By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comic book artist Joe Simon, who created Captain America with the late Jack Kirby, has died at age 98, a family spokesman said on Thursday.
Simon died of natural causes on Wednesday at his home in New York surrounded by family, said Steve Saffel, who worked with him on autobiography "Joe Simon: My Life in Comics."
The first issue of Simon and Kirby's Captain America comic, released in late 1940 by a predecessor of Marvel Comics a year before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, sold nearly one million copies.
While the United States had not yet entered World War II, the American public was concerned about the threat of Nazi Germany led by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
The comic had the fictional Captain America take on Hitler, and punch him in the jaw.
"Joe's feeling was the comic books often succeeded or failed based upon the quality of the villain ... and he realized that they had the best villain you could have in Adolf Hitler," Saffel said.
Captain America is a superhero clad in the red, white and blue of the U.S. flag who gains extraordinary strength from an experimental serum and wields an indestructible shield.
"Among many accomplishments in the comic book field, Joe Simon co-created one of the most enduring superhero icons -- indeed, American icons -- of the 20th Century. If there ever were a superhero who needed less explanation than the red, white and blue-clad Captain America, I've yet to see him," Axel Alonso, editor in chief of Marvel, said in a statement.
This year, Hollywood movie "Captain America: The First Avenger," which prominently credited Simon and Kirby as the character's creators, made over $368 million at worldwide box offices.
Simon was born to a Jewish family in Rochester, New York. He moved to New York City as a young man in 1939, and quickly became involved in the comic book industry.
He single-handedly illustrated and wrote his earliest comic books, before teaming up with artist Jack Kirby.
That versatility made Simon a "Renaissance man" of comics, because he could do everything from lettering to coloring, Saffel said.
Simon served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and later created the satirical magazine "Sick" which ran through the 1960s and 1970s.
This year, the book "The Simon and Kirby Library: Crime" collecting the duo's work in the 1940s and 1950s, made the New York Times bestseller list, Saffel said.
Simon is survived by his five children and eight grandchildren.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)