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Comic Legends: Who Really Created the Red Skull in Captain America Comics?

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and forty-ninth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

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COMIC LEGEND:

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were the sole creators of the Red Skull.

STATUS:

False

Probably the hardest thing that I ever have to come across when doing these legends is determining the reliability of narrators. Obviously, there's often a case where people's versions of what happened might be biased one way or the other. I'll often discount certain historic recollections out of hand for that very reason.

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However, in general, Joe Simon appeared to be a fairly reliable historian over the years, outside of his insistence that he was the sole creator of Captain America (as he almost certainly worked over the character with Jack Kirby).

Thus, I was okay with crediting Simon's story of how he was inspired by a hot fudge sundae in the creation of the Red Skull. That the image of the hot fudge coursing through the sundae glass looked like a skull and that gave him the idea for the villain. Simon had told that story pretty consistently for over 50 years.

And I am still mostly willing to believe it, but I think it is worth noting that Simon's version of the character's creation omitted a key figure, the guy who WROTE the first appearance of the Red Skull, a guy who never gets to appear in any of the thanks in the Marvel movies, a man named France "Ed" Herron.

Herron was a writer who broke into the comic book scene working as a writer for Harry A Chesler's packaging studio. A packaging studio supplied finished comic books to companies who wanted to produce comics but had no artists or writers of their own. Chesler eventually moved over to the Fox Feature Syndicate, where Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were working (after they moved on from a different comic book packager). When Simon and Kirby moved to Timely Comics, they brought Herron along with them. Those early Captain America Comics stories were big anthologies and Simon and Kirby needed help filling all of the content, so Herron would script some of the stories.

One of those stories was the Red Skull's introduction, in Captain America Comics #1...

He was unmasked later and actually DIED!

But don't worry, he returned soon afterwards.

Jack Kirby was asked in 1970 about the Skull's creation and he said, “the Red Skull was created by Eddy Hearn who created Captain Marvel….And Eddy Hearn was one of the best writers that DC ever had… He was a professional. So he created the Red Skull.” Of course, Herron did not create Captain Marvel (he created Captain Marvel JUNIOR, though), so Kirby was off base there, but that wasn't something that he had any involvement on, unlike the Red Skull.

Michael Browning wrote about Herron in TwoMorrow's Alter Ego #155 and he quoted Simon (much later in Simon's life) about Herron's involvement:

Simon said Herron definitely had a hand in creating The Red Skull for Captain America Comics #1, published in 1941. “Both Eddie Herron and Marty Burston (one of many pen names used by Jack Kirby) worked with me, and I don’t know who first came up with him [Red Skull], but I was looking for very graphic things to put into the script,” Simon said. “I looked through characters that would draw well. Did Eddie have a part in creating that? You can say he did.”

So it sure sounds like, at the VERY least, Herron wrote the first Red Skull story, and it is a possibility that he came up with the idea for the character entirely and Simon was misremembering the hot fudge story. Either way, Herron should be credited as Red Skull's creator.

EDITED TO ADD: My pal Tom A. notes that Simon and Kirby later introduced the SECOND Red Skull without Herron's involvement and it's this Skull, Johann Schmidt, that has existed ever since, and it's that Skull that appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but come on, you still gotta credit the dude who invented the original Red Skull (Tom agrees with, as well, he just thought it was worth noting)!

Thanks to Michael Browning for the great information!

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Feel free to send in legends suggestions to me at either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com!

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