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 Distinctive Artists of Marvel Comics

Many artists have rendered our favorite superheros over the years, some with greater success than others. Some artists, though, have just captured a character with such a distinctive style that we will forever see that character in their hand. Some images have become truly iconic!

Here is my Top Five list of the most distinctive Marvel artists, and the characters they made famous:

NUMBER FIVE

TODD McFARLANE

McFarlane Spiderman

‘The legend begins anew’ indeed! Dig that crazy webbing and the contortionists posing made famous by this modern-era artist.

Todd McFarlane (born March 16, 1961) is a Canadian artist, writer, designer and entrepreneur, best known for his work in comic books. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he became a comic book superstar due to his work on the Spider-Man franchise.

Not with Marvel for very long, McFarlane did reinvigorate the Spiderman character almost solely based on his unique drawing style. His webbing has become iconic almost in its own right.

NUMBER FOUR

STEVE DITKO

Ditko Dr. Strange

Drawing the first 38 issues of Spiderman and other pivotal characters like Dr. Strange, there is no mistaking the style of Steve Ditko. I think the most striking feature of his work are the hand positions, a dead giveaway. Also, he is right up there with Jack Kirby for strange and wonderful backgrounds!

Stephen J. “Steve” Ditko (born November 2, 1927) is an American comic book artist and writer best known as the artist and co-creator, with Stan Lee, of the Marvel Comics superhero Spider-Man, and as creator of Doctor Strange (pictured above).

Not the most realistic artist, but for some of the titles he drew, it’s hard to image anyone else behind the pencil.

NUMBER THREE

JOHN ROMITA SR.

Romita Spiderman

Some of the most famous storylines for Spiderman were drawn by this artist. But Romita had a hand in shaping most of the main characters in the Marvel cast.

John V. Romita Sr. is often credited as simply John Romita (born January 24, 1930) and is an American comic-book artist best known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man. His style was more realistic than many with simple clean lines and just enough detail to put the scene over. But his distinctiveness lies in his layout and dynamic posings.

It should also be mentioned that his son, John Romita Jr., also drew Spiderman in a similar style. Some find it hard to tell the work of this father and son team apart!

NUMBER TWO

JOHN BYRNE (w/TERRY AUSTIN, inker)

Bryne Wolverine

This is a rare case where the artist and inker worker together to create the finished look. John Byrne and Terry Austin made a dynamic duo that no one could approach artistically during their X-men run.

John Lindley Byrne (born July 6, 1950) is a British-born American comic-book writer and artist. Since the mid-1970s, Byrne has worked on many major American superheroes. Byrne’s better-known work has been on Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Fantastic Four.

Hyper-realism was the hallmark of this team and looking at their work could make up for any lack in the story. Not that this was a problem with Chris Claremont’s writing!

NUMBER ONE

JACK KIRBY

Kirby Thor

Jack Kirby was a major force in the creation of the look of Marvel early on. His style of bold exaggeration was perfect for Thor (above) with backgrounds that could bend your mind!

Jack Kirby (August 28, 1917 – February 6, 1994), born Jacob Kurtzberg, was an American comic book artist, writer, and editor widely regarded as one of the medium’s major innovators and one of its most prolific and influential creators.

Kirby is a prime example of how a particular artists style can come to represent a character.

BONUS ARTIST

JIM STERANKO

Steranko Nick Fury

Psychedelic  man!

James F. “Jim” Steranko (born November 5, 1938) is an American graphic artist, comic book writer/artist, historian, magician, publisher and film production illustrator. His most famous comic book work was with the 1960s superspy feature Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales and in the subsequent eponymous series (above). Steranko earned lasting acclaim for his innovations in sequential art during the Silver Age of Comic Books, particularly his infusion of surrealism, op art, and graphic design into the medium.

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So there is my list of my favorite artists from Marvel Comics. Would you have added another to the mix? You have to admit, it is very easy to identify the distinctive work of these men! Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and let the debate begin!

Please check out my other Marvel Comics post entitled Top Five Marvel Superhero Costumes by clicking the link.