Category Archives: Late

Byrne and Simon, An Unlikely Collaboration

Captain America Collector's Preview
Captain America Collectors’ Preview (March 1995)
by John Byrne and Joe Simon
Larger Image

In 1995 Marvel was going to do one of their periodic changes of direction for Captain America. So they produced a Collectors’ Preview. Although it included a reprint of a Simon and Kirby Cap story from All Winners #1, the Preview was not a comic book. Rather it was a comic book size magazine. That time was a good point in the relationship between Marvel Comics and Joe Simon. Joe’s first attempt at challenging the ownership of Captain America had been settled years before and his next copyright fight was years into the future. So the Preview announced “the return of Joe Simon”. Inside was a nice article showing Joe doing cover recreations for all the Captain America covers produced by Simon and Kirby for Timely. The photos are of Joe at work in his own apartment, the same one he still lives in. You might get the impression from the photographs of spacious living conditions. But I can tell you it is a typical New York apartment which I suspect most Americans would consider rather cramped. Joe’s stat camera did not help. A stat camera is a rather large device that once found common use in the publishing industry. In the days before copier machines (let alone scanners) stat cameras were used to cheaply reduce comic art to the actual publication size. In 1995 Joe was using it to blow up old comic covers. Eventually Joe got rid of this outdated camera and he now uses copiers. You would think this would help provide more room but Joe has three different copier/printers, each one having some preferred characteristic. Lately he has purchased a fourth but I have no idea where he is going to put it without loosing one from his collection.

Since in 1995 Marvel’s relationship with Simon was good and John Byrne was perhaps their hottest artist someone came up with the idea of John drawing the Collectors’ Preview cover and having Joe ink it. Despite my title to this post, it was not a real collaboration. John and Joe never met, nor did they even talk over the telephone. Joe was sent the pencils, he did a tracing and inked on that. The original pencil was sent back to Byrne. Joe had this to say about this job.

Inking John Byrne was easy. For Jack Kirby you had to developed your own way of inking. But with Bryne everything was already there.

During the Simon and Kirby years of collaboration Jack would provide tight pencils but without any of the spotting. On the other hand Byrne had not only provided tight pencils but also had indicated all the spotting. Actually in later years while working for Marvel where Kirby was providing pencils alone he also began to indicate spotting as well for the inker.

The Byrne and Simon art for the Collectors’ Preview was a wrap-around cover. The wrap-around was one format that Simon and Kirby never did. In fact the whole idea would have been ridiculous during the Silver Age or earlier. During those years comics were sold on racks and the whole purpose of covers were to attract a potential buyer’s attention. For that purpose anything on the back would be a complete waste of money. It would take the rise of a collector’s market before wrap-around covers would become more common. One might be tempted to compare such a cover format to the double page splash that Simon and Kirby did so well. But the wide splash worked as a story introduction a function that certainly does not fit the Preview cover as there was no Red Skull story inside. A better comparison would be to the double page pin-ups that S&K made for comics like Boys’ Ranch. I will not be doing a detailed comparison of the Preview cover with S&K wide pin-ups. It just would not be fair since there really is no comparison. After all there is a reason that this is the Simon and Kirby blog, not the John Byrne blog. Still John did a nice piece with lots of excitement. The composition is well done with the arms of the various characters visually linked into an oval. My biggest complaint is there is too much text cluttering the art. John seems to have designed the cover with the placing of the title in mind. But the rest of the text appears to be unplanned for. I suspect the clutter was not John’s fault.

One Goofy Cover

Captain America #197
Captain America #197 (May 1976) by Jack Kirby (original art)

Jack Kirby did some goofy things from time to time. I always got a chuckle out of the cover for Captain America #197. Cap faces the viewer in a hail of bullets and exclaims “I’ve found an army of underground killers! .. and I’ve got to stop them alone!”. Well of course if he is alone, who is he yelling to? This was done in 1976 and Jack was artist, writer and editor. So you would expect that this was Jack’s doing.

Recently The Jack Kirby Museum has made available to members xeroxes of the pencils for some Captain America art done by Jack. If you are not a member maybe you should consider joining. I say this not really because of the chance to see some great Kirby pencils. Nor because the Kirby Museum hosts my blog. Those are good reasons I guess but I feel you should support the museum as they are one of the few organizations out there actively promoting the study of Jack Kirby. With member support they have done great things but with continuing support I am sure that is only the beginning.

