The Creation of Superman


Jerry Sigel and Joe Shuster - Comics and Their Creators - 1942

     Artist Joseph Shuster was born on July 10, 1914, in Toronto, Canada. His parents, Julius and Ida Shuster, left Europe in 1912 to escape anti-Semitic 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. 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 was ambidextrous and he would switch hands when one tired from drawing. His artwork was inspired by the comic strips and pulp magazines 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 Alex Raymond, the creator of Flash Gordon, Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth, and Prince Valiant creator Hal Foster. Shuster would often incorporate contemporary Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles similar to Raymond in cityscape scenes.

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 on The Hamilton Federalist, the school newspaper for Alexander Hamilton Junior High. His first comic strip 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, Michel Siegel, owned Michael's Men's Furnishings, a second-hand clothing store on Central Avenue in Cleveland.

     Jerry was first published at age 12 in the Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine when he reached out for someone to correspond with him. In a draft of Creation of a Superhero, Siegel recalls his earliest science fiction stories 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 the story.
Jerry Siegel
     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 Moses, Tarzan was orphaned as a child in a strange land. John Carter is sent to another planet and fights for an alien race. Carter is endowed with superhuman strength and the ability to leap great distances due to lighter gravity similar to the early origin of Superman. 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 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. By the time he started attending Glenville High School, Jerry was regularly exchanging mail with the fledgling community of science fiction writers.

     In August 1929, Jerry created The Fantastic Fiction Publication Company and released Cosmic Stories, one the first known science fiction fanzines. Each booklet was typed and hectographed by Jerry under the alias Charles McEvoy, one of many pseudonyms. Jerry enjoyed using pen names as another way to emulate Burroughs, who had first published as Norman Bean. About ten copies of Cosmic Stories were produced. The work was considered to be lost in 1935 and no examples are known to exist. The pamphlet reportedly included original stories from science fiction pioneers Clare Winger Harris and Walter Dennis, co-founder of the Science Correspondence Club. 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 with Walter, whose physical appearance and occupation was an early inspiration for Clark Kent.
Walter Dennis - 1930
     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.
     Joe arrived at Glenville High in 1930 and Jerry's cousin arranged an introduction. Both boys shared the same enthusiasm for comics strips, Douglas Fairbanks movies, 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" who invents the "penetrascope." The machine can see and hear through all substances, a precursor to x-ray vision. 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.
Goober the Mighty - Glenville Torch - 05-07-1931
     On January 9, 1932, future Superman editors Mortimer Weisinger and Julius Schwartz released The Time Traveler. Jerry was among the first subscribers to "Science Fiction's Only Fan Magazine." Jerry submitted short stories to The Time Traveler, but all were rejected.

     In 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 of Weird Tales in December 1926. The reprinted tale is presented as the first in a series of booklets called "The Fantastic Fiction Collection" from The Comet Pub. Co. in Cleveland. A note from the editorial department promotes The Time Crusaders as a forthcoming novel by Jerome Siegel and Bernard J. Kenton. In a 1983 interview, Jerry remembered The Time Crusaders as a comic strip collaboration with an artist through the mail.

     The second release in October 1932 was Guests of the Earth by Hugh Langley, a short story about an alien invasion hoax penned by Jerry. The afterword was provided by Forrest J Ackerman. Jerry showed the pamphlet to his English teacher who lectured him about wasting time on science fiction instead of more respected literature. The print run is unknown and very few copies have been observed.
Guests of the Earth by High Langley (Jerry Siegel) - 1932
     In a Glenville Torch article, Jerry announced that a script was being published by Amazing Stories. The story was Miracles on Antares by Bernard J. Kenton. At different times, the Kenton alias may have been a combination of Jerry and a person named Bernard Kantor. Kantor later worked as ghostwriter on Superman features. The story was never published and the manuscript was later returned to Jerry.

