Joe Simon at NYCC 2011 (photo credit: Gregg Sanderson for MTV Geek)
This is indeed a sad time for comic book lovers everywhere, with Captain America co-creator and prolific artist Joe Simon passing away at the age of 98. Just last week, Joker creator Jerry Robinson also passed. Simon and Robinson were among some of our last links to the Golden Age of comics, and were key in creating a mythology and iconography that has profoundly impacted our pop-culture — from comics to movies, to modern art, design, apparel, and beyond. (read more about Simon’s influence on Captain America: The First Avenger at MTV Splashpage)
Both were also very active in public speaking and the convention circuit despite their advanced years, and loved recounting stories about the formative years of the comic book industry; Simon had just made an appearance at a panel in this year’s New York Comic Con to promote his recent book, Joe Simon: My Life in Comics.
Simon was born in Rochester, New York in 1913, and started his career as the art director of his school newspaper. He made a living drawing editorial and sports cartoons, as well as retouching movie publicity photos, until his first comics assignment producing a 7-page western for Funnies, Inc.. Simon also had a fateful meeting with fellow artist Jack Kirby during this time — and from there he and Kirby did work for Timely (later to be Marvel) Comics. The joint Simon/Kirby Captain America Comics #1 went on sale on 1941, and became a million-copy seller. Simon told us in a recent interview:
“Captain America was created to be the perfect foil for the ultimate villain, Adolf Hitler. At the same time he wasn’t just meant to be a propaganda device—he was designed to be one of us, and to represent all of us as the best America has to offer. Just as Jack Kirby did when he was alive, I consider this to be the greatest country in the world, and Captain America is a reflection of that feeling.”
Simon, like Captain America, did his part during WW II, and joined the U.S. Coast Guard. When he was discharged he continued to work with Kirby in their studio, creating comics for Harvey and Archie and creating superheroes like The Fly. After Simon’s partnership with Kirby ended in the mid-50s, he went on to create the satirical MAD-like magazine Sick, and two of DC’s more unusual cult-favorite comics: Brother Power The Geek and Prez.
In later years Simon has been recognized by the comic book community for his contributions to the field with an Inkpot Award in 1998 and his induction in the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall Of Fame In 1999.
As to the importance of Captain America to the United States at this moment in its history, Simon told MTV Geek:
America is facing the most dangerous times in its history, and as a result we need an icon like Captain America more than ever. Too many heroes have ambiguous ideals and motives, and it takes a hero like Cap to show us the way things ought to be. He represents the American ideal.