The Creation of Superman

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, c. 1940

     Artist Joseph Shuster was born on July 10, 1914, in Toronto, Canada. His parents, Julius and Ida Shuster, left Europe in 1912 to escape antisemitic violence. Joe took an early interest to art and began drawing at the age of four. At nine, Joe started his first job hawking newspapers for the Toronto Daily Star while attending Ryerson Public School.

     Joe was ambidextrous and he would switch hands when one tired from drawing. He often used a breadboard as a drawing surface unless his mother needed it to bake the challah for Shabbat. His eyesight began to deteriorate at an early age. Impoverished and unable to afford drawing paper, he salvaged any scraps that were available. While living in Toronto, Joe discovered some discarded rolls of wallpaper that he would use over the next ten years.

      Joe Shuster was inspired by the comic strips and science-fantasy pulps of the era. His childhood favorites included Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay and pulp-cover illustrations by Frank R. Paul. As a teenager, Joe idolized Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond, Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth, and Prince Valiant creator Hal Foster. Shuster would often incorporate contemporary Art Deco cityscape scenes and Streamline Moderne styles similar to Raymond.

Joe Shuster - World in Future - 1980 - May 2, 1931

     In August 1924, the Shuster family relocated to the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Joe worked as a staff artist for The Hamilton Federalist, the school newspaper of Alexander Hamilton Junior High. His first comic strip printed was about a grasshopper named "Jerry the Journalist." The stories were written by Jerry Fine, editor of the paper and a cousin of Jerome Siegel.

     Writer Jerome Siegel was born in Cleveland on October 17, 1914. The Siegel family immigrated from Lithuania in 1900 to escape Jewish persecution. Jerry's father owned Michael's Men's Furnishings, a second-hand clothing store on Central Avenue. One day, his older brother Harry brought home an issue of Amazing Stories that would forever change his life.

     Jerry would crawl underneath his bed to write. In an unpublished draft of his autobiography Creation of a Superhero, Jerry recalled his earliest science fiction work being printed in the kids' section of the Buffalo Times around 1927. Jerry claimed to have received a piece of fan mail for a story titled "Monsters of the Moon" printed in serial form. He ordered back issues of the Sunday and evening editions, but was unable to locate any copies of the work.

Jerry Siegel

     Jerry Siegel's early writing style was heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. Siegel would later meet his idol Burroughs while stationed in Hawaii during World War II.

     Like the Judaic prophet Moses, Tarzan was orphaned as a child in a strange land. Created in 1911, John Carter travels to another planet and fights for an oppressed alien race. Carter is endowed with superhuman strength and the ability to leap great distances due to the lighter gravity of Mars. First published in 1913, The Warlord of Mars contains inner monologue from John Carter stating, "I was a superman, and no man could have withstood me then."

     The concept of an Übermensch as the savior of mankind first appeared in the 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None by Friedrich Nietzsche. The term was further popularized in the 1903 play Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw.

The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs - McClurg, 1919

     A letter from Jerry appeared in the August 1929 issue of Amazing Stories and another was printed in the November issue of Science Wonder Stories. Both magazines were published by Hugo Gernsback, "The Father of Science Fiction." By the time he started attending Glenville High School, Jerry was regularly corresponding with the fledgling community of science fiction writers and fans.

     In August 1929, Jerry created The Fantastic Fiction Publication Company and released Cosmic Stories, one of the first known science fiction fanzines. Each booklet was typed and hectographed by Jerry under the alias Charles McEvoy, one of many pseudonyms. Siegel enjoyed using pen names as another way to emulate Burroughs, who had first published under the alias Norman Bean. About ten copies of Cosmic Stories were produced. The work was considered to be lost by 1935 and no examples are known to exist. The pamphlet included original stories from science fiction pioneer Clare Winger Harris and Walter L. Dennis, co-founder of the Science Correspondence Club.

     Walter Dennis worked as a newspaper reporter in Chicago and co-edited the first two issues of The Comet, a fanzine released in May 1930. Jerry exchanged letters and stories with Walter, whose physical appearance and occupation were an early inspiration for Clark Kent.

