- From Uncle Jam .org -
Originally published in Cobblestone #11
OVER TALL BUILDINGS
IN A SINGLE BOUND.
By Phil Yeh and Randy Kosht
He wrote the story of a man who stood for all things good. The man who could jump over tall buildings in a single bound; run faster than a speeding bullet; was more powerful than a locomotire; one of the greatest characters of literature. His name is Jerry Siegel. In 1933, while still in high school, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. Today, almost forty-three years later, Superman has made millions of dollars fighting for justice and the American way. But Jerry siegel and Joe Shuster are far from wealthy men. Almost every single angle has been employed by the publishers of Superman to capitalize on his great appeal. Bubble gum cards, T-shirts, stickers, toys, TV shows, movies, et cetera.
All have contributed to the vast amount of profit made by Superman's publisher, National Periodical Publications, part of the Warner Communications famlly. But perhaps the biggest profit has been made by the comic book industry, an industry that would probably be dead without its super-heroes. An industry that is practically based on copying the best of them all, Superman. To find out why the creators of Superman have suffered such a great injustice, COBBLESTONE publisher Phil Yeh and Associate Editor Randy Kosht went to the home of Mr. Siegel to get a few more facts. The following article is not written in an interview form because of the great detail of this case, but we tried to include as many of Mr. Siegel's own statements as intact as possible.
It all began with two young men in Cleveland, Ohio. One, a young science fiction writer named Jerry Siegel. The other, a struggling artist, Joe Shuster. Together through the early thirties, their combined efforts would create the greatest character of all time and perhaps the greatest injustice as well.
We asked Mr. Siegel how the idea originated.
"I wrote a story called "The Reign of the Supermen" which was published in a science fiction fanzine that Joe and I put out together, called 'Science Fiction.' It was an entirely different tvpe of Superman, but just about this general time, I got the idea for 'The Superman"'
It was a few years later that their character would finally find its way to the comic books. In 1938, Jack Liebowitz, a member of Detective Comics Company (later to become National Periodical Publications), arranged with Siegel and Shuster to publish their character. In Action Comics Number One, the first episode of Superman appeared. It was not an instant success but good enough to out poll the other features in the boook (according to a letter from Liebowitz to Siegel dated September 28, 1938), which included Zatara the Magician, Pep Morgan and other favorites But it must have been enough for the publishers, for Siegel and Shuster continued to produce books.
Although the people at Detective Comics (basicaliy Mr. Liebowitz) were telling Siegel and Shuster that no character was popular enough to warrant its own book, within a short period of time, Superman was in fact a solo feature. Not only did this character find himself in his own book (Superman") but continuing in Action Comics as well. It would seem to be that this one character was making a little bit of money.
Yet Siegel and Shuster were having a very difficult time getting any more money for their creation. Despite these problems, Liebowitz assured them not to worry.
In a letter dated January 23, 1940, Liebowitz wrote to Siegel: Get behind your work with zest and ambition to improve, and forget about book rights, movie rights, and all other dreams. We'll take care of things in the proper manner."
And so it went. Two young inexperienced men against a very shrewd businessman.
We asked Mr. Siegel if there was any contract when they first started their dealings with National:
"They sent us a release form, but prior to that I had met with Jack Liebowitz and others in New York, and he assured us that they would look after our best interests; that it was a firm that was going places, and we would go places with them. He sort of sold us on the fact that they would take care of us, and so thats why we went ahead with the deal.
But Siegel and Shuster's claim to Superman in comic book form was not the only question. In 1940 Superman appeared on radio. In 1941, Paramount Pictures began the first of 18 Superman animated cartoons. And of course, the question of royalties was to surface.
In his letter dated June 27, 1941, Liebowitz stated: "Under the terms of our contract you are entitled to a percentage of the net profits accruing from the exploitation of Superman in channels other than magazines. These figures for the last year show that we lost money, and therefore you are entitled to no royalties. However, in line with our usual generous attitude toward you boys, (referring to Siegel and Shuster), I am enclosing a check for $500 which is in effect a token of feeling."
We interrupt our story for World War II. We'll bring Jerry right back after the war but before he goes, one last question: "What happened when the war came - did you stop doing any work for them (National)?"
