Category Archives: 2010/11

My Two Cents

I have been reading a number of reviews of “The Simon and Kirby Superheroes”. One recent and rather nice one is from Ain’t It Cool News. There are other reviews that are complimentary but a surprising number of them comment on the cost of the book ($49.95 list, but of course much cheaper at online book distributors like Amazon). I can understand, especially in these economically trying times, that the price of a book is an important issue. What surprises me is that in all the reviews of DC Archives or Marvel Masterworks I have read not one commented on the price those volumes. Yet they list at about the same as “The Simon and Kirby Superheroes” (the Boy Commandos archive is $49.99 and the Daring Mystery Marvel Masterworks is $59.99).

I would have bought a copy DC’s Boy Commandoes archive had I not been given a copy. However I still regret deviating from my policy of avoiding Marvel Masterworks to buy Daring Mystery volume 2. Price is not the issue, or at least not the most important issue. When I buy a reprint I want to read and see the work of the original artists. Reprints based on scans provide that. Now some restorations of scans are better than others and I admit that I prefer my own. But even poorly restored scans are better than recreated art. People keep commenting to me that many of the recent reprints based on scans are disrespectful to the original artists. I find it hard to understand what could be more disrespectful than recreating the work by those artists.

“The Boy Commandos by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby” by DC

I do not believe it is out yet, but last weekend Joe Simon gave me a copy of “The Boy Commandos by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby” volume 1. The current law requires that I admit to any financial benefit that I received when blogging about published books. I am not kidding, bloggers have been prosecuted for failure report that that the publisher gave them the review copy for free. In my case I supplied some of the scans used in this book and I believe the restorations for the covers. With that out of the way, the best way to describe this volume is that if you liked DC’s Newsboy Legion archive than you will like this book, perhaps even more so. It is very much the same approach. The reprints are based on scans with the yellow page color replaced by white. The dimensions of the book required that the scans be reduced in size. Some have criticized DC’s approach to these archives and I even wished they had decided to published a larger volume so that scans could have been printed full size. However I am a big believer in the use of scans in reprints rather than the reprehensible sanitized recreations that Marvel continues to put out. The DC archive includes one story (“Satan Wears A Swastika” that I restored for “The Best of Simon and Kirby”. The version from TBoSK was enlarged so it has a distinct advantage over the one in the DC archive. Personally I prefer my version (a completely biased opinion) but I do not think the reader would be able to find any true discrepancies between the two.

The Boy Commandos were Simon and Kirby’s biggest hit for DC. While Sandman and the Newsboy Legion were prominently featured in the titles they appeared in, the Boy Commandos was the only Simon and Kirby comic to get its own title. Since the feature also appeared in Detective Comics and World’s Finest there are a lot of Boy Commandos stories. The first volume of the DC Boy Commandos archives only makes it as far as Boy Commandos #2 and Detective Comics #72 (they started in issue #64). Potentially there are a number of volumes of this archive to come. For those only interested in Simon and Kirby drawn work (and I fully understand) this is the only archive that DC has so far published that is nothing but Simon and Kirby.

There are other reasons that the Boy Commandos are special. Of all the creations that Simon and Kirby did for DC, the Boy Commandos were the only one that actually fought the Axis Powers. The war was the biggest event of the time and yet most superheroes stayed on the home front (and that included Sandman). While the Newsboy Legion did paper and metal drives, they remained residents of Suicide Slums. But in story after story the Boy Commandos confronted the greatest evil of the day. The American spirit versus the tyrannical evil in its purist form. Now some readers may find it a bit unrealistic for youngsters to fight in the war and of course they are right. But if the reader is willing to suspend their disbelief to read superheroes comics they should have no problem in doing so for boy warriors. Especially today when it some parts of the world it has become a sad fact of life. And the rewards are worth it. This is Simon and Kirby at their best. Imaginative stories full of action and humor. Something not to be missed.

Joe Simon’s Fawcett Testimony

Captain Marvel, Special Edition (March 1941) bleached page art by Jack Kirby

Not very long ago Ken Quattro (the comics detective) posted some court transcripts of testimony that was given during the DC versus Fox copyright infringement trial. This trial concerned DC’s claim that Fox’s Wonder Man was a copy of Superman. The transcripts of a number of witnesses was provided but the most surprising was that by Will Eisner. In the past Will Eisner had always maintained that, despite pressure from Fox to take the blame, he had told the court that Fox had instructed him to copy Superman. But the court transcript that Quattro obtained showed that in fact Eisner denied that Wonder Man was a copy of Superman. The transcript is a fascinating discovery that re-wrote comic book history as we know it.

