Collector Spotlight – Harry Mendryk
Hi everyone, please warmly welcome comics historian, author and collector, Harry Mendryk! Harry is intensely knowledgeable about the medium, having provided much valuable scholarly contributions over the years, and maintains a keen passion for comic books and artwork. Harry’s the epitome of an original comic art connoisseur, possessing an appreciation for works from all ages. This is clearly reflected in his absolutely jaw-dropping OA collection, which is filled with some of the most exquisite (and historic) artwork imaginable!
I’m a 68 year-old retired software engineer living in Manhattan, and started reading comics when I was young. Initially, I tried DC’s and Marvel’s monster comics, but frankly they bored me so I abandoned them. Because of that I missed the very start of the Marvel Universe, but not by much.
Luckily, I became aware of Marvel’s new comics and quickly turned into an avid fan, following pretty much all of their superhero titles. Even then I was a big fan of Jack Kirby’s work. I liked the other artists who drew for Marvel, but for me Kirby was King! Though like many, as I got older I stopped reading comics.
Fast forward to the 90’s, when my interest in comics was renewed. Through eBay and conventions, I began buying old comic books. While I did purchase comics that I had read in my youth, I also discovered the works created by the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby collaboration.
I will explain below what attracted me to Simon and Kirby, but my interest in the team led me to a project of restoring the line art for all the Simon and Kirby covers. It took years, but eventually I was able to hand bind a limited set of books containing all those covers. Because these volumes contained copyrighted material I was not able to sell them, but that project had significant consequences. Through it, I became friends with Joe Simon and had access to his incredible original art collection!
Some of the scans I made of that collection were eventually published in Abram’s The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio. It also led me to doing colored versions of comic book restoration that would be published by Titan (The Best of Simon and Kirby and The Simon and Kirby Library: Superheroes; Crime; Science Fiction; and Horror volumes).
For a little over six years I had a blog dedicated to Simon and Kirby and the various artists who worked for them: the Simon and Kirby Blog, still hosted by the Jack Kirby Museum. Finally, my work on restoring Simon and Kirby cover line art also opened my eyes to the beauty of comic book original art!
I began collecting original art sometime around 1996 or 1997. While the first piece I purchased was the cover art for Dakota North #1 by Tony Salmons, most of my collecting concentrated on works by Simon and Kirby. Since these were published before I began reading comics in my youth, nostalgia was not a factor in many of my purchases. Rather, aesthetics were the main concern, and I concentrated on covers, splashes and pinups. Still, I did not limit myself to Simon and Kirby. I was a big Captain America fan and collected Cap art by Kirby himself, and other artists. My collection also includes a smattering of art by more modern comic book artists.
Examples from My Collection
What attracted me to Simon and Kirby was the inking. You often come across discussions as to who was Jack Kirby’s best inker – artists such as Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers, Wally Wood, Mike Royer, Vinnie Colletta and others will be claimed to be the best Kirby inker. The truth is nobody was better at inking Kirby than Kirby himself!
Unfortunately, Kirby rarely inked his own work after the Simon and Kirby team broke up, but during that collaboration Kirby frequently inked his covers, pinups and splash pages. That inking was done in a rather bold style that particularly appeals to me. You can admire the image itself but also the abstract quality of the brush strokes. Nobody does anything like that inking anymore.
This bold style was also used by others when inking Kirby’s pencils. Joe Simon was particularly good at inking Kirby in this style. While there were no credits given in these earlier days of comics, careful study makes me confident that this cover was inked by Joe. Kirby penciled many of the covers for the crime titles Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty. Unfortunately, most of them have disappeared. This piece appears to be the only surviving published cover art from Simon and Kirby’s early crime comics! Its survival may be due to it having been gifted to Dave Wigransky, in appreciation for an article he wrote defending comic books, which were then under attack. This is a rare example of Golden Age comic book art signed by the artists near the time of its creation.
Joe Simon was not only a great inker, but a great artist in his own right. In my opinion, his proximity to Kirby led to his talent being overlooked by comics fans. This is the earliest piece of published original comic book art in my collection, and it was created while Joe was still working with Jack on Captain America Comics.
There is also a personal story behind this piece. Back in 2003, this work and another Golden Age Harvey cover penciled by Jack Kirby were offered at Heritage Auctions. I really wanted both pieces but did not have much cash available. So I sold off some of my assets, including my copy of Captain America Comics #1 (which went at a loss).
The auction was held in New York, thus I was able to attend. The Kirby cover came up first and the bidding went higher than I had hoped, and it became clear that I did not have enough money for both covers. I decided to stick with the Kirby cover and while I won that, just like I expected, I lost on the bidding for the Simon cover.
For years I wondered if I had made the right choice. You do not often get second chances when it comes to original art, so I was happy to see it come up for auction recently. Fortunately my war chest was in better shape, and I no longer have any regrets about choosing the right piece, as both are now in my collection!
When I was still buying old comic books I was particularly fond of the early Harvey covers which were, and still are, rarely available. Most of these covers were clearly done by Joe Simon or Jack Kirby, even though some were signed with the pseudonym “Jon Henri”. The covers for Speed #22 and Champ #22 were signed “Glaven”.
