TCJ ARCHIVE

The Joe Simon Interview

From The Comics Journal #134 (February 1990).

Joe Simon entered the comic industry in 1940 and began his legendary partnership with Jack Kirby in 1941. The pair started with a bang — the creation of Captain America.

Captain America #9 “The White Death” (December 1941) written by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Simon ©1941 Marvel Comics

 

Together, Kirby and Simon created dozens of titles and characters for virtually every major comic-book publisher. after the pair broke up, Simon went into commercial illustration, returning to comics briefly to create Brother Power, The Geek and Prez. Simon has written a book (with Jim Simon) about his comic-book days called The Comic Book Makers. — Gary Groth

This interview was conducted by Gary Groth and transcribed by Craig Maynard.

GARY GROTH: Can you tell me a little about your upbringing? I know that you were born in Rochester, New York.

JOE SIMON: Yeah. OK, I was raised in Rochester. When I was 18 I got a job in the art department of a Hearst newspaper, the Rochester Journal-American right out of high school. That’s where I learned everything I know.

GROTH: Did you have an interest in cartooning prior to getting the job?

SIMON: Oh, yeah, since I was a child. I did pencil drawings of these little cowboys and guns and things and sold them to my classmates for a nickel. One of my classmates mainly supported me all through school. He was my main buyer. I still remember his name. His last name was Lasky. I’ve forgotten his first name. He was my patron. [Laughter.] This was very early, you know. Third or fourth grade.

GROTH: You went to work for the Hearst paper in Rochester when you were fresh out of high school. What were you doing for them exactly?

SIMON: I was doing 15 dollars worth of worth for them every week.

GROTH: That wasn’t a bad salary back then.

SIMON: No, no. It was all right. People were supporting families on that. Actually, when you work on a small town paper, you had to do everything. The whole art department consisted of a very experienced art director and myself. In any small-town newspaper at that time, photo-retouching was the main job. See, there was hardly any radio then — no television — and the deadline time would be chaotic. The rest of the day, we’d sit around mostly and jump to the tables to retouch the pictures for the individual issues.

GROTH: This was a daily paper?

SIMON: Yeah. Daily and Sunday. And so during the time we were sitting around I would have a chance to draw cartoons. (My art director didn’t draw at all. He was a layout man and paste-up and designer and mainly a retoucher.) I would have a chance to draw cartoons while we were sitting around, and then almost immediately they would publish them. I’d get them published and get my name and my work in the paper, and after a year or so all I did was cartoons. I didn’t have to retouch any more. I was their cartoonist.

GROTH: Now what kinds of cartoons were these? Were they political?

SIMON: Political, sports, editorial (of course, that’s political). As I progressed, my main job was to draw ears. Do you know what an ear is?

GROTH: No I don’t.

SIMON: OK. An ear is a small cartoon that ran in the upper left and upper right of the lead departments, like “Real Estate,” “Sports.” So that was our way of decorating these pages —by having a cartoon up on top. And that’s all I did.

GROTH: When you did editorial cartoons did you basically illustrate the newspaper’s point of view?

SIMON: It was all cartooning. It was nothing serious. Are you talking about the ears?

GROTH: No, I’m talking more about the editorial cartoons.

SIMON: Oh, the editorial cartoons was Hearst, you know, yellow journalism. It was his point of view… or the editor’s point of view. Mainly there was sports. Sports, portraits of politicians, and so forth. Anything to dress up the paper.

GROTH: Now, you must’ve joined them about 1933. You would have been 18.

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: I believe your first work in comics was done in 1940, so what were you doing between ’33 and ’40? Were you working for Hearst the entire time, or did you—?

SIMON: Well, I was working for Hearst in Rochester, and I got a better job. I got more money offered to me from The Syracuse Herald. From The Syracuse Herald I went to The Syracuse Journal, which is Hearst again. I was doing very well for the period. But I was only 24 years old when I came to New York. 24? 22, I think it was. I was 26 when I went into the service.

GROTH: The Depression was still —

SIMON: Oh, yeah, that was really tough. In fact, we supported my family on $15 ’til I was 18 years old.

GROTH: Your family being your parents?

SIMON: Yeah. My parents: I had an older sister.

GROTH: May I ask what your parents did?

SIMON: My father was a tailor. Kirby’s father was a tailor.

GROTH: Your parents lived in Rochester?

SIMON: They lived in Rochester, yeah. Kirby and I each did a page of text for a Fighting American, the one that Marvel’s putting out. You heard about that, didn’t you?

GROTH: I’m not sure I did.

SIMON: Oh. They’re putting out a book on Fighting American.

Fighting American #2 “Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate” (June 1954) written by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Simon ©1954 Marvel Comics

GROTH: Hmmm. No, I wasn’t aware of that.

SIMON: And it’ll be out in November. Full-color book, be about $25. Beautiful book. The entire collection.

GROTH: No, I didn’t know that. And you and Jack did a page of text?

