Category Archives: 2006/03

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.

The Last Supper

Joe Simon relates a story that once when he was in a legal battle with Marvel over copyrights, a threat was made to kill off Captain America. Joe then proceeded to make a painting of Captain America’s last meal with help from his daughter Gail Simon and someone named Leonardo. The painting has a prominent place on his living room wall. You can see a larger version of the image here.

The Last Supper

Artist and Model

The Jack Kirby Comics Weblog has posted a real nice My Own Romance and made the comment

I think there was some rule that said Kirby had to do at least one artist/model themed romance cover for every publisher he did romance comics for

So I checked and I am sad to say Jack did no artist/model theme cover for Harvey. I have already posted the first issue of Young Romance for Prize which does have that theme. Simon and Kirby used the theme again for Young Love #72 also published by Prize

Young Love #72

But for a short time Joe and Jack had their own publishing company Mainline with a romance title In Love. The third issue of In Love had, surprise, surprise, an artist/model theme cover. In fact the contents was a story about a comic book artist and model. I ask Joe about it once and he commented that they always like that theme. Apparently they liked the idea so much that made a proposal for a comic book or oneshot called “Artist and Model”. Two covers were made for that proposal, one by Kirby and the other by Bill Draut. Jack’s cover was used for the In Love #3 but Draut’s was never published.

Artists and Models

Artists and Models

Kirby erasers at Marvel

I previously posted about margin notes and my use of Photoshop manipulations to reveal erased text. But these image adjustments also showed a number of erasures of penciled art. I am not talking about inked lines that did not precisely follow the pencils. That sort of thing is common in Silver Age inking. These were more serious changes to positions of feet, arms, legs or even the whole figure. It is well known that Stan would asked for changes, often by whoever was available at the office. But my impression is that these changes were done by Kirby himself. I also believe that Jack did these changes before Stan got to see the art. I say this because some of the erased pencils are errors that are so bad that I don’t believe Jack would have left them like that. This will be more obvious with the Avengers #6 page, but check the Cap in panel 5 of page 5 and panel 2 of page 21 of Strange Tales #114.

Strange Tales #114

Strange Tales #114

As I mentioned these erasures of penciled art are also present in Avengers #6 page 20. For this page I feel even more strongly that the erasures was done by Jack before the art was presented to Stan. I just can’t believe that Kirby would have let the art go with Cap’s left arm where it originally was in panel 3. It just seems too large an error.

Avengers #6

Similarly Cap’s original head in panel 6 is much too seriously wrong. These are not the sort of mistakes that you ever see Kirby make.

Avengers #6

I also subjected the art for Tales of Suspense #92 page 9 to Photoshop adjustments for high contrast. One other thing is interesting about this page and that is what is not there. What we no longer find are erasures of the corrected art. It is possible that Kirby did a better job of removing them. But I don’t think so. Why would he put the extra effort, after all he had no reason to hide it from someone someday using Photoshop on it. It is very difficult to make out the erased pencils on ST #114 and Av #6 without the aid of Photoshop.

Kirby was said to have created his composition in his head before he committed it to paper. By doing that he did not have to erase anything. Then why do we see more erasures on ST #114 and Avergers #6 then on TOS #92. Was Jack’s ability to mentally compose his page a skill he got better at over the years? I don’t think so, Kirby seem to have the same talent while working on the Simon & Kirby comics. In fact it may have been a remark by Joe that got Jack working in this manner. I’ve heard that Joe once complained about Jack erasing saying that he was erasing away money. However I have not (yet) subjected S&K art to the same Photoshop enhancement that I did with these Cap pages, so I could be wrong about not seeing erased pencils in S&K pages.

But there could be another explanation for all the corrections in ST #114 and Av #6. Perhaps these were rush jobs, either because of schedule difficulties or the amount of work Jack was doing at the time. Perhaps because he was trying to work faster, he was making more mistakes.

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.

Comic Book Experts

What is an expert? Well my Webster’s dictionary defines an expert as:

A person who is very skillful or highly trained and informed in some special field.

