Simon & Kirby’s Newsboys

Posted by on September 29th, 2010 at 12:01 AM



DC Comics is piling up the Simon and Kirby reprints, this time with Vol. 1 of The Newsboy Legion (360 7×10-inch pages, all color; hardback, $49.99). As previously in the S&K Sandman reprint, this volume was shot (or scanned) from pages of the original issue comic book rather than using the Theakstonizing process (bleaching the color out, then reconstructing the black linework and re-coloring the whole enchilada, albeit with more garish colors). Under the watchful eyes of Rick Keene, Mick Montagna and Harry Mendryk for scanning and reconstruction, the result is a purely flawless reincarnation of issues #7-32 of Star Spangled Comics, wherein the Newsboy Legion made its debut and had its four-color life.

An advisory at the front of the book tells us that all the stories, “unless otherwise noted,” were written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, but of the 26 stories herein, “otherwise noted” embraces all but eight of them. Kirby penciled all but two (both penciled by Gil Kane), but most of the inking was done by Arturo Cazeneuve. Kane inked one of the two he penciled, and other inkers included, one each, Steve Brodie, John Daly and Harry Tschida. By his own testimony, Simon inked only the first eight Newsboy stories.

I’ve always been mildly discombobulated by the question of who inked Kirby. In the early years of their partnership, we’ve all assumed that Kirby penciled (because that’s where the energy in the pictures originated, in the pencils, and Kirby was notorious for not wanting to ink his work (like drawing it twice, he’d say) and Simon inked. In various places, however, I’ve read that the only authentic Simon and Kirby collaboration, with Simon inking Kirby, was in the Blue Bolt stories, the first of their joint endeavors. Simon’s contribution to the partnership was to write the stories and to market their product. Very soon, apparently, these assignments had elbowed any possibility of inking out of the studio, and the two recruited inkers from whoever was walking by the door, which, in those early days, included a lot of highly talented artists. In at least one place, Kirby is reported as saying that he reviewed the inks of the inkers and, with brush in hand, made judicious adjustments in the final art. Makes sense to me, but sensible interpretations of history are invariably controlled by whoever lasts longest. In this case, it’s Simon.

Boys’ Ranch is my favorite Simon and Kirby enterprise, and when Simon was interviewed some years ago by Will Eisner, it emerged, in the foggy way that most aspects of this subject emerged in that interview, that probably Kirby inked his own work in the Western series. The first few issues anyway. I have original art for a page of one of the later stories, and it’s too sloppily done to be either Kirby or Simon.

When I tried to get Simon to verify my speculation that Kirby had inked Boys’ Ranch, I asked him who did, and he said: “I did.” And he might well have.

In one of the numerous interviews with Simon, he says he’d add feathering to the inks of the other artists. Perhaps that was what he meant when he said he’d inked Boys’ Ranch. Certainly the inking of the first three or four issues was deft — confident and precise, the kind of inking you’d expect an artist to do on his own pencils. And that makes me wonder just how adroit Simon was by then, having abandoned the inkpot for most of his career. But maybe he could still feather with panache.

In any case, the prevailing notion as derived from any reading of interviews with Kirby or Simon — and from Simon’s book, The Comic Book Makers — is that the inking of their books was done by a legion of artists, trooping through their studio like a marching band. Most of their Captain America, for instance, was inked by an assortment of pen-and-brush wielders.

The volume at hand offers a chance to compare the inking Simon says he did with the inks of the other five artists who plied brush and pen over Kirby’s pencils. My cursory comparison, however, doesn’t lay the mystery to rest. The Newsboy story in #13 of Star Spangled Comics isn’t as embellished as the other stories: after the first couple of pages, there’s less feathering and shadowing. Most of the stories seem dark with deep shadows for wrinkles, say, or modeling on facial close-ups. Not in #13. Yet this is one of the stories Simon says he inked. Cazeneuve’s inking is virtually indistinguishable from the work Simon says he did. The faces drawn by Kane, Daly and Tschida are less embellished than those of Simon and Cazeneuve.

I have made several wild guesses about all this. First, its highly likely that the inking on any given story was done by more than one artist: Kirby, or Simon, or someone else altogether coming in after most of the ink was slung to add final touches of one sort or another, and such final touches would obscure the evidence of another artist’s inking mannerisms, rendering the sort of comparative examination I thought I’d do nearly pointless. Second, Simon may not have remembered as accurately as we might suppose. He didn’t remember a key aspect of the development of the Newsboy Legion when writing the book’s Introduction.

Simon spends an inordinate amount of time remembering his boyhood hawking newspapers in Rochester, N.Y. — evidence, we suppose, for his being simpatico with newsboys like those in the Legion. But when he begins recounting how the Newsboy Legion came into being, he claims its creation followed that of the Boy Commandos. Most histories I consulted have the Newsboy Legion starting in #7 of Star Spangled Comics, April 1942; the Boy Commandos, in #64 of Detective Comics, June 1942. Clearly, the Newsboys preceded the Boy Commandos, the reverse of Simon’s recollection — except….

