Caricatures of Jerry Siegel (left), Joe Shuster (right) and their creation (middle, duh).

The Reign of the Superman

Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster and his friend, writer Jerry Siegel, created the first science-fiction fanzine, which they called "Science Fiction," in 1932. The third issue of this mimeographed fanzine (pictured) contained the teenage team's first Superman story, titled "The Reign of the Superman." It's not really a Superman story though, because that big bald guy in the double-page spread pictured below who is gesturing menacingly is Superman in this story! The rest of today's birthday tribute is comprised of an interview with Joe Shuster. If you want to read the entire interview, click the cover of Science Fiction magazine #3, or the spread below!



.Where did the names "Superman" and "Clark Kent" originate?

JOE SHUSTER: "Jerry created all the names. We were great movie fans, and were inspired a lot by the actors and actresses we saw. As for Clark Kent, he combined the names of Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. And Metropolis, the city in which Superman operated, came from the Fritz Lang movie, which we both loved."

Did you use any models when drawing Superman and Clark?

"I was inspired by the movies. In the silent films, my hero was Douglas Fairbanks Senior, who was very agile and athletic. So I think he might have been an inspiration to us, even in his attitude.

He had a stance which I often used in drawing Superman. You'll see in many of his roles, including Robin Hood, that he always stood with his hands on his hips and his feet spread apart, laughing -- taking nothing seriously. Clark Kent, I suppose, had a little bit of Harold Lloyd in him."


Jerry Siegel (far left) and Joe Shuster (far right) in a publicity photo
taken in connection with a World War II Bond drive.

What do you remember about Action Comics #1?

"Action #1 [July 1938] was taken directly from the newspaper strip. It was pasted up. They were in a rush to meet the deadline on the first issue. Everything happened very fast: they made the decision to publish it and said to us, "Just go out and turn out 13 pages based on your strip."

It was a rush job, and one of the things I like least to do is to rush my artwork. I'm too much of a perfectionist to do anything which is mediocre. The only solution Jerry and I could come up with was to cut up the strips into panels and paste the panels on a sheet the size of the page.

If some panels were too long, we would shorten them -- cut them off -- if they were too short, we would extend them. You see, some of the panels were extended to fit the size of the page; it was quite an art job.
Who came up with the "S" insignia, and
how many versions did it go through?

"Jerry and I discussed it in detail. We said, 'Let's put something on the front.' I think initially we wanted to use the first letter of the character's name. We thought S was perfect. After we came up with it, we kiddingly said, "Well, it's the first letter of Siegel and Shuster." .Progressively, as the strip evolved, the emblem became larger and larger. You'll notice at the beginning it was quite small. Actually, it was made like a shield. I can't describe it, but I was thinking of what they call a crest. Yes, I had a heraldic crest in the back of my mind when I made it. It was a little fancy triangle with curves at the top.

I also had classical heroes and strongmen in mind, and this shows in the footwear. In the third version Superman wore sandals laced halfway up the calf. You can still see this on the cover of Action #1, though they were covered over in red to look like boots when the comic was printed.
. . .
ACTION #7, 1938
ACTION #15, 1939
ACTION #19, 1939

Where did Superman's costume come from?

"It was inspired by the costume pictures that Fairbanks did: they greatly influenced us. He did The Mark of Zorro, and Robin Hood, and a marvelous one called The Black Plrate -- those are three that I recall that we loved. Fairbanks would swing on ropes very much like Superman flying -- or like Tarzan on a vine.

Before I ever put anything on paper, Jerry and I would talk back and forth. Jerry would say, "Well, how about this, or how about that, or how about doing him like this?" And I agreed the feeling of action as he was flying or jumping or leaping -- a flowing cape would give it movement. It really helped, and it was very easy to draw."

Did you have any input on the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons?

"It was purely accidental. I was just down in Miami for a visit, and somebody who knew me said, 'How would you like to come down and visit the Studios?'

I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to see them doing Superman.' They were just starting on it. I went down there, and I was fascinated with it. And I suggested, 'I wouldn't mind drawing some shots for you showing how Superman looks in side view, front view, three-quarter view; how Clark Kent would look, and Lois Lane would look.'

They said, fine, they'd love to have me do it. So I just sat down and spent a couple of days there drawing model sheets. I loved doing it, and I loved being involved in it. And we were lucky enough to receive a credit line on the cartoons afterwards."


What lead you to make Superman a visitor from another planet?

"Jerry reversed the usual formula of the superhero who goes to another planet. He put the superhero in ordinary, familiar surroundings, instead of the other way around, as was done in most science fiction. That was the first time I can recall that it had ever been done."



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