"No, I was under contract because I had signed a ten-year contract; this was one of the things that happened as time went by. While I was in the service thev (National) started ghosting the Superman scripts, because obviously I couldn't write them while I was away in the service. At the same time, they took over Joe's end of it. Joe and I had a studio in Cleveland; Joe had artists working for him. When I went into the service, Joe and his staff went to New York, or at least Joe and some of them (the artists under Shuster's employ) did. I wasn't around and eventually most of Joe's workers worked directly for National instead of for Joe.
"When I came out of the service, I wanted to set up our studio again and operate the way we had before. Incidentally, before I went into the service, I wrote that I hoped they (National) wouldn't take advantage of this (my absence) and try to take away the production of Superman from Joe and me, and that's exactly what they did turn around and do or attempt to do, because when I came out, I tried to get things as they were before, where all the material would come solely from Joe and me, and I encountered great resistance on that, and our troubles were on."
Those troubles" included a lawsuit filed by Siegel in regards to the character, Superboy. The court ruled in favor of Siegel and we quote the decision of J. Addison Young, Official Referee, in the 1947 Westchester case:
It is quite clear to me however, that in publishing Superboy, the Detective Comics Inc. acted illegally. I cannot accept lhe defendant's (D.C. Comics) view that Superboy was in reality Superman. I think Superboy was a separate and distinct entity. In having published Superboy without right, plaintiffs are entitled to an injunction preventing such publication and under the circumstances I believe the defendants should account as to the income received from such publication and that the plantiffs should be given an opportunity to prove any damages they have sustained on account thereof. The defendant, Detective Comics admit oweing the plaintiffs over $3,000 for publishing Superboy but this amount is calculated on a basis not binding upon the plaintiffs. I also think the plaintiffs are entitled to an accounting as demanded in their eighth cause of action."
Included in this first lawsuit were questions brought up by Siegel and Shuster about their by-lines being used when they had nothing to do with the material and were receiving no financial compensation, and the imitative features (Such as The Flash, Wonder Woman, Star-Man, Dr. Fate, etc.) that Nationai was producing at a rapid rate. It should also be noted that many other comic book companies were creating the same type of heroes during this time. A time sometimes called the Golden Age of Comics.
Because the court ruled that Siegel and Shuster owned Superboy and not Superman, they appealed the decision. But soon after the case was settled out of court and a sum was paid by National to the two young creators.
It should also be noted at about this time National sued another competitor (Fawcett) over their character Captain Marvel. National claimed that Captain Marvel was a direct steal from Superman. Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel. Years later, National was itself to resume publishing of the very same character, as well as featuring the character on television. The show and book however are called Shazam, although the character remains the same.
With the results of their suit over, Siegel and Shuster tried to come back with another character. It was called Funnyman but was not very successful.
Then the duo went their separate ways. Siegel became an editor at the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, and later became comics director there, and Shuster went on to free-lance work. This was about 1948 until 1951.
In 1959, Jerry Siegel started to write for National again without by-lines. He did the newspaper daily and Sunday strips, and in addition, wrote for the Superman "family" of comics, titles that included Superman, Lois Lane, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, and the Legion of Superheroes in Adventure comics. Joe Shuster also started to work for National during this time.
In 1966, Siegel tried again to sue National, this time under the claim that they had never signed away the copyright renewal rights in any contractual form. Up until this time, most artists, writers, etc. who have sued under this basis had won their case and retained control of the material (in this case Superman). But the final verdict went against Supermans creators. In 1968, Siegel and Shuster had lost again.
The two young boys had now become bitter middle-aged men with very little hope left. Joe Shuster is now partially blind and Jerry Siegel's health is not good either. They are both 61 years old and far from wealthy.
Early in 1975 Jerry Siegel tried to take his case before the Supreme Court in hopes that after all these years he could get some justice. But the case never appeared and we asked Mr. Siegel why:
We were induced to drop our case and not take it to the Supreme Court because National had indicated that if we would do that (drop the case), that they would decide whether or not they could do something for Joe and I, and so we figured that after all we had been through, we would take a gamble and trust to the generosity and good intentions of National. Many years have passed and we thought perhaps there might be a higher level of thinking up there..."