     The March 1932 issue of The Author and Journalist announced the debut of Science Fiction from Morontz Publications. 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." The solicitation seeks work similar to authors P. Schuyler Miller and Francis Flagg. To promote the new "Scientific-fiction novelty," an advertisement was placed in the September 1932 issue of Amazing Stories.
Amazing Stories v07n06 - September 1932

     On June 6, 1932, during a robbery at the clothing store, Michel Siegel collapsed due to "acute dilation of heart." The perpetrators were never identified.

     The first issues of Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization were mailed to subscribers in October of 1932. The 8.5 x 11 inch booklets were compiled, edited, and typed by Siegel. All five installments of Science Fiction were mimeographed after school hours at Glenville High. Shuster provided the illustrations with contributions from pulp artist Clay Ferguson, Jr. and schoolmate Bernie Schmittke. The fanzine was sold by mail order for 15 cents each or $1.50 a year. The print runs were limited and few examples still exist.
Science Fiction - The Advance Guard of Future Civilization
     The first issue contains stories written by Siegel 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 Charity Game. The game was played on November 26, 1932, at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Cleveland Plain Dealer distributed 5,000 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 dated January 1933 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 story in a breadline. A vagrant named William Dunn is approached by a scientist and granted vast strength, telescopic vision, and the ability to read minds. "The Superman" in this story used the abilities for evil instead of good. 

    The super powers were derived from a meteor fragment, an early prototype of K-Metal and Kryptonite. The bald villain and mad scientist motifs are evocative of the original Lex Luthor. Forrest Ackerman appears as a 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 work from Shuster. Schwartz later credited The Time Traveler as the inspiration for Siegel to create Science Fiction, thus leading to the creation of Superman. However, Jerry had previously published the Cosmic Stories fanzine in 1929. According to Jerry, the motivation to self-publish was from being rejected by every publisher.

     The fourth issue features a preview of the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago and a fictional review of King Kong, both illustrated by Joe.

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 said that the artist was J. Allen St. John, illustrator for Burroughs, and the comic strip was "Rex Carson of the Ether Petrol". Mort Weisinger contributed a satirical news column under the name Ian Rectez. Pulp artist Clay Ferguson Jr. provided an illustration for "Technocracy" that Joe transposed to stencil.
Science Fiction - 5 - Editorial - 1933Technocracy - Clay Ferguson, Jr. - Science Fiction - 5 - 1933
     An article by Julius Schwartz in the August 1933 issue of Science Fiction Digest reported that Siegel planned to expand Science Fiction into 50-pages for 20 cents.
Science Fiction Digest - August 1933
     A letter from author Louis C. Smith to Ackerman dated September 7, 1933, 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

     In the spring of 1933, a compilation of reprinted newspaper comic strips was released in magazine format as Funnies on Parade.

     Clark Savage Jr., known as Doc Savage, debuted in Doc Savage Magazine dated March 1933. From a young age, Clark possessed superhuman strength and intellect. Doc Savage retreats to a "Fortress of Solitude" located in the arctic. The first adventure is titled "The Man of Bronze." By the third story, Clark was referred to as a "superman."
Doc Savage - 1933

     Over the summer of 1933, "The Superman" character was reimagined as a bulletproof brawler. No longer a villain, the shirtless 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 he did not have a dual-identity as a reporter. Once again, the superpowers were bestowed upon "The Superman" by a scientist.
The Superman - Joe Shuster Sketch - 1933
     In the summer of 1933, Jerry corresponded with artist Leo O'Mealia to collaborate on the strip. "The Superman" was now a scientist from a future of evolved superhumans. Before the destruction of Earth, this Superman travels to the 1930s in a time machine and becomes a crimefighter. Frustrated, Joe burned his own pages of "The Superman". All that remains of the early prototype is a penciled concept and a finished cover.
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.
Molding a Mighty Chest by George F. Jowett - 1930
     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 next 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



Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - Glenville Olympiad - 1934
     By graduation in 1934, Jerry and Joe had created a substantial amount of comic book material for what they originally named "Popular Comics". The two had some works published in a Christmas edition of Cleveland Shopping News. The tabloid contracted them for a series of comics and shopping advertisements, but the project was cancelled. Some of the penciled layouts and finished pages were published 50 years later in issues of Siegel and Shuster: Dateline 1930's from Eclipse Comics.
Joe Shuster - The Game of Life - c. 1932
     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 continued to develop "The Superman" while searching for a more established artist. Siegel typed 15 days worth of newspaper stories for what was now simply titled "Superman". On June 12, 1934, Jerry mailed the updated scripts to Russell Keaton, an illustrator for the Buck Rogers Sunday newspaper strips. Keaton responded to Jerry with nine finished strips. In this version, the last man on Earth transports his son back in time to 1935 before the planet is destroyed. The time machine is found by Sam and Molly Kent. Inside, the three-year old boy is outfitted with a round emblem and laced circus boots. He awakens and begins to display usual superhuman abilities. Sam and Molly decide to adopt the child 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 soon departed from the project.
Superman - 2 - Russel Keaton - 1934
     Jerry began to pitch Superman as a comic book magazine. On June 24, 1934, their unopened samples were returned from Eastern Color Printing, the publisher of Famous Funnies.

     On January 13, 1935, an artist model with no experience placed a classified advertisement in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The model was a teenage girl named Jolan Kovacs, also known as Joanne Carter. Joe hired Kovacs for $1.50 an hour and she became the visual basis for reporter Lois Lane. Jerry named Lois after his high school crush. The character was inspired by Torchy Blaine, a detective reporter played by actresses Glenda Farrell and Lola Lane. Joanne and Jerry later married each other in 1948.
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, one of the first regularly published comic book magazines comprised of all-original material. The Major reviewed some samples of Joe's sketches that were submitted on the old wallpaper from Toronto and some brown wrapping paper. In a letter dated June 6, 1935, the Major 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 the Major, 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 all six Henri Duval stories 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.
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 and it 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 his Superman character into the more recognizable hero of today. The super-powered child was now rocketed away from a doomed planet. Like John Carter, Superman could leap at great bounds due to his homeworld being larger than Earth. The alter-ego of Clark Kent became a mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Star, a nod to the Toronto newspaper where Joe once worked. Clark is in love with the beautiful reporter Lois Lane. Lois adores Superman, but she 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 this Superman in a colorful circus strongman costume. Jerry suggested the S-symbol and swashbuckler cape. The original chest emblem was a scalloped shield badge. 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 by Joe Shuster - 1935

     Jerry and Joe were given work on additional features at National such as "Federal Men" and "Calling All Cars: Sandy Kean and the Radio Squad". In a letter dated October 4, 1935, the Major 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 and the pair had still envisioned the hero in newspaper syndication.

     As the Major neared bankruptcy, Managers William H. Cook and John Mahone left the company and began publishing artists and stories originally contracted to National. Doctor Occult was renamed Dr. Mystic for one story printed in The Comics Magazine #1, on sale March 20, 1936. "Federal Agent" in The Comics Magazine #2 introduces Bart Regan, a spy detective created by Jerry and Joe later published as "Spy".


     By 1936, the Superman chest emblem had changed from the scalloped shield to an inverted triangle. In his early sketches, Joe depicted Superman in a sleeveless leotard worn by wrestlers and strongmen of the era. Jerry and Joe envisioned Superman becoming a marketing phenomena.
Joe Shuster - Superman - 1936
     Jerry and Joe would use the early stories at National to experiment with their Superman prototype. More Fun Comics #14 from October 1936 depicts Doctor Occult flying in a red cape with red boots, blue trunks, and a chest emblem. The outfit closely resembles the comic strip depictions of John Carter of Mars.
Dr. Occult - More Fun Comics - 14 - October 1936
     New Adventure Comics #12 was released on December 19, 1936. The "Federal Men" story focuses on an agent named Jor-L in the year 3000 A.D. The illustrations contain elements commonly seen in the early science fantasy pulps. The name Jor-L would later appear in a January 16, 1939, newspaper strip as the father of Superman. The spelling was altered to Jor-El in the 1940 novel The Adventures of Superman by George Lowther.


