Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1939-40 at the time via Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. The character was envisioned as the patriotic symbol of America as we were seemingly heading into the second World War. At the same time, Cap’s counterpart the Red Skull was also created, a Nazi villain working to bring down the United States from within. It’s no mistake these characters were created at the same time in late 1939 into 1940, seeing print in early 1941.
The Great Depression technically ended for the US in 1939, but a new World War was on the horizon in Europe and was only a matter of time when the US would get involved. Hitler’s evil was on full display for the world to see. The Holocaust was happening right before their very eyes, and both Simon and Kirby being Jewish immigrants put pencil to paper with Captain America, a super soldier GI taking down the evil Red Skull and the Nazi’s. In December 1940, roughly a year before Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry to the World War, Captain America Comics #1 hit the newsstands, cover date March 1941. The cover says it all, Cap is giving a strong right hook across Hitler’s face. This had huge political implications at the time seeing that the United States was technically not in World War II at the time. Just as it was widely known at the time for Hitler’s own Nazi propaganda across European countries. Simon and Kirby knew exactly what they were doing with the cover and story, a reverse Nazi propaganda campaign. Cap would soon be the Sentinel of Liberty for the US and Red Skull, the Nazi villain would be his archnemesis.
Thus, Cap was created early on to promote America’s apparent inevitable entry to WWII. And make no mistake this cover was a big deal. In today’s world many view Putin and Russia as America’s current adversary. Now imagine if there was a new similar hero cover with a US GI knocking out Putin on a cover and mass produced for the world to see. That’s exactly what happened with Simon and Kirby’s cover with Hitler villainy being on full display for the entire US to see. A couple of young Jewish kids who had a real time story to tell were going to put it out for young kids and adults to see first hand what was happening overseas. Edgy and extremely risky at the time, their hard work paid off and Captain America was an instant success. As the US got closer to entering WWII, the more there was a need for a savior, in this case the US needed a superpatriot, Captain America.
Captain America aka The Sentinel of Liberty, which stands for hope, justice and the protection of the innocent. These are the values in
which Captain America would uphold for America and its people. Children and young adults made up a large portion of Captain America’s readers and The Sentinels of Liberty campaign was the hugely successful fan club. The Sentinels ads ran from the beginning in issue #1 showing the original badge-like shield all the way into 1943 where it was advertised as the Badges have gone to war, saying farewell of sorts. These ads would give kids a chance to have their own tie in to Captain America and Bucky with a brass or later copper issued badge for 10 cents.
The Sentinel club badges represent the earliest of the character and the importance of his role to the US at the time. Today, the badges are quite valuable depending on the metal type and overall condition, but more than anything the historical significance outweighs the value. The badges were ultimately discontinued once the orders were filled into 1942 and the bulk of the raw materials were needed for the war. Soon after, Cap lost his art creators as both Simon and Kirby, who left Timely in late 1941, early 1942 to work for DC Comics, and later enlisted in the war in 1943.
Simon, enlisted in the US Coast Guard, while Kirby enlisted in the US Army and served with Company F of the 11th Infantry regiment. “Kirby landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on August 23, 1944, two-and-a-half months after D-Day. Kirby recalled that a lieutenant, learning that comics artist Kirby was in his command, made him a scout who would advance into towns and draw reconnaissance maps and pictures, an extremely dangerous duty,” according to his bio on Wikipedia.
One article from TwoMorrows Publishing interviewing Kirby about the war, I thought this portion was notable- “I was a Scout in the infantry. If somebody wants to kill you, they make you a Scout. So, I was a Scout. I don't know who wanted to kill me—maybe somebody that I upset somewhere, I don't know. You don't pull that kind of duty just because you're a nice guy. Nice guys don't get Scout duty. Maybe I was the new guy, so they said, "Give Scout duty to the new guy." That's probably what happened. You don't pick some guy that you like to be a Scout; you'll never hear the end of it…
I remember that I walked into this town where they had the Command Center. This Lieutenant called me over and said, "Private Kirby?" I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "Jack Kirby? The artist?" I said, "Yes sir. I drew Captain America..."
