Category Archives: 4 DC (early)

Al Avison Did Not Need Any Help

In my last post for The Art of Romance I discussed the question of Kirby layouts. I gave some evidence to discount the use of Kirby layouts for some of the artists. However I also gave an example where I do believe Jack did provide layouts for another unidentified artist. As that serial post progresses I hope to show that while Kirby did work up layouts to be used by some of the lesser talents, it was not a practice used with most of the comic artists that worked for S&K. This is the opposite of the conclusion one would draw based on attributions given by comic art dealers. According to the dealers Kirby provided layouts for many artists working at the time. Of those artists purportedly working from Kirby designs, perhaps none is more surprising then Al Avison. I say surprising because Avison was not even working for S&K while he was doing the work for which Kirby had supposedly provided layouts. I would have thought that fact alone would have squelched any consideration of Kirby layouts but it has not.

Captain America #12
Captain America #12 (March 1942) “Rozzo the Rebel”, art by Al Avison

Al Avison was one of the first artists that I discussed when I started this blog almost two years ago. Those posts were about the covers that Avison did for early Harvey comics (Speed #14, Speed #15, Speed #16, and Pocket #3. At the time Al was working with Simon and Kirby in the Timely bullpen. It is apparent that Kirby greatly influenced Avison yet Al’s work was still relatively crude. This changed dramatically and seemingly instantaneously when Simon and Kirby departed Timely to begin working for DC. I can only conclude that only when S&K were no longer an intimidating presence could Avison’s talent blossom forth. Avison became the chief penciller for Captain America and did some really nice stuff. Excluding Simon and Kirby, no other golden age artist did Captain America nearly as well as Avison. Unfortunately it will probably be a number of years before any of this material ever gets reprinted in Marvel Masterworks Golden Age series. However one story drawn by Avison has been reprinted in “Marvel Visionaries: Stan Lee” (“The Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge” from Captain America #16). Both Lee and Avison were on top of their form and this is the best Captain America story that I have ever read (again excluding those by Simon and Kirby). The splash to “Rozzo the Rebel” imaged above is typical of Al’s work on Cap. The nice design shows that Al learned a thing or two from Joe Simon as well. Avison emphasis for action and exaggerated perspective (particularly with Bucky) shows Jack Kirby’s influence. Still at this point in his career his assimilation of Jack’s style is not complete enough to mistakenly suggest Kirby layouts. Al’s style is a bit cartoonier then Jack’s, but I do not say that disparagingly as I am not one who believes that the more realistic comic book art is the better it is. My primary criticism of Avison’s Captain America work is that it tends to be overwrought. This is particularly true for the inking, but that was probably done by someone else, often Sid Shore.

Captain America #19
Captain America #19 (October 1942) “On To Berlin”, pencils by Al Avison, inks by Sid Shores
Larger Image

One of the Simon and Kirby trademarks that was continued by Al Avison during his turn at Captain America was the double page splash. Avison may not have been in Simon and Kirby’s league, but he could still put together exciting splashes. What could be more thrilling then Captain America leading the invasion of Europe. Well perhaps having Captain America not only storming the beach but also rescuing an allied prisoner from torture as well. When this comic was created the invasion was almost as much a fantasy as Captain America himself. Not only had the American armed forces not yet really entered the European conflict, we had suffered some serious defeats in the Pacific theater. Even so “On To Berlin” certainly captured the American spirit at that time of crisis. I have not made a careful examination of these golden age comics, but it seems to me that Avison was the primary penciller for Captain America for 1942 after which he is replaced by Syd Shores. This is not supported by the GCD which shows Avison working throughout the war years. Frankly my policy concerning the GCD is trust but verify. Since I am not able to verify some of these attributions at this time, I am not inclined to trust them. Atlas Tales shows Avison last work on Cap has a cover date January 1943. In the past I have found Atlas Tales a more reliable source and in this case they seem to be in agreement with my own understanding. Avison’s disappearance from Timely can most likely be explained as his being drafted for service, the fate of many comic book artists at that time.

All-New #13
All-New #13 (July 1946) “Crime at Floodtime”, art by Al Avison
Larger Image

Atlas Tales shows Avison returning to do work for Timely after the war. But he does not resume being the principal penciller for Captain America nor does he seem to be working exclusively for them, I think he actually did more post-war work for Harvey. Unfortunately the Harvey comics are not covered by Atlas Tales and my own resources are spotty. My impression is initially Al provided work for the Green Hornet and Boy Heroes. The image of the double page splash form All-New #13 that I show above combines both, the Green Hornet story is sandwiched between some Boy Heroes panels. I am unclear what is meant by “a radio-comic feature via television” but it did provide an excuse for a little cross-over of the two features.

All-New #15
All-New #15 (March 1947) art by Al Avison

Harvey’s All-New title suffered from the same post-war comic glut that doomed Simon and Kirby’s Stuntman and Boy Explorers. The final issue of all three would be black and white copies reduced in both size and contents. As far as I know, All-New #15 was the only time the Boy Heroes appeared on a cover. Surprising they are not present in any of the inside stories. It is Boy Heroes work like this cover that drives the suggestion of the use of Kirby layouts. Although I disagree with the conclusion I perfectly understand what it is based on. This covers has a lot of the action and exaggerated perspective that is so typical of Jack Kirby. However Kirby layouts are not the only explanation, another is simply that Avison had studied and was influenced by Jack’s style. Although parts of this particular work look very Kirby-like in layout, as an ensemble the cover suggests the influence of Alex Schomburg as well.