Who am I to argue with Webster? But in the field of fine arts an expert generally means something more. While reading about a debate concerning a particular Chinese painting I came across two statements about what an expert should be. Here is one quote, although I am ashamed to admit I failed to record who said it:

An “expert” should be able to convince a reasonably intelligent person of his opinion with specific references to other works as well as indisputable evidence, if any, such as photographs and provenance.

Embedded in this meaning is the idea that experts should be able to explain their ideas. Unfortunately comic book experts seem to have little interest in convincing others. Comic experts seem only concerned about making their proclamations. Ask them to defend some attribution and all you are likely to get is reply about how many comic books they have studied. But by Webster’s definition that would in fact make them experts. And as I said, who am I to argue with Webster.

But I still want a word that describes the type of person in comics that is the same sort of expert as I’ve seen in the fine arts. So I have chosen to use the word scholar. Webster’s definition for scholar may not be any closer to what I want then expert was but at least is it not as commonly used (or misused). Although the word scholar may not be used often in the comic world, that does not mean there aren’t any. Boy am I grateful that there are such scholars. It is possible to learn from a scholar even when you disagree with them. I don’t see how someone learns from a comic book expert.

Does that mean comic experts serve no purpose in this world? Well actually sometimes they do, when they compile lists. I don’t know who the experts were that helped to create the Jack Kirby Checklist, but they sure did me a favor. It is not that the JK Checklist is 100% accurate. Yeah there was a few times that when I tracked something from the Checklist I found Mort Meskin’s signature on it. Sure sometimes I think work in the JK Checklist was actually done by Joe Simon. What matters is that the Jack Kirby Checklist points the way as to what to search for in order to see Jack’s work. So what about experts who don’t make lists? Well I am sure they serve some purpose, I just haven’t figured out yet what that is.

By now I am sure you have figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a Simon and Kirby scholar. But don’t call me an expert, thems fighting words where I come from.

That Old Black Magic

As I mentioned previously Simon & Kirby’s longest running comics were their anthologies. Although the Prize romances were clearly their greatest success, they also appeared to do pretty well with their take on the horror genre, Black Magic. This series was also published by Prize, but at least initially was a Simon and Kirby production. Black Magic #1 came out with a cover date of October 1950.

Black Magic #1

Like most S&K comics, Black Magic was originally a bimonthly It went monthly with issue #10 (March 1952). But it is not safe to consider the delay before going monthly as a sign that it was not that popular. Young Romance and Young Love were by all accounts immense successes right from the start and both of them took over a year before going monthly. This delay was more likely due to the publishers concern that even a popular title might turn out to be just a fad. One indication of how important Black Magic was to S&K is that Jack penciled every cover up to #33. But Black Magic was nowhere nearly as popular as the Young Romance since there never was any spin-offs like Young Love was for the romances. Further Black Magic went back to bimonthly with issue #26 (September 1953).

Like the Prize romances, Black Magic was a Simon and Kirby production and labeled as such. That is until after #32 when the S&K label disappears. This was September 1954, about the same time the label disappears from the Prize romance comics. But unlike the romance comics, Black Magic would have only one issue without the S&K label and then it would be cancelled. Could this be retribution by Prize for S&K’s Mainline comics that came out at this time? If that was the case why didn’t they just hand the title to another editor? An alternative explanation was that it just was not selling that well. After all it had gone back to a bimonthly schedule a year before. Whatever the reason, Black Magic would end a year before Young Love.

It seems that until it was cancelled, Black Magic was produced by Simon and Kirby. They were listed as editors in the postal statement from March 1952 to March 1954. Further the usual suspects (Bill Draut, Mort Meskin and John Prentice) show up frequently.

Prize would relaunch Black Magic almost three years later (September 1957). Although Jack Kirby was still doing work for Young Romance at this time, he would never pencil anything for the resurrected Black Magic.

Black Magic #17

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

Tales Suspense #92, more on margin notes

I have another silver age Kirby Cap page that gives some insight into the use of margin notes. This one is page 9 from Tales of Suspense #92, cover dated August 1967. Joe Sinnott inks. Here is a scan that once again has been processed in Photoshop to increase the contrast.

Tales of Suspense #92

All margins have been trimmed for production. But in this case enough remains help identify the handwriting. Some of the margin notes to the right of panel 3 were done in blue pencil but have been scribbled over with standard pencil. But through the magic of Photoshop I provide another high contrast scan that brings out the blue.

