Off Beat: Artists have interesting tales to tell

and Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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It’s eye-catching art, with interesting background stories to add historical perspective.

The 1941 comic book cover and the tribal sculpture were part of last week’s “Grand Gifts” package, our $1,000-and-up window-shopping exercise in four local stores.

Let’s not forget about the artists. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, who created Captain America, and sculptor Lillian Pitt have some pretty interesting stories of their own.

Pitt’s work is based on 10,000 years of Northwest culture, including the piece called “Stick Indian” that was part of our feature. The cast-glass mask was inspired by traditional legends of forest-dwellers — tribal versions of the bogeyman, used to keep children in line.

But there is another side to them, Pitt said. Stick Indians communicate with whistles that sound like bird calls, she said. That’s why Pitt’s versions always have pursed lips.

“If a hunter is lost, they whistle,” and lead the hunter back to safety. That’s if the hunter is a good person, Pitt added.

“If they’re bad, they lure them deeper into the woods.”

The $3,500 sculpture is available at the Friends of Fort Vancouver store, 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd., inside the Fort Vancouver Visitor Center.

Pitt also has her take on an even more iconic Columbia Gorge figure, “She Who Watches.”

“There are so many images from my ancestors,” Pitt said. “I could be busy until I was 120.”

The Captain America cover was notable because the superhero was fighting Nazis before the U.S. got into World War II. Our package featured the September 1941 edition of Captain America, on sale at I Like Comics in downtown Vancouver. Captain America’s debut in December 1940 showed him punching Adolf Hitler.

The best comics had the best villains, Simon wrote in his autobiography. “Let’s get a real live villain. Adolf Hitler would be the perfect foil for our next new character, what with his hair and that stupid-looking mustache and his goose-stepping. He was like a cartoon anyway.”

A couple of years later, Captain America’s co-creators actually did go to war. Simon enlisted in the Coast Guard and worked in a public relations unit based in Washington, D.C.

Kirby was drafted in 1943 and fought in Europe. According to the Jack Kirby Museum, an infantry officer learned that Kirby was an accomplished artist and assigned him to scout duty. Kirby was sent into enemy territory to draw detailed maps and sketch out the towns ahead of advancing U.S. troops. He received a Bronze Star.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.