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DEC
15
3 YEARS

Captain America Creator Joe Simon Dies at 98

The legendary team of Simon and Jack Kirby introduced the character in 1941, months before Pearl Harbor.

Joe Simon Book Cover - P 2011

Joe Simon, the legendary comic artist who created Captain America with his partner Jack Kirby, died Thursday at age 98 according to a Facebook post from his son. Marvel Comics confirmed his death, according to the website Comic Book Resources.

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Simon is best known for Captain America, which he created with Jack Kirby for Timely Comics (the predecessor of Marvel Comics) in March 1941, a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack and America’s entry into World War II.  The cover of Captain America #1 famously displayed the hero punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw.  Captain America was an instant hit with the first issue selling nearly a million copies. During World War II, Captain America was the one hero who rivaled Superman in popularity with American forces abroad.

Simon and Kirby soon jumped to National Comics, the forerunner of DC Comics, in a pay dispute. At National, the pair worked on Sandman, the Boy Commandoes, and the Newsboy Legion. They also wrote and illustrated Captain Marvel Adventures #1, the first comic devoted to the boy who says "Shazam" to become a hero, for Fawcett Comics. 

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After serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, Simon returned to comics, producing horror and romance comics with Kirby as interest in superheroes waned after the war. In 1960, Simon founded the MAD magazine competitor Sick, and in 1966 he became the editorial director of Harvey Comics, where he launched the company's superhero line and again worked with Kirby. The last time Kirby and Simon teamed up was for a six-issue run of Sandman in 1974.

The partnership between Simon and Kirby was as close -- if not closer -- than one between Kirby and Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. In a July 2011 interview to celebrate the release of his memoir, Simon said, "Jack was one-of-a-kind -- I knew that even before Al Harvey introduced us. As soon as we started working together, he and I were determined that when we worked together on a story, you wouldn't be able to see where one of us left off and the other started. We worked so closely together that, after the war, we moved into the same town on Long Island. That way, all we had to do was cross the street to get to the other's studio.

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"It wasn't until the late 1950s, after Mainline, that we started working on separate projects, but even then, we collaborated on features like The Fly and Private Strong. When Jack moved to California, we talked a lot on the phone. First, I would talk business with Roz, then she would hand me over to Jack so we could reminisce. We were friends until he passed away, and I still miss him."

Simon became a champion of creator rights, suing Marvel over the rights to Captain America and retaining the copyrights for many of his other characters. He was beloved by a later generation of comic book artists like Rob Liefeld who said, "Joe Simon in his late 80′s was savvier than most of us in our 40′s. Generous and enthusiastic until the end!" 

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Joe Simon was born Hymie Simon in Rochester, NY in 1913. During his early twenties, he worked as an editorial cartoonist for newspapers before settling in New York City in the late 1930s, where he met Kirby when both were trying to break into the comics industry. In addition to his work in comics, Simon worked in advertising, notably as art director for Burstein, Phillips, and Newman from 1964 to 1967.

Still, Simon would always be best known for his early work on Captain America.

UPDATE: DC has released statements from co-publsihers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee on Simon's passing.

Didio: “Joe Simon was a true legend in the comic book industry. So much of what we are today is owed to him and his amazing creativity. In addition to one of the great writers of the Golden Age, he was also an editor at DC Comics. We appreciate all of his contributions to DC Comics and the industry as a whole, both on the page and behind the scenes.”

Lee: “We lost another of the Titans this week. A creative virtuoso, Joe Simon will be best known for co-creating Captain America with legendary artist Jack Kirby but his many contributions to DC Comics, both as a writer and an editor, are legion and will continue to be cherished by longtime fans, this one included. Our sympathies go out to his family, friends and many, many fans.”