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  •   forum   •   THIS WEEK'S CHAPTER: "RETRIEVAL!" •   fortress   •  

2008 marks the 25th Anniversary of Jerry Siegel's 45th Anniversary letter to Superman

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, SUPERMAN!

by Jerry Siegel

It's 1983! You have super-survived all these many years!  You have been published monthly in ACTION COMICS magazine since that classic "historic" June, 1938 first issue!

And it is only the beginning!

Since 1938, you have been in comic books, in a television series, in a couple of motion pictures, in super-merchandising.

Exploitation of your amazing adventures in 4-D movies on other worlds and in a trillion other dimensions may happen some day.  Why not?  You're Superman!

You will live in fiction as long as there are people who enjoy the adventurings of a super-being who "rocketed as a baby from the exploding planet Krypton and grew to manhood on EARTH, with fantastic SUPER-POWERS!"

With your astounding photographic memory, you probably recall most of what I am going to tell you.  But please indulge your creator.  Okay?

This rambling reminiscing is being published in the 45th anniversary issue of ACTION COMICS.  Some of your fans in the current generation may not know how you burst out of total obscurity into world-wide fame.  So—

Your genesis began back in the early 1930s.  Artist Joe Shuster and I were high school classmates at Glenville High School in Cleveland, Ohio.  Those were hard times.

I had read about the fabulous success and great incomes of comics creators in a Fortune Magazine article which was reprinted in Reader's Digest.  Until then, my chief ambition was to become a writer of science-fiction stories and novels.  I had always loved comics.  As a child, I had been fascinated by the Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip which was created by Winsor McCay.  His marvelous imagination and incredible artwork had thrilled me, boggled me.  Joe Shuster loved McCay's work also; like me, he was a science-fiction fan.  Both of us greatly admired the brilliant magazine artwork of science-fiction pioneer artist Frank R. Paul.  We were also inspired by the work of Harold Foster (artist of the Tarzan comic strip) and Alex Raymond's "Flash Gordon" and "Secret Agent X-9".

I yearned to be another Edgar Rice Burroughs.  His creations Tarzan and John Carter of Mars really got to me in those days long before the expression "far-out" came into existence.  I read enormous quantities of eerie-hero oriented pulp magazines like "The Shadow".  Joe and I haunted movies, often cashing in milk bottles to finance getting past theater box-offices.  Seated side-by-side in uncomfortable theater seat, we ate popcorn and absorbed "B movies" galore along with "A production" films.  I was especially strongly impressed by the Warner Brothers movies with their social injustice messages.  On screen, Astaire and Rogers danced... Paul Muni suffered... Laurel and Hardy were fabulously funny. 

Over the radio came the strident, hate-mongering voice of Adolf Hitler.  And the calmly reassuring voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

My mother worried that I, her impractical son who wanted to be a writer, might mot survive in this dog-eat-dog world.

Joe's mother worried, too, about the future of Joe who as a child had drawn pictures on the bedroom wall and wanted to be an artist. 

From the very first day we met, Joe and I went to work immediately, collaborating together on the creation of comic strips.  Comics of all types.  Comedy, science-fiction, etc.  Creating comics was easy.  Selling them wasn't.  Joe's eyes troubled him.  Despite this, he drew panel after panel after panel. 

I know that you know most of this already, Superman.  Probably even better than I do.  Please bear with me.  I'm not a super-guy from Krypton.  But I lived through this.  Like Joe.

I wrote some science-fiction stories and submitted them to "Amazing Stories" and "Science Wonder Stories".  They were rejected.  Refusing to accept defeat, I went into the fanzine business, mainly to get those rejected stories seen by readers.  My first fanzine was entitled "Cosmic Stories".  It was typewritten.  Later, with Joe Shuster as art editor, and with myself as editor, I published the fanzine "Science Fiction".  It was published on the mimeograph machine of Glenville High School where I was a reluctant "student". 

In the January, 1933 issue of "SCIENCE FICTION" appeared a story I had written in 1932 entitled, "The Reign of the Superman."  I used the pseudonym "Herbert S. Fine" which combined the name of a cousin of mine together with my mother's maiden name. 

After the publication of "Reign of the Superman", it occurred to me that a different version of Superman could be the basis of an extremely powerful and successful comic book.  And so I originated, together with Joe Shuster, the comic book "THE SUPERMAN", back in 1933.

A Chicago publisher was interested.  But he did not follow through and publish "THE SUPERMAN".  Broken-hearted, Joe tore up and burned all of the original drawings pages, except its cover.  Joe was terribly discouraged.  He got a part-time job as a grocery store's delivery-boy; another job, carrying a heavy box and selling ice-cream bars on the streets. 

Then came 1934.

I was still convinced that fame and fortune could be found by creating a super-hero comic strip.  This time, it would be a syndicated newspaper comic strip, instead of a newsstand comic book. I would name it "SUPERMAN". 




Late one night, it was so hot that I had trouble falling asleep.  I passed the time by trying to come up with dramatic story elements for the comic strip.  One premise I had already conceived came back to me, but in even sharper focus. 

