With The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio with an Introduction by Mark Evanier and an Afterword by Jim Simon, learn more about Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, the duo who invented noteworthy characters like Captain America and Sandman, conceived the idea of romance comics, and created a new standard for the genres of crime, western, and horror comic books.
In the new tradition of large format comic related books comes The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio from Abrams. Weighing in at a hefty 5.2 pounds, the book lovingly reproduces over 380 pages of original artwork, with grime, whiteout, paste-ups, glue stains and erasures intact. One can almost smell the cigar smoke.
The Simon and Kirby Studio was the partnership formed by comic-book creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, beginning in the late 1930s when they met at the Victor Fox’s comic company. One of their earliest efforts was Captain America Comics for Timely Comics (today known as Marvel) in 1940. After the 10th issue, they departed for National Comics (now DC). Interrupted by World War II, they regrouped afterward and produced work for a myriad of publishers — Hillman, Harvey, Prize, Crestwood, Archie among them, inventing romance comics and forming their own Mainline Publications along the way. After the downturn in the comics industry following the Congressional hearings and public criticism in the mid-fifties, they continued to collaborate on a limited basis.
Cover by Jack Kirby
In addition to writing the Introduction, Mark Evanier also compiled the art. In many ways this serves as a companion piece to his 2008 effort, Kirby: King of Comics, also from Abrams. As he notes in his foreword, “Both were Jewish kids born into meager existences. Both had fathers who were tailors. Both loved comic strips and fantasy novels, and both learned to draw by copying those strips.”
In addition to the work of Simon and Kirby, the book features work by such studio stalwarts as Mort Meskin, Bill Draut, Marvin Stein, Leonard Star, John Prentice, Al Williamson, et al. The book is handsomely designed by Mark Murphy and Pamela Notarantonio with art direction by Chad W. Beckerman.
Illustrated by Jack Kirby and Al Williamson
As an eyewitness, Joe Simon’s son Jim has much to offer in his Afterword. An author and comics creator in his own right, I interviewed Jim about his remembrances of the S&K studio.
SB: In your Afterword you describe the “moveable feast” of the Simon and Kirby studio, as more a concept than physicality. What are your earliest memories of your father and Jack working together?
Jim Simon: Watching Joe and Jack taking turns at the drawing board. Although I was quite young when Joe and Jack still worked together, I can still remember going over to Jack’s house with Dad and the two of them working on art boards together in Jack’s studio, or in other times Jack coming over to our house and Jack and Dad working on art boards together in Dad’s studio. I remember Jack at the drawing board, pencil in hand, Dad standing over him as Jack drew and Dad commenting, then Jack standing and Joe sitting at the drawing board, erasing and penciling the same art board followed by Dad getting up and Jack sitting back down, continuing the penciling.
It was also fun and interesting going with my dad to the various publishing houses and meeting the various artists and inkers and writers, going to the printers on occasion, the look and feel of of inks, paints, pencils, erasings, drawing boards, the smells and occasional tastes of cigars, pipes, cigarettes, coffee many of the artists and writers enjoyed—a moveable feast indeed!
SB: What was Jack Kirby like?
Jim Simon: The Jack Kirby I remember was a quiet man. Short and unassuming, quiet maybe introverted to an extent. Aside from his family his life seemed all about making comics. I felt Joe and Jack had a special respect for each, as they were not only work and business associates but also friends.
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SB: Did you know his children?
Jim Simon: I remember Neil and Barbara but not too much. I can still recall the model airplanes hanging from Neil’s bedroom ceiling when I would come over with my father to see Jack. For some reason I seem to recall that Jack hung up the model airplanes with wires for Neil and I must have been quite taken by sight of those model planes hovering in the air in Neil’s room to still remember them.
SB: Any recollections about other writers or artists stopping by?
Jim Simon: Oh, sure, though over the y
ears they seem to have blurred, though I can recall them pretty good if I see a photo or give myself time to think about them. I remember mostly artists Bob Powell, George Tuska, Joe Genalo, Carmine Infantino, Ben Oda (letterer), and of course my uncle Jack Oleck (writer)…
A big event for me took place in the late 1950s. Jack and Joe were not doing much in comics at the time. The business was in one of its many downturns. We were living in Woodbury, Long Island, New York. Jack was still in East Williston, LI, NY. Joe was bored with the advertising work. He had been on the phone a lot lately. I overheard the word “comics” mentioned more and more, and noticed my father sketching characters and dialogue balloons again, something I hadn’t seen him do in a while. Word on the street, it turned out, was that a new generation– MY generation–might be ready for superhero comics again. Joe spoke with Michael Silberkleit of Archie Comics. Joe pitched the idea to create a superhero comic, for Archie to publish. Archie was interested. Jack’s wife, Roz, drove Jack over to our house where Joe and Jack hung out in Joe’s studio. I’d purposely wander in and out of the studio while my mother and Roz hung out in the kitchen. I knew Joe and Jack were excited about a new project, and after Jack and Roz drove off in their car that evening my father let me in on the secret that he was going to work with Jack and some other Long Island artists on a new superhero comic series. That would become The Adventures of the Fly, and Archie would publish it. It was my good luck to see the amazing comic art of George Tuska, Jack Kirby, Jack Davis, Carl Burgos, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson, and others pile up in my father’s studio…
SB: Your Uncle Jack Oleck worked as a writer for S&K. Do you know how that came about and what his role was?
