Category Archives: Assorted

Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 5, Side by Side

In the previous chapter I described the cover Champion #9 (July 1940) as the first joint work by Simon and Kirby. In the same month the two also worked on the title story for Blue Bolt #2. But their working method for Blue Bolt was different then the Champion #9 cover where Jack did the pencils and Joe did the inking. For Blue Bolt Joe and Jack would each work on different pages of the same story. This was probably an expedience that allowed a story to be completed in a shorter period of time. Working jointly on different pages would be a practice that Joe and Jack would use for a time before Kirby ended up doing nearly all the drawing.

Even Joe agrees that Jack was an exceptional artist. But it would be a mistake to attribute the good pages to Kirby and the poorer ones to Joe. Frankly I believe that this is an error that some experts have fallen into. Instead we should look for features that are characteristic of the particular artists. There are some devices that Kirby used often like a bad guy sailing through space from the hero’s punch, or the use of exaggerated perspective on a figure. Simon, or anyone else trying to copy Kirby, would include these but would not do it as successfully as Jack. Other Kirby traits, such as square fists or finger tips are all too easily copied and should not be relied upon. Finding Joe’s touch can be a bit more difficult. But there are some traits that crop up both in these pages and the work that Joe did before.

Blue Bolt #3
Blue Bolt #3 (June 1940) “The Green Sorceress Reforms” page 7 by Jack Kirby

Blue Bolt #3
Blue Bolt #3 (June 1940) “The Green Sorceress Reforms” page 6 by Joe Simon

With both Jack and Joe working on different pages of the same stories it is understandable that there would be adjustments made so that the final product would have a more uniform look. We do find Joe beginning to change his drawing style to be more like Jack’s. In Blue Bolt #1 Dr. Bertoff has a scruffy look but when Kirby drew him he had was more nobler. As we see in the above images from Blue Bolt #3 Joe began to draw the Doctor more like Jack did. What we do not see in these jointly drawn Blue Bolts is any attempt by Jack to adjust his style to conform more to that of Joe Simon.

Blue Bolt #3
Blue Bolt #3 (June 1940) “The Green Sorceress Reforms” page 10 by Joe Simon

In the previous chapter I mentioned page 10 as having a panel that seems to have been the source for the cover of issue #3. I also said that although Greg Theakston (The Complete Jack Kirby, 1917 – 1940) attribute this page to Kirby, I was not so sure. Now that that I look at it again I still believe that this page was penciled by Simon. But I say this not as a criticism of Greg, but as an example of the problems faced when trying give credit for these pages. Often there really is not enough distinctive traits on a single page to make a confident attribution. In this case I find the rock formations more like Joe did in Blue Bolt #1 then those by Jack. The eyes of the attaching soldiers seem to be in the classic angle style that Joe used.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Legion of the Doomed” page 5 by Jack Kirby

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Legion of the Doomed” page 3 by Joe Simon

From the Fiery Mask story from Daring Mystery #6 we find further examples of Joe adjusting his work to appear more like Jack’s. However certain Simon traits such as the angular eye/eyebrow construction can still be seen. Look at the unmasked hero from panel 2 of page 5 by Jack and compare it with the version on panel 6 of Page 3. I believe this shows that Joe is starting to get pretty good at mimicking Jack. Of course it is possible that Jack did some work on a page otherwise done by Joe. In cases like this I do not know how to be certain.

Daring Mystery #6
Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Legion of the Doomed” page 4 by Joe Simon

Page 4 of Daring Mystery #6 is interesting as an example of how often Joe would use swipes. Scholar Stan Taylor has sent me some scans from Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond. From these it can clearly be seen that three of the four panels of this page have swipes from Raymond’s Flash Gordon. I posted one of them in my footnote to my last chapter. Because of the differences between the cover of Blue Bolt #3 and Raymond’s panel of Flash Gordon running, it might be unclear whether Joe really used it as the source. But the similarity between Raymond’s work and the running man on this page leaves no doubt that Joe used this particular Flash Gordon example for swiping. The scans provided by Stan show the same exact poses as those Joe did on this page. But in none of these cases does Joe copy the details from Raymond. For example Joe’s demon is just an ordinary man when done by Raymond. Although there are some examples in the Fiery Mask story from Daring Mystery #1 where Simon was particularly close to his Hal Foster source material, generally Joe simplifies and alters the original. There does not seem to be any attempt by Simon to make himself out to be another Hal Foster or Alex Raymond. Some are critical of any comic artist that uses swipes, I do not share that opinion in all cases. With Joe it only bothers me when his copying does not integrate properly, which unfortunately in these early years is sometimes the case.

