With the release of the incredibly well-put together, amazing, thrilling Captain America movie, I think it's time to take a look at one of the unsung heroes of the character. Joe Simon created Captain America (along with Jack Kirby) and he's a living legend. Not many people remember his name since it was Stan Lee (another living legend) who revitalized the character in the 60s, again with Jack Kirby.
He released his autobiography this year (Joe Simon: My Life in Comics) and I have to say after reading it you get the feeling that comics today would not be the same without Joe Simon.
Penned without the aid of an assistant or ghostwriter and looking back on a long, eventful life, Simon's memory is lucid and his writing is crisp and engaging. He starts at the beginning, working in newsrooms for Hearst papers, learning the skills that would make him a legend as a writer, designer, and illustrator. The book reads very much like a non-fiction version of Michael Chabon's masterpiece The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It has wonderful anecdotes about working in newsrooms of the era, and even then they were expecting imminent doom for the newspaper industry, wondering how much longer it could possibly last.
Captain America is probably his best known creation, though he revolutionized comics in every genre, having his biggest successes at the time with romance and satire comics. In an interview for Big Shiny Robot!, Simon talked of his time creating the most successful comics ever made:
I'm especially proud of having created the romance comics, the most successful line of comics ever produced-each issue of Young Romance and Young Love sold a million copies and up. Those titles took a smaller publisher, Prize Comics, and gave them a huge hit. We were sitting on top with the big boys inside of a year, and they were stealing our ideas in an attempt to copy our success. Jack and I were on the way to see my wife in the hospital, where she had just given birth to our first child. We stopped in a candy store to pick up a card and saw a cluster of girls crowding around the comic book rack for the very first issue of Young Romance. That was when we knew we had a hit. We loved all of the different genres in which we worked, but the romance books hold a special place for me. It's a shame that so much of the diversity we once had in comics has practically disappeared.
The book takes you through all of the highs and lows -- through his storied career with hilarious and heartwarming anecdotes all the way through. It's almost bizarre reading a book about comics before Stan Lee's time, and to see stories told of him as this snot-nosed kid who came into the office because of a relative of someone who worked there, and Joe Simon gave him his first writing job. The book flows naturally from the dawn of comics, through the golden age and silver age. Anyone who loves the medium of comics would do well to read this tome, it should be listed as one of the definitive history books on the subject.
As a creative professional, Simon's life is incredibly inspiring. He spent his life doing what he wanted, plying his art, and making a business out of it. He worked tirelessly, even in the old days, for the rights of creators, even if it bit him in the ass sometimes. And you'll love reading about his misadventures during World War II.
If you enjoyed the Captain America film then you owe it to yourself to learn more about the man behind it, and Joe Simon is about as fascinating as they come. And the easiest way to do it is to read about it in his own words, do yourself a favor and pick up Joe Simon: My Life in Comics. You won't regret it.
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