The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio

BOOK REVIEW

Simon and Kirby Cover

Publisher: Abrams Comicarts

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1160-2

Type: Hardcover

Pages: 382

Date: 2014

Price: $60.00 US / $69.00 CAN

Simon and Kirby Back Cover

I have followed the work of Jack Kirby for years and thought of him only in terms of his career with Marvel Comics, and somewhat with his brief work for DC Comics. But I never realized that those times weren’t the beginning of his story. Enter Joe Simon and the Simon and Kirby Studio.

Simon and Kirby Portrait

I’ll leave the details of how these two creative geniuses met for when you read the book, but safe to say it is one of those ‘meant-to-be’ stories! They started out in the 1930’s and definitely left their mark.

The Simon and Kirby Studio was prolific, employing many artists as needed, and covering such material as:

Simon and Kirby Space

Space Epics

Simon and Kirby Love

Love Stories

Simon and Kirby Crime

Crime Stories

Simon and Kirby Western

Westerns

Simon and Kirby Superhero

Superheroes (The Fly, pictured above)

I learned that Simon would go out and get jobs for the studio by promising any kind of story that was needed to fill publications at the time. They were primarily a studio-for-hire at this point. Then Kirby would burn the midnight oil to churn out the images. Although Simon was more of a writer and business man, he also did artwork and other duties. In fact, everyone at the studio was expected to do whatever it took to meet a deadline!

Simon and Kirby Sandman

The Sandman

Superheroes are probably what most readers buying this book will know Jack Kirby for. Perhaps thinking of Captain America or the later characters co-created by Stan Lee, like The Mighty Thor, among others. But in the early days it was The Sandman, Fighting American, and The Fly.

This book is mostly a reprinting of classic Simon and Kirby stories, in part or in their entirety. The book starts with a brief introduction by Mark Evanier and concludes with an even briefer afterward by Jim Simon.

COOL FACTOR: 3.5/5

I was expecting more of an in-depth look at the men and the studio they created, but instead got over 300 pages of comic strip panels. The artwork was amazing (if you appreciate the drawing style of Jack Kirby, as I do) but most of the stories were very dated. I didn’t know most of the characters, as they came from the 30’s and 40’s, so this too was a bit disappointing.

The Cool Factor will be much higher for diehard Kirby fans, and completests, but for the average comic book fan, it may not be what is expected.

For more on Jack Kirby, check out this blog entitled the Jack Kirby Museum. The curator has stopped posting new material, but it is still filled with many posts that delve into Kirby’s life and art.

Or if you want to stay right here (which I would certainly appreciate!), please check out my book reviews on Stan Lee’s Marvelous Memoir and Color Sundays of Mickey Mouse and The Art of the Disney Golden Books. For another related review, check out Toy Wars, depicting the battle between Mattel and Hasbro for toy supremacy. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a grudge match between Barbie and G.I. Joe!

Top Five Marvel Superhero Costumes

How can we pick just five superhero costumes? It all has to do with the focus. I’m not just concerned with how cool it looks, although that will be a factor. Instead I will focus on how well it reveals the hero’s character and powers, as well as how it would hold up to modern interpretation in movies.

With those things in mind, I will likely leave your favorite superhero costume off this list. But take heart True Believer, I have left many of my favorites off too!

You will also notice that there are no female superhero costumes on this list. This is because, indefensibly, most female costumes are designed to show off a exaggeratedly toned body with lots of cleavage, and usually has little to do with the characters powers. With some, there isn’t enough of a costume to rate. So on behalf of stereotypical males everywhere, I’ll just say that every female superhero costume is awesome!

That leaves us with a list of the Top Five male superhero costumes from the Mighty Marvel Universe:

NUMBER FIVE

HAVOK

Havok

This one is for me! Havok has always been one of my favorite characters based almost solely on his cool costume. You can’t go too far wrong with basic black and silver! But his costume also contains functional technology designed to contain his power. The three bands on his head reflect well the percussive waves that emanate from him when he unleashes his power. And visually, any artist has to love how good the character looks when the circles of energy leap from his chest!

This costume was not done too well in the X-men movies but because of its basic design, it could transfer very well into live-action.

NUMBER FOUR

Yellowjacket

Could Hank Pym be the man of a thousand superhero identities? OK, he actually only assumed four in total, but that’s more than any other person! He started out as Antman, moving on to Giantman, then Goliath, and ended with Yellowjacket. This last costume captured the real nature of the insect it was patterned after:

Real Yellowjacket

Making more sense than most superhero costumes, this one is functional, giving Pym the power of flight. Also, the vibration of the wings generates a sting, which shows that the costume is technology, not just spandex.

NUMBER THREE

SPIDERMAN

Spiderman

Not number one you say? Nope. But an iconic costume to be sure! Spiderman doesn’t need any assistance from his costume to be super, as a radioactive spider provided him with everything he needed (with or without webshooters, depending on which origin story you prefer). The webs are an obvious clue to his power, and the colors are even based on actual spiders:

Black and Blue Spider

Sorry you had to see that! The movies have stayed very true to the original design with only minor tweaks, proving just how great this design is. Thanks Steve Ditko!

NUMBER TWO

IRONMAN

Bob Layton Ironman

Bob Layton gave us some of the most iconic images of ol’ Shellhead, such as the one above. In this case, the colors aren’t important beyond stroking Tony Stark’s ego, and have changed depending on the armor version. But the red and gold variant with the circle electromagnet is the one that most resonates with fans.

Again, this design transferred perhaps the best to the big screen with Robert Downey Jr. rocking the suit. It looks like metal, has gadgets and tech out the wazoo, so… what’s not to love?

NUMBER ONE

CAPTAIN AMERICA

Captain America

Jack Kirby gives us an outstanding Captain America pose. Seeing this iconic costume, you’d have to be from the moon not to know which country the wearer represented. In this case, again, the costume doesn’t do much to protect Cap but does a lot to identify him and his ideals.

This costume was also easy to transfer to live-action with Chris Evans carrying off the look with ease.

BONUS COSTUME

SILVER SURFER

Silver Surfer

Yup. He’s naked. So “what costume?” you ask. Whatever it is that covers the Silver Surfer, perhaps the Power Cosmic, it definitely protects him out there in Space. And makes him the coolest looking superhero ever!

With his trusty surf board (a superhero with a surf board? Only at Marvel!) he traverses the Galaxy looking for a tasty snack for his master, Galactus. Of course, he’s since given up that gig and become a more contentious hero.

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So do you like the costumes on this list? Who would you add and for what reason? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

And please check out my other Marvel Comics post entitled Top Five Distinctive Marvel Comics Artists by clicking the link. It will be live as of April 12th.