Joseph Henry "Joe" Simon was an American comic book writer, artist, editor, and publisher. Simon created or co-created many important characters in the 1930s-1940s Golden Age of Comic Books and served as the first editor of Timely Comics, the company that would evolve into Marvel Comics.
With his partner, artist Jack Kirby, he co-created Captain America, one of comics' most enduring superheroes, and the team worked extensively on such features at DC Comics as the 1940s Sandman and Sandy the Golden Boy, and co-created the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos, and Manhunter. Simon & Kirby creations for other comics publishers include Boys' Ranch, Fighting American and The Fly. In the late 1940s, the duo created the field of romance comics, and were among the earliest pioneers of horror comics. Simon, who went on to work in advertising and commercial art, also founded the satirical magazine Sick in 1960, remaining with it for a decade. He briefly returned to DC Comics in the 1970s.
Simon was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1999.
Early life and career
Joe Simon was born in 1913 as Hymie Simon and raised in Rochester, New York, the son of Harry Simon, who had emigrated from Leeds, England, in 1905, and Rose, whom Harry met in the United States. Harry Simon moved to Rochester, then a clothing-manufacturing center where his younger brother, Isaac, lived and the couple had a daughter, Beatrice, in 1912. A poor Jewish family, the Simons lived in "a first-floor flat which doubled as my father's tailor shop." Simon attended Benjamin Franklin High School, where he was art director for the school newspaper and the yearbook — earning his first professional fee as an artist when two universities each paid $10 publication rights for his art deco, tempera splash pages for the yearbook sections.
Upon graduation in 1932, Simon was hired by Rochester Journal-American art director Adolph Edler as an assistant, replacing Simon's future comics colleague Al Liederman, who had quit. In-between production duties, he did occasional sports and editorial cartoons for the paper. Two years later, Simon took an art job at the Syracuse Herald in Syracuse, New York, for $45 a week, supplying sports and editorial cartoons here as well. Shortly thereafter, for $60 a week, he succeeded Liederman as art director of a paper whose name Simon recalled in his 1990 autobiography as the Syracuse Journal American, although the Syracuse Journal and the Syracuse Sunday American, were the separate weekday and Sunday papers, respectively. The paper soon closed, and Simon, at 23, ventured to New York City.
There, Simon took a room at the boarding house Haddon Hall, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, near Columbia University. At the suggestion of art director of the New York Journal American, he sought and found freelance work at Paramount Pictures, working above the Paramount Theatre on Broadway, retouching the movie studio's publicity photos. He also found freelance work at Macfadden Publications, doing illustrations for True Story and other magazines. Sometime afterward, his boss, art director Harlan Crandall, recommended Simon to Lloyd Jacquet, head of Funnies, Inc., one of that era's comic-book "packagers" that supplied comics content on demand to publishers testing the new medium. That day, Simon received his first comics assignment, a seven-page Western.
Four days later, Jacquet asked Simon, at the behest of Timely Comics publisher Martin Goodman, to create a flaming superhero like Timely's successful character the Human Torch. From this came Simon's first comic-book hero, the Fiery Mask. Simon used the pseudonym Gregory Sykes on at least one story during this time, "King of the Jungle", starring Trojak The Tiger Man, in Timely's Daring Mystery Comics #2 (Feb. 1940).
Simon & Kirby
During this time, Simon met Fox Feature Syndicate comics artist Jack Kirby, with whom he would soon have a storied collaboration lasting a decade-and-a-half. Speaking at a 1998 Comic-Con International panel in San Diego, California, Simon recounted the meeting: "I had a suit and Jack thought that was really nice. He'd never seen a comic book artist with a suit before. The reason I had a suit was that my father was a tailor. Jack's father was a tailor too, but he made pants! Anyway, I was doing freelance work and I had a little office in New York about ten blocks from DC [Comics]' and Fox [Feature Syndicate]'s offices, and I was working on Blue Bolt for Funnies, Inc. So, of course, I loved Jack's work and the first time I saw it I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He asked if we could do some freelance work together. I was delighted and I took him over to my little office. We worked from the second issue of Blue Bolt...and remained a team across the next two decades." In the early 2000s, original art for an unpublished, five-page Simon & Kirby collaboration titled "Daring Disc", which may predate the duo's Blue Bolt, surfaced. Simon published the story in the 2003 updated edition of his autobiography, The Comic Book Makers.
