More Than Your Average Joe
Excerpts from Joe Simon's panels at the 1998 Comicon International: San
Kirby Collector #25
Transcribed by Glen Musial, and edited by John Morrow
The following are combined excerpts from last year's Joe Simon Panel and
the Kirby Tribute Panel at Comicon International. Both panels were moderated by
Mark Evanier. For the full excerpts, be sure to order a copy
of our Twentyfifth Issue!
Joe Simon, at the 1998 San Diego Comicon.
A solo drawing of Captain America by Joe Simon.
MARK EVANIER: Joe, I know this is a tough question--can you remember
the first time you met Jack?
JOE SIMON: It was at Fox Comics. I guess you all know about Victor Fox.
He was a little chubby guy. He was an accountant for DC Comics. He was doing
the sales figures and he liked what he saw. So, he moved downstairs and started
his own company called Fox Comics, Fox Publications, Fox Features Syndicate,
Fox Radio, Fox this, Fox that--and he didn't have a staff there, but Eisner
and Iger were supplying art and editorial material. I happened to get a job;
I went over to Fox and became editor there, which was just an impossible job,
because as I said there were no artists, no writers, no editors, no letterers--nothing
there. Everything came out of the Eisner and Iger shop. Fox had a character
called Wonder Man; he just took the DC character Superman and made him Wonder
Man and took Batman and made him Bat-something. (laughter) He started, and he
got bigger offices there in the same building--more impressive offices than
DC. He was a very strange character. He had kind of a British accent; he was
like 5'2"--told us he was a former ballroom dancer. He was very loud, menacing,
and really a scary little guy. (laughter) He used to say, "I'm the
King of the Comics. I'm the King of the Comics. I'm the King of the
Comics." (laughter) We couldn't stop him. So that's the task
I had when I went in to start that job.
Jack was getting $15 a week--he came from, we all came from very poor families--but
I had a suit and Jack thought that was really nice. (laughter) 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!
(laughter) Anyway, I was doing freelance work and I had a little office in New
York about ten blocks from DC's and Fox's offices, and I was working
on Blue Bolt for Funnies, Incorporated. 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 through
many, many... 25 years? How long were we together?
Mark: About 25 years.
Joe: About 25 years and we were very happy together. We thought we did
some great things. I know we had the best record of sales of anybody in the
entire industry as far as having one hit after another. Many people had one
hit and that was it. But we came up with so many of them, and we were very proud
of that. After WWII, our families bought houses across the street from each
other, and we brought in carpenters to build up the attic with slanted ceilings
and made studios out of them, so we could walk across the street and go to work.
Early Kirby pencil drawing, circa the 1930s.
Mark: Victor Fox was supposedly not the most honest person at times.
He had different people working for him under the name of "Mr. Roberts."
Joe: I was "Mr. Roberts." (laughter)
Mark: Tell us about "Mr. Roberts."
Joe: I think that I was the first "Mr. Roberts." Actually,
I was working at Marvel freelance and saw an ad in the paper that Victor Fox
wanted an editor. At that time it was always good to have a steady job, y'know;
it was after the Depression and things were not that great. And a freelance
man, he's working one week, he's off the next week, and that's
when I met Jack.
Will Eisner and [Jerry] Iger were doing [Fox's] work. He didn't have
a staff of artists up there. He told Will Eisner to copy Superman and they called
him Wonder Man; and Donenfeld sued Victor Fox and he sued Will Eisner, and Will
Eisner was asked to do a Bill Clinton thing--disguise the situation. (laughter)
And Will got scared and he backed out. That's when I took over.
Mark: What was the idea of "Mr. Roberts"? What was the concept
of the fake name?
Joe: Victor Fox--the easy way for him to get Will Eisner's staff
over there [to work for him] was to just advertise in the papers: "Artist
who did Wonder Man call Mr. Roberts at this number" at Fox's office;
and he didn't want us to use our real names because, y'know, we could
do the same thing Will Eisner did. We could take the characters and leave. So
anyway, everybody who answered the ad had to be referred to a "Mr. Roberts"
to be interviewed for the job.
Mark: It was a fake name?
Joe: Yeah, a fake name.
Mark: Wasn't it also, if bill collectors came around they'd
say, "Talk to Mr. Roberts"? (laughter)
Joe: Thank God, the bill collectors didn't come to me. He didn't
get a lot of people from the Eisner/ Iger studio because most of the names on
those things were Will Eisner's anyway and he had done most of the work
himself. And [Eisner] was using fake names. So, nobody knows who was who.
