Category Archives: Archie

The End of Simon & Kirby, Chapter 10, A Fly In The Mix

Adventures of the Fly #1
The Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) by Jack Kirby

Previously in the End of Simon and Kirby we saw that after the failure of Mainline and with a decrease in work for Prize, Jack Kirby turned to working as a freelance artist. Joe Simon continued to get Harvey comics to publish various S&K projects but none of them became hits.

After the end of Alarming Tales and Race For The Moon in November 1958, Harvey comics was probably reluctant to try any other new ideas from Joe Simon, at least right away. But that did not stop Joe from coming up with them. As Simon tells the story in The Comic Book Makers, in 1953 C. C. Beck wanted to get back into the comic business and asked Joe to come up with an idea. From this came a character called the Silver Spider and Beck would do a rough drawing of a story that was scripted by Joe’s brother-in-law Jack Oleck. This was presented to Harvey without generating any interest. Years later when Goldwater from Archie Comics wanted a couple of superhero comics, Joe remembered the Silver Spider concept, retrieved the art from Harvey, and rethought the idea. Joe sent Beck’s Silver Spider art to Jack Kirby and ask Jack to update it as the Fly. Joe’s story makes sense to me. Had the Silver Spider originally been a S&K concept, Kirby would certainly have done the original story, not Beck. But it would seem that Jack came up with the costume for the Fly, basing it in part on a unused S&K concept called the Night Stalker.

Double Life of Private Strong
The Double Life Of Private Strong #1 (June 1959) by Jack Kirby

Joe took this concept of the Fly to Archie Comics and added to it a proposal to re-do an old superhero called the Shield. The original Shield was the first patriotic hero from before when the company was referred to as MJL. The new Shield would be given great powers and would have a secret identity as a soldier, sort of combining the original Shield with Captain America and Superman. Well Archie must have liked Joe’s ideas because The Double Life of Private Strong would come out in June 1959 and the Adventures of the Fly would follow in August. As Joe tells it, a threat of a lawsuit by DC put an end the new improved Shield with issue #2, also released in August.

Silver Spider page 1
Silver Spider (1953) page 1 by C. C. Beck

Silver Spider page 2
Silver Spider (1953) page 2 by C. C. Beck

The Oleck/Beck story was pretty much retained when Kirby updated it for the Fly. The main difference is that Jack replaced the original genie with an emissary from the Fly People. Kirby did introduce a discrepancy, in both versions the superintendent of the orphans is shown as under threat by mobsters because of a gambling dept. But in Jack’s version he is latter presented receiving his share of the of the orphanage racket and thus acting as one of the gang. This was probably done to streamline the story. Beck’s version required the Fly to first confront the superintendent before proceeding to the gangsters. While Jack made one fight by making the superintendent a gang member.

Adventures of the Fly page 1
The Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “The Strange World of the Fly” page 1 by Jack Kirby

Adventures of the Fly page 2
The Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “The Strange World of the Fly” page 2 by Jack Kirby

Although Kirby came up with the how the Fly should look like, Simon really was the driving force behind this new character. In previous new titles Kirby would generally supply the art, at least for the initial issues. But with the Fly Simon would turn to a number of artists to create the contents; Jack Davis, George Tuska, Al Williamson. He even got Carl Burgos to do layouts. Joe once showed me a list someone made of what artists did what. Unfortunately he followed this by saying that the list maker got it all wrong. Frankly I am not even going to try, with so many hands involved I am not always sure I can always pick out the work that Kirby did. Was Jack too busy with work at Atlas, or did Joe decide he might be better off using different artists? Unlike the Fly, Private Strong did get the Kirby treatment. At least for the first issue, which is all Jack. But the second only has one Kirby story.

Joe still has a lot of the original art and it is interesting as it shows Joe’s working practices at that time. For some of the stories much of the pages are cut and paste jobs. I do not know whether Joe was condensing, rearranging or adding to the story. But a fair portion of these comics went through this special type of editing. Joe would also construct some of the covers in a similar way. He would even swipe Captain America from a 1941 cover (Captain America #7) to make the Fly for the cover to issue #2. As far as I am concerned all the prior projects that came out after Mainline’s failure were Simon and Kirby productions of some kind. But the Fly and the Shields were not, the Simon and Kirby collaboration was over. With the Fly Joe finally seemed to have at least a limited success. But apparently Archie Comics was not completely satisfied and felt it could be better. So after just four issues (January 1960) Simon was out and a new crew took over the Fly.

Sick #1
Sick #1 (August 1960) by Joe Simon

On the face of it Teddy Epstein’s new idea just does not sound like a great one. I am amazed that after so many years and so many clones that Prize would want to try publishing yet another copy of Mad. Even more unbelievable is that fact that it succeeded! At lease one reason for that success was Prize turned to Joe Simon to produce it. Joe’s talent for visual humor would now be unleashed in Sick. Of course another reason for the success of Sick was the wonderful artists that Joe would hire. In a way even Jack Kirby showed up when Simon reworked some Fighting American art for a cover (Sick #42 February 1966). Joe would be editor of Sick from until 1968 and would still provide art for it for some time afterwards. During this period Joe Simon would work on other projects, primarily for Harvey Comics. At some point Joe would enter advertisement, but I still do not have a good handle on when that was.

