Category Archives: 2006/05


After Joe Simon returned from war service, the S&K team made a deal with Harvey Comics to produce “Stuntman” and “Boy Explorers” comics. I previously discussed the part played in these comics by Bill Draut and Ken Riley who worked on backup stories. Now I would like to go into the work done on these comics by our intrepid artist, Jack Kirby. Not surprisingly, Jack’s efforts was the core of these comics as he the penciler for Stuntman and Boy Explorers stories and covers.

Stuntman #1
Stuntman #1, April 1946

Stuntman was published first on April 1946. It has three Stuntman stories with a total of 35 pages. The first story (“Killer In The Big Top”) introduces the characters. The hero is Fred Drake, who is both a movie stuntman and the crime fighting Stuntman. Like many S&K heroes, he really isn’t a super-hero since he has no special powers. But he does wear a costume and maintain a secret identity. As so common in comics, nobody seems able to make the obvious connection between the hero Stuntman and Drake the stuntman. Drake doubles for the famous movie star Don Daring. The two are spitting images of one another, except Don wears a moustache. Don takes on the comic relief roll. Besides being a vain actor, he periodically puts on a Sherlock Holmes outfit and tries to be the detective and solve the crimes. But his detective attempts come off as the acts of a buffoon, while it is the Stuntman the real man of physical action who saves the day. The love interest is the actress Sandra Sylvan. But calling her the love interest is a little misleading. There certainly is an interest by Sandra in the hero Stuntman, but he in turn always manages to escape her advances.

S #2 Curtain Call For Death
Stuntman #2, June 1946, “Curtain Call For Death”

These stuntman stories seem pure Kirby, with the sort of quick action that Jack seems to excel at. Story lengths of 10 to 13 pages also seem the perfect length for this type of plot. Was it the fact that S&K were no longer limited by publishers like DC, or maybe they had matured as comic artists during the time they spent in wartime service. Whatever the reason Simon and Kirby were now at their peak. This peak would last for about ten years and would produce work unmatched by anyone else. It would take a collaboration between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to match it.

S #2 The Rescue of Robin Hood
Stuntman #2, June 1946, “The Rescue of Robin Hood”

One sign that Kirby wasn’t “pulling any punches” on Stuntman was the return of the double page splash. This layout device was once an important part of S&K work on Captain America, but it was infrequently used during S&K years at DC. But the double spread would return for each Stuntman issue. But only too complete Stuntman comics would be published. A completed double page splash meant for Stuntman #3 would not see print. There was a fourth double spread apparently just in the middle of being ink when work was abruptly terminated. Stuntman is completely inked, other figures partially done and another still in the outline form.

As previously mentioned, Stuntman and Boy Explorers were caught in a post-war comic book glut. With the end of paper rationing, publishers and printers went wild and an over abundance of comic books hit the newstands. It was just too much, many comics would be returned without ever having been put on the racks. New comics like Stuntman didn’t get much of a chance. Only two issues of Stuntman were distributed. A third issue was sent to subscribers but it was one fourth the size of a normal comic, printed without colors, and was short in page count. Completed but as yet used work would eventually be put in Green Hornet Comics about a year later. Even so there maybe two Stuntman stories that have never been published. Unfortunately it appears that the art work for these stories is no longer together.

Unpublished Stuntman
Unpublished Stuntman

All the Stuntman stories that had been made all seem a pretty coherent group. However an ad in Stuntman #2 announced the coming of Stuntgirl and Stuntboy. I suspect that Sandra Sylvan would become Stuntgirl, but I have no idea where the boy would come from. Frankly it is hard to imagine how stories with this threesome would be like. Unfortunately we will never know.

S #2 ad
Stuntman #2, June 1946

John Prentice, usual suspect #3

John Prentice was the last of the usual suspects (artists that worked frequently for the S&K studio for an extended period of time). John served in the Navy during the war, in fact he was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attached. Afterwards he went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for a short time. John arrived in New York in 1947 and the GCD shows him doing work for in Airboy Comics and Gang Buster. The first work he did for the Simon & Kirby studio was Young Love #4 (August 1949). Once John started with S&K he was a frequent artist for their productions. The work he initially did for S&K was pretty good, but John progressed fairly rapidly while until he achieved his mature style which really was exceptional.

YL #4 Two Timer
Young Love #4 (August 1949).