SIMON: Well, you know, we licensed the book to them, and we each did a page or two of text. I don’t know what it’ll amount to, though. Three typewritten pages, and I tell this story in those pages. You people get that…

GROTH: Right. Now, at what point did you move to New York City?

SIMON: Hearst was selling out all his newspapers, or most of them. He was having a lot of financial problems, so he sold the paper out from under me. I decided to cut all the losses and move to New York. Very quickly.

GROTH: Now, what prompted you to move to New York City rather than anywhere else? Did you have a desire to get into comics at that time?

SIMON: Well, where else is there? Where am I going to move to? Hollywood? That’s strange, though. You know, when I was working in Rochester, they had try-outs in New York. Disney was looking for cartoonists. He had a room in Radio City Music Hall, and I was in high school then, and I came here to try-out. So it was like a week’s thing of interviews and sketches. I remember my art teacher — I met my art teacher there — was kind of embarrassed, because he thought his status was above all that.

I don’t know how many people they got out of it, but I got a letter and they offered me a job to come to Hollywood to be an in-betweener because I was so fast. Not good but fast. [Laughter.] And they offered me $15 a week, and I was getting more than that, but I was still debating should I go out there. They were painting very rosy pictures of how affluent the cartoonists were out there, set for life. What did they call the cartoonists? But finally I decided against it because I couldn’t afford it.

GROTH: Was moving to New York a scary proposition for you?

SIMON: I had money. But it was.

GROTH: So what did you do when you arrived in New York?

SIMON: I can’t tell you too many of these stories, because these are all beautiful anecdotes that I have in my autobiography. But to make a long story short, I did a western for Funnies, Incorporated. I don’t even remember that — where it went, where it was.

GROTH: When you arrived in New York, did you make the mauls? Did you go to all the companies and submit samples?

SIMON: No, no. I never made the rounds. Somebody sent me to Funnies, Incorporated, and from Funnies I did work for Martin Goodman.

GROTH: Goodman was at Funnies?

SIMON: Goodman was with Marvel Comics. People don’t remember these things, but I think everybody knows Martin Goodman, who the hell he is. And you remember names like Leibowitz and Donenfield?

GROTH: Oh, sure.

SIMON: Charlie Gaines.

GROTH: You mean Max Gaines?

SIMON: Yeah. C.G. — Charlie Gaines, that’s what we called him. I’ll have to look in the manuscript and see what his real name was.

GROTH: So from Funnies, Incorporated you went to Martin Goodman at Timely?

SIMON: Yes.

GROTH: OK, now, how were you turned onto Funnies, Incorporated?

SIMON: Oh, I can’t really give away too much of this, these stories here, but I was sent there by a magazine art director, and that’s another story, too.

GROTH: This interview probably won’t come out ’til after your book is out, so I don’t think we’ll scoop you.

SIMON: Oh, no. I want you to put the interview out so we can get some publicity out of it.

GROTH: I’ll try to do that.

SIMON: Once you’ve seen the book, you know, you’ll have thousands of stories.

GROTH: Right. Well, so you went to Timely, and I guess you worked for Martin Goodman. Now you were an editor at Timely…

SIMON: Yeah, I was the first editor there, they never had anybody before.

GROTH: Now how did you become an editor?

SIMON: I don’t know… I was there! [Laughter.] How did I become an editor?

GROTH: Did you have qualifications, or did they just — ?

SIMON: Well, I was a writer, you know, I did a lot of writing in the newspapers as a columnist.

GROTH: Oh, I see. I didn’t know that.

SIMON: Oh, yeah. I have some stuff I could show you. And I did that only as comic books, I did the art direction for all of the detective books, love books — what else was there? – picture books, you know, like Life magazine. I think he still has one of them. Swank. His son Chip has that, yeah.

GROTH: That was a men’s magazine, right?

SIMON: Yeah, a men’s magazine.

GROTH: Were you hired by Goodman himself?

SIMON: Oh, yeah. I worked very closely with Martin.

GROTH: Could you tell me what kind of a man Goodman was?

SIMON: Goodman? He was very sweet man. He looked… Well, his hair was white. He probably was in his… I’ll tell you exactly how old he was He was about 35 at that point. His hair was snow white.

GROTH: About my age.

SIMON: Is that what your hair’s going to do?

GROTH: Hair’s not white, though. Not yet.

SIMON: And I was very friendly with his younger brother, Arthur, who was my age.

GROTH: I see. You must’ve been about 25.

SIMON: No, no, it was 24. 23 or 24.

GROTH: so it must’ve been around ’38 or ’39.

SIMON: About ’39. I started at 18. I was 23. Kirby was about 20 when we did Captain America. That was incredible, wasn’t it? The stuff we did at that age. I wouldn’t believe that we could sit down and do all those things today. It was fun, in a way.

GROTH: Now, you and Kirby created Captain America, I think, in 1941.