I failed to find any other work by Glaven, so I suspected it was a pseudonym. However, the style of the two covers did not match what Joe or Jack were doing on the other covers, so I thought someone else was using the alias. One day, I showed Joe Simon copies of two stories that he did for Daring Mystery #2 (February 1940).
In the discussion that followed, Joe said that when he was young he and his friends had aliases – the alias for one of his friends was Nelson Glaven, and that he had used that name as a character in one of those Daring Mystery stories. I immediately recognized the name Glaven and therefore knew that Joe was the mystery artist for the two covers! I should have known better: while Kirby’s work was always recognizable, Simon could be a bit of a chameleon, adopting new styles as the occasion warranted.
This cover was done while Simon and Kirby were working for DC. It features Captain Freedom, and I love seeing how Joe handled a Captain America clone after he and Jack were no longer working for Timely.
Like many collectors, I have often been asked if I have a grail piece. Well, there was a piece that was my grail – but I would never name it, particularly since I knew who possessed it. I am happy to say I have finally obtained my grail, and that it is this romance splash!
I know that few, if any, collectors share my admiration for this work of art. I love the confessional introduction that includes the story’s title in the speech balloon. Kirby’s art is at his usual excellence and his inking superb. Simon and Kirby did some nice cover art for their romance comics, but I feel their early splash pages were much more dramatic. I admit I paid stupid money to buy this piece. While original art prices for Simon and Kirby work have continued to rise, I am pretty certain that I will never be able to sell this piece for anywhere near what I paid for it. But then again, who would willingly sell their grail?
Simon and Kirby are well known for the art they did themselves, but most of the money they made was in the production of comic books where they orchestrated the hiring of writers, artists and letterers to provide the publisher with ready-to-go stories. I also became interested in collecting the artists who worked for the Simon and Kirby studio.
Artists like Bill Draut, Mort Meskin, John Prentice, Leonard Starr, Joaquin Albistur, Marvin Stein (see above) and others. I am sure most will not recognize their names, but they really were great comic book artists! And the lack of name recognition is actually not a bad thing for me because it means the art comes at a much more reasonable price. It is obvious that Marvin Stein learned a lot from Kirby, but in the end he had his own style. Stein would do a rough draft of what he was working on in blue pencil, then all the detailed work would be done with the actual inking.
While most of my attention as a collector has been on Simon and Kirby art, I was also fond of Kirby’s later work and am a big Captain America fan. Unfortunately, Silver Age Cap cover or splash art by Kirby was already out of my reach when I started collecting original art. I did manage to pick up a few interior story pages, and this one from Avengers #6 is my favorite. A fight sequence between Cap and one of his famous nemeses, with some classic Stan Lee dialog – does it get any better than that?
Because my primary collecting interest is in Simon and Kirby – art created before I began reading comic books – nostalgia does not often play a part in what I collect. But for two pieces in my collection, nostalgia plays a major role. For most fans, Captain America first returned in Avengers #4 (March 1964) but for me it has always been Strange Tales #114.
I still remember reading that comic as a young boy, and how excited I was about Captain America. Even though it was revealed that it was actually the Acrobat, I was immediately a Captain America fan and eagerly awaited his true return, which I was certain would happen. I still have my original copy of Strange Tales #114, although it is in pretty beat-up condition.
Early on in my collecting days, I was quite happy to be able to purchase two pages from this historic (at least for me) story. Years later, during one of the times I felt I could use some cash, I decided to part with one of the pages and put it up on eBay. But I put a reserve on it equal to what I had originally paid. Despite the fact that prices on Silver Age Kirby art had gone up significantly by then, the highest bid was only a small fraction of what I had paid for it. Frankly, I am happy that it did not sell, and have no intentions of parting with either page!
Like I said, I am a big Captain America fan, at least of the earlier runs. After Kirby, my favorite Cap artist is Ron Garney. I feel he really captures the character, has a nice clean style, and a good design sense. Garney is still doing great work; I particularly like his recent “Chinatown” story arc in Daredevil. Unfortunately, he now works digitally, so I’ll have to be satisfied with what I’ve collected from his earlier efforts!
But my collection is not all just Simon and Kirby; I have picked up some art from more modern creators too. My favorite among them must be this Frank Miller splash. While most fans probably favor the work Miller did for Daredevil or the Dark Knight, to me his best efforts were on his own Sin City series. And Miho is just a fascinating character!
There was a dealer selling Sin City art some years ago at the New York Comic Con. Unfortunately I came upon him seconds too late, as someone else was already deciding to purchase the piece I really liked. The other art that the dealer had at the show did not really satisfy me. The artwork was not cheap, and if you are going to spend a lot of money on something, it should really please you. So he suggested that I email him a list of six pages of Sin City art that I would want. I later went through all my Sin City books and selected my favorite pages and fortunately one of them, this Miho splash, was available.
When I retired I thought I would stop collecting original comic art, but that has not happened yet! While I no longer pursue much in the way of Simon and Kirby art, I still find myself trying to collect works by more recent artists.
I have not been successful in a few recent auctions, but have managed to pick up some art, either through other auctions or from the artists. I have long admired Terry and Rachel Dodson’s work, and with Fighting American being a Simon and Kirby creation, this recent addition hits a real sweet spot for me.