Walter Dennis, 1930

     The name is a combination of movie actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. Jerry was fascinated by the contrast between a "mighty hero" and an "ineffectual weakling." Pulp heroes like The Shadow and Doc Savage, as well as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro helped to inspire the dual-identity. Both Jerry and Joe wore glasses, which Jerry believed gave an "impression of meekness and mildness" similar to actor Harold Lloyd. In the silent films, Lloyd would start off being pushed around and bullied before "turning into a fighting whirlwind." As a teenager, Jerry wrote an unproduced one-act play titled The Fighting Journalist that he credits as the origination of himself and Clark Kent.

Harold Lloyd, 1924

In the August 1983 issue of NEMO: The Classic Comics Library, Jerry explained, "You see, Clark Kent grew not only out of my private life, but also out of Joe’s. As a high school student, I thought that some day I might become a reporter, and I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn’t know I existed or didn’t care I existed. As a matter of fact, some of them looked like they hoped I didn’t exist. It occurred to me: What if I was real terrific? What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that? Then maybe they would notice me."

     Joe Shuster arrived at Glenville High in 1930 and Jerry's cousin arranged an introduction. Both boys shared the same enthusiasm for comic strips, Douglas Fairbanks films, and science fiction pulps. Their first comic collaboration in 1931 was The Interplanetary Police, inspired by Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. The second was Steve Walsh, a "scientific adventure extraordinary" and inventor of the "penetrascope." The machine can see and hear through all substances, an early example of x-ray vision and super-hearing. One of their early cartoons appeared in the Glenville Torch on May 7, 1931. "Goober the Mighty" was a racist caricature that combined elements of Tarzan and Popeye the Sailor Man.

Goober the Mighty - Glenville Torch - 05-07-1931

     Gladiator by Philip Wilde was first published in 1930. Professor Abednego Danner genetically alters his son Hugo, giving him superhuman abilities. Hugo Danner is raised in a rural Colorado town and taught to conceal his powers. At an early age, Hugo says, “I can jump higher’n a house. I can run faster’n a train.” Hugo tells his father, “I’m like a man made out of iron instead of meat.” To isolate himself, Hugo constructs a solitary fortress in the woods. Hugo considers becoming a "super-detective" that punishes criminals, but ultimately wanders the planet as a loner.

     The Steranko History of Comics, Vol. 1 incorrectly claims that Jerry Siegel reviewed Gladiator in an issue of Science Fiction. Jerry later commented, "I had read and enjoyed Philip Wylie's book ,'The Gladiator'. It influenced me, too."

Gladiator by Philip Wilde, 1930

      The Time Traveller was a fanzine released on January 9, 1932, co-edited by future Superman editors Mortimer Weisinger and Julius Schwartz. Jerry was among the first subscribers to what was billed as "Science Fiction's Only Fan Magazine." Jerry submitted short stories to The Time Traveller, but all were rejected.

     The March 1932 issue of The Author and Journalist announced the debut of Science Fiction from Morantz Publications. Sam Morantz lived on the same street as Jerry and his father owned a printing company. The magazine was touted as "a new market for the work of science fiction writers." Editors Jerome Siegel and Bernard J. Kenton offered 1/4 to 3 cents per word for "tales in which the interest does not lag."

Science Fiction - The Author and Journalist, March 1933 Vol 15

     The solicitation sought work similar to P. Schuyler Miller and Francis Flagg. Both authors were prominently featured in the science pulp magazines. Miller had previously collaborated with Walter Dennis for two works published in Wonder Stories. Francis Flagg, a pseudonym of George Henry Weiss, published a short story titled "The Superman of Dr. Jukes" in the November 1931 issue of Wonder Stories.

     A government scientist named Dr. Jukes injects a mobster named Killer Mike with an experimental serum. Killer Mike develops superhuman speed, strength, and telepathic powers. Jerry wrote about Francis Flagg in letters printed in the pulps. As a subscriber and active contributor to Wonder Stories, Jerry would have read "The Superman of Dr. Jukes."

