted by Mort and such fully grown examples are even rarer still. Turning to the close-up nature of these drawing it can be said that Meskin would often modify his inking of features by providing more lines. This had the affect of transforming his generally simply eyebrows into more complicated and interesting ones. This change in eyebrows makes the work look more like Kirby’s since Jack was famous for his extravagant and expressive eyebrows. But while in close-ups Meskin’s depictions of eyebrows become more complicated they really are not done in the same manner as Kirby’s.

In “Too Good for Me” Meskin makes frequent use of tall narrow panels such as can be seen on the bottom of page 4. This was a common panel layout technique used by Mort during this period. Such tall narrow panels, however, were not often used by Jack Kirby during the same period. So once again I believe we can dismiss any claim that Kirby supplied layouts for “Too Good for Me”.

I cannot completely reject the possibility of Kirby providing a helping hand in the drawing of these particular faces. Nor would I deny the possibility of a Kirby influence on Meskin; after all they were both working in the same studio and early work by Mort was influenced by Jack (Early Mort Meskin). However I do believe that these “Kirby” faces were most likely drawn by Meskin without any direct assistance from Jack.

Vagabond Prince, “Death-Trap De Luxe”

Black Cat #7
Black Cat #7 (September 1947) “Death-Trap De Luxe” page 2, art by Joe Simon

The last created Vagabond Prince story, “Death-Trap De Luxe”, ended up being the first one published. Thus readers would have had no idea what brought the Vagabond Prince and his two companions together to fight crime. Actually even if the reader had been familiar with the other two stories he still would have no idea where the Jester came from. This is the only appearance of this character but the story treats him as if there was nothing particularly unusual about his presence.

Neither the story nor the art is quite as good in “Death-Trap De Luxe” compared to the other two Vagabond Prince stories, but it still is well worth reading. In this case Vagabond Prince’s adversary is an unscrupulous capitalist car maker. Of course the plot is completely exaggerated for use in a comic book. After all no car manufacturer in those days, or today, would ever put profit above public safety. You can tell the car make in this story is especially evil, he provides his cat with live birds!

The Vagabond Prince stories suffer from some of the defects of golden age comics, or for that matter the superhero genre from any period. The concept that a hero can routinely come across crime is a bit of a stretch. Nor is it easy to accept that clues can be so conveniently found and would so easily be used to track down the criminals. However these improbable plot devices must be accepted by the reader of superhero comics or the stories would never proceed at a fast enough pace. And Joe’s Vagabond Prince stories, like all Simon and Kirby productions, do move at an enjoyable pace. What makes Vagabond Prince stories special for me is how the hero comes from the poor to defend them against the financial and cultural elite. Sure the stories are a bit over the top, but that is not only an acceptable characteristics for comics it is actually desirable.

Besides the Vagabond Prince, Joe Simon also created and drew five Duke of Broadway and three Kid Adonis stories (one of which has never been printed). Therefore this relatively brief period was Joe’s most productive as a comic book penciler. One wonders how comic book history would have played out if the Stuntman and Boy Explorers Comics had somehow made it into more newspaper stands racks. Would Simon have continued penciling more stories? Would there have been romance comics?

Vagabond Prince, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”

Simon and Kirby Blog
Black Cat #8 (November 1947) “The Madness of Doctor Altu” page 3, art by Joe Simon

As I mentioned in a previous Vagabond Prince post (“Trapped on Wax“) the origin story was meant for Boy Explorers #2 issue but not published. Joe Simon drew two other Vagabond Prince stories. It may seem odd that Joe would produce stories that were not meant to be published for another four months (Boy Explorers was a bimonthly) but Joe was not the only artist doing that.

Jack Kirby drew three Stuntman stories that were never published. Each started with a double page splash. Such wide splashes were only used as the centerfold of the comic so this meant that Jack had drawn the stories for six months after what turned out to be the last Stuntman. Two of the splashes were completely inked while the spotting had not been finished on the third. The outlines of all three stories were inked but without any spotting. Because the inking was never finished none of these stories were ever published. Titan’s upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume will publish one of them for the first time.

