Random Musings: 05-24-2010

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         Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are two of the most influential names in comics. Not only did they co-create Captain America in 1940 for Timely Comics (later Marvel), but they also worked on such DC titles as Boy Commandos, Sandman, Manhunter and The Newsboy Legion.

         And then there was Fighting American and Stuntman (Harvey Comics); The Double Life of Private Strong (Archie Publications); and Blue Beetle (Fox Publications). And that’s just a few of the superhero titles they worked on.

         Simon (born 1913) and Kirby (1917-1994, born Jacob Kurtzberg) worked in just about every genre of comics- Simon as a writer and/or editor (though he also penciled and inked at times), and Kirby as artist. They tackled science fiction (their first collaboration was the Simon-created Blue Bolt for Funnies, Inc.), crime, westerns, horror, war, and even romance. As Mark Evanier writes in The Best of Simon and Kirby (pages 12-13), while Simon and Kirby weren’t the first to realize comicbooks didn’t need to follow the same constraints as newspaper comic strips- such as equal-sized panels- they were “the best and the most imitated.”

         Simon and Kirby not only broke free of such constraints as having equal sized panels on the page, they also had panels of different sizes and shapes, and had characters break out of panel boundaries. In Captain America Comics #1,for example, you not only have a cop’s chin hanging over a panel on page 3, but you also have Bucky and a thug fighting outside the constraints of the panels on page 5. Likewise with Captain America as he bursts in on the Red Skull on page 6.

         Things like that- as well as “splash pages”, usually dramatic action taking up an entire page- are commonplace now, but not in the early days of comics. As Evanier puts it, “The impact of the Simon-Kirby Captain America cannot be overstated. At every newsstand and candy store in the country, consumers took note, raised eyebrows, spent dimes.”

         Evanier not only notes that comics of the early 1940s were becoming more exciting because of Simon and Kirby, but before long many books were following their lead. This included The Shield, a fellow patriotic character from MLJ (later Archie Publications), who pre-dated Cap. Seems Shield artist Irv Novick was confronted by a Captain America-wielding boss who demanded to know why their comics didn’t look like that.

         Again, Simon and Kirby didn’t limit themselves to superheroes. As Simon writes in the introduction to The Best of Simon and Kirby, “somehow Jack and I managed to conquer just about every genre. While other guys stuck to superheroes or whatever they were good at, we tried it all.”

         Is The Best of Simon and Kirby their absolute best? Depends on your tastes. They did so much work over the years that a lot of it could contend for “best of” status. Granted some of the stories reprinted in this book haven’t aged as well others (the two romance tales, in which the women are depicted as wanting, even needing, men who pretty much treated them like dirt- girls actually wanted to read such crap?- come to mind), but even so, if you want to see why Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are so respected in the industry, check out this book.

     

         Volume 2 of Bloom County: The Complete Library is now on shelves. This volume covers 1982-1984. As I said in my blog about volume one, writer and artist Berkeley Breathed, through his characters, addressed- and sometimes skewered- politics, religion, the media, and popular culture. In this volume, Breathed lambastes the forged “Hitler Diaries” published in a German news magazine, with “Elvis’ Secret Diaries”, “found” by “Journalist X” (Milo) and verified as the “real McCoy” by a panel of “experts” that include Dagwood Bumstead.

         And then there’s the arrest of Sen. Bedfellow for dealing in black market “Bill the Cat” tote bags (a reference to the ABSCAM scandal). That sequence contains one of my favorite Bloom County scenes, as Milo, the jury foreman declares that they find Bedfellow guilty (page 57).

         “He looks guilty. He smells guilty. He is guilty! And we recommend that he be fed to giant Iranian goat-eating cockroaches!”

         “Thank you, Mr. Bloom,” the judge says.

         “No sweat,” Milo replies.

         “Would you mind if we started the trial?”

         “No sweat.”

         We also meet the Giant Purple Snorklewacker of Binkley’s Closet of Anxieties for the first time (said closet at least twice producing a Yuri Andropov who mistakes it for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Not only is Binkley annoyed at the mix-up, but so is the president, who’s had it up to his “keister” with Binkley’s Snorklewacker.

          There are also the plethora of Star Trek references, and the various goings-on at the Bloom Beacon newspaper. To give one example of the latter (page 95), a bored Milo, at the obituaries desk, flips through the phone book and dials a number.

         “Just checking, Mrs. Lipshulz,” he says.

         Other topics include the 1984 presidential campaign, with Limekiller and Opus on the Meadow Party ticket. Until Limekiller does a James Watt and is replaced by the then still dead Bill the Cat.

         And then there’s the visit by two EPA officials who look just like Laurel and Hardy; the introduction of computer hacker Oliver Wendell Jones; and Binkley’s dreams of himself as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

         Among other great moments.

     

         Dilbert fans take note: If you passed on getting the $85 slip-cased 20th anniversary Dilbert 2.0 hardcover edition back in 2008, because of the high price, this may come as good news. Some area Borders stores have copies of these hefty tomes remaindered for $19.99.

     

    Copyright 2010, Patrick Keating

     

     

     

     

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