It is important to realize that although All-New, Stuntman and Boy Explorers were all published by Harvey, Al Avison was not working for Simon and Kirby. All-New included Joe Palooka and Green Hornet stories as well as the Boy Heroes, features that were not produced by Simon and Kirby. Nor did Al Avison’s art appear in Stuntman and Boy Explorers that were Simon and Kirby productions. Boy Heroes was part of the kid gang genre that Jack seemed so fond of, but there can be no question of any direct involvement of Joe or Jack in the creation of the Boy Heroes as they both were in military service when the feature started.

Green Hornet #35
Green Hornet #35 (September 1947) art by Al Avison

Most of the so called Kirby layouts claims are for Boy Heroes art, but Jack Kirby’s influence on Avison can also be seen in his Green Hornet work as well. The fight scene in the third panel is a great example of this. Note also the use of semicircular panels, this along with circular panels were devices that Simon and Kirby developed for Captain America but were used infrequently by S&K at the time that Avison did this art.

Unpublished Boys Heroes
Unpublished Boy Heroes, by Al Avison

Frankly although I have begun to discuss the issue of Kirby layouts and will continue to do so, I do not expect mass conversions to my way of thinking. In the case of Al Avison, Joe Simon’s art collection contains what I would describe as a smoking gun that as far as I am concerned lays this issue to rest. These are two unfinished pages of story art penciled by Avison. The one I image above is unmarked but appears to be a Boy Heroes story. Note the circular panel and a figure drawn that could be mistakenly thought to be based on a Kirby layout. The rest of the page has no art, just the panels. It would seem that Al’s working method was to initially pencil out the page as three long panels. These may then be broken up into smaller panels as the work progressed. In the image above you can see that the second tier has already been marked off as two panels while the third remains undivided. What is not found anywhere on this page are layouts of any kind. There are a few pencil marks in the second panel but these would hardly be described as layouts. I am sure Avison knew what he had begun to draw but they certainly do not represent layouts done by Kirby. As meager as these few pencillings are, the rest of the panels are completely blank.

Unpublished comic art, by Al Avison

I do not know what feature the other unfinished page was meant for. I do not believe it was a Boy Heroes page since the leading characters seem to be a man (Dan), a woman (Diane) and a gorilla (Bomba). It is even a better example of Kirby-like art. Dan’s slug is the most Kirby-like I have ever seen done by an artist other then Jack himself. Also some excellently done exaggerated perspective. Note Diane’s pose as she runs into the room, practically as well executed as Kirby could have done it. But once again the lower two panel tiers are completely blank, no sign of any use of layouts.

In the past I have used Photoshop adjustments to bring out things that had been erased, but when I use that technique here on these two pages of art nothing surfaces. The only conclusion to be reached is that these pages were not done using layouts. If Avison could be so effective without Kirby’s help here, there is no reason to believe any of the other art he produced at this time required Kirby layouts either. Add to that the question of why Jack would provide designs for an artist who was not even working for him? Certainly Al’s earlier work on Captain America showed he did not need such help.

The Early Sandman

Adventure Comics #72<
Adventure #72 (March 1942) “Riddle Of The Slave Market”, art by Jack Kirby

Joe Simon has said that when, along with Jack, he arrived at DC their first jobs was ghosting for others. In the past Joe had shown he could be pretty good at mimicking comic artists, some of his Fox covers have been attributed to Lou Fine by comic book experts despite the presence of Joe’s signature. Joe and Jack both worked on a Captain Marvel special which on a whole is a pretty good job of ghosting. However careful attention reveals Jack’s touch on the Captain Marvel job despite the simplicity of the art work. So far no one has identified any of the ghosting jobs that Simon and Kirby did for DC. The first Simon and Kirby piece that we do know about was a Sandman story that appeared in Adventure Comics #72 (March 1942). No question of ghosting here, Simon and Kirby not only signed the piece they infused it with the exciting art and dynamic story telling that characterized all their creations. The only thing is Sandman was not their creation, not even the version with the new purple and yellow costume and a young sidekick named Sandy. This updated Sandman started a couple of issues before. Unfortunately I have never had the opportunity to examine those two pre-S&K issues. Simon and Kirby may not have changed the costumes, but I suspect a fuller comparison would reveal other modifications.

At this point Joe and Jack were pretty comfortable with what it took to make an interesting comic. One reason for the ease that Simon and Kirby seem to have in taking over someone else’s title was its similarity to their previous gig, Captain America. Both titles had a hero whose powers, while exceptional, would not be considered unnatural. Both included a young sidekick so that, as Joe would describe it, the hero would have someone to talk to. Finally neither hero would use weapons such as a gun. Sandman and Sandy did carry what looked like a pistol but actually was what they called a wirepoon, used to attach a wire so that the heroes could easily ascend buildings, it was never fired at their foes. It should be noted that S&K would not adhere to these traits throughout their career. Most S&K heroes do not have what one would normally describe as super-powers, but there are certainly enough exceptions. I would say most S&K heroes did not have a sidekick, but again there are enough young partners to made this a weak generalization. As we saw in Manhunter Joe and Jack could come up with sidekick stand-ins if they felt the need. Perhaps the strongest S&K trait was the hero’s lack of firearms. Only two heroes had a firearm, Night Fighter (intended for their own company Mainline) and the Fly (whose costume seems based on Night Fighter and so probably inherited the gun from that source). Since Night Fighter was never published we do not know if it was a true gun, it could have been another wirepoon to help, along with special suction boots, scale buildings. The Fly had no need for a wirepoon (he could fly) and so it was his buzz gun (used to stun his advisories). Of course I am excluding the cross-genre Bulls-Eye, although it may properly be considered part of the hero genre, a western without guns, well that would just be silly.