Mark: Dick Briefer worked in there for a while, right?
Joe: Dick Briefer, Bob Powell, Jack Kirby before I knew him. A lot of
guys got started there. Y'know, I think Eisner and Iger were still in their
teens when they started that company; but we were all very young.
Mark: How much were they paying you? What was the pay like at Victor
Joe: I think Eisner and Iger were charging $5 a page. So what we were
paying was probably a little more than that; a couple of dollars more.
Mark: And one of the people that came in looking for work was Eddie
Joe: Yes, Eddie Herron was a kid from West Virginia. He was, like, homeless,
and he came up, he had a lot of samples. We had a lot of people coming up with
other people's samples. That went on through the years. That was a big
problem. But Eddie's samples weren't that good. He wanted to be a
comic book artist and I went through them and I thought some of the writing
was pretty inspired for comic books in those days; and I asked him if he would
be a writer. At that time, there were very few writers in the business. If they
did have them, they were mostly unknown, anonymous. So Eddie Herron became a
writer and became one of the most prolific writers in the business. Eventually
he wound up working on Captain Marvel. He became an editor there and main writer
for Captain Marvel. And he wound up in later years with DC Comics. Eddie, Bob
Wood, Dick Wood, and Ed Wood--no, not Ed Wood (laughter)--Dave Wood; the three
brothers were the mainstay of the DC writing team. They were all involved too
much in alcoholism.
Mark: How fast was Jack drawing in those days?
Joe: Jack was as fast as he could be--Jack was very fast. At one time
he said, "I'm going to pencil five pages today." He'd pencil
five pages and then he'd be out the rest of the week. (laughter) So it's
not the kind of question that I'd be interested in. (laughter)
Mark: Everybody knew Simon & Kirby was the team that delivered hits.
What was the reaction of other artists? Did you notice that other artists were
imitating your work? Did you notice that you were setting a style for other
people at other companies?
Joe: I was imitating everybody's work. (laughter) I started off
with Jack and I wound up with Jack. I was doing covers for Terry and the Pirates,
Joe Palooka, almost all of them.
Mark: Were other companies making their books look like Simon &
Joe: No, they were all trying to copy the slick style at that time of
DC Comics. As a matter of fact, when we were doing The Fly, they decided that
our work was too rough for them and they wanted the DC type of work--very slick
inking. That was a disaster for them because we were doing very well. That came
later when everybody was trying, right up till now, to do the Kirby thing.
Mark: What was your favorite book that you did with Jack?
Joe: I think that the favorite book was Boys' Ranch. It was a western.
We still own the characters and Jack always said it was his favorite and I always
said it was mine, but we have to wait until weapons come into vogue before we
can do some serious licensing on it. Then there was Bullseye, and that was also
a western. We liked those two the best.
Mark: Let's talk about Mort Meskin; one of the fastest artists
you ever worked with, right?
Joe: Oh, one of the fastest, one of the best. Mort originally worked
on Batman at DC. Mort had some emotional problems, and the last day that he
worked for DC, before he came over to us, was the day that he picked up a ruler
and brandished it as a sword and jumped on his drawing table and threatened
everybody in the room. (laughter)
Mark: And that's how you got 'im. (laughter)
Joe: And that's how we got 'im. They had problems with him
before, but that was the last charge. (laughter)
A Kirby solo drawing of Cap, circa the mid-1970s.
Mark: Tell everyone about the blank paper.
Joe: Mort was in the bullpen with us. A lot of these people couldn't
work at home; they had to be around people. They had to be in a commercial studio
to work, and Mort was one of them. Actually, Jack liked to work in a bullpen
also, but he had his own place at home. This was after Captain America; we were
doing Young Romance, Black Magic, the whole Prize line. Mort had his problems;
he was sitting at his drawing table and there was this blank sheet of board
in front of him, and he's sitting there all day looking at the board and
then he went home. We all went home. We came in the next day and Mort was sitting
at the same blank board and he kept looking at it. And he did it for another
day. And he came and asked for an advance. (laughter) So I said, "Mort,
you haven't done anything." It wasn't like we were no-profit
publishers. We had to turn this stuff out; we had a huge line of stuff to turn
out. He says, "Joe, I just can't look at this board--I can't
get started." So, I took out a pencil and I made some scribbles on the
board and he went right ahead. Y'know, he got very enthusiastic. He was
the fastest artist in the place. He'd do 2, 3 pages a day there and other
guys were struggling at half a page; couldn't stop him. And so, every day
after that, whoever came in first, they'd scribble something on Mort's
blank page and he'd get through the day fine. (laughter)
Mark: You remember the time he drew a nasty Nancy Hale story that you
Joe: Oh, yeah. I got a lot of artists who did stuff like that. (laughter)
They'd do these pornographic pages; they'd spend time on these pages!
