Friday, July 10, 2009

Man und Ubermensch...dang...where's my umlaut?

Ok, ok, I know..."uber" doesn't actually translate to "super", that's just an American bastardization of Nietzsche's coined phrase, but COME ON! To begin with Nietzsche was French anyway. The only German that the French speak accurately and well is, "We surrender! Come on in and stay awhile.".

But I digress...this post isn't really about Superman or the concept of "the Overman" anyway. What it's really about is...

Today would have been Joe Shuster's 95th birthday. Joe was the artist half of the team, along with writer Jerry Siegel, who created Superman. One of the most iconic fictional characters of the 20th century.

The first appearance of Superman in Action Comics issue 1 is the "Book of Genesis" in the bible of comic book super-heroes. Within months of Superman's first appearance in 1938, there were dozens of super-heroes populating comic books, and within a few years there were literally hundreds and they had also jumped into other media. Movie Serials, Newspaper Comic Strips and Radio Serials all felt the impact of the creation of these two teenage boys.

Joe .Shuster was born in Toronto, Canada, and then moved to Cleveland in his high school days. It was there that he met Siegel and the two formed a quick bond due to their common interest in science fiction. They eventually traveled to New York and sold some stories to National Allied Publications.

.You see, when "comic books" first came on the scene in the early 1930's, they were an idea cooked up by publishers of pulp novels. They were simply reprints of previously published newspaper comic strips. Mutt and Jeff, Bringing Up Father, Thimble Theatre, etc. Then the inevetible day came around 1035-36 when they ran out of material and needed to start producing original content. They would usually outsource this material from outside producers, and in this early stage, the early producers were young fan boys of newspaper and pulp adventure and sci-fi stuff.

Superman exploded. During WWII, there were over 1,000,000 copies a month sold of Action Comics. 1,000,000 copies a month of Superman Comics. And 1,000,000 copies a month sold of World's Finest Comics. Over 3,000,000 copies of these three comics alone, just because Superman was on the cover of them. Compare this with today's comic books which feel it's a huge success if they get close to the 150,000 mark, and most are content with half that.

Here's that seminal first appearance. I'll wager most of you never read this. This is history. Superman comes to Earth to save us all, 1938. Click on the smaller thumbnails to view full-size.

You'll notice there are some differences to the Superman of today here. Superman can't fly, he's not nigh-invulnerable and he doesn't have the power to move planets. A much more palpable concept to the young readers of the time, that this guy has to still struggle to accomplish his deeds. You'll also notice that the Daily Planet was called the Daily Star back then, a tribute to the Toronto Star which Joe sold papers for when he was younger. The cityscape for Metropolis was even inspired, not by New York as is often thought, but by Toronto.

There were disputes over ownership in this first decade, which caused the beginnings of a rift between Shuster and Seigel and the publishers. When the copyright come up for renewal in 1948 the boys took it to court and lost which then led to a chasm between the boys and the publisher. The boys were let go, their byline was removed from the feature and everyone went separate ways.
Joe Shuster became a free-lance cartoonist, but failing eyesight made this more and more difficult as the years went on.

In the 1970's, Joe and Jerry tried to contest the ownership of the character again, by new National Allied had transformed into National Periodical Publications and then was acquired by Warner Communications. That's Time-Warner nowadays. A huge multi-national media conglomerate. The boys took them to court.
Wanting to avoid bad press as the big Christopher Reeve Superman movie was in production, the company settled out of court with the boys. Their by-line was restored to the feature and Siegel and Shuster were paid $20,000 a year and health benefits for life.

The guys got their retribution and reward (albeit a small one) and the only bad press Warners got was the crappy wig Brando wore, the crappy skull-cap Hackman wore at the end and whoever's stupid idea it was for that crappy crystalline Kryptonian architecture.

Here's a the 1950's Shuster free-lanced for some adult magazines in the B&D, S&M sub-culture. The same type of folks who dealt in those great Betty Page photos. He drew under the pseudonym Josh...the first two letters of his two names.

Thanks to Craig Yoe for unearthing these. It's pure Shuster for sure. The denizens of Metropolis get down and dirty! Enjoy!

That maid sure looks like Lois Lane.

Thanks Joe!

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