Captain America was not a perfect prototype for how Simon and Kirby would do Sandman. The most important difference was that since Captain America was a patriotic hero most of his opponents were spies. Without a patriotic costume, Sandman would have to have other foes. That was not a serious problem because crime was the staple of comic book and Joe and Jack would show themselves quite capable of supplying a steady stream of colorful lawbreakers. The thing that gave Simon and Kirby the greatest difficulty was non-iconic nature of Sandman. Ideally comic superheroes are meant to be iconic figures, or avatars, the embodiment of a quality or theme. The original Sandman had a pistol that released a sleeping gas and so Sandman was a very apt name. With the sleeping gas discarded and its pistol replaced with a wirepoon, the name Sandman lost its original significance. Simon and Kirby tried to make up for this lost in a number of ways. One was a bit of a poem that they would often use, usually either at the start or end of a story:

There is no land beyond the law
Where tyrants rule with unshakeable power,
It’s a dreame from which the Evil wake
Too face their fate … their terrifying hour

I wish I knew more about this unusual poem. Was it used previously by Sandman’s earlier creators, or did Simon and Kirby introduce it? More importantly what was the origin of this rhyme? The obsolete spelling of the word dreame suggests it may come from English literature. Then again it may just be the work of a very clever comic book writer. I suspect the former but I have not been able to uncover the source.

Adventure Comics #79
Adventure #79 (October 1942) “Footprints in the Sands of Time” page 2, art by Jack Kirby

Another justification for the name Sandman was the concept that the criminals were so frightened Sandman that he would haunt their dreams. A nightmares of the Sandman had by a crook was depicted in Adventure #79 (see image above). In “A Drama in Dreams” (Adventure #81, December 1942) an actor has taken the place of Sandman’s alter ego, Wesley Dodds. His deception was not perfect until he talks in his sleep:

Wesly: You can’t pin anything on me! Help! The Sandman … Don’t let him get me!

Sandy: Why — only criminals have dreams like that — but not Wes Dodds.

Dreams and sleep play other small parts in Sandman stories. In “The Lady and the Champ” (Adventure #83, February 1943) sleeping with a piece of wedding cake under the pillow apparently results in two strangers dreaming of each other. In “The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep” (Adventure #80, November 1942) a rich man’s insomnia leads him to a life of crime. Other sleep references can be found, such as Sandman commenting on their fighting crime at night while others are asleep. Sandman may not have had any special powers, but that did stop S&K from including the sleep theme into their stories in an attempt to justify their hero’s name.

Just as Sandman and Sandy did not have an real superpowers, neither did their opponents. Most would be have nothing special about them above their criminal behavior. That really was not a problem because Joe and Jack knew how to make a story exciting. Sometimes S&K would suggest their villains had powers which by the end of the story would be shown to be illusionary. In the “The Villain from Valhalla” (Adventure #75, June 1942) we are presented with the god Thor whose leads a Viking raid against New York City. Even the character’s thought balloons lead us to believe he is truly Thor, as a car approaches the treasure laden Thor he thinks:


But in the end he turns out to be nothing more then “a clever and brutal killer” named “Fairy Tales” Fenton. His metallurgy expertise provides his gang with bullet proof clothing. The destructive hammer


Adventure Comics #84
Adventure #84 (March 1943) “Crime Carnival” page 1, art by Jack Kirby

Another faker was the carnival magician in “The Miracle Maker” (Adventure #78, September 1942). His magic tricks were used to hide his criminal acts. Sandman and Sandy are not fooled and catch him at his tricks. Simon and Kirby seem to have a propensity for using carnivals as a source of criminals. Previously at Timely they had done “Case #2: Sando and Omar” (Captain America #1, March 1941) and “Captain America and the Ringmaster Of Death” (Captain America #5, August 1941). “Crime Carnival” became a prime example for Sandman. Why carnivals? I suspect it has to do with the fact that the readers would be familiar with the world of circus performers and freaks. It was populated with people who could have abilities beyond those of normal people, yet be familiar enough that the readers would not wonder how they got those powers. Provided that S&K did not go too far, which they never seemed to do. When Strecho reaches through the bars to grab the money bags from a bank desk, is his arm length truly increasing, or is he just taking advantage of his thin but tall frame? From the angle that Kirby draws it is hard to be sure.

The only villain in the earlier Sandman stories that is shown receiving powers that he did not originally have was in “The Man Who Knew All the Answers” (Adventure #74, May 1942). Here we find a scientist using a device to generate vibrations that develop his unused brain cells.


Afterwards when encountering the janitor he questions him about getting a new job. The janitor is shocked, he has told nobody about it. Deductions like a super-Sherlock or ESP? No explanation is given and for the rest of the story the only power he exhibits is great intelligence.

Adventure Comics #75
Adventure #75 (June 1942) “The villain from Valhalla” page 1, art by Jack Kirby

In my opinion it was with the work that Simon and Kirby did for DC (as well as the Harvey covers) that they forged their unique art style. The key ingredient that had previously been missing was their special bold inking style. There had been occasional hints of it in the Captain America Comics, but S&K would consistently use it from this point on. I suspect that the larger crew at Timely was the reason that it did not evolve at that time. At least initially at DC all of the art was produced by Jack and Joe which facilitated the developing of their inking style. Still this is not the Studio inking style I wrote about in my serial post on Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking. There are things that look like abstract arcs (see the Inking Glossary ) but they black area never seems to form a band with both the upper and lower boundaries tracing an arc, something often seen in the typical Studio style. Crosshatching sometimes is reminiscent of picket fence brushwork as for example on the torso of Thor in the above splash page. But the pickets are thin and slanted at an angle while the rails are actually further crosshatching.

