Category Archives: 2006/04

The First Romance Comic

I have seen some different proposals as to what was the first romance comic. It seems to me that these proposals were based on a superficial basis. If the comic title sounds good or the cover art look romantic, then it was a romance. A sort of judging the book by its cover. But a cover or title might make a teenage girl comic reader look at the issue, but it was the content that would determine if the sale would be made. To be called a romance comic, the contents must be romance. The romance genre is very recognizable, but it is the story that determines if a comic belongs to that genre not the title or cover.

Young Romance Comics

Young Romance #1

One of the contenders for the first comic romance is Simon & Kirby’s Young Romance. The first issue is dated September 1947. The stories in it are from the start typical for romance comics. I could describe any story from the first issue and it would easily be recognized as a romance story. But because one of the other contenders is a long story, I wanted to select a longer story to provide a better comparison. I have chosen “Bride Of The Star” from In Love #1 published by Mainline Simon & Kirby’s company (September 1954). Every so often Simon and Kirby seemed to have an interest in working in a longer comic format. This story is 20 pages long and was penciled by Jack Kirby.

In Love #1

In Love #1 page

A young lady nearly gets beaned with a baseball. This becomes the first meeting between the new rookie Warren and Patty, who just happens to be the daughter of the teams owner. Romance and then marriage follows. But having the father-in-law as the teams owner brings in difficulty. Warren insists in not getting special treatment. Betty stays home as the team travels and follows her husband’s progress, or lack thereof using newspapers. Warren is not doing well as a pitcher, wants to be sent back to the minors and resents that his special relationship with the owner is the only reason he hasn’t been. Eventually Warren leaves both baseball and Patty. Sometime latter Warren returns to pick up his things. During a discussion with Patty, Warren wants to know if she still loves him. Patty says she wants to love him and it is not important that he is not a big star. But Warren has changed, before he wouldn’t accept defeat, now he was a quitter. Warren stays, the owner/father has a medical breakdown, and Warren helps Patty run the team. The team’s pitching staff all have injuries so Warren decides to step in and pitch. He declares he has kept himself in training. His pitching wins the game. Warren tells Patty that winning the game was not that important, it was winning her respect that mattered. Obviously their love has returned as the story ends with a kiss.

Kirby always seemed to have to add action to his love stories and this one is not an exception. Even so this story is a true romance. The whole story is told from Patty’s viewpoint. When Warren is on the road, we stay home with Patty. The only scenes of playing baseball are when Patty is there to cheer Warren on. In fact that cheering is every as bit important to the story as Warren’s pitching. The theme throughout the story is the ups and downs of the romance, everything else take supporting roles. There can be no doubt that this belongs in the romance genre.

My Date

My Date #1

A number of people have proposed that My Date Comics was the first romance comic. The cover date for the first issue is July 1947, two months before Young Romance #1. But let us take a look at one of the stories from My Date #1, “My Date With Swifty Chase” by our intrepid artists Simon and Kirby.

MD #1 My Date With Swifty Chase

It starts with Swifty pining over Sunny Daye, while Sunny is swooning over a photo of Humphrey Hogart, while Hollywood mogul B. O. confronts Humphrey insisting that he cannot marry the actress Chandra. We next find Swifty trying out his new jet propelled car, which ends in crash. Swifty is all right, but with his vehicle is in shambles and he has lost a means to impress Sunny. Later at the garage that he works, he is told to deliver a car to Sunny’s father. But instead of great opportunity he finds Sunny is only interested in the actor Humphrey. Back at the garage, a customer shows Swifty his disabled car, only Swifty realizes that the customer is Humphrey who turns out is on his way to marry Chandra. Humphrey needs a couple of witnesses, so Swifty goes to get Sunny. Sunny’s father overhears talk of elopement and calls the police. After the wedding Swifty then decides to take Humphrey and his new bride back to talk to Hollywood Mogul B. O. A rival for the affections of Sunny chases after them but in the end Swifty seems at last to have won over Sunny.

There can be little doubt that this is not a romance story, but instead is S&K’s take on Archie. That is it is essentially a teen humor comic. Some of the supporters of My Date as the first romance accept this, but point to one feature, “My Date”, that is an illustrated story about an unusual date that someone supposedly sent in. So let us take a look at the “My Date” feature from My Date #4. I don’t know who the artist is, but he did a great job.

