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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

SUPERMAN - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

SUPERMAN, the popular comic book superhero, was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1933 while both attended Glenville High School. Their creation became known worldwide, inspired numerous imitation superheroes, and brought fortune to many, but Siegel and Shuster enjoyed none of that fortune between 1949-75.

Native Clevelander Jerome "Jerry" Siegel (b. 17 Oct. 1914) was writing for the school newspaper, the Glenville Torch, when he created the Superman character. His collaborator, Toronto native Joe Shuster (10 July 1914-30 July 1992), worked up the initial drawings for the comic. Together they entered the new comic-book business in 1936, not with their Superman character but by writing and drawing other adventure strips for New Fun Comics, Inc. In 1938 publisher Harry Donnenfeld paid $135 for their Superman strips, which first appeared in the premier issue of Action Comics in June 1938. The great popularity of the character soon led to Superman magazine, a syndicated newspaper comic strip (1939-67), a show on the Mutual Radio Network, animated cartoons (1941-43 and 1966-67), a 15-episode movie serial (1948), 2 feature films (1951), and a 104-episode television series in the 1950s. Superman also took center stage in the 1966 Broadway musical It's a Bird . . . It's a Plane . . . It's Superman!

With Superman appearing everywhere, his creators slipped into obscurity and poverty. By signing a release form when they sold their strips to Donnenfeld, Siegel and Shuster had lost all rights to their character and perforce agreed to work exclusively for Donnenfeld for 10 years at $35 per page and half the net profit. When their contract ran out in 1948, they sued to recover the copyright; they received a $100,000 settlement but lost the court case, their jobs, and any further involvement with Superman comics. Siegel continued to work on various newspaper comics, but the legally blind Shuster had great difficulty finding work. By 1975, with public support from the Natl. Cartoonists Society and the Cartoonists Guild, they pressured Warner Communications, Inc., owner of Natl. Periodicals, for financial compensation. In Dec. 1975 the corporation agreed to pay each man $20,000 a year for the remainder of his life and to include their bylines on all future productions featuring Superman. Their creation with their names returned to the screen in the highly successful Warner Bros. film Superman (1978) and sequels Superman II (1981), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV (1987).

Dooley, Dennis and Gary Engle, eds. Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend (1987).

Last Modified: 22 Jul 1997 05:03:37 PM

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