Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cleveland, Birthplace of Superman

One famous person who was born in Cleveland is fictional. It’s Superman. But he wasn’t born the old fashioned way, it was with the merging of the creative minds and hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Joe Shuster (July 10, 1914 - July 30, 1992) was born in Canada, but his family moved to the Cleveland area in the mid-1920s, when Shuster was 10 years old. Jerry Siegel (October 17, 1914 – January 28, 1996) was born in Cleveland. Both attended Glenville High School.

Siegel and Shuster were fans of science fiction, movies, and comics. They published a “fanzine” in the mid-1920s. Inspired by Philip Wylie's book, "Gladiator", about a mysterious character with superpowers and invulnerability, they created a strip for their fanzine (Shuster the artist, Siegel the writer) that featured a super-powered villain, but they later made him in a hero.

Here’s an interesting history of Siegel, Shuster, and Superman:

Metropolis Marvels

Superman came from two Cleveland teenagers with nothing but a shared dream and the ambition to tell a great story. Great Superman stories are the best of the bunch, and among the hardest to tell. Join us as we pay our respects to the folks who created, continued, shaped and reshaped the legend of Superman.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
AKA: Two Boys From Cleveland

Who They Are:
Superman was the brainchild of two Depression-era Cleveland teenagers, Jerome Siegel (1914-1996) and Joseph Shuster (1914-1992). Jerry was born in Cleveland; Joe was born in Toronto. They met when they both attended Glenville High School, where Jerry worked on the student newspaper, The Torch. (Joe had worked as a newsboy for the Toronto Daily Star, so they could both claim a journalistic background.)

Jerry and Joe had a lot in common. They were both the children of Jewish immigrants. They were both shy and retiring young men, with perhaps more than their share of insecurity and hang-ups when it came to the opposite sex. They both loved science fiction and the fantastic stories of the pulps. They were not strangers to mortality, or to life's difficulties, or to the whips and scorns that led many to share their fantastic dream of a being with powers "far beyond those of mortal men." Jerry's father, Mitchell, a sign painter and haberdasher, had been murdered by a thief when Jerry was still in middle school. Joe would suffer from debilitating vision problems - making his work as a comic book artist extremely difficult - all his life. Cornered by an all-pervasive reality, Siegel and Shuster did not fear the impossible.

Jerry would write the stories, and Joe would draw them. Between the two of them they would create one of the most beloved fictional characters of the 20th century and inspire a new industry. That industry, in its turn, would populate American mythology with a rich pantheon of legendary figures that would cross the boundaries of the medium in which they were born, into the worlds of radio, television, film - and beyond. Before all that, however, they were two struggling creators who spent their share of lean years looking for a publisher.

Before the last son of Krypton ever appeared in a comic book or took a form we would recognize today, Siegel and Shuster introduced his precursor in "Reign of the Superman," a short tale they published in their early fanzine, the appropriately titled Science Fiction. This story, which features a brilliant scientist whose machinations grant awesome mental powers to derelict Bill Dunn, has few of the features fans would come to associate with the Man of Steel. The 'Superman' of the title is no hero, but a power-mad villain bent on world conquest. Dunn's power eventually fades, and he becomes a nonentity again (in a kind of 'Super-Powers for Algernon' twist). Yet there are bits and pieces of unearthed Superman arcana lying within this tale: the incredible power of science, super-powers and awesome feats, and a strange meteor rock from outer space (it is this substance which allows the scientist, Smalley, to give Dunn his powers).

Though the derelict Superman didn't fly, the character continued to germinate in Jerry's mind. No doubt influenced by many of the pulps, including Doc Savage ('Man of Bronze') and The Shadow (who had a secret identity and a girlfriend named 'Lane'), Jerry and Joe were also inspired by E. C. Segar's Thimble Theatre superhero, Popeye, whose adventures in a series of animated cartoons produced by Max Fleischer brought the hero's boisterous, energetic power to vivid life. Popeye had super-strength (albeit for a short, spinach-fueled duration), seeming invulnerability, and he moved like a dynamo across the screen. (Serendipity would bring Siegel's Superman to Fleischer Studios just a few short years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1.)