Also of interest from page 4 of DM #6 is panel 5. This almost splash-like panel has a large floating mash with eyes. This is a varient of the floating heads that Joe Simon would use from time to time. As I have said before this sort of thing does not seem to be something that Jack favored.

Captain America #1
Captain America #1 (March 1941) page 7 by Jack Kirby

Captain America #1
Captain America #1 (March 1941) page 3 by Joe Simon

Generally in this blog I prefer to use images taken from the comics or from original art. Very little original art of Captain America by Simon and Kirby still exists. I suspect that no art from CA #1 has survived. But Joe has copies of the flats from the first Captain America issue. Flats were made from the original art without color with each flat showing the four pages laid out as they would be printed on one side of sheet of paper. They are the next best thing to the original art so I could not resist using them as my examples both Joe and Jack’s penciling from this comic classic.

Work on Captain America included the use of a number of assistants. Among the task that these extra hands provided was helping with the inking. This introduces even more variation to the look of the art above that caused by joint penciling work by Joe and Jack. Perhaps because of these new inker or maybe because Joe is better at mimicking Jack, but some of the Simon touches such as those angular eyes have disappeared. However there are other distinctive traits used by Simon. For instance look at Bucky in panel 3 of page 3 of the Sando and Omar story. Notice how his lower face projects, I think of it as a muzzle affect. This will sometimes be seen again in Joe’s work for children and occasionally women. But Jack does not give his children the same sort of muzzle.

Captain America #1
Captain America #1 (March 1941) “Introducing Captain America” page 1 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

Pretty much the entire origin story of Captain America was drawn by Kirby. But I feel that there is one exception, the large standing figure of Cap on the first page. I find the square-ish face and the pose in general to agree with Joe Simon’s style. Even the inking seems different from that of the rest of the story. But the figure of the running Bucky has all the Kirby touches.

Target #10
Target Comics #10 (November 1940) by Joe Simon

Although Joe may not have penciled any stories during the time period we are examining here, he did some covers. There was a time that many attributed the cover for Target #10 (November 1940) to Jack Kirby. Now I believe it is generally recognized that this cover was actually done by Joe Simon. Like a number of Simon and Kirby covers from this period, the central figure of the Target is more finely inked then the background figures. This cover illustrates a common practice that Joe often followed, distorting reality in order to better tell the story. Joe presents the Target further forward then the skylight he had just crashed through. This was undoubtedly done to make the hero the largest and most important figure of the cover. The criminals under attack are still towards the back where logically any bullets they shot would not be able to bounce off of the front of the Target’s chest as depicted. I admire these sort of pictorial distortions, too much adherence to realism and logic can detract from a comic book cover. Having said that, Target #10 is not among my favorite Simon covers. One problem I have with it was probably not Joe’s fault, the colorist used red for most of the broken skylight where it should have been white with purple streaks. This makes it more difficult to recognize that the Target has crashed through the skylight. A more serious problem is the rather distorted perspective to the room that detracts unnecessarily from the subject of the cover. But the major drawback is the hero seems posed more to offer himself as a target then to be attacking the villains.

Pocket Comics #1
Pocket Comics #1 (August 1941) by Joe Simon

The Target #10 was prior to Simon and Kirby’s work on Captain America. Several months after the start of Captain America Joe Simon began to provide some covers for Al Harvey’s new Pocket Comics (#1, #2 and #4). These covers are unsigned but Simon has stated that he did #1 among others. Although Pocket #1 is in a different style from earlier covers, once before we have seen Simon change styles and we will see him do it again in the future. The three covers are so similar to one another that there is little doubt that they were done by the same artist. The drawing of the face for the Spirit of 76 has the same square jaw as some of Simon’s previous work. Attribution of these covers to Joe Simon seems reasonable given the evidence we have.

