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Joe Simon: My Life in Comics

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With so few of the pioneers of super-hero comics still with us - and by that I mean the true architects of the Marvel and DC Universes - Joe Simon’s autobiography Joe Simon: My Life in Comics, available now from Titan Books, is a most timely reminder of the debt each and every fan of caped and costumed comics heroes owes to a generation of sorely underappreciated creators.

My Life in Comics gives the writer who co-created Captain America a well-deserved opportunity to recount his career in his own words. And what a career it is. After a false start, of sorts, in the newspaper business, Simon moved into the newly burgeoning world of comics and history was made. Not only did Simon, and long-term co-conspirator Jack Kirby, produce some seminal super-hero work, they were also responsible for practically creating the romance comic and played their part in the development of the mystery and horror genre.

From the Golden Age of comics, through Wertham and the purges of the ‘50s, to the re-invigoration of the industry in the 1960s and Simon’s later legal battles to reclaim copyright of his most famous creation from Marvel, this is a fascinating account of a man whose career has spanned just about every major event the industry has seen. For many, though, it will be the insights into Simon’s relationship with Jack Kirby, both personally and professionally, that will be the book’s main draw. Simon speaks fondly of his partnership with Kirby, and yet is uncompromising and refreshingly honest about some aspects of his association with his long-term collaborator.

It’s this candid and frank approach to his anecdotal recollections, combined with an occasionally self-deprecating air, that endear the author to the readers from the outset. The best autobiographies work on the level that they create a bond between subject and audience; that essential feeling that the writer is speaking directly to the reader him or herself. Simon is an ably engaging raconteur in this regard; every page is instilled with his laid-back personality and distinctive voice. His occasional digressions from the point are easily forgiven because they form such an integral part of the conversational tone he adopts throughout.

           

The book is generously illustrated with relevant reproductions of Simon’s comics work and his personal photographs. A lavish colour section further brings to life the bombastic, striking qualities of Simon and Kirby’s many pivotal creations; from Captain America and the Boy Commandos, to Fighting American and Boys’ Ranch, through to their other genre work in the romance and mystery comics fields.

Something that is inescapable from reading this offering is just how utterly insane Simon’s imagination could be when given free rein. Those growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s may well remember the notorious likes of animated hippy mannequin Brother Power the Geek, teenage U.S. president Prez and those boy team millionaires The Green Team from 1st Issue Special. But this volume will remind us that Simon was coming up with crazy concepts and bizarre, borderline surreal series like Fighting American long before that.

           

The reader should not go into My Life in Comics, though, looking for a definitive and soullessly objective analysis of the Golden Age of comics or its effects on the decades after. That would be an inappropriate expectation of the 246 pages this volume comprises. First and foremost this is Joe Simon’s story; his chance to reflect on, and treat us to, his unique perspective on the events that shaped his life, and the comics industry as we know it.

Joe Simon: My Life in Comics is not just a testament to a bygone age of the industry. It is another vital, though admittedly subjective, document that traces the metamorphosis of the publishing history of a medium anyone reading this article has, presumably, made a great personal investment in. From that viewpoint it is an indispensable read and a perfect complement to Titan’s growing library of archived Simon and Kirby comics

Joe Simon: My Life in Comics is available from Titan Books priced £17.99 in the U.K. and $24.95 in the U.S.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Sep 21, 2011 at 2:09pm

    I also thoroughly enjoyed this though I would never recommend it to the un-initiated.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Sep 21, 2011 at 4:43pm

    Love reading autobiographies like this. Julius Schwartz's MAN OF TWO WORLDS is a similarly worthwhile read if you can hunt out a copy!

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