Superman's colorful costume may have been inspired by the outlandish outfits pulp artists usually drew on their adventurous spacefarers; or by the garb of circus performers, accustomed to perpetrating super-feats; or it may have come from Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, popular in the mid-'30s; or it may be a combination of all of these. Superman's guise of Clark Kent was likely inspired (like the later Batman's guise of Bruce Wayne) by Douglas Fairbanks' Don Diego de la Vega in The Mark of Zorro, based on Johnston McCulley's great pulp character. Whatever their inspirations, Jerry's stories, drawn by Joe, were gradually taking the shape that would launch an industry. Yet the two young Clevelanders couldn't find a home for their Kryptonian.

Originally envisioning Superman as a newspaper strip - this was the heyday of the strips, after all, a fecund era for such legends as Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, and Popeye, among many others - Siegel and Shuster sent their hero to any syndicate or potential publisher they could find. In those days it was rejection, and not Kryptonite, that thwarted the Man of Steel more often than not. Eventually, of course, the pair hit on a bit of luck - they found a publisher in the person of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.

Wheeler-Nicholson was trying to compete in the budding comic book industry. At that time, comics generally consisted of reprints of newspaper strips, compounded into book form and sold on the newsstand as an ersatz collection. Wheeler-Nicholson was publishing original material - not so much because he was trying to inaugurate a new industry as because he couldn't afford the syndicate material. Jerry and Joe's first work for Wheeler-Nicholson appeared in New Fun Comics, an adventure strip featuring 'Henry Duval, Soldier of France,' a foppish dandy in the tradition of Percy Blakeney. (Other early Siegel and Shuster creations who would find their way into the pages of the nascent DC comics included Dr. Occult and Slam Bradley, both of whom are still around today.)

Finally, Superman was slated to appear as the cover feature in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). The issue was a huge success, and it took National (the future DC) a while to figure out why. Minions were dispatched to the newsstands, and word came back that "the book with Superman in it" was flying off the stands. In short order, Superman would appear on every Action cover and by 1939 in a second title, Superman. A veritable slew of imitators would emerge (most notably, DC's Batman, Timely's Captain America, and Fawcett's Captain Marvel), and the rest would be history.

Jerry and Joe had hit the jackpot - or had they? Unlike the canny Bob Kane (Batman's co-creator), Siegel and Shuster had, in their eagerness to find a publisher, sold the bulk of their rights to the character to National. Both creators would fight their own 'never-ending battle' to garner a piece of the Superman pie. In 1946, Jerry and Joe sued National for the rights to the character, gaining only Superboy (which had been, in its earliest form, Jerry's idea), after a two-year fight. They sold the Boy of Steel to the company for $100,000 and were kicked out of the Fortress for a full decade. An attempt to recreate their success with a new character - the uniquely unamusing Funnyman - met with failure. Joe's vision would fade, limiting his ability to get work, and Jerry frequently wrote under pseudonyms - though he did return to DC in the late '50s and in the early '60s wrote some of the best Silver Age Superman stories ever penned.

In 1975, with Superman set to fly on the big screen and earn DC's parent company, Warner Communications, even more incredible revenues, Jerry launched a public relations campaign to draw attention to the short shrift he and Joe had been given. Ultimately, Jerry and Joe would regain their credit (missing for years from comics, film and TV appearances) and a small stipend of $35,000 a year for the rest of their lives. Yet Siegel and Shuster's troubled relationship with DC Comics remains a black mark on the company's history and serves as a cautionary tale for young, up-and-coming comics creators.

Joe passed away in 1992 and Jerry in 1996. Behind them they left a legacy - a character who inspires, and who will continue to inspire, billions of people. They also labored over a cornerstone of what would become the AOL Time Warner Empire. Superman, 'champion of the oppressed,' destroyer of slums and challenger of the status quo, is the property of a massive corporation.