MD #4 My Date

It opens in a soda shop where charismatic Harry and fumbling Bill have taken notice of the beautiful Mary. Harry gets Bill to introduce him to Mary. While Bill goes to order some sodas, Harry asks Mary to the dance. Mary says she was hoping Bill would ask her. Harry tells Mary she doesn’t have to decide now and then rushes off with her on a bus, leaving Bill behind. Bill catches up, and is about to ask Mary to go to the dance, when Harry pulls him aside and tells him that Mary has agreed to go to the dance with him (Harry). Harry suggests that Bill buy a corsage for Mary to take to the dance. Bill agrees and returns to Mary’s house with the corsage. Mary interprets the gesture as an indication that Bill wants to take Mary. Bill says he would not want to get between her and Harry. Mary gets upset with Harry’s tactics and cancels the date with him. We end with Harry finding Bill and Mary at the dance together.

Once again this is more like teen humor then a romance story. The My Date feature in the other issues are similar. My Date Comics may have a title that suggests to some that it is a romance comic, but the contents show that this series is not part of the romance genre.

Romantic Picture Novelettes

Romantic Picture Novelette

What is put forward as an even earlier contender for the first romance comic is Romantic Picture Novelettes. The title sounds like a romance and the cover art looks like a romance. The inside front cover has a photo of the “Romantic John Hodiak” and the inside back cover one of the “Romantic Alan Ladd”. The comic itself packages a story from the syndication strip called Mary Worth. Mary Worth started in 1938 and is still published today, making it the longest running continuity strip. The best description for what this strip is about it that it is a comic page soap opera. Mary Worth is an elderly, rather dowdy, lady. Although the strip carries her name, it is really about the lives of people who Mary knows. What this syndicate feature is not, however, is a romance. But with the range of story subjects in the newspaper Mary Worth strips, could Romantic Picture Novelettes be a selection of a romance story? Well the contents can be described as a picture novelette since it is 46 pages long. But is it a romance?

RPN #1 page

The veiled Senora Lisa De Leon arrives at the office of the talented Dr. Karen Ward. Lisa wants Dr. Ward to perform some mysterious treatment. Dr. Ward is reluctant but agrees when Lisa proposes to endow a charity hospital. Dr. Ward gets Mary Worth to give Lisa a room during the treatment. But Lisa makes Mary promise to reveal to no one anything about herself or her treatment. When Lisa arrives at Mary Worth’s place, others try to pry into Lisa’s affairs, but to no avail. We readers however finally get a chance to see Lisa’s face. But there is nothing noticeably remarkable about it so we are still left to wonder why she hides it under a veil all the time. Dr. Worth begins the treatment at Lisa’s room. Lisa’s face becomes bandaged, but we still are not told about the true nature of the treatment. Meanwhile a Micheal Jonesy has returned from the war with a leg injury. There is a chance meeting between Michael and the veiled Lisa in the park. Friendship follows, which blossoms into something more. Michael asks Lisa to lift her veil, but Lisa is uncertain and tells Michael to return the next day for her answer. Dr. Ward visits Lisa and the bandages finally come off. When we finally get to see her face, it turns out that she now appears much younger. The treatment was some sort of plastic surgery! Lisa meets Michael in the park, now unveiled, a romance develops, sealed so to speak, with a kiss. But Michael becomes concerned that because of his injured leg, what Lisa feels is actually pity. He agrees to go to Dr. Ward for treatment and if that is successful he will then marry Lisa. Dr. Ward and Mary Worth become concern about the age difference between Michael and Lisa. Apparently the treatment will only last about 5 years, then Lisa will appear even older. Lisa insists that both Mary and the Dr. keep her secret. Michael’s treatment is successful and they set the date to be married. Now enters a new person, an elderly gentlemen named Sabin whose marriage to Lisa was stopped many years ago by her father, but who still loves her. Business takes him to the same town as the rest of the cast. He accidentally sees Lisa, recognizes her but becomes upset because it obviously can’t be her since she is too young. During a meeting between Lisa and Sabin her secret is now revealed. Michael has overheard it all, but still wants to marry Lisa. Lisa now realizes her mistake, declines and goes off with Sabin.