Bill Draut was another artist that produced stories ahead of publication. Draut drew four Red Demon stories none of which were published in either Stuntman or Boy Explorers. That has led me to believe that there might have been a third intended Simon and Kirby title that got cancelled before it was even launched (Bill Draut’s Demon). The Red Demon was published later in Black Cat Comics but the fact that the origin story was the third published shows that the stories were inventory and not originally created for that title.

Harvey Comic’s lack of concern with the original order of the inventoried stories shows up with Vagabond Prince as well. The second story, “The Madness of Doctor Altu” ended up being the last one published. It is clear that the Doctor Altu story was meant for Boy Explorers #3 because it was announced as such at the end of the “Trapped on Wax” story (which should have appeared in Boy Explorers #2).

Joe purposely adopted Jack Kirby’s art style in the Vagabond Prince. None of them were signed, but if they had been I am sure it would have been with a Simon and Kirby signature. After all that is what Joe did for some Boy Commando stories that he did while in the Coast Guard and it is also what Jack did when he returned from military service before Joe did. Of course Joe could not perfectly adopt Jack’s style; no one could handle perspective or a fight sequences quite like Kirby. Still “The Madness of Doctor Altu” has some superb art. Note the dramatic perspective Joe uses in the first panel from page 3. And while Simon may not been quite as good as Kirby, Joe still can provides some great fight scenes. One fight scene was even swiped by Jack Kirby many years later (Kirby Swipes from Simon) a rare instance of Jack swiping from another comic book artist.

It is not just the art that makes Vagabond Prince such a great feature, it is also the story. Joe’s plot for the Doctor Altu story takes an unusual twist concerning the man saved by the heroes at the start of the story. I will forego being more explicit for fear of spoiling it for any my readers that have not yet read the story, but fear not it will also be included in Titan’s upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes. Like “Trapped on Wax”, this plot concerns the Vagabond Prince protection of the poor. It is an example of the cultural wars between the elite and the downtrodden, although appropriately exaggerated for use in a comic.

Doctor Altu is an example of a long haired villain by Simon and Kirby. I previously posted about another one, Professor Enric Zagnar from a Vision story (Featured Story, The Vision from Marvel Mystery #25). Marty Erhart commented about two others: the Fiddler from “Horror Plays the Scales” (The Wide Angle Scream, Captain America #7) and Mister Goodly the warden from Star Spangled #11 (The Beginnings of the Newsboy Legion). I wonder if the post-Beatle generations can truly appreciate the antagonism that most American’s at that time felt about men with such hair. Calling someone a “long haired intellectual” was by no means a compliment.

Next week the final Vagabond Prince story, “Death-Trap De Luxe”.

Vagabond Prince, “Trapped On Wax”

Trapped on Wax
“Trapped on Wax”, art by Joe Simon

Just about everything Simon and Kirby produced was great stuff but I am sure most fans have their favorites. Previously the only superhero work I included among my favorite Simon and Kirby productions was Fighting American. Well that has changed as I now add Vagabond Prince. There are only three Vagabond Prince stories and they were all drawn by Joe Simon. Even Joe admits he is not as good an artist as Jack Kirby, but I like Joe’s art and there are other aspects of the characters he created and the stories he wrote that makes Vagabond Prince so appealing to me.

Trapped On Wax
“Trapped on Wax” page 7 panel 1, art by Joe Simon with touch-up by Jack Kirby

