Category Archives: 2012/01

Blue Bolt Covers

Blue Bolt #1 (June 1940), art by unidentified artist

As previously discussed, Joe Simon’s creation of the feature Blue Bolt occurred somewhat earlier than the cover date of Blue Bolt #1 would suggest. Joe supplied it to Funnies Inc. a shop run by Lloyd Jacquet that put together comic books for other publishers. Blue Bolt was just one of a number of features that Simon created for the shop. But apparently Jacquet and Novelty Press must have seen some special potential in Blue Bolt and used it as the title feature for a new comic book. Had that had been the intention all along it would be expected that Simon would do the cover art but since that was not the case we cannot assume he drew the cover. There are reasons to believe that Simon was not the cover artist and little to suggest he was. To my knowledge only the eyes of the Green Sorceress look like they might have been done by Simon. However many comic book artists found difficulty in getting eyes to sit properly on a face viewed from an angle. Otherwise none of the figures look like any other art that we can more confidently attribute to Joe. The Green Sorceress’ hair seems tamed in comparison to Simon’s depiction in the story. The dragon does not resemble the monsters in the story either. Blue Bolt’s cape lacks the distinct zigzag contour found in the story although Simon would abandon this device in future issues. Blue Bolt’s helmet includes a lightning bolt emblem that is missing from the story art. The gloves and boots have a three dimensional presence that Simon generally avoided and specifically did not use for Blue Bolt. Finally the composition is very untypical of Simon particularly the lack of any background elements causing Blue Bolt to float. It is hard to escape the conclusion that despite what some have claimed the cover art for Blue Bolt #1 was not done by Joe Simon.

Jacquet’s shop had a number of comic book artist which could have been called upon to draw the cover. Perhaps the most famous were Carl Burgos and Bill Everett but I think it can safely be said that the style of the cover art does not match either of these two artists.

Blue Bolt #2 (July 1940), art by W. E. Rowland

Fortunately the next Blue Bolt cover was signed so there can be no question that it was drawn by William E. Rowland. The cover art for BB #2 shares some features with that for BB #1. In particular the more three dimensional aspects of the gloves and boots as well as the lightning bolt design on the helmet. I feel that the Blue Bolt’s face looks similar in the two covers. However Rowland goes even further in giving the gloves and boots a real physical presence. Further he has added details to the gloves that were missing from the BB #1 cover such as the lightning bolt and small circular shapes and lines that border the opening of the glove. While I would not rule out that Rowland was the cover artist for BB #1, I do not find the similarities strong enough to convince me that he was.

Blue Bolt #1 (June 1940) “Page Parks”, art by W. E. Rowland

The signature on the cover of BB #2 is particularly valuable because I doubt that Rowland would otherwise have been credited for the art. Apparently Rowland only worked on comic books for a few years (1939 to 1942) and even during that period he did not seem to do a lot of work. I have discussed one story by Rowland from Prize Comics #7 (December 1940) previously (Ted O’Neil). Frankly it was a rather unfair comparison of his take on the feature with Simon and Kirby’s. The purpose of the post was to highlight how radical Simon and Kirby’s work was compared to the work by more typical comic book artists even at this early stage in their career. Blue Bolt #1 also has a story drawn by Rowland and a scan of a page is provided above. Rowland is a good comic book artist, better than most contemporaries, but judging from the work I have seen so far it is hard to understand why he would have been selected to provide cover art. Whatever the basis for that decision it turned out to be a good one because Rowland’s cover art is rather nice and far superior to his story art.

Blue Bolt #3 (August 1940), pencils and inks by Joe Simon

It was only with the third issue that Simon had his single chance to provide the cover art for Blue Bolt. Much could be said about the technical problems with the art. The cloth folds are a confusing mess and the perspective of the forward leg is not quite accurate. But these and others faults are nothing more than nick-picking that do not significantly distract from the cover’s impact. The figure of Blue Bolt was swiped from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (see Art by Joe Simon, Chapter 4, Footnote) but Joe has infused the figure with excitement. Simon also uses a low viewing angle so that Blue Bolt can tower over his supporting soldiers. It is a effective depiction of an attaching force coming through some mountainous pass.

There was a time that some attributed this cover art to Jack Kirby but nowadays there is general agreement that Simon drew the cover. Perhaps the most convincing evidence that Kirby did not draw the figure is the somewhat problematic nature of the perspective of Blue Bolt’s leg, Kirby’s use of perspective was always very convincing. While it is now known that Kirby did sometimes use swipes I have never seen an example of Jack swiping from the same source more than once. However this twice use of Raymond’s Flash Gordon running figure would not be unusual for Simon.

Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940), art by W. E. Rowland

Blue Bolt did not appear on every cover of the comic that bore his name. The next appearance of Blue Bolt was for issue #5 and once again Rowland has the honors. While this cover shares some stylistic features with the one Rowland did for BB #2 there have been important advances as well. Blue Bolt’s glove and boots have an even more exaggerated three dimensional look. The figures have become more massive and muscular and the inking finer and more detailed. While Rowland did a good job on the cover for BB #2, this one is a masterpiece.

Blue Bolt #7 (December 1940), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

Issue #7 marked Blue Bolt’s final cover appearance during the Simon and Kirby run. It would be Jack Kirby’s only Blue Bolt cover. While not a bad cover it was not one of Jack’s finest either. I feel much of the blame comes from the action portrayed. Jumping out of a plane just does not have the impact of, for example, attempting to stop a bomb from exploding (as seen in the cover for Champion #10, August 1940). The rather unimpressive aircraft do not help either. I am not sure what they are meant to be since they lack propellers or jet engines. Rocket planes?

The Next Two Simon and Kirby Library Volumes From Titan

Titan has announced the next two volumes for the Simon and Kirby Library as has been reported in Comic Book Resources. One of them, Horror, had been previously announced and is now scheduled for release in 2013. The book scheduled for the fall of 2012 is Science Fiction. Because the material in this volume was so dear to Joe Simon he held it back and it was not part of the original agreement with Titan. However recent events had caused those plans to be altered.

As I wrote above, the Simon and Kirby science fiction was very important to Joe. One of Joe’s earliest creations and the first that can be described as a real hit was Blue Bolt. It was while working on Blue Bolt that the Simon and Kirby collaboration took root. Most of the initial Blue Bolt stories had been previously reprinted some years ago in a small trade back. Considering the state of the art at the time it was a valiant effort but by today’s standards somewhat flawed. But the most puzzling thing about this earlier reprint was that it failed to include the origin story from the first issue. I am happy to write that the Titan volume will include first story and that all the stories have been fully restored. If you have seen the Crime volume from the Simon and Kirby Library you know what to expect. I showed Joe the Blue Bolt restorations a few weeks before his passing and he was quite pleased.

Who was the best Kirby inker is a much debated issue. I would say that nobody was better inking Kirby than Kirby himself closely followed by Joe Simon. But putting those two titans aside who did the best job inking Kirby? Of course most fans would probably chose some silver or bronze age inker. But I would say the best Kirby inking work appeared in Race for the Moon published in 1958. In his recent autobiography, “My Life In Comics”, Joe says this was the joint effort of Reed Crandall, Angelo Torres and Al Williamson. It was a beautiful job but one that did not live up to its full potential due to the notorious poor printing of Harvey Comics. Fortunately all of the Race for the Moon material will be restored in the Titan volume using either original art or flats (production proofs of the line art, the next best thing to original art). Altogether the Science Fiction book will include 82 pages based on original art and 18 from flats.

I could go on about all the important Simon and Kirby science fiction that will be in this volume including some surprises. And I probably will in a future post. But for now let me just say that this will be a very important Simon and Kirby volume that no fan will want to miss.

It is sad that Joe will not see the published results for either of these two volumes of the Simon and Kirby Library. But it is great that the Simon and Kirby legacy will continued to be published by Titan. The books being published by Titan are the only ones authorized by the estates of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

A Small Mystery Solved

Justice Traps the Guilty #60A (March 1954) pencils and inks by Marvin Stein

There are many mysteries to be found in the history of comic books. Most are small mysteries, the type that might interest only a handful of fans, but they are mysteries nonetheless. One that has puzzled me over the years is the Justice Traps the Guilty #60A issue. Why #60A and not just #60? Like I said, a small puzzle of that might concern only to the few fans that have an interest in the crime comics published by Prize Comics.

Justice Traps the Guilty #58 (January 1954) pencils and inks by Marvin Stein

JTTG issue #58 was dated January 1954. At the time JTTG was a monthly and therefore March 1954 was the proper month for issue #60, so again why the ‘A’? Prize also used volume numbering to identify their issues. JTTG #58 was volume 7 number 4 and JTTG #60A was volume 7 number 6. So JTTG #59 would expected to be volume 7 number 5 and dated February 1954.

Justice Traps the Guilty #60 (February 1954) pencils and inks by Marvin Stein

However I never saw a copy of JTTG #59 and, as it turns out, with good reason. When I finally found a JTTG dated as February 1954 is was issue #60 (without the ‘A’). The volume numbering was just as expected (volume 7 number 5) but it was not the expected issue #59. Apparently when the February comic was created it was mistakingly marked as issue #60. This error was recognized and corrected by assigning the March comic as #60A. That way all subsequent issues would be correctly numbered.

Yes it was a very small mystery indeed but I was still glad to find the solution. It also allowed me to complete the checklist to Justice Traps the Guilty.