For Pocket #1 (August 1941) Simon uses a small area very effectively. Satan, a villain with his own feature in the comic, towers over and threatens New York City. He is attached by an army, but their small size leaves little doubt that they will not be very effective. Indeed Satan’s attention is drawn to the approaching, and also oversized, patriotic hero the Spirit of ’76. As in other of Joe’s covers, size is used as an indication of importance and is not meant to be literal. The depiction of Satan owes more to previous covers by Joe (Silver Streak #2 and Wonderworld #13) then it does to the villain’s appearance in the story.

Pocket Comics #2
Pocket Comics #2 (September 1941) by Joe Simon

The cover for Pocket #2 follows the same formula as used in #1. A large Satan is attached by a diminutive and ineffective force (in this case a navy), while the oversized Spirit of ’76 comes to the rescue. Also included is another scene with an oversized Black Cat. This really is not a bad cover but when compared to its predecessor it looks inferior. Despite having more area to work with Simon’s drawing is simpler. The changes to Satan may make him more like the character in the story but they also unfortunately make him seem less threatening. Finally the Spirit of ’76 has a running pose that suggests he is not truly running toward Satan.

Pocket Comics #4
Pocket Comics #4 (January 1942) by Joe Simon

Joe’s contribution to the cover of the last issue of Pocket Comics is one of his masterpieces. On the face of it looks like Simon has turned to a realistic depiction for the Spirt of ’76 and the Black Cat. But has he really? The hero strikes down a foe, but how could that be since the Nazi is behind the Spirit of ’76 who is running forward? The Black Cat smashes through the bars of a window in the center of the room to prevent another Nazi from stabbing the patriotic hero in the back. But could the heroine entering in the middle of the room really be able to grab the arm of a foe towards the back? But Joe could not have told this story as effectively if he had adhered to a more realistic presentation. The inking, which I believe to be by Joe, is bold and assured. There is some crosshatching like the Fox covers, but most of the inking was done using a brush.

Simon and Kirby’s association with Timely, and Captain America in particular, would end and they would begin to work for DC. But there was a gap of a few months before S&K would appear in Adventure and Star Spangled. Coincidentally Al Harvey’s pocket sized comics books venture would fail at the same time because their small size made them too easily stolen. It would also take a few months before Harvey would return with normal sized comics. Some of the covers for the relaunched Harvey line will be the subject of my next chapter.

Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 4, Footnote

Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 6, Jon Henri

Pocket Comic #3 (November 1941)

I have saved Pocket Comics #3 as the last small sized cover that I would post on. If Speed #14 to #16 were done by Al Avison and if Pocket #1, #2 and #4 covers were done by Joe Simon, it would seem natural to say Joe also did Pocket #3. In fact the depiction of the Black Cat matches the one Joe does for Pocket #2 and #4. On none of the Speed covers is there any indication that Avison could execute such a convincing pose for the Black Cat. But as soon as we turn to the rest of the cover, problems set in. The soldier being prepared for shipping (via C.O.D) just does not seem to lay down in the box. The Nazis are white skeletal figures in red hooded clocks. I would describe the robbed figures with the same term I used for Speed #15 and #16, goofy. The track record so far for the pocket comics is that Joe did well executed covers, Al rather crude ones, Joe presents intimidating villains, Al goofy Nazis.

Pocket Comics #3

The action takes place in a long corridor done in forced perspective. There are more red clocked Nazis advancing from the end of the hallway. This is all similar to the tunnel in Speed #16 but not seen elsewhere. This suggests that both covers were done by the same artist.

My conclusion is that the cover for Pocket #3 was done by Al Avison, perhaps with an assist by Joe Simon on the Black Cat figure. After S&K left Timely, Al would not work for them again. But their paths would cross at Harvey comics after the war. I am sure I will post on that sometime but until then, and in difference to Nick (who wanted to see more Avison) here is a splash page from Pocket Comics #1.

Pocket Comics #1

At this point we have examined all the Harvey pocket comics. The best is yet to come, however they will be different not only in size but also in style. So let’s recap the attributions so far.

Pocket 1 (August 1941) Joe Simon
Pocket 2 (September 1941) Joe Simon
Pocket 3 (November 1941) Al Avison
Pocket 4 (January 1942) Joe Simon

Speed 14 (September 1941) Al Avison (signed)
Speed 15 (November 1941) Al Avison
Speed 16 (January 1942) Al Avison

Speed Comics #16 (January 1942)

Speed Comics #16

Everybody makes mistakes, even experts. So when I say that when the Jack Kirby Checklist included Speed #16 it made a whooper, that does not diminish the value of that list. But all that needs to be done to dispel that misattribution is to compare the cover to one by Jack that came out in the same month (January 1942). There can be no question, Speed #16 was not done by Kirby.

