The Best of Simon and Kirby

By Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and various (Titan Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-931-4

There’s a glorious wealth of Jack Kirby material around at the moment and this astounding collection of his collaborations with fellow industry pioneer Joe Simon is a gigantic box of delights that perfectly illustrates the depth and scope of their influence and innovation by reprinting the merest fraction of their output over nearly two decades.

Divided into key genres, supplemented by informative features from that ever-engaging writer and comics historian Mark Evanier, this striking compendium leads with The Heroes. reprinting in eye-popping colour ‘Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull’ from the landmark first issue (March 1941), and an untitled adventure of the Golden Age Vision from Marvel Mystery Comics #14 (December 1940).

From S&K’s incredible war-time tenure at National/DC comes ‘The Villain From Valhalla!’, a Sandman yarn first seen in Adventure Comics #75 (June 1942), followed by the origin of the incredible Stuntman in ‘Killer in the Big Top’ (Stuntman Comics #1, April 1946). ‘Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate’ is a raucous romp from their spoof patriotic hero Fighting American (#2, June 1954) and this section ends with a tale from Adventures of the Fly #1(August, 1959) entitled ‘Come into My Parlor’. Each text section is copiously illustrated and classic covers for each genre further sweeten the pot…

Way out Science Fiction follows, represented here by Solar Patrol in ‘The Tree Men of Uranus’: a Joe Simon solo production from  Silver Streak Comics #2 (January, 1940), the eponymous hero from Blue Bolt Comics #4 (September, 1940) and the magnificently spooky short ‘The Thing on Sputnik 4’ (Race for the Moon #2, September 1958).

War and Adventure highlights some of their most passionate yet largely unappreciated material. Boy Commandos often outsold Superman and Batman during World War II, and the moody ‘Satan Wears a Swastika’ from the first issue of their own title (Winter, 1942) clearly shows why, whilst the nuclear armageddon depicted in ‘The Duke of Broadway: My City is No More’ (Black Cat Comics #5, April 1947) set the bar for all others creators.

Simon and Kirby famously invented the romance comic genre and in The Birth of Romance we can see why the things took off so explosively, if not why all their imitators so timidly bowdlerized their own efforts. ‘Weddin’ at Red Rock’ from Western Love # 1, July 1949, is a raw, wild tale of obsessive passion, whilst ‘The Savage in Me’ (Young Romance Comics #22, June 1950) easily stands up against the best melodramas Hollywood was then producing.

Crime Drama uses three tales from 1947 (at the birth of the trend that led, with horror stories, to the instigation of the Comics Code Authority) to show how the dynamic visual flair of the ex-ghetto kids raised work like ‘Trapping New England’s Chain Murderer!’ (Headline Comics #24, May), the infamous Ma Barker story ‘Mother of Crime’ (Real Clue Crime Comics Vol. 2 #4, June) and ‘The Case Against Scarface’ (Justice Traps the Guilty #1, October) far above most of the avalanche of material all those decent folk and politicians railed against.

The Great Western features some of S&K’s most revered characters with ‘Apache Justice!’ from The Kid Cowboys of Boy’s Ranch #2 (December 1950), a spectacular spread ‘Remember the Alamo!’ from issue #5 and a captivating tale ‘Doom Town!’ starring the masked hero Bulls Eye from the fourth issue of his own short-lived title (February 1955).

Oh! The Horror! holds some especially impressive work, including ‘The Scorn of the Faceless People’ (Black Magic Vol. 1 #2, December 1950), the haunting ‘Up There!’ from #13 (confusingly also numbered as Vol. 2 #7, June 1952) and the remarkable ‘The Woman in the Tower!’ from The Strange World of Your Dreams #3 (November 1952).

Less well known are the forays into Sick Humor as seen here with ‘A Rainy Day with House-Date Harry’ (My Date #4, January 1948), the utterly wonderful parody strip ‘20,000 Lugs under the Sea’ originally seen in From Here to Insanity #11 (August 1955) and a couple of solo pieces from Simon. ‘Lenny Bruce’ and the editorial page are both from satire magazine Sick (Vol. 1 #2, 1960) and readily display the design and literary panache as well as artistic virtuosity he brought to the partnership.

With an extensive but far from complete checklist (talk about impossible tasks!) this tremendous hardcover is a worthy, welcome start towards acknowledging the debt our art-form owes these two unique creators. Now let’s have some more please…

© 2009 Joseph H. Simon and the Estate of Jack Kirby. All other material is © and TM the respective owner and holders and used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Middle Earth – The World of Tolkien Illustrated

By David Wenzel, with an introduction by Lin Carter (Centaur Books Inc.)
ISBN: 0-87818-014-1

With all the fuss being generated by the perpetual hubbub in regard to the upcoming Hobbit movie I thought I’d take refuge in the distant past, to a time when the Ralph Bakshi animated feature had so soured most fans to the concept of film adaptations that the only acceptable visual interpretations of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were those generated by devoted fan-artists.

