Sentinel Of Liberty: Celebrating The Life And Career Of Joe Simon
On this day in 1913, one of the most influential creators in the history of the comic book industry was born. Joe Simon --- best known as the co-creator of Captain America alongside Jack Kirby --- helped establish superhero comics as one of the most exciting and dynamic storytelling forms of the 20th century, and created a host of iconic characters alongside Cap.
Simon began his career as a production assistant for the Rochester Journal-American, and provided the occasional editorial cartoon when needed. After moving to New York City, he found work retouching posters for Paramount Pictures and worked freelance for various magazines, which eventually put him into contact with Timely Comics' Martin Goodman, who asked Simon to create a fire-based hero similar to the popular Human Torch --- the character that became the Fiery Mask.
A more important assignment would come from Funnies Inc., for whom Simon created the Blue Bolt. While the character itself isn't extremely notable, the second issue of the eponymous series saw the first collaboration between Joe Simon and the "The King of Comics" Jack Kirby.
Simon moved to Timely permanently where he became the publisher's first editor, and alongside Kirby created the iconic Captain America, who debuted in December 1940. Captain America Comics #1 was a massive hit for Timely, but Simon and Kirby were unhappy with their treatment by the publisher, so arranged --- in secret --- to jump ship to Timely's rivals, National Comics.
At National Comics, the pair revamped Sandman and introduced Sandy The Golden Boy; they created Manhunter as well as the hugely popular Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion, with the former going on to be one of National's highest selling titles at the time.
Simon's comics career was put on hold during World War II, with the creator enlisting in the US Coast Guard. While serving, he created Coast Guard comics, published by DC and syndicated nationally through Sunday newspapers under the title True Comics. He also worked with writer Milt Gross on the comic Adventure Is My Career, which was distributed through newsstands during the war.
After the war, Kirby and Simon moved away from superhero comics, working within a variety of other genres, including collaborating on the title Young Romance, which is recognized as the first romance comic and the archetype of an incredibly popular trend. In 1954, the pair created the Fighting American, who was originally conceived as a Communist-bashing hero in the mode of Captain America, but quickly became a satire comic in the wake of the Army-McCarthy hearings into Communist infiltration of the military.
In 1955, Simon took a break from comics to work in advertising and other venues, but briefly returned to work with Kirby on Archie Comics' The Shield and created The Human Fly for the publisher. In 1960, he founded the Mad Magazine rival Sick, which he edited and contributed to throughout the decade. He also worked with Kirby for Harvey Comics, helping to launch the publisher's superhero line, which would go on to give Jim Steranko his first break in comics.
Towards the end of the decade, Simon wrote and drew the two-issue series Brother Power, The Geek, about a mannequin that came to life and hung around with a group of hippies. In the '70s, he also created the teen president title Prez, along with Jerry Grandenetti, and worked with Kirby on a new incarnation of Sandman, who was more a traditional superhero than the previous iteration.
Joe Simon was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 1999, and continued to work for most of his life. He sadly passed away on December 14, 2011 but lived long enough to see his most famous creation immortalized on film as part of Marvel's growing Cinematic Universe.
While Simon often doesn't get the recognition of a Kirby, Ditko or Eisner, his contributions to the growth of the industry in its nascent years cannot be praised enough. Joe Simon helped define what superhero comics were when the idea was still new and malleable, and everyone who came after him owes him a debt that can never truly be repaid.