SIMON: Yeah, that means we did it in late 1939 or the early ’40s, because if it came out in ’41, it takes a while to prepare, and do the engravings, and to ship, and everything else. Then they dated it three months in advance. I’d say we must’ve started in 1939.

GROTH: Can you tell me how you met Jack?

SIMON: Yeah, I met Jack at the Fox. Jack was in the bullpen, and then we worked together. I had some freelance work, and I brought Jack over and we rented an office or else I had it, I don’t remember. I must’ve had an office. And Jack came in. There’s some great stories in the book about that.

GROTH: Right. Now, did you work at Fox?

SIMON: Yeah, that’s where I was.

GROTH: Did you work there as an artist?

SIMON: No, I was the editor. There’s a great story there, how I got that job.

GROTH: OK.

SIMON: [Laughter.] I know you can’t publish all these “that’s a great story,” but I can’t really tell you any more. I’ll give you my whole book.

GROTH: Well, let me ask you, what was Victor Fox like? I understand he was a bit of a shifty character.

SIMON: Complete maniac. Complete maniac. I can’t tell you any more about it, just that he was small, short, he was —

GROTH: Rotund.

SIMON: With his hands in his vest, rotund, and insane. A real Napoleon.

GROTH: How old a man was he at the time?

SIMON: I would say, at that time, he could have been in his early 40s. He could have been younger, I don’t remember. Probably in his early 40s. I have wonderful stories about that. It’s as clear today as it was then.

GROTH: Now when you say Jack was in the bullpen, was that the shop system that was in force then, where you had a number of artists working in —

SIMON: Well, you were doing more or less paste-up patchings, and so forth. Jack was working on this strip. Little Victor had some syndicated things that were not too successful. Did you ever hear the story of Kubla Cole?

GROTH: No.

SIMON: Oh, you didn’t? OK, I can’t tell you that one. That’s too good.

GROTH: Right. So you worked for Fox for about a year?

SIMON: Oh, less than a year.

GROTH: That’s where you met Jack.

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: So you and Jack had —

SIMON: Fox sued us, you know. Well, he sued me, anyway. I broke the contract, this unbreakable contract. Not a contract, but Fox. That was a first. And he sued me, and Curtis’ lawyers got rid of me with a passion.

GROTH: Curtis being Marvel. Finally.

SIMON: No, way before that. Curtis was Saturday Evening Post.

GROTH: So why did Curtis’ lawyers —?

SIMON: That was Novelty Press.

GROTH: OK, so when you left Fox, you and Kirby started a studio?

SIMON: Yeah, we were doing a lot of our work for Fox.

GROTH: Why do you think you and Jack got on so well?

SIMON: Well, I don’t know. We were successful. You know, when you’re successful, everything’s great. Jack and I never had any fights or anything, but the comic field went to hell. That’s why we split up. Right now we’re good friends again, we have a lot of stuff copyrighted together.

GROTH: Did you take an immediate liking to each other?

SIMON: Yeah, I don’t know how he felt. I liked Jack, and I thought he was on his way to being a genius. He was very young and tremendously talented. I think I actually became subservient to his style of work in my own work. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not in the long run, but, hell, when you’re doing well… We were very close, you know. Our families were close. Hell, we lived across the street from each other for years.

GROTH: Is that right? Brooklyn?

SIMON: Long Island.

GROTH: I take it that you started creating Captain America and it was published in 1941. Can you talk a little about how you and Jack came to create the character, what inspired it, and so forth?

SIMON: That’s again… There were some definite reasons why the character was created. I told you more just now than I ever told anybody else. I didn’t tell Elliot any of these things.

GROTH: I think it’s generally understood that… Well, when you and Kirby were working together those years when you created Captain America, and then you went on to create the Boy Commandos, Newsboy Legion, and so forth, I think it’s generally understood that you were more the business end of the partnership and Jack was more the creative end.

SIMON: That’s bullshit. I mean, that’s a myth.

GROTH: Can you just talk to that for a moment?

SIMON: In almost everything we did in those days I would sit down at the board and put everything in pencil, and Jack would get the stuff and tighten it up. I’d put the story on the board, I’d rough it up, and Jack would tighten it up. There came times when we would work different ways there were many ways we worked. In those days, that’s the way we did it.

GROTH: Who would write the stories?

SIMON: I would write the stories, and if we were in a position Jack would write the stories. But for the most part, I would write the stories. If you look at them, The Newsboy Legion and things like that, you’d see the styles. I leaned very heavily toward Damon Runyon type of writing. And those stories were really cute. At that time, when the reader was more interested in story and situation than he was in art they went over very well. Today, I think, you’ve got more artists studying these things than you have readers. Or would-be artists. But then, story and character development was the thing.

GROTH: So would you say that your creative contributions were about 50-50?

SIMON: Every bit.

GROTH: In addition to that, I think you handled most of the business. That is, talking to publishers, and so forth.