"And Boy Commandos," he said. Lots of guys knew who I was, so this did not surprise me—you have to remember that the Simon/Kirby name was very popular at the time and many adults were reading comic books back then. "So you can draw?" he said. "Yes sir," I said, "Of course I can draw." I was thinking, "Great, some officer wants me to draw his portrait." Then he said, "Good. I am making you a Scout. You go into these towns that we don't have and see if there is anybody there. Draw maps and pictures of what you see and come back and tell us if you find anything."
It’s no wonder Jack Kirby was responsible for the creation of so many heroes...he was a hero himself. You can tell from various interviews that both artists were deeply affected by the war, and you can imagine how differently they viewed the world pre to post war.
Before we get into our subject art itself, I wanted to discuss Cap's introduction. Many sites including Wikipedia have Cap's first appearance and earliest concept art listed as 1940, but Simon has gone on record multiple times as you'll see below and print (left) that the character was in fact created in late 1939.
Simon left Fox to become editor of Timely in 1938, working below Goodman. After the success of Superman in 1938 and Batman in mid 1939, Goodman wanted to join the hero market. He went to his new editor Joe Simon who came up with the proposal of Captain America in late 1939. At the same time and what we'll be discussing in more detail, also with the help of his right hand man at the time Jack Kirby, would come up with The Sentinel of Liberty badge ad campaign. As editor of Timely and co-creator of Captain America, it would make sense for him to develop the campaign layout designs and overall Captain America logo and branding.
These facts above, will go hand in hand with our below subject art. Without further ado, let's now look at our art...
Here is a truly Historic piece of Captain America and Marvel history from the beginnings of Captain America c. 1939-40. Joe Simon has previously examined this piece and verified that it is his artwork and lettering, and said "It must have been done in 1939" in a direct email to Joe Mannarino (collector/dealer) in 2004, suggesting this was not only one of the very first ad renderings, but one of the earliest illustrations of Captain America. Simon stated that he did this same piece several times and different versions, one of which showed up in Captain America Comics #1, which hit newsstands in late 1940. This would also suggest he did these ads as early as mentioned above in 1939 into 1940 prior to Cap's first appearance in Captain America #1! This ad art is nearly identical to the ad that ran in All-Winners Comics #1, Captain America Comics #5, and USA Comics #1 all published in 1941.
Created in ink on Bristol board, personalized and signed by Joe Simon just below the 7.5" x 6" image area. After winning the item via Heritage Auctions, I decided to have it removed from the frame for a closer inspection. We discovered a misplaced letter documenting the ownership of this piece as well as an original xerox copy of the art on larger artist board showing "4/18/43", but with knowing what we know now we think this was editor notes when it was filed or to be returned when not used, or from an unknown hand at a later date.
My Heritage rep who is an original art expert, went a step further, personally examined the piece and discovered it’s on thick artist board. He looked at the line work and the detail in the art to find it as mentioned above, nearly identical to the printed version, but with some slight variations, which we’ll get into shortly.
One big missing piece is the shield, but the straps are present. This makes us think this may be a preliminary piece or perhaps something else was going to be there in place of the shield? Well now that we have a direct email coming from Mr. Simon himself (which we'll show below) stating this was all done by him including the lettering early on, attempting to make it similar to the lettering used from Captain America #1 and onward by Howard Furgeson. This also makes sense if this is one of the earliest if not thee earliest ad piece being all hand drawn with no stats, including no shield, which we know early on the shield went through changes between issue #1 and #2! The paper is consistent for the era as well as the blue editor pencil notation on the right corner, which we again believe were added later. The artist board is toned and soiled in spots, also consistent for the era.
Our ad art (left) and the printed version seen in Captain America Comics #5 (right), which are nearly identical with a couple slight variations. But let’s first look at what’s different from the published versions. And we say “versions” because after inspecting the three published versions mentioned above, there are slight variations. Here are a few versions below, here you can see the slight variations between the pieces only months apart.