The Superman of Dr. Jukes by Francis Flagg, Wonder Stories, Nov 1931

     On April 14 and April 21, 1932, the Glenville Torch reported that a script was being published in Amazing Stories by a Glenville graduate named Bernard J. Kenton. At different times, the Bernard J. Kenton alias may have been Jerry or his friend Bernard Kantor – or both. Kantor later contributed plots as a ghostwriter on early Superman comic book features. The story "Miracles on Antares" was never published and editor T. O'Conor Sloane later returned the manuscript to Jerry.

     On June 2, 1932, Michael Siegel collapsed and died due to "acute dilation of heart" during a robbery at the clothing store. The three perpetrators were never identified. Jerry continued to compile material for the upcoming magazine. To promote the new "Scientific-fiction novelty," an advertisement was printed in the September 1932 issue of Amazing Stories. The contact address was now the Siegel home on Kimberley Avenue.

Amazing Stories v07n06 - September 1932

     In the fall of 1932, Jerry typed and mimeographed copies of The Metal Giants by Edmond Hamilton for the Swanson Book Co. The story originally appeared as the cover feature for Weird Tales in December 1926. "Science Fiction Reprints No. 1" is presented as the first in a series of booklets called "The Fantastic Fiction Library" from The Comet Pub. Co. in Cleveland. The booklet is missing paragraphs from the original manuscript.

     A note from the editorial department promotes The Time Crusaders as a limited edition novel by Jerome Siegel and Bernard J. Kenton. Jerry later worked on The Time Crusaders as a comic strip collaboration with pulp artist Clay Ferguson, Jr.

     The second Fantastic Fiction release in October 1932 was an original story by Jerry Siegel as Hugh Langley. Guests of the Earth is about an alien invasion that is later revealed to be a hoax. The afterword was provided by science fiction icon Forrest J Ackerman. Jerry showed the booklet to an English teacher who expressed disapproval of the genre. The print run for Guests of the Earth is unknown.

Guests of the Earth by High Langley (Jerry Siegel) - 1932

     The first issues of Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization were mailed to subscribers in October 1932. The 8.5 x 11 inch booklets were compiled, edited, and typed by Jerry Siegel. All five installments of Science Fiction were mimeographed after school hours at Glenville High. Joe Shuster provided stencil illustrations with contributions from schoolmate Bernie Schmittke and pulp artist Clay Ferguson, Jr. The fanzine was sold by mail order for 15 cents each or $1.50 a year. The total circulation for all five issues was about 200 copies.

Science Fiction - The Advance Guard of Future Civilization

     The first issue contains stories written by Jerry using various pseudonyms. Later contributors included Clare Winger Harris, Dr. David H. Keller, Forrest J Ackerman, Mort Weisinger, and Raymond A. Palmer. A press release for the magazine was printed in the October 6, 1932, issue of Glenville Torch. The author of the article is uncredited.

Science Fiction Ad - Glenville Torch - October 6, 1932

     The next month, Joe won first place in an annual football poster design contest sponsored by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The winning design was announced on November 15, 1932. "Kick that Goal for Charity" awarded Joe a pair of box seats on the 50-yard line at the annual Charity Game. The game was played on November 26, 1932, at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Cleveland Plain Dealer distributed 5,000 lithographed copies of the red, black, and gray poster throughout Cuyahoga County.
Cleaveland Plain Dealer - 11-26-1932 - Joe Shuster Charity Football Poster
     The third issue of Science Fiction contains a short story titled "The Reign of the Superman," the first use of the name by Siegel. "The Superman" was created at the height of the Great Depression, and Jerry began the tale in a breadline. A vagrant named William Dunn is approached by Professor Ernest Smalley. Dunn unknowingly ingests a chemical that grants vast intelligence, telepathic powers, and the ability to "intercept intergalactic messages." Dunn murders Smalley and plans to destroy civilization, but the effects fade before the source element can be reached.

    The chemical was made of meteor fragments from a "Dark Planet," an early precursor of "K-Metal" and kryptonite. The bald villain and mad scientist motifs are evocative of the Golden Age Lex Luthor. Forrest Ackerman appears as an investigating newspaper reporter on assignment from "The Chief." The story is signed as Herbert S. Fine, a combination of Jerry's cousin Herbert Schwartz and his mother's maiden name.