So is this romance? There is a kiss in the middle of the book and the romance between Michael and Lisa is an important part of the story. But that is just it, the romance is part of, but not the central theme of the story. A lot of pages are spent in the mysterious treatment, which is only revealed half way through. More pages are spent on Mary Worth and Dr. Ward’s concerns about the age difference and their promise to keep Lisa secret. Part of the story is about the attempt of noisy neighbors to intrude on the secret. And although Lisa goes off with Sabin, there is no declaration of love from her for Sabin, nor a kiss between the two. In short, this is a soap opera no different from typical story lines from the Mary Worth newspaper syndication. It is not part of the romance genre.

There are two requirements for a comic to be considered the earliest romance. Above I dealt with one of the requirements, that the contents of the comic be stories of the romance genre. But I would also like to add a comment on the second criteria, that the comic have an early date of publication. A close examination of Romantic Picture Novelettes has failed to reveal any publication or copyright dates, in fact I could not find a copyright at all. The indice only lists the publisher, Magazine Enterprises and an address. ME was created by Vincent Sullivan and was in business from 1943 to 1958. I am sure that the dates for when the story first appeared in the newspaper syndication could be determine. But that would only provide a minimal date, there is no reason to believe that the comic was published at the same time as the newspaper story finished. Frankly I find it rather surprising that so many have sited the 1946 date for this comic without explaining where it came from. But let me make it clear, that the date of Romantic Picture Novelettes is of secondary importance. It is not the earliest romance comic because it is not a romance comic at all.

I hope the conclusion I draw is very clear. The romance comic is a very distinct genre. This was true over the many years that this particular comic form survived. When I look at My Date Comics or Romantic Picture Novelettes what I find does not match the romance genre. One is teen humor the other a pictorial soap opera. When I look at stories in Young Romance #1 I find a perfect match. A romance comic reader from the final days of romance comics, would find Young Romance #1 a bit old fashion. But they would have no trouble recognizing it for what it was, that is the first romance comic. Could My Date or Romantic Picture Novelettes be considered prototypes? Even here I have to say no, not really. The best prototype for Young Romance #1 is just what Joe Simon said they got their inspiration, romance pulp magazines. Romance pulps were very popular at that time and provided just the proper guidance for what romance readers would want.

When I googled on Mary Worth I found the results rather interesting. It is not surprising that there are a number of pages on Mary Worth. But it is a bit surprising that all these references to Mary Worth describe it as a graphic soap opera, none describe it as a romance. As for Romantic Picture Novelette I found a couple of significant references. Dan Stevenson has a list of “All the Romance Comics Ever Published (?)”. At the bottom is a special category for comics excluded because “they are not felt to be true Romance Comics”. In that list are both My Date and Romantic Picture Novelettes. There is also a blog by Raphe Cheli dedicated solely to romance comics. On September 4, 2005 he has a posting called Revisionist History. In it he discusses both My Date and Romantic Picture Novelettes and comes to the conclusion that they aren’t romance comics. (Update: For some reason the Revisionist History entry has become unstable, if you follow the link you may not get the entire post)

Why the continuing insistence that Young Romance is not the first comic? I have no good explanation. It doesn’t seem based on the opinions of scholars of romance comics. Nor is it based on an examination of the contents of the comics in question. Even the publication date for Romantic Picture Novelettes of 1946 is used without explanation.

The Art of Romance, Chapter 1, A New Genre
(Young Romance #1 – #4)

Joe Simon comments on the Harvey Covers

On I couple of visits to Joe’s place, I brought him printed copies of the pocket size Harvey covers (Pocket #1-4, Speed #14-16) as well as the regular size Speed #17.

Initially Joe commented that he only did a couple of pocket sized covers. But when he looked at the cover he said that Pocket #1, #2 and #4 were his. The only question was about Speed #16. Initially he said that he thought he did it, then latter he said he may not have done it. Joe commented that the feathering on the legs of Captain Freedom was not like he would do it. He also felt the drawing was rather poor. Joe also said he did Speed #17.

Joe also spotted the Jon Henri signature on Speed #17 and commented that his middle name was Henry. He also said that John Henry (I am assuming this spelling since this was an oral conversation) was a writer that he meet while serving in the Coast Guard. John Henry did some writing for the S&K after the war. But off course Joe was in the Coast Guard after the Jon Henri covers so that was just a coincidence.