Black Magic #27 (November 1953) written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon ©1953 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

SIMON: Well, business was there. Whatever deals we made, we were for the most part pretty stupid, anyway. The thing where we made the most money, you know, we were like Donald Trump then. We did Young Romance and Black Magic. We were getting 50 percent of the profits there. But the original deal we made there was kind of stupid. Like, we would supply the art and editorial, and then if the book made money, we would get that back, plus 50 percent.

If the books didn’t make money, we would be the first ones to lose. You lose the art and the editorial, and that’s as much as you could lose in a book, our business deals weren’t that bright. It just turned out that we made a fortune off it. Jack and I were drawing over $1,000 a week, when people were making $50 and $75 a week. And we were taking home a salary, over $1,000 a week, from our little company.

GROTH: That’s a lot of money today.

SIMON: Today, yeah, but I’d say then it was unheard of.

GROTH: Can I ask you how this worked? In other words, you guys got a studio, and you essentially supplied the company with material, and would they pay you a flat fee per page or would they pay you by another method?

SIMON: Originally we were supposed to get the fee out of the profits. But then the books were so successful that we just didn’t… Everybody forgot about the original plan and we just drew the money out as we turned in the stuff. There was no chance of these books losing money, they were selling a million a month.

GROTH: Now, how did you confirm that what the publisher told you they were selling was true?

SIMON: How? Can’t tell. Great story!

GROTH: But you can’t tell me?

SIMON: I can’t tell you that. I want you to read this manuscript.

GROTH: OK. When you say that you were supposed to take a fee, was that a fee plus a percentage of the profits?

SIMON: Yeah, listen to this. We had a certain price for the book for the an and editorial.

GROTH: A flat price.

SIMON: A flat price. Jack and I would buy the work from artists and writers, or whatever we did ourselves we would pay ourselves. This fee was supposed to come to us before the profits of the magazine. In other words, when we had a settlement, we were supposed to get an editorial fee and then 50 percent of net profits. But it got to the point where there was no question whether the books were going to make money, so we just got the money. Got the editorial fee right away.

GROTH: Plus profits when the profits came in?

SIMON: Yes.

GROTH: I see. How did you pay the artists who worked on these books?

SIMON: They were paid a page rate.

GROTH: By you.

SIMON: Yeah, by us.

GROTH: Now, did they share any of the profits when they came?

SIMON: No, everybody can’t share the profits. You said I’m a businessman. That’s stupid. But we paid better prices than DC paid. Bill Garde used to gel $50 a page at that time, and they’re paying like $15 or $20 a page. And Mort Meskin was getting $50 a page. All our good artists were.

GROTH: I see. Now did you actually have a studio at this time?

SIMON: We had a studio at — we’re talking about Kressler now — we had a studio at Kressler, right over here at 1790 Broadway, about two blocks from where we are right now. And Kressler was a little company before we came there, and we made them one of the most successful companies in the business. We had a lot of books here. We had Black Magic, Young Romance, Young Love, Young Brides. Headline, Yellow Feet, all of them doing great, and they were a big company. One of the most successful — probably the most successful company in the business. Young Lave had hundreds of imitators, but nobody could come close to them.

Young Love #13 (September 1950) written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon ©1950 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

GROTH: Did you and Jack own that work?

SIMON: Own that work?

GROTH: Black Magic, Young Romance, and so forth.

SIMON: Some of it. Black Magic we owned, yeah. We have the copyrights on Black Magic.

GROTH: Now, how did it come about that you have the copyright on some but not others? You had to strike individual deals for each title, or something?

SIMON: We had copyright renewals. We renewed the copyrights on these things.

GROTH: So when it came up for copyright renewal 30 years later or whatever —

SIMON: 28.

GROTH: 28 years later, then you renewed them.

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: I see. But you didn’t own them then, at the time you did them.

SIMON: We owned… We were partners then, but we let the corporation copyright.

GROTH: Do you mean the publisher?

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: Did you have a choice?

SIMON: Yeah, we had a choice. I don’t want to get this thing too complicated. We could have copyrighted it, but… You know, Gary, in those days all these things that we did. We never thought they would have any value. You know, we were just batting them out. Is that a familiar expression?

GROTH: Sure.

SIMON: Today they still say that?

GROTH: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: We were just batting them out, taking the profits, and making our living. And we never thought that anyone would ever appreciate this stuff. You know, we were doing them for little kids. The kids thought we were great. We were their idols, but we never thought anyone else would. And to think that they would have value 30 years later was incomprehensible.

Fighting American #2 “Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate” (June 1954) written by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Simon ©1954 Marvel Comics

GROTH: How did you see yourself? Did you see yourself as an artist, or was it more of a job that you were just lucky enough to get?

SIMON: Oh, no. We saw ourselves as artists. That’s all. Just artists.

GROTH: But even though you saw yourselves as artists, you didn’t think the work would really have any lasting value.

SIMON: No. We thought that the comic books were at the bottom of the heap. On the totem pole we were the lowest rung. Matter of fact, a friend of mine at an advertising agency once told me that. And the truth of the matter is that nobody remembers this guy any more, but everybody remembers someone like Kirby. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Right, right. Let me just get back for a minute. You worked for Martin Goodman, and then you went, I think, to National if I remember correctly.

