Sensei Carlos Varon—my long-distance dobro from Legend Shotokan (thanks to our shared O’Sensei Richard Lenchus)—recently contacted me with a generous gift of comics and related books. When I asked him how he stumbled upon this little treasure trove, he told me they were once a gift from Artie Simek.
Sadly, you have to be a certain age, and a certain type of fan, to get goose flesh when the name Artie Simek is mentioned. But I certainly did.
Born on January 6, 1916, Arthur “Artie” Simek was what folks once called a calligrapher and what comics jargon calls a letterer. Starting with Timely (Marvel’s precursor) in the 1940’s, Artie didn’t receive his first confirmed credits until years later on both a 12-page Batman-Superman story in World’s Finest #91 as well as in Batman #112 (both in 1957). He went on to letter DC’s Showcase and House of Secrets, then shows up in 1959 on Marvel’s Kid Colt, Outlaw.
Along with Sam Rosen, Artie was one of Marvel’s two principal letterers: The two hand lettered the word balloons and sound effects in nearly every seminal Marvel title, and likely designed many logos. If you ever hold a Fantastic Four #1 in your hands, those are Artie’s letters. His last lettering job was on Giant-Size Defenders #5 (July 1975). He died while working on the book.
Sensei Carlos Varon grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, NY. One Halloween, he and a few of his friends knocked on a door and shouted “trick or treat!” “Imagine my surprise to get a comic book,” write Carlos. “How cool was that?” The other kids seemed a little disappointed in getting a book and not candy, but Carlos was thrilled—and Artie Simek saw that in his face. “He invited me into his home,” said Carlos, who was instantly amazed to see the many drawings and an active art board. “I can still recall the pile of comics and storyboards on display. He told me he worked on Marvel Comics as a letterer and I was not sure about that, but he took the time to explain and even offered me a few of his full-size storyboards. As a dumb, young kid, I said no thank you. Boy was I naïve!”
But over time, Simek gave young Carlos a number of books that he had worked on. “My collection really grew from that visit,” says Sensei Varon.
And now mine has, thanks to Carlos’ generous gift.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Artie, but my friend Gene Colan once described him as “a real Norman Rockwell character. Artie Simek could play the spoons. He'd have two spoons in his hand, and he would flip them around, they would bop up against each other, and before you knew it, there was a melody there. He was wonderful.”