Anyway because it is a member’s only viewing I cannot link to the pencil version of Cap #197 that they have. But I hope it is alright if I were to quote what Cap says on the pencils which is “This way for action!! I’ve found an underground army of desperate killers”. Not as punchy as the final version but not at all goofy.

All the blurbs on the cover are paste ups on the original art. The pencils had been completely inked, even in places that later were covered by the blurbs. Jack’s penciled word balloon was not inked and the space it had occupied was inked with the same wreck that is found along all the edges. I guess it is possible that Jack changed his mind in the last minute about what should be in the blurbs. But I really suspect that someone at Marvel decided to make changes even though Kirby was supposed to be editor. “This way for action” was removed from Cap’s speech and placed in an arrow and Cap’s exclamation was rewritten somewhat. Just one more example of the lack of respect by some at Marvel at that time for Jack’s efforts.

Even though I now feel that Cap’s speech was not Kirby’s fault, I have to admit I like it. It is good for comic art to be goofy at times.

Kirby swipes from Simon

Black Cat #8
Black Cat #8 (November 1947) “The Madness of Dr. Altu” by Joe Simon

To swipe means to whip, to give a sweeping blow. But today it is more commonly used as a slang for to steal. In comics arts it means to copy a design or drawing, but still carries with it the connotation of theft. For many comic fans to show that a comic artist has swiped is paramount to saying that he is an inferior artist. With the artists Jack Kirby and Joe Simon the verdict in the past was generally Kirby = no swipe = good, while Simon = swipe = bad. I would like to think this attitude is changing. Tom Morehouse for instance has done some fine scholarly investigations that reveal the sources for some of Kirby swipes. Jack used this practice long after his period of collaboration with Simon. Actually Kirby’s collages can be considered a form of swiping.

Captain America #213
Captain America #213 (September 1977) “The Night Flyer” by Jack Kirby (original art)

Much has been said about Joe Simon swiping, including here in this blog. It is not surprising that one of Joe’s favorite sources is Jack Kirby. For example Joe used a close copy from Captain America #7 when he put together the cover for The Adventures of the Fly #2 (the cover is shown in Chapter 12 of The Art of Joe Simon). Here I would like to present an example of Kirby swiping from of all people, Joe Simon. Jack’s source was a set of panels that Joe did for a Vagabond Prince story “The Madness of Dr. Altu” in 1947. The use of three panels with close-ups of a face being hit by a fist also occurs in a Captain America story (“The Night Flyer”) by Jack Kirby done 30 years later. It is not a direct copy, Jack would not need any help on how to present such close ups, but it is a swipe nonetheless. I do not think it is a coincidence that in both cases it is the hero of the story receiving the punishment. However there are interesting differences also. In Joe’s story the hero, Prince Vagabond, is initially defeated by his opponent. A short time later there is a re-match which of course the hero wins. That is a plot device more frequently used today but was rather unusual at the time Joe did it. In Kirby’s example a blind and out of uniform Captain America is the receptor of the villain’s blows at the start, but Cap is victorious by the end of the page. Jack does this in an interesting formal device of using panels in a 3/2/1 vertical tier.

Donatello and Michelangelo
Saint John the Evangelist (1412-15) by Donatello and Moses (1513-1516) by Michelangelo

I use the term swipe because it is so entrenched in comic art discussions. But I have to admit I am rather uncomfortable with the word and it’s subtext of stealing. There is no similar expression in the fine arts. No one would speak of Michelangelo’s Moses being swiped from Donatello’s Saint John (By the way the Michelangelo and Donatello I am referring to are Italian Renaissance artists, not mutant ninja turtles). In the fine arts there is a better, richer, understanding on how artists really work. Art is not created from a vacuum by the artist acting alone like some deity. Instead artists (this includes comic artists) extract from previous art, from other art fields, and even from real life. The artist then combines these resources adding his own personal touch into a new piece of art. Recognizing that allows one to appreciate what individual artists bring to their own work and how art continually evolves.