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: Well, actually, you worked with so many publishers, I’d like to ask you why you worked for so many instead of working for just one? Was it just a matter of opportunity?

SIMON: Well, we were just going up the scale.

GROTH: So it was primarily a matter of financial —

SIMON: Finances, yeah.

GROTH: What was working for National like? Can you tell me who you worked for then?

SIMON: Well, we had an independent contract. We worked for ourselves. We dealt with Jack —

GROTH: Leibowitz?

SIMON: Leibowitz. I thought the world of Leibowitz. I mean, we walked out on him, but he was great.

GROTH: Can you tell me what he was like?

SIMON: What he was like? He was a real gentleman. A real businessman. He was great.

GROTH: I see. What about Donenfield?

SIMON: That’s another story. [Laughter.] I can’t tell you, it’s too funny. He was like Victor Fox, they’re like twins. [More laughter.] They were suing one another all along, you know?

GROTH: Oh, really?

SIMON: Oh, yeah. Suing and countersuing.

GROTH: For what reasons?

SIMON: Well. Victor Fox used to work at Donenfield’s, so that’ll give you a clue. He was an accountant there or something.

GROTH: Now, Donenfield was the business manager at National, wasn’t he?

SIMON: Leibowitz was the business manager.

GROTH: Donenfield was the publisher?

SIMON: Oh, you mean… Well, they were both businessmen. What else were they? Neither one of them was an editorial person.

GROTH: Right. But one of them, I think, owed the company, and the other one was a bookkeeper, basically.

SIMON: Donenfield owned the company. Then Leibowitz took over.

GROTH: Did you deal with anybody at National who was part of the creative —?

SIMON: Well, the editors were creative. Some of them tried to interfere with us, but we wouldn’t have any part of it. There again, when you’re successful you can just about do what you want. I remember all of them ganged up on us there to stop the hay. Do you know what the hay is?

GROTH: No.

SIMON: Oh. That was my inking there. They hated my inking.

GROTH: Oh, yeah?

SIMON: Yeah. Crosshatching. They insisted we stop it… They didn’t insist, they asked us to stop it over and over. “When you gonna get rid of that hay? When you gonna get rid of that hay?” Never. [Laughter.]

GROTH: So you were quite independent, then?

SIMON: Very independent, yeah. Boy Commandos, you know, that was king of the heap when we were there.

GROTH: That did very well?

SIMON: Yeah. Very, very well. Don’t you remember the inking? The crosshatching?

GROTH: Oh. sure, sure.

SIMON: Did you like it?

GROTH: Yeah, I did.

Young Romance Comics #22 “The Savage in Me!” (June 1950) written by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Simon ©1950 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

SIMON: They don’t do that today. Maybe it’s out of vogue.

GROTH: Well, some do.

SIMON: Do they? OK, so to answer your question, we didn’t pay any attention to them.

GROTH: I think from National you went to Harvey.

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: And what was working for Harvey like? Was working for one company any different from working, for another company, or did they all pretty much treat you the same way?

SIMON: See, Harvey was our peer, and he was very close to me. It was like family there. We’re still like family I’m godfather to one of his boys, and we used to go away on tours together, you know, cruises and so forth.

GROTH: Now, who is this?

SIMON: The Harveys. Alfred Harvey. His whole family, you know, I was like part of the family.

GROTH: How did you become that close to them?

SIMON: We were working together at Fox, and I helped him get started when I was doing Captain America, and he had a chance to get into publishing. I sent some people over to help them — Al Leiberson, Al Gabriel, and other people — and I did his covers for him. I didn’t even charge him for them. I helped him get started. He was a very important man in later years. He was a tremendously successful publisher. Do you remember?

GROTH: Oh, sure. Then, of course, you went to Hillman & Crestwood, and what I’m interested in then is that you and Jack created Mainline, which was your own publishing company…

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: …which, I understand, was not exactly a raging success.

SIMON: No, no, it was. Bullseye was our big hit.

GROTH: But the company only lasted a couple of years, right?

SIMON: Well, that’s another story. But I can tell you what that story is.

GROTH: OK.

SIMON: Our distributor was Leader News Company. We chose them because they were usually successful. And they had one major client. That was Bill Gaines. EC Comics. So EC Comics collapsed during the Kefauver investigation. Leader News went bankrupt and they put us out of business. They couldn’t pay us. We were doing very well. Bullseye was a big hit.

GROTH: You couldn’t get through that period and find another distributor?

SIMON: The whole field was collapsing then, but we got stuck with the one distributor who couldn’t… He didn’t have any sales left. Gaines got hurt. Gaines was out of business at the time, practically. All he had left was Mad. He had to give up all the horror books. He had to borrow money from his relatives to keep Mad going.

GROTH: Right. Could you talk a little about that period in comics, the Kefauver subcommittee hearings and so forth? How did you feel about those?

