Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are far more than just legends of the comic book industry. They were innovators that helped to define an emerging industry. Investing themselves in comic books from the moment they met in high school, their persistence through success and failure ended up building an entirely new genre that would influence generations. The pair created the worlds first superhero that would inspire millions of books and thousands of creators that followed. Siegel and Shuster’s Superman led the way for superheroes to be as popular as they are today.
Though these creators original character has become a symbol of justice and heroism, it is also a bit of a tragedy. Siegel and Shuster’s long court battles and removal from their own creation is well documented and has served as a warning to the many creators that came after them. Beyond the Superman battles, the two had to fight many battles as freelancers in an industry that didn’t always play fair. This single comic issue, released in 1984, is a document of the trials and difficulties that these industry leaders faced.
Siegel and Shuster Dateline 1930’s is a small collection of stories and panels that never got published until this books release nearly 50 years later. All the comics were creations that were done during Superman’s inception but before his publication and rise in popularity. These are stories that the struggling artists were trying desperately to sell as a way to make ends meet, but were packed away for decades until collectors wanted to read more of their original pieces. This book was released to give fans a peek at the creativeness and originality of two of the worlds most celebrated creators.
This original Joe Shuster piece comes from one of the stories inside, Steve Walsh. Though the story is about space adventurers it is easy to see the resemblance between the characters and the true-life best friends. For an artist with no formal training, and famously had to learn to draw with gloves on to stay warm, Shuster was able to pump out so many well detailed original drawings just like this one. And, for a twenty-year-old kid in the 1930’s the work is quite impressive.
This collection of short panels come from another idea Siegel and Shuster had to make it big, should that Superman idea never pan out. The goal was to create their own monthly book of fun stories that would help distract a nation torn up in war and depression. And, though the idea was sold at one point, it never made it to print and was locked away until this printing five decades later.
The book is filled with stories that include anything from science fiction to drama. There are splash pages of what the creators thought the future may look like, as well as humour strips involving men at war. There is even a fun character named Inko that broke the fourth wall and communicated with his own artist. The pages are all tied together with an interview from the creators and San Diego Comic-Con founder Shel Dorf.
It is purely fascinating to look at these pages and think that in the same afternoon as some of these drawings Shuster could have been sketching out that iconic piece of Superman holding a car above his head. This is a unique look into the minds of men that created the superhero. The most interesting thing about their story is how hard they struggled to make their dreams a reality, how these failures helped pave their way, and now people would pay top dollar for these original stories.
Some of these stories are completely outdated. The humour would not get very far in the modern world. Heck, it didn’t get them far then, so maybe they weren’t funny then? But, other stories of space pirates and fashion of tomorrow are so incredibly creative and come from a time when this stuff had never been thought of before. There are different styles of art and storytelling and the most impressive thing we forget about Siegel and Shuster is how dynamic their skills were. This book is a great example of the many skills that two boys raised below the poverty line had managed to find from pure desire to create.
Outdated and underappreciated aside, in a modern world this is a book for the curious. Comic fans who want to learn more about the history of the industry need to look at Siegel and Shuster and appreciate the struggles they went through to bring us their ultimate creation. It took these creators many years to be recognized by the publisher as Superman’s true parents, so as fans we owe it to these legends for giving us a genre that has brought us so much joy. I would happily read a hundred books like this, that showcase everything that they did to try and make a dollar and to bring recognition to a media that they truly cared about.