Other changes occurred in the art from what was done on Captain America. The more extreme irregular panel shapes had been abandoned. Round and irregularly shaped panels would still be common, but ones with a multiple zigzagging border would no longer be used. The most important change would be the panel layout. The predominant format on Captain America had the panels laid out in four rows and two columns. The same layout was initially continued when Simon and Kirby worked at DC. But beginning with Adventure #78 (September 1942) three rows and two columns began to be the most common layout. The transition was not sudden or complete, there are a number of stories that have both layouts. But eventually four rows would become rare and most variations would be having some rows with three panels.

Adventure Comics #75
Adventure #75 (June 1942) “The villain from Valhalla” page 8, art by Jack Kirby

I cannot finishes discussing the earlier Sandman comics without writing about one of my favorite splashes, the one from “The Villain from Valhalla”. In a previous encounter with Thor and his Viking horde, Sandman and the police had been soundly defeated with Sandy hospitalized. Now they are determined to even the score. Most Simon and Kirby splashes were limited to the first page, but this fight required the an entire story page. Besides Thor’s hammer we find the villains armed with a spear and a battle ax. Yet the good guys face this solely with their fists, none of the police draw their guns. The composition is Kirby’s comic book equivalent of Jackson Pollack. Most of the page is a tangle of arms and bodies where extra viewing time is required to reveal what is going on. Jack is not even content to leave the skyline with the Chrysler building alone, surmounting it with a rope swinging Viking. Jack’s confidence in the impact of the splash is so great that he is throws in a piece of his personal humor, a policeman’s powerful slug sends a Viking’s helmet on an upward trajectory. Frankly the caption


seems superfluous and Sandman’s battle cry


was all that was needed.

Green Hornet #8, Another Harvey Cover

Green Hornet #8
Green Hornet #8 (August 1942), art by Joe Simon

When I started this blog, one of my projects was to review the covers that Al Avison, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did for early Harvey comics. I love cover art and these early Harvey covers have some of the best work that Simon and Kirby did during that period. Unfortunately these are rare comics and generally in poor shape making restoration difficult. During the first eight months of my bloggin I was able to post on twenty Harvey covers, but a few remained to be restored and reviewed. Speed #23 presents some formidable restoration challenges. Every so often I take a look at it, however so far I just have not felt ready to take in on. I would love to write a better review of Champ #22, but I do not have a good enough of a scan to do a proper restoration. That was also the problem with Green Hornet #8, at least up to now. Now after a year, I am finally able to add another chapter to my writing on the Harvey covers.

Harvey covers can be divided into two time groups. The first were for the pocket sized comics that Al Harvey first published. The cover art was drawn by Al Avison or Joe Simon. Jack Kirby did not do any of them despite the fact that all three were involved with creating Captain America comics at that same time. Coincidentally the pocket sized Harvey comics ended at the same time as Simon and Kirby’s termination at Timely. This was followed by a gap of a few months and then Harvey started publication again, this time using the standard comic book size. Avison no longer supplied any covers, he was probably too busy doing Captain America for Timely now that Simon and Kirby were gone. Simon would draw some Harvey covers, but most were done by Jack Kirby. Oddly Joe Simon was responsible for three covers done in one short period of time; Champ #22 and Speed #22 (September) and Green Hornet #8 (August). Green Hornet was a bimonthly. Although Joe had done Champ #19 and Speed #19 (both June) in a Kirby style, the later trio of covers did not seem to reflect much influence from Jack.

It would appear that for Green Hornet #8 Joe resorted to the use of swiping that was so prevalent in the start of his comic book career. I cannot supply the source, but I am sure the witch was swiped from someplace. The captive young lady has a Will Eisner look to me. The Spirit had been published as a newspaper insert for some time so Joe was certainly aware of it. However my search through the DC archive editions has failed to reveal any possible sources for the lady on Simon’s cover. The Green Hornet’s two opponents look like Simon creations. Note their similarity of their checks and jowls with that found in the Hitler from Speed #21 (August), the smaller villain from Champ #19 (June), and the sketch of Hitler in a Zoot suit. Yes Joe used swipes for this cover, as he so often did, yet he has created a very original composition.

The cover tells a story, as just about all Joe Simon covers do. A lady is held captive, terrified of the future revealed in a crystal ball by a truly gruesome witch. But the background shows the Green Hornet arriving to the rescue. But our hero must be careful to negotiate the obstacles separating himself from the damsel in distress, a pit at his feet and a chain stretching across his path. As we follow the Green Hornet’s eyes we find it is no ordinary chain as it ends with a collar on what is the not quite human equivalent of a guard dog. A very effective guard indeed as shown by his blood stained knife. The guard is intent on preventing the Green Hornet from interfering while his diminutive companion’s concentration remains on fulfilling the crystal ball’s prediction of the woman’s fate.

Simon makes effective use of props to heighten the drama. A drip covered candle provides an eerie touch to the scene, it is a device that Simon and Kirby would introduce often for such an effect. A spot light seems come from someplace low off our field of vision. It is a very selective spot light indeed, no shadows are cast by the legs of the two subhuman figures. However shadows are cast by the hand held knife, the chain and the Green Hornet himself. All the shadows that would provide drama to the scene, as always realism is not as important as telling the story. The spot light also aids the composition, diagonally dividing the two darker fields occupied by the villains. The captive is not in the spot light but is highlighted by it, visually connecting her to the hero. It may not have anything to do with Joe, but the colorist use of a green dress also effectively links the damsel with the hero.

