After nearly a century on this planet, the great Joe Simon shares his reflections on life in the funny papers in My Life in Comics…and here in this exclusive interview.
Joe Simon with Jack Kirby (Joe Simon: My Life in Comics © 2011 Joseph H. Simon)
What made now the right time to publish this autobiography?
How many comic book guys do you know who are pushing 100? Thanks to the movies, there’s a lot of attention on the characters these days, but there aren’t many of us left who remember where it all came from. So I’d say the time was perfect.
This book is a real treasure trove for comics historians, filling in lots of details and gaps. What was the biggest misconception about your work that you wanted to clear up in the writing of this book?
That wasn’t the reason behind the autobiography—I didn’t come to it with an agenda. I just had a lot of stories I’d pulled together over the years, and when I put them all together, we had a book! More than anything, I just hope everyone enjoys what they read.
Looking back over your long career, which character are you most proud of creating or cocreating?
Right now, it’s probably Captain America, since the movie has me thinking about him. Working with Kirby was magic from the very start. Jack and I would never have imagined that we’d still be talking about the character more than 70 years later, and I think he’d have been proud.
Similarly, is there any story you worked on that really stands out in your mind as one you’re most proud of, or particularly think represents some of your best work?
There were so many of them, I don’t remember a specific one that stands out. And a story that I love for the script might not be my favorite for the art—that makes it even harder to choose. I’ve always tried to do my best on every story.
There’s one in the autobiography that I really love—“The Great American Hero.” It had a real impact on me, meeting an actual Civil War veteran. I think that story lent a twist to the whole concept of the book, since everybody expected me to talk about Captain America.
Are you still a fan of comics?
I don’t have time to read many comic books these days, but some of what I see is impressive. The stories aren’t always told as well as they have been in the past, but some of the artists are incredible.
What are your feelings about the upcoming Captain America movie? Are you looking forward to seeing it?
Everything I see about the Captain America movie has me excited. It’s amazing to see him there on the screen, hurling his shield. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it as soon as I can.
In the book, you discuss in detail the court cases you’ve been involved with in relation to the Captain America copyright. Why was this battle important to you and do you feel good about where things have ended up with the cases?
The Captain America court cases were about correcting something that happened seven decades ago, and about the rights of the guys who created the character. That second case, when it was decided that we could seek to reclaim the copyright despite the earlier ruling, is part of the curriculum in law schools now. The law firms keep that in their landmark files. It’s important to every creative person, and that feels especially good.
What do you wish you had known about the comics industry before you had gotten into it? If you could give your young self any advice, what would it be?
The biggest surprise was when it took so long to get paid! When I was working for the newspapers, the work appeared the next day, and the paycheck came immediately. So when it took months to get my first check from Funnies Incorporated, it came as quite a shock. But it didn’t stop me from doing more.
Has the comics industry changed for the better in terms of how it treats its creators?
There are a lot more opportunities for writers and artists to own their own work, and that’s a definite improvement. Other than that, there will always be companies that take advantage, and others that treat their creators fairly. Just like always.
What would you like your comics legacy to be?
I’ll always be proud of the way Jack and I raised the bar on the way stories were told. As soon as the names Simon and Kirby appeared on the page, people were trying to catch up with us, and I think that led to better storytelling all around. I’m also pleased that the kinds of deals we had with companies like Crestwood showed writers and artists that they didn’t need to give away their rights. We had royalty deals all the way back to 1940, and I’d like to think that it encourages writers and artists to stand up for themselves, even today.
-- John Hogan