The origin story for the Vagabond Prince, “Trapped on Wax”, has never been published in its entirety. The marking on the artwork shows that the story was initially meant for Boy Explorers #2. However that title was abruptly cancelled (as was its companion title Stuntman) because of the flood of new comic titles that occurred after paper rationing was lifted so that many of the titles never even made it into the actual newsstands racks. Harvey issued a black ink only version of Boy Explorers #2 for subscribers but that was not only much reduced in size but also in the amount of content. Not only did Vagabond Prince fail to be included in the small Boy Explorers #2 but it was never later printed in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat comics like most of the art left over from the cancelled Stuntman and Boy Explorers. The reason “Trapped on Wax” was not printed later was because the art was not finished. Initially the entire story was completely inked but apparently some sections were unsatisfactory. The art was done on two ply illustration board. The term “two ply” refers to the fact that there are actually two layers of surfaces suitable for use. A razor was used to cut around the parts that needed changing and the first ply was carefully pealed off. The newly exposed second ply was penciled and the outlines inked, however the full spotting was never done. You can see the results of one such unfinished correction in a panel from page 7 shown above. Observe the simple outline of the man standing in the background. Although the man of the right, the hero, was fully spotted some additional changes were being done, in this case by Jack Kirby. I wrote about this and some other changes in one of my earliest blog posts (Simon and Kirby as Editors). Because the art for “Trapped on Wax” was not finished it was still in Simon and Kirby’s possession. Joe has said to me that material published in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat was used without their permission. Even though only comparitively little effort would have been needed to complete “Trapped on Wax”, Simon and Kirby never would finish it.

Having escaped publication by Harvey Comics, “Trapped on Wax” was included in “Simon & Kirby Classics published by Pure Imagination in 1987. Only at that point page 9 was missing. Joe wrote a new script for the missing page and Jack penciled new art; this would be the last Simon and Kirby collaboration. This was an interesting approach to provide a complete story but since the new page was done 40 years after the original work it was not a completely satisfactory arrangement. Fortunately in the meantime someone had sent Joe a printout of the original art for the missing page 9 and Titan will be publishing the complete story for the first time in the upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume.

Humor was an important component of all of Simon and Kirby’s superhero work. However the humor was generally not directed at the hero until Joe and Jack did Fighting American (Fighting With Humor). For instance most of the humor in Stuntman was at the expense of Fred Drake (who might be described as an unknowing sidekick for Stuntman). But in Vagabond Prince the hero, Ned Oaks, is often made fun of. Not only does he make a living writing outrageously bad poetry but he sometimes seems quite clueless, as can be seen when the villains of “Trapped on Wax” first meet him:

Ned Oaks: Gentlemen, I welcome you to my domicile as a flower would great a gentle ray of sun!

Henchmen thinking: Zowie! He’s buggy all right!

Even his sidekick considers Ned Oaks a little nutty. Considering the humor I cannot help but wonder if the Vagabond Prince’s costume was purposely a little goofy.

One of the unique characteristics of the hero for Vagabond Prince is that he actually is rather poor. In “Trapped on Wax” we find him living in a run down cottage. In later stories we will see him residing in a tenement. Not only is Ned Oaks poor, but the people he defends in the stories are generally poor as well.

Next week, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”

Kirby Krackle

Fantastic Four #57
Fantastic Four #57 (December 1966) “Enter, Dr. Doom” page 5 panel 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott (from the Marvel Omnibus)

There is a virtual cottage industry around identifying some aspect of Jack Kirby’s artistry and naming it with a word starting with the letter ‘K’ (better yet if the chosen word actually starts with a ‘C’). I find such terms annoyingly cute and even worse some have rather vacuous foundations (see Kirby Kolor, A Kirby Myth and Kirby Kolors, Revisited). There is one such term, Kirby Krackle, which is so entrenched in comic literature that I feel that it must be accepted. No matter how grating the name, Kirby Krackle really does describe an important aspect found in much of Jack’s later work.

Kirby’s art for Marvel Comics in the 60’s began to show clusters of round dots depicting enormous but not necessarily directed energy, often of a cosmic nature. Shane Foley wrote an excellent article on Kirby Krackle (Kracklin’ Kirby, Jack Kirby Collector #33) were he traces the appearance of this device. Because of the manner that the work was created, many experts have claimed that Kirby’s inker Joe Sinnott actually came up with the device and Kirby liked what he saw and adopted it.