Joe Simon may not have been as talented a penciler as Jack Kirby, and some will say that he depended too much on the use of swipes. When it came to laying out a cover and making it tell a story, few at the time were his equal. Green Hornet #8 was truly a thrilling cover. But Joe was not content with just drama, he also included humor, albeit a dark humor. There is a similar touch of black humor in Joe’s cover for Champ #19. Here Simon scatters cob webs about the place as part of the effort to give a dungy look to the scene. How many artists would then turn around and attach webbing from the staff to the witch herself? My favorite piece of humor in this piece is how the beastly guard leads his small partner by the hand, as if he is taking part in a “take your child to work” day. This type of humor is an early manifestation that would fully blossom when Joe was editor of Sick magazine.

In order to the receive lower mailing costs for literature, comic books had to include a text story. Often not much effort seemed to be given to this story, as a young comic book reader I never read them. Harvey comics had an interesting approach to the text stories, as some of their covers declared:

READ the THRILLING Story behind the COVER — INSIDE —

What is interesting about the text story for Green Hornet #8 is not what it adds to the understanding of the cover, rather how it deviates. In the story the lady is held captive in a building across the street from the offices where the Green Hornet’s alter ego works as a newspaper reporter. Nothing in the story suggests that woman was held in the sort of dungeon that the cover portrays. Rather the story describes her place of confinement as a small room adorn to look like a fortune telling shop. In the story there is a fortune teller whose crystal ball reveals a fatal future for the beautiful captive, but without an indication that the soothsayer was an ugly witch. The short tale includes two “toughs” without giving the impression that they were almost subhuman. Neither is described in the story as small as the one shown on the cover depiction. Nor does the story mention the use of knives by the toughs. I find it hard to believe that an author presented with a copy of this exotic cover art would have written this more mundane story. More likely Joe Simon received the finished story and, realizing that the cover would have to be more exciting if it was going to sell the comic, spiced it up.

Really Bad Clowns

20th Century Danny Boy has been on a roll lately providing a series of interviews with assorted comic book artists. His latest is Alan Kupperberg. I have to admit there is a rather large period from when I stopped reading comics as a young man until I started with them once again. Some of what happened in between I have since picked up on, some of it I am still ignorant about. I have heard of Evil Clown comics but have no first hand experience with them. Frankly I find some of the art that Danny provides somewhat offensive (so be forewarned) but there is no denying Kupperberg’s talent.

The idea of a (morally) bad clown was not new, others have used it as well. There is something about the juxtaposition of a funny costume and an evil nature. It was not a big part of the Simon and Kirby repertoire, but Joe and Jack did use it. And of course anything that Simon and Kirby did, they did very well indeed.

Green Hornet #7
Green Hornet #7 (June 1942), art by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

I am thinking particularly about the cover for Green Hornet #7 (June 1942) that Joe and Jack did for Harvey Comics. I have already posted on this cover but Danny’s blog has brought it back to mind. This was a joint effort, Jack did most of the pencils but Joe drew the large floating head. The signature says Jon Henri, but do not let that fool you. Henry is Joe Simon’s middle name and Joe was so fond of the name Jon that he gave it, with that unusual spelling, to his first son. I am still uncertain about who did the inking, but my suspicions are that it was done by Al Avison. I like my original description of this piece of art so I am just going to repeat it.

I love the way Simon and Kirby make a cover tell a story. The Green Hornet is rushing to attach a killer clown. If the clown carrying a wicked knife wasn’t enough, the lady on the lower level carries a newspaper with headlines that are hard to make out completely but clearly includes “CLOWN … CRIMINAL …”. Behind her is a fallen policeman, his gun laying at his side, clearly the Green Hornet will be taking on one tough clown. The press above is printing the front page for the latest edition declaring “DIES IN ELECTRIC CHAIR” with a picture of the clown, obviously printed ahead of time because the clown escaped before facing his execution. The Green Hornet had better be careful because this clown has nothing to loose.

Poking Fun at Adolf

Captain America #2
Captain America #2 (April 1941) “Trapped in the Nazi Stronghold”, art by Jack Kirby

Simon and Kirby really hit it big with Captain America. I am sure an important reason about why it became such a large selling comic was the cover. The U.S. was not yet in the war but there were still many who could appreciate a depiction of Captain America slugging Adolp Hitler. What fictional villain could compare with the evil of the all too real Hitler? But brute force was not the only means that Simon and Kirby would use to take Hitler down a peg or two, humor was used as well. It should be obvious from the image above that S&K portrayed Hitler as somewhat of a buffoon.

Speed Comics #16
Speed #16 (January 1942), art by Al Avison

Of course once Hitler graced the pages of Simon and Kirby comics, other artists would use Adolf as well. Al Avison had a special advantage, he was one of the crew working for Joe at Timely. Al even drew some Captain America stories. Avison’s efforts never made it into Cap comics, they were recycled as the Patriot in USA #1. (Other then Kirby, the only artist to draw Captain America in the early issues was Simon.) Avison also did some work for Harvey Comics and you tell he learned a lot from Jack. For the cover of Speed #16 Al provides Hitler leading an attack on the White House. Armed with a gun, four rifles and four swords, Avison has also makes Hitler out to be a buffoon. But Avison has overplayed his hand, Adolf and his army are so ridiculous that they hardly seem a threat to Captain Freedom.