Science Fiction - 3 - The Reign of the Superman - January 1933

     The editorial section promotes "The Interplanetary Police," the first comic strip from Jerry and Joe. Jerry reported that the strip had been adapted into an unproduced radio play. The third issue printed letters of praise from Harry Bates, editor of Astounding Stories, and Julius Schwartz. In the "Editor's Televisor," Schwartz writes that he is eager to see more artwork from Shuster.

     Julius Schwartz later credited The Time Traveller as the inspiration for Siegel to produce Science Fiction, thus leading to the creation of Superman. However, Jerry had previously released the Cosmic Stories fanzine in 1929. According to Jerry, the motivation to self-publish came from constantly being rejected.

     The fourth issue of Science Fiction features a preview of the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago and a fictional review of the RKO feature King Kong, both illustrated and stenciled by Joe. The fourth issue was mailed to subscribers in February 1933, two months before the actual release of King Kong.

Science Fiction 5 (1933)

     The undated fifth issue of Science Fiction contains a full-page editorial with biographies and cartoon portraits of Jerry and Joe. Jerry mentions his earlier publications Cosmic Stories and Guests of the Earth. The profile promoted an upcoming collaboration with an unnamed "artist of great renown [sic]". Jerry later revealed the artist was J. Allen St. John and the comic strip was Rex Carson of the Ether Patrol. The strip never sold and the original drawings were later lost.

     Mort Weisinger contributed a satirical news column under the name Ian Rectez. Weisinger would later become editor of the Superman titles in 1941. Pulp artist Clay Ferguson Jr. provided an illustration for "Technocracy" that was transposed to stencil by Joe.

Science Fiction 5 - Editorial (1933)Technocracy - Clay Ferguson, Jr. -Science Fiction 5 (1933)

     A column by Julius Schwartz in the August 1933 issue of Science Fiction Digest reported that Siegel was leaving the Science Fiction staff to work on a "scientificartoon" strip for Rex Carson. Bernard J. Kenton was named as editor and printer. Kenton reportedly planned to expand Science Fiction into a larger format for 20 cents an issue.

Science Fiction Digest - August 1933

     In a letter to Forrest J Ackerman dated September 7, 1933, author Louis C. Smith expressed disappointment about "Forrie" not receiving the fifth issue of Science Fiction. According to Smith, Aubrey McDermott of The Comet had already disposed of his copy.

Smith letter to Ackerman - September 7, 1933

     Pulp hero Clark Savage Jr., known as Doc Savage, was created by Henry W. Ralston, John L. Nanovic, and writer Lester Dent. Clark Savage debuted in Doc Savage Magazine (March 1933), released on February 17, 1933. From a young age, Clark possessed superhuman strength and superior intellect. The first adventure is titled "The Man of Bronze." In the May 1933 story "Quest of the Spider," Savage is referred to as "a superman." Elements of Doc Savage are similar to Hugo Danner in Gladiator. Doc Savage retreats to a "Fortress of Solitude" located in the arctic. The Superman Fortress of Solitude was later introduced by Mort Weisinger in 1958.

     In 1978, Jerry revealed that he read Doc Savage Magazine "with fascination." The Steranko History of Comics, Vol. 1 incorrectly claims that Jerry copied the name Superman from Doc Savage. "The Reign of the Superman" was written by Jerry in 1932 and released in January 1933.

Doc Savage (Street & Smith, 1934)

     In 1933, Jerry reimagined "The Superman" as a bulletproof brawler similar to Doc Savage. No longer a villain, the strongman was now billed as "A Genius in Intellect, A Hercules in Strength, A Nemesis to Wrong Doers - The Superman!" The hero was not from another planet and there was no dual-identity. Once again, the superpowers were bestowed upon "The Superman" by a scientist. Jerry compared this version to the ancient Israelite superhero Samson. That June, Consolidated Book Publishers expressed interest in publishing "The Superman" in a tabloid format.