(laughter) They'd ink them, they'd letter them. They didn't have
xeroxes in those days. They'd take them in for photostats and they'd
have trouble with the photostat people because they didn't want to get
in trouble. But eventually everyone wound up with copies of these things that
never saw print. In those days, it wasn't as liberal as it is today, as
far as sex goes. We were doing Young Romance at the time. Mort did Young Romance.
Everybody was hanging out [looking] over his shoulder. (laughter) They were
all hysterical about it and cheering him on! (laughter)
Mark: Okay, let's talk about Jack Oleck. We don't too know
much about Jack Oleck.
Joe: Jack Oleck? He was my brother-in-law! I saw him every day--I couldn't
get rid of him! (laughter)
Mark: A good writer?
Joe: He was great, he was great. I'll tell you a story about Jack
Oleck. He was a professional. He wasn't interested that much in the art
of the... he took a story seriously but he was out to make a living out of it;
that was his main goal. When comics got weak, after the Kefauver Senate hearings,
Jack scrambled around to find whatever work he could. He had our bound volumes
of Black Magic and Young Romance and everything else that we had done. We had
them bound in volumes, which we found out later diminished the value of the
original books. Eventually, after Jack died they returned these bound volumes
to us and he had little Post-it Notes on every story, of how many times he did
this story for DC Comics, Marvel Comics and anybody else. (laughter) He had
them all listed and written up; he did the same story, three or four times each!
(laughter) And I still have those Post-it Notes in the same book. But Jack was
a professional, he was great. He made a lot of money at the end of his career
by going into the magazine publishing business. He started a magazine called
Interior Decorator. He opened--I forget the year but it was when comics were
really in a crash--and the IRS closed it two years later. They padlocked the
doors. (laughter) So then Jack sold the title. I think it's still being
published under the title Decorator. There was a lot of money involved and the
family did very well. The IRS didn't do so well. (laughter)
Mark: Tell us how you got to Martin Goodman's offices; how you
got the job at Timely after Fox.
Joe: I got the job at Fox as editor. It was all manipulated with tricky
letters of recommendation from my old newspaper days; the copy boy would send
in a great letter of recommendation, and he'd sign the editor's name
to it and Victor Fox was very impressed by that. (laughter) So, I got that job--it
was $85 a week, which was a lot of money in those days--but I had like 20,000
books to put out since Eisner and Iger had quit. It was a big problem. I did
a lot of covers myself and I had to keep changing styles to match the artwork
inside. Sometimes the covers had nothing to do with the insides anyway--but
we got the books out, we did well; and Jack Kirby was from the East Side of
New York, from a very poor family there. And I was doing work for Funnies, Incorporated
at night. And I did a thing called Blue Bolt, which was one of my first super-heroes.
Jack came up and asked me if he could work with me. And, of course, I was delighted--I
loved his work. We rented an office a few blocks from the Fox office--Fox was
in an elegant office, by the way. It was like, his private office was like this
room. (laughter) It was right in the heart of town, near Grand Central and the
name of the building was Grand Central Palace. DC was upstairs, Fox was downstairs.
So, Jack and I rented an office on West 45th Street for $25 a week. After work,
we'd go there and work on our other characters, Blue Bolt, and Jack came
in with me on the second issue of Blue Bolt.
We worked on that stuff and other stuff and Martin Goodman, who owned Timely
and Daring and Marvel--it was all the same company--was buying stuff from us
through an agency called Funnies, Incorporated. Martin was their biggest customer
but then he decided to eliminate the middleman, so he hired us from Funnies,
Incorporated, and gave us more money. And this little room on 45th Street is
where we started creating new characters for Martin, or for anybody, and one
of the first ones we did was Captain America. We brought him a first sketch
to look at, and Martin liked it. Martin had very good ideas on sales--he had
good instincts on what would sell and what wouldn't--and he loved the idea.
Then we finished the book in our own little private office there, and brought
it over there. And, of course, the first issue was a sellout. As Frank Sinatra
said, "I did a lot of bad stuff and I did a lot of rotten stuff,"
(laughter) but this one was the good stuff. It turned out well. Everybody turned
out a lot of dogs, and it's still happening--nothing new; but even at the
beginning, when there were so few titles, you're always looking for the
pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and this time we found it. I think between
us, we had more hits than anybody ever in the whole history of comic books.