The line work in the shoulder area is slightly different from one printed version to another, as is the lines in the face and the line work on the chest and hair on cap, which means Joe Simon did in fact do this same piece multiple times. Most notably our piece is missing the all important shield, the layout is slightly different on the right, the verbiage is also slightly different with an ellipses instead of an “and” as well as no exclamation point after “Liberty”. All in all not a whole lot different in the verbiage but nonetheless different. So okay we can all agree this is not the published version, especially knowing what we know now directly from Simon that our art was the preliminary ad art dating back to the beginning of Cap's creation in 1939-40. Now let's get to this most recent revelation, which we've referred to above coming directly from co-creator Joe Simon....
I decided to leave much of my research up on the piece when I first got it in late 2022. I thought about removing a lot of the above, but I still find it fascinating how close, yet how different our ad art is to the original published version. I was perplexed as was my Heritage rep about the original use and exact date of it's creation. The 1943 inscription just didn't make sense to me as it's well known Simon & Kirby left Timely at the time on bad terms somewhere in between 1941/42, but also as mentioned in detail above, they both went to war in 1943. With both of these circumstances it seemed highly improbable to go off this date on the side of the board. But again, it could be publisher notes when filed or returned, or simply added by an unknown hand at a later date. I told myself I need to get past the date on the side of the board in blue pencil.
So I was able to speak with Vince Oliva, the previous curator to this art who in fact sent me the original email chain and correspondence with Joe Simon back in 2004. Image left word for word states this was Joe Simon and he even pegs the time frame in which he created the art, an absolutely mind-blowing revelation! We not only have additional provenance and letters which perhaps date back to the Golden Age itself, but Cap's co-creator Mr. Simon saying he hand drew it all back in 1939, though it may have been 1940. Either way, this now puts this piece as not only one of the earliest Cap original art ads, but also makes it one of the earliest renderings of the character overall! It also makes a lot of sense with the font/lettering style as well as the shield missing since it may have been the crest type or the circular shield, but perhaps this is before it was finalized or to be changed between #1 and #2!
Image left is the first Sentinel of Liberty ad which ran in Cap's first appearance in Captain America Comics #1. If you notice the badge is the original shield, only used in Captain America #1. Also note the lettering style, which Simon went on record to say he originally did all himself and is similar script/messaging as our ad art. Howard Furgeson is credited with the lettering inks for the printed version, while Simon appears to be creating the same style in our ad art. With Simon stating he created our ad art in 1939 or perhaps even 1940, and was all hand drawn with no stat, did he come up with the famous lettering script we'd see in the actual comic? It seems as if he may have come up with this first and Furgeson later used his layouts and renderings to make the final version we see in Captain America #1 and onward.
Image right, is the xerox scan we found with the art post auction that showed the board being larger before it was cut for matting/framing. We originally thought the date had some merit to the creation of the art, but knowing what we know now we think it's as mentioned above, marked for return/filing by the publisher at that time or added by an unknown hand later on.
One other big factor when doing all the research we always have to consider is provenance. This piece was not only examined thoroughly by Heritage Auctions experts, but also has great provenance with the inscription from Joe Simon to "Vince", being Vince Oliva, one of the largest collectors in the medium. Vince received this piece and letter from European collector Gerry Langley, who detailed the earlier ownership of the art (see left). Vince later had Joe sign it and personalize it back in 2004. Vince kept the art for nearly two decades before he auctioned it with Heritage. But what's most important is our most recent discovery, Joe Simon himself not only authenticating the piece, but adding detail and the time frame when it was created. So this isn’t an unknown piece of art that just magically appeared, this piece came from a well known collection, where the collector kept the original letter and lineage of the art with the co-creator verifying its authenticity.
Ultimately, there’s nothing on the piece that we can rule out it being of the era, which is the first thing we look for. It’s simply not there and just as some other pieces we’ve evaluated perhaps we’ll 100% equivocally never know what this piece was intended for seeing that all of the hands involved, more importantly Joe Simon is no longer with us. But we can make an educated evaluation based on the facts above to say this piece though not the published version, was another version done shortly after for another round of print or for propaganda during the war.
This early Captain America ad art is considered the earliest known period pieces intended to be published, "a working" piece of Captain America from the Golden Age. The only other known art of Cap this early are the Simon concept sketch from 1939-40 in the Library of Congress and Joe Mannarino's concept costume change from early 1941 after issue #1, both being concept pieces not intended to be published. The first known Cap original art pages that's surfaced to date aren't until Captain America #5, also from 1941. Published or not, we would argue our piece is one of the most historically significant early Captain America pieces by his co-creator to exist in the comic art medium.