See Superman Returns. When those extremely important words come up - "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" - do your part for the cause of truth, justice, and the American way. Remember the boys from Cleveland.

While I don’t have an address for the Shuster house, the Siegel House is easy to find. The address of the Siegel home where Superman was “conceived” is 10622 Kimberly Avenue, and is currently listed as a Cleveland Landmark. Sadly, though, it’s not quite getting the attention it deserves from the city of Cleveland, as you’ll read in the following article.

Superman was created in Cleveland, but you might need X-ray vision to see the evidence

James A. Finley/Associated Press
Superman towers over the town square in Metropolis, Ill., where residents have claimed the DC Comics hero as their own. (In spite of his roots here in Cleveland.)

It's another Summer of Superman in Metropolis, Ill., a sleepy Ohio River town of 6,500 whose main link to the Man of Steel -- OK, whose only link -- is the name of his fictional city. They make the most of it. DC Comics and the Illinois legislature declared it the "Hometown of Superman," and the local paper was renamed the Metropolis Planet. There's a 15-foot-tall bronze Superman statue. And this year, marking the 70th anniversary of Superman's debut on the cover of Action Comics No. 1, they also tried to set a world's record for the most people dressed in Superman outfits.

But in Cleveland -- where a couple of Glenville teenagers actually created Superman 75 years ago -- the comparatively muted observances have been more Smallville than Metropolis.

Some highlights:

-- Superman memorabilia was featured at the North Coast Comic Con in May.

-- "Last Son," Brad Ricca's documentary film about Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was screened last weekend at IngenuityFest.

-- The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage will present the traveling exhibition "Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950" from Tuesday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Jan. 4.

-- And Northeast Ohio cartoonist Tom Batiuk will begin a three-week Superman-themed story in his "Funky Winkerbean" strip starting Monday, Aug. 11.

Positively Cleveland, the area's convention and visitors bureau, staged a meeting of civic leaders in January to plot a celebration, spurred by a commentary in The Plain Dealer by comics columnist Michael Sangiacomo lamenting Superman's neglect. They dismissed talk of a Superman statue -- an idea first raised in a Plain Dealer column in 1978 -- or museum.

But organizers squabbled, and a longer lead time was needed to get permissions for sanctioned events from DC Comics parent Time Warner.

"We just couldn't get it done this summer," said Terry Stewart, president and chief executive officer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and a former head of DC's rival Marvel Entertainment. "People are looking to the future. Hopefully, it does move forward."

"There are people who won't settle for anything less than a big statue in a prominent place, as though that makes it all official," said Dennis Dooley, co-author of the book "Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend."

"But there ought to be some recognition, and there is. Superman probably is the most famous character to come out of here. If you went to China and showed them pictures of Strawberry Shortcake or Chef Boyardee, they'd have no idea. If you showed them Superman, they'd know. It's a universal figure. It's natural for places to want to claim their share of their glory."

Cleveland once did, especially when its ties to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were stronger and fresher. The two were celebrities in the early 1940s, when they still lived in town -- both had moved from Glenville to University Heights -- and when newspapers called Superman "the now famous Man of Steel." They produced Superman with a staff of five artists in a one-room office in Cleveland.

Siegel, the writer who ran to pal Shuster's house one dawn after coming up with Superman -- "I am lying in bed counting sheep when all of a sudden it hits me" -- was sworn into the Army in 1943 as part of the July 4th Festival of Freedom at Cleveland Stadium. When he divorced and remarried in 1948, he asked the license bureau to keep it quiet until columnist Walter Winchell could break the story.

Siegel and Shuster had sold the rights to Superman for $130 in 1938, after trying unsuccessfully to market the comic on their own, but they still were writing and drawing under contract.

In 1947, before their contract expired, they sued to regain the rights and a share of profits. They won a limited settlement, but their claim was rejected. They lost their jobs, and their bylines were dropped. Years of bitterness and frustration followed.