Speed #19 (June 1942)

Speed #19

June is Joe Simon’s months since he did both Champ #19 and Speed #19. Both signed as Jon Henri. To me the give-a-way that this is Joe’s penciling is the depiction of the Japanese impersonator. The whole idea of the Japanese setting up to disguise himself as Captain Freedom only to be interrupted by the real thing that seem to me to be something Simon would come up with. Captain Freedom’s fist is square like Jack Kirby would do it. But Joe had inked Jack’s work and was familiar with these sort of traits.

This Speed cover depicts a horde of Japanese soldiers coming down a flight of stairs and entering the room. Actually this is not too unusual at the time. Compare it to the cover for Speed #17 penciled by Jack Kirby where it is Captain Freedom who enters from a stairway. Some covers by Al Avison ( Speed #16 and Pocket #3 have the horde of advancing enemies, but lack the stairs. But in Speed #14 Avison had the stairs, but fewer enemies. But after this period where this motif seemed somewhat popular, I don’t remember S&K ever returning to the enemies entering from stairway motif. But surprisingly it shows up much later in art Joe Simon did which I believe was meant to be the cover for Fighting American #2 by Harvey meant for 1966. The art has a smaller number of enemies but it does show the stairs.

Harvey’s FA #2 was never published and the art I mentioned above has no indications for what it was intended. But Joe still has original art for two Fighting American stories that are marked as Fighting American #2. They are done on Bristol board, not the thick illustration board used for the Prize Fighting American art (1954/55). One of the stories (“The Beef Box”) got published in the Fighting American reprint volume published by Marvel in 1989. All the art intended for FA #2, including the cover, was done by Joe Simon.

Mort Meskin, the usual suspect #2

I gather that Mort Meskin is most famous for the work he did during the war. I’ve seen some of his Golden Lad covers and they are quite good. Because my main interest is in Simon and Kirby, I don’t have access to very much of the early Meskin material. However Mort worked at National Comics at the same time as Simon & Kirby, and fortunately some of the Adventure Comics have stories by Meskin. So I have some examples, including the splash page below (“Hitch A Wagon To The Stars”) from Adventure #82 with inking by George Roussos. Even at this time Mort had developed a reputation for being a rapid and prolific comic book artist. There is a story about Jack Kirby and Mort Meskin working side by side at DC each working on a rush job. And how their efforts resulting in a crowd gathering to watch both of them. By that time Jack was already well known, but many now began to take note of Mort’s talent.

Adventure #82 Starman
Adventure #82 (January 1943) Starman by Mort Meskin and George Roussos

Mort Meskin’s first contributions for a S&K production were some stories done with Jerry Robinson in Young Romance #6 (see below) and Justice Traps The Guilty #5 both July 1948. It appears to me that most of the penciling was done by Jerry while Mort’s contribution was largely inking.

YR #6 Inferior Male

Over a year later Meskin appears without Robinson as the penciler in Young Romance #16 and Real West Romances #5 both from December 1949. Once started Meskin would be frequently used not only for romance (Young Romance, Young Love, Young Brides and In Love), but also in crime (Headline, Justice Traps the Guilty and Police Trap) and horror (Black Magic).

Young Love #66

As Joe Simon tells the story in “The Comic Book Makers” initially when Mort was supplied with scripts he was unable to do the work. Joe then suggested that Mort should work in the S&K studio. Even in this environment Mort seemed to suffer from “artist’s block”. Then Joe hit on the idea of penciling some random marks on Mort’s page. No longer faced with a blank page, Mort was back to being a rapid penciler. As Joe tells the story, from then on every mourning it was someone’s responsibility to add those first random markings to Mort’s blank art boards. Mort was very prolific and did not seem to work exclusively for the S&K studio. During the period from January 1951 to January 1953 (cover dates) Mort actually produced more pages of art for the S&K studio then Jack Kirby did. Now this is not a completely fair comparison since Jack had more responsibility in the studio then just penciling. On the other hand the inking of Kirby pencils seemed to have been done by more then one hand, while as far as I can tell Meskin did all the inking for his own art at this time. Joe Simon once said about Mort’s work at the Simon & Kirby studio “He was probably the fastest, most inspired artist in the room, and certainly one of the most dependable.” Remember Jack was in that studio also, so this is no small praise.