SIMON: The way I felt about it… You know, it was over. That was the end. I never thought comics would amount to much after that. Most editors were ashamed to put them out.

GROTH: But did you think it was a witch hunt? Were you angry that —

SIMON: I thought that those horror comics went too far. And I thought that the others suffered needlessly, but they suffered. I thought some of it was unfair, and some of it was richly deserving of the fate that they wound up with. I have about 60 pages in this book dealing with that whole investigation, and it’s hysterical. Listen, my book is a fan book, it’s not a gripe book.

GROTH: Do you think in a way that the comics industry brought that on themselves?

SIMON: Well, not the industry itself. The comic-book industry consisting of the major publishers — DC, Crestwood —

GROTH: Timely…

SIMON: No, not Timely. You see. Timely fell for that. Timely fell for those horror magazines. Even Harvey fell for them. They weren’t clean. DC was clean, we were clean because Independent News, owned by DC, was our distributor. However, some of our books were lumped with the other trash. In fact, right on top of the heap. You know, newspapers would show pictures of piles of these magazines, and right on top of it they’d have Guilty. [Laughter.] That was our magazine. That was a pretty great magazine. And when they started off the investigation, he comes out holding up this copy of Guilty.[Laughter.] The Senator.

GROTH: Was that a frightening period, reading the paper every day and wondering what was going to happen?

SIMON: It was a horrifying experience. At that time I was involved in some advertising work, so I was trying to survive.

GROTH: May I ask what your politics were then? Were you opposed to the Senate sub-committee hearings, opposed to Communist-bating that McCarthy engaged in?

SIMON: I think as far as the Communists went, we became worse for McCarthy. We were doing Fighting American while McCarthy was going through all this crap. We hated McCarthy. Oh, God. You ever hear of Joseph Walsh? He was our hero. Yeah. Hated McCarthy. Look, we started this Fighting American as Commie-bashers, the first comic book Commie-bashers. They were exposing McCarthy all over the place, and this one day — it was either after the first issue or before it — and we said, “Ah, the hell with it.” It became a satirical book.

GROTH: So I think Mainline folded in ’55, lasted about a year. And then what did you do?

SIMON: Then we went to the graveyard. That was Charlton Publications.

GROTH: Oh, God.

SIMON: [Laughter.] The last port of call.

 

GROTH: What was that like?

SIMON: They said they were going to start a new publishing company called Simon & Kirby Publications. I still have the stationary. That’s about all I have of it. I don’t think I ever saw anything more that said Simon & Kirby Publications. I don’t know. I don’t remember that part. But, anyway, we continued our books there. We signed contracts for them, we owned all the titles and everything. We had good lawyers then If you know the history of Charlton, you understand that nothing lasted there very long.

GROTH: Apparently you went to Archie?

The Adventures of the Fly #1 “Come Into My Parlor” (August 1959) written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon ©1959 Joe Simon

SIMON: Never went to Archie. I did The Fly. That is a wonderful story — The Fly — I mean, the story of The Fly, how it came to be, and how it eventually became Spider-Man.

GROTH: We’ll have to read that in your book?

SIMON: Oh, yeah. Right now I’m going through a copyright controversy with Archie Comics on The Fly. I have the copyright on it, and they want it. They’re not going to get it. Oh, they can have it if they pay me enough for it.

GROTH: Are they interested in it?

SIMON: Are they interested in it? They’re furious.

GROTH: Because you own it?

SIMON: Yeah They say I don’t, but I have the copyright on it.

GROTH: So you did work for Archie after Charlton?

SIMON: No, I didn’t work for Archie. I prepared a couple books for them. Never worked for them. As a matter of fact, I did those books for Harvey, and how it got to Archie is another story.

GROTH: Can you tell me how you and Jack split up? That was as the industry was falling apart.

SIMON: I don’t know how we split up. I think the industry was falling apart, I went to work for Harvey, putting books together. I remember I even gave Kirby part of my salary.

GROTH: Why’d you do that?

SIMON: I don’t know. I just felt I owed it to him. I felt bad about leaving him. Kirby did some syndicate things that didn’t last very long. Hopalong Cassidy for a couple months, and —

GROTH:Was breaking up with Jack after a partnership that, I guess, lasted about 15, 16 years, was that a wrenching experience for you?

SIMON: Oh, yeah, sure. It was. You know, it just hit me like. “Hey, there’s no more business any more. Let’s do what we can.”

GROTH: Can you just talk generally about what it was like to work in comics in the ’40s, what the atmosphere was like, and the business. Did you feel, for example, that you were being paid equitably? Did you feel as though you were being given a fair shake? Did that sort of thing cross your mind back then?

SIMON: We were being paid very well. Do you think there are a lot of people interested in that period?

GROTH: Well, I’m not sure how many. I’m not sure if it’s enough to call them a lot. But I think there are a fair number of people who are interested in that period.

