DID YOU KNOW?
Man of Steel debuted in comics 75 years ago
By Jeff Suess
Superman, the iconic superhero created by Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, made his debut 75 years ago this month in “Action Comics” #1. The issue, dated June 1938, was first sold at newsstands on April 18, 1938.
The Man of Steel’s creators met in 1930 at Glenville High School in Glenville, then a mostly Jewish neighborhood in the east side of Cleveland.
Siegel, the writer, was a shy science-fiction fan enthusiastic about his ideas; Shuster was a myopic cartoonist interested in bodybuilding, according to “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book,” by comics historian Gerard Jones.
In 1933, when they were 18, they published a story of a bald super-powered villain called the Superman in a fanzine. Inspired by pulp novels and Douglas Fairbanks movies, they reworked the idea into the familiar hero and his secret identity, mild-mannered Clark Kent.
But it was five years before their comic was picked by editor Vin Sullivan at National Allied Publications, the predecessor to DC Comics.
Superman, in his trademark blue tights, cape and “S” emblem, was an immediate sensation and became an American pop culture icon.
In the early stories, Superman didn’t fly but could leap tall buildings in a single bound. He was a “champion of the oppressed” during the Great Depression, and often battled foreign spies and dictators even before the U.S. entered World War II.
Siegel and Shuster appeared in Cincinnati on Jan. 31, 1942, for the local premiere of the first Max Fleischer “Superman” cartoon at the Palace Theatre at 14 E. 6th St. The Enquirer reported that kids, thinking Superman’s creators shared his super powers, would poke them with pins. They even appealed to fans: “Please don’t bring firearms or other weapons to test their physical prowess.”
Siegel and Shuster made it big, cranking out Superman comics and the daily newspaper strip. They earned $75,000 a year, though far less than the millions DC raked in, because they didn’t own the character.
Shuster, going blind in one eye, had to give up drawing. Siegel wrote some comics uncredited, then wound up as a postal clerk in Los Angeles. Both were nearly penniless in 1975 when the first big-budget Superman movie was announced.
A bitter Siegel wrote letters to newspapers, cursing the film. Warner Communications, DC’s parent company, feared bad publicity and so agreed to give each of them a pension of $20,000 a year.
Shuster died in 1992, Siegel in 1996. Their families filed numerous lawsuits over the rights and payments, then last October a judge ruled that DC has sole ownership of the character.
But the recognition is all theirs. Every Superman comic, cartoon, television show and movie carries the credit line, “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.”
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