The DC vs. Fox transcript brought to mind another trial, that of DC versus Fawcett. This was actually a more important case because Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was selling quite well, perhaps even better than Superman. One aspect of this lawsuit was of particular interests to me because in his book “The Comic Book Makers” Joe Simon had a chapter describing how he became a witness at the trial. I have recently had the opportunity to read a transcript of Joe’s appearance. Right up front, I want to say there were no big surprises to be found in the transcript. But in light of the historical importance of the DC/Fawcett trial I thought I would write about what the record shows.

Joe’s first appearance in court was on March 9, 1948. Under questioning from the plaintiff (DC) Joe first provided a brief description of his career. Mostly Joe dwelled on his work as a newspaper staff artist and while he mentioned the newspapers he worked for, Joe did not go into detail about the comic book publishers he had dealt with.

Then Simon was asked about his involvement with Fawcett Publications. Joe describe being contacted by Al Allard, Fawcett’s art editor. Simon was asked if he was willing to take on an assignment to put together a magazine of Captain Marvel. This work would end up being Captain Marvel Special Edition, the first time the big red cheese had appeared in his own comic book have previously appeared in Whiz Comics. Allard stated that Captain Marvel was a “take-off of Superman”.

Joe returned later with some sketches of Captain Marvel that he and Jack Kirby had drawn to show what they were capable of. Allard then introduced Joe to William Parker to supply the script. Ed Herror was also there. Joe asked Parker if they could make any changes in the script, telling him that they “were in the habit of changing script to improve the cartoon, having been writers and editors in the field ourselves”. Parker instructed Joe that they definitely could not alter the script, “they are following a definite pattern there, definite formula, and they had taken the formula from Superman”.

Joe brought the pencils for each story one at a time back to Fawcett for lettering. Afterwards they were retrieved and inked. The final inked versions were delivered by both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. The payment for this work was done by check sent through the mail.

The above testimony was in response to questioning by the DC lawyers, DC then requested that Fawcett supply the original art that Simon and Kirby had done which had previously been subpoenaed. Fawcett did not have the art at that time and therefore questioning of Joe was stopped for the day.

The date that Simon reappeared as a witness is difficult to read on the copy of the transcripts that I saw. I believe it was either March 13 or 15. The original art that Simon and Kirby created for the Captain Marvel comic was then available. Under questioning from the DC lawyer Joe discussed the changes that had been made to the original art, which seems to have been rather abundant. From his testimony the changes had been made in both the penciled and the inked art. A copy of the published comic book was available but instead Simon would identify the changes by the art style. The most memorable change was that a rifle that in the original Simon and Kirby version was bent “so that it could shot around corners” had been altered into being bent like a pretzel. The DC lawyer produced a large photostat from the summer 1940 issue of Superman which also had a rifle similarly bent.

Joe was then cross examined by the Fawcett lawyer. First he was asked about his latest employment which was by Crestwood Publications (which in my blog I normally refer to as Prize Comics). On questioning, Simon reported that he got paid on a royalty basis. The lawyer asked to verify that if Crestwood was not satisfied with the art that Simon and Kirby produced then they do not accept it. Joe corrected that as part of their agreement they have to accept it whether they liked it or not. He added that they have never disliked anything they had done. On questioning about the characters that Simon and Kirby did for Crestwood Joe replied that the only “natural character” was Charlie Chan. He said that they had produced two issues to date but that none of they had yet to appear on the newsstands. As for other characters that Simon and Kirby produced “all others were true stories”. (At the time of this testimony Simon and Kirby were producing Headline, Justice Traps the Guilty and Young Romance.)

On questioning about other characters that Joe had previously created he mentioned Marvel Boy, Young Allies, T-Man, the Newsboy Legion and Captain America. The Fawcett lawyer seemed intent out getting Joe to describe the costume but the DC lawyer would object, sometimes successfully and other times not.

Joe was asked how long he had known Herron, Allard and Parker which in all cases was not long before working on the Captain Marvel comic. The Fawcett then proceed to question Joe about the changes to the art. The lawyer would ask Joe if there was any indication of whiteout on some panel. And Joe kept trying to explain that whiteout was not required for changes to the pencils and that he could tell what was changed by the style.

During redirect by the DC lawyer, Joe was asked about what other work he had done for Fawcett. Joe stated that while they did no more work on Captain Marvel they later did some for Wow Comics (this would by Mr. Scarlett that appeared in Wow #1).