We also had a lot of dogs, like Sinatra.
Mark: What was the worst comic you ever did? (laughter)
Joe: The worst comic book--I had a lot of competition there. (laughter)
In the early days, the Red Raven got the worst sales, and now it's making
a big comeback.
Mark: The two that Jack used to always mention were Red Raven and Win-A-Prize
Joe: Win-A-Prize? No, now that's not fair because Win-A-Prize was
published at Charlton and they weren't in the business of selling comics.
They were printing them, they were distributing them, they were doing everything
but selling them. (laughter) They made money; they made money because they had
their own distribution, they had their own printing plants. They used to bring
in a bunch of guys from Italy who couldn't speak English, put them in a
printing plant and, at lunchtime, they'd go out for an hour-and-a-half
and put up buildings--they laid bricks, and then they'd go back to the
printing plant. (laughter) Great outfit there; they didn't have to sell
Mark: While you were working at Timely, they hired a kid to work there
named Stanley Lieber. He used to play the flute or the clarinet. What was it?
Joe: He played the flute. This place, Timely, was full of relatives:
(laughter) Uncle Robbie, Martin, Abe, Dave. Martin was the founder of the whole
Marvel thing and he was very bright. I never heard this confirmed but he was
supposed to have only gone through the 4th grade in school. He had a great mind.
He was very shy. He had all his relatives around him. He had Uncle Robbie there,
taking care of Uncle Robbie. He'd have to change the pillows on [Uncle
Robbie's] chair every half hour or so. Somebody told me he had very delicate
skin, (laughter) but I don't know what he had. He'd keep changing
the pillows. He was a young man, prematurely white. Nice looking, well-built.
But Martin was smart, he had a great sense of sales.
Stan Lee; is Stan here? No? (laughter) Stan Lee called me about two or three
years ago, and says, "Joe, I opened my convention with the story that I
answered an ad in the newspaper to get my job. I answered an ad in the newspaper
for a job in comic books and then I went. You hired me and I was walking in
the hall and I ran into Martin." Well, I knew Martin was his uncle; well,
his relative. Actually it was Stan's mother's cousin, something like
[Stan continues:] "So, Martin said to me, "Stan, what are you doing
here?" And I said, 'I work here.' And Martin says, "Is that
right? I didn't know.""
I said, "Stan, that story can't be true. We only had three offices
and a bunch of relatives in the building. We didn't even have a hall."
(laughter) So Stan says, "Is that right? My memory is going." (laughter)
I thought it was a pretty good story. (laughter) I figured at that time, he'd
stop doing it. He's still doing it. A month later I read the same story
in Newsday. But, God bless Stan, he's got a good story and he's sticking
with it. (laughter) He did a wonderful job. He did a miraculous job. I'm
proud of him.
Stan used to drive Jack Kirby crazy. He'd sit there while Jack was working,
while we were all working. He'd sit in the corner with a flute, and he'd
play the flute. Jack and the guys would throw things at him. (laughter) Finally,
to give him something to do, we told him he could... every comic book had to
have a page of text to get Second Class mailing privileges, which are not that
important today. But it would take three issues for a publication to be credited
with that mailing privilege; then the publisher would get money back from the
Post Office. So, it was very important to get that mailing privilege, and to
qualify you had to have a page of text. They didn't have a lot of letter
columns in those days, they had all artwork. So we gave Stan some of the text
to do. Nobody wanted to do that stuff because nobody read it--and so Stan did
it, and he treated it like it was the great American novel. (laughter) And he
kept doing them, and he loved doing them, and it turned out he made a career
out of it. He respected it--I give him credit for that.
Mark: So you did ten Captain Americas, I believe.
Joe: Yeah, well, we were fired. (laughter) What happened was that I
had a deal with Martin Goodman that I was to receive about 15-25% of the profits.
Mark: You got 15% and Jack got 10%.
