Joe Simon, co-creator of the Captain America comics, dies at 98

December 15, 2011

Joe Simon, a comics writer and illustrator who co-created the shield-wielding patriot Captain America, the superhero foe to Adolf Hitler and a slew of villains since, died Dec. 14 in New York. He was 98. No cause of death was reported.

During the early 1940s, Mr. Simon served as editor of the Marvel comics predecessor Timely Comics. His death was confirmed by Marvel.

In March 1941, while World War II raged in Europe, Mr. Simon and illustrator Jack Kirby produced the first issue of Captain America. On the cover, the Stars-and-Stripes-bedecked superhero delivers a haymaker to Hitler’s jaw.

“Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America was the first comic I read that made me feel like I was watching an exciting action movie,” Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and Iron Man, said in an interview with The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog. “To me, the way Simon and Kirby wrote and drew Captain America gave me the same thrill as watching Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood on the big screen.”

For Mr. Simon, the Jewish son of a tailor, the cover image was a deliberate shot at the Third Reich’s anti-Semitism. The book’s 45 colorful pages essentially amounted to Mr. Simon’s and Kirby’s argument for America’s entry into the war.

The Captain America comic was a tremendous hit, selling a million copies a month, but Mr. Simon and Kirby saw relatively little of the profits.

Seeking higher pay, Mr. Simon and his partner began to negotiate a deal with a new comics publisher. They were fired by their original employer once the efforts became public.

As a result, Mr. Simon and Kirby produced only the first 10 issues of Captain America, copies of which remain coveted among comics collectors.

Mr. Simon and Kirby, who died in 1994, continued to work together at a number of comic houses, including what is now DC Comics. Their other credits included the Guardian, Manhunter, the Fly, the Fighting American, Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos.

Mr. Simon also helped pioneer romance comics, such as “My Date,” and true-crime comics with the magazine “Guilty.”

At Timely Comics in the late 1930s, Mr. Simon hired a young assistant named Stanley Lieber, who would soon take the name Stan Lee. Lee later became president of Marvel Comics and is the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and Thor.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Simon and Kirby dissolved their creative partnership. Kirby went on to collaborate with Lee on a number of the Marvel heroes.

Mr. Simon later edited the humor magazine “Sick” in the 1960s and worked in marketing. As a consultant for Harvey Comics, he helped develop Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich.

In 2007, Marvel Comics released an issue in which Captain America was slain by a sniper’s bullet. As if in mourning, Mr. Simon reportedly sat shiva after the character’s death.

“It’s a hell of a time for him to go,” he told the New York Daily News at the time. “We really need him now.”

Since its creation, the Captain America comic has sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.

Hymie Simon was born Oct. 11, 1913, in Rochester, N.Y. He soon took the name Joseph Henry Simon. He served in the Coast Guard during World War II.

At newspapers in upstate New York, he worked as an illustrator, drawing detailed pictures of boxers and other athletes.

Looking for work in New York in the 1930s, he decided to pursue a job in the burgeoning comics industry.

“I was a writer and had done hundreds of newspaper cartoons, so it was an easy transition,” he told the Corporate Legal Times journal in 2003.

The Captain America character — his real name was Steve Rogers — was a onetime art student who gained superhuman strength from an injection of Super Serum.

Armed with a shield that can deflect bullets, Captain America fought the rise of Nazism on the front lines in Europe and at home in the States by outing saboteurs and spies.

At Timely Comics, Mr. Simon lost his ownership rights to Captain America. After a legal battle that spanned several decades, he settled out of court with Marvel in 2003.

Mr. Simon once shared a studio with Jerry Robinson, co-creator of the Joker character of Batman, who died last week at 89.

Mr. Simon’s wife, the former Harriet Feldman, died in 1971. Survivors include five children and eight grandchildren.

“It’s no accident that the first superhero boom came when we were facing the Great Depression and a world war,” Mr. Simon told The Post in July. “Superheroes represent the best in all of us — in that sense, they are us.”

Staff writer Michael Cavna contributed to this report.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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