It has been over seven months since they have heard anything from National and we wondered why all the suspense: "Don't you think that it's good public relations for National, or Warner Communications, to do something for you?
Doesn't it make sense that National is not going to want you guys coming up there saying, 'Hey, you know, we've been ripped off.' All of a sudden the legend of Superman is beginning to crumble because of this, I would assume they (National) would want to settle this once and for all."
Mr. Siegel answered our question: "I agree with you completely, and that's what we are hoping, because we've been walking on thin ice most of our lives, and we feel it's now or never and we feel that if people do learn of this injustice and this horrendous stink surrounding Superman, that perhaps something decent may evolve out of this mess."
Recently, National sold movie rights to Messrs. Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler for a reported sum of $3,000,000. It also said that the film will cost $15,000,000 to produce. Of course, Supermans creators have not received one cent.
We hope that there is a chance that justice will be dealt to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Perhaps, now that Mr. Siegel has presented his case to many areas of the media, public pressure can be brought to the people who now own Superman, and that a settlement can be reached. It has been almost 30 years since the first lawsuit in 1948 and these two men are still wondering how this great ironic tragedy could happen.
We, as artists and writers ourselves, should find enough moral courage to see that justice is done in this situation. Write to National Periodical Publications, in care of Carmine Infantino, Publisher at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019 and ask what efforts are being made to see that something is done for the men who created a character that has dedicated his life to "Truth, Justice and the American Way, Superman.
In order to find out what National and Warner plan to do, COBBLESTONE talked with Warner's Vice-President Jay Emmett. Mr. Emmett informed us that his company purchased National Periodical Publications after Mr. Siegel's last lawsuit and are not responsible for any of the legal battle he had conducted.
However, in the interests of fair play, Mr. Emmett informed us that Warner would be contacting both Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster within the week and that some sort of life time pension plan would go into effect soon. We talked with Mr. Emmett Nov. 14, 1975 and by our publication date, some action should have begun. Cobblestone will continue to pursue this matter and make sure justice is really done.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: SUPERSHAM UPDATE
- From Uncle Jam .org -
Originally published in Cobblestone #12
SIEGEL AND SHUSTER?
By Phil Yeh and Randy Kosht
Last issue COBBLESTONE became one of the first news sources in the world to publish an in depth report on the true story behind Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
In that story, we reported that the company that now owns Superman (Warner Communications) would be reaching some sort of settlement with Siegel and Shuster. We were informed by Warner's Vice-President Jay Emmett that some action would take place within the week. Our story was published Nov. 20; on the 25th, The Los Angeles Times did a piece on their plight. Within the week major areas of the media began to pick up the story. Among the many people Siegel and Shuster talked to were: Tom Snyder, The Tomorrow Show; Newsday; ABC-TV; NBC-TV; The New York Times; The Today Show; The Weekend Show [to be aired in Jan.], CBS; Metromedia TV; and Rolling Stone Magazine.
Despite all the support from the public, Warner still seems to be dragging its feet in reaching a just settlement (for details see COBBLESTONE #11). Warner has been trying to simply give Siegel and Shuster a certain amount of money per year for the rest of their lives (they are both 61 years old) while Siegel and Shuster want some sort of support for their heirs. On Dec. 9, the members of the National Cartoonists' Society drew up a resolution of support for these two men who practically built the comic book empire with their character.
The resolution reads:
"We, the members of the National Cartoonists Society, wish to express our full support to the efforts to award Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, belated financial recognition for their creation.
"As professional cartoonists we are shocked and outraged that even at this date, thirty-five years too late, the proprietors of Superman refuse to share a fair part of the millions Siegel and Shuster's creation has spawned.
"As human beings, we cannot believe, setting aside all legal considerations, that those who have the power to do so, can continue to ignore the simple human condition of two men who have given so much and received so little.
National Cartoonists' Society"
We as artists and writers and people who can appreciate the work of fellow artists should continue to speak up against this great injustice until something decent is finally worked out. COBBLESTONE will continue to pursue this matter in future issues.