     In July 1933, Jerry corresponded with artist Leo O'Mealia to collaborate on the strip. "Superman" was revamped as a scientist from a future of evolved superhumans. Before the destruction of Earth, the scientist travels back to the 1930s in a time machine. Superman decides to use his abilities to fight crime during the Depression. Bell Syndicate expressed interest and O'Mealia allegedly began drawing in September. O'Mealia suggested that Jerry include a female romance element. Jerry never received any completed artwork and his letters to O'Mealia remained unanswered for almost a year.

     In a letter to Jerry dated August 22, 1933, Consolidated Book Publishers wrote that the company was shutting down. Feeling betrayed and frustrated by rejection, Joe destroyed his own pages of "The Superman" from the Consolidated samples. All that remains of the early prototype is a penciled concept and a finished cover. Coincidentally, Leo O'Mealia would later illustrate the cover of Superman #1 (Summer 1939) based on an image drawn by Joe.

The Superman - Joe Shuster Sketch - 1933 The Superman - Siegel and Shuster - June 1933

     As a senior at Glenville High, Joe served as president of the Art Club and Chief Scenic Artist of Play Production. Joe was interested in bodybuilding and joined the tumbling team. He collected books about weightlifting that were also used as modelling references. Joe would later meet his idol Charles Atlas during "Superman Day" at the New York World's Fair.

Joe Shuster, 1933

     Joe won a Thanksgiving art contest for his cartoon "Annual Turkey Feast Arrives" and the panel appeared on the front page of Glenville Torch on November 29, 1933. An article for the cartoon contest was printed the following week. Jerry and Joe were reported to be soliciting a cartoon for national syndication.

Glenville Torch - Joe Shuster Thanksgiving - Nov 29, 1933Glenville Torch - December 7, 1933

     By graduation in 1934, Jerry and Joe had created a substantial amount of comic book material for what they originally named "Popular Comics." Some works were published in the Christmas edition of Cleveland Shopping News. The tabloid contracted them for a series of comics and shopping advertisements, but the project was cancelled before fruition. Many of the strips were published 50 years later in Siegel and Shuster: Dateline 1930's from Eclipse Comics.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - Glenville Olympiad - 1934

     Despite the setbacks, Jerry and Joe had earned some recognition in the underground science fiction scene. In the January 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan, Julius Schwartz listed Guests of the Earth in part five of "How to Collect Fantasy Fiction." The June 1934 issue of Wonder Stories mentioned a cartoon that the pair were planning to contribute to the magazine, later identified by Jerry as Miracles on Antares.

     Jerry Siegel continued to develop his favorite creation while searching for a more established artist. On June 12, 1934, updated Superman scripts were mailed to Russell Keaton , an illustrator for the Buck Rogers Sunday newspaper comics. A month later, Keaton responded to Siegel with nine finished strips.

     In this version, the last man on Earth transports his son back in time to 1935. The time machine is found by Sam and Molly Kent. Inside, the three-year old boy is outfitted with a round emblem and notched boots. The child awakens and begins to display usual superhuman abilities. Sam and Molly adopt the boy and name him Clark Kent. As he grew older, Clark could "leap over a ten story building" and "run as fast as an express train." The newspaper syndicates were not interested and Keaton eventually departed from the project.

Superman by Jerry Siegel and Russel Keaton, 1934

     On January 13, 1935, the Cleveland Plain Dealer printed a classified ad from an artist model with no experience. The model was a teenage girl named Jolan Kovacs, also known as Joanne Carter. Joe Shuster hired Joanne for $1.50 an hour and she would become the visual basis for reporter Lois Lane.

      According to Joe, Jerry named the character after his high school crush, Lois Amster. Lois was inspired by Torchy Blane, a detective reporter portrayed in films from 1937–1938 by actresses Glenda Farrell and Lola Lane. Joanne and Jerry married each other in Cleveland on October 14, 1948. The full name of Lois Joanne Lane was revealed in Superman: The Wedding Album (December 1996).

Lois Lane by Joe Shuster - 1935

     Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson began as an adventure pulp writer in 1924. In 1925, Wheeler-Nicholson founded the Nicholson Publishing Company, Inc. as a newspaper syndicate. In the autumn of 1934, the Major launched National Allied Publications, Inc., also known as National Allied Newspaper Syndicate, Inc. On January 11, 1935, National released New Fun #1, the first regularly published comic book comprised of all-original material.

