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R.I.P. Joe Simon 1913-2011: Remembering a Man of Indomitable Spirit

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Joe Simon, one of the comic industry’s most significant creators of the 20th Century, passed away on Wednesday December 15th at the not unimpressive age of 98, but the legacy he leaves behind will almost certainly live a lot longer.

Simon was born on October 13th 1913 in Rochester, New York, and began working in comics in the 1930’s, with his first superhero creation being the Fiery Mask for Timely Comics. In 1940, he began a lengthy creative partnership with artist Jack Kirby, initially working on a now largely forgotten character called Blue Bolt. But it would only be a matter of months before Simon and Kirby came up with the character which more than any other defined Simon’s career, Timely Comics’ legendary shield slinger, Captain America, a creation which so captured the public imagination that he is still around 70 years later and has never really gone away in the meantime (aside from a few years in the 1950s, at least). The cover to Captain America Comics #1, with its unforgettable image of Cap socking Hitler on the jaw, is one of the most iconic images in comic’s history even now.

Simon and Kirby were described as “the first superstar creators in comics” by comics historian Mark Evanier, meaning that they were the first creators to be known as much for their names and their reputation for creative excellence rather than for any one character. They went on to create a host of memorable characters throughout the 1940s including the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos and Manhunter for National, the company which would become DC Comics, as well as essentially redesigning and rebooting the Sandman, another DC character who had at that time begun to slip in popularity until the pair replaced his gas mask and fedora with a more dynamic superhero look and gave him a kid sidekick in the shape of Sandy the Golden Boy and an arsenal of improbable gadgets.

          

Later, in the 1950s, they collaborated on Fighting American (one of the first creator owned properties in American comics) for Prize Comics in 1954, and the acclaimed series Boy’s Ranch for Harvey in 1950. The duo also worked extensively on horror, western and crime comics and is credited as having effectively invented romance comics with the publication of Young Romance. Simon and Kirby remained a team for almost two decades, Simon’s natural business acumen securing them a deal at National which made them among the best paid comic artists in the business at the time, but the partnership was more or less dissolved when Simon left the then struggling comics field in 1955 to go into advertising and commercial art. They reunited in 1959 to update The Shield and create The Fly for Archie Comics, though it was to be a brief reunion.

In the 1960s, Simon created various promotional comics for an advertising agency and also created the satirical magazine Sick (an imitator of Mad) which he wrote for and edited for more than ten years. He launched Harvey Comics’ superhero line in 1965 (and returned to the Fighting American alongside Kirby for one issue in 1966) before going back to DC to create some of that company’s weirdest properties of the 1960s and ‘70s, Brother Power the Geek (a rag doll imbued with life who becomes a super hippy), The Green Team (a group of boy millionaires), the Outsiders (a group of super powered freaks) and a reimagined version of the Sandman (with Kirby, again) as well as Prez, America’s first (and mercifully only) teenage President.

In more recent years, Simon – already an accomplished writer, artist, editor and ideas man – turned his attention to painting, creating reproductions of his Golden Age comic book covers, and earlier this year made an appearance at the premiere of the Captain America movie, which has brought his most famous co-creation back into the public eye once more.

A self made man who spent a lifetime in an industry which can be callously indifferent to the talents that sustain it, Joe Simon stands as much for the indomitable spirit of the American working man as does the super soldier he created.

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Comments

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Dec 16, 2011 at 9:45am

    Christ, first Jerry Robinson and now Joe Simon. Two titans of tomorrow who will thankfully live on in through the legacies of their unparalleled imaginations...

  • Tony Ingram

    Tony Ingram Dec 16, 2011 at 12:57pm

    It's a shame, but sadly the Golden Age was a long time ago and the few of that generation who are still with us are all in their eighties or older. It becomes more and more inevitable there'll be less of them each year. And at least 98 is a good age.

  • Jason Wilkins

    Jason Wilkins Dec 16, 2011 at 6:23pm

    Agreed :) Thanks for a couple of great pieces, Tony!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Dec 17, 2011 at 10:25am

    Great piece Tony. Read Joe Simon's autobiography this year and it was a top book.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Dec 20, 2011 at 4:53am

    Nice one, Tony. Thanks for this.

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