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!

Mission Marvel Perry the Platypus Plush

Being a grown and reasonably mature male in mid-life I don’t get the chance to watch a lot of Saturday morning cartoons. Not as many as I’d like anyway! And Phineas and Ferb wouldn’t really catch my interest except for the character that I am featuring here, in plush:

plush MM Perry frontplush MM Perry back

Perry the Platypus

Phineas and Ferb is an American animated musical comedy television series that officially premiered on February 1, 2008 on Disney Channel.  Every day, the boys embark on some grand new project, which annoys their controlling sister, Candace, who frequently tries to reveal their shenanigans to her mother. The series follows a standard plot system; running gags occur every episode, but the b-plot is where my attention is always focused!

plush Agent P

Perry the Platypus works as a spy (“Agent P”) for OWCA (the Organization Without a Cool Acronym), to defeat the latest scheme of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientist driven largely by a need to assert his evilness. Wuh-ha-hah!

Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel was a cross-over episode that featured characters from Marvel Entertainment, specifically in their incarnations from the Marvel Universe shows on Disney XD. It aired on August 16, 2013, on Disney Channel and on August 25, 2013, on Disney XD. The special was released on DVD on October 1, 2013.

And it’s from that show that we got Superhero P, here in the plush, with a new costume and gadgets:

plush Superhero belt

Rocket belt? Yes please!

I collected comic books as a kid and my favorite brand was Marvel. So anytime I see something Disney with a Marvel twist, it’s doubly good and a must-add for my collection!

But perhaps you’re not too familiar with Marvel Comics? If this describes you, then perhaps a review of Stan Lee’s marvelous memoir might be just what you need! You can also read my list of top Marvel artists and superhero costumes to round out your comic book education.

Book Review: Stan Lee's Marvelous Memoir

AMAZING     FANTASTIC     INCREDIBLE

Book

A Marvelous Memoir

For those unfamiliar with Stan Lee, all three of you, this is called a ‘marvelous memoir’ because Stan the Man brought a comic book company named Marvel to fame and prominence while doing quite well for himself along the way. He created, along with a team of talented artists, heroes like Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and at least a few others.

If you attend super hero movies then probably you know him as the man who shows up in a cameo role. He looks like Hugh Hefner. He’s always smiling. He pretends to be full of himself. And he is one of the truest characters left in entertainment today.

Front Cover          Back Cover

Front and back sleeve art

This book is kind of his life story so far rendered as a comic book. Funny that a real comic book is actually a magazine and this memoir is actually a comic book. But I digress. But so does Stan in his memoir, so I feel justified!

This book sold for $30 US or $36.99 CAN but I got it for just $10 CAN on clearance which should in no way reflect on its quality and value unless you’re a nit picker and consider the fact that the book only came out on November 3rd of 2015 and thusly it is a bit early for such a deep discount. But I digress. But so does Stan in his memoir, so I feel justified!

As I said, this book is presented in comic book form:

Pages 2

Pages 1

It starts with Stan appearing at a convention to tell his life story. He does so in his signature bombastic style with lots of dramatics and regressions. So he digresses. But so do I in this post, so he’s justified!

The artwork is entertaining without being too realistic, or realistic at all. It harkens back to a simpler time when comic art had energy and pizzazz in every panel.

The book is definitely a highlights-only volume with no new insights offered. We’ll probably have to wait until The National Enquirer does an expose to learn the real truth about this comic book icon. Did you know that Stan has also penned stories for Marvel’s arch rival company DC Comics? Did you know that ‘DC’ stands for ‘Detective Comics’ so when you say ‘DC Comics’ you’re actually saying ‘Detective Comics Comics’? But I digress. But so does Stan in his memoir, so I feel justified!

Stan Lee

What Stan Lee really looks like

I’d give this memoir a 3 out of 5 Stars for the general public as they are unlikely to appreciate or understand Stan’s writing style and self-aggrandizing fakery. But for die-hard Marvel Comics fans I would give it a 5 out of 5 Stars and say that if you are one of them and haven’t bought and loved this book yet then you should turn in both your MMMS membership card and every issue of FOOM magazine that you have.

E X C E L S I O R !

‘Nuff Said!

Disney’s Top Five Best Decisions

Recently I listed what I thought Disney’s Top Five Worst Decisions were and so in the interest of fairness I now present my Top 5 List of Disney’s best decisions:

BEST   DECISION   NUMBER   FIVE

Live-action Versions of Animated Classics

Jungle Book Posters

So although these aren’t my cup of tea the general Disney fan/public has embraced these ‘remakes’ with a passion! Cinderella did very well and the latest, The Jungle Book, also did a brisk business. And the upcoming Beauty and the Beast practically has people frothing at the mouth in anticipation.

