There’s something nice about the idea that Joe Simon’s big life included the opportunity this summer to see his most famous creation, Captain America, in a handsome big-screen adaptation with a forties heart and a forties sense of style, honor, and propriety. And as we remember Captain America’s creator today after his death at 98, it’s worth thinking of two other things.
First, we’re in the midst of a tough national conversation about copyright and how best to protect it, fueled by substantial corporate profits on both sides of the debate. Simon was a strong advocate for the rights of creators to retain copyright of their own work—he tried to get copyright on Captain America back (his partner Jack Kirby’s estate also fought Marvel for the rights in court and lost) and held on to the copyright to other characters he’d created subsequently. There’s no question that large studios need financial incentives to produce big-budget pictures. But if we’re talking about pure individual creativity, fans are probably going to be more compelled by calls like Louis C.K.’s to please pay for rather than steal his independently-distributed special (at least 100,000 of them have heeded it, netting him $200,000 in profit) than by a call to protect Dreamworks so it can keep making bank off robots fighting with each other.
Second, Simon and Kirby may have made their bones in superhero comics, but they also essentially founded the genre of romance comics with the launch of their Young Romance magazine. They may have moved into the field (and horror comics as well) during a downturn in the superhero market. But it’s a reminder that just because you draw tough dudes in tights doesn’t mean you can’t empathize with women, or that there isn’t money to be made telling stories for them. It’d be a shame if Simon’s legacy was only one star-spangled superhero when there’s so much more to celebrate about him.