Original Writeup - December 17th, 2000
The co-creators of the fictional superhero
, made famous in comic books
and the movies
Jerry Seigel was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1914. Joe Shuster was born that same year in Toronto, Canada. Seigel and Shuster had known one another since high school, and they both shared a fascination for science fiction. They collaborated together on many projects, but none of them were very successful, save one -- and even their greatest accomplishment got off to a rocky start.
In January of 1933, Seigel wrote a piece called The Reign of the Superman and Shuster illustrated the tale about a man who is given super powers by a bald mad scientist, and then Superman goes off and becomes a villian. Needless to say it didn't go over too well. Later that same year, they worked on a similar story in which Superman was a good guy, but they couldn't sell it either. In frustration, Shuster destroyed the original artwork for the first story. However, they couldn't destroy the idea from their minds. They went at it from another tactic, trying to write Superman as a comic strip for newspapers. This was when the characters of Perry White, Lois Lane, and Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent first appeared. This is also when they devised the now world-famous red, yellow and blue outfit. Seigel recommended to Shuster that he should put a red S on the chest, surrounded by a triangle. Shuster came up with the cape to make it easier for him to show motion when drawing him.
They showed it to practically every syndicate, but were turned down several times. Finally, Sheldon Mayer, an editor at the McClure syndicate showed it to DC Comics publisher Harry Donenfeld. The rest, as they say, is history.
But not quite. In 1945, they revisited the idea of Superman, contemplating what he might have been when he was younger. The result of course, was Superboy. Siegel went on to write for other DC heroes, most notably The Spectre. After this both men left DC Comics and spent over a decade afterwards fighting for their ownership of the rights to their creation. Due to copyright laws, when they left DC, the ownership of the character remained with the company which had been publishing Superman's exploits. Seigel and Shuster collaborated one more time on a comic strip called Funnyman. Unfortunately, Joe Shuster's eyes began to fail, and he could no longer draw. On July 30th, 1992, Joe Shuster died of heart failure.
Because of the way comic ideas were sold back in the 30s, little to none of the millions of dollars that Superman made for DC Comics made it to the pockets of its creators. They didn't own the rights. However in 1978, the first full length motion picture of Superman was released starring Christopher Reeve, and displayed very prominently in the credits were their names. And ever since then, most every program or comic book with Superman has had their names alongside, so the world will know where he started, and who made it happen.
Whoa! - February 26th, 2002
I'd completely forgotten about this writeup! What follows is something I'd written for this other writeup that I'm presently working on about The Superman Myth which deals with a bigger picture than what's above, but after writing the following, I happened upon this node serrundipitously and behold my shock to find how similar the two happen to be! Eventually I'll incorporate elements of the below into the above, or vice versa. Just haven't decided how to do that quite yet and I'm still working on this other thing so I'll save this for later. Suggestions and ideas and whatnot are appreciated. Thank you.
Imagine the world prior to Superman. The 1930s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
was president of the United States. The stock market
had crashed and America was at one of the lowest points in its history. Though African Americans had achieved freedom against slavery, they still had yet to make strides in terms of equality
. Women too were fighting for equality and had only recently achieved the right to vote. The Hoover Dam
was a marvel and a spectacle which provided much needed jobs, and it wasn't taken for granted. In Europe, the ramifications of World War One
were still being felt, and the Nazi
movement was gaining strength in Germany
. We had not touched the moon. The russians had not accomplished Sputnik
. The World's Fair in New York hadn't happened yet, where people began to look towards the future and try to make dreams realized. Until the tragedy of Hindenberg
in 1937, hydrogen filled blimps were seen as a potentially effective means of transport, beyond just showing floating bulletin board
s during Super Bowl
s. Pearl Harbor
hadn't happened yet.
This is the world in which two little-known creative dreamers lived and breathed and told their tales to whoever might dare listen. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Writer and artist respectively, were high school
students in Cleveland, Ohio
. They were fans of science fiction
. Back then it wasn't called speculative fiction
as it is dubbed now. They worked together on many projects but none clutched at their heartstrings like the idea of a single man who could change the world for the better. It's ironic how that fictional man's story was inspired. In 1993, they published a small fanzine
and in it they included a graphic short story titled The Reign of Superman
in which a normal human being was given super powers by a balding mad scientist who happened to look a lot like a certain other bald character that hadn't been invented yet. Since their fanzine had a very small circulation
, this tale fell into obscurity, but it inspired in both men a desire to tell a greater tale, with far reaching consequences.
In the world in which they lived, there were enough villians. What their potential audiences craved was something more. A hero. A defender. Later that same year, Siegel read one of the first comic books in mankind's history, Detective Dan
, and he got the idea that this Superman
character might make a better good guy than a bad guy. So they approached their ideal of a man with powers far beyond those of mortal men with a new angle: what if the higher ideals of a human being prevailed inside this super man above and beyond the more base and feral instincts of dominance and conquest? At first the idea didn't catch on. It took five years. In 1934 they redesigned their idea in comic strip format for newspapers, as it was easier to sell strips to papers than fund independent books that had lower circulation. They conceived a backstory, involving Superman's alter ego Clark Kent
, the unflappable and studious investigative journalist Lois Lane
, and Joe Shuster designed the now iconographic red, yellow and blue costume. Siegel suggested the Red S in a triangle. Shuster incorporated the cape because it made it easier for him to effect movement and motion on the page. At that time due to the comparative simplicity of color in newsprint in those days, the primary colors were the most vibrant they could manage. Over the next three years their comic strip was turned down by every comic syndicate editor in the country. Shuster's drawing style was scrutinized. Siegel's stories were seen as far-fetched and many didn't believe the audience would even buy the idea of a man in a cape thwarting evil. Yet still the two men persevered.
However, McClure syndicate editor Sheldon Mayer
saw what no other editor at that time did. There was a void that needed to be filled. He'd been looking for something like this tale, but he couldn't convince his boss M. C. Gaines
, who passed Simon and Schuster's work on to a friend named Harry Donenfeld
, then publisher of DC Comics
. Thus, the superhero was born. Never before had anyone taken this idea to such extremes. Although technically a character named Doctor Occult
was the first costumed vigilante in the comic books, Superman
was the first to do it properly, and the first to be remembered with such intensity sixty years later.