SIMON: I mean, there’s so many stories that have never been told, but I don’t know if there’s a big audience for it.

GROTH: Well, I don’t know how big an audience, but I think it’s reasonable enough to sustain a book. I think many of the people who read The Comics Journal an interested in the history of comics, and the testimony of men like yourself is very important.

SIMON: Well, I’ve read so much crap about this thing, so many lies, that I thought I might be able to put down the real story as it happened to me.

GROTH: There have been so many histories written —

SIMON: They’ve all been crap. I remember I read the Steranko History of Comics, one of the guys who worked with me on the early days of Captain America, Steranko had him as a synonym for Jack Kirby. And this misinformation just multiplies ’til it becomes part of the history.

GROTH: That’s why it’s all the more important far someone like yourself to have written that book, and go on the record. Perhaps you could address one question that I’ve heard far a couple of years now. You ‘d be the one to ask. I understand you tried to get Captain America back from Marvel.

SIMON: Oh, I had the copyright. It’s right here. The first 10 issues.

GROTH: Did you ever attempt legally to —

SIMON: Oh, we went through the whole works. Very complicated series of lawsuits… Not lawsuits, it never came to lawsuits, but pre-trial examinations, and Goodman hired a very distinguished law firm. I met with all these young Harvard graduates, and we had a settlement.

GROTH: I see. But you never secured the copyright —

SIMON: This is a very complicated story. This is in the book, too. And it turns out some dirty little angles that Marvel pulled.

GROTH: I see.

SIMON: On Kirby, not on me.

GROTH: Really?

SIMON: Very dirty.

GROTH: Was Jack involved in these pre-trial examination?

SIMON: Yeah. They got him on their side.

GROTH: You wouldn’t be willing to talk about that?

SIMON; I would be very willing — its all in the book — but the thing is, it’s such an important story in the book that has never been told before. Even Kirby doesn’t know the reason that I settled.

GROTH: Really?

SIMON: Yeah. You know how to copyright works if there are two authors? One author renews, the other author is entitled to complete 50 percent of all negotiations, profits, sales, that type of thing.

GROTH:What did after the comic-book industry basically collapsed. You did a couple things for Archie, and —

SIMON: I just did The Fly, and some other stupid thing.

GROTH: Private Strong, I believe. You don’t seem pleased with the —

SIMON: I thought The Fly was cute, but The Fly wasn’t The Fly.

GROTH: What do you mean?

SIMON: It was something else before I brought it over there. And I can show you a lot of inconsistencies. The Fly became Spider-Man.

GROTH: That’s in the book, too.

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: It doesn’t sound as if Marvel will be thrilled by this book.

SIMON: That’s what I say. That’s partly why I didn’t hear from them. You know. I told them the truth. I told them what they did to Kirby on that Captain America thing. It was disgusting. Disgusting.

GROTH: Well, I’ll be very anxious to read that. Haw did you feel about Kirby’s dispute with Marvel and his attempt to get his original art back?

SIMON: I don’t know what the circumstances are. I’m all for an artist getting his work back. So, in that respect, if that was the only thing that was in dispute, I think Marvel was dead wrong.

GROTH: Well, at the moment it was the only thing in dispute.

SIMON: But that’s been the history of these publishers since time began. I mean, nobody ever said they were ever fair with the artists.

GROTH: Who do you think was the fairest publisher you dealt with? Would that have been Crestwood?

SIMON: The fairest publisher we dealt with?

GROTH:Yeah. [Pause.] Was there such an animal?

SIMON: I think Jack Leibowitz.

GROTH: National?

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH: But at Crestwood you actually got a percentage of the profits. Did you get a percentage of the profits at the National?

SIMON: We didn’t get a percentage of the profits, but we got a very good rate. But Jack Liebowitz sent us bonuses based on sales every month. We never had to deal for that.

GROTH: Did they announce this, or —

SIMON: Yeah. Substantial. Royalties. They paid us royalties.

GROTH: Do you think he did that with all his artists, or were you a special case?

SIMON: I have no idea. I don’t think so. I doubt it very much. I didn’t hear of anyone else getting it. Jack and I did. Every once in a while we found a nice, big check in the mail.

Black Magic #2 “The Scorn of the Faceless People!” (December 1950) written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon ©1950 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon

GROTH: Looking back over your career, are you generally pleased with it, or would you have done —

SIMON: Was I pleased with the career? Was I happy? Yeah. The happiest period of my life was in the newspaper business.

GROTH: At the beginning?

SIMON: Yeah, I would have liked to have stayed in the newspaper business.

GROTH: Even though you made considerably more money in comics?

SIMON: Well, no. I would have gone into the comic-book business for the money, that’s for sure. There’s no question about it.

GROTH: But you were happier working in the newspapers?

SIMON: I was happiest working in the newspapers. One more thing: the newspaper in those days, you know, that was all there was. There wasn’t radio, there wasn’t TV, so that was the peak. At 18 years old I was like a hero in Rochester.

GROTH: I went to school in Rochester.