Art in frame along with the original Sentinel badge-
It is handsomely matted and UV glass front framed with a brass "Sentinels of Liberty" badge pin that is valued at approximately $1,000.00 by itself, according to the Official Hake's Price Guide to Character Toys (6th Edition). The original art is toned, with some spotting. The frame measures 20" x 13.5", and has scratching on the lower portion. The artwork is in Very Good condition.
Here is yet another Historic piece of Marvel history… Recognized as John Romita’s earliest superhero artwork ever, that's right, ever... The design / layout illustration for Young Men 24 (1953), featuring Cap, Bucky and The Red Skull. This would be the second Captain America reboot for Marvel, at the time known as Atlas…
Like many prominent superheroes, Captain America went into limbo at the end of the 1940s when genres like crime, horror, romance, war, sci fi, humor and westerns began to take over the industry. At the end of 1953, Martin Goodman's comic book company, now referred to as Atlas, which was really the name of the distributor, had grown quite large with dozens of genre titles. The firm decided to give superheroes another shot and revived the "Big 3" Timely heroes, Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. John Romita was just starting his career and worked on some of the genre titles, but his most prominent work for the company was the short-lived Captain America revival, in Young Men #24-#28 and Captain America #76-#78. The young artist did a fine job on these stories, which featured Cap and Bucky fighting both the Red Skull and the Reds. Sales must not have been very good as both Cap and the Human Torch went back into limbo. Atlas continued to put out Sub-Mariner because there was talk of a live-action TV series that never happened. A couple of years later Atlas went from a large company to a tiny one due to a distributor snafu. John Romita and many other artists had to move on and Romita spent the next decade illustrating romance comics for DC. He came back to work for Marvel when things began to take off with superheroes in the 1960s. His romance experience came in handy when he took over Amazing Spider-Man from Steve Ditko and brought it to a new level of popularity with his more optimistic artwork that included Romita's beloved depictions of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson and the rest is history!
The art is executed on vellum in graphite and ink and the image area is approximately 13” x 16”. Note: The vellum was previously folded in quarters and shows creases affecting the image area. The vellum has been professionally mounted to a piece of archival board.
When researching the poses and verbiage on this piece, we quickly could distinguish the art was for the first issue of the Captain America revival in 1953 from Young Men 24, with Red Skull pointing at Captain America as he does on the opening splash titled “Back From The Dead” page 1.
The verbiage above is word for word from the Captain America origin retelling story panels from page 2 of Young Men 24 when he turns from the “scrawny” Steve Rogers to the more bulky super soldier with word balloons such as “Look He’s Growing Right Before Our Eyes!” and “He’s Changing! It’s Unbelievable!”.
The large Captain America drawing is very close to page 3 reveal of Captain America panel after his transformation, just a truly historic illustration by Romita! You also have a Steve Rogers head shot, Bucky as how we all know, back Cap view and what looks to be a villain head shot as well. To our knowledge and research this would be the earliest known art depicting the Captain America origin sequence. Not to mention as mentioned in detail above, how scarce any Golden Age Cap or Marvel Art is out there, with only a handful of published, unpublished or design layouts such as this reaching the marketplace.
In regards to history and back to Captain America, once the Marvel Age of comics was launched in 1961 and was an instant success, Captain America was once again introduced in 1964. Cap was reintroduced in Strange Tales #114 with Human Torch as a test run, as the readers soon found out he was an acrobat impersonating as Cap. But the sales and reader letters indicated Cap’s true reintroduction was imminent, which took place months later in Avengers #4 and never looked back. Cap would once again become a household name in the 1960’s, given his own title in 1968, which volume 1 ran successfully until 2018 to issue #704. Now new volumes of Captain America comics are taking place with no end in sight for the character. With Cap’s entry into the MCU as the First Avenger in 2011, and multiple follow up movies and appearances, Cap will continue to be a fan favorite and continue his legacy as the Sentinel of Liberty for decades to come.