Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fiorello LaGuardia And Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg. He lived down on the LES. In fact he lived at 76 Suffolk Street, the same tenement that I lived in before my family moved to Knickerbocker Village. (For some reason Knickerbocker is mentioned on one of the Kirby sites but I can't find any direct connection between Jack and the projects). Jack is considered one of the all time greats of comic book artists. He's referred to as King Kirby. Here's the story of Fiorello and Jack from goodcomics
When Captain America #1 came out in 1941, America was not yet at war with Nazi Germany. The time period was an awkward one in American history, as there were many who felt that America should not get involved in the European conflict. But Captain America #1 certainly showed a different side, with the new hero, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, punching out Hitler on the cover. The success of #1 was followed up with a similar anti-Hitler cover for #2… The book was a massive sales success, but it certainly rankled Nazi sympathizers, and resulted in the Captain America creative team getting into a bit of trouble. Captain America co-creator, Joe Simon, detailed a particularly rough period in his great memoir, The Comic Book Makers, which he wrote with his son, Jim Simon:
Hitler was a marvelous foil; a ranting maniac. It was difficult to place him in the standard story line of the cunning, reasoning villains who invariably outfoxed the heroes throughout the entire story before being ultimately defeated at the very end. No matter how hard we tried to make him a threatening force, Adolph invariably wound up as a buffoon - a clown. Evidently, this infuriated a lot of Nazi sympathizers.
There was a substantial population of anti-war activists in the country. “American Firsters” and other non-interventionist groups were well-organized. Then there was the German American Bund. They were all over the place, heavily financed and effective in spewing their propaganda of hate; a fifth column of Americans following the Third Reich party line. They organized pseudo-military training camps such as ‘Camp Siegried’ in Yaphank, Long Island and held huge rallies in such places as Madison Square Garden in New York. Our irreverent treatment of their Feuhrer infuriated them. We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and vicious, obscene telephone calls. The theme was “death to the Jews.” At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats, but then, people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building on Forty Second Street and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch. Finally, we reported the threats to the police department. The result was a police guard on regular shifts patrolling the halls and office. No sooner than the men in blue arrived than the woman at the telephone switchboard signaled me excitedly. ‘There’s a man on the phone says he’s Mayor LaGuardia,’ she stammered, ‘He wants to speak to the editor of Captain America Comics.’ I was incredulous as I picked up the phone, but there was no mistaking the shrill voice. ‘You boys over there are doing a good job, ‘ the voice squeaked, ‘The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’I thanked him. Fiorello LaGuardia, ‘The Little Flower,’ was known as an avid reader of comics who dramatized the comic strips on radio during the newspaper strikes so that the kids could keep up-to-date on their favorite characters.

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