The Joe Simon Spotlight panel at New York Comic Con, honoring one of the great legends of comics who celebrated his ninety-eighth birthday earlier in the week, began with a standing room only crowd singing happy birthday as Simon entered the room. The room was packed with fans, family members and more professionals than one usually finds at a convention panel, a sign of the status that Simon holds. Steve Saffel, who edits the Simon-Kirby Library and edited “Joe Simon: My Life in Comics,” Simon’s autobiography released earlier this year was on the podium with Simon and guided the conversation.
“I’m writing another autobiography,” Simon said. “The title is ‘350 Things I Forgot to Tell You in My First Autobiography.'” He went on to describe how, many years before the autobiography existed, Saffel taped a series of conversations in which Simon related stories about his career. “He finally wanted me to do an autobiography and I said, ‘It’s kind of late isn’t it?'” Simon joked. “I said to Steve that we’ve got to stop this taping. Lawyers are always giving advice, but they didn’t tell me that the guy who owns the tape, owns the copyright.”
“Not in this case,” Saffel said.
“Okay,” Simon smiled, gesturing to the crowd. “I’ve got witnesses.”
“Tell them about the guy you met in the hospital when all the nurses were making you draw Captain America,” Saffel prompted.
“I was in the hospital and they told me I just had a stroke,” Simon said. “I didn’t feel it. It got around that I was involved with Captain America and the nurses were waiting in line outside my room asking for drawings. I spent my first day there drawing Captain America. It’s very striking [in the hospital]. Lots of different classes. One guy who walked to the hospital, he didn’t have any underwear and the hospital wouldn’t give him underwear. He was in the same room as me. They wouldn’t give him dessert. Medicare and Medicaid are two very different things. I didn’t have an appetite, so I would tell the nurses, give this guy my dessert.
We got through that period and I came out a whole person like I am now. Which isn’t saying much,” Simon added. “Anyway I gave this guy a drawing and when he saw it, he cried. I inscribed it, ‘to my friend.’
“They wanted me to do an autobiography. I did a book with my son called ‘The Comic Book Makers.’ That was really an autobiography,” Simon continued. “This one was Steve’s notes. I’m thinking as we’re doing this thing, I’ve got over three hundred stories, I could make another.” Saffel argued that Simon had already written down many of the stories and Simon had written much of the book before they ever officially started working on it.
“I wanted to tell the story in this biography about the great American hero,” Simon said. “I was eight or nine years old and we were living in Rochester. Rochester at the time was a tailoring town.” Saffel interjected that both Simon and Kirby’s fathers worked in the garment business. “We all were,” Simon said. “Kirby, Eisner, Bob Kane. Jerry Siegel’s father was in the haberdashery business.”
“I have to tell you about when I met the great American hero,” Simon said. “I was eight or nine years old. I was in the classroom with all these immigrant kids whose parents came over from Russia and Poland and other places. I’m sitting there and everyone is expecting someone like Captain America, but there was a little guy there in a Civil War uniform. A small guy who wore a threadbare, blue uniform. These kids came over and they hadn’t been to school in America. The point I’m trying to make is that some of these kids were bigger than this great American hero. This Civil War soldier was a guest at the school and he was going to lecture the class. We thought this guy was a great American hero. He walked from aisle to aisle and said, ‘Shake the hand which shook the hand of Abe Lincoln.’ Everybody applauded him and nobody thought he was nuts.
“Except the teacher,” Saffel said.
“Except the teacher,” Simon agreed. “She wasn’t that great. And that was my first great American hero.”
“You were eight, so that would have been 1921?” Saffel asked.
“I’m not good with numbers,” Simon said, wanting to move onto other topics.
When talking about his time in comics, Simon made a point of saying, “I like Stan [Lee]. I made him what he is today,” laughing before shaking his head. “I found out that he gets fifty-five dollars for a signature. Fifty-five dollars. I only get thirty.”
Simon went on to tell the story of how the cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae inspired the creation of Captain America villain The Red Skull. The true origin of the character was that he needed to create another character. “For Captain America, they told me I needed a villain,” Simon remembered. “I had a villain. Adolf Hitler was the villain.”
“Joe Simon: My Life in Comics” is available now.