Steve Saffel on The Best of Simon and Kirby
By Avi Weinryb
May 15, 2009 - 17:25
Steve Saffel knows comics. As a huge Spider-Man fan, he has an enormous collection of memorabilia, containing many items which appeared in the Saffel authored Spider-Man: The Icon from Titan Books. But his passion does not stop at the feet of the 1960s Spider-Man creation. It goes back further. To the two men responsible for many of the innovations celebrated in comics today. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are synonymous with excellence in storytelling and illustration. They are and forever will be comics, and a lovingly crafted collection of some of their work has just hit stores. Editor Steve Saffel was kind enough to take some time to discuss The Best of Simon and Kirby with Comic Book Bin.
CBB: How did you get involved with this project?
SS: My involvement with Joe Simon goes back to the days when I was working at Marvel, and I commissioned Joe's inking on a Captain America magazine cover. Over the years Joe and I became friends, and I offered to use my publishing experience to help him find a home for some new projects. Proposals went out, publishers responded, and Titan's owners Nick Landau and Vivian Cheung set up a meeting with Joe on one of their trips from London to New York. As an agreement was reached and the projects took shape, my relationship with Joe and familiarity with his work caused them to tag me as the editor.
CBB: Was it a difficult process to get a variety of publishers, including DC Comics and Marvel Comics to allow their material to appear in the book?
SS: Most of the material in the book belongs to Joe or to Simon and Kirby, but when we wanted to include something like the Captain America story or the Boy Commandos adventure, we simply contacted folks like Paul Levitz over at DC and David Bogart at Marvel. Both were hugely supportive in allowing us access to their stories, and it was their respect for Joe Simon that made all the difference.
CBB: What challenges, if any, did you encounter when editing this book?
SS: The greatest challenge was in choosing what to call "the best." Frankly, "The Best of Simon and Kirby" could be a multi-book project, and no one would ever agree on what to include 100 percent of the time. Ultimately, the top priority was the reader's experience--the opportunity to read some of the most action-packed, brilliantly illustrated comic book stories in history. I know readers who have already pored over the book time and again, each time spotting something new and entertaining. (For example, Joe and Jack appear in the Boy Commandos story, and on their office door is the sign, "New Characters Interviewed from 9 to 12." Brilliant!)
Otherwise, Harry Mendryk did a fantastic job on the restorations, and Mark Evanier supplied terrific introductions to each section. For them, I was more cheerleader than editor.
CBB: Why does the work of Simon and Kirby continue to resonate so strongly with comic fans?
SS: Simon and Kirby were the best of the best, and that resonates across the years. From the early days of Blue Bolt it was obvious that the team was firing on all cylinders, and as of Captain America Comics they were selling a million copies a month. Their next million-seller wasn't superhero, but a war title (Boy Commandos), and their next blockbuster shook up the entire industry when they created the romance comic, and set the bar for quality. Each time the readers reacted by buying millions of comics, and the reason was sheer storytelling brilliance combined with action that exploded off of the page.
CBB: From what I understand, this volume is the first in a series – What factors determine the content of future volumes? Are you attempting to collect all the shared work of Simon and Kirby?
SS: Joe has a seven-book deal with Titan that includes the Simon and Kirby Superheroes, the detective stories, the horror stories, and the romance, as well as the definitive Joe Simon autobiography. We're about to make an announcement concerning the superheroes book, and the others will follow as regularly as we can release them. The initial focus is on the collaboration between Joe and Jack, which is what grabs so many legions of fans, but if the library is as successful as we hope, we might end up publishing everything that ever came out of the Simon and Kirby Studio.
CBB: Your previous book ‘Spider-Man: The Icon’ was extremely well received. Is there anything you learned when assembling that book which came in handy when you edited ‘The Best of Simon and Kirby’?
SS: I've been in publishing for more than 20 years, and every book teaches me something. I think the Spider-Man book gave me real insight into the way the Titan team works, and made me realize how lucky I am to be associated with such an amazing group of people. As Joe said when he first saw a finished copy of THE BEST OF SIMON AND KIRBY, "there's love in there," and it's true. From editorial to production to sales, marketing, and publicity, Titan has an amazing team.
CBB: There are a lot of reprinted comic collections on the market these days - What makes this book a 'must-have' for comic fans?
SS: THE BEST OF SIMON AND KIRBY is more than a collection of comic book stories. It's an example of how to lead the pack in innovation and pure slam-bang action. It's a chronicle of the American experience, from World War II through the McCarthy hearings and the Cold War. Black Magic is for the Twilight Zone and Fringe crowd, while Justice Traps the Guilty will resonate with the Untouchables and Sopranos fans. It's the best of every genre, and as such you don't need to love long-underwear heroes or blood and gore to be entertained for hours on end. This is the sort of book you can read over and over, and show to anyone who enjoys brilliant storytelling.
SS: Well, we certainly plan to get the Simon and Kirby Superheroes out before 2035, but we might be publishing these volumes until then. When we added it up, Joe and Jack themselves produced more than a thousand romance pages, and something like seven hundred detective pages (please don't hold me to that number until I check). When you add it all together, the best bet might be to plan on buying a new bookshelf as soon as you can.
The Best of Simon and Kirby is published by Titan Books and is available in bookstores now.
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