Of course there are Kirby fans that were unwilling to accept any of Jack’s techniques as originating anywhere other than from the King himself. And so the race was on to find Kirby Krackle precursors in earlier work by Jack to prove that the idea came from him and not Sinnott. Frankly I find the the examples I have seen of the supposed Kirby Krackle prototypes to be less then convincing. Most are inking techniques that were used to depict smoke. These prototypes have four strikes against them. They do not take the shape of round dots, they do not form clusters, they are not used to depict high energy, and there are no intermediate examples that show they evolved into true Kirby Krackle. With so many points against them these so called prototypes can be discarded from serious consideration.

Captain 3-D #1
Captain 3-D #1 (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D”, page 3 panel 6, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

I would like to suggest yet another Kirby Krackle prototype. One found in the work that Kirby drew for Captain 3-D (December 1953). Besides the panel shown above, another example can be found from page 2 of the same story used in an earlier post (Captain 3D). Now I am not claiming these are true Kirby Krackle. Here dashes rather then dots are used and the dashes do not quite cluster as closely as in true Kirby Krackle, but it would not take much to make the change from the prototype to the real thing. Further the prototype is used to depict true energy; in fact there is a cosmic connection in that the weapon is called a gamma ray gun.

Unfortunately there is a problem for those Kirby fans who would like to use Captain 3-D Kirby Krackle prototype as proof that the idea came from Jack himself. These pages were not inked by Kirby. Worse yet, during the Simon and Kirby collaboration Jack did not indicate spotting in his pencils. Kirby drawings were line drawings only and it was up to the inker to determine the spotting. Joe Simon was the inker for page 3. Page 2 was inked by Steve Ditko but with touch-ups by Simon. I really cannot say for certain who inked the Kirby Krackle prototype on page 2 but since it is done in the same manner as page 3 I credit it to Joe as well. But somehow I do not think comic fans are going to begin calling this technique Simon Snackle.

Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 10, A Special Visitor

(November 1953 – March 1954, Black Magic #27 – #29)

In the previous chapter Black Magic went on a bimonthly schedule (with issue #25, July 1953). The three issues I am covering in this chapter fall onto the same period as chapters 25 and 26 of The Art of Romance (but not chapter 27). Just like what was seen in the romance titles, Black Magic story format switched to using either splash-less stories or splashes that were actually part of the story.

Jack Kirby is the most prolific artist during this period; providing a total of 24 pages (including the covers). The second place is taken by a new comer, Steve Ditko (17 pages). The third place was taken by Bob McCarty (15 pages) with Al Eadeh and Bill Benulis (each doing a single 5 pages story). There are also some single page and one double page feature done by an unidentified artist, probably a studio assistant.

Ditko’s appearance in the Simon and Kirby studio was particularly timely because he was on hand to help with the inking of Captain 3D (December 1953). But Steve’s presence in Simon and Kirby productions was short lived as these three issues are the only ones from this run that he worked on. Most of the artists employed by Simon and Kirby were given assignments in all the genre but Ditko was one of the exceptions as he did not do any of the much more abundant romance work. I do not know who made the decision to limit Ditko to the Black Magic title but it was probably a good one. Frankly the only romance work that I have seen by Ditko suggests that romance simply was not his forte.

One of the surprising aspects of issues cover in this chapter concerns the artists that do not appear. Bill Draut was a prolific artist for the romance titles but did not provide a single piece for Black Magic at this time. Mort Meskin complete absence is a little less surprising since he during the early part of this period he did not appear that much in the romance titles. However that changed during the later part of this period and so I would normally expect something by him to show up here. John Prentice also did no Black Magic work despite providing a lot of romance art. However Prentice appears to be an exception to the studio artists in that he always seemed to do much more romance work than horror. This biased use of Prentice is highlighted by the contrast provided by Bob McCarty. Prentice and McCarty were both doing a similar amount of romance art but only McCarty made an appearance in Black Magic.

Black Magic #28
Black Magic #28 (January 1954) “Alive after Five Thousand Years”, art by Jack Kirby

As discussed in the introduction, Black Magic stories had become either splash-less or with a splash that was actually part of the story. Here Kirby has technically adhered to the second format since the next panel clearly is an advance of what is presented in the splash. However by eliminating the use of any speech balloons, the splash became more like a traditional splash. This technique was simple but rather effective that I wonder why it was not used more often.