Simon & Kirby Studio

That’s Mort “passing gas” in the center, along with Jack looking like he is about to hurl himself at the photographer. Joe looks amused by it all in the front. Jim Infantino and Ben Oda (letterer extraordinaire) are on the right but I have forgotten who that is on the left. I am not sure of the exact date for this photo, but Jim Infantino has a signed piece of work (“Let’s Talk Fashion”) in Young Romance #39 (cover date November 1951). Jim only worked for S&K for a relatively short time, so 1951 or 1952 is a good guess for the date of the photograph.

SWYD #1 The Dreaming Tower

Mort Meskin does not seem to get much attention nowadays. Even among the S&K artists he can easily be overlooked. He doesn’t have Kirby’s expressive and powerful drawing. Nor are his women as beautiful as those done by Bill Draut. Finally his comic art is not as realistic as John Prentice’s (usual suspect #3 who I will post on later). I admit when I first encountered Mort Meskin’s work I was not particularly impressed. But over time I began to realize that his strength was in his story telling. Often it is very unobtrusive. As you read Meskin’s work you may not even realize how he is manipulating what he is presenting. But if you have any doubts about how effectively he does it, take a look at the at the above page from “The Dreaming Tower” in Strange World of Your Dreams #1. The scenes he presents are rather ordinary. But the way he depicts them and his use of black gives the page an eerie effect that is just what the story needs. Kirby is one of the best story tellers, but he has never done anything like this. I am not saying that Mort was a better story teller then Jack. Just that each had their own unique approach.

By the way according to Joe, Strange World of Your Dreams owed its creation to Mort Meskin. In fact Mort is listed as an Associate Editor for the series. No other comic produced by Simon and Kirby have anyone other then Joe and Jack listed as an editor.

Sometime after the failure of S&K’s Mainline (about January 1955), the S&K studio disbanded. But I am still not sure if that happened at the same time as Mainline’s failure or if the studio lasted longer. Certainly by 1957 there was no studio since in that year Jack was doing work for DC without Joe. The last work Mort did for S&K was in Young Love #68 (cover date December 1955). Since Mort had been working in the S&K bullpen, perhaps about September 1955 marks the end of the studio also.

Mort Meskin has been nominated for the Eisner Hall of Fame this year. Although four artist will win that honor, there are some other impressive artists that were nominated (such as Jim Steranko). Fans don’t seem to talk about Meskin very much, so I despair that Mort will not receive enough votes. But if anyone deserves to belong in any comic Hall of Fame it sure would be Mort Meskin. There is an wonderful web site on him by his sons with an excellent biography. I really advise a careful visit. In particular be sure to read “The Second Comic Career of Mort Meskin” by Dylan Williams which is in the Comics section.

Champ #19 (June 1942)

Champ #19

This is one my favorites of the Harvey covers. Once again there is a Jon Henri signature, but this time it was Joe Simon doing the pencils. The visual humor found in the primary crook, will reappear later in the Duke of Broadway. Even the bullet’s near miss of the policeman is more humorous then it is suspenseful. Joe portrays the Liberty Lads younger then Jack did. If they look familiar that is because they actually are Gabby and Scrapper from the Newsboy Legion.

It is amazing to see how well all the pieces of the story are present. The robbed bank, most of the policemen ineffectively on the other roof, the single policeman in the correct location is about to taken care of by the crooks before they make their get-away. That is except for the Liberty Lads approaching unseen from the back, about to save the day. What a masterpiece.

Joe could work in a style close enough to Kirby’s that to this day many are fooled. But he had his own vision too and I am a bit surprised that so many experts still attribute this cover to Kirby. I suspect many use aesthetics to distinguish the two; for them if it is one of the better covers Jack must have done it. Jack did most of the penciling and Joe acknowledges that Kirby was an incredible artist. But I am here to tell you that Joe Simon is a lot better artist then many give him credit for.

Again this cover was published in 1942, not 1941 as listed in the Checklist.

Speed #18 (May 1942)

A damsel in distress. A fiend finishing off a gravestone just before performing the final act. But have no fear, it’s Captain America to the rescue. But wait, where’s Bucky? But wait again, that’s not Captain America! Captain Freedom was Speed Comics’ patriotic hero. In the hands of Jack Kirby, Captain Freedom would look even more like Captain America then he already had. It must have brought some satisfaction to Simon and Kirby that they could still show how Cap should be done.