Adventure #83
Adventure #83 (February 1943) house ad at the end of a Sandman story, by Jack Kirby

Just because Joe and Jack left Timely and Captain America does not mean that they stopped making fun of Adolf Hitler. Far from it. The original Axis of Evil was jokingly portrayed in a house ad for the Boy Commandos. Only four panels but that is all S&K need. I guess the Axis leaders were the original Three Stooges.

Joe Simon
Sketch for George Roussos by Joe Simon (1942)

The above sketch is one of the reasons I have been thinking of Adolf Hitler lately. It is undated but it was from the same George Roussos sketch book that included a drawing by Jack Kirby dated as 1942. Further Joe would shortly be joining the Coast Guard during which I doubt that Roussos would have the opportunity to have Joe add something to his sketch book.

George Roussos was not only a talented artist, he was also an early fanboy. He had some of the greatest talents of the day provide drawings for his book. What a treasure it was. I say was because it recently has been disassembled and the individual pages auctioned off. It is a shame that it was not published before it was taken apart. If you are willing to register with Heritage Auction Galleries you can see the work by searching their Auction Results Archives under original art for George Roussos. Joe’s entry is not dated, but it must have been done about the same time as Jack’s, 1942.

Joe Simon has his own particular brand of visual humor of which this is a very early example. What could be more incongruous then Adolf Hitler in a Zoot suit? Where did he every come up with that? I have no idea. But this sort of irreverent humor would show up again when Joe produced the Mad-close magazine called Sick. In fact it still shows up in the art that he produces today.

I remember years ago someone criticizing Mel Brooks for his movie The Producers. They asked me how anyone could find something funny in Adolf Hitler. Make no mistake about it, Hitler was a monster, the most evil person of our century. We should never forgive or forget the horrible things he did. That however is not enough. There are people who will try to praise Hitler for some of those very awful things. So we must add ridicule on top of our scorn. That is something Joe Simon still understands very well.

Simon and Kirby’s Manhunter

Adventure #72
Adventure #72 (March 1942) “The Fish-Men”, art by Ed Moore

There is a gap of a couple of months between when Simon and Kirby left Timely and their first published work for their new gig, DC. In his book, The Comic Book Makers, Joe has said that they did some ghosting at first. I am surprised about that because later attempts by Joe or Jack to copy another artist’s style were not very successful. I would think that by now someone would have identified any ghosting that they did for DC. The first known work for DC was a Sandman story in Adventure #72 (March 1942). Simon and Kirby imparted to Sandman their unique storytelling talents. However Sandman was not their own creation, Simon and Kirby did not even create a new costume for the hero.

Adventure #73
Adventure #73 (April 1942) “Buzzard’s Revenge”, art by Jack Kirby

For the next Adventure issue S&K added another feature, Manhunter. This replaced the series Paul Kirk Manhunter. Joe and Jack kept the concept of a big game hunter using his skills to combat crime. Instead of fighting crime as a detective, Simon and Kirby would give their hero a costume and a secret identity. It seems that Joe and Jack wanted to distance themselves further from the previous strip by calling the hero by a new name, Rick Nelson. Probably at the instigation of DC management, Manhunter’s alter ego changed back to Paul Kirk in the next issue’s story and so would remain.

Adventure #73
Adventure #73 (April 1942) “Buzzard’s Revenge” page 8, art by Jack Kirby

The name of Manhunter’s secret identity was not the only thing that changed after the first story, there was a costume change as well. Initially Manhunter had a mask which left bare his lower face, very much in the style that Simon and Kirby had used previously for Captain America. This would be replaced afterwards with a blue mask that covers the entire face. It is only the face that is blue, the rest of the head is red like most of the costume. This blue mask is unlike anything that Simon or Kirby did before, and they would never repeat it. There is a separation between the blue mask from the rest of the head gear. The demarcation between the two follows a path about where the hair line would be and then traces down the cheeks. A careful examination reveals that the new costume did not actually start with the second issue, but was used in the first story as well. It is only the coloring used that makes the first story look like it matches the cover art. Chances are when DC noticed the discrepancy between the cover art and the story they asked Simon and Kirby to correct it. On the splash page Manhunter was modified by the addition of a upper face mask. Such a modification probably took too long, and the results were neither matched the cover nor were very satisfactory in its own right. So the rest of the story was altered by the judicious use of color alone.

Aside from the issues of the costume and secret identity, everything for Manhunter was in place right from the start. In Captain America the origin story seemed like something that S&K had to get over with as quickly as possible so that the real tales could be presented. With Manhunter Simon and Kirby handled the origin better, integrating it into the first story quite well. Kirby continued drawing with devices he had adopted in Captain America, variable shaped panels, figures that extended beyond panel boarders, exaggerated perspectives, outrageous running strides, and what would become a Kirby trademark, his socko punches. Jack’s pencils seem better, as if he was now fully in control of what he was doing. But of course Kirby’s art always seem to change and improve as he was never satisfied to rest on his former achievements. For me it was with the early DC work and the Harvey covers that the Simon and Kirby unique artistic vision first congealed. An important part of this was their forging a unique inking style. You can see suggestions of it in Captain America, but perhaps because of all the different hands used to produce that comic it all appeared a bit piece meal. With the DC and Harvey work the brushwork would be bold yet sensitive.

It is not just the art that makes Simon and Kirby productions so great, it is the writing as well. Simon and Kirby managed to leave their unique touch on the Manhunter stories. There was nothing else at the time as exciting as Manhunter in Adventure Comics, or for that matter any of the DC comics, well except of course for the Sandman stories. Manhunter was matched against crime lords, evil scientists, jewel thieves, Nazi spies and escaped convicts. No matter what foe Manhunter pitted himself against he would manage to track them down, although sometimes he would end up being hunted in return. They were all fast pace adventures and in my opinion great reads.