Tales of Suspense #92

Notice that blue pencils (now erased) were used to rough out the position for the balloons. Each balloon was also numbered. Close examination of the black plate shows that there was no penciled text in the balloons. I believe that originally there were sheets made to provide the letterer with the text and it used the balloon numbers to indicate exactly what balloons the text should go.

Nick commented:

I’m sure the numbering system was Stan’s, something I’ve also seen in this period on FF, and your theory sounds correct. At this point he may have had someone typing up his notes for the letterer.

As for the previously hidden margin notes to the right of panel 3 Nick wrote:

Yes, that’s Stan’s handwriting to Sol. I think it reads: “Sol, more black in the explosion lines”

Note that Lee’s margin notes are directions for corrective actions, they no longer are roughing out script. But there are other margin notes done in standard pencil. About the notes to the left of panel 3 Nick said:

Something to the effect of “Cap takes the hardest hit yet” and those are Kirby’s margin notes.

Also about the notes below panel 4 Nick wrote:

More margin notes by Jack. I think it says “Cap has never known…” such force?

I wish the page was not trimmed so we could make out exactly what Jack comments were. But it seems that by this time we no longer had Stan using margin notes to rough out his scripts, but we now have Jack providing his own rough scripts. This page has a marvelous build up to Caps final line “Only one of us is going to walk out of here– under his own steam–“. It is Lee/Kirby at their best. But who do we blame for the finishing of Cap’s speech on the first panel of the next page as “and it won’t be me”? What a great snafu.

I have one more blog concerning these pages but that is on another subject. As for the margin notes I want to leave off with a comment that Nick Caputo left to one of these blogs.

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I believe Lee’s work method evolved with time. He stopped writing directly on the pages when he became involved in writing most of the titles and initiaiting Heck and Ayers into working from a short synopsis (either written or verbal). He then left it up to the artists to make notes in the margins to remind him of what was going on, and the artists would add other bits of business that were probably not in the synopsis. Later on, just about all the artists (Romita, Colan, Buscema, Roth, Everett) would work in this manner.

Now For A Not So Little Romance

I blogged about Simon & Kirby acting as editors, but now I want to discuss what comics they actually produced. But I will be leaving aside the hero theme comics for which S&K are famous. Comics like Fighting American, Boys’ Ranch, and Bullseye. These were classics but their short runs show that they were commercial failures. Simon and Kirby had their greatest success in comic anthologies. Comics like the long running Young Romance Comics.

Young Romance #1

I once asked Joe about what sort of deal he had with Young Romance, the comic that started a whole new, and very profitable genre. He said that S&K paid all the costs of producing and packaging the art. They received nothing in advance from the publisher. The money would only start coming in when 40% of the printed comic was shipped to the distributor. After the shipping advance they would start sharing the profits. Joe remarked that contrary to his reputation as a savvy business man, it really wasn’t that a great deal. Most of the financial risk was on S&K, and if Young Romance wasn’t as widely successful as it was, they would have lost a bundle.

Young Romance #1 has a cover date of September 1947 and it had a very long run published first by Prize (124 issues) then by National. Like many others, S&K copied their own success and produced Young Love also published by Prize (94 issues) and National. But the romance genre continued to be profitable so S&K later produced Young Brides, that title was not so long running (30 issues) and was only published by Prize. But since YR and YL were so long running, clearly S&K did not produce them all. So which ones did they do? Well they pretty much told us about some of them. Starting with YR #13 (September 1949) the lead story of the comic would be labeled as a “Simon and Kirby Production”. It didn’t matter who the artist was and the label would only show up on the lead story. Once started, the S&K label would appear on pretty much every YR, YL and YB they produced. With only a few exceptions until about around August 1954 (YR #73, YL #61 and YB #16). The S&K label did not reappear until May of 1955. Even then it was used sporadically (YR #78, #80, YL #64 and YB #22, #24 and #25). The last appearance of the label was in December 1955 (YR #80).