Joe and Jack must have thought highly of John’s work because he was an important contributor to Bullseye #1. The Bullseye origin story was divided into three chapters (“The Boy”, “The Youth” and “The Man”). Jack did all of the first chapter and the splash pages for both of the other chapters, but Prentice penciled all the rest of the story for the last two chapters. Bullseye was part of the Mainline comics, Simon and Kirby’s attempt at self publishing. But while doing Mainline S&K continued producing comics for Prize (Black Magic and the romance titles) during that time. Presumably because of his work load, Jack stopped penciling for these Prize productions. Prentice seems to have taken up some of the work for the absent Kirby because his page output jumps from an average of about 12 pages a month to about 26 during the period from March to October, the last month for Mainline comics.

B #1 The Youth
Bullseye #1, “Bullseye, The Youth” (August 1954).

Like Bill Draut and Mort Meskin, John seemed to worked in all of the genre from the S&K shop. Romance genre were the most frequent stories produced by the studio and Prentice’s style was well suited for them. John was probably the most realistic artist to work for S&K. His men tend to have small eyes and long faces. John’s women are attractive, but are not what I would call glamorous, perhaps sophisticated would be a better description. For some reason Prentice never signed any of his work for Simon and Kirby. Attribution of this work to John is based on work done for the Rip Kirby strip (see below).

YL #45 I Like It Here
Young Love #45, “I Like It Here” (May 1953).

Simon and Kirby’s timing in starting their own comic publishing company, Mainline, was unfortunate because that was the period when anti-comic sediment swept the country fueled by Dr. Wertham and a Senate Investigation Committee. Many publishers felt the effects, but it was probably worst for new companies like Mainline. Mainline’s last comics were dated April 1955. John Prentice’s last work for S&K’s Prize publications was Young Love #69 February 1956. However Joe Simon did some editorial work for Harvey during this difficult period, and Prentice work there on romances until February 1957 (Hi-School Romance #60). If the GCD can be trusted, John returned to work for DC, mostly on their version of the horror genre.

Young Love #58
Young Love #58 (June 1954).

I would like to repeat a cover that I posted earlier, In Love #1. This is one of the few covers that Kirby shared pencil duties with an artist other then Simon. The foreground couple are clearly Jack’s, but the background men were done by John Prentice. Ignoring covers with unrelated inserts, there was only one other cover that Jack shared with another penciler other then Joe during the S&K years. If you don’t know which cover I am talking about, don’t worry I’ll post it shortly.

In Love #1
In Love #1 (September 1954)

On September 6, 1956 Alex Raymond, the artist for the syndication strip Rip Kirby, died. Two months later Prentice took over this popular newspaper comic strip. John would do Rip Kirby until he in turned passed away in 1985. I’ve always heard how much work was involved in producing a comic strip for syndication. But the GCD continues to list comic book work by Prentice from 1957 on into the early 70’s.

Rip Kirby (5/6/58).

Well now I’ve managed to give a brief review on each of the usual suspects. But work by Draut, Meskin and Prentice is so common in S&K productions I am sure to be blogging on them from time to time. Although the usual suspects did a lot of work for the studio, there were other artists who would work for Joe and Jack for shorter periods of time. Many of these artists were quite talented, some later on would achieve fame. I’ll post on some of the other artists some other time.

Green Hornet #7 (June 1942)

Green Hornet #7

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

The Green Hornet cover for June is a bit of a puzzle. The floating head looks like it was done by Joe Simon, The killer clown and the running Green Hornet seem to be Jack Kirby’s hand. The rest of the figures have bits of both. My take on this is that it was original penciled by Jack without the floating head. Joe added the large head and maybe touched up some other parts. Truly a joint effort. Once again signed as Jon Henri.

The inking on this cover includes irregularly patterned “hay” that we have seen before on the cover to Speed #17. When discussing that cover I noted that the same pattern appears in some of Al Avison’s work, including the splash from Pocket #1. Both Speed #17 and GH #7 covers also share some inking styles and lack the S&K shop style that appears on other Harvey covers. I now suspect that both covers were inked by the same artist and that artist may have been Al Avison.

Crime Does Pay

After returning from war service, Simon and Kirby made a deal with Al Harvey to produce Stuntman and Boy Explorers comics. Because of the post-war glut of comics, this venture was short lived. Both comics were cancelled but Harvey would eventually use work that was already produced in both Green Hornet and Black Cat Comics. Joe and Jack then did a variety of work for publisher Hillman, funny animals (“Earl the Rich Rabbit” and “Lockjaw the Alligator”), adventure (“The Flying Fool”), teenage humor (“My Date Comics”) and crime (for “Real Clue Crime Stories”). They did a surprisingly good job on the funny animal stories. But their efforts were probably lost on the younger audience for that type of comics and they must have realized that it was not their forte. The adventure and teen humor were more suited to their style but other publishers already dominated those areas. However the crime stories were even a better match for them and at that time it was a popular genre. The only problem was that their work for Hillman appears to have been work for hire, and they wanted something more.

