SOLON, Ohio – Superman aficionados are barnstorming suburban libraries this summer, reminding fans of the comic book icon’s ties to Cleveland.
The Cuyahoga County Public Library has hosted 12 “wildly popular” symposiums so far this summer, with four more on the schedule next month, said spokesman Robert Rua.
Symposiums, like one in Solon July 23, are meant to reacquaint fans with Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who were well-known during their lifetimes.
“There has been very little recognition of them in their hometown,” said Mike Olszewski, president of the Siegel and Shuster Society, “but that is changing.”
How Cleveland honors its superhero
Olszewski points with pride to the permanent Superman display in the baggage claim area of Cleveland Hopkins Airport that welcomes travelers to Cleveland, “where the legend began.”
Fans can buy Ohio license plates emblazoned with the superhero’s iconic ‘S’ shield.
“When we were negotiating with DC Comics for the rights to the license plate, one attorney told me the plates ‘cannot say ‘Birthplace of Superman,’ because everyone knows he was born on Krypton!’ and he was very serious,” said Olszewski.
The organization is using money from the sale of Superman license plates to help Clevelanders in need. The society also wants to join with colleges and art schools in offering writing and art scholarships in Siegel’s and Shuster’s names.
And soon Cleveland’s lakefront will be home to a 30-foot statue of the Man of Steel designed by Cleveland artist David Deming. The statue will be ensconced near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 5 miles from where Shuster and Siegel first created Superman in the upstairs bedroom of Siegel’s home.
Reminding fans of the creators
According to Olszewski, the two created “one of the five greatest literary figures in the world. Everyone knows who Tarzan, Mickey Mouse, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes and Superman are, but very rarely do they know who created them – and they are the more important men in the stories,” he said.
To assure Siegel and Shuster’s place in history, as well as Cleveland’s role in the story of Superman, the Siegel and Shuster Society is working to bring Superman’s creation story back to the forefront of the comic book world with local lectures of “little known facts” to connect the location with the Man of Steel.
Siegel’s father, Michel Siegel, who died after a robbery at the store he owned, is buried in Solon’s Mt. Olive Cemetery, and the family regularly made the half-day trek to visit the grave.
At the Solon Library, Olszewski talked about how Michel Siegel’s death could have spawned “a new industry of superheroes that didn’t teach kids to read, but gave them a reason to.”
“Everyone has a Superman story and they want to make sure they are connected to the him,” said Olszewski. “Solon was home to several of Shuster’s relatives, which he visited often, and we know that Siegel spent a great deal of time in the bedroom community.
Some obscure facts about Superman, Siegel and Shuster
- Jerry Siegel and Superman were declared enemies of Hitler’s Third Reich. Siegel was deeply committed to his Jewish heritage and Olszewski said his Kryptonian name, Kal-El, can be translated into the Hebrew word for “light.”
- Joe Shuster was so poor that many of his original drawings of Superman were done on a roll of white wallpaper he found.
- Siegel and Shuster were heralded for helping parents get the first generation of “TV kids” to read with their comic books.
- The very first Superman stories were more adult detective stories. Once Kellogg’s cereal bought into the franchise, the stories became more superhero oriented.
- Perry White, Clark Kent’s boss at the Daily Planet, was based on a Plain Dealer editor.
- Many believe the inspiration for Lois Lane was Lois Amster, who Joe Shuster called “the prettiest girl in school.” JoAnne Siegel, whom Jerry married 16 years later, served as Joe’s model for the first drawings.
- Superman was rejected so many times by publishers that Joe Shuster threw away his original drawings. Once accepted and produced, the comics sold more than a million copies in five issues.