Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and eighth week of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby both appeared as models on comic books.
Recently, I did a list to celebrate Stan Lee’s 94th birthday about some amazing facts that a lot of people don’t know about Stan “The Man” Lee. My buddy Jamie Coville responded to the list by sharing another interesting piece of Stan Lee’s career that I thought was particularly interesting when paired with a somewhat recent e-mail that I had received from reader Chris C. about an interesting part of Jack Kirby’s career.
We’ll start with the Stan Lee story.
In the late 1940s going into the early 1950s, as the superhero genre fell by the wayside (well, outside of the REALLY popular characters like Superman and Batman), two new genres became very popular. One was crime comics and the other was western comics.
Fawcett and Dell really hit the licensed character market hard, which they would then pair with photo covers featuring those licensed characters. Fawcett went more for the B and C-list cowboys, as undoubtedly they were a lot cheaper to sign…
(It is crazy to think about just how many products you would have C-list cowboys putting their names on in the late 1940s/early 1950s).
Dell, a bigger company, spent their money on the bigger name cowboys, and thus more or less dominated the western comic book market…
Timely Comics (by the way, when I say “Timely Comics,” they were still going by different company names depending on the comic, so the issue we’re about to discuss was actually labeled as being a “Marvel Comic”), meanwhile, also had their own western comics, but they didn’t have any licensing deals. However, with the popularity of photo covers booming, they decided to make a change in their western anthology series, ” All-Western Winners,” choosing to instead spotlight one of the characters featured in the anthology, the heroic Black Rider. So with the eighth issue of the series, “All-Western Winners” became “Black Rider,” just in time for the 1950s to begin.
Here’s a snippet from the extra-long feature from that issue (drawn by a smorgasbord of then-Timely artists, with Syd Shores supplying the main layouts and then a bunch of other artists pitching in on different pages – heck, there might be different artists on different PANELS on certain pages!).
So for their photo cover, they needed a model for the Black Rider. And they found one in their very own editor-in-chief, Stan Lee!
Troy Smith did an interview with Lee about it back in 1996:
Smith: Did you have a favorite western character to write for?
Lee: Let’s see. We had Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Outlaw Kid, Kid Colt, the Western Kid, Black Rider… I liked them all. I kind of liked the Black Rider, because he was more of a superhero. Also, we did one photograph cover of him, and that was me under the mask. I got a kick out of that.
Now on to Kirby!
As noted before, the late 1940s/early 1950s was a boom period for crime comics, as well as westerns. Jack Kirby and his partner, Joe Simon, were also helping to introduce the genre of romance comics, as well.
They cut a deal with Prize Publications to do some series for them where Simon and Kirby would produce the entire comic and then get a cut of the sales. The interesting thing is that it appears that these first few issues were already done by Simon and Kirby ahead of time, likely with the intent being “If they turn us down and then try to do the idea without us, we’ll beat them to the market with another publisher, since we have the first few issues already ready to go.”
However, Prize took the deal from Simon and Kirby and let them turn one of their superhero titles, “Headline Comics,” into a crime comic book with 1947’s “Headline Comics” #23. At the same time, Simon and Kirby also did another comic for Prize under the same deal, “Young Romance,” which spun out of an idea Simon and Kirby had for a short-lived series Simon and Kirby had done for Hillman called “My Date” (their deal with Hillman was just work for hire, so that’s why they wanted to go somewhere where they could share in the profits of their work).
By the end of the decade, the photo cover fad had hit romance and crime comics, as well, and the romance comics, in particular, had a bunch of photo covers used (most likely through outside modeling agencies)…
So Simon and Kirby threw some photo covers on to their crime book, beginning with 1949’s “Headline Comics” #36…
The most hilarious, though, was the following issue, which featured none other than Jack Kirby and Joe Simon themselves, with Kirby playing the villain and Simon the cop arresting him!!
Thanks to my buddy Jamie Coville (you can check out his site here) and reader Chris C. (keep writing in with ideas like this, Chris, and you’ll earn “buddy” designation in the future 😉 ) for the information!
OK, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
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See you all next week!
Happy New Year!