The Best of Simon and Kirby
Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, edited by Steve Saffel
240 pages, 9″x12 1/4″
I’m a Kirby fan.
It’s obvious if you know me, I think. I love the Captain America & the Falcon stuff he did, I love the New Gods, and I think that his character design is top notch. Of course, all of my favorite Kirby work was created after he’d become Jack “King” Kirby. This was late era Kirby, if you go by the length of his career.
Early Kirby, the raw stuff from the beginning of his career, is mostly a mystery to me. I have one of Marvel’s Visionaries hardcovers that collects a lot of it, like the Two-Gun Kid stuff, and it’s pretty fascinating. A lot of what made Kirby Kirby was there in the text, though in an unpolished form.
Titan Books recently released The Best of Simon and Kirby, a volume collecting a lot of those issues that I’ve never seen. I’ve got to say that they did a stellar job with it. It’s oversized (essentially a coffee table book), printed on non-glossy paper, and a real work of art. The extra size really lets you get into the art, which is part of the point of this book.
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were a team for years, and worked in a variety of genres. This volume collects stories featuring superheroes, criminals, and (the deep, dark secret of Kirby & Simon) stories from the original romance book, Young Romance. I’d known that Kirby had a hand in popularizing romance comics, and it’s nice to finally get a chance to read them.
The Best of Simon and Kirby also reprints a couple of titles from DC and Marvel. Captain America, The Vision (the old one), Sandman, and a Boy Commandos tale wrap up the Big Two work in this book.
I really, really like this book. It’s a historical collection, but the way it’s presented is as more of a conversation piece. Each genre gets a chapter break in the form of a short essay that also doubles as a biography of the careers of each man. It’s conversational in tone, and detailed enough to educate you about a time you rarely hear about. It makes it easy to burn through the book, too, since it provides an easy stopping point for each genre. I spent a couple of days knocking out a series of stories before bed.
The most striking thing about this book, I think, is how un-Kirby a lot of it looks. The thick lines and insane layouts that dominated Kirby’s later work are present in the occasional story here, but most of the work isn’t as undeniably “Kirby” as, say, the Fourth World volumes. My first thought is to say that it was Joe Simon’s inking that makes it look so different, but something I keep forgetting is that a lot of these stories were over twenty years old before Kirby put pen to paper on Fantastic Four #1. Over the course of twenty or thirty years, anyone’s style would, and should, change around a little bit.
The Best of Simon and Kirby is forty bucks, which is a little pricey, but worth every penny to Kirby and Simon fans, or even people interested in comics history.