Headline Comics #23

So S&K made a deal with Prize Publications to produce a crime comic for a share of the profits. This would be the first of a number of deals where Joe and Jack would do produce the artwork for the entire comic with Prize handling the printing and distribution ends. Prize already had a bi-monthly hero anthology called “Headline Comics”. Headline was a pretty good title for a crime comic and perhaps it was not doing all that well, so it was converted to crime. The expected cover date for issue #23 was delayed two months for a March 1947 crime issue. Unlike their previous deal with Harvey, initial work was pretty much a solo Simon & Kirby effort with Jack doing all the pencils. With both work for Hillman and Prize going on at the same time, this resulted in a incredible page count, over 60 pages a month (in September alone it was 139). In fact this rate is so high, and the preceding months so low, that I suspect that much of it was done well before actual publication. If that is true then Joe and Jack probably already had decided to pitch a crime comic package before working for Hillman. Joe says when they wanted to make a proposal to a publisher they would do the entire comic first. That way if a publisher liked the idea but did not want to hire them to do it they could still get it out before him by finding another publisher.

Justice Traps The Guilty #1

There are two signs that a comic was a success. One is that goes monthly and the other is that a spin-off is made. S&K’s Young Romance must have been very popular because it did both. Black Magic went monthly but never did a spin-off, unless you consider the short lived Strange World of Your Dreams as such. Headline did not go monthly, but S&K and Prize did launch Justice Traps The Guilty (October 1947). Guilty was also a bi-monthly and alternated in the schedule with Headline. If this was not enough work for Simon and Kirby, after Headline they had also been pitching the first romance comic which came out in September. This was an awful lot of work, even for Jack. But it was never the intention of S&K to do all the art themselves, so they began to field out work to other artists. For instance Bill Draut (usual suspect #1) returns with “G-Man Trap” in the first Justice Traps The Guilty. Joe and Jack had finally succeeded in going from comic book artists to comic book producers.

Headlive Comics #37

Now that the Simon and Kirby studio was up and running, Jack’s penciling efforts were generally directed to the latest launched product. At this time Kirby continued to provide the pencils for all the covers. There were some good artists working for them, but Jack was still the star. But Young Love #2 (April 1949) had the first non-Kirby cover, a photograph. Soon the other comics followed; Headline #36 (July), Young Romance #13 (September) and Justice Traps the Guilty #12 (October). The romance photographs seemed to be supplied by various agencies, but S&K had a hand in at least some of the enactments of the crime photo covers since Jack appears on Headline #37 September 1949). But photograph covers did not last long for the Prize crime comics, the last one for Guilty #17 (August 1950) and for Headline was #43 (September 1950). With the end of photo covers we have the return of Kirby covers, but not for long. Headline #45 January 1951) was the last one Jack did for that crime title. As for Justice Traps the Guilty Jack’s last cover appears on #23 (February 1951). However Guilty #20 has a cover by some other artist (probably Marvin Stein). Headline #46 has postal statement listing Nevin Fiddler as the magazine’s editor. The contents changed also since the artists normally supplying art to S&K productions started to disappear from these crime comics. It would appear that Simon and Kirby were no longer producing Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty. Both comics would have a long history after S&K, with Marvin Stein frequently doing the covers. But it just wasn’t the same.

Headline Comics #51

Champ #20 (July 1942)

Champ #20

The hits keep coming. So many of the covers that S&K did for Harvey are just amazing. But this one is another of my favorites. The exaggerated perspective in the Liberty Lads are a signature style for Jack Kirby, so he is the primary penciler. S&K literally demonize the Japanese foe. This sort of thing would not be considered politically correct today, but during that war artists worked under a different standard.

I have seen penciled on the margins of the original art that this was inked by Al Avison. But that sort of notation is suspicious. I have seen an awful lot of S&K art and only on one other page have I seen a similar annotation as to the inker of the work. I strongly suspect that these notes were made by subsequent owners or art dealers. In any case at this time Avison was at Timely working as their primary artist for Captain America. As such he was very busy and it is unlikely he would have time to do this inking.