     Wheeler-Nicholson reviewed sample sketches from Joe that were submitted on the old wallpaper from Toronto and some brown wrapping paper. In a letter dated June 6, 1935, Wheeler-Nicholson offered Siegel and Shuster a feature in New Fun as an audition for the magazine. Joe borrowed money from his parents to purchase proper art paper and the team was paid $20 for two pages. The black and white stories were printed in New Fun #6, dated October 1935.

     The first paid assignment was "Henri Duval of France, Famed Soldier of Fortune." Conceived by Wheeler-Nicholson, Henri Duval is a Douglas Fairbanks inspired swashbuckler in the vein of The Three Musketeers. The three-part story "Rescuing the King" continued over the next two issues renamed More Fun. Jerry and Joe produced six Henri Duval features before the series ended. A different character named Henri Duval later commits suicide in a Doctor Occult story by Jerry and Joe in More Fun Comics #24 (September 1937).

Henri Duval - New Fun - 6 - February 1935

     "Doctor Occult, the Ghost Detective" was a new creation from Jerry and Joe about a Sam Spade gumshoe that specializes in supernatural cases. The debut was signed as Leger and Reuths, an anagram alias for the pair. The feature notably depicts the first appearance of a vampire in a comic book. "The Vampire Master" story continued over the next two issues renamed More Fun. Today, Doctor Occult is the earliest recurring DC Comics character that remains in continuity

Doctor Occult - New Fun - 6 - February 1935

     On a "hot summer night" in 1935, Jerry refined the Superman character into version more recognizable today. The story begins on an unnamed doomed planet. A scientist places his infant son into a rocket ship and launches it towards Earth. Like John Carter of Mars, this iteration of Superman could leap great distances due to his homeworld being larger than Earth.

     The alter-ego of Clark Kent is presented as a mild-mannered detective reporter. Clark is infatuated with a beautiful coworker named Lois. She adores Superman, but despises Clark for being a coward.

     Joe penciled four weeks of newspaper strips for the new character. The first week was inked, lettered, photostatted, and mailed to the syndicates. Joe outfitted Superman in a colorful circus strongman costume. Jerry suggested the swashbuckler cape and S-symbol, originally shaped like a shield. According to Jerry, the cape provided "more action and movement." Joe said that he was inspired by silent films starring Douglas Fairbanks, especially Robin Hood. "He always stands with his hands on his hips and feet apart, laughing, as if he doesn’t take anything seriously."

Clark Kent and Superman, One and Same! by Joe Shuster, 1935

     By 1936, the Superman chest emblem had changed from the shield-badge to a triangle shape. In early sketches, Joe depicted Superman in a sleeveless leotard worn by wrestlers and strongmen of the era. Jerry and Joe correctly envisioned Superman becoming a marketing phenomena.

Joe Shuster - Superman, 1936

     Jerry and Joe were given work on additional features at National. "Federal Men" was based on the 1935 film G Men, and "Calling All Cars featuring Sandy Kean and the Radio Squad" was a copy of the popular radio show Calling All Cars. The title was later shortened to "Radio Squad." In a letter dated October 4, 1935, Wheeler-Nicholson made a vague offer to publish Superman in tabloid format, but Jerry and Joe rejected the proposal. National was struggling to pay contributors on time. Jerry and Joe wanted their new hero in newspaper syndication.

     Managers William H. Cook and John Mahone left National and began publishing artists and stories originally contracted by Wheeler-Nicholson. Doctor Occult was renamed "Dr. Mystic: The Occult Detective" for one story printed in The Comics Magazine #1 (May 1936). "Federal Agent" in The Comics Magazine Funny Pages #2 (June 1936) introduces Bart Regan, a spy detective created by Jerry and Joe later published in Detective Comics as "Spy".

    Jerry and Joe would use the early stories to experiment with their Superman prototype. The "Dr. Mystic" story published in The Comics Magazine #1 continues in More Fun Comics #14 (October 1936). Doctor Occult and Zator fly through the spiritual world wearing the uniform of "The Seven," a red cape with red boots, blue trunks, and a triangular chest emblem. The sword and uniform resemble the comic strip depictions of John Carter of Mars.