Captain America #10

But I have a confession to make. I included Speed #16 in the books I once made of the complete Simon and Kirby covers. I did so because I thought it was possible that Joe Simon might have been the artist. Now I am not so sure. Comparing it with the covers for Speed #14 and Speed #15, I wonder if perhaps like them it was done by Al Avison. Particularly the goofy Speed #15 with its little red Nazis. Speed #16 has little green froglike Nazis and is also goofy, but in a different way. I do not believe that the humorous quality to Speed #15 was intentional. But in Speed #16 is clearly was. It is hard to believe that anyone would take seriously an attach by Hitler on the White House. But even if they did, it wouldn’t be this ridiculous Adolf carrying four rifles and three swords. This sort of visual humor would later be a Simon trademark in his comic magazine Sick. But if Avison was the artist, as far as I know he would never return to this particular type of humor.

One feature of this cover that should be noted is the long corridor in forced perspective. It is from the end of that tunnel that Hitler and his green army have come. We have not yet seen such a long hallway, but we will when I next get to Pocket Comics #3. And there are a variations of this theme in a later Harvey publications (Champ #19). But we have seen an alternative version, and perhaps source, on Speed #14. On that cover beyond an entranceway we see another room and a staircase. In the room a uniformed figure, presumably defeated by Shock Gibson, is rising from the ground. More similarly clothed figures are coming down the stairs. Not quite the same thing as here on Speed #16, but it might have been the jumping point.

Assuming that my attribution is right, Speed #16 would be the last cover by Al Avison for Harvey’s wartime comics. Frankly I find Al’s efforts on Speed #14 to #16 on the crude side. Their interest lies mainly as early examples of Avison’s work. These covers really do not stand out from what a host of other artists were doing at the time. Al’s first cover for Captain America would come out in the next month. What a difference! It is hard to believe how great the improvement was. In fact if Speed #14 had not been signed I doubt I would have believed it. I can only surmised that it was only after S&K were out of the picture, that Al felt comfortable enough to push himself. It is small wonder that Avison became the primary artist for Captain America until he went into the service.

Pocket Comics #4 (January 1942)

Pocket Comics #4

I want to skip for now Pocket Comics #3, and proceed to #4. This is my favorite of the Pocket Comic covers. It is a great design, particularly since the text has been relegated to smaller areas as compared to the other issues. The Spirit of ’76 is a good match for that on Pocket #1 or Pocket #2. I am sure this cover was also done by Joe Simon. A new feature is the Nazi falling after being hit. It is not the way Jack Kirby would have done it, but you can tell that was the source for Joe’s inspiration. No longer do we find oversized figures. But although the design still works, it really doesn’t make logical sense. How could the Spirit of ’76 have delivered his blow if the Nazi had been standing behind him? Or how could the Black Cat jump through the window in the middle of the room and still manage to grab the arm of the Nazi in the back of the room? But as far as I am concern comics art is not meant to try to capture an instance in time. It is meant to tell a story. Without a single line of text, this cover is complete comprehensible. All the distortions of time and space were all done to advance that aim. The logical flaws are in fact its strengths.

The original art for this cover still exists. The inking was just marvelous, but unfortunately much of its quality was lost when printing the small sized cover. So here is a scan from the art.

Pocket Comics #4

Pocket Comics #4 has a cover date of January 1942. This is the same month that the last Simon and Kirby Captain America came out. Coincidentally this was the last month that Harvey would publish pocket size comics. The next time Simon and Kirby work would reach the racks it would be dated April.

Pocket Comics #2

In Pocket Comics #1 the title has been reduced compared to #1 so there is more room for the art. The main scene once again depicts an oversized attaching Satan, being ineffectively fought by a miniature military (in this case some of battleships) with an giant Spirit of ’76 coming to the rescue. On the left side of the cover is the Black Cat, seemingly not part of the scene with Satan, but oversized nonetheless. The Black Cat started in Pocket #1 just a month before, so her presence on the cover is too soon to be due to an unexpected popularity. Rather having depicted Satan and the Spirit of ’76, the Black Cat seemed more unique since the other features were the standard male heroes.