Lately I have not been discussing the inking of Kirby’s stories because other projects that I am involved in simply do not leave me the time to adequately research inking attributions. But when I reviewed this story my initial reactions was the splash was inked by Kirby himself. However on further reflection I thought the spotting to be overly methodical. Kirby’s own inking usually has a very spontaneous nature of an artist with a clear mental image of what he is trying to create and complete mastery of the tools (in this case the inking brush) to create it.

Black Magic #27
Black Magic #27 (November 1953) “The Merry Ghosts of Campbell Castle”, art by Jack Kirby

The inking of Kirby’s pencils during the Simon and Kirby period was like a production line with different artists. Nonetheless a particular inker could impart such an effect on the art that in effect he can be called the primary inker. The best of these inkers were, in my opinion, Jack himself, Joe Simon and Mort Meskin. There were other artists who gave the inking their own unique look but frankly they were not just nearly as good. The inking of “The Merry Ghosts of Campbell Castle” is one that shows a distinct hand; only in this case a very talented one. Brush techniques characteristic of what I call the Studio Inking were used but they do not appear to be done in quite the same manner as Kirby, Simon or Meskin might have used. The picket fence crosshatching on the curtain in the splash for example does not seem to have the spontaneity of Kirby, the roughness of Simon or the tight control of Meskin. There is other brush work that seems rather unique such as the inking on the stonework in the splash. I have not made a detailed comparison but it is possible that this is the same inker that worked on “Alive after Five Thousand Years”. In any case he was a talented inker; I just wish I had some idea who he might have been.

Black Magic #28
Black Magic #28 (January 1954) “Buried Alive”, art by Steve Ditko

The work Steve Ditko did for the Simon and Kirby was from the very start of his career. There are a few earlier pieces he did for other publishers but not many. Even so it is not hard to see his distinct hand in part of these pieces. Perhaps less so with the first page of “Buried Alive” but that page does show Steve already had a strong sense of how to graphically tell a story. The shifting view points are all very effective. Still there are aspects of his art that can be considered primitive compared to what Ditko would do in the future.

Should the first panel be called a splash? Frankly the distinction between a splash-less story and a story splash is pretty arbitrary in some cases. What is important is that the story starts right away without a tradition splash that served as a preview of the story.

Black Magic #27
Black Magic #27 (November 1953) “Don’t Call on the Dead”, art by Bob McCarty

I have remarked how similar the art of Bob McCarty and John Prentice had become in the Art of Romance serial posts. Oddly this similarity does not extend to the work McCarty did for Black Magic. It is as if McCarty is purposely adjusting his style to the genre he is working on; something he had not done in the past. Do not misunderstand me the work in the Prize romance titles and Black Magic were clearly done by the same artist but for the love titles McCarty more strongly emulates Alex Raymond (and therefore more closely resembles Prentice) and for Black Magic retains more aspects of his earlier art.

Black Magic #28
Black Magic #28 (January 1954) “Miss Fancher’s Living Death”, art by Al Eadeh

Al Eadeh’s art appears in Black Magic later then he does in the romance titles. The last romance work by Eadeh was in Young Romance #65 (January 1954) but Al appears in Black Magic #29 (March). I will return to this question in the next chapter of the Little Shop of Horrors.

Black Magic #28
Black Magic #28 (January 1954) “Screaming Doll”, art by Bill Benulis

Ben Benulis seems to have made a very brief stop at the Simon and Kirby studio. He only did three pieces (at least during this period) and they all appeared in January 1954. His romance work was the most interesting but “Screaming Doll” is still a nice piece of work.

The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 1 (#1 – 3), Expanding Their Fields
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 2 (#4 – 6), Up and Running
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 3 (#7 – 8), The Same Old Gang
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 4 (#9 – 11), Another Hit
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 5 (#12 – 14), New Faces
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 6 (#15 – 17), Mix Bag
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 7 (#18 – 20), Kirby Returns
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 8 (#21 – 23), The Gang’s All Here
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 9 (#24 – 26), The Party’s Ovetr
The Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 10 (#27 – 29), A Special Visitor