Joe Simon, who created Captain America together with Jack Kirby, will be celebrated on Friday, October 12th from 5:15pm – 6:15pm, at New York Comic Con, which runs from October 11th thru October 14th. The speakers at the Joe Simon Memorial Celebration include comic book writer Mark Waid, Comic Book Hall of Fame artist Carmine Infantino, Mad Magazine cartoonist Angelo Torres, former President of DC Comics Paul Levitz, and Simon’s son Jim Simon. Mark Edlitz interviewed Jim Simon, who is a writer and publisher, about his legendary father.
What was your father’s initial inspiration for creating Captain America?
Jim: My father came from the newspaper field before he entered the “new” field called comic books. With the success of Superman and Batman, everyone in comics was looking to create the next big thing. That included my father. Working in comics, he wanted to create a comic book character that would be bigger than Superman and Batman. Being the innovative person that he was, he was aware that Superman and Batman were based on pure fantasy. He would take a different route. As a former newspaperman, he took the route where he created a character based less on fantasy and more on reality.
In Europe, the Nazis were marching. Hitler and his Storm Troopers splashed across the headlines daily. News dispatches of the persecutions, the concentration camps, the incredibly cruel Gestapo tactics. As he recalled in The Comic Book Makers, the book I wrote with him about his eyewitness account of the early days of comics: “It was a time of intense patriotism. Children played soldiers, shooting war toys at imaginary soldiers. Wouldn’t they love to see him [Hitler] lambasted in a comic book. By a soldier. A meek, humbling private with muscles of steel and a colorful, star-spangled costume under his khaki army uniform.” The creation of Captain America, I suppose, was my father’s way of fighting … of making a mockery of the Nazis and their mad leader. A lot of my father’s comic book creations, though fantastical, were based on events in real life. He lived in the moment, even with his work.
Talk about how he came up with the character’s name?
Jim: The name, “Captain America,” just fit. According to what he told me, the name came to him as he was developing the sketches and story. There was no “brain-storming” for a name. He did not want another comic book character with “Super” in the name though he briefly considered it. My father always tried to do his own thing.
Unlike Superman or Batman who put on a “costume,” Captain America, who was a soldier, wore a “uniform.” Talk about the look of the character and the decision to dress him in some version of the American flag.
Jim: Again, like the name, the costume was a natural for a patriotic comic book. The way my father designed him, Captain America was a powerful figure, both physically and symbolically: the costume draped the character’s athletic figure in a chain-mailed armor jersey, with bulging arm and chest muscles, the American flag-colored skin-hugging tights, gloves, and boots, the star on the costume’s chest and stripes from the belt to a line below the star. The design worked as the muscles of the torso rippled gallantly under the red and white stripes. Here was the representation of the ideals of America, symbolized by a ready-for-action hero proudly wearing the red, white and blue colors of our flag.
The shield is also unique. It is not something that most people would think an army would issue to a soldier. Yet, of course, it works. How’d that come about?
Jim: The shield came about because my father wanted Captain America to have something unusual to use in battle. Remember, the original Captain America did not have a gun or other typical weapon. All he had was his exceptional athletic power and “never-give-up” heart and ideals. The shield was very important, then, especially for an action hero. The army wouldn’t want their most fearsome weapon going into battle without some kind of defensive or offensive object, which, like the uniform, was also a symbol that put fear into the enemy. Also, my father was a big reader as a kid. He loved to read books about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: they always had shields. And as a child, my father had been hung up on shields, actually barrel tops, which were good defensive weapons against [the] stones [thrown by kids] in a tough neighborhood.
Another genre-defying aspect of the character is that unlike Superman and Wonder Woman, Captain America didn’t really have super-powers. He was more like an enhanced human. What was your father’s thinking about that?
Jim: Superman, an all-powerful crime fighter, was the basic pattern for the early successful comic book heroes, but I doubt if my father would have been happy creating another Superman knockoff to fight the good fight. Again, my father’s instinct was to do things his own way and his coming into comics from a newspaper background based his thinking more along the lines of reality. Yes, Captain America enhanced his strength via the super soldier serum, but the serum only enhanced what Cap had to start with. Captain America did not, like Superman, fly or come from another world or was impervious to bullets. He did not, like Wonder Woman, have an arsenal of weapons such as the Lasso of Truth or indestructible bracelets or an invisible airplane. No fun gimmicks. Captain America, especially as Steve Rogers, for a comic book hero, was more believable. To many of his readers during World War II, it was more possible to identify with Captain America: He was a one of us.
Comic book historians posit that some Jewish comic book writers who were immigrants found a way to explore their own personal issues of assimilation through their characters. Does that theory apply to Joe Simon and Steve Rogers/Captain America?
Jim: I never heard my father say anything like that. He was very proud of who he was, of being Jewish, even though he was not religious. I saw no interest in him exploring issues of assimilation through his characters although he did play with the idea in several stories during his long career in comics.
Captain America was created during World War II, during a time that the country was unified in their support of the war. At the time, was he intended to be an advocate for American policy?
Jim: The reality was that not all Americans were in support of the war. I think that Captain America at the time my father created him was not specifically intended to be an advocate for American policy. I would suppose that my father came up with the character because my father was against the inhumanity, the barbaric behavior, of Hitler and Hitler’s followers. Did my father want the U.S. to get directly involved in the war and destroy Hitler? I am sure he did. My father, as did Jack Kirby, who put such passion into helping produce the early issues of Captain America Comics, both enlisted and joined the war effort against Hitler and the Axis forces.
Has the function of the character changed over time?
Jim: While I have not kept up with all the comic book stories based on Captain America, I doubt the basis of the character has changed much, if at all, over time. The stories may have taken different directions but the core of the character has been respected, I believe, by the many wonderful writers and artists and fans who have kept Cap going over the years.
Captain America famously punched Hitler. Today, it would be hard to imagine Captain American hitting a known terrorist. What do you think changed?
Jim: It depends on who is in charge of publishing Captain America. Some publishers would have no problem with Cap punching out a known terrorist.
Is the way that American readers perceive Captain America influenced by changes in the politics of American leaders?
Jim: If the character is done right, if the stories stick to the original basis of who Captain America is, America’s interest in Captain America would not be changed by how our nation’s leaders act.
What did your father think of the various film incarnations of Captain America – the Matt Salinger film? And the newer film staring Chris Evans?
Jim: He was always disappointed until the Chris Evans’ Captain America movie, which he enjoyed immensely. He did think Matt Salinger looked a lot like Captain America.
Did he give Chris Evans any advice on how to play the character? If so, what?
Jim: Not that I know of. He loved Chris Evan’s interpretation and portrayal of the character. I do know that my father and the movie’s producer, Stephen Broussard, talked quite a bit. Mr. Broussard was and continues to be really terrific. The whole movie cast and crew were terrific.
What is your favorite Captain America comic book cover? And why?
Jim: Captain America Comics number 1, the issue where Cap explodes across the cover and delivers a haymaker to Hitler’s jaw. It was, with Jack Kirby, my father’s first big success in comics. And that’s why.
The Joe Simon Memorial Celebration is scheduled for Friday, October 12 from 5:15pm-6:15pm. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.NewYorkComicCon.com. To learn more about Joe Simon, Jim Simon or to purchase their books visit SimonComics.com