On recross by the Fawcett lawyer, Simon was questioned about whether he had heard Mr. Herron testify to writing scripts for Captain America and Joe had answered that he was not present at Herron’s appearance. Joe was asked if he had done the art for the Sandman character from Adventure Comics #87 which he had done for “several issues”. One objection from the DC lawyer, Fawcett said that they trying to show that “he draws not only characters having these traits but he draws them for the plaintiffs”. Joe was also questioned about Manhunter.

Like I wrote at the beginning, there are no big surprises in the testimony. Joe mentioned a few times that people at Fawcett had admitted to him that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman. Simon was not asked this directly but since he was DC’s witness I presume they were already aware of what Joe would say. In “The Comic Book Makers” Joe says that before the trial the DC lawyer “skillfully led us into the testimony he was seeking”. Another objective of the plaintiff (DC) seemed to be the reworking of the art. It was not elaborated during Joe’s testimony but I believe it was DC’s argument that these changes were made to make the art more similar to that found in Superman. The defendant’s, Fawcett, objectives seem to be to discredit Simon as a witness. Their attempts at questioning Joe about the art changes seemed to be directed at making it appear that Simon could not reliably identify the changes. The questioning about Joe’s career and the work that he had done for DC was clearly aimed at “trying to test the credibility of the witness’s testimony”. The idea being that if Joe worked for DC his testimony was biased. Surprisingly Fawcett never just asked Joe directly if he was currently doing work for the plaintiff. Had Fawcett asked that question Joe would have had to answer yes since Simon and Kirby were still doing Boy Commandos.

Simon’s testimony does provide evidence about one detail of comic book history. Sometime back I read the suggestion that Simon and Kirby’s Mr. Scarlett was done sometime before their work on Captain Marvel Special Edition. This suggestion was based on a dates provided from a second source for the Captain Marvel Special Edition and Wow #1 (in which Mr. Scarlett first appeared). Unfortunately neither comic has a proper cover date. Joe’s testimony places the Captain Marvel work before that done on Mr. Scarlett.

Crime’s Better Half

Headline #26 (September 1947), art by Jack Kirby

Simon and Kirby only worked in the crime genre during two periods. The first, and most extensive one, was from 1947 to about 1950 when the worked on Clue and Real Clue Comics for Hillman, as well as producing Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty for Prize. The second occasion was when they produced Police Trap for the own publishing company Mainline. Joe and Jack were always very creative and the crime genre gave them a wide range of subjects. They produced stories about gangsters, western outlaws, and other historical criminals. Another variation Simon and Kirby seemed fond of were women criminals. By no means were Joe and Jack the sole comic book creators that did work about crime by females (there even was a title Crimes By Women published by Fox). However like pretty much everything Simon and Kirby did, they created some very memorable work about women criminals.

Clue Comics volume 2, number 3 (May 1947) “The Battle For Packy Smith” page 11, pencils by Jack Kirby

The first of Simon and Kirby’s beautiful villains was Velvet. She appeared in the second story about Packy Smith, a gentlemen highly sought after for the element X contained in his body. Packy was much very taken with the charming Velvet Silver, only to end up betrayed by her for the bounty that a crime lord had placed on his head. But once she was paid for her efforts, Velvet then proceeded to betray in turn the crime lord and freed Packy. Velvet may have been larcenous but she also had a heart of gold. A villain you cannot help but love.

Real Clue Crime Stories volume 2 number 6 (August 1947) “Get Me the Golden Gun”, art by Jack Kirby

Packy never made a third appearance, but Velvet returned without Packy in “Get Me the Golden Gun”. It was the hero, Gunmaster, who now fell under her spell. While Packy had been a criminal himself, Gunmaster of course was not. So he found his attraction to Velvet to be very troublesome. While she was not quite so villainous as Velvet, Simon and Kirby developed a similar relationship between Riot O’Hara and Link Thorne in “The Flying Fool” (produced at the same time and for the same publisher Hillman).