They were living in New York by then, though Siegel later went to Los Angeles. Cleveland was left with few tangible links to Superman, if any, beyond the guessing game of which Glenville High School students might have been the models for Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Or how much of their own Depression-era experience, as the bespectacled and nerdy sons of immigrants, influenced their creation of a "strange visitor from another planet."

Shuster said the model for Metropolis was not Cleveland, where his family moved when he was 10, but his native Toronto. The Daily Planet, he said, came from the Toronto Daily Star.

Los Angeles was the recognizable stand-in for Metropolis on "The Adventures of Superman" on TV through the 1950s.

Superman himself was being eclipsed by other comics superheroes until "Superman: The Movie" went into development in 1974, with a supersized budget and A-list stars.

Siegel came out of seclusion to put a curse on the movie, and launched a campaign with the nearly blind Shuster to protest their treatment by DC. A settlement gave them "created by" credit on all Superman properties, and paid each a $20,000 annual "pension."

And just as Superman helped create the modern comic-book business more than a generation earlier, the movie's release in 1978 paved the way for a new type of superhero film.

But while the movie revived Cleveland's interest and pride in a fictional native son, its unbilled co-star was New York City.

Metropolis, Ill., had only recently staked its claim as Superman's "hometown." When the editor of its Planet was asked what place Siegel and Shuster would have there, he said, "I don't believe I've ever heard of them."

Being second with the claim, like someone who found an old deed in the attic, didn't boost Cleveland's super-status. Neither did the fact that the city was entering hard and fractious times politically and economically when the idea of a Superman monument was first raised.

A nonprofit group formed in the 1980s to build a statue tied to Superman's 50th anniversary and the release of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," the last and cheapest of the series. Comics sales were sagging, the movie bombed, and the group went bust.

An aide to one prominent local officeholder said any smart politician would support efforts to recognize Superman, but taking the lead would be difficult "when we've got problems of poverty, schools, crime and employment."

"The city is challenged to raise money for so many things," Terry Stewart said.

But the effort hasn't died. Dooley thinks it shouldn't, no more than Superman has.

"A lot of characters bite the dust," he said, noting the fading of heroes like Straight Arrow, Green Arrow and Aquaman. "Superman and Batman are always riveting. The stories get reappropriated and reworked by another generation.

"Popular culture embodies things we believe in or yearn for."

Or the things that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster believed in and yearned for. In Cleveland. Which remembers.

Read more:
• Cleveland let statue fly away

• Superman, on-screen and off.

Added Note: I had already been writing my blog on Superman and had it scheduled for publication before the following piece cropped up in today’s Plain Dealer. I thought I'd include it.

Novel's Superman lore a bit weak on the facts

Posted by Patrick O'Donnell and Michael Sangiacomo August 27, 2008 01:00AM

James A. Finley/Associated Press
Superman's 15-foot statue looks over the town of Metropolis, Ill. An upcoming book by Brad Metzler suggests a new set of circumstances surrounding the orgin of th iconic character.

It's a tale worthy of ... well, a comic book.

A shopkeeper is gunned down in a robbery of his store. His son, while not going on a vigilante rampage himself, seeks justice in a more symbolic way: He invents the ultimate crime-fighting superhero ever, Superman, to be his instrument of vengeance.

If true, it would be a blockbuster.

But is it?

The buzz circulating in the comic world this week, and highlighted Tuesday in USA Today, is that Superman was inspired by the death of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel's father during a 1932 robbery of his store.

Novelist Brad Meltzer found some details around that robbery too eerie to be coincidence. And he's milking them for all they're worth as he promotes his upcoming book, which uses the Siegel family and its home on Kimberly Avenue here in Cleveland for a conspiracy tale.

"I still believe the world got Superman because this kid lost his father," Meltzer said. "Is it just a coincidence that Michel died and within a short time, his son creates the world's greatest superhero?"