Adventrue #75
Adventure #75 (June 1942) “Beware of Mr. Meek”, art by Jack Kirby

There was one aspect about Manhunter that Joe and Jack seemed a little uncomfortable with. Simon and Kirby preferred to give their heroes a sidekick, so that they would have someone to talk to as Joe would explain. Simon and Kirby’s solution to this problem in Manhunter was to provide a different sidekick as the need aroused. In “Scavenger Hunt” (Adventure #73) Manhunter teams up with a young man trying to prove his worth to his would be love. For “Beware of Mr. Meek” (Adventure #75) the sidekick is of all things a beautiful jewel thief. A boy scout helps the temporarily blinded Manhunter follow the crooks’ trail in “The Legend of the Silent Bear” (Adventure #76). In “The Stone of Vengeance” (Adventure #77) a shoe shine boy becomes involved in Manhunter’s case against some murderous jewel thieves. The lady in “The Lady and the Tiger” is effectively Manhunters sidekick in Adventure #78. Finally in “Man Trap Island” (Adventure #80) he teams up with a young Indian lad to combat escape convicts. Only in the origin story and “Cobras of the Deep” (Adventure #79) does Manhunter truly work alone.

Simon and Kirby only did eight Manhunter stories. The feature did continue but under much less talented hands. Unfortunately Manhunter was not the sort of character that could continue to be successful without the Simon and Kirby touch. Frankly I am surprised it made it as far as Adventure #92 (June 1944). Reprints of most of the S&K Manhunter stories appeared as backup features for some of Kirby’s DC comics in the early ’70s. Jack would also do a retro version of the Manhunter in 1975 (1st Issue Special #5). These ’70s work must have had an impact because over the years DC would publish a variety of Manhunter avatars, the latest being a female version. With Manhunter’s continued significance in DC continuity I would have thought that a tradeback edition of the original Simon and Kirby stories would be a no brainer. Yet despite all the archive editions published, DC seems reluctant to reprint Manhunter or any of the other Simon and Kirby creations. I wonder why?

Featured Cover, Adventure Comics #95

Adventure Comics #95
Adventure Comics #95 (December 1944) by Jack Kirby

It was late in the war and both Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were performing their military service. Nonetheless the cover for Adventure #95 was clearly penciled by Jack. Earlier while working for DC and knowing that they would be called to duty, Simon and Kirby had backlogged art for DC to publish while they were gone. It is an indication of the importance that S&K gave toward covers that the stories they provided for Adventure Comics ran out months ago (the last in April 1944) while they still left enough covers to last a few more months to come (the last would be for April 1945).

Jack was under a lot of pressure to produce his art quickly before entering the service. However you could not tell it by looking at this cover. The cover was both beautifully composed and drawn. I use the term ‘beautifully’ to describe the manner of execution not the subject matter. One would hardly use that term to describe either the Japanese or the German officer. Today such depictions would not be considered politically correct. During World War II what was considered correct was politically something very different. Germany and Japan were our mortal enemies and as such their appearance were meant to reflect their “brutal nature”. Certainly Kirby has captured that quality in this cover. In order to be truly patriotic it was not enough to depict the enemy negatively, one also had to make fun of him and show the superiority of Americans. The Japanese officer smugly shows his German counterpart an announcement of the capture of Sandman. But of course this was obviously all part of Sandman’s plan because there he is with Sandy ready to pounce on the as yet clueless pair.

That this scene was supposed to be taken place in Japan can be shown by the soldier that Sandman has so quietly subdued. Another clue is the woodwork on our left. I am no more a student of Japanese architecture then apparently Jack Kirby was. But I strongly suspect you would find nothing like this woodwork in Japan. Even so the unusual nature of this wooden frame was meant to suggest the orient and therefore Japan and not America or even Germany. As if their appearances alone are not enough to label the officers as foreign, Jack provides a monocle for the German and cigarette holder for the Japanese. I find it interesting that the same symbol, in this case the cigarette holder, was used to identify someone as foreign and at the same time be such an important part of the image of that American icon, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Boy Commandos Ashcan

Recently on the Kirby List scholar Stan Taylor queried about a Boy Commandos ashcan that appears in the GCD. I am not sure what the proper Internet etiquette is so I do not want to link directly to GCD’s image of this ashcan. So to get the most out of what I will write here, it would be best to make a new window and following my link to GCD and search for Boy Commandos. You will end up with 3 results, one of which is clearly marked ashcan. Although the GCD lists two ashcans (1 and nn) an image is only provided for #1.

Ashcans are used by comic publishers to secure the copyrights to a comic book title. I have heard some people say it is to get the trademark, but I believe you have to register trademarks not secure them by publishing them. But I am not a lawyer so I could be wrong. Anyway only a few copies of a particular ashcan would be made and none would be sold. Generally existing artwork would be used, and the inside story might not even match the cover. Ashcans are typically black and white, without color. I have never had the opportunity to closely examine an old ashcan but since Xerox did not exist during the golden age I suspect the are made from stats. If so they could not have taken long to make, in fact they were probably made using whatever stats that were available on hand. Once an ashcan comic served its purpose the copies could be discarded, hence the name ashcan.

