ARTIE SIMEK (and Sol Brodsky) at Marvel Comics Part 1

From FOOM #17, 1977, the Marvel Bullpen about 1954, this and all Marvel images © Marvel

In these articles I’ll be studying the logo and cover work of letterer Artie Simek and production man Sol Brodsky at Marvel Comics. Part 1 is a biography and career summary of the two men, Parts 2 to 4 will be a look at the many logos I think Artie Simek designed from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, and Part 5 will focus on the logos Brodsky and Simek worked on together that helped usher in Marvel’s rise in the early 1960s, and also Simek’s important role in getting printed credits for letterers. First some background on the company.

MARVEL COMICS #1, Nov 1939, the first comic book from the publisher.

In the mid 1930s, Martin Goodman and his brothers entered the New York publishing business with a line of pulp magazines. Like Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, who moved from pulps to comics with the company that became DC, Goodman saw the success of DC’s Superman as a signpost to profits, and in 1939 he began publishing comic books with the title MARVEL COMICS, soon MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS. At first Goodman bought content packaged by Lloyd Jacquet’s shop Funnies, Inc., who provided Goodman’s early successes The Human Torch, The Sub-Mariner and other characters. By 1940 Goodman had hired Joe Simon as an editor, who with his partner Jack Kirby created CAPTAIN AMERICA, the most successful series and character Goodman had in his first decade as a comics publisher. Simon gathered a small staff to produce comics in-house for Goodman, including letterer Howard Ferguson, and Goodman hired his wife’s cousin, Stanley Lieber, as their office assistant. His first work in comics was writing text pages for CAPTAIN AMERICA under the name Stan Lee. By late 1941, Simon and Kirby had left Goodman and their creations for him over unpaid royalties, and Stan was put in charge of Goodman’s comics line, which went under a variety of company imprints, but was generally known as Timely Comics in the 1940s and Atlas Comics in the 1950s. Goodman’s strategy was to follow whatever trend seemed popular and to flood the newsstand with a large volume of short-lived titles. When superheroes waned in popularity after the end of World War Two, many other genres like war, westerns, funny animals, teen humor, crime, and horror took their place.

Inside front cover of TERRY-TOONS COMICS #47, Aug 1946

In 1943 Goodman’s comics publishing company moved to the fourteenth floor of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, and by 1946 the staff under Stan Lee had grown to over twenty people, as seen on the staff list from TERRY-TOONS COMICS #47. Along with artists of future fame like Al Jaffee, Jim Mooney, and Mike Sekowsky were some letterers including Mario Acquaviva and Arthur Simek.

Artie Simek from FANTASTIC FOUR SPECIAL #7, Nov 1969

Arthur Milton Simek was born January 6, 1916 in Queens, New York, the youngest of three sons. His two passions were sports, especially baseball and stickball (a street or indoor version of baseball), and drawing. He played on various teams in high school and later, though probably never rising to the level of paid teams, and newspaper reports of him spoke of “great fielding.” He became the manager of the Elmhurst Islanders Baseball Club in 1940, but soon gave up that position to be their pitcher. For lots more about Artie’s early life and his stickball and baseball career, see THIS post from Alex Jay, whose research has been invaluable to this article.

Artie Simek sports cartoon © The Long Island Daily Press, Sept 21, 1940

Pursuing his other interest, Artie began drawing sports cartoons, often about baseball, for The Long Island Daily Press. Alex Jay has found 21 of them running from July 13, 1940 to September 19, 1941. Simek also had sports cartoons in The Star-Journal of Long Island City, New York in 1944, some in the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants club magazines, and other places. For many more of Artie’s sports cartoons, see THIS article on Alex’s blog. As you can see in the example, they often featured word balloons and other lettering very much in the style of comic books. The Star-Journal’s sports column by Lou O’Neill for April 21, 1944, had the following: 

Simek, who used to be an athlete himself, lives at 74-22 46th Avenue, Elmhurst, and found out that he got a greater bang out of drawing athletes than participating with them in various sports. SOOOoooooo, he gave with the India Ink and the fancy lines only to meet with plenty of rebuffs when his work failed to display that professional touch. But Artie never said quits in sports and he never said quits as a sports cartoonist. For more nights than he admits to, he passed up movies and other entertainment to practice away hour after hour. That his labors have borne fruit is obvious after one look at his drawings today.

