R.I.P. Comics Legend, Captain America Co-Creator Joe Simon

Thu, December 15th, 2011 at 9:30am PST | Updated: December 15th, 2011 at 3:35pm

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

One of comics last remaining titans of the Golden Age has left us. CBR News has learned via the Facebook page for Vanguard Productions that Captain America co-creator and industry legend Joe Simon has passed away at 98 years of age. Marvel Comics has confirmed the news for CBR.

A prolific artist and editor in his own right, Simon remains best known for his longtime collaboration with artist Jack Kirby. The pair created multiple characters and genres for the burgeoning comics medium in their early careers before Simon moved on to life as a solo editor and artist before earning acclaim as a biographer and historian and battling Marvel Comics over the copyrights on his and Kirby's most famous creation: Captain America.

Born Hymie Simon in October of 1913 in Rochester, NY, the writer/artist learned the value of a smart business sense and hard work ethic early from his father -- a Jewish tailor who had emigrated from England eight years before he was born -- and began working as an artist as a teenager. After a stint serving as art director for his high school's newspaper, Simon soon took gigs across New York state as editorial cartoonist and artist for local papers before moving to New York City in the late '30s.

Simon soon landed in the comics industry thanks to his many art crowd connections, drawing features for Lloyd Jacquet's Funnies, Inc. comics packaging shop including the Fiery Mask -- the first superhero he created for Marvel precursor Timely Comics. Simon met Kirby shortly thereafter and invited the young artist -- impressed by his suit as well as his business sense -- to work with him on "Blue Bolt" #2, an early sci-fi superhero comic.

"Jack was one-of-a-kind," Simon told CBR in an interview this past summer. "As soon as we started working together, he and I were determined that when we worked together on a story, you wouldn't be able to see where one of us left off and the other started. We worked so closely together that, after the war, we moved into the same town on Long Island. That way, all we had to do was cross the street to get to the other's studio."

The pair soon graduated past fill-in gigs and one-off features as Simon smartly cut out the middleman that was the comics packaging shops of the early days in order to sell their work directly to the publishers for better pay and better credit. This led to the creation of Captain America in "Captain America Comics" #1 from 1941. Aside from impressing Timely publisher Martin Goodman and legions of young fans with its dynamic action cartooning, the pair's story also broke boundaries as the young Jewish creators decided to directly confront Adolf Hitler in the strip before America had entered the war in Europe.

Simon took on the role as the first Editor-in-Chief of the fledgling comic house and brought Kirby along as art director, though as popularity and profits for "Captain America" rose, he began to worry that Goodman was not paying the partners enough for their work as agreed. Quietly, Simon and Kirby began working a deal to go on staff at industry leader National Comics -- home of Superman -- where they soon set up shop on strips like "Manhunter," "The Sandman" and "Boy Commandos" where they pioneered their first new genre of kid gang comics which eventually also included "The Newsboy Legion."

From the start, Simon and Kirby's work was known for its dynamism and ingenuity. The pair pioneered artistic flourishes designed to take advantage of the comic book page rather than the increasingly small confines of the newspaper strip, including gorgeous splash pages. And the combination of Kirby's powerful figure work and Simon's elegant inks made their serial some of the most sought after by comic readers before the war.

Both men fought in World War II with their comic careers being sidelined as a result. Simon landed in the coast guard where he spent most of the war years producing promotional and advertising work for the armed forces as his partner was shipped off to the front. The pair reunited in the late '40s and began to innovate once again, creating multiple new comics genres including the very first romance comics in "Young Love" for Crestwood Publications as well as early spooky horror series "Black Magic" and the political satire "Fighting American." Despite attempts to break out from the run around of working for other publishers who held both the money and the power in comics, Simon and Kirby were never able to become publishers in their own right. In the late '50s after creating the short-lived superheroes "The Fly" and "Lancelot Strong, The Shield" for Archie Comics, the pair went their separate ways.

Simon continued in comics for many years, serving as E-i-C of his father-in-law Al Harvey's comics company during the '60s where he created titles including the "MAD Magazine" clone "Sick" and heroes like "The Stuntman." He later worked again for National/DC solo on characters like "Brother Power, The Geek" and "The Green Team: Boy Millionaires" which were met with varied levels of success.

"Many times over the years I've included current events in the stories, like World War II for 'Captain America,' post-war America in 'Stuntman' and the Cold War in 'Fighting American,'" Simon told CBR. "By the time I was doing 'Brother Power,' the '60s were in full swing and I wanted to try something new. Plus, I was running the gauntlet as the father of teenage kids and saw the whole youth movement through their eyes, as well. So that was great material for a new series." However, by the late '70s, the creator was mostly out of the comics game.

In the '60s, Simon also made his first moves against Marvel, suing the publisher for the rights to Captain America, which he contended he and Kirby had created independent of Goodman. The parties settled out of court in 1969, but it was not the end of a tenuous relationship between artist and company. In 1999, the artist attempted again to earn back the rights to the hero, filing papers to claim a right of reversion under the auspices of the Copyright Act of 1976. The battle went on for many years, bouncing from court to court with the final verdict coming down on the side of Marvel in part due to the '69 negotiations and their outcome.

In the meantime, Simon had made a return to the comics scene, writing the history/biography "The Comic Book Makers" in 1990 with his son Jim and appearing at many conventions across America. He licensed several of the characters he still retained the rights to, including "The Fighting American," to other publishers over the years and recently wrote a second autobiography, "My Life In Comics" which came out this year.

Simon last made the national news in 2007 when Marvel killed Captain America in its comic continuity. Making the press rounds, the artist was widely quoted as saying, "This is a time when we need Captain America more than ever."

UPDATED: DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee issued the following statements regarding Simon's passing.

"Joe Simon was a true legend in the comic book industry. So much of what we are today is owed to him and his amazing creativity. In addition to one of the great writers of the Golden Age, he was also an editor at DC Comics. We appreciate all of his contributions to DC Comics and the industry as a whole, both on the page and behind the scenes." - Dan DiDio

"We lost another of the Titans this week. A creative virtuoso, Joe Simon will be best known for co-creating Captain America with legendary artist Jack Kirby but his many contributions to DC Comics, both as a writer and an editor, are legion and will continue to be cherished by longtime fans, this one included. Our sympathies go out to his family, friends and many, many fans." ­- Jim Lee

TAGS:  joe simon, jack kirby, captain america

 
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