SIMON: Where?

GROTH: Rochester Institute of Technology. I’m not sure when RIT began…

SIMON: Yeah, they were there then. I used to play basket ball there, in their building. In fact, I can see it today. Every week we’d play basketball there. And we’d have our game and then walk over to The Rochester Journal at night and sit at a typewriter and type out the results of the game there. And one night I would be high scorer. the next night my friend would be high scorer, you know. we’d put in the big scorers. [Laughter.] And they’d publish it. We were kids.

GROTH: Did you have any hobbies?

SIMON: I was very active in sports. Oh, yeah. Always. Always moving.

GROTH: Well, you’re very tall, so basketball —

SIMON: Very athletic. I’m not saying I was a gifted athlete, but I thought I was.

GROTH: You went to DC in the ’60s and you created two characters. Brother Power the Geek and Prez.

SIMON: I have to tell you about that Geek. That Geek sold very well.

GROTH: Oh, it did?

SIMON: It did. And [Mort] Weisinger and I were always at odds with each other. And Weisinger told Leibowitz, he said, “Look at this thing. Don’t you know what he’s saying here?” And Leibowitz said, “What are you talking about?” And Weisinger said, “He’s saying this is a drug community here.” These are the hippies, and if you read in between the lines you can see I was talking about drugs. And Leibowitz believed him. [Carmine] Infantino was the publisher then, and Infantino said the book was really starting to go, and Leibowitz said, “I can’t handle all these drug things here. People writing behind my back. I’m going to cancel this book.” And you can check that with Infantino.

GROTH: Huh! That’s pretty absurd.

SIMON: Yeah, I know.

GROTH: Why do you think Weisinger said that?

SIMON: Weisinger was jealous. He was jealous of me, he was jealous of Jack. Weisinger was a weasel.

GROTH: Yeah? How much did you deal with him?

SIMON: I didn’t deal with him. He just stuck his nose in. [Laughter.] I think he still resented the fact that I wouldn’t listen to him about the hay years back. I’ve never gotten along with him. I mean, I never fought with him, but I could always sense that feeling of hostility.

GROTH: Was Brother Power the Geek an attempt to cash in on the counterculture?

SIMON: Yeah.

GROTH:How did you feel about the counterculture yourself?

SIMON: Oh, that wasn’t the title I turned in with. The title was — it wasn’t “the Geek,” that was the second choice, after they turned down my first title — “the Freak.” It had something to do with drugs, I newer knew what. Freaked out.

GROTH: How did you feel about the ’60s counterculture, the radical political movements and the social upheaval?

SIMON: I thought it was a lot of fun.

GROTH: So you weren’t opposed to it?

SIMON: Oh, hell no. I loved it.

GROTH: And is there any story behind Prez?

drawn by Jerry Grandenetti ©1973 DC Comics

SIMON: No, Prez was just… I thought Prez was great. I thought the Green Team was great. I guess I was the only one. [Laughter.] But at that time, let me tell you something, nothing was going. Kirby was doing book after book, and they were bombing all over. You know what the saying was? “If you want to stop the war. have DC publish it.” Because nothing that was put out new went over I know Kirby got a lot of publicity on that New Gods, but that was a big loser. Then I read in the Buyer’s Guide that the New Gods was a big seller but they dropped it because it wasn’t good for merchandising. Ridiculous stories like that. And then I stopped reading that thing, after I saw Carmine Infantino, and he says “Hey, would I drop a book it it’s making money?” Kirby suddenly decides. “You re hiding the sales figures on me.” And Carmine says, “I’m looking for some.” Incidentally, you know what book had the best sale? This is strange. Because Kirby was putting out something that was losing, I was putting out something that was losing. The book that had the best sales in many years there was Sandman, the first issue of Sandman. The return of Sandman. And they put out big print orders, and they sold out like crazy.

GROTH: Now what year. approximately, would that be?

SIMON: Sandman? Gosh, I don’t know Time goes so fast. I’m thinking of something that happened five years ago and I realize that it’s 25 years ago. [Laughter.]

GROTH: Right. Well, in your apartment here I see files, there’s a stat camera… What are you involved in now?

SIMON: I do advertising work here. I do high class work here. And I’m very busy, too. Look at that, we spent the whole day for that. We have Parents magazine, we have Encyclopedia Britannica, these are big ads we do, we have big things like this… There’s a lot of work that goes out of this little goddamn place I’ll show you some of our biggest clients. We’ve had Playboy, we have Time-Life, Newsweek

GROTH: And you design these?

SIMON: Yeah, I put them together So that’s why I say why am I going to let someone else chop up this book when I could do it myself?

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2 Responses to The Joe Simon Interview

  1. Dan Nadel says:

    Hey Patrick — That review was actually never published, according to our archives.

  2. Hey, could you guys post the CJ review of the Joe Simon bok that’s referred to a million times in this interview? Seems like it would really help comprehension of this interview. And I hear it has a lot of GREAT stories.

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