ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Superman Creators; A Life of No Respect

The Plaque commemorating the birthplace of Superman creator Jerry Siegel.
Traveling through Cleveland, I was struck that this home to the creators of Superman has done little to pay tribute to them-- while other things (like the first concrete street) get memorialized.  This shoddy treatment of the dynamic duo who created the Man of Steel is nothing new.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman sometime around 1933 and spent years shopping it around to publishers, facing constant rejection until finally hitting DC Comics (Then National Comics) and seeing Superman published in the pages of ACTION COMICS #1 in 1938.  They sold Superman to DC Comics for $130 and a regular paycheck guarantee to provide Superman strips for publication.  Siegel and Shuster set up a studio in New York city and oversaw a team of artists to produce both work for the comic book and comic strip version of Superman.  Superman became a HUGE hit-- rivaling Mickey Mouse for popularity and I would argue that today he surpasses Mickey in recognizability world-wide.

Yet no real recognition from the hometown?  Yes, there is the Superman Museum in Metropolis Illinois, but Cleveland?  When Jerry Siegel expressed his desire to have his mementos given to his hometown after his death his widow was disheartened to learn there was no interest in any of the items-- including Siegel's Typewriter which should probably be in the Smithsonian.

It's interesting to imagine what might have happened if Siegel or Shuster had more of the business sense of Walt Disney or even Will Eisner-- artists who had the vision to control their own creations and hence, their destinies.

Siegel and Shuster sought to wrest ownership of Superman from DC Comics in the mid-forties and were soon dismissed from their positions and no longer worked on Superman.   The creators could only sit and watch their character get bigger and bigger-- with movie serials and a very successful TV show in the 1950s, but absolutely nothing for them.

When Superman became a big budget film from Warner Bros in the late 1970s artist Neal Adams made it clear that it would be very embarrassing for both WB and DC Comics if the word got out that the creators of Superman were not only badly compensated-- they were both living out their senior years in abject poverty-- virtually penniless.

DC relented and gave them a modest pension which eventually led to a better package-- but it was still nothing like what fellow artist Bob Kane-- creator of Batman-- had made with his deal in 1939 which provided him a healthy living for the rest of his life.

Siegel and Shuster had a hard life-- it's unfortunate that the only honor bestowed on them by the home city of Cleveland is a modest sign on a post outside of Siegel's boyhood home.