Joe: Okay, so we were supposed to receive 25% of the profits on Captain
America. The rest of the stuff was all thrown in, but since we started Captain
America clean, we thought that we deserved that. We had an agreement, we did
a handshake on it. We didn't get, like, $3 royalties after the book sold
out; and instead of confronting Martin, which we should have done, we contacted
Jack Liebowitz at DC Comics. He was running DC Comics. He was very happy to
hear from us. We were really the stars of the whole industry at that time, coming
up from nowhere to million-a-month sales on these. Not only Captain America
but we were boosting up USA, All-Winners, Young Allies. I stole that from Boy
Allies. (laughter) The books were selling well, so they were happy to give us
a very good contract at DC. Anyway, we had a minimum according to what we produced;
we could make more, but the minimum was $250 each a week. Jack had been making
$75 at Goodman's and I had been making, what, $85? So, I thought that was
a pretty good deal--we were both pretty happy about it.
Meanwhile, we had to come up with new characters, although it didn't depend
on the content--they were paying us anyway. We were finishing up the stuff for
the last issue of Captain America; we hadn't announced to Martin Goodman
that we were leaving. We thought we were justified since we were getting such
a screwing on the royalties, in our estimation. Anyway, Stan Lee... we rent
another hotel room and we went there at night and started creating new characters
like Super Sherlock Holmes and stuff like that; stuff that never occurred. And
Stan Lee used to tail after us. He was a little 16-year-old, y'know? We
liked him, and we let him tail after us. This story's never been told;
so we came back to Timely and sat down and we both worked on Captain America,
and Stan was there while we were penciling up Captain America. Suddenly, we're
surrounded by the brothers and the uncles; it was like they formed a ring around
us, and accused us of working for other publishers. I remember Abe Goodman.
He says, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" He says, "You're
fired." And then one of the other guys says, "But first you have to
finish this issue of Captain America." (laughter)
Mark: How did Goodman find out that you were working for DC?
Joe: Well... [pause] Stan said he didn't do it. (laughter) Jack
said, "The next time I see that little son-of-a-bitch, I'm gonna kill
him." (laughter) And then, the next thing I knew, he went back to work
for them, so you do what you gotta do, right? I had started Sick Magazine at
that time, which kept me going very nicely for about 20 years. I'll say
this for Jack--Jack went back to Marvel, he switched to Marvel from DC. We got
together a couple of times in-between. But every time I called Jack I'd
say, "Jack, I've got a project to do; come do it with me." He
was there the next day--and in those days, we were always together when we had
to be, when we wanted to be. He always came back to me. I never paid him the
way I'd pay the other artists; I always split with him, everything we had.
We had kind of a nice relationship. Later in his life, he got a little crazy
and started talking about "I never worked with someone else's script,"
and I said, "What if you got a script?" and he said, "I'd
throw it out the window." He'd come up with ridiculous statements
like that. I think he was having problems then. We had a very nice relationship.
We never had any arguments.
Audience: Could you tell us about the Newsboy Legion and how that started?
Joe: Well, we got fired from Timely Publications. We went over to DC
Comics--we had a contract with DC Comics at the same time we were doing Captain
America. We were also doing Captain Marvel, Captain America, and probably Blue
Bolt at that time; a lot of stuff. We had signed a contract with DC Comics for
a lot more money, and we had a meeting with them--we had lunch at a very fancy
Hawaiian restaurant on Lexington Avenue in New York with Jack Liebowitz and
Mort Weisinger, a bunch of editors, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. They brought
them along because they were trying to impress us; they didn't have a lot
to say. (laughter)
They didn't know what to do with us. We were on the payroll and we had
been trying to come up with characters. We had a hotel room there and we used
to go there at night after Captain America and draw up these characters like
Super Sherlock Holmes and stuff like that. But we were told that we were tied
up with copyrights on that, so we couldn't do that and we had to try other
things. None of them was too bright. And then they brought us into the office
and they gave us ghost work to do. They wanted us to ghost ordinary features;
I don't even remember the names of the features now.
Audience: The Sandman?
Joe: No, we did the Sandman after we flopped at those ghosting jobs.
They told us to "just do what you want; you guys are getting paid. Go,
go, figure out something." Then we came up with our own character which
is Sandman. It wasn't the traditional Sandman, it was our own version of
a super-hero. Manhunter, Newsboy Legion, Boy Commandos. What else was there?
Those were the mainstays. They were instant successes. All of them were very
big. In fact, Manhunter and Sandman were in Adventure Comics. This was the first
time that I knew of that anybody ran the byline on the cover of a comic magazine:
A big, fat "New Sandman by Simon & Kirby." So we were very successful
with all of the new characters. They were very happy with us and we did The
Boy Commandos which turned out to be the number one hit of that time--it lasted
all through the War. Biggest thing in the War for that period.
The S&K shop circa 1949: (l to r) Kirby, Simon, Bill Draut, Marvin Stein,
and (seated) Ben Oda.