     Major Wheeler-Nicholson planned to launch two more magazines, Detective Comics and Action Comics. In a letter dated May 13, 1936, the Major first outlined a character concept for Slam Bradley. The brawling amateur detective was developed by Jerry and Joe for Detective Comics #1.

     In order to finance Detective Comics, the Major turned to Harry Donenfeld and his accountant Jack Liebowitz. Harry owned Independent News Co., a printing plant and newsstand distributor. The company had gained a negative reputation for publishing "smooshes," also known as "snappy" or "spicy" pulps that featured sexual content considered to be indecent. Harry was known as a smut-peddler with ties to organized crime figures Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky. During Prohibition, alcohol shipments from Canada were smuggled with his magazine pulp paper.

     Detective Comics, Inc., later known as DC Comics, was formed in late 1936 with Wheeler-Nicholson and Liebowitz listed as 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". Both the cover feature and Slam Bradley story highlight the prejudices of Jewish creators toward Asians during the Yellow Peril and rise of the Nazi party. The early comic books published by Nicholson and National depict images of African Americans that are obscene by modern standards.
Slam Bradley - Detective Comics - 1 - March 1937


     The Daily Star first appeared as a fictional newspaper in a "Spy" feature from Detective Comics #7 dated September 1937. By the end of year, the National Allied Newspaper Syndicate was in debt to Harry Donenfeld for $63,380. In December 1937, Donenfeld sued and forced Wheeler-Nicholson out of National and DC.

     In January of 1938, Jerry received a three-way telephone call from Jack Liebowitz and M.C. Gaines of the McClure Syndicate. Jerry agreed to turn the Superman submission over to DC for the new Action Comics magazine. On February 1, 1938, DC editor Vin Sullivan mailed the Superman sample strips back to Jerry and requested a 13-page story in tabloid format. The three weeks of penciled stories were inked and lettered by Joe. The strips were cut-up and pasted onto pages of 6-8 panels, omitting eight days of stories.
Superman - Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster original panel - 1938
     The first page was redrawn to include an origin story and a "scientific explanation" for the superpowers. An infant is sent by a scientist from an unnamed distant planet "destroyed by old age." Clark Kent could "leap 1/8 of a mile," "raise tremendous weights," and "run faster than an express train." Missing from the story are the heightened senses such as x-ray and heat vision.

     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. At the Daily Star, Clark receives a tip to stop an armed domestic dispute. He returns to ask Lois Lane out on a date which she reluctantly accepts.

     That night, Clark is attacked by a gangster named Butch Mason. Clark refuses to fight and Lois leaves in disgust. Mason and his men abduct Lois and are soon stopped by Superman. Superman lifts the car and smashes it into a boulder. Jerry and Joe recommended panel 67 to Sullivan for the cover image.
Action Comics - 1 - June 1938
     Superman saves Lois, a theme that is now a common part of the mythology. She reports back to the editor who 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. Instead, he travels to Washington, D.C., and kidnaps a corrupt senator attempting to enter the war in Europe. The story continues in Action Comics #2. A final splash panel was added featuring the first iconic image of Superman breaking chains.

     The cover art was drawn by an unnamed DC staff based on panel 67. Vin Sullivan mailed a silverprint of the cover to Jerry on February 22. The costume that appears on the cover contains the scalloped chest emblem from the earlier Superman submission to McClure. The new Action Comics was promoted in issues of Detectives Comics, More Fun Comics, and New Adventure Comics in the spring of 1938.
New Adventure Comics - 26 - Action Comics Ad - May 1938
     On March 1, 1938, Jerry and Joe signed a contract that gave Superman to DC "to have and hold forever." They were paid a total of $130 for the first story.
Siegel and Shuster Superman check - March 1, 1938
     Action Comics #1 was copyrighted on April 11, 1938, and 200,000 copies were produced. The cover price for the landmark issue was 10 cents. Superman first appeared on newsstands by the end of the month.
Action Comics no. 1,  June 1938



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