Pictured left to right are Jerry Siegel, writer, and Joe Shuster, illustrator
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in Cleveland but they made little for their efforts.
“Look! Up in the air. It’s a bird. It’s a plane.
It’s S-U-P-E-R-M-A-N !!!”
We wonder how many fans know that Superman started out as a villain. It was a short-lived effort before creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster turned the action hero into a good guy, who stood for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
With Siegel doing the writing and Shuster the drawings, their Superman character got off to a slow start in 1933 and was rejected again and again by various magazines and comics.
A new publisher, DC Comics, had used other works by Siegel and Shuster, so they weren’t exactly unknown. When the publisher’s new magazine “Action Comics” was getting ready, they got their chance. Shuster’s art of Superman lifting a car with his hands, and the comic book story inside written by Siegel, appeared in Action Comics No. 1 in the summer of 1938.
By the time issue No. 4 appeared on the newsstands, sales were off the charts. Sounds like a real success story for a couple of young teenagers who had dreams of Superman being known all over the world. Oops! The problem was Siegel and Shuster had signed over the rights to DC Comics for a scant $130, and a contract to supply the publisher with ongoing material.
By World War II Superman was one of the most recognized comic superheroes in the world. At the same time, other comic superheroes included Captain Marvel, Batman and Robin, The Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. In 1941 The Saturday Evening Post reported that the pair was then earning $75,000 each per year for their creative efforts, but a mere fraction of DC’s Superman profits which by then had soared into the millions of dollars.
Five years later Siegel and Shuster sued for more money and DC Comics fired them. That prompted still another legal battle, and two years later they accepted $200,000 and signed away any further claim to Superman. DC Comics soon took their names off the comics.
Through the lean years, the Superman co-creators prevailed even though it was hard to find work. With the pending release of the “Superman” movie in 1978, and with the backing of some of the biggest names in the comic book industry, DC Comics was persuaded to give the creators life-long pensions, health care benefits, and credit to them as creators was restored.
Many in the comic industry felt it was not enough, considering Superman had become an icon and earned DC Comics billions of dollars. The Man of Steel had become one of the most recognized comic superheroes in the world through comics, toys, clothing, other merchandise, cartoons, radio, television, movies, video games, and even the Broadway stage. The money was just pouring in. Over the years there has been legal wrangling as to the rights to the Superman character, as well as appropriate payment to the co-creators. There are still ongoing legal ins and outs, with some decisions being worked out.
Few know that Siegel’s wife Joanne was the model for the Lois Lane character. She initially modeled for Shuster, not realizing she would become Superman’s heartthrob. Joanne and Jerry married 10 years after Superman made his debut, following Siegel’s divorce from Bella Siegel.
A few years after Siegel’s death in 1996, his wife wanted to donate some of his personal papers and other items (his typewriter, glasses, and the like) to set up a permanent memorial, but no one in Cleveland was interested.
Some of that material has ended up at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood (a suburb of Cleveland) for the permanent Siegel and Shuster exhibit.
Today there are three specific locations marking the important beginnings of Superman on Cleveland’s east side back in the late 1930s. One is the bronze-like historical marker by the clock tower on the corner of East 105th Street and St. Clair Avenue. A few blocks away is the original home of Siegel. And a bit further away is the corner property where Shuster lived.
Some of the streets have also been given honorary names, with signs bearing the familiar stylized “S” insignia in a triangle.
So if you are a fan of that high-flying character who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and who can leap buildings in a single bound (and can only be brought down by a little kryptonite), then you might enjoy self-touring the tight-knitted area where Superman first made his appearance.
However, The Man of Steel had a redo by DC Comics in 1986. Gone are
the iconic red shorts, the flowing red cape, the familiar S on his barrel chest, and the clean, muscular lines of the superhero.
The “new” Superman “uniform” has been overhauled to a more modern and futuristic form in an attempt to re-capture a new generation of fans. His new appearance is akin to the characters of computer action games. Whether or not the regenerated Superman catches on remains to be seen.
So here’s what to look for Superman fans. . . . . .
A large, two-sided Ohio Historical Marker honoring the Superman creators is in front of a small clock tower on the northeast corner of a busy intersection. It was set in place in 2003, on the 65th anniversary of the 1938 release of the fabled comic book featuring the initial appearance of Superman.
Commissioned by the Ohio Historical Society, the $2,500 marker was sawed off its post and stolen but was returned by the thieves three weeks later undamaged. Bronze in appearance, the plaque is actually aluminum.
Oddly enough, Siegel’s name is misspelled on one side of the plaque.
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel grew up in a home off East 105th Street in what is called the Glenville neighborhood (or area) on Cleveland’s east side. Today a private residence lived in by a quiet couple for more than 25 years, the home has been restored and refurbished by the Siegel and Shuster Society, which has the first right of refusal when the house might go on the market.
At one time painted in the Superman colors, today the home is a more traditional color scheme. However, there is the familiar Superman “S” shield on one side of the front fence, and a triangular marker on the other side. These plaques were sponsored by the Siegel and Shuster Society.
It was in a second-floor bedroom of this house that the co-creators wrote and drew their Superman character.
In the summer of 2009, there was a grand ribbon-cutting to mark the completed restoration of the home. While sparsely attended, plus a rain-soaked day, Siegel’s widow and daughter were on the front porch for the ceremonies.
WHERE SHUSTER LIVED
A dozen blocks away, at the end of Amor Avenue where it meets Parkwood Drive is the site of what once was an apartment building where Shuster lived (he died in 1992). The corner property is now a private home and is surrounded by a wooden fence. Panels from the first Superman comic book are on the fence facing the sidewalk.
And that first Action Comics No. 1 fetched a stunning $1 million not too long ago. It is considered the Holy Grail of comic books and was sold from a private seller to a private buyer, neither of whom released their names. Oh, it originally cost just 10 cents — a mere dime.
So if you are a fan, you can add to your enthusiasm, and perhaps get a bit more inspiration at all three locations on Cleveland’s east side. And who knows what might happen. . . . . . “Look! Up in the air. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s S-U-P-E-R-M-A-N !!!”
WHERE TO SEE, AND MORE TO KNOW. . . .
The Superman historical marker is at the northeast corner of East 105th Street and St. Clair Avenue, not far from the Lakeland Freeway (Route 2), on Cleveland’s east side in what is called the Glenville area. Be sure to read both sides of the plaque, and see if you can find Siegel’s misspelled last name (hint: it’s on the continued, second side). Siegel’s original home is still a private residence, although it is easy to spot at 10622 Kimberly Avenue (Jerry Siegel Lane), off East 105th Street, just three blocks from the historical marker. Shuster’s original home in an apartment is gone, and a private residence is there now at the corner of Amor Avenue (Joe Shuster Lane) and Parkwood Drive (Lois Lane). You are welcomed to stop and read the comic book panels.
Excellent background material and information are available by reaching out to the Siegel and Shuster Society’s website at: siegelandshustersociety.org.
Special to OhioTraveler.com by Tom And Joanne O’toole, Travel Journalists
Tom and Joanne O’Toole are full-time freelance travel journalists and photographers. The husband/wife writing team is published in newspapers and magazines across the country and throughout Canada. They make their home in a little community in northeast Ohio when they are not off in search of new travel adventures — like learning more about the origins of superhero Superman. They are now on a search for an elusive copy of the first 1938 issue of Action Comics.