After leaving Fox and landing at pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman's Timely Comics (the future Marvel Comics), where Simon became the company's first editor, the Simon & Kirby team created the seminal patriotic hero Captain America. Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), going on sale in December 1940 — a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor but already showing the hero punching Hitler in the jaw — sold nearly one million copies. Remaining on the hit series as a team through issue #10, Simon & Kirby broke ground with their art's dynamic perspectives, innovative use of panel layouts, and exaggerated sense of action and established the team as a notable creative force in the industry. After that first issue was published, Simon asked Kirby to join the Timely staff as the company's art director.
Despite the success of the Captain America character, Simon felt Goodman was not paying the pair the promised percentage of profits, and so sought work for the two of them at National Comics, (later named DC Comics). Simon & Kirby negotiated a deal that would pay them a combined $500 a week, as opposed to the $75 and $85 they respectively earned at Timely. Fearing that Goodman would not pay them if he found out they were moving to National, the pair kept the deal a secret while they continued producing work for the company. At some point during this time, the duo also produced Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel Adventures #1 (1941), the first complete comic book starring Captain Marvel following the character's run as star of the superhero anthology Whiz Comics.
Kirby and Simon spent their first weeks at National trying to devise new characters while the company sought how best to utilize the pair. After a few failed editor-assigned ghosting assignments, National's Jack Liebowitz told them to "just do what you want". The pair then revamped the Sandman feature in Adventure Comics and created the superhero Manhunter. In July 1942 they began the Boy Commandos feature. The ongoing "kid gang" series Boy Commandos, launched later that same year was the creative team's first National feature to graduate into its own title, sold over a million copies a month, becoming National's third best-selling title. They also scored a hit with the homefront kid-gang team, the Newsboy Legion in Star-Spangled Comics.
Harry Mendryk, art restorer on Titan Books' Simon & Kirby series of hardcover collections, believes Simon used the pseudonym Glaven on at least two covers during this time: those of Harvey Comics' Speed Comics #22 and Champ Comics #22 (both Sept. 1942), though the Grand Comics Database does not independently confirm this, Mendryk also believes that both Kirby and Simon used the pseudonym Jon Henri on a handful of other 1942 Harvey comics, as does Who's Who in American Comic Books 1929-1999.
Simon enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. He said in his 1990 autobiography that he was first assigned to the Mounted Beach Patrol at Long Beach Island, off Barnegat, New Jersey, for a year before being sent to boot camp near Baltimore, Maryland, for basic training. Afterward, he reported for duty with the Combat Art Corps in Washington, D.C., part of the Coast Guard Public Information Division. He was stationed there in 1944 when he met New York Post sports columnist Milt Gross, who was with the Coast Guard Public Relations Unit, and the two became roommates in civilian housing. Pursuant to his unit's mission to publicize the Coast Guard, Simon created a true-life Coast Guard comic book that DC agreed to publish, followed by versions syndicated nationally by Parents magazine in Sunday newspaper comics sections, under the title True Comics. This led to his being assigned to create a comic book aimed at driving Coast Guard recruitment. With Gross as his writer collaborator, Simon produced Adventure Is My Career, distributed by Street and Smith Publications for sale at newsstands.
Returning to New York City after his discharge, Simon married Harriet Feldman, the secretary to Harvey Comics' Al Harvey. The Simons and the now-married Kirby and his wife and first child moved to houses diagonally across from each other on Brown Street in Mineola, New York, on Long Island, where Simon & Kirby each worked from a home studio. The Simons would have a son, James, and, later, three daughters.