Sick #42
Sick #42 (February 1966) by Jack Kirby altered by Joe Simon

Sick #66
Sick #66 (March 1969) by Joe Simon

Appendum 9, Mea Culpa


Gray Morrow does the Shield

In 1959 Joe Simon made an agreement with Archie Comics to produce two superhero lines, “The Adventures of the Fly” and “The Double Life of Private Strong”. The Fly was a new creation, although it was based on an earlier, unpublished Simon & Kirby idea, “The Silver Spider”. The hero for Private Strong was called the Shield. But it was not the same character as the orignal Shield that Archie (then called MJL) published during the war. This Shield had a new origin and new powers. Perhaps the Shield’s new powers were a little too good. As Joe tells it, once over a poker game DC threatened to sue Archie because the Shield was too much like Superman. That would explain why the “The Double Life of Private Strong” only lasted two issues. A cancellation that was much too soon to have been based on sales.

Probably because of the untimely termination of Private Strong, Joe ended up with a six page Shield story (“The Den Of The Doll Man”) that was never published. The story was penciled by Gray Morrow but was never inked. Morrow was just out of service during the Korean War and I don’t believe he had worked for Simon before. Even though the story was not used, Joe must have been happy with it because Gray would later do work for Joe’s comic magazine called Sick. Morrow worked on the Shield story in a very light pencil. I’ve used Photoshop to bring up the contrast in the scan I provide. He used a more realistic style then was done on previous Private Strong or Fly stories. Generally speaking Gray handles the action scenes well. But in one panel he has the Shield hurdling through space only you have to read the legend to realize that he has just jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. My biggest problem with the Shield story has to do with the script. For one thing the pacing is a bit off. There is a fairly long chase sequence leading to a confrontation that is over much too quickly. Even more important then the pacing, is frankly the story is just too lame. It involves the Shield trying to find out who is stealing dolls from children. If that wasn’t bad enough the thief’s secret weapon against the Shield is to dump a load of dolls on him.

The Den of the Doll Man

There is a larger image here.

Although Private Strong was cancelled, the Adventures of the Fly continued. At some point Joe decided not to let Morrow’s Shield story go to waste. In the margins of the art pages, Joe began to rewrite it into a Fly story. It would seem that Simon also felt the script could use some improvement. Where the Shield saved a man from an accident, the Fly not only saves him but in doing so reveals his secret identity. Joe was also going to change the villian’s use of dolls into a strange ray gun. But Joe did not get too far. His margin notes end on the second page and other then erasing the title, no art work was modified. Joe Simon’s production of the Fly ended with the fourth issue. A very different Adventures of the Fly would continue without Simon and perhaps this explains why Gray Morrow’s art work failed to get used a second time.

But in a way Joe was not done with the Fly. Many years later the copyrights for the Fly would come up for renewal. As creator Joe decided to try to regain the rights. This may sound like what played out twice with Marvel and Captain America. But actually it is a really different story. The Adventures of the Fly had ended years ago (1965). Archie Comics really had little interest in superheroes, they still make too much money off of Archie and his pals. Joe and Archie made a deal part of which has Simon getting the copyrights back. I’ve seen the original document for this deal, it is hand written by the two parties. I am sure lawyers were later brought in to formalize the agreement. But initally it was just a couple of guys sitting at a table, talking over their differences and reaching some compromise. Doesn’t this sound like how things should be done?

Carl Burgos does the Fly

In 1959 Joe produced The Adventures of the Fly for Archie Comics. It was based on the Silver Spider, a never published Simon & Kirby creation. Jack was involved in some of the art, in particular the origin story. But other artists also did work on the Fly comics. Joe’s involvement on the Fly only lasted 4 issues. Perhaps that end came suddenly because Joe still has layouts for a Fly story (“Asleep on a Million”). When I asked him about them, he said that they were done by Carl Burgos. I was aware that Joe knew Carl well, but I did not know that Burgos had anything to do with the Fly. Need I add that Carl was the creator and frequent artist of the Human Torch for Timely.

Asleep On A Million

There is a larger image here. In the top margin of the first page is a note: “The Fly – 6 pgs”. But Joe only has 4 pages. They were all in the same envelope so I don’t think the missing 2 pages were misplaced. I suspect that they were never actually done. The art work for the layouts are very rough and done in light pencil. The script is in stronger pencil but still rough. However the script text itself looks like the it was meant to be the final draft. There are also margin notes providing directions such as “city background” for the splash. Or “make TV look patched up instead of new” for panel 4. One note makes it obvious that these layouts were meant for another to finish (“artist add crime graf behind news caster”).

Having seen this one layout, it makes you wonder whether Carl Burgos may have made some of the layouts for some of the Fly stories that were published. It also makes you curious about why he was not going to do the finishing pencils himself.