ARTIE SIMEK (and Sol Brodsky) at Marvel Comics Part 4

From BATTLE BRADY #10 and COMBAT CASEY #6, Jan 1953, all images © Marvel

Continuing with more logos (and cover lettering) I think were done by Artie Simek, who had been on staff at the company now known as Marvel since at least 1946, and been their main logo designer most of that time. There are a relatively small number of new titles cover-dated 1953, and they all continued previous trends. These logos use styles we’ve seen before, variations on standard block lettering. They do the job, but perhaps Simek was running out of new ideas, and his boss Stan Lee was happy to let him copy what he’d done previously.

From MENACE #1, May 1953

This horror logo uses the brush stroke look with very pointy and ragged ends that add energy, but in places make the letters seem too thin to my eye.

From LORNA THE JUNGLE QUEEN #1, July 1953

Lorna’s logo goes with a more rounded brush stroke look with a drop shadow for added depth. It doesn’t say jungle to me, but I do like Simek’s large caption lettering, the small letters are type. Queen became Girl after a few issues. You have to wonder who did her hair and makeup…

From WESTERN OUTLAWS #1, Feb 1954

Moving into 1954 cover dates, letters shaped like pieces of rough wood were always a safe bet for a western logo. The use of lower case in the first word is unusual. Note that many of these logos have an open drop shadow for a second color, but that could be filled black where it worked better, as in Lorna’s logo above.

From BATTLEFRONT #17, March 1954

We saw this logo in Part 3 on one line, here Simek hyphenates it to allow the letters to be larger on two lines. The speed lines add motion, though to me these seem to be sending the letters to the left, or backwards rather than forwards, with the normal direction being left to right, as with reading English. Hyphenated logos were fairly common at Atlas, as Marvel was known at this time, and were still seen into the 1970s.

From ARROWHEAD #1 & 4, April & Nov 1954

Here’s another example of a long word used on one line and then hyphenated. On the first one, the arrow adds interest, and with the speed lines is definitely going right to left. It looks fine, even though that feels like the wrong direction to me.

From OUTLAW FIGHTERS #1, May 1954

Another way to make room for a second color is a second thinner outline around all the letters, as Simek did here, but it’s not a choice he made often. It works well.

From MARINES IN BATTLE #1, Aug 1954

This logo bucks the trend by being done with solid black letters, which were then reversed white and again in red to work on this black background. All the issues had solid letters, so it was definitely done that way, and not created with outlines that were filled in. I like the square shapes of the uneven stroke ends.

From RINGO KID WESTERN #1, Aug 1954

There were lots of western Kids at Atlas, probably all inspired by real outlaw Billy the Kid. This logo’s rope WESTERN is a nice addition to a familiar Simek style.

From BATTLEGROUND #1, Sept 1954

Another war title split into two lines using a familiar Simek look. The burst around it adds energy.

From OUTLAW KID #1, Sept 1954

The appearance of this logo suggests it was done with a wide wedge-shaped pen in parallel strokes, but the open drop shadow with a thin black outline is more likely how it was actually drawn. I like it.

From JUNGLE ACTION #1, Oct 1954

Two more familiar styles. Notice how the speed lines are made more obvious by leaving a small gap over each one in the letter outline, something I first noticed in Ira Schnapp’s THE FLASH logo at DC Comics, but this predates it. Here the letters seem to move left to right.

From SPY THRILLERS #1, Nov 1954

The same technique is used on these speed lines, it was probably a common idea from showcard lettering. Note that first issues almost never had the issue number on the cover. Retailers had very full racks, and were reluctant to add new titles, this ploy might have gotten books racked by those who weren’t paying attention. Publishers also sometimes started a new title with a double-digit number for the same reason.

From RUGGED ACTION #1, Dec 1954

Artie could have reused the ACTION from JUNGLE ACTION here, different speed lines shows he didn’t.

From WESTERN KID #1, Dec 1954

You can’t get more baseline on a kid western than WESTERN KID. I like the texture of multiple pen strokes in these letters with open white spaces.

In MARVEL AGE #22, Jan 1985, an article by Dwight Jon Zimmerman memorializing Sol Brodsky after his passing has this about the second of publisher Martin Goodman’s mass staff firings:

On August 7, 1952, Sol’s and Selma’s first child, Janice, was born. The joyous event unfortunately coincided with a growing recession in the comic book industry that hit in 1953 and 1954. Forced to make drastic cutbacks or close his doors completely, Martin Goodman laid off everyone on staff except Stan Lee. Stan got in touch with Sol [Brodsky]. Stan was a one-man department, and, with Sol, it became a two-man department. “Sol and I were the whole staff of Atlas Comics,” Stan Lee said. “I bought the art and scripts, and Sol did all the production. My job was mainly talking to the artists and the writers and telling them how I wanted stuff done. Sol did everything else — the corrections, making sure everything looked right, making sure things went to the engraver and he also talked to the printer. He was really the production manager. And little by little we built things up again.”