Jim Simon: Well, Jack Oleck was married to my mother’s sister. Oleck was pretty much self-educated, a big reader. His dream was to become a novelist and he did become one. As I understand it, my father saw talent in Jack’s early writing, Jack wanted to make money writing comics, and my father developed Jack into a pretty good comic book writer. Jack was always pitching story ideas and always willing to take on an assignment and eventually became Simon and Kirby’s main writer during the years the team was producing the romance comics. Jack Oleck spent a lot of time at our family house.
SB: As a young boy you assisted your dad by erasing and using white paint for corrections. What was your impression of the artwork as a child?
Jim Simon: I just really enjoyed being around all that art and paint and brushes and watching my father at his drawing board. My father liked to work late nights when everyone in the house was supposed to be asleep. It was wonderful to come down to the studio late at night at see his studio light on and him at the drawing board penciling and inking, etc. He loved to talk as he worked, a cigar always lit, the black and white TV flickering, and a cup of coffee on the taboret. I’d see him erase the pencils after he inked the lines, and then take the long brush and clean off the boards. After a while I started doing the brushing. Same with the white outs, though that took more skill and came a bit later. Eventually I was setting cold type and doing paste ups. But my favorite was reading scripts and pitches and discussing them with my father. He showed me his editing techniques and I started to write scripts though by time he got done editing them they seemed as if they were written by a stranger.
SB: In your book the Comic Book Makers you tell the story that those who worked in comics, your father included, were somewhat ashamed of their work following the Congressional hearings, and that your neighbors thought he was a “bookey (New York slang for one who makes books, or places illegal bets)” since you told them he made books for a living.
Jim Simon: Comics were the bottom of the barrel in publishing when I was a kid. My friends, however, thought comics were the greatest thing but adults had a different view, in general. My father used to tell me to tell people he was in publishing to avoid the comic book negativity but he was very proud of the work he did. Comics just had a bad rep in the early days right through to the early ‘60s as something low-brow that corrupted kids. As the kids who read comics grew into adults, comics became more respectable. The story about my father being a “bookey” was kind of a joke he made up because it was one way of explaining why he and Jack stayed home while the other fathers went off to work in the mornings. The only thing Joe and Jack gambled on, that I know of, was trying to make a living in comics.
SB: You went on to work with your father and eventually became the editor of Sick. What was that experience like and what writers and artists did you work with?
Jim Simon: I took over as the editor of Sick Magazine and packaged several issues with Jerry Grandenetti. I hired writers wherever I could find them, and it wasn’t easy to find them. I had to write the bulk of the editorial. Jerry had to draw the bulk of the art. We found artists through my father’s contacts and via the grapevine. It was a lot of work, not worth the money we were given to work with. Sales went up on the first three issues, which we thought would give us the ammunition to justify asking for more money so we could pay and hire more / better writers and artists but that didn’t happen. In the end we were forced to make the decision to fold our cards.
I got quite involved in the business side of comic book publishing and licensing when I got older. I recognized the ground-swell in comics not just as collectibles but as licensable content. I encouraged and worked with Joe to get his house in order—renew copyrights, license material, develop new content. I saw the value in bringing back not only the properties but also my father’s contributions—and the people he worked with— back into the spotlight. That’s how our first book together, The Comic Book Makers came about. He had the tales to tell and the art to show and together we wrote and put together the first edition of the book. It sold very well but more important it brought the spotlight back onto him and his properties. I freelanced as a writer, came up and sold pop-culture and humor book concepts.
SB: As you mention in your Afterword Joe was one of only a handful of artists to value the original art beyond its initial printed purpose. Why do you think that was? How did your family view all this artwork around the house?
Jim Simon: Dad not only loved the art and had good memories of the artists but he was a collector. We both felt that the art had potential down the road. How far down the road, we had no idea. For years we lived in houses so we always had plenty of room in attics, basements, and his studio. When he sold the house and moved to the city after my mother passed away he put some of the art in temporary storage, but eventually the art made its way into his apartment. He somehow managed to work out a system where he continued to hold onto most of the art in the apartment he had moved into. As I mentioned in the Afterword—beside
s guys like Will Eisner, William M. Gaines, and Jerry Robinson—not many comic people seemed to hold on to their art, not many wanted their art after they got paid. Eisner, Gaines, and my dad were publishers so I guess they could see future value in art for reprints, etc. Jerry was a comic historian so I can see why he wanted to hold on to the art he had. I guess they were all a little nuts too. Most collectors are to a certain extent.
SB: Any further thoughts on the Simon and Kirby Studios?
Jim Simon: Wonderful things came out of that studio. It was an amazing adventure forged on talent, luck, dreams, hard work, and two particularly special friendships. It was where fantasy had a chance to become reality and in doing so the comics that came out of that studio gave much joy and adventure to the world, achieving legendary status among the pop culture universe.