Except that a Boy Commandos story appeared in World’s Finest Comics #8 for “winter 1942.” When was “winter”? Could that Boy Commandoes story have been produced before the Newsboy story for April’s Star Spangled Comics? Possibly. There’s enough vagary here to support a contention on either side of the matter — except….

Except that in Simon’s remembrance, the Boy Commandos was “the top-selling comic book feature in the world” at the time he invented the Newsboy Legion. In short, even if the “winter” Boy Commandos story was published before Simon concocted the Newsboy Legion debut for the June issue of Star Spangled, one appearance by the Boy Commandos, the one in World’s Finest #8, would not make it “the top selling comic book feature in the world.”

My final guess, then, is that Simon has confused aspects of the creation and debuts of both features, mixing one in with the other, blurring sequence, cause and effect.

That’s no sin. Human memory is fallible, as anyone (like me) who has done a biography, relying upon the testimony of the subject, can attest. And it’s likely that Simon’s recollection of who inked what is similarly faulty. He probably worked on more of the Newsboy stories in this volume than he remembers; and he probably remembers others contributing when they did not. But it’s still a beautiful reprinting, perfectly reconstructed, preserving fine lines without blotching them up, and printing on off-color white paper, in near mimicry of the original newsprint paper.


Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , ,

5 Responses to “Simon & Kirby’s Newsboys”

  1. patford says:

    Joe Simon inked very little for the Simon and Kirby studio.
    Kirby inked all his own early work, and as can be seen in the very early “Lone Rider” strip done before Kirby met Simon Kirby as a kid was already at the top of the field producing superb writing, pencils, inks, and slick letting.
    During the early Simon and Kirby partnership Kirby continued to ink many stories including most of the Vision stories done for Timely, and almost all of the Captain America splash pages.
    At DC Kirby inked very few complete stories but continued to ink covers and splash pages. The cover in your article is inked by Kirby.

    Kirby was also the principal writer for the Simon and Kirby studio. In the 50’s Kirby wrote penciled and inked most of the lead stories in any title packaged by the studio. Kirby had time to do this because during the early 50’s Kirby was often producing no more than 25 pages a month.
    Kirby not only created his own stories he was in essence the art director and studio boss at S&K in the 50’s.
    Kirby worked with the other artists often redrawing panels or whole pages , and retouching inked pages.
    Jack Katz, Gil Kane, and Pete Morisi have all commented on Kirby’s inking.

    Jim Amash: Did Jack talk about line weight?
    Jack Katz: Yes, he did. He showed me how to apply all of that to figures and objects. He said, “You have to make it three-dimensional. What you do is, make sure you have black areas behind a line, always a dark behind a line. It could be feathered.
    If you bring the light in on the right hand side, you have to make sure the opposite side is carefully outlined. If you want to show real drama, you have a light source from the top, so the eyes and mouth are in shadow, If you want to make a real ghoul”
    Katz: “and he turned the page over, and drew a face, he showed me how the light from underneath highlights the bone structure. He showed me how to vary textures, he’d say “curtains should look delicate.” He showed me how to do that with a brush.
    Jack knew I loved Lou Fine, everybody did. He took some of Lou’s work, and said, “Look at these delicate lines, and look at the reproduction. Nothing came out.”
    Then he showed me Hal Foster and said, “Look at the economy of line, and yet it does everything it needs to do.”
    Then I said to him, “inking is problem solving.” He said, “No drawing and inking are decision making. The problem-solving, you do that in your head, but when you put down a line, you’ve made a decision.”
    One of the things they had in the office were the Hal Foster Sunday Tarzan pages, from it’s inception in 1931. They also had almost all the Prince Valiant pages, and everybody in the office was using them for swipes.
    Jim Amash: Did you ever see Kirby use swipes?
    Jack Katz: No. Never. I’m being very straight about that. If he ever did, it would have been for reference.
    Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day. Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.

    Pete (PAM) Morisi: “I spoke to Joe Simon once and asked him who inked Kirby years ago.
    Joe said he was involved with everything.. .which means I didn’t get a straight answer.”

    Stan Lee: Generally, Jack would be sitting at the drawing board drawing and chewing his
    cigar, muttering to himself. Joe would be walking around, chewing his cigar and mumbling, and also handling whatever business there was to handle under Martin Goodman.

