Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jerry Robinson & Joe Simon

When Jerry Robinson passed away last week on Dec 8th I began to organize a discussion about the Timely portion of his career. I have some wonderful photos and video I took of Jerry and Joe Simon during the New York Comicon in 2010 and wanted to supplement the piece with those.

Unfortunately, that post never got underway and now today, December 15th, comes the sad news that Joe Simon has "also" passed on.  I now realize what I captured last year is simply priceless.

Both creators are due their own blog posts in the future. Today I want to just show them together, two giants of the industry and the medium, both there at the very beginning and fortunate enough to live long, happy lives, seeing their creations, co-creations and their very artform flourish 70 years into a new century and beyond. Their talents have saturated popular culture, the silver screen and the very consciousness of the entertainment world.

So today I'm putting aside the data and statistics, just preferring to be an ordinary fan, thankful for what they gave us.

Some background....



Joe Simon:

The very first time I met Joe Simon was back in 1990. I was attending a Fred Greenberg show in New York and Joe was set up in the corner near the entrance with his son Jim, selling just published copies of the first printing of The Comic Book Makers. 




Now I attended those shows on a monthly basis and it was rare to have any guests whatsoever at those small affairs but somehow Joe was there! I went over, introduced myself and bought a copy of the book which Joe signed to me. I then spent about 20 minutes chatting about Timely, Jack Kirby, all kinds of stuff, and noticed that for the most part, I was the only one (outside of a handful of other fans) who even realized who was in their midst!


My recollection is that Joe didn't make too many con appearances but once again I saw him at a show on April 3, 2004. Here he is at his table with Vanguard publisher and pal J. David Spurlock.


Joe Simon with J. David Spurlock


Knowing he'd be there, and attending with Nick Caputo, I brought with me several copies of Martin Goodman's Red Circle pulps and detective magazines from 1940 and 1941 to show him.  Joe was the art director on Goodman's detective magazine line for a 13 month period from cover date Nov/40 to Dec/41 and select issues sported art by Simon, Jack Kirby and other moonlighting Timely artists. [A fuller accounting will be in my upcoming book, which can be ordered here: (order here)]


National Detective Cases Vol 1, #1 (Mar/41)





Simon & Kirby had also contributed a slew of illustrations to several pulps. I brought the Nov/40 issue of Marvel Stories and I wanted to see what Joe recalled about that period.




Vol 2, #3 (Nov/40), cover by J.W. Scott



























Here is a short video clip taken while Joe signed the pulp above:



video


But that wasn't all. Joe was to give a panel discussion that day moderated by Spurlock. The panel rooms were in the basement of the hotel and we made our way with Joe down the large escalator to the ground floor, looking for the elevator to the basement. Guess what? The elevator was out of order! The only way down were two very long flights of steep stairs. Folks were very angry over this development and the panel was in immediate danger of being cancelled as Joe, then about 91 years old, was not expected to walk down two long flights of stone stairs.

With chaos about to ensue, I asked Joe whether he thought he could make it down if two people helped him. Joe's answer was "Easy!", so Nick Caputo and I got on both sides of him for support and slowly we walked him down the stairs one slow step at a time. The panel was a hit with Joe telling stories and answering questions. Then we reversed the process and walked him right back upstairs!


 Joe Simon and me on April 3, 2004




Jerry Robinson:

I met Jerry Robinson for the first time in 1999. He was going to be at a New York show so I took the opportunity to photocopy every story he had ever done for Timely, secure it into a bound volume, and present it to him, hoping to glean some recollections. Jerry was very happy to see the stories and immediately called over a young woman with him at his table, Marisa Furtado, a Brazilian documentary maker visiting New York to gather interviews and background for a documentary on Jerry ultimately to be titled Jerry Robinson em Profissao Cartunista - A Vida Apos Batman, or roughly translated from Portuguese, Jerry Robinson : Professional Cartoonist - Life After Batman.










Directed by Marisa Furtado and Paulo Serran, it traces Jerry's life and career from comic books to political cartoons and beyond. Interviews seen run from Stan Lee, Carmine Infantino and Mark Evanier (filmed at the 2000 White Plains Convention, I believe) to Jules Feiffer and many, many others. Jerry is interviewed extensively and older vintage interviews are also shown as well as tons of vintage photos from comics history. 


Marisa was extremely happy to see so much rare Robinson material all in one place and asked me to make cleaner copies and send them to her in Brazil. From a comic book standpoint, what I had showed her was quite literally what Jerry did  "after Batman"!  It's quite funny to see how she animated, yes "animated", photocopied panels from my Robinson Timely crime comics! The effect is akin to the Marvel Superhero animated cartoons of 1966. While I don't know when the documentary debuted, I did receive a copy of it from Marisa. The interviews are in English with Portuguese subtitles and the narration is in Portuguese with English sub-titles! It really is a great film filled with vintage creators, all coming together to honor Jerry.


Here below is a 4 minute clip about the documentary from Youtube. At 1:57 you can see one of my actual photocopies being animated after an intro by Stan Lee:







Which brings us to 2010. Let me set this up correctly....