It’s unknown exactly how or when Simek began working at Timely Comics, but another article in the Star-Journal of April 9, 1946 suggests he was doing so by then: “Former sports cartoonist Art Simek of Jackson Heights is now making strides in the cartoon field…Draws such horror funnies for the kiddies he can’t sleep nights…” While the writer says Artie was drawing comics, it’s more likely he was lettering them, I don’t know of any comics stories he drew, but I could be wrong. The TERRY-TOONS staff list, above, was likely created in early 1946 as well, so certainly he was there by then. In 1944 he married Emily Ehring and they had a daughter, Gloria Jean, so perhaps becoming a family man encouraged Artie to take a staff job with steady income.

Alex Jay sent these images from The Secret History of Marvel Comics by Blake Bell & Dr. Michael J. Vassallo (Fantagraphics Books 2013), some cartoons by Artie for Goodman’s pulp magazines from 1946-47, and not unlike his sports cartoons.

From THE HUMAN TORCH #29, Winter 1947, Sub-Mariner story

We don’t know exactly what Artie was doing at Timely, but the lettering on this story looks like his work to me. Like most of his later lettering (and his sports cartoons), it’s done with a round-pointed pen rather than a wedge-tipped one, and the letters are very even and regular, most would fit into a narrow rectangle. The line weight is fairly heavy, with emphasized words slanted and heavier still, and the balloons tend to be wide with blunted ends. It almost suggests Leroy lettering, but it’s clearly hand-drawn. There isn’t a lot of story lettering at Marvel in the 1940’s that looks like this, though, so what else was Simek doing? We have a clue in an interview with former Timely production man Leon Lazarus from Alter Ego #90 (Dec 2009, TwoMorrows):

We were on the 14th floor of the Empire State Building. The letterers were gathered in the production room, away from the artists. In that room with me were many people. Mario Aquaviva was in charge of the letterers, but Artie Simek was over him. Artie was a tall, skinny guy, very nice and quiet, with a big Adam’s apple. He never pushed anyone around. He didn’t letter stories, he did logos.

From MYSTERY TALES #5, Nov 1952

That suggests Simek had become a logo (and cover lettering) specialist by the late 1940s, something he did for many years at Marvel through their Timely and Atlas incarnations into the rebirth of Marvel super-heroes in the 1960s. I don’t know how that happened, perhaps Artie simply found it was something he could do well enough to satisfy Stan Lee and Martin Goodman. On the example above, the logo letters are shapes Simek often used, and both they and some of the caption lettering have wavy, rough outlines he also liked for scary stuff. The word balloon, though larger, is similar in style to the ones in the page shown above. Even with so many new titles being produced, logos would not have been enough to keep Artie fully occupied, but if you add in the cover lettering on many issues (some used only type), that would certainly have kept him busy. I’ll discuss Simek’s logos in more detail in later parts of this article series.

According to Sean Howe in his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (HarperCollins 2012), publisher Martin Goodman was an unpredictable boss, at times generous, and other times hard-nosed. Comics editor Stan Lee made a practice of buying extra stories to use as backups if something was running late, and in 1949, Goodman discovered a large stack of these paid-for stories in a closet. He ordered Lee to use up this inventory and lay off most of the staff creating new work. Around this time, Goodman moved his company out of the Empire State Building to new offices at 655 Madison Avenue, where he focused more on other kinds of magazines: true confessions, movie gossip, crossword puzzles, and racy action-adventure titles like MALE and STAG. Stan Lee gradually built up his comics staff again, some are in the first photo in this article, as Goodman continued to put out lots of new titles, but the staff purge would happen again in 1954, when congress was putting pressure on comics to self-censor violent content, and in 1957 when Goodman’s distributer went bankrupt and he was forced to sign a distribution deal with Independent News, owned by his rival DC Comics. The deal limited Goodman to eight new titles a month, far fewer than he had been putting out. Again, the staff was fired as Lee was ordered to use up inventory, this time almost everyone but Stan Lee was let go. Artie Simek was still needed to letter covers and do logos, but he often worked at home. Staff letterers Joe Letterese and Stan Starkman found work at DC, other staffers like Sol Brodsky went to other companies or out of comics. Simek had remarried to Dorothy Ashburn in 1952, and now also had two sons, Glenn Arthur and Wayne, so the income from his Marvel work was needed, and when new stories eventually began to be produced, often short horror or fantasy tales, Artie lettered most of them. Before that, when work was slow, Simek did some story lettering for DC Comics and other publishers for the first time. In an interview with artist Joe Giella in Alter Ego #52 (Sept 2005, TwoMorrows), Joe reported:

Artie Simek was on staff at Timely. He lived in Queens, and he also used to work out of his bedroom; he had a little drawing table in there. I used to drive to his home and pick up jobs he’d lettered, then take them home and work on them.

From WESTERN OUTLAWS #9, June 1955

By the mid 1950s, Artie’s balloon borders on covers were often thicker and were sometimes held in a color to grab more attention. The bottom circular caption here is all type, probably done on an in-house headline machine, perhaps by Simek himself. Even in the lean times after the 1957 purge, Atlas Comics, as Marvel was known in the 1950s, was turning out those eight issues a month, and they needed logos and cover lettering by Artie when they weren’t all type.

From FANTASTIC FOUR #5, July 1962

In 1961, Marvel began a superhero revival that changed the company’s fate forever. Martin Goodman had been noticing DC’s success with revamped superheroes like THE FLASH and GREEN LANTERN, and their new team book with a group of heroes, THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA was selling well. He gave Stan Lee the okay to move back into superhero stories. Lee had become dissatisfied with his comics career and was thinking of quitting. His wife Joan suggested this was an opportunity to try something new in his comics writing, and Lee did that, creating more adult storylines with characters that were not the perfect icons of heroism. Instead they squabbled among themselves, had real world problems, and exhibited character flaws unseen in superheroes to that time. He had a great deal of help from artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who took on a major part of the visual storytelling to which Stan added the words lettered by Artie Simek and others. To help with the cover designs for his new approach, Stan called back one of his former Bullpen employees, Sol Brodsky.

Sol Brodsky, from THE MIGHTY MARVEL COMIC CONVENTION PROGRAM BOOK, 1975

Solomon Richard Brodsky was born April 22, 1923 in Brooklyn, NY, the oldest of four children. He decided early in life to pursue a career in cartooning, and took a job sweeping floors at Archie Comics (MLJ) to break into the industry. He did some early art for several publishers, including Timely starting in 1942. Brodsky served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War Two, and afterward he married Selma Cohen in 1948 and they had two children, Janice and Gary. Some time around 1950 he started penciling and inking for Atlas Comics, and joined the Marvel Bullpen. He was laid off in the 1954 staff purge, but fellow artist Stan Goldberg recalled in MARVEL AGE #22 (a Sol Brodsky memorial issue, January 1985):

They needed someone on production to handle things since there was no real staff. I would come in a couple of days a week to help out, but I had a lot of my own freelance stuff, so I couldn’t do much. Stan got in touch with Sol. Stan was a one-man department, and with Sol it became a two-man department.

Stan Lee, in the same magazine, said:

Sol and I were the whole staff of Atlas Comics. I bought the art and scripts and Sol did all the production. And then little by little we built things up again.

Brodsky was laid off once more after the 1957 Atlas line cutback and pursued other publishing ventures, including comics for the Big Boy restaurant chain. In 1958 he became the founding editor of CRACKED, a MAD lookalike.

From AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7, Dec 1961

While working for CRACKED, Brodsky continued to freelance for Stan Lee, and according to Mark Evanier, who asked Sol about it, he and Artie Simek developed the logos for the Marvel superhero revival beginning in 1961. Sol did not specify exactly who did what, but it’s likely that Sol did pencil designs and Artie inked them, though the process may have varied, as some of the logos look more like typical Simek work than others. First out was the new title THE FANTASTIC FOUR with a logo that suggests 1950s advertising lettering to me, but few recall the matching logo from the same time for AMAZING ADULT FANTASY, both shown above. The latter had the tag line, “The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence,” showing where Stan Lee wanted to take his new books, though that particular one was still full of the short monster stories Atlas had been featuring in several titles for some years. I’ll discuss the Brodsky-Simek Marvel logos in detail in Part 5 of this article series.