Justice Traps the Guilty #4 (May 1948) “Queen of the Speed-Ball Mob”, art by Jack Kirby

Gunmaster and Velvet were clearly meant to be fictional however the work Simon and Kirby produced for Prize were meant to be considered as true stories (or at least initially). So similar mismatched romance between a hero and a criminal were not repeated in Headline or Justice Traps the Guilty. Still women criminals played an important part of the Simon and Kirby repertoire for Prize. Often when the lead character was a female, Simon and Kirby would present the story as if it was told by the woman. Generally in such cases, the story would start with what I describe as a confessional splash. A splash were the main character introduces the story with their speech balloon forming the feature’s title. This device was common in Simon and Kirby romance publications but only seems to be used by Joe and Jack for the crime genre when the protagonist was a woman. Most likely this was because male criminals generally had a very bad ending while the woman repent and paid her debt to society. Apparently Simon and Kirby preferred not to kill or execute even villainous women but had no qualms about providing the male criminals with such fates. In all honesty this form of sexual discrimination is still very much prevalent today.

Real Clue Comics volume 2 number 4 (June 1947) “Mother Of Crime”, art by Jack Kirby

The Simon and Kirby rule was all female villains where young and beautiful and would in the end repent their life in crime. But of course every rule has exceptions. I doubt many would call Ma Barker either young or beautiful. Not only does she come to a bad end, she does not sound very repentful either. It is a marvelous story that fortunately was included in “The Best of Simon and Kirby”. If you have not bought the book yet, what are you waiting for?

Headline #25 (July 1947), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

Replacing Simon and Kirby, Chapter 4, Sandman

Sometime ago I posted about the artists that replaced Joe Simon and Jack Kirby during the period that both were performing military service. (Replacing Simon and Kirby, Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3). My previous postings concerned the Newsboy Legion but here I am going to discuss Sandman. Unfortunately the reader will be at a greater disadvantage compared to previous chapters. While DC’s Newsboy Legion archives included work done by other artists, the Simon and Kirby Sandman Archive was limited to just Joe and Jack (at least that was DC’s intention).

To refresh the reader’s memory, while working for DC Joe and Jack realized that they would soon have to leave to perform their military duty. So they worked hard at creating an inventory that could be used while they were gone. Simon and Kirby were able to provide quite a bit of inventory but eventually it ran out.

Adventure #91 (April 1944) “Courage a la Carte”, pencils by Jack Kirby

The Sandman covers and adventures that appeared before issue #91 were done by Simon and Kirby. While the splash for “Courage a la Carte” was not Joe and Jack’s finest job, I am confident that Kirby did the pencils. The most obvious give-a-way is the thug at on the right of the splash. I have no idea who the inker was but obviously it was neither Joe nor Jack. Like I said this was not their finest effort but their inventoried work often was not quite as nice as their less rushed efforts.

Adventure #91 (April 1944) “Courage a la Carte” page 3, pencils by Gil Kane?

But what followed the splash to “Courage a la Carte” looks pretty crude, much cruder than would be expected even for the inventory work. For good reason because it was not penciled by either Jack or Joe. Kane would have been very young at the time and even he admitted that his efforts at the time were rather poor. The attribution of this art to Gil Kane is not based on the art itself, instead I base this attribution on a statement that Gil made

I got a “Newsboy Legion” job to do by myself (like I had done the rest of them except they didn’t fix it up or do the splash),

So far “Courage a la Carte” and “The Lady of Linden Lane” (Star Spangled #30, March 1944) are the only stories for DC that I have seen with a Kirby splash for a story otherwise done by another artist (although I have not studied the Boy Commandos stories yet). Since the circumstances matches Gil’s remarks, I have tentatively credit him for these pieces. The two Kane stories were published at about the same time (while I use March as the cover date for Adventure #91, that title was actually a bimonthly) but were likely to have been done earlier and inventoried like the rest of Simon and Kirby’s work.

Unlike most of the Sandman art that I cover in this chapter, “Courage a la Carte” was one of the stories included in DC’s Simon and Kirby Sandman Archives. It is also listed in the Jack Kirby Checklist. But as I said above, Kirby only drew the splash.

Adventure #92 (June 1944) “Tough Guy” page 3, pencils by unidentified artist

After Kane, work on Sandman was done by another artist, the same one who followed Gil on the Newsboy Legion. Earlier I had misidentified this artist as Kane but the timeline simply will not support that. Kane entered military service in April or May 1944 but work by this artist appeared until October 1945. Joe Simon suggested that this might be the Cazeneuve brothers, but I have seen enough of their work to discount them. Other suggestions have been made but I have not found them convincing either.

The work by this artist is nothing like that for Simon and Kirby but it would be a mistake to discount him. I find his art to be interesting and original. The quality varies from story to story but I have now come to believe that much of that was due to the various inkers used on his pencils.

