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Comic book veteran Joe Simon is responsible for some of the industry’s most indelible characters.

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ILLUSTRATION by Tyson smith
Comic-Con, the superhero and sci-fi summit being held July 21–24 in San Diego, where movie studios will tout their latest special-effects genre films, will draw thousands of fans, industry executives and actors. But the coolest guy in the convention hall might well be Joe Simon, a 97-year-old writer/editor who stands as one of the major pioneers in the comic book industry. Simon — along with late artist extraordinaire Jack Kirby — co-created several legendary characters, including Captain America, who debuted in 1941, faded away after World War II, was revived by Marvel Comics in the 1960s and will appear as the subject of a new $140 million Hollywood film later this month.
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Simon recently published his autobiography, Joe Simon: My Life in Comics (Titan Books, $25). He spoke with American Way about his past, his present and, yes, even his future.

American Way: How have comic books changed since you started in 1938?
Joe Simon: Back then, publishers were crazy and didn’t really know anything about their material. Today, people seem to care much more about story quality. The biggest comics fans have grown up — now they’re middle-aged and concerned with the psychological motivations behind the characters.

Comic-Con International

2011 July 21–24
San Diego Convention Center

For more information, contact: cci-info@comic-con.org

AW: Your most popular character is Captain America; when he first appeared during World War II, the issues would instantly sell out. Is he still relevant today?
JS: More than ever. I realize I’d be a fool not to say that, but I really believe it. We’re so frustrated with terrorism that we need a fighter who won’t back down. Captain America was the first superhero to have his own comic book, and it wasn’t even so much because of the patriotism — he was just a big, beautiful, American guy who fought very weird villains.

AW: Was he your best creation, or did you have another favorite?
JS: Jack Kirby and I both loved our Western character, Bullseye. He was a frontier scout who peddled pots and pans from his covered wagon, but whenever he was challenged by Indians or gunfighters, he never missed a shot. Unfortunately, he also never got the recognition he deserved. The thing that made the most money was romance comics. In 1947, Jack and I came out with our first issue of Young Romance, and then about 400 others copied us.
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AW: These days you earn commissions for cover drawings, and Titan Books is publishing lavish hardcover anthologies of your older work. What will you be doing for your 100th birthday?
JS: I just drew 20 new covers, and I’m doing around 10 different volumes of Simon-Kirby reprints. Three years from now, I’ll still be working.