'Superheroes': Turning 97 today, JOE SIMON reflects on his legacy with JACK KIRBY (*As do STAN LEE and NEIL GAIMAN)
Besides our boyhood fandom of Batman and our adulthood appreciation of Henry Selick, comics god Neil Gaiman and Comic Riffs humbly share at least one other cartoon-land trait: our mutual regret over our not meeting Jack Kirby -- not shaking the great man's hand.
"I saw Jack, the man, once, across a hotel lobby, talking to my publisher," Gaiman writes in his introduction to Mark Evanier's excellent biography, "Kirby." "I wanted to go over and be introduced, but I was late for a plane and, I thought, there would always be a next time.
"There was no next time, and I did not get to meet Jack Kirby."
(Comic Riffs, somewhat similarly, once shared a San Diego Comic-Con room with "King" Kirby, but never got to talk shop with Jolly Jack.)
Sometimes, though, it is those non-introductions that move you to write all the more of that person, as if words of public tribute might replace, a little, the missed opportunity. In his "Kirby" introduction, Gaiman goes on to write: "I wish I had walked across that room and shaken his hand and, most important, said thank you. But Kirby's influence on me, just like Kirby's influence on comics, was already set in stone."
Gaiman has now also written the introduction to Titan Books's recently released "Simon & Kirby: Superheroes," a beautiful and expansive book that collects so much of Kirby and Joe Simon's great efforts. "Aside from their work for Marvel and DC, this [is] all of the superhero stories Joe and Jack wrote and illustrated together from 1940 through 1960," Titan owner-publisher Nick Landau said in a statement. "It's a massive undertaking," he noted of the nearly 500-page book.
We missed the chance to meet Jack, but as Joe Simon turns 97 today, Comic Riffs took this opportunity to ask him about his shared legacy with Jack. What does he see as the greatest accomplishment of the men who gave us Captain America?
"We all stood on the shoulders of Siegel and Shuster," Simon tells Comic Riffs by e-mail. "But being a businessman, and having a businessman's interests at heart, I think the fame Jack and I derived from creating Captain America might be overshadowed by the financial success we found in creating the romance market."
Really? So the romance market was the pinnacle, commercially if not creatively?
"In the 20-year period following 'Young Romance,' the number of romance titles swelled to 400. In the process, we proved to other writers and artists in the industry that they could do the same."
Simon cites his and Kirby's larger aims for cartoonists of the day.
"Our goal was to put the creator in a smarter place and a stronger position," he continues. "If they're smart enough to create the comics and the market, they should reap the benefits, and that's exactly what happened in my case."
So with nine decades of business wisdom behind him, what might Simon advise the succeeding generations of creators?
"As for what advice I would offer today's professionals, I think the cartoonists have caught on, and no longer need my advice," Simon says. "They've created entrepreneurs like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, among others."
Kirby, of course, would go on to his legendary and storied partnership with Marvel co-mastermind Stan Lee, who first encountered the two men while a teenager breaking into his relative's business: Timely Comics, where early on he worked for editor Simon and art director Kirby.
"Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's Captain America was the first comic I read that made me feel like I was watching an exciting action movie," Lee tells Comic Riffs. "To me, the way Simon and Kirby wrote and drew Captain America gave me the same thrill as watching Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood on the big screen.
"There was a sense of power and drama and excitement in Joe and Jack's work that made it totally unique and always enjoyable."
Gaiman, likewise, speaks to Simon and Kirby's collective creative might.
"I think the thing for me about them was that they were an astonishing duo together," Gaiman tells Comic Riffs. "Simon and Kirby together have cast huge shadows on the world of comics."
Of Simon's influence, Gaiman says: "It was the very Joe Simon-ness that delighted me. And of realizing how many times in my career, I [was inspired by] that cool, weird, mad thing that Joe did. ... Some of the most memorable stories I've done were influenced hugely by Joe."
Of such midcentury Simon and Kirby works as Boy Commandoes and Manhunter and the Newsboy Legion and of course the Sandman, Gaiman says he enjoyed them as a young comics reader in the '70s. "Even then, you knew they were from another time. It was all so magnificently 1940s."
Then, Gaiman acknowledges, it got weirder. Vampires in the White House? The first teen president of the United States? And whoever saw it could forget Brother Power: The Geek? "On the one hand, it's so incredibly easy to mock some of what Joe did," Gaiman says. "But it's so incredibly, memoraby full of life. That was the thing that made me want to write [the intro] and retell things in my own way. ... It's all absolutely mad and yet, it's glorious. There's a genuine sort of life to it [that makes people happy]. ... That was the quality of Joe's that I wanted to try to celebrate."
Gaiman notes that he writes relatively few introductions anymore ("I've done so many, I'm really now a fan of them now"), but in writing the introduction to "Simon & Kirby: Superheroes," he emphasizes: "It's almost the equivalent of walking across the hall and shaking Jack's hand."
A SPREAD FROM THE NEW BOOK "SIMON & KIRBY: SUPERHEROES"
| October 11, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories: Geek Buzz, Interviews With Cartoonists, Superheroes, The Comic Book | Tags: Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Mark Evanier, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee, Titan Books
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