Audience: What exactly was the process with you and Jack in putting
a story together? Would you give him a script and he would draw the art?
Joe: Let me tell you something about collaborations. Everybody in this
industry collaborated. Everybody worked with other people. There was so much
to do. There wasn't any one way that we did it. Before we went into the
service, DC wanted us to turn out several years' worth of Boy Commandos,
and the quickest way we possibly could. So at that time, I would write the stories
on the drawing board. Jack would pencil it, we would have another guy outlining
it, we'd have a guy lettering it. And Jack and I most of the time would
pitch in and throw the blacks in. Other times, when we weren't working
so much, we weren't so busy, the ideal way we'd like to work was Jack
did the penciling and I did the inking. We both could handle the writing real
well--neither of us like writers. We didn't appreciate them--whatever we
got, we re-wrote and re-wrote until there was very little left of the writing.
So, there was no one way that we collaborated.
If we were out of work, if we didn't have anyone, our way of working would
usually be to write the script right on the drawing paper. We used that heavy
board--everybody hated us for that. You know, we'd get through with the
book and we'd have a pile like this. It took a couple of people to carry
it. (laughter) There was a reason that we had for using the heavy board; the
drawing table has a little edge here, and it's on a slant, and the board
just fits; you don't have to thumbtack it down or tape it down. And you
could move it back-and-forth; have a t-square to get your lines horizontal and
vertical. For a long time, we used that board just because it was easier to
All the artists, y'know--Will Eisner had Lou Fine working with him and
you don't know which is which a lot of the time. Terry and the Pirates;
how many artists did they have? You don't know. We did the best we could.
We had to make a living. We never thought that we'd be here in this position
talking about this stuff. That was the farthest thing from our minds.
Audience: I wanted to know how you guys decided whose name came first
on the credits.
Joe: Well, I had the suit. (laughter) The first thing we worked on together
was Blue Bolt, and I had started that before we teamed up. And I was a couple
of years older than Jack; hey, c'mon. (laughter)
Mark: What do you remember about Howard Ferguson?
Joe: Howard Ferguson was the greatest letterer and Ben Oda was the second
greatest letterer. Howard Ferguson was a middle-aged man from Detroit, and like
everybody else in the business he was living hand-to-mouth. He came here, he
got divorced; he brought his daughter, Elsie, to live with him. I think his
wife left him, he said. He was the only letterer I ever heard of that could
draw in a straight line with doing the penciled lines. Just like a machine and
very, very creative. He was a big part of our effort, of our creativity. He
was great with logos and designs, everything. We'd just rough out the stuff
and give it to Howard, and he'd give us back beautifully-inspired, inked
lettering and logos. The only problem was that there'd be coffee stains
on every page. (laughter) He'd drink like 30 cups of coffee a day.
Audience: I came into Captain America in the Silver Age time period,
and going back and looking at Captain America when it was Simon & Kirby,
there are distinct differences in how it was drawn and the style that typified
it. Were we dealing with an evolution here, or were we drawing for that particular
time, and how people were drawn at that particular time?
Joe: He wasn't bulked up when we did him, like he was later. That
was the way the evolution of the super-hero went. He was slim and he was lithe.
I think he was probably quicker than stronger. Basically, there were some panels
where he was bigger and some panels where he was smaller. (laughter) I think
all of our super-heroes looked alike anyways; they all had the same face and
the same body, right? (laughter) I'm not too happy with the big guns and
the small heads of today. They look like mushrooms growing up. (laughter) But
if that's what they really want, good luck to them.
Audience: In the late '40s, you started owning some of your characters;
like, you owned Young Romance, didn't you?
Joe: Well, Young Romance, we made a deal with Teddy Epstein and Paul
Blyer. They had a little company called Prize Comics. I had the Young Romance
idea coming out of the service. I saw all these adults reading comic books and
said, "Jeez, they're all reading Disney and Donald Duck." I got
together a few pages of True Romance Confession and I thought the girls, the
housewives that were reading comics, the housekeepers, the housemaids, everybody
who was reading comics would really like to read some adult comics. I showed
it to Jack and he loved it. A lot of people didn't think it was a good
idea. But the first thing we did, we agreed that we would do a whole issue;
invest in a whole issue of Young Romance Comics before we peddled it to these
gangsters that were publishing. (laughter) In this way, we would be protected.