The story would begin with you as a child on far-off planet Krypton.  Like the others of that world, you had super-powers.  (In revised versions done many years after the comic strip was first published, this facet was altered.)  The child's scientist-father was mocked and denounced by the Science Council.  They did not believe his claim that Krypton would soon explode from internal stresses.  Convinced that his prediction was valid, the boy's father had been constructing a model rocket ship.  As the planet began to perish, the baby's parents knew its end was close.  There was not space enough for three people in the small model craft.  They put the baby into it.  The mother chose to remain on the doomed planet with the man she loved, and die with him.  Tearfully, hoping that their baby boy would survive, they launched the craft toward the planet Earth.  Shortly, Krypton exploded and its millions of inhabitants were destroyed. 

On Earth, the super-tyke was found and adopted by a couple. They loved him and taught him to conceal his super-secret from the world.  They told him that someday he must use his incredible abilities to aid those less gifted than he.  And he would fight for justice, too!

The boy would grow up to become the colorfully costumed super-powered Superman!

Excitedly, I got out of bed and wrote that down.  Yawning, I went back to bed and fell asleep.

I awoke a little later.  More ideas came to me.  This Superman would lead a double-life.  As headline-hunting newspaper reporter Clark Kent, he would hide behind a false front of pretended timidity, so that no one would suspect that he was secretly the crusading, all-powerful Superman.  As a furthering disguise, meek, mild Clark Kent would wear eyeglasses, which would give a somewhat intellectual, inhibited appearance.

For romantic interest (romance makes the world go 'round, and it could add zest to the "SUPERMAN" comic strip), I would add a very gutsy and extremely beautiful girl reporter, Lois Lane, into the strip's cast of characters.  Lois would scorn klutzy Clark.  She would have a crush on Superman, totally unaware that Clark and Superman were one-and-the-same person! 




This time I almost fell out of bed in my haste to get it all down in script form on paper.  Much later, I returned to bed, one happy guy.  I felt I had come up with sure-fire ingredients for a smash-hit comic strip. 

Supie, you know and I know that much of that premise came out of my own personal frustrations.  I wore spectacles and was a high school boy who wrote for the school newspaper.  Introverted, my thoughts kept dwelling on science-fiction, thriller pulp magazines and the movies. 

There were some lovely high school girls who I admired from afar.  They were not the least bit interested in me.  I was not Clark (Kent) Gable.  I was just another face in the crowded, busy high school corridors. 

Those attractive schoolgirls in the classes and corridors didn't care that I existed.  But!!  If I were to wear a colorful, skintight costume!  If I could run faster than a train, lift great weights easily, and leap over skyscrapers in a single bound!  Then they would notice me!

Very early the next morning, I didn't bother to eat.  I ran all the way, twelve blocks, to Joe's apartment where he lived with his family. 

Joe read the script.  Instant approval.  He loved the new "SUPERMAN" format.  Like me, he, too, was bespectacled and inhibited.




Filled with high inspiration, Joe sat down at his drawing board and began making pencil sketches.  Joe and I discussed the appearance of Clark Kent and Superman.  I suggested to Joe that he place the symbol "S" within a triangle on the chest of the Superman costume.  I told Joe to give you a cape which would add to the action as you ran and leapt and battled.  Joe's depiction of your muscular physique and good looks was excellent.

Did you immediately sweep comics editors off their feet? 

Hardly.  Most of them couldn't have cared less about you.  In the comics, you could accomplish anything.  In real life, you were up against one of the roughest, toughest beings in all creation: a comics editor. 

One of that breed, a deceptively soft-spoken guy, had earlier advised me in almost fatherly fashion, "What you've got to do, kid, is come up with a comic strip that is absolutely sensational!"

When I submitted the four weeks of "SUPERMAN" daily strips to him, he slowly shook his head as he read it.  He gave the drawings back to me and said, "The trouble with this, kid, is that it's too sensational.  Nobody would believe it."

Several editors almost double-taked as they glanced at your comics exploits.  They had thoughtful expressions as they gave the rejected "SUPERMAN" comic strips back to me.  After turning down "SUPERMAN", would they publish an imitation of you?  That worried me. Were Joe and I discouraged?  Not really.  We felt certain that sooner or later you would become bigtime.

Several times you were almost published. 

Joe and I finally became comics pros.  We were doing several low-pay comic book features for publisher Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.  The Major offered to publish "SUPERMAN" in one of his comics magazines.  We turned down his offer because we wanted to place our favorite brainchild with a better organization. 

A small newspaper syndicate wanted me to junk the "SUPERMAN" comic strip format.  They suggested I write your adventures as a daily serial fiction story for newspapers.  I turned that down because I believed your greatest impact would be in visual form rather than as serialized novels.  I felt that mere words alone could not surpass the impact of Joe's dramatic "SUPERMAN" comic strip artwork. 