On Saturday, October 9, 2010, I attended the New York Comicon with my friends Barry Pearl, Nick Caputo, John Caputo and Mike DeLisa.

Nick Caputo, Mike Delisa, Barry Pearl


We made the usual rounds, saw and talked to Irwin Hasen, there promoting his documentary Irwin: A New York Story. I always want to pick the brain and memories of golden-age artists whenever there's a chance so I presented him with a complete set of his Ferret stories from the early issues of Marvel Mystery Comics, stories he hadn't seen in decades. Hasen related that he'd done these stories as a freelancer through the Lloyd Jacquet shop and never actually been on staff at the shop.



Irwin Hasen (on the right)


Next I spent some time talking to Al Jaffee,  promoting his new biography Al Jaffee's Mad Life. 





Al Jaffee

















Syd Shores' daughter Nancy was also at the show and I introduced Nancy to Al, knowing Al was an old colleague and friend of Syd's while on the staff at Timely. Nancy and I then spent time talking to Stan Goldberg for a while, another friend of Syd's, before saying our goodbyes and parting.


Stan Goldberg and Nancy Shores

Here is photo from 2009 of Nancy with her dad's old boss!


A Simon & Shores reunion! (February, 2009)




I then stopped by Jerry Robinson's table and chatted a bit about his new biography, Jerry Robinson - Ambassador of Comics. I had done a small bit of Timely Comics help in both Jerry's and Jaffee's books above, and was thrilled they were finally in print.




I had one last stop to make. Across the aisle from Jerry Robinson was Joe Simon, holding court among piles of the just released Simon and Kirby Superheroes, a massive tome of some of the greatest hero comics of all time.




I spotted Harry Mendryk and we spoke a bit about the book, how great it looked and how I was looking forward to all the subsequent volumes in the series. I also commented to Harry, Nick and Barry about what a great time Joe Simon seemed to be having. He was greeting guests, shaking hands, posing for photos and signing copies of the S&K volume with the vitality of a man 30 years younger. He was then currently 97!

As the end of the show loomed, I approached Joe with my freshly purchased copy and Joe was more than happy to sign it for me. I slid the book across the table and he opened it up, uncapping a pen.

Just then there was a commotion as a small scooter approached Joe's table. It was Jerry Robinson. Jerry  proceeded to get out of his conveyance and carefully made his way through a narrow space between tables, greeting Joe with a big hug.


Jerry greeting Joe


He then sat down next to Joe and they chatted as I used two hands to simultaneously photograph, videotape with a camcorder and even take video clips with a digital camera.

Below are two short video clips from that day. One captures Jerry arriving and greeting Joe. The other has them briefly chatting and comparing their relative ages! Sorry about the quality, this was not recorded in HD video.


video




video




At some point Jerry looked down at my book and asked Joe whether he was going to sign it.  Joe placed his signature on the first page and passed the book over to Jerry, who added his own signature above Joe's.


Jerry watching Joe sign his name


Joe passing the pen to Jerry



Jerry looking at the page



Jerry adding his signature to the book


I was in awe. Two of the grandmasters of the medium had converged on my book and I realized that what I had witnessed was something very special.









A photo of Joe and Jerry about to sign my book can be found in Joe's recent autobiography, Joe Simon - My Life in Comics.



Fourteen months later, both have left us.

One last moment from 2008. Goodbye Jerry and Joe! Forever in our hearts.







SOURCES:

  1. All photographic images (except Nancy Shores with Joe Simon and 2008 image above) and video copyright Dr. Michael J. Vassallo
  2. Last photo above from Allen Bellman via Nancy Shores

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for such a lovely blog. I DID have the honor & privilege of meeting Jerry some years back in Toronto and I also have an autograph (in my GREATEST BATMAN STORIES) volume which I will forever cherish.

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  2. Great stuff and thanks for sharing. And thanks for all those wonderful introductions in the Golden Age Marvel Masterworks too.

    I was lucky enough to see Joe Simon when he came out to the west coast for the San Diego Con back in 1998. I hear he was at a panel at this year's New York Comic Con and I've been asking if anyone had any video or audio of the panel. Someone said maybe the Kirby Museum took some. I'd love to see/hear the panel if anyone did document it.

    I was also lucky enough to chat with Jerry Robinson at the 2010 SDCC. Very gracious as many of these Golden Age greats were. Sadly, there are not too many left.

    I'm a huge Cap fan so while I knew our time with Joe would be ending soon, I'm glad he got to see the new movie, the 70th anniversary of his greatest creation, a new auto biography to cap off his career, and a general appreciation of him and his work at the end of his life. He did good with his 98 years.