This “recession” in comics was partly due to a glut of titles and partly caused by public attention and outcry over extreme violence in some horror and crime comics, leading to a congressional investigation and public comics burnings. Comics publishers got together to self-censor, creating the Comics Code Authority. The most egregious publisher, EC Comics, was essentially put out of the comics business. Atlas had its own crime and horror comics that were not as extreme, and many of those were canceled, but looking at all the new titles that came out in 1954 and 1955, I don’t see much of a cutback, so I don’t know how long the two-man company was in effect. Artie Simek was still in demand as a logo designer and cover letterer. He may have been working at home for a while, but he was still busy. This does mark the beginning of Sol Brodsky’s new role as Stan Lee’s right hand man and production manager, but it didn’t keep Sol from being laid off again in the next Martin Goodman purge in 1957.

From COWBOY ACTION #5, March 1955

New and existing titles from Atlas now included the Comics Code Authority seal of approval (designed by Ira Schnapp of DC Comics), hoping that would appease parents and critics. The worst of the crime and horror comics were gone, replaced by more westerns, teen humor, jungle, and war titles, and anything else that others were having success with. Artie Simek largely stayed the course with familiar logos that did, to be fair, help readers identify them as Marvel/Atlas products.

From HOMER THE HAPPY GHOST #1, March 1955

As you you can see, the rollout of the Comics Code seal was not uniform by date. Here Atlas was imitating the popularity of Caspar the Friendly Ghost at Harvey Comics.

From RAWHIDE KID #1, March 1955

This kid western was more successful than most, but not right away. This initial run lasted 16 issues, to the next cutback in 1957, but it was revived in 1960 with the same Simek logo for a long run of 135 issues to 1979.

From MY GIRL PEARL #1, April 1955

When Atlas lost the license from CBS for the radio/TV show “My Friend Irma,” they replaced that title with this similar one that readers could buy instead.

From ANNIE OAKLEY WESTERN TALES #5, June 1955

Around this time, Artie began giving his word balloons much thicker outlines probably to attract attention, and sometimes they were held in a color, like the red one here. It wasn’t Simek’s choice, but that of whoever did the color guide. That person would have marked this border and the type at upper left as a YR hold, meaning 100% Yellow and 100% Magenta but no black, and the separators would have made that happen on their film separations, one for each color of ink. Cyan and Black were the other two colors. The white type on red was the opposite process, reversed out of the magenta and yellow plates.

From STRANGE TALES #36, June 1955

This is the second logo for this title, pulling back from the horror aspects and toward more fantasy and science fiction tales. Simek liked the idea of size and perspective going in opposite directions to fill a rectangular area at the top of a cover, he did that several times.

From STRANGE STORIES OF SUSPENSE #5, Oct 1955

“Suspense” was a new code word for mild horror, along with “mystery.” The logos were intentionally less scary, and therefore more bland. This title is also too long.

From BILLY BUCKSKIN WESTERN #1, Nov 1955
From JANN OF THE JUNGLE #8, Nov 1955

Two more titles with familiar Simek styles that I think work well for these genres.

From WYATT EARP #1, Nov 1955

Actual heroes and villains of the old west were fair game for any comics publisher, seeing that their stories and names were not trademarked. This cover has an unusual perfectly round balloon from Artie, and I also like the badge caption, though it’s filled with type.

From GUNSMOKE WESTERN #32, Dec 1955

Another option for western characters was to team them up if they weren’t selling that well individually, as here.

From STRANGE TALES OF THE UNUSUAL #1, Dec 1955

An advantage of these “fantasy/mystery/science fiction” anthologies was that there were no continuing characters, so any time enough extra stories were finished, a new title could be put out. The angled stroke ends on the letters here add interest.

From FRONTIER WESTERN #1, Feb 1956

The same was probably true for western anthologies like this one. Here all the captions are type.

From WORLD OF SUSPENSE #1, April 1956

There’s that suspense word again signalling content meant to scare and thrill.

From ADVENTURE INTO MYSTERY #1, May 1956

Mystery was a code word also used by DC Comics in their HOUSE OF MYSTERY, but the comics code meant nothing very graphic or frightening would be inside. And adding the code seal, large, trumped the actual logo letters.

From WORLD OF FANTASY #1, July 1956

Simek was in a rut with these similar logos, but perhaps that’s what his editor Stan Lee and his publisher Martin Goodman wanted.

From DEVIL DOG DUGAN #1, July 1956

A word like DEVIL probably wouldn’t have been allowed in a horror title, but it was okay as a wartime nickname. I like these large balloons by Artie.

From CAUGHT #1, Aug 1956

Atlas was still trying crime comics now and then, perhaps hoping the comics code seal would help them get past parents.

From A DATE WITH MILLIE #1, Oct 1956

This was a spinoff teen humor title for the Millie character, and the word MILLIE in the logo is at least a little different. More thick balloon borders from Simek.

From SIX-GUN WESTERN #1, Jan 1957

I suppose the amount of gunplay in western comics, celebrated in this title logo, wouldn’t go over well today, but western gun violence had a long history in American popular culture from the 1800s on, and there was plenty of it on TV at this time.

