Review: My Life In Comics

Captain America’s co-creator lives out the American Dream

Author: Joe Simon
Publisher: Titan Books
Price: £17.99

Joe Simon wasn’t the best writer of the Golden Age, or the greatest artist. Few of his characters achieved the iconic status of his best known property and few of his storylines have been absorbed into comic-book canon. But Joe Simon was a multidisciplined force whose creative foresight changed comics in numerous indirect ways ways – without the Silver Spider we’d have no Spider-Man, without Challengers Of The Unknown we’d have no Fantastic Four, JLA, Avengers or X-Men, without his first editorship of Timely we’d have no Marvel comics or Stan Lee, and without his take on the original Sandman, we’d have been without Neil Gaiman’s revolutionary fable – and one obviously significant way: Captain America.

Still alive, despite – if the photographs within are to be believed – smoking a Castro-like volume of cigars daily, it’s both staggering and humbling to think that this 97-year-old was hustling newspapers on the streets of New York in the late Twenties, and this year will be able to watch from the stalls as his best known offspring conquers the big screen in Captain America: The First Avenger. Fittingly for the creator of such a paragon of American virtue, Simon’s life is the American Dream encapsulated – growing up the son of immigrant Jews to modest beginnings, he overcame anti-Semitism, witnessed such incredible racism and injustice, served in the US Coast Guard in the Second World War, wrestled with Marvel over the ownership of Captain America – created in that foggy period when comic publishers didn’t have their own staff, but published material sold by writers and artists like Simon and Kirby – published romances, westerns, crime and risqué humour to become one of the best loved and most respected creative forces in his field.

The Golden Age infuses Simon’s storytelling even when the tale is his own – anecdotes are delivered in tight, meaningful prose where no detail is without purpose, left to meander as mere set dressing, and no recollection comes without a finite conclusion. By the standards of this complicated post-modern world of dizzying narrative forms, it’s almost childlike in simplicity, but incredibly communicative. Far from being self-obsessed as many autobiographies are – being psychologically in the place where you can even bring yourself to write one is sometimes the indicator of an overripe ego – Simon is a delight. Humble and genuine, he dishes out credit with good grace, always making sure Captain America is prefixed with “Kirby and Simon’s” instead of simply “my”, and offers valuable insights and observations on many of the great actors in his industry, from old friends like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, to more distant figures like Batman’s Bob Kane, and Superman’s Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Painfully short given the obvious wealth of his experiences and perhaps too tersely written to make what’s there really powerful, My Life In Comics is nonetheless a valuable resource, and a genuine aid to not just Joe Simon’s bibliography, but the entire Golden Age of comics and the caprices of an industry that hasn’t changed all that much nearly a century on.
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