While these are obvious attempts at recycling ideas and extending profits from established franchises, one can’t argue that they are beautifully done. My main complaint is that they haven’t strayed much from the original animated source material so there aren’t any surprises or new interpretations.

Maybe the live-action Beauty and the Beast will break out of this provincial approach and break new ground.

BEST   DECISION   NUMBER   FOUR

Promoting John Lasseter

John Lasseter

I just love this guy! From his early antics on the Pixar DVD releases to his many appearances to promote new productions in both Pixar and Disney studios, you can just feel his enthusiasm for both animation and the Disney legacy.

With Walt gone and no more Disney family members stepping up to fill the void, Lasseter is the next best thing. That doesn’t sound too complimentary until you realize whose shoes he is basically filling!

I hope to see him grow with the company for many years to come, but do wonder just who could fill his shoes when the time comes for him to step down?

BEST   DECISION   NUMBER   THREE

World Showcase Ethnic Casting

World Showcase CM

The best part of World Showcase in Epcot at Walt Disney World is the Cast Member interaction. And the fact that each pavilion has CM’s from the actual country being presented is a brilliant stroke of casting!

And so many benefit! Young people from around the world get to have an experience that they will never forget. The guests get to meet them and learn first hand about the culture and activities of all eleven countries represented in World Showcase. And those of us who are not American get to visit the country of our origin (if represented) and unite with a fellow countryman.

It’s win-win all around and I hope Disney never abandons this decision!

BEST   DECISION   NUMBER   TWO

Acquiring Marvel/Lucas Film

Marvel Comics Logo     Lucas Film Logo

As I stated in my post about the worst decisions Disney has made they should never have acquired Pixar. I feel it ruined the creativity of that company. But as it comes to Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. I think Disney has only helped to grow these companies.

Largely by leaving them alone, Disney has given the people at Marvel full support to continue to develop the MU in a very interesting and profitable way. The acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. is too new to really tell how things are going to turn out, but if the first Star Wars film under the Disney banner is any indication, it’s not going to badly.

Maybe Disney has learned that putting up the money and just a little creative input is the way to acquisition success?

BEST   DECISION   NUMBER   ONE

Keeping Vintage Attractions

Carousel of Progress Signage

This is a highly debatable decision but I put it in the number one spot for a reason. Walt was all about nostalgia. And nothing sparks nostalgia like the original attractions that were in the parks when they opened. Or that came soon after.

Rides from the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair like The Carousel of Progress and It’s a Small World still interest park goers today just as they did in the past. And the fact that Disney fans mourn each time a beloved attraction is demolished confirms this as truth!

While other parks continue to focus on thrill rides Disney wisely nurtures its attraction heritage of dark rides and corny shows. Hey, if it works…

Conclusion: For every bad decision there is a good decision. And given the success of the multi-billion dollar business that is Disney, one would have to believe that the good decisions are outweighing the bad!

Starlord Tsum Tsum

The title of this post probably sounds like a foreign language to some readers, but to fans of the Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy, it indicates their leader: Starlord

Starlord Tsum Tsum 001

Tsum Tsum

Of course, the above repetition of words might be harder to understand! Here is the official description from the Disney Store: “Join the craze that began in Japan! Our “Tsum Tsum” Plush Collection is full of the fluffiest friends, and is now on mugs, dishes, iPhone covers and more!

There are three main categories of Tsum Tsums: Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel. The last category is where our Starlord example comes from.

Starlord Tsum Tsum 002     Starlord Tsum Tsum 003

Not the handsomest Tsum Tsum out there!

I have resisted jumping on the Tsum Tsum bandwagon until recently when I saw this example on sale for just $1.49 at a local Disney Store (regular price is $5.95). For that discounted price, I felt I would temper my aversion to the craze and buy one. But only one!

This product line joins Trading Pins, Vinylmations, and countless other character-based gimmicks in Disney’s ongoing attempt to part us from our money by turning us all into obsessive collectors.

With that in mind, it didn’t take Disney long to capitalize on the popularity of the Tsum Tsum by releasing medium versions ($12.95), large versions ($24.95), mugs ($12.95), iPhone covers ($39.95), a clothing line, and also vinyl versions.

Starlord Tsum Tsum 004     Starlord Tsum Tsum 005

Detailing is quite well done

One problem I see with this line of merchandise is the size of these mini plush versions. Take a look at what happens when the labels are added:

Starlord Tsum Tsum 006     Starlord Tsum Tsum 007

Am I buying Starlord or labels?

Four labels for such a small product seem excessive, especially when two of them basically say the same thing: Marvel.

I guess I felt kind of sorry for the little galactic hero, sitting in his discount bin, without a friend in the world. And now I can say I own at least one Tsum Tsum. But only one!

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.

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.