Dr. Occult - More Fun Comics - 14 - (October 1936)

     New Adventure Comics #12 (January 1937) was released on December 19, 1936. The "Federal Men" story focuses on an agent named Jor-L in the year 3000 A.D. Jor-L is an anagram of Jerome Siegel. The names Jor-L and Lora would later appear as the biological parents of Superman in the January 16, 1939, newspaper strip. The spellings were changed to Jor-el and Lara in The Adventures of Superman novel by George Lowther, published on November 2, 1942.

     Major Wheeler-Nicholson planned to launch two more magazines, Detective Comics and Action Comics. In order to finance the venture, the Major turned to publisher Harry Donenfeld and his accountant Jack Liebowitz. Donenfeld owned a printing plant and the newsstand distributor Independent News Co. Donenfeld and Liebowitz were both prominent socialists in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU).

Jack Liebowitz & Harry Donenfeld

     Harry Donenfeld had a negative reputation for publishing "smooshes," the "spicy pulps" that featured erotic stories and soft-core pornographic photos. Writers often complained of not receiving payment. Donenfeld was connected to Frank Costello, boss of the Luciano crime family. During Prohibition, alcohol shipments from Canada were smuggled into America with cheap magazine pulp paper. The alcohol would move through the established printing networks into cities nationwide.

     In November 1933, Donenfeld was arrested in New York for distributing obscene material. In June 1935, the FBI began investigating Donenfeld publishing companies for Interstate Transportation of Obscene Literature. Director J. Edgar Hoover took personal interest in the case after viewing the April 1935 issue of Spicy Adventure Stories. As Donenfeld began to distance himself from the porn industry, Jack Liebowitz would help to establish credibility, ensuring that writers and artists were paid.

     Detective Comics, Inc., later known as DC Comics, was organized on December 30, 1936. Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Jack Liebowitz were listed as the principal owners. The first issue of Detective Comics hit newsstands on February 10, 1937. The debut features a 13-page Siegel and Shuster story for Slam Bradley, and four pages of Bart Regan, Spy. The cover feature and Slam Bradley story highlight prejudices toward Asians during the Yellow Peril and rise of the Nazi party. The early comic books published by National and DC depict ethnic stereotypes that are considered obscene by modern standards.

Slam Bradley - Detective Comics - 1 - March 1937

     Wheeler-Nicholson first outlined the character concept for Slam Bradley in a letter to Jerry dated May 13, 1936. According to Joe, "Slam Bradley was a dry run for Superman." "We turned it out with no restrictions, complete freedom to do what we wanted; the only problem was that we had a deadline." In order to work faster, Jerry and Joe pioneered the technique of using large action splash panels in comic books.

     The Daily Star first appeared as a fictional newspaper in a "Spy" feature from Detective Comics #7 (September 1937). The Daily Star is a nod to the Toronto newspaper where Joe worked as a child.

     Harry Donenfeld and Independent News Co. took over distribution for National with Detective Comics #2 (April 1937). On December 4, 1937, Jerry and Joe signed a two-year agreement acknowledging that all work done for Detectives Comics would become "sole and exclusive property" of DC. Wheeler-Nicholson produced an ashcan for Action Comics, but was now in debt to Harry Donenfeld for $63,380. On December 30, 1937, Donenfeld and Liebowitz initiated bankruptcy proceedings against Nicholson Publishing in order to buy Wheeler-Nicholson out of National and DC.

     On January 10, 1938, Detective Comics editor Vin Sullivan wrote to Jerry Siegel about featuring Superman in the new Action Comics magazine. During a conference call with Jack Liebowitz at DC and Max Gaines at the McClure Syndicate, Jerry agreed to let DC use the Superman newspaper samples.

     On February 1, 1938, Sullivan mailed the strips back to Jerry and requested a 13-page story in tabloid format. Three weeks of older penciled stories were inked and lettered by Joe. The scenes were cut and pasted onto pages of 6–8 panels. Eight days of the original story were omitted and additional panels were included for continuity purposes.

