CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Public Library is in talks with comic strip writer Mike Curtis about donating his 17,000-piece collection for a permanent exhibit to honor the Man of Steel and his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Curtis, a Superman memorabilia collector and writer of the syndicated Dick Tracy comic strip, said he is ready and willing to donate his collection to the library.
“I’ve devoted 40 years of my life to collecting Superman,” said Curtis, who was in Cleveland over the weekend. “I’m 62 and I want to make sure that it goes someplace where people who love Superman will be able to see it and appreciate it. Cleveland is the perfect place for it.”
Meeting with Cleveland library officials Saturday, Curtis said his collection dates back to 1939 and includes everything from pins, costumes, comics to rare posters from television and the movies and toys games and promotional giveaways rarely seen.
And while the exhibit may not be the Superman Museum that fans of the Cleveland-born superhero clamor for, it could be the next best thing.
Amy Dawson, manager of the library’s literature department, said she would love to get her hands on the collection immediately.
It would be the crown jewel of the library’s already massive comic book and graphic novel section and include creating a Siegel and Shuster Reading Room in honor of the Superman creators who spent so much time at the library in the 1930s.
Curtis said he would donate the collection outright provided he had assurances that the library would display the items for free and never sell them.
Not a problem, Dawson said. The library would never sell the items.
It was the second part of his sentence that troubles Dawson.
“I would want it to be a permanent loan in my son’s name, who could get it back in the event of some catastrophe in his life,” he said.
Dawson’s face fell, as did Michael Olszewski’s, president of Siegel and Shuster Society who has been instrumental in arranging the meeting.
That particular string attached to the gift could be a poison pill.
“You must understand that the library would have to spend a great deal of money on showcases and preservation of the works, as well as categorizing everything,” Dawson told Curtis. “We would likely apply for a grant just to do the categorization of 17,000 items. I don’t know if I could recommend accepting the donation if everything could suddenly be taken back.”
Curtis seemed torn between wanting to make the donation and giving up the return clause.
“My son, Justin, is 39,” he said. “He’s into ‘Star Wars’ so I don’t think it would ever come to that. Still, it would be nice to know he could if something huge happened and he needed to.”
Curtis broke the silence by pulling out samples of his collection.
It included a copy of the 1942 hardback book “The Adventures of Superman” by George Lowther complete with original Joe Shuster drawings. It was signed by Kirk Alyn, who played Superman in the late 1940s movie serials, and Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in the 1950’s Superman television series starring George Reeves.
There was an early 1940s issue of “Action Comics” also signed by Alyn, several colorful Superman valentines from 1940, various Superman cards and items and a very odd-looking costume in a case.
Curtis said he bought a Superman costume years ago and noticed that the “S” emblem on the suit looked very old.
“The suit was a mess, full of holes,” he said. “But the emblem was perfect, so I had it sewn onto a new Superman cape.”
The meeting ended with Curtis saying he want to work out something that would allow the donation and make everyone happy. He and the library lawyers would try to work out a solution.
Later, Curtis said he understood the library’s reservation about the possible retraction of the gift. He said he was willing to withdraw that stipulation if it meant the difference of getting the collection to Cleveland.
“Toronto (where Superman artist Joe Shuster lived until the age of 9) wants it, but I would rather see it here,” he said.
Laura Siegel Larson, Jerry’s daughter, was in Cleveland last week but had to leave before Curtis arrived. She said she was thrilled with the idea of the collection coming to town.
“My dad and Joe loved the library,” Larson said. “They used to come here all the time to research and read. They would be so happy to hear that this collection is going to be there. My mother, (Joanne) also spent a lot of time at the library. It’s funny, she and my dad might have been there at the same time and never met.”