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Book Review

Book Cover

Joe Simon: My Life in Comics (Hardback)


Author: Joe Simon
Titan Books
RRP: £17.99, US $24.95, Cdn $27.95
ISBN: 978 1 84576 930 7
Available 15 July 2011

This is a bit of a companion piece for me; a companion piece separated by seventeen years. Back in 1994 I managed to slip a tribute to legendary comic artist Jack Kirby into a review I was writing at the time. He had just recently died and I’m proud that I managed to say thank you in print to a great man who had a real influence on my life.

Joe Simon was half of the creative team, along with Kirby, who created Captain American. He knew Stan Lee as a kid (if you don’t know who Stan Lee is then stop reading now: this book is not for you) and Lee gave him his first job. He scourged for work during the Great Depression, he joined the Coast Guard during the war and saw the rise and fall of the comic code. It would be true to say that Mr Smith is very long lived and he’s still going!

I’m not the sort of person who would freely read an autobiography given the choice. Autobiographies are tricky little monkeys. The problem is that most have the same format: background and birth; build up; the interesting years of fame and then gentle decline into the boring stuff towards the end. A philosophy lecturer I once knew gave a very influential talk about how few exceptions there are to the rule that the “Greats” complete their best work before 39. Here’s the hard facts folks; it’s generally true and that’s the problem with autobiographies. After the 39th year there is nothing interesting coming your way. An autobiography is only ever half a book. It is one of the few points of your literary life where I will forgive you for folding down the cover on page 176 and saying: “Well, that’s that for me!”

My Life in Comics is what it is. It’s the reminisces of an aged comic writer who is best remembered as an editor and co-creator. It is at times semi-amusing anecdotes told as if by a kindly Jewish uncle about the “characters” he met in New York in the '30s. It is also, mostly, a tale of the back biting and double dealing in a fledging industry. There is only so many times you can read about the launch of a new character based unashamedly on an existing popular character and how it failed after three issues.

I think Titan Books has missed a trick here. If you believe in your medium then use it. The autobiography of Joe Simon should have been in cartoon format. Why not? I have the excellent Introducing Kafka illustrated by Robert Crumb. This was always going to be a specialist read but, I feel, a missed opportunity.


Dean Lester Smales

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