Big Shiny Robot! was given the extreme pleasure of doing an interview with Joe Simon in honor of the release of his book “The Kirby and Simon Superheroes” and his illustrated autobiography that comes out in April 2011. It’s called “Joe Simon: The The Man Behind the Comics” and is available for pre-order.
The Superheroes book is a pretty tremendous read and a fun look at less-remembered comics from two of the masters of the form. The autobiography looks at this point as though it will be a must read. I would suggest checking them both out.
Jerk-bot did the honors with the interview, so without further ado:
Another name you should … you had better … know for comic book “credibility” is that of Joseph H. “Joe” Simon.
The 97-year-old has contributed to the industry as a writer, artist, editor, and publisher, over a career that spans more than 70 years. Simon is definitely best-known for his collaborations with legendary writer/artist Jacob Kurtzberg, better known by his pen name Jack “The King” Kirby, many of which were done during the so-called “Golden Age” of the comics industry (between the 1930s and 1940s).
Among their most famous creations are Timely/Marvel Comics’ Captain America. From there, the duo went on to work for that company’s chief rival, DC Comics, working on such characters as the Golden Age Sandman and Sandy, the Golden Boy. They also co-created the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos, and Manhunter. Simon and Kirby are also credited with creating the romance comics genre, and their contributions to the earliest Western and horror comics genres cannot be overstated.
Simon has been doing limited press interviews for a series of volumes from Titan Books that reproduce some of his most-beloved works with Kirby. He graciously agreed to do an email interview exchange with Big Shiny Robot!, which is repeated in full here:
Big Shiny Robot!: Obviously, you’re best known for your working relationship with Jack Kirby. How did this come about in the first place? And any really funny anecdotes/stories about Jack you’d like to share?
Joe Simon: I met Jack when he was working in the bullpen at Fox Comics, erasing lines and doing art corrections, l and I was working for Victor Fox as his editor. The minute I saw his work I knew I was seeing something exceptional. We were both the sons of tailors–what we called schneiders–and my father had made me a suit before I came from Syracuse to New York City. Kirby said I was the only comic book artist he had ever seen in a suit.
BSR!: Titan Books has released volumes compiling some of your works with the King. How involved have you been in these projects? And what are your feelings about having these works see the light of day again?
JS: I’m totally involved in the books, and we have a great team here with our editor, Steve Saffel, and Harry Mendryk, who is doing an incredible job restoring the artwork so it looks better than it ever has before. Steve and Harry have collected decades of Simon and Kirby stories for an entire new audience to discover them, and we have a lot more to come–our next volume will feature the detective stories. What we appreciate most is the enthusiasm put forward by Nick and Vivian and the rest of the team at Titan.
BSR!: You and Jack have both been praised for your contributions to the superhero genre. But less known are your contributions and/or semi-creations of the romance comics, horror comics, Western comics and crime comics genre. How proud are you of these works, and how do you feel about where these genres have gone since then?
JS: I’m especially proud of having created the romance comics, the most successful line of comics ever produced–each issue of Young Romance and Young Love sold a million copies and up. Those titles took a smaller publisher, Prize Comics, and gave them a huge hit. We were sitting on top with the big boys inside of a year, and they were stealing our ideas in an attempt to copy our success. Jack and I were on the way to see my wife in the hospital, where she had just given birth to our first child. We stopped in a candy store to pick up a card and saw a cluster of girls crowding around the comic book rack for the very first issue of Young Romance. That was when we knew we had a hit. We loved all of the different genres in which we worked, but the romance books hold a special place for me. It’s a shame that so much of the diversity we once had in comics has practically disappeared.
BSR!: Your most famous creation remains Captain America. How closely have you followed the character over the years? You criticized the “death-of” story line … what do you think the character represents, and why do you feel he is important?
JS: I haven’t followed the character too closely over all of the years, but I’m very happy that they kept the patriotic aspects of the character according to what I would have done, and that Captain America emerged as an icon for the readers. For the sake of the sales and trends of the times I did participate in the horrific death of Captain America. I was told about it in advance, and one of the top quotes in the New York Daily News was the statement “Captain America, gone just when we really need him.” Given the way the world is today, that’s probably truer than ever before. Strangely enough, when Jack and I created those first ten issues, with the exception of Hitler on the first cover, there wasn’t much politics in the stories–they were mostly horror and detective adventures.
BSR!: If given the chance, would you return to a Captain America project?
JS: I did a short piece for Captain America issue #600, and other than that, I’m just happy to draw sketches of him for friends and family.
BSR!: What are your feelings about the Captain America movie?
JS: I’m very excited about it. I don’t know the details of the story in the movie, though I have a great deal of confidence in the Marvel movie makers, and have been contacted by Stephen Broussard, the co-producer, several times. It’s apparent that they’re putting a great deal of energy and creativity into all of their projects.
BSR!: Do you have any projects or works that you would consider pitching for films?
JS: Our files are full of them, including the character Stuntman who actually was a movie stuntman. Fighting American, for sure–he’s the best one of all. It has so many natural ingredients, especially the villains. He started out as a 1950s Captain America, but immediately became his own character with a unique mixture of adventure and humor. He would look great on the big screen.
BSR!: What is your relationship, if any, with the “Big Two” comics companies today? Would you be open to doing work with either or both of them, if approached?
JS: Both Marvel and DC have been very good to me lately, and I have friends at both companies, even with all of the changes. But I don’t think I’m likely to be doing any work for them in the near future.
BSR!: As someone who’s worked with the major companies, and formed his own companies, what are your feelings about creators and artists rights? Are a lot of the problems finally being sorted out?
JS: I was very involved with creators’ rights from the very beginning, and even had a royalty arrangement with Martin Goodman at Timely Comics back in 1940, for Captain America. Jack and I didn’t even show the first romance comic to anyone until we had completed the first issue, and we had a profit sharing agreement with Prize Comics. I would like to think that we led the way for the creators of today, who have a much better opportunity to own their own creations and reap the rewards.
BSR!: What are your feelings about the future of comics? Are you involved in any way with digital distribution, and where do you think comics future lies?
JS: Back in the 1940s I was always pushing to start new companies and try new things. I spoke to an investor who had the opportunity to put real money into the business, and was told that comic books were a flash in the pan. I didn’t agree, and fortunately I was right. Over the years I’ve been told more than once that comics are dying, which led me to say that comics have been “dying” for fifty years. As long as there are people pushing to try new things with the medium, there will be comics.
BSR!: Coming from an art background, what are your feelings about being known (mostly) for your writing contributions to comics?
JS: I was working as a newspaper writer long before I worked as an artist, and one of my idols was Damon Runyon, who I met at one of the boxing training camps in upstate New York. The fact that comic books are a great vehicle for both was to my advantage. There’s a lot of back and forth about who wrote this and who wrote that, but the fact that my work blends in so well with Kirby’s work is what made the team work so well.
BSR!: You’ve begun painting again … is this fulfilling, and is there anything you’re working on as an artist?
JS: I’ve been painting for years, but in recent years I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with my daughter, Gail Reynolds, who is a wonderful painter, and that’s been especially fulfilling.
BSR!: How do you think your work and contributions will be perceived years down the road?
JS: Better? [laughs] I hope people continue to enjoy the stories for as long as they can, and for as long as Titan Books puts up with us.
Jeff Michael Vice (Jerkbot) is a contributing writer to MSN Entertainment and its Parallel Universe Web site. He reviews movies for X-96′s Radio From Hell morning program, the Mediocre Show and the Comcast television program Big Movie Mouth-Off. He is also a panelist for the Geek Show Podcast, and is mad for comics.