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  3. One of my really big thrills in my fanzine days was getting a letter from Joe Simon in response to a "Simon and Kirby" article we had in "Masquerader". Hearing from a professional in those days was exciting enough, but the stationary that Joe sent it on was covered with all the great S&K characters. Joe had a fan for life.
    In my last issue of the fanzine, we ran a couple of "recreations" (exquisitely drawn by Dick Memorich) of a couple of Jerry Robinson Batman covers. It was my first exposure to him.I met Jerry years later in LA at a Caps benefit in his honor. What I had discovered was that as first rate as his artwork was, it paled beside his humanitarian efforts. A great man I was proud to meet.
    Mike Vosburg

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  4. Reader Robert Kennedy tried to post the message below here but for some reason was unable to, sending it to me privately. I'm forwarding it for him:

    "Hi Doc,

    Tried to post to your bolg, but either my employer's firewall or anchient version of Internet Exploder would not let me choose a catagory. Thus I was stuck. So, FWIW, I copied my post below.
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    Voz, I never got to meet Simon, sorry to say. But I do remember that article in "Masquerader." And Joe's letter. (And I echo R.R. about him seeing the new film.)

    I did meet Robinson at a show around 15 years ago. In fact I managed to meet most/all of the major Batman ghosts. And am glad I did. Wish I had a tiny fraction of their artistic skill & talent.

    (p.s. Voz, "Masquerader" #5 (I think) helped shape my collecting of Golden Age material. Because of the articles on Bulletman & Radar I still have a bunch of Master Comics.)"

    Robert Kennedy

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  5. Giants of the medium. Great job!

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  6. AC Comics publisher Bill Black couldn't post to the blog also for some reason. Here are his forwarded comments:

    Wonderful tribute, Doc. Thanks for sharing memories, photos and video. Yes, its great that Joe lived to see how much he and Jack are appreciated. The S&K Library SUPERHEROES is my dream book come true. All my favorite childhood S&K stories in one glorious edition!! Obviously Joe & Jack had a great impact on my life and career.

    Bill Black

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  7. Doc, Excellent blog, I read it last week, but came over from Blake's missive. I have a gift card to use at Barnes and Noble and should use it before they close. So, now what to use it on, the Simon and Kirby book sounds good, you guys' book on Marvel also, Mad Life, Joe's book on his life...decisions, decisions. Oh, glad you mention in your blog about they're pulp work, I have a copy of Uncanny Tales with Shomberg(sp) and Kirby art, cool stuff.

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  8. Thanks for the comments, Jon. Get the Simon and Kirby book! It's really fantastic. My book is still a ways off. Worry about that later!

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  9. Michael, I really wish to thank you for these beautiful photos.
    I am an Italian Marvel longtime reader, and I have had the privilege to meet Jack Kirby (and interview him) back in 1991.
    It was back then that, as an italian reader mostly familiar with the Silver Marvel Age, I begun to realize the amount of work Jack and Joe did, as I documented myself for the interview.

    Only recently, anyway, I have started to get real glimpses inside those books, and it happened as I started to dig into the history of a character which always fascinated me: Lev Gleason's Daredevil.
    Incidentally, I was just purchasing a few Daredevils, and discovered Jerry’s feature "London". A pair of days afterwards, I learned about Jerry’s death.
    At the same time, since the grandson of a friend of mine, was getting enthusiastic about Captain America, I decided to give him as a Christmas gift my early issues of the italian editions of the silver age Cap. And then, shortly before Christmas, I learned about Joe Simon.

    Now, not having been a reader of the golden age, and neither a DC Comics fan, I knew a little about Jerry and Joe Simon (except, for him, all that I knew through his artistic partnership with Jack), but I felt sad. Along the years I have become more and more convinced that comic book creators of that era had also been "great individuals" as Jack would have put it.

    Now I have to pick up on some biographies. I just read recently the one Mark Evanier did for Jack, which came out in italian as well, and I found it wonderful.
    And of course I look forward to your upcoming book about the Atlas artists and history.

    Many thanks again!
    Claudio Piccinini

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  10. Claudio, thanks for the kind comments. I'm happy so many people have enjoyed this blog post. I've gotten a lot of wonderful feedback. All the best from a cousin in NY!

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  11. Since it may have been unclear how old I am, I merely started reading Marvel comics around 1978, at age 9. They have been published here in Italy with an almost 10-years delay, so I was able to read at the same time "The Eternals", and to pick up the early adventures of "The Fantastic Four".

    As for Simon, I forgot to say that, while I spoke to Jack, I felt he always remembered fondly all their efforts together.

    I think my interview could have been among the last lenghty ones Jack had, and sooner or later I’d get in touch with John Morrow to re-transcribe and reprint it (it has been published by David Anthony Kraft in a 1993 issue of "Comics Interview", incorrectly stating it has been conducted in San Diego.)

    If I do, I will surely get in touch, and maybe send you a copy of the audio.

    Thanks again! :)

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  12. typo: I’d *like* to get in touch with John Morrow etc.
    :)

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  13. Claudio, If you ever get a chance, I'd love to hear it! Where was the interview conducted?

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  14. Hi Michael,
    it was conducted in Jack’s own home, in Thousand Oaks, in August 1991.

    My english was embarassing back then, and I was helped by Elisa Leonelli, a relative of mine which works as a journalist and lives in Los Angeles. Jack’s wife, Roz, makes also interventions during the interview.

    I have to clean it up a little, but I promise you that if I decide to contact Morrow, I will send you a copy. :)

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  15. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. All the bestanimated intro maker

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