So why the gap in use of the S&K label? Well one thing that happened at the beginning of the gap is that S&K started Mainline and became publishers of their own comics. Bullseye #1 first appeared with a cover date of August 1954, the same date the S&K last appears. Mainline was a commercial failure and its last comics was cover dated April 1955. The S&K label reappears in the romance comics in May 1955. One reasonable explanation would be that while Mainline was in operation S&K were not producing the Prize romances. Perhaps there was friction because Prize now viewed S&K as competition, particularly since Mainline had there own romance line, In Love.

As I said it is reasonable to say that between August 1954 and May 1955 (cover dates) that S&K were not producing Prize’s romance comics. It may be reasonable, but I don’t believe it is true. The first reasons is what I refer to as the usual suspects. S&K studio employed a number of artists on a freelance basis. But Bill Draut, Mort Meskin and John Prentice were regulars both in the length of time and amount of art. We may not be able to follow the money, but we can follow the artists. We have to be a little cautious since they did not work exclusively for S&K. But any comic where the usual suspects are prominent was likely to have been produced by Simon & Kirby. And the usual suspects were prominent during the gap. In fact they did most of the covers.

Another reason to believe S&K continued producing the Prize romances is a story Martin Thall tells. The comic company of Mike Esposito and Ross Andru also met their demise during the comic crisis of this period. According to Thall, they sold unused romance artwork to S&K (at a bargain price) and delivering it to Jack Kirby’s house. Three stories penciled by Andru appear in the Prize romances of November and December 1954 (YB #19, YL #63 and YR #75). Andru also did some work for S&K in 1952 but that was too early to be what Martin is talking about. But the 1954 stories fit the timeline perfectly. And this is right in the middle of the S&K label gap.

But if S&K produced these romance comics through the 1954 and 1955, when did they stop? Well if we follow the usual suspects we find them prominent until December 1955. Then something surprising happens, Kirby is all over the place. From YR #80 until YR #86 (December 1956) Jack did pretty much the entire issues for all the Prize romances. This includes YL #69 to #73 as well as YB #26 to #30. Jack did 74 stories and covers over this period. Joe seemed to have been part of this because the cover to YR #83 appears to have both their hands involved. Further the cover to YB #30 depicts a couple with twin babies, Joe had twin girls. Finally Joe still has the original art to YL #71. In these issues John Prentice has only one story (YL #69), Bill Draut 3 (#71 and two in #73) and other artists provided only three more stories (Ann Brewster and Ted Galindo both in YL #70 and an unidentified artist in YR #81).

Young Romance #80

Why was Kirby so prominent in these particular romance comics? Well perhaps one reason is after the failure of Mainline, S&K had financial problems and perhaps could not afford to continue to pay their freelancers. In fact they may have had trouble finding work for themselves. YR and YL were monthly titles. But after the December 1954 issues the next YR would have a cover date of April 1955 and become a bimonthly. YL would not be published again until 1960. Although this is all after the Kirby romance run, it may reflect that the Prize romance comics had become less profitable. Remember Joe and Jack shared in the profits but had to pay the expenses to produce the art.

Starting in 1957, Jack’s pencils would appear in most issues of YR until #103 (December 1959). But the usual suspects would not. There is one other piece of evidence that can help. At one point comics started to include a yearly statement. The statement included the name of the editors. I’ve heard that this statement was not always reliable. But that was for editors that worked directly for the publisher. I think that in the cases of S&K this statement may be more trustworthy. The earliest statement is the February 1950 issue of YL where Joe and Jack are listed as editors. The last time they are so listed is the April 1959 issue of YR. Starting with the June 1960 issue of YR only Joe Simon is listed as editor. The August issue of the resumed YL also list only Joe as editor. My information may be incomplete, but the last time I have a listing for editor as Joe is the April 1963 YL. But in a few months National would take over publication of YR and YL and I suspect they would use their own editors.

So it would appear that Jack’s involvement in the Prize romances ended in early in 1959. Even that is surprising since in 1957 he started to work for other publishers like National and Atlas. Although Jack may have taken S&K ideas to these publishers (such as Challengers of the Unknown), nothing indicates that Joe did any work for them. To me this means that by 1957 there was no Simon & Kirby studio. Whatever working relationship Jack and Joe had, it was a very different one then they had during most of their partership.