Joe Simon, who along with Jack Kirby co-created Captain America and was one of the comicbook industry’s most revered writers, artists and editors, died Wednesday, Dec. 14 in New York City after a brief illness. He was 98.
Simon and Kirby, a comicbook artist and illustrator, worked hand-in-glove for years. From their fertile imaginations sprang a trove of characters, heroes, villains and misfits for several comicbook companies in their Golden Age of the 1940s, including Timely, the forerunner of today’s Marvel Comics; National Periodicals, the forerunner of DC; and Fawcett.
The characters the two created included the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos and Blue Bolt.
“Blue Bolt was the first strip Jack and I worked on together, beginning in 1940. He was a science fiction swashbuckler I created for Curtis Publishing, the company that put out the Saturday Evening Post,” Simon told the AP earlier this year. “They had decided to jump on the comicbook bandwagon. Jack joined me with the second issue. Like Captain America, Blue Bolt got his powers from an injection, long before the baseball players were doing it.”
For Timely, the duo created Captain America, debuting on the cover of “Captain America Comics” No. 1 with the champion of liberty throwing a solid right-hook at Hitler in December 1940, a year before the U.S. entered WWII.
“Jack and I read the newspapers and knew what was going on over in Europe. And there he was — Adolf Hitler, with his ridiculous moustache, high-pitched ranting and goose-stepping followers. He was the perfect bad guy, much better than anything we could have made up, so what we needed was to create his ultimate counterpart,” Simon told the AP.
“Cap is one of the great comicbook icons, and as dangerous as the world is today — more than it was in the 1940s — we need him around more than ever to act as our moral compass,” Simon said.
Ed Brubaker, who has drawn critical acclaim for his recent runs writing Captain America for Marvel, called Simon a “pioneer in comics, a mover-and-shaker and probably far ahead of his time.”
He said in an email that he even revamped a Simon-created character for his first assignment at DC.
“I personally owe my career in a few ways to Joe Simon — my first DC gig was a revamp of his ‘Prez,’ the teenage president, and I’ve spent almost eight years writing Captain America for Marvel,” Brubaker said. “It’s a sad day.”
Simon wrote “Prez: First Teen President” for DC in 1973-74 as a four-issue series.
Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Entertainment, parent company of DC Comics, called Simon a “creative virtuoso” whose “many contributions to DC Comics, both as a writer and an editor, are legion and will continue to be cherished by longtime fans, this one included.”
Mark Evanier, a comic industry historian and Kirby biographer, noted that besides being able to write and draw, Simon knew how to edit comics.
“Joe himself was the first great real editor who brought to comics skills he’d learned elsewhere and had some perception of how to put a magazine together and how to make a professional looking publication,” Evanier said Thursday. “He had some business acumen. He knew how to talk to publishers, he knew how to make deals.”
He also knew the market, Evanier said, noting that Simon and Kirby plunged into creating horror, crime, humor and romance comicbooks in the aftermath of WWII.
Simon said earlier this year that creating the romance comics was a high point for him and Kirby because they “negotiated to own half of the property,” something that had been an uncertain prospect in the industry.
“I’d like to think that we showed today’s comicbook writers and artists how they can do more than just make a living producing comicbooks and hold onto the fruits of their labors,” he said.
Screen adaptations of “Captain America” include the first bigscreen version in 1944, a TV series in 1966 and this year’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” on which Simon and Kirby received credit as creators of the comicbooks.
Simon’s autobiography, “Joe Simon, My Life in Comics,” was published in June.
Simon, who was born in Rochester, N.Y., is survived by two sons, three daughters and eight grandchildren.