Sunday, August 3, 2014

Recently Read: The Best of Simon and Kirby

The Best of Simon and Kirby is a 2009 sampler of the comic book work Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created; the publisher, Titan, has continued publishing in-depth Simon and Kirby collections, each centered on a different genre.

This is possible because, beginning in the early '40s, Simon and Kirby published work in nearly every comic book genre and, in the case of romance comics, created the genre themselves. They weren't first on the ground with superhero comics, but the high energy and high impact work by Kirby on the duo's Captain America made Superman's art look anemic and it set the tone for superhero comics for the next seventy years.

Joe Simon wrote a foreward for the book (he died not long after the book was published) and historian and friend of Kirby Mark Evanier wrote informative introductions to each chapter. This large (nearly 240 pages), beautifully designed and printed book is helped immeasurably by the painstaking restoration work of Harry Mendryk who, along with Michael Gagne,is doing the best Kirby restoration work for print. The coloring is faithful to the original comics and the book is published on matte paper, not the hideous, glossy, light-reflecting stuff used for so many years in reprints published by DC and Marvel.

Genres represented are superheroes, war, crime, romance, humor, horror and science fiction. As fans of Simon and Kirby know, the crime and romance stories are nearly always strong, reflecting the hard-hitting, raw and passionate emotions displayed in the early '30s Warner Bros. movies Kirby loved.

The only genre in which Simon and Kirby aren't successful is humor; their work geared for that market just isn't very funny. That's an odd fact when you consider how funny Kirby could be within the context of more serious comics, from Boy's Ranch to The Fantastic Four to Captain Victory.

It's also clear that Joe Simon on his own just doesn't hold up in this context. A Runyonesque story he created on his own, "His Highness the Duke of Broadway", is painfully illustrated and the work printed here from his '60s Mad Magazine ripoff, Sick, is flat and embarrassing. In over forty years, I've yet to read a funny issue of Sick.

Still, there's lots of good work to plow through here (it took me weeks to read it) and if you're unfamiliar with the team's work of this period, I recommend this sampler as an entryway into their world.
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