Detective Comics #68
Detective Comics #68 (October 1942) by Jack Kirby

The Boy Commandos ashcan is dated Sept./Oct. and there is a copyright below for 1942. Notice that there is no trademark indication so at least in this case copyright seems to be the purpose. Stan’s original question was had the art for this ashcan cover been published before? By a coincidence I had recently borrowed Joe Simon’s copy of Detective Comics #68 for scanning and could verify that the cover was the same as the splash page for the Boy Commandos story in that book. There are some differences, mostly in all the paste-ups. The main difference in the artwork is a group of planes that appear at the top of the splash page show up on the center right on the ashcan cover, and one of the planes was left out in the ashcan version. The splash page appears to be the original because you can still see on the ashcan an abrupt stop to some smoke where the left edge of one of the paste-ups had been. The planes where moved because they would have been covered by the title of the ashcan. Some smoke lines were also added on the ashcan in a manner very different then what was done on the rest of the art.

Detective Comics #65 (July 1942) by Jack Kirby and Jerry Robinson

My original reaction to this ashcan was that DC was just trying to cover their basis and protect copyrights in case they ever decided to actual publish a Boy commando comic. I thought that it was probably too early for DC to realize that the Boy Commandos were a hit. The Boy Commandos were introduced in Detective Comics #64 (June 1942). They were a backup story to a comic whose principal feature was Batman. Judging from the date and art of this ashcan it was made only four or five months after the first Boy Commandos story. That means that when the ashcan was made the first story had only been out on the newsstands a month or two. I did not think that would be enough time for DC to realize that it was successful enough to warrant its own magazine.

Boy Commandos #1
Boy Commandos #1 (Winter 1942) by Jack Kirby

What convinced me that my original impression was wrong was the logo. The ashcan cover does not use the same logo as the splash page. I have not seen all the early Boy Commando stories but all that I have seen use the same logo. The logo for the ashcan is instead the logo that would be used on the actual covers for Boy Commandos Comics. I do not think DC would have gone through the trouble to make a proper logo for the comic if they did not think they were actually going to create a book to use it on. Even in the short time the Boy commandos had been out there must have been some sort of response that convinced DC that the feature deserved its own title. Joe Simon has always said that Boy Commandos was a top seller. Sandman and the Newsboy Legion, other Simon and Kirby features for DC, never got their own titles.

Green Hornet #9 (October 1942)

Green Hornet #9
Green Hornet #9 (October 1942)

When I started this Simon and Kirby blog one of the first subjects I posted about were the Harvey covers done by Jack and Joe. These comics are rare and generally in poor condition and so these covers are not often seen. But they are some of my favorite covers. I have not forgotten to finish up that series of post, but I do not have access to two of them (Speed #22 and Green Hornet #8) and two others are technically very challenging to restore (Speed #23 and Green Hornet #9). Well I finally have restored GH #9 and I am sure the reader will agree it was worth the effort.

Green Hornet #9 is another of my favorite Harvey covers (along with Champ #19 and #20). Jack Kirby’s touch is all over this one. In it he uses the mirror to great effect. The crook is so started by seeing the Green Hornet in the mirror and has turned so quickly to confront him that his cigar and its reflection still hang in the air. Although the crook is reaching for his gun, the Green Hornet already has the drop on him. However the mirror reveals to us that yet another gun carrying foe is climbing into the room be hind them. This device of a gun carrying foe, or sometimes the hero, sneaking in through a window or door was used by S&K a number of times while working for National. But the thing is, if we can see the crook in the mirror should not the heroes?

Well the cover says “Read the story behind the cover”. This was one of the clever ideas that some of these early Harvey covers used. The text story, required to insure a low cost delivery by the U.S. Post Office, was based on the cover, or perhaps it was the other way around. From the story we learn that the crook by the dresser is the Jackal and the gun carrying foe is Dapper Dan. The key passage reads:

Just as he was gloating over piles of money in his drawers, he heard stealthy steps creep toward him. Instinctively he reached for his automatic and glanced at the mirror. It was the Green Hornet!

“Keep jour hands from that roscoe!” the Green Hornet ordered.

The Jackal scowled and obeyed. But when he looked at the mirror again, his spirits rose. Hefting an automatic, Dapper Dan was coming through the fire escape window.

Dapper Dan was just as visible to the Green Hornet and Kato as he was to the Jackal. Almost unperceived, Kato moved sidewise, and as Dapper Dan set a foot into the apartment, Kato turned around. Then Dapper Dan found himself sailing through the air toward the wall, which he struck hard with his head. He fell on the floor without a groan.

It was jiu-jitsu carried to perfection.

Green Hornet #9
Green Hornet #9 original art

The original art for this cover still exists and it was up for auction by Heritage a few years ago. It reveals there was more to the art that was either covered up by stats (of the “film strip” and the title) or painted out with white-out. The now missing parts are interesting but frankly superfluous. Whoever made the decision to remove them was absolutely correct. The finished cover is much more focused.

Some experts and scholars also attribute part or all of the Green Hornet #10 to Kirby. I presume this is because of the use of a criminal clown similar to that by Jack for Green Hornet #7. But to me this more like swiping. Although it is conceivable that Kirby might return to the idea of a killer clown, I doubt he would have used for GH #10 a costume so similar to that from GH #7. Further the folding of the clown’s costume has a flair unlike how Jack would handle it. The killer clown also shows up for the cover of Speed #21. That cover looks like it was done primarily by Joe Simon and it would not be surprising to find Joe using the same costume. But I do not see Joe’s hand in the art for GH #10. The car, the Green Hornet figure and the overall composition do not remind me of either Jack or Joe. I therefore do not accept Green Hornet as by either Simon or Kirby.

Simon and Kirby Meet the Shield

I am doing a guest blog posting tonight at Comics Should Be Good called Simon and Kirby Meet the Shield. Check it out.