From 1958 to 1967, Marvel was limited by Independent News, their distributor, to eight titles a month, but they did sixteen bimonthly titles. When the quota was lifted in 1968, new Marvel titles began hitting the newsstands on a regular basis, and more creative talent of all kinds was needed, including letterers. Sam Rosen had joined Artie Simek as a regular letterer on stories and covers in the early 1960s, and he began doing logos and cover lettering as well, suggesting that Simek was cutting back in those areas, while Artie seemed satisfied just lettering stories. In 1971, Gaspar Saladino began doing logos for Marvel, and when Sam Rosen stopped lettering in 1972, he stepped into the main logo designer role for a while. More bad news would soon follow. Sadly, a black-bordered box in the Sept 1975 Bullpen Bulletins pages in all Marvel comics said:

On February 20th, 1975, early in the morning, the comic book industry lost one of its foremost talents. ARTIE SIMEK died. For some thirty-odd years, the majority of his life, Artie produced a veritable mountain of work and gained a reputation for being a true professional. He was one of the cornerstones in building the mighty world of Marvel and his efforts cannot be ignored. To those of us who were privileged to know Artie, he was a valued friend, a unique personality, and an irreplaceable co-worker. He will be missed.

That heartfelt tribute was probably written by Stan, who had worked closely with Artie for much of his career.

Sol Brodsky was in and out of Marvel over the years, joining the staff as production manager in 1964, leaving in 1970 to launch Skywald Publications, and returning in 1972 as Vice President of Operations. Essentially, when he as there, he was always Stan Lee’s right-hand man. Sol passed on June 4, 1984. Both Simek and Brodsky had seen a remarkable evolution in the company and international blockbuster franchise now known as Marvel, and played important parts in it. More on Artie Simek’s many logos and the Brodsky-Simek logos to follow.

Continue to next article. Back to The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

8 thoughts on “ARTIE SIMEK (and Sol Brodsky) at Marvel Comics Part 1

  1. Elaine Ashburn

    This is totally amazing!! Thank you!! I’m Artie Simek’s niece. I also worked at Magazine Management with Sol Brodsky and the crew—my uncle introduced me to them after I got out of art school—and they hired me!!! One important piece of information—my uncle invented “thought balloons”. They never existed before (only “speech balloons”) and Stan asked him to figure out a way to reveal what people were thinking!!!

  2. Todd Klein Post author

    Glad you liked the article. I’m afraid your info on thought balloons is not correct. They emerged in newspaper strips in the 1920s, and reached the style we know them in the 1930s in the strip “Terry and the Pirates” as lettered by Frank Engli. You can see an example from 1939 in THIS article.

  3. Nick Caputo

    Todd,

    Excellent work and research. I agree with you on Artie lettering the story in Human Torch #29. Its also great to see his sports cartoon. Artie was a talented letterer who added a distinctive and consistent look to the Marvel line, I look forward to further installments.

  4. John Mc Cue

    Well, I’m 94 and ended up reading these pages because 1) I was seven or eight in 1937 and the more or less launching of the comic book industry; I was the target audience, maybe! 2) I Have now been on the search for an artist neighbor (we lived in Laurelton, LI. New York (232nd Street; PS 156) who had his studio in his living room and each week he would do a full color oil painting on a 30″X 4O” canvas of the large principle scenic panel of the “Prince Valiant” Sunday cartoon; you had to have seen them to believe them! Both the news print and the oil reproduction!

    Those images remain in my head!

    But I’ve always wondered about the artist.

    I’d be in and out of his house because his weird (yes!) son and I (approximately then same ages) occasionally played together. We lived across he street from each other.

    I partially assumed that the artist worked in the comic industry and I partially assumed that he did not work in the comic industry because why was his studio set up in his living room!?

    But his paintings! They must have survived somewhere!

    Does anyhow have more information or comments?

    Thank you.

    John Mc Cue

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