Adventure #94 (October 1944) “Reincarnation of a Rogue”, pencils by unidentified artist

The same replacement artists discussed above worked on a number of Sandman stories. The stories were still credited to Simon and Kirby but were any of their fans really fooled? I really enjoy much of his story art but find most of his splashes not all that interesting. I include above one of the better examples of his splashes.

Adventure #95 (December 1944) “The Riddle of the Rembrandt”, pencils by unidentified artist

The main replacement for Simon and Kirby had an uninterrupted run for the Newsboy Legion (Star Spangled #31 to #49, April 1944 to October 1945). But he only did three issues of the bimonthly Sandman (Adventure #92 to #94, June to October 1944) before another artist was used. Like most of the replacement artists, I really have no idea who did “The Riddle of the Rembrandt” but his talent is pretty obvious.

Adventure #97 (April 1945) “No Curtains for Cupid”, pencils by unidentified artist

The main replacement Simon and Kirby replacement returned after a single issue absence. “No Curtains for Cupid” looks rather different from the other examples I provided above. I still feel they were done by the same penciler but in my opinion much of the apparent differences can be assigned to the wide range of inkers used. Regardless of the inker, the art retains a unique style.

Adventure #98 (June 1945), pencils by unidentified artist

The cover to Adventure #98 was previously discussed on this blog (Not Kirby, Adventure #98). In that post I recounted a number of reasons why I felt the cover was not done by Jack Kirby but the most important of them was the manner that the caveman’s right forearm was drawn. Kirby’s anatomy was not accurate but he always made kept a solid underlying form. The form of the caveman’s forearm is broken in a manner that Jack never did. To all the reasons I previously presented I can now add another. a mirror image of the caveman figure (in more modern clothing) is also found twice on the cover of Star Spangled #45 (June 1945, Replacing Simon and Kirby, Chapter 2). This is much too much use of the same image to credit to Jack. Swiping is a much more obvious explanation.

The main replacement artist would also provide the work for Adventure #99. This means with the exception of a single issue (Adventure #95) the main replacement artist would draw Adventure #92 to #99; June 1944 to August 1945. This matches pretty well with his uninterrupted run for the Newsboy Legion.

Adventure #100 (October 1945) “Sweets For Swag” page 9, pencils by unidentified artist

Jack Kirby returns to Adventure Comics with issue #100. However Kirby only provided the cover while the interior Sandman story was done by a rather inferior penciler. The primitive art for “Sweets for Swag” remind me of the work that I am now attributing to Gil Kane. In fact the main replacement artist run for the Newsboy Legion was also followed by what looks like the same artist in Star Spangled #52 (January 1946, Chapter 2). In Chapter 2 I had questionably credited it to Gil Kane but I am having second thoughts. Gil would have been entering the armed forces at the time this art was created so it seem unlikely he would have drawn it. This story is another one that was mistakenly attributed to Kirby in the DC Simon and Kirby Sandman Archives and the Jack Kirby Checklist.

Adventure #101 (December 1945) “No Nap for No-Nerves”, pencils by unidentified artist

Once again Kirby provides a cover for Adventure #101 (December 1945) but did not draw the interior story. The artist who did do “No Nap for No-Nerves” did a good job although I got to say that in his splash Sandy and the Sandman appear to be blowing the thugs away and not scaring them out of their shoes.

Adventure #102 (February 1946) “The Dream Of Peter Green”, pencils by Jack Kirby

With Adventure #102 Kirby is finally back to drawing both the cover and the story art. Sandman was back in safe hands and all was once again good with the world. Or that would have been the case if this was not the last Adventure issue to include the Sandman and Sandy. Yes the Sandman was replaced with Superboy and Kirby would not appear in the title again until 1958 when, without Simon, he drew Green Arrow. A convenient explanation for the sudden demise of Sandman so shortly after Kirby’s return would by that it was a reprisal to Simon and Kirby going to a competitor, Harvey Comics, to publish their Stuntman and Boy Explorers. While that would make an interesting story the timing just does not work. While Adventure #103 and Stuntman #1 would both come out in April, DC would have to have made the decision to change directions with Adventure before they were likely to have found out about Simon and Kirby’s defection.

While Simon and Kirby were away, the two titles followed a similar timeline.

  • March/April 1944 – Kirby drawn splash, rest of story by Gil Kane?
  • April/June 1944 – First story by the main replacement artist
  • June 1945 – First cover by the main replacement artist
  • August 1945 – Last story by the main replacement artist
  • September/October 1945 – First cover by the returned Kirby
  • February 1946 – First story by the returned Kirby

There remains one other feature to be considered, the Boy Commandos.