Speed Comics #18

Captain Freedom first appeared in Speed #13 with a cover date of May 1941. This was before Al Harvey was publisher for Speed. According to Joe Simon, Irving Manheimer (president of Publisher Distributing) did the publishing of Speed Comics then. The distributors loved comics at that time. Captain Freedom was created by Franklin Flagg, do you think that could be a pseudonym? Once Captain America become a big seller, copy-cat patriotic heroes became abundant. But even so, Captain Freedom seems particularly close in design to Captain America. Similar placement of red and white stripes, a circle of stars replaces a single star on the chest, and shoulder pads replace mail armor. The “skull cap” is similar particularly to the Cap in Captain America #1. And of course the rank of Captain is shared by both.

Speed Comics #13

What makes the similarity surprising is the Captain America #1 was cover dated March while Speed #13 is dated May. According to Joe Simon, comics typically took about a month to create, a month to print, and another month to distribute. But that would put the creation of Speed #13 to at best a month before Captain America #1. So we seem to have a case of an obvious copy-cat patriotic hero created before the original hit the new stands. How was that possible? I think part of the answer lies in a adverisement on the back cover of Speed #13.

Speed Comics #13

If you missed it, below is a close up of the comicscope. On the sides is a clear depiction of Captain America and Bucky. If maybe a little hard to notice because it is behind a star, but Cap carries his triangular shield. Further Cap is wearing his original “skull cap”, with his neck bare. Interestingly, Cap and Bucky are mistakenly depicted as wearing shorts, just like Captain Freedom. A similar ad, without Cap, was on the back of Speed #12. Cap and Bucky were crudely pasted over the original ad’s art, parts of which are still visible around the edges. With the placement of this ad in the same issue, and presumably with an explanation of who the hero was, Manheimer had advance notice of Captain America. He therefore could respond with the creation of their own patriotic hero.

Speed Comics #13

But having answered what source Manheimer used to launch Captain Freedom, we now have to wonder how the comicscope ad could have known about Simon & Kirby’s creation? Comicsope was the invention of Bob Farrell, who was Victor Fox’s right hand man. According to Joe, Farrell got free advertisement for comicscope in Fox comics. That is Fox’s Samson that is being projected on the wall in the ad from the Speed #13. But according to Joe, he never saw Bob Farrell for a number of years once he (Joe) left Fox Publications. So how Bob Farrell got to see Simon & Kirby’s new creation before it was published remains a mystery.

This Speed #18 cover was primarily penciled by Jack Kirby.

Ken Riley, The Forgotten Comic Book Artist

After returning from military service, Simon and Kirby made a deal with Al Harvey to produce some comics. Jack would draw Stuntman and the Boy Explorers. Joe worked on the Duke of Broadway, Vagabond Prince and Kid Adonis. As I mentioned in a previous post, S&K created some series for Bill Draut (The Furnished Room, Calamity Jane and the Demon). They also created a series “Danny Dixon, Navy Cadet” for Boy Explorers to be done by an artist by the name of Ken Riley. Even hard core S&K scholars would probably respond with: who? Ken Riley was a Coast Guard combat artist for the war who Joe met during their joint service in Washington. But perhaps it would more accurate to call Danny Dixon an intended series as Boy Explores was one of the victims of a comic glut at that time. Only one issue was distributed to news stands. The second issue, sent to subscribers only, was very reduced in size and printed in black and white.

Boy Explorers #1

Boy Explorers #1 (May 1946) “The Lesson In Room 303”
Boy Explorers #2 (September 1946) “The Loaded Oyster Bed”
Black Cat #4 (February 1947) “The Imitation Atlas”
Black Cat #5 (April 1947) “Adventure, South American Style”
Black Cat #6 (July 1947) “The Loaded Oyster Bed” (reprint)

But Ken returned to do at least one story for Young Love #3 (June 1949) “Match Makers”. Here his work is more polished then in Danny Dixon. Since he already was a accomplished artist, this was probably because the romance format allowed him to use a more realistic approach. I think he did a real nice job of that story. Joe still has the original art for the splash page. Much of the fine inking quality was lost in the printing of the comic.

Young Love #3

apparently Riley did not stay in comics for long. Later he did some illustration work for Saturday Evening Posts, Life and National Geographic. I’ve also seen cover art for the book “The African Queen” that was said to have been done by a Ken Riley in 1949. Ken turned to fine arts and moved out west. The paintings I have seen by him are all of Native Americans.

