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Biographies of the Stars

Jerome Siegel, Co-creator of Superman

Jerome Siegel is one of the most important figures in the development and creation of costumed comic heroes. As co-creator of the most famous of these mythical beings, the immortal Superman, he along with artist Joe Shuster propelled the superhero into the public consciousness, injecting popular American culture with one of the most enduring icons of the twentieth century.

Jerome Siegel was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 17, 1914. An avid reader with a great interest in science fiction & fantasy, he published his own fanzine in 1929 called Cosmic Stories, a "hectographic" booklet with stories written by himself. It is recognized as the first sci-fi fanzine, and it was just a prelude to future accomplishments. He published several other booklets over the next few years.

In 1931 he met and befriended Joe Shuster, whose family had moved to Cleveland from Canada. They became fast friends, in part due to Joe's interest in science fiction novels and also because Joe was a competent artist and Jerry loved his work.

In 1932, the pair put out another fanzine called Science Fiction. Filled with fantastic stories, later day fan celebrity Forrest Ackerman wrote for it. In the third issue a story entitled "Reign of the Superman" appeared, with a villainous super-being. Later the character was converted to a hero and the seminal creation of the most popular comic character in history.

Inspired in part by Philip Wylie's novel "Gladiator", and in part by the Samson & Hercules legends, the redesigned "Superman" was put together in comic strip form as early as 1932, and then as a comic book in 1933. Unfortunately, when the comic book was rejected, Shuster destroyed the artwork. Fortunately, Siegel had rescued the cover art.

In 1935, the pair tried again to sell Superman to several comic book publishers, including DC. Once more their idea was rejected, but they did secure work at DC comics doing another feature they created, Dr. Occult, who made his first appearance in New Fun #6 cover dated October 1935.

They continued to do Dr. Occult and some other DC characters through the next couple of years, all the while working on the Superman feature that they wanted to sell so bad.

Finally the big break came. In 1938, as they tried to peddle the character to DC again they wound up in the office of Max Gaines, the publisher of the All American label. Max wasn't interested in Superman, but Sheldon Mayer was starting a new title at sister company DC and needed a cover feature, so he sent the pair over to the office with their hero tucked under their arms and Sheldon decided to take a shot with the Superman, giving him the cover of the first issue of Action Comics dated June 1938.

Read Superman's Origin here and check out some of Joe Shuster's artwork.

Superman was a smash hit with issues of Action selling out at the newsstands every month. Other companies, trying to cash in on the craze created by Superman tried to emulate the character to varying degrees. Some were successful, some were not. Some companies were even sued by DC for copying the Superman, even while DC itself copied the character without remuneration to Siegel & Shuster. But by 1941, the Saturday Evening Post reported the pair as making upwards of $75,000 each per year. They had certainly hit the bigtime.

But by 1946 it was not enough. DC was making millions of dollars on the character the two created, but they were still only making near one hundred thousand each. They sued DC over right to the character, to whom they had signed off all rights in 1938. Represented by attorney Albert Zugsmith (who later went to Hollywood to produce 50's B-movies), they would remain involved in a protracted legal battle with DC that would also keep them from being employed by the company, and that would also drain their finances until finally in 1948, they decided to take a settlement from DC of around two hundred thousand dollars, and only for royalties to the Superboy character that DC had created on it's own, without the duo. In addition, the creative team that was largely responsible for the proliferation of comic book culture had to sign away any further claim to Superman, or any character created there from.

It would also signal the virtual end of their mutual careers. Shuster would leave comics while Siegel continued to write scripts for different publishers and become the comic art director for the Ziff-Davis company in the 1950's.

From then on however the pair's byline was removed from DC's Superman logo. The team would receive screen credit for creating Superman only in film versions of the character and on the tv show. But they had essentially become two forgotten creators, outside of the small circle of people who collected comic books.

Siegel moved to Los Angeles and became a recluse. With the advent of comic collecting becoming a national hobby, and the proliferation of comic conventions starting in 1968, Siegel & Shuster again regained the public eye and in 1975, the two once again sued DC for royalties to Superman. Though they courts deemed that DC was not bound to any remuneration toward the pair, DC did decide (with prodding from publisher/editor Carmine Infantino) to give them $35,000 each a year for the rest of their lives. Though in some ways generous, it seems a paltry sum compared to the tens of millions (maybe hundreds of millions) made by DC since 1938.

Jerry Siegel is without question one of the most important figures in comic history. His contribution, in the form of a myth who flies, is probably the greatest contribution by any single individual in the history of the comics.

He passed away January 28, 1996 in Los Angeles. But he lives on forever beneath the red cape of Superman.

For more on Superman, see the biographies on Joe Shuster, Curt Swan & Wayne Boring

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