By 1977 The Lord of the Rings and its test-run The Hobbit were world classics of literature. There had even been a consequent fantasy novel revolution which spawned hundreds if not thousands of similar tales from dozens of publishers. Even comic books were slowly making inroads into this new-ish sub-genre (in Marvel Super Action #1, 1976, Doug Moench and Mike Ploog produced a delightful strip called Weirdworld that eventually evolved via Marvel Premier #38 into the groundbreaking Warriors of the Shadow Realm specials) and the independent phenomenon Elfquest was not too far on the horizon…

Still and all, dedicated, passionate purists had the field mostly to themselves and foremost among these was a young illustrator and sometime comics creator named David Wenzel.

Now the most memorable thing about those times is the perpetual cries you’d hear at every convention, launch or bookshop. You couldn’t move for the plaintive “That’s not what Hobbits look like!” At all those occasions I heard it least about this book and this artist’s interpretations…

Wenzel moved from comics to the field of fantasy and especially children’s illustration in the 1980s where he’s worked with icons like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and creators like Maurice Sendak, but his greatest achievement is probably the three part adaptation of The Hobbit he produced with Chuck Dixon and Sean Deming for Eclipse Comics in 1989 (and which I’m saving for a later date).

Before that though there was this lovely piece of work featuring extracts of Tolkien’s prose wedded to 15 lovely line drawings and 11 beautiful, sensitive watercolours with such titles as ‘Bagend’s Quiet is Shattered’, ‘Spiders and Swords in Mirkwood’ and ‘Conversations with Smaug’ that perfectly display the artist’s love of and reverence for the source material and his debt to cited influences Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, , Howard Pyle, Alphonse Mucha, Barry Windsor-Smith and Frank Frazetta; as well as Dutch painters Pieter Bruegel and Jan Steen.

Probably impossible to find in its original low-print-run original, I hope some enterprising entrepreneur is preparing this lovely art-book for a timely re-issue…
© 1977 Centaur Books Inc. Art ©1977 David Wenzel. All Rights Reserved.

The Art of Segrelles

By Vicente Segrelles (NBM)
ISBN: 0-918348-39-0

Born in Barcelona in 1940 Vicente Segrelles Sacristán is the creator of one of the world’s most popular fantasy graphic novel series, as well as a renowned illustrator of magazines and book covers on three continents. His first comics album ‘El Mercenario’ (The Mercenary) was released in 1980, the tale of a knight fighting his way through a fantastic world of science and sorcery. Rendered in lush oil-paints, the tales blend visual realism and accuracy with fable, myth, historical weaponry, contemporary technology and classical science fiction themes. There have been twelve more since.

Hugely in demand for his painted covers since the 1970s, he has produced book covers for the works of such authors as H, Rider Haggard, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, G. F. Unger, Andre Norton, Joel Rosenberg, Charles DeLint, C.H. Guenter, Jason Dark, Terry Pratchett and a host of others. European readers may also know him as the cover artist of Italian Science Fiction magazine Urania.

This lavish oversized edition published in the late 1980s reproduces 32 of his very best covers ranging from his own Mercenary covers to paperback commissions from around the world, and includes a very brief note from the artist on his work method. Although sometimes considered a little static his vibrant, classical realism has inspired many modern narrative painters and this is a lovely book to dip into and admire.
© 1987 Vicente Segrelles, controlled by NORMA. All Rights Reserved. English Translation © 1987 NBM. All Rights Reserved.

Old Jewish Comedians

Old Jewish Comedians 

By Drew Friedman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 10: 1-56097-741-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-56097-741-4

Technically, this isn’t a graphic novel or trade collection, it’s a picture book. But when it’s a series of drawings depicting a procession of Jewish American Comedians in their wrinkly twilight years by the absolute master of pencil rendering and ironic nostalgia I’m prepared to bend whatever rules I need to in order to make more people aware.

Friedman can just plain draw. His caricatures are powerful, resonant and joyful. He at once captures what these wizened laugh-smiths were about, and gives them a beer-goggles beauty that our generation of comedy fans just doesn’t see in recordings of the performers. A book for true art collectors, whatever their particular fascination.

© 2006 Drew Friedman. All Rights Reserved.