On Strips: Kirby's Blue Beetle

By | Friday, August 28, 2015 Leave a Comment
The Blue Beetle was originally developed for Victor Fox's comic book Mystery Men Comics in mid-1939 by Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski, who went by the pen name Charles Nicholas. The character was created after Fox was sued by Detective Comics because his Wonderman character allegedly was too similar to Superman. The case had only just started when Nicholas created the Blue Beetle, and the book debuted about four months after Batman suggesting that Beetle was created as a Batman clone that was far enough removed to keep Fox from getting sued again. (Though influences from the Green Hornet are clearly evident.)

With Wonderman off limits during the lawsuit, Fox turned to Blue Beetle as his company's cornerstone character. The book sold reasonably well, and in the tail end of 1939, Fox decided to try to emulate Superman's media saturation by putting Beetle into his own comic strip. He began putting out ads to this effect in November of that year.
You'll note that the ad highlights Nicholas as the creator of the strip and, indeed, when the strip debuted in early 1940, it had Nicholas listed as the creator. However, it was actually the hand of a young Jack Kirby who did the strip. He makes no attempt to mimic Nicholas' style and, while the artwork in the strip is hardly Kirby's best, it is very classically idetifiable. While Kirby had done several other comic strips previously, this was his first superhero.

The Blue Beetle strip debuted in The Boston Evening Transcript on January 8, 1940. As far as anyone's been able to actually prove, that's the only paper it ever actually ran in. Kirby seemed to be largely left to his own devices with the strip. Aside from the Blue Beetle himself, Kirby seemed to be using his own cast of characters. Even with little continuity established in the comic book at this point, Kirby seemed unconcerned that it even existed.

While it's not Kirby's best art, he was more already more adept than most others at the storytelling of a daily strip. In the few sequences I've seen, he's able to run one installment to the next without either clumsily recapping what happened previously or letting readers get lost. Much like how he handled his Sky Masters strip decades later.
Kirby was only on the Blue Beetle strip for a few months, replaced by Louis Cazaneuve. At Fox's studio, Kirby had met Joe Simon and both men, who were independently moonlighting for other companies, saw the advantages of pairing up to become a studio of their own. "Simon and Kirby" was born in the pages of Blue Bolt comics by July 1940.

Fox continued trying to hype Blue Beetle, getting him his own radio show by May 1940 and hosting a "Blue Beetle Day" at the World's Fair in August. That radio program only lasted until September, though, and comic strip died out at the year's end. He never became the media sensation that Superman was. One wonders, though, what might have become of the character had Kirby never met Simon and continued on the strip.

While we're talking Kirby, this would have been his 98th birthday. Several years ago, his granddaughter Jillian started a Kirby 4 Heroes campaign that she runs every August to help raise money for the Hero Initiative. So please take a moment to head over to the Kirby 4 Heroes site and donate what you can to help comic creators in need.
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