From G.I. TALES #4, Feb 1957

The large first line of this logo is a breath of fresh air, and I’d be tempted to say Artie didn’t design it, but the second line and balloons are typical of him, so he probably did. It only lasted three issues.

From TALES OF THE MARINES #4, Feb 1957

Back to the usual for this logo, with a nice large word balloon by Artie.

From WESTERN TRAILS #1, May 1957

Ringo Kid was apparently popular enough to star in this spinoff, or maybe they just had too many stories with him. It lasted two issues.

From COMMANDO ADVENTURES #1, June 1957

Using a familiar style but with much thinner letters gives this logo a little variety.

From THE KID FROM TEXAS #1 and THE KID FROM DODGE CITY #1, June & July 1957

Two more kid westerns with similar Simek logos. I’m surprised Atlas never thought of putting all their Kids together into a gang.

From HEDY WOLFE #1 and A DATE WITH PATSY #1, Aug & Sept 1957

Two more teen humor titles using the logo style I think Simek created for Patsy Walker in 1946, more evidence it might have been his design back then.

These are the last new titles with the Atlas symbol. Martin Goodman had actually shut down his Atlas distribution company in 1956, making a deal with American News Company to distribute his titles. This turned disastrous when American News went out of business in 1957. Goodman had little choice but to make a deal with Independent News, a distributor owned by his rival, DC Comics. The deal limited Goodman to eight titles a month for ten years, forcing him to change his usual plan of flooding the market with titles, and many books were cancelled. This brought on the third mass staff layoff, and once again Stan Lee was the only staffer left for a while. Artie Simek was still needed to letter covers and design a few logos, but now he also began lettering more stories to make a living, even taking work at DC and other publishers for a few months. Sol Brodsky was again laid off, and went on to other ventures like comics for the Big Boy restaurant chain, and founding CRACKED, a Mad imitator.

From STRANGE WORLDS #1, Dec 1958

The Atlas symbol was gone from covers, replaced by the Independent News IND symbol. In essence, Goodman’s company had no public identity, but Artie Simek’s logos and Stan Lee’s short mystery story anthologies kept things going. Soon Stan was using artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, among others, to draw his stories, and they attracted readers. Marvel, as we’ll now call it, put out sixteen bi-monthly titles, eight of them came out each month. In 1958, those titles were GUNSMOKE WESTERN, HOMER THE HAPPY GHOST, KID COLT OUTLAW, LOVE ROMANCES, MARINES IN BATTLE, MILLIE THE MODEL, MISS AMERICA (teen humor), MY OWN ROMANCE, NAVY COMBAT, PATSY AND HEDY, PATSY WALKER, STRANGE TALES, TWO-GUN KID, WORLD OF FANTASY, WYATT EARP, and this new title, the only launch of the year. I like the radio balloon by Artie, though having the tail in front of the space ship but some of the burst points behind it looks wrong, flattening the art.

From TALES OF SUSPENSE #1, Jan 1959
From TALES TO ASTONISH #1, Jan 1959

Two new science fiction/fantasy anthologies began in 1959, filled with more Stan Lee short stories and sporting block letter logos and cover lettering by Artie Simek. These titles would continue into the 1960s and become familiar to Marvel fans, but with different logos.

From KATHY #1, Oct 1959

This new teen humor title has an appealing mixed case logo by Artie, and a recycled cover idea with his lettering. I think Marvel’s teen humor did okay thanks to their often using the same artists as the ones from Archie Comics.

From TALES TO ASTONISH #12, Oct 1960

Here’s the more familiar logo for this title that continued when it featured Ant-Man and The Wasp. Simek’s balloon and caption lettering is large, and for the first time we see it being enhanced by a band of color inside his already thick first balloon. The Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers art is eye-catching, too. This is the kind of thing that would interest readers and keep the company going.

From STRANGE TALES #80, Jan 1961

Here’s where this title picked up the logo familiar to Marvel readers when the book hosted The Human Torch, and then Doctor Strange. Simek returns to the wavy letters he’d used for scary titles in the past.

From AMAZING ADVENTURES #1, June 1961

The age of Marvel superheroes was about to arrive when this new anthology began with familiar Simek logo and cover lettering styles. It would soon make way for new titles like THE FANTASTIC FOUR with logos by the team of Sol Brodsky and Artie Simek. We’ll continue there in Part 5 next time. Meanwhile, consider the amount of work by Artie Simek in these 52 logos on top of the ones already shown in parts 2 and 3. Perhaps he wasn’t always inspired, but Artie worked hard and his styles represented the company and his own abilities well.

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

One thought on “ARTIE SIMEK (and Sol Brodsky) at Marvel Comics Part 4

  1. Nick Caputo

    Todd,

    It’s great to see this compilation/documentation of Simek’s lettering in the 1950s and early 60s, which points to his very real contributions to the companies look and personality. Together with Sol Brodsky and Stan Goldberg, these individuals brought their special talents to the creativity of Martin Goodman’s comic book line. Although the spotlight shines most often on Lee, Kirby and Ditko (understandably), the letterers and logo designers were important elements of the total picture.

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