Superman - Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster original panel - 1938

     The first panels were redrawn to include an origin story and "a scientific explanation of Clark Kent's amazing strength." The story begins on a distant planet destroyed by old age. A scientist places his infant son into a rocket ship and launches it towards Earth. The baby is discovered by a passing motorist and taken to an orphanage. As an adult, Clark Kent could "leap 1/8 of a mile," "raise tremendous weights," and "run faster than an express train." Krypton, Kal-L, Jor-L, and Lora are not yet named.

Superman, Action Comics 1 (June 1938)

     In the first adventure, Superman is still unknown to the public. He bursts into the Governor's mansion and demands a pardon for an innocent woman. Back at the Daily Star, Clark Kent receives a tip to stop an armed domestic dispute. He returns to ask Lois out on a date and she reluctantly accepts. Lois is only referred to by her first name.

Clark Kent & Lois Lane, Action Comics #1 (June 1938)

     That night, Clark is challenged by a gangster named Butch Mason. Clark refuses to fight and Lois leaves in disgust. Mason and his men abduct Lois and drive away, only to be intercepted by Superman. The hero lifts Mason's coupe and smashes it into a boulder. Jerry Siegel suggested that Vin Sullivan use the car scene for the cover artwork. The scene was later redrawn for the 1939 newspaper strip.

Panel 67, Action Comics 1 (June 1938)

     Superman saves Lois, a theme that is now an essential part of the mythology. Lois reports back to work, but the unnamed Daily Star editor dismisses her experience as a drunken hallucination. Clark tries to apologize, but Lois is "colder than ever."

     Clark is given an assignment to investigate a warring South American republic named San Monte. As Superman, he travels to Washington, D.C., and kidnaps a corrupt lobbyist. The story concludes in Action Comics #2 (July 1938). A final splash panel was added that depicts the first image of Superman breaking chains.

Panel 98, Action Comics 1 (June 1938)

     Some of the Superman images have been compared to illustrations from the 1930 booklet Molding a Mighty Chest by strongman George F. Jowett. Publications from the Jowett Institute of Physical Culture were frequently advertised in the pulps, and later in issues of Action Comics and Superman.
George F. Jowett, Molding a Mighty Chest (1930)George F. Jowett, Molding a Mighty Chest, p 31 (1930)

     The cover art for Action Comics #1 was illustrated by an unnamed staff member at Detective Comics. On February 22, 1938, Vin Sullivan mailed a silver print of the finished cover to Jerry Siegel, writing, "You'll note that we already used one of those panel drawings of Superman, as you suggested in your recent letter." The costume that appears on the cover contains the shield chest emblem and boot design from the 1935 McClure submissions.

Action Comics #1 Silver Print (February 1938)

     On March 1, 1938, Jack Liebowitz signed a paycheck to Jerry and Joe for $412. Included was a contract that gave Superman to Detective Comics, Inc. "to have and hold forever." They were paid a total of $130 for the first Superman feature. The remaining money was for previous work unpaid by Wheeler-Nicholson. In 1979, Jerry lamented, "The legal release, which Joe and I signed, caused us much grief later."

Siegel and Shuster Superman check - March 1, 1938

     On April 5, 1938, Superman first appeared on newsstands in a black-and-white advertisement for the new Action Comics. The ad was printed on the inside covers of More Fun Comics #31, Detective Comics #15, and New Adventure Comics #26.

New Adventure Comics - 26 - Action Comics Ad - May 1938

     On April 8, 1938, Jerry received a letter from the McClure Syndicate asking him to expand the origin of Superman. Jerry and Joe began work on the first two weeks of newspaper strips, naming Kal-L, Jor-L, and Lora. Based on their previous arrangement with Wheeler-Nicholson, Jerry and Joe mistakenly believed that DC would return the rights to Superman for newspaper syndication. The daily strips began publication on January 16, 1939, but only after a stern warning from Jack Liebowitz.

     Action Comics #1 was copyrighted on April 18, 1938, and there were 202,000 copies produced. The 64-page issue began to arrive on newsstands by the first week of May. The cover date is June 1938 and the price for the historical book was ten cents.

Action Comics no. 1,  June 1938


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