Pocket Comics #2

The similarity of design and execution of the Satan and Spirit of ’76 scene with that depicted on Pocket #1 leaves little doubt that this was also done by Joe Simon. Further the execution of the Black Cat matches the rest, so Joe did all of the cover.

Enter Joe Simon, Pocket Comics #1

In his book “The Comic Book Makers” Joe Simon describes how his friend Al Harvey approached him to do a cover for Al’s new concept, a small sized comic book. Joe also tells how Harvey offered to make Joe a partner for $250. But Joe was then working on Captain America. At Timely he and Jack Kirby were supposed to get a share of the profits for this very popular comic. So Joe felt the safe thing decision was to stay at Timely and so turned Al down. It probably seemed at the time like a no brainer, but Simon would never saw much royalty money from Timely and would leave before the year was out. As for Harvey his new comic book concept would not last long but he still managed to build up a very successful comic publishing business.

Pocket Comics #1

Joe’s first effort for Harvey appeared on Pocket Comics #1 with cover date August 1941. This comic came out in the same month as Captain America #5. Jack Kirby was doing some great stuff at that time, but the true Simon & Kirby style had not yet emerged. The Pocket #1 cover was not in the Simon & Kirby style either, and in fact it does not show much in the way of influence from what Jack was doing. Here we get Joe doing Joe.

There are things about this cover which I find unfortunate. The field of stars gives me a claustrophobic feeling. But the biggest problem may not have been Joe’s fault as he said he was working from a mock-up. Nearly half the top is occuppied by the comic’s title. If that was not enough the left side has a list of the comic’s contents. This left little room for Joe to work, but he uses it well. Joe came up with a terrific design and he executed it well. The scene portrayed actually is not logical, but it works.

On the cover Simon provides a Satan that is a bit differant then that in the comic itself. This is not just due to the colorist’s use of yellow instead of the classic red. Instead Joe has turned to a cover he did for Fox, Wonderworld #13 (May 1940). For the Fox cover, Joe was trying to work in the style of Lou Fine. His success is shown by the fact that that cover was often attributed to Lou despite the presence of a Joe Simon signature.

Wonderworld #14

But there is also an even earlier version of Satan. That was the Claw as portrayed on Silver Streak #2 (January 1940). That, along with Keen Detective Funnies #14, were Joe’s first cover work. Simon gave the Claw more of a Frankenstein look in the face, but the hands are similar to both Wonderworld #13 and Pocket #1.

Silver Streak #2

Avison Takes On More Speed

I fear this might be a little like a movie with a long introduction before the plot actually begins. But before I get to blogging about some of my favorite series of covers I want to show one more by Al Avison. This time it is Speed #15 cover date November 1941. This one is unsigned, but the similarity between the hero in it and Speed #14 leaves little doubt that they were done by the same artist. For some reason Shock Gibson has gotten younger and the whole cover somewhat goofier. The Nazi seem more menacing on Speed #14 then these little red men.
Speed Comics #15

Al Avison on Speed

Some of my favorite covers were done for a not yet popular line of comics; Speed, Pocket, Champ and a few Green Hornet comics. These covers were dated from August 1941 to October 1942. Considering the name of this blog, it should not come as a surprise that they were done by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Some were signed, but they were signed as Jon Henri, a pseudonym. But which artist did what? I’ve heard a number of different takes on the answer to that question, and I have my own opinions.

But before I get into that I want to write about a third artist that did some covers for these comics as well. Al Avison was part of the team at Timely producing comics like Captain America. There he work with both Joe and Jack and was obviously very influenced by them. Joe was a friend of Al Harvey who published these comics. Perhaps Joe introduced Avison to Harvey. However they met, there started a long working relationship.

The first cover Avison did for Harvey seems to have been Speed #14 dated September 1941. Fortunately Al signed this cover so it serves as a good reference when trying to sort out the attributions. This was early in his career, so although he tried to use what he learned from working with Simon and Kirby he could not yet pull it off. But he matured quickly so that when Joe and Jack left Timely in a few months, Al became the head artist for Captain America for a while.

Speed Comics #14