So we signed a contract; we were full partners in the thing. We were to pay
for the art and editorial, they would pay for the publishing and do the publishing
business. We thought we were pretty great with that contract--we were supposed
to split the profits. We thought we were pretty damn smart to do that, but later
I found out that these guys weren't even putting their money into it. The
distributors were giving them a 35% advance. So, they weren't paying anything.
We were the ones that were paying the money. The good part is that the thing
sold out and that was really a bonanza. We were taking in tons of money.
Audience: But who owned the title of Young Romance? Was it you or was
it your partners?
Joe: Well, the corporation owned the title. No, we didn't own the
title. We were 50% owners of the profits, that's all it was. We weren't
that smart. We liked to think we were, but we weren't.
Audience: I was wondering how much, as far as ownership, you knew about
Eisner owning characters and how familiar you were, because most people didn't
own anything. You at least worked out some contracts, which seems unusual for
Joe: We had good lawyers working on our stuff. We knew all the tricks
at that time. When you work on a contract with a comic company, it would say
"all the work will be to our satisfaction" and our lawyers changed
that to say "to the usual standards of Simon & Kirby." So, we
went with tricks a little bit. Still, we couldn't compete with them.
Audience: You and Jack created so many terrific characters together.
I was wondering if there was ever a character created by other artists and writers
where you looked at each other and said, "Doggone it, I wish we would have
come up with that."
Joe: Maybe we did. I don't know. We would steal anything good.
(laughter) There were certain artists, of course, that both of us looked up
to and respected. One of them was Lou Fine, who was there even before we were.
So many of them. We respected them.
Audience: I've been re-reading your first ten Captain Americas
you did with Jack and it struck me for the first time that Bucky's the
only character that put on a little mask and still called himself by his real
name. (laughter) I realize that this was a less sophisticated time, but if his
identity was supposed to be a secret, why didn't he name himself "Kid
USA" or something like that?
Joe: I don't think we thought these things out very well. (laughter,
applause) We didn't get paid for that. I mean, look at Superman, even today,
without a mask and nobody recognizes him; you see that on television and say,
"Hey, what's going on here? I know who he is." (laughter)
Audience: When it was business negotiating time for the Simon &
Kirby team, could you give us a sense of what that was like? Would Jack defer
to your business sense?
Joe: I've heard that I was the businessman and the manager. I just
worked too hard in the business to be classified that way. I never did anything
without discussing it with Jack. I was working day and night at the other stuff.
I kind of resent the allegation that all I did was the business. I heard that
many times. It was floating around all over the place. It's okay now.
Audience: Where did you get the idea for romance comics? Was it from
people you know or things that happened?
Joe: When I was a little boy, there were these True Confession books
put out by Fawcett and Hearst. I remember watching my mother; she couldn't
even write, she was from Russia, and my father was from England. He was a talker
but he couldn't write very well, either. They were doing a contest from
one of these love confession magazines: write us a story about how you met and
how you fell in love. Y'know, a love story. They were doing this stupid
story, it was like what happened 20 million times in the world--nothing unusual
about it. But that always stuck with me. When you're doing comic books,
you're always looking for a unique idea. You can't just do another
Superman, another Batman, another Flash, another Captain America, another Spider-Man--they
stole Spider-Man from me, by the way. (laughter) So, we're looking for
unique ideas. I think we made it kind of a hobby to put in unique ideas in-between
our winning ideas. Y'know, like Sinatra said, "From bad to rotten."
We had Young Romance. We had Win-A-Prize; we liked these ads that they were
running in the back of the comic books, and we offered prizes based on the stories
in the comic books. That was a pretty unique idea but that was published by
Audience: Joe, how did you come up with the stories for the romance
Joe: The stories sounded really bad but they were very mild. Y'know,
"I Was A Teenage Hitchhiker" and you thought the woman was going to
get assaulted or something, but she just took a ride. (laughter) They were very,
very mild romances. Just a kiss and you fell in love, and the girls ate them
up. There was nothing like it in those days. They sounded like there was going
to be something happening, but there wasn't.
Audience: Tell us about how you went about creating Captain America.
Joe: We were always trying for new characters. We had a lot of failures,
we had a lot of marginal characters, but we kept trying new ones. Captain America
was a wartime thing, a patriotic thing, and we had the greatest villain you
could think of: the Nazis, and Adolf Hitler. It turned out, you put a little
comedy into it, a very colorful costume, and it went over. It was not the first
patriotic hero in comics but it was the best. The kids ate it up. We knew when
we had a sellout and we had many of them. Young Romance, the Boy Commandos--we
knew that; you could just feel it. You'd go to the newsstand. When we were
at Marvel Comics, it was not the same way it is today where the distributors
send you over a lot of different comics and you'd look at your competition's
books. At that time, Martin Goodman was the guy that owned Timely, which became
Marvel. He would send his relatives down to the newsstand with big packages
of his comic books, and they would trade with this newsstand on the corner for
competitor's comic books; we'd give them three for one. That's
the only way we saw what our competitors were doing.