After all, superheroes like Spiderman and Batman started fighting crime after relatives were murdered. The story behind the Superman stories would make a great comic book itself.

But though it is true that Michel Siegel, 59, died during a robbery, there is no evidence beyond confused family legend that he was shot. The man, sometimes referred to as Mitchell, actually died of a heart attack.

Jerry Siegel also never connected his father's death to Superman before he himself died in 1996. And his widow Joanne, doesn't think the robbery made Siegel or his co-creating friend Joe Shuster invent Superman to fight such crimes.

"Jerry said his father had a heart attack after the robbery," she said Tuesday. "I don't think that it inspired him (to create Superman]. How many people whose fathers have died have inspired them to do anything at all?"

There are conflicting accounts about exactly how Siegel came up with the notion of Superman while a student at Glenville High School. Late in his life, he said it came to him one hot July night as he lay in bed unable to sleep.

Though Superman was not published until 1938, he and Shuster started work on the idea in either 1932 or 1933.

In that period -- the night of June 2, 1932 -- police were called to his father's second-hand clothing store at 3560 Central Ave. According to the police report, three men came into the shop and walked out with a suit without paying.

Michel Siegel, 59, collapsed in the store and died.

"At no time were any blows struck or any weapons used," the report states.

The death certificate says Siegel had chronic myocarditis and died of heart failure. It reports no bullet wounds.

Marlene Goodman and Irving Siegel, both cousins of Jerry Siegel, said most family members knew the truth, but some thought Michel was shot.

"I remember an aunt telling me there was a shooting and I think I passed that on to a writer," Irving Siegel said.

Michel Siegel's death in the robbery was part of a previous book, "Men of Tomorrow," published in 2004.

Meltzer, however, uses the shooting legend in his new novel, "Book of Lies." The killing is a plot point for the murder/espionage novel, which comes out Sept. 2.

Meltzer said he believes the death was pivotal to the creation of Superman. He points to an unpublished comic book cover from 1933 showing Superman stopping a robbery of a merchant, who Meltzer says looks like Michel Siegel.

"This would have been written soon, perhaps even weeks, after his dad's death," he said. "It had to be related."

Then in scanning through microfiche copies of The Plain Dealer from 1932, Meltzer found a letter to the editor the day after Michel Siegel's death signed by an A.L. Luther.

"Is this where he came up with Lex Luthor?" he asked.

The villain from the comics, however, was spelled Luthor, not Luther. The name Lex did not appear until the 1960s.

Though titled "Vigilantes Not Needed," the letter has nothing to do with Siegel's death or any particular crimes. It decries vigilantism and calls for nationalizing police under Army generals.

Brad Ricca, a lecturer at Case Western Reserve University and director of a Siegel, Shuster and Superman documentary called "Last Son," said Siegel drew inspiration for Superman from many sources. He said the costume has a bit of Flash Gordon, the hair of Tarzan and weightlifter's boots.

"When his dad died, Jerry knew he had to do something to help support himself and his mother," Ricca said. "He created Superman by drawing on everything that was all around him, including his dad."

He added: "There is a scene in the second issue of Superman where he is standing at the grave of his adoptive parents, promising them that he would do good. This made me think of Jerry's father and how this was Jerry's way of promising to make something of himself."

So why all this attention now? Widow Joanne Siegel says it's all because of the new books.

"You know how writers are, they say things," she said.

News Researcher Jo Ellen Corrigan contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo co-teaches a class with Brad Ricca.

Update September 2, 2008
Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that an online auction to benefit the restoration of Jerry Siegel’s Cleveland home in the Glenville neighborhood will begin today. More information about the auction can be found at the “Ordinary People Change the World” web site, here.

You can also see a video on this topic, below, which includes comments from Brad Meltzer, author of “Book of Lies”, that also includes a look at the current state of the home, which isn’t very good on the inside.

Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

1 comment:

74WIXYgrad said...

As one who spent many a day reading Superman and Batman as I was growing up, I think this post is very fascinating to say the least.