The airbrushes and drawing tables in My Life in Comics

Posted by CB Droege

Joe Simon’s autobiography covers his entire life up to this point and it is filled with the comics industry.

After a fairly typical Depression Era childhood, Simon was thrown headlong into the world of comic books - just when the industry was getting off the ground. Most people who know Joe Simon remember him for two things, inventing Captain America, and later fighting Marvel Comics for the recognition of that creation, and while those events are covered in this book, there is much more to Simon’s My Life in Comics.

Simon was there when joke magazines were transformed into sequential art love stories and crime drama, the latter of which led to the inception of the super hero comics.

He saw the careers of the very first super heroes, and knew personally most of the people in the still-small industry. He saw the invention of Superman and DC’s fight with Fawcett over the similarities with Captain Marvel. He crafted the art for early titles like Blue Beetle and Silver Streak, and knows the artistic origins behind them all.

The most interesting stories in the book come from the time when Simon was working with Jack Kirby.

The way the relationship is so frankly and succinctly portrayed jumps from the pages. It was easy to the friendship play between these two comicbook legends.

One can just imagine the two sitting around a drawing board working out the details of Captain America, and when things come between them later in life, it’s hard not to wish that things between them had been different, but Simon holds no grudge, and while he pulls no punches, he’s also never malicious in the descriptions.

The writing throughout the entire book is very clear, and if Simon’s writing style has a flaw it’s that it’s almost too simple. His prose is effective and explanative, but there is a lack of drama and complication which is sometimes distracting. There are occasion tangents which draw the reader away from the tale at hand, and at times it seems almost rambling, but there is never occasion to get lost. None of this is bad, only strange. It’s been a long time since, if ever, I’ve read a book which contained the frank and uncensored language of a life fully lived, while keeping to a gradeschool reading level.

Most exciting for old and new fans of comics is the many illustrations, and the explanations that go along with them. Alongside the photographs of Simon and his family and friends, the book is full of magazine and comic book covers which help tell the story, each one with a brief description of where is falls in the history of comics, and how much Simon had to do with it, solidifying more strongly than any other part of the book Simon’s deep place in the history of comics. 

One illustration, for example shows the pre-color version of the cover for Detective Comics #65 from July 1942. The cover depicts Batman shaking the hand of Brooklyn, the lead character of the Commando Boys, while the rest of the characters stand behind the boy. Robin looks on from the corner of the panel. The caption says: "This is the only time the Boy Commandos appeared on the cover of Detective Comics. Simon and Kirby drew their characters, while Jerry Robinson drew Batman and Robin."

The book is filled with other similar images and explanations, some of which never saw publication, and including a full color section in the middle which give a clearer look at what some of the covers would actually have looked like, full of bright primaries, and bold lettering.

The book gives a telling look, not just into the life of Joe Simon himself, but also into the history of the comics industry, in which Simon is intricately entwined. Any fan of comics, weather recently discovered or long-time followed will find something interesting in the simply-told tale.

My Life in Comics is available now from Titan Books.