Audience: There was an obscure title called Champion Comics in the '40s.
You and Jack did some classic covers: #8, 9 and 10. I think it was by Worth
Publishing before Harvey bought it. Do you know anything about the background
of Worth Publishing or how you got involved with those guys?
Joe: This guy had one comic book. He was a middle-aged man who married
a rich woman, and she wanted to get him out of the house. (laughter) I forget
his name, but he published one comic book. He had a nice little office at 42nd
Street off 5th Avenue.
Here's how we got hooked up with him--we needed a place to work and he
had this beautiful office, so we told him we would do his covers if he let us
use his space. We got involved with him; did a few things for him. We had some
kind of collection problem from him.
Audience: Was that after Fox and before Timely? Or, can you even remember?
I know I'm going back a bit.
Joe: I tell you what I remember about the place, and this will help
date it. I had a friend named Alfred Harvey, who was working at Fox. Alfred
Harvey, also like Victor Fox, had the idea of going into publishing comics.
He used to come up to this guy's office where we were working. We were
working at night, and this guy had to go home to his wife because it was her
money anyway. (laughter) So Alfred Harvey used to come up, and he was at the
time working for Fox in a very small capacity. He used to go into this guy's
office and sit down at his desk and go through all the drawers and get all the
information about publishing comics. So, that put a timeline on that.
Audience: You talk quite a bit about how you made the transition from
Marvel to DC, but I'm interested in how, after the War, you and Jack also
made the transition from DC to Harvey. Jack did some stuff for DC right after
the war and he was still doing Boy Commandos for a while even after you started
up at Harvey. And then gradually you dropped the DC stuff and worked almost
exclusively for Harvey.
Joe: We worked for Jack Liebowitz who was running DC Comics when we
were up there. We had the utmost respect and affection for Jack Leibowitz. After
we went off during the War, we had talks with Alfred Harvey who was very successful
at that time. He was stationed in Washington, DC and I was stationed in Washington,
DC and Will Eisner was stationed there. Jack was off fighting somewhere, putting
up fences in the Army. But I made a deal with Al Harvey to be part of the business
and get 50% shared profits. DC had voluntarily been paying us royalties on Boy
Commandos--characters we left behind. They did wonderfully by us and we appreciated
it, but we just couldn't pass up this partnership deal with Harvey. And
after the War, we went back there. We went back with him. It was just business;
not something I'd be proud of, but that's what you have to do in business.
I guess we're talking about a businessman again. (laughter)
Unfinished page intended for "The Evil Sons of M. LeBlanc" in STUNTMAN
Audience: How was Stuntman created? Did you do any particular research
on the subject?
Joe: We never did any research on anything. (laughter) It was just another
attempt at a super-hero. A lot of our super-heroes were satirical. Stuntman
was an alter ego of a movie star who couldn't, y'know, jump over a
puddle, and Stuntman took his place; he didn't have any superior powers,
but he was a stuntman. I thought we had some very nice stories in it. That's
all that I can tell you about him. It was just kind of something that should've
Audience: Why did you and Jack stop working together?
Joe: I want to tell you something about that. The comic business was
shaky because of the heat over the Senate Committee investigations. There just
wasn't a lot of work or a lot of money there. I think that the last thing
we did together was at DC: Challengers of the Unknown. I went somewhere else
and Jack stayed there a while and went to Marvel. But here's what I want
you to know. Anytime I had a project I would always call Jack to get together
and he would always be there the next morning. We had this deal with Archie
to do The Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong. We got together and Jack
came over and it was never a matter of "Hey, I was getting this much money
for the thing; I'll pay you this much." It was always "We'll
share the whole thing." We were partners in everything we ever did, and
Jack was always willing and always there. Would we have our disagreements? On
and off--like a husband and wife--everybody has their disagreements every once
in a while, but never anything that would be called an argument; nothing like
that. Not even creatively; never.
Sign up here
to receive periodic updates about what's going on in
the world of TwoMorrows Publishing.
Click here to download
our new Fall-Winter catalog (2mb PDF file)