The TIP TOP comic book was going to publish the "SUPERMAN" comics strip in a test-run, prior to its potential syndication to newspapers by United Features Syndicate.  That organization withdrew their offer because they believed readers would soon tire of you. A couple of newspaper syndicate men showed the "SUPERMAN" daily strips to several newspaper editors.  The reactions they received did not sufficiently encourage the two syndicators to furnish "SUPERMAN" to newspapers. 

For a little while, POPULAR COMICS magazine was interested in publishing you.  Sheldon Meyer liked "SUPERMAN" and told his boss M.C. Gaines he thought you had possibilities.  But you didn't make it into POPULAR COMICS.

In 1937, you got your big break.

Detective Comics, Inc., for whom both Joe and I were doing "Slam Bradley" and "Spy", was considering features for a new comic magazine they were about to start.  M.C.Gaines of McClure Newspaper Syndicate had abandoned the launching of a syndicate comics tabloid project.  He got my okay to forward "SUPERMAN", along with other proposed comics I had submitted to him, over to Detective Comics, Inc. for their consideration.  Soon, Detective's editor Vin Sullivan informed me that of all the new comics features I had submitted for consideration, they liked "SUPERMAN" the best.

Joe cut-and-pasted the four weeks of "SUPERMAN" newspaper format daily strips onto 13 comic-book-sized-pages.  He and I added a promotional final panel on the last page.  It's blurb read: "AND SO BEGINS THE STARTLING ADVENTURES OF THE MOST SENSATIONAL STRIP CHARACTER OF ALL TIME: SUPERMAN!" 

Joe and I thoroughly believed that blurb. 

Our faith in you was undiminished. 

You materialized on the comics pages of ACTION COMICS #1, June, 1938!

Now you are Mr. Nostalgia Americana! The Kid From Krypton who made it big in comics, in radio, television, movies, and in character merchandising... just as Joe and I had visualized you would.  Our high hopes for you finally came true! 

It's your 45th anniversary of monthly publication in ACTION COMICS now, Superman!

So very much has happened since your first appearance in ACTION #1. 

Back then, comic books were the stepchild of the publishing industry.  Mostly, they were looked down on, except by their millions of ardent readers. 

Today, comic books are a part of the American heritage.  A great deal of the work in them is done by dedicated craftsmen.  Much of the early comics in yellowing old comic books is now held in higher regard.  Nowadays, a collector who wanted to buy ACTION #1 would have to pay a huge amount of money for it. 

On this, the 45th anniversary of you first publication in ACTION COMICS, I want to express my thanks to:

Vin Sullivan, the editor who first informed me that you would be published in ACTION COMICS. 

Jack Liebowitz and the late Harry Donenfeld.  Their comic book publishing and distribution foresight and ability played a major role in boosting you, after your years of languishing, into the bigtime.

The late Whit Ellsworth and the late Mort Weisinger.  Two editors who strove to keep you on top.  Mort shook-up some segments of fandom with his changes and innovations in the Superman Mythos. Mort insistence on freshness and originality helped keep you in business. 

Julius SchwartzSuperman's current editor.  Mr. Enthusiasm.  His task is to keep you interesting and alive and on top.  A tough, demanding job.  Well done, Julie! 

E. Nelson Bridwell.  Consulting Editor, "Superman" historian, author.  He knows more about your thousands of adventurings than even I, your co-creator. 

Your many artists and scripters, both past and present. Coming up with eye-riveting super excitement month after month, year after year, is a difficult feat. 

Len Wein.  He wrote a "SUPERMAN Meets THE SPECTRE" story ... "THE SPECTRE" was another super-hero comics creation of mine. Len's script was beautifully done. 

Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.  Their "The New Teen Titans" has given this comic book old-timer much sheer enjoyment.

Sol Harrison, former president of DC Inc.  A good guy, a good friend.  After Joe and I became reunited with you again, Sol made us feel very welcome. 

Jeanette Kahn.  DC's current President and Publisher.  Her enthusiasm and dedication is an irresistible combination. 

Thanks to Neal Adams, Jerry Robinson and many others whose talent is surpassed only by their humanity. 

Steve Ross, Chairman of the Board of Warner Communications. Steve considerably boosted the amounts both Joe and I will receive from Warner Communications for the rest of our lives for having conceived you, our literary brainchild. 

A very special thanks to my lovely, brainy wife Joanne who was the super-gorgeous model for Joe Shuster's artistic conception of Lois Lane; and more special thanks to our lovely, adorable daughter Laura.  Laura is now a cable TV "Lois Lane the Second" girl reporter: "Laura Carter".  Both Joanne and Laura, when life got grim for me, encouraged me to believe that it's true, you can achieve a seemingly Impossible Dream.  Laura has been an actress, too.  A real-life SUPERGIRL.  Joanne's guidance has been extremely helpful to Joe and me. 

The Original Superman Very, very heart-felt thanks to Joe Shuster, your co-creator.  His artistic talent brought you to life, unforgettably.  Joe had eye problems.  But his outstanding art ability made you known and enjoyed all over the world.  Joe had great inner vision. 

Happy 45th anniversary, SUPERMAN!  We all love you.

- Jerry Siegel, 1983

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