Ken Riley did not sign his comic work. There may be more of it remaining to be identified. The only reason for attributing the above works to Ken are margin notes on some original art and discussions with Joe Simon. Ken Riley did not have much of a comic career, but it did come at a pivotal time at the start of the Simon and Kirby studio after the war. However the real reason I posted this is that his comic work has all but been forgotten. Comics find no place in the biographies of Riley that I have read. In comics histories, the only mention of Ken that I have found was in “The Mainline Comics Story: An Initial Examination” in The Jack Kirby Collector #25 written by Robert Beerbohm (unfortunately misspelling Ken’s name as Reilly). Ken truly was a forgotten comic artist, it just seems a shame for that to remain the case.

Champ #18 (May 1942)

Champ Comics #18

Joe and Jack had done three covers for this series when it was published by Worth under the title Champions. Now the line was being done by Harvey after his unsuccessful pocket comics. Here and in the comics published at the same by National, we find the start of the real Simon & Kirby style. I believe the reason this happened now is that before at Timely there was a large crew working on Captain America. But initially there was probably only Joe and Jack at National. This really forged their collaboration. The Captain America covers were exiting but now Joe and Jack have taken it to a new level. Forget about how the Liberty Lads managed to get into this aerial fight. Who cares how one of them is able to slug a Jap off the plane with the propeller in between them? What matters is the story of the daring rescue of our capitol from the Japanese menace. How could a kid possibly pass this cover up without at least stopping to see what was inside. Unfortunately the contents did not, could not, live up to the cover. For that the comic reader would have to buy National’s Adventure or Star Spangled comics.

Another Harvey cover signed as Jon Henri. But does anyone have a doubt, that Kirby penciled this cover?

By the way, the Checklist uses an incorrect date for this cover as well as for #19, #20 and #21. They were all done in 1942, not 1941.

Gray Morrow does the Shield

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

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

The Den of the Doll Man

There is a larger image here.

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

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

Speed #17 (April 1942)

Al Harvey must have been a great salesman. As Joe Simon tells it, Al’s great idea of pocket size comics (Pocket, Speed and Spitfire) were very popular. Unfortunately one of the reasons for their popularity was the ease that kids could steal them. That fact did not make them popular with the newsstand owners. You would have thought that when the last of these small comics were published in January 1941, that would have been the end of Harvey’s publishing career. Instead not only did Speed Comics return in April as a regular size comic, Harvey took over publishing Champ Comics in May, and then even more surprising Green Hornet in June. Al would turn again to Joe Simon, and now Jack Kirby also, to help with the covers.

Speed #17

When Harvey resumed publishing, S&K were working for National. Joe and Jack’s version of Sandman was out in March (see image below), their version of Manhunter and their own creation the Newsboy Legion came out at the same time as Speed #17, and their creation Boy Commandos would come out in October. National was even using the Simon and Kirby name on their covers. It was pretty unusual at that time to use the creator names to promote the comic. Even so Joe and Jack would do covers art for Harvey. But they would not sign these with their own names. Instead some of the work is signed Jon Henri. I don’t believe that anybody in the industry or at National was fooled by this. I think the real reason that they did not use their own names is that Simon and Kirby had now become a brand name. It is one thing to give Al Harvey a helping hand, it is another to compete against yourself.

Adventure #72

This cover has the Jon Henri signature. In later posts I shall show that other Henri covers would be penciled by either Jack or Joe. The overall composition is not unlike a classic Al Schromberg. Despite all that is going on, S&K seem to handle it well and present a clear story. But it is a layout style that was pretty unusual for them. Even though published by Harvey, this is very much a Captain America cover. Compare it to Captain America #10 which even has similar hooded figures. The art style is closest to what had been done at Timely. But the typical Simon and Kirby art had already appeared and National and would also show up on all the later Henri covers. I suspect that this cover was actually done just after leaving Timely and before their work at National gave birth to a true S&K style. Penciling was primarily done by Jack Kirby.

I admit that I am not comfortable with golden age ink attributions. But on this cover there is a peculiar inking pattern in the chute and the ceiling of the room above it. A similar inking style appears on the splash page that Al Avison did for Pocket #1. I have also seen it in “Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge” from Captain America #16, again by Al Avison. However I have also seen something similar on the covers for Champion #8 (Joe Simon) and #9 (Jack Kirby).