    Gil Kane: Simon was business-like. He did all the handling, all the talking, he did all the standing. Jack was always sitting and working. Jack would take the scripts and he’d either write them or re-write them. Jack was simply a workhorse who never sweated. It just came to him. Simon was a nice guy who was much more realistically attuned to the world.
    Joe was involved in the creative process and he was the one who made all the deals.
    He didn’t write-it was Jack who wrote. Jack would either write a script or get one and adjust it as he saw.
    GROTH: One other question about Simon: He was an artist too, and he always maintained that his and Kirby’s collaboration was 50/50.
    KANE: No, that’s absolutely untrue. First of all there was a guy named Charles Nicholas, who used to do all of the inking that Jack and Simon didn’t do. We know that Jack penciled every single thing they did. Simon only inked a fraction of what they did. Jack was his own best inker, he was superb. He did most of the Captain America splashes.

    Kirby also routinely supplied detailed plots to the other shop writers.
    Quotes from the Jim Amash interviews with two S&K shop writers. Alex Toth said Kim Aamodt was called the best writer he ever worked with.
    Aamodt:Well Simon and Kirby wrote the plots. They sat there and wrote them, and that’s what we followed.
    Aamodt: Jack did more of the plotting than Joe. Jack’s face looked so energized when he was plotting that it seemed as if sparks were flying off him.
    Aamodt: I remember Jack Kirby was very good at making up titles. I remember giving him a lame title, and Jack said,” No. We’re going to call it ‘Under the Knife.’ ” It was a surgical story. I was impressed that Jack came up with titles so quickly.
    Aamodt: I really sweated out plots, unlike Jack Kirby. Jack just ignited and came out with ideas, and Joe’d just kind of nod his head in agreement.
    Aamodt: Joe was on the ground, and Jack was on cloud nine. Jack was more of the artist type; he had great instincts..

    Geier: Every time I went up there I saw both of them(Simon and Kirby). And they always gave the writers the plots. Jack Kirby was great about that; he always came up with the plots. Jack had a fertile mind.
    Geier: Joe used to sit there when the writers came in for conferences. They sat there and made up the plots for the writers. Jack did most of that. Joe would say something once in a while, but Jack was the idea man.
    Geier: Joe didn’t talk much. He could come up with decent plots, but it was usually very sketchy stuff. A lot of times Joe would say, ” Awww…you figure out the ending.” Jack would give me the ending, because he was good at figuring out stories. It was not hard to work with Jack.
    Geier: They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue.

  2. patford says:

    Harvey Kurtzman on the good stuff (Kirby’s inking).
    “The work wasn’t always consistent because they worked with an array of assistants who weren’t always up to the job (at least I deduced that was the reason). Very often you could sense there was a wonderful Jack Kirby drawing under the hacked out inking. In any case part of the Simon, and Kirby drawings were good, and part of the drawings were bad. I would look for the good parts, when I found it I would think, “Ah! Here it is!” It was love, clean and pure.
    Kirby was motivated not so much by the desire to draw comics, as the rats under his bed. He told me, “I could not afford art school, so I stole what I could from the best.”
    Kirby was perfect for the medium. He stripped everything down to essentials. His understanding of both mass, and movement was uncanny. There was such energy in his work it couldn’t be contained. Kirby was absolute force.”

  3. R.C. Harvey says:

    Big THANQUES, patford: you’ve confirmed what I’ve always strenuously suspected.

  4. R.C. Harvey says:

    Oh, can you drop one more shoe? Do you know if Kirby inked Boys’ Ranch as I’ve always maintained?

  5. patford says:

    Robert, All of it that he fully penciled. Which is most of the first couple issues, and spotty after that.
    The 50’s are a treasure trove of Kirby inks. Not only most of the lead stories (Ex.: The Girl Who Tempted Me) for the S&K studio, but almost everything except “Challengers” that he did for DC, and most of the work he did for Atlas in 56-57.
    Kirby was so skilled with a brush that he could almost stop inking completely after 1959, and then turn around and knock out the amazing Marvel Mania Posters in the late 60’s.
    Interesting thing about the 40’s DC stuff is it was mostly collaborative.
    That is to say many stories have one or two pages penciled by Joe Simon, and they are very easy to spot.
    Kirby fully inked a few stories before the war. Check out the Sandman book collection pages 186-195 “The Boy Who Was Too Big For His Breeches” it’s pure Kirby pencils and inks.
    The idea KIrby didn’t like to ink is not as clear cut as people think.
    In the Nostalgia Journal interview from 1971 with Tim Skelly. when Kirby was pressed “wouldn’t you like to do the whole job yourself?” He said, “Sure, everybody would.”
    Kirby was often speaking pragmatically about the realities of the industry, and in the 60’s he had larger things on his mind than the changes being made to his artwork in the inking stage. Kirby was far more worried about how his plots, and characters were being changed in the published stories since he had no control after turning over his completed alone and at home job to Marvel.

    Kirby: I can think things out, do them my way. At Marvel I couldn’t say anything or; it would be taken away from me, and put in another context, and all my connection with it would be lost.
    Skelly: That sounds like a problem.
    Kirby: You get to feel like a ghost. You’re writing commercials for somebody, I didn’t like it much.
    Skelly: Things were bad as far as recognition goes?