Tagged: Joe Shuster

Mike Gold: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

gold-art-131002-150x150-2036334From time to time, I find myself in a sort of comfy-awe of our neighbors to the north. Of course, that’s pretty easy this week – Canada’s government is still in business and while it provides its share of amusement, at least it’s not littered with a handful of bratty children who decide to bring everything to a halt because they can’t get their way.

But, as we often say here at ComicMix, I digress. And another respectful shout-out to Peter David, who wishes he could have trademarked that phrase.

The good folks in Canada decided to honor one of its greatest innovators, Toronto-born Joe Shuster. My J-School training obligates me to point out he’s the guy who co-created Superman, but if you didn’t know that you wouldn’t be reading ComicMix.

To commemorate Joe’s existence and his contributions to our global culture, Canada released a limited edition set of silver and gold coins incorporating Superman art (not just Joe’s) and logos. There’s even some Kryptonian lettering on the coins; roughly translated, it says “Bite my Twinkie, Americans!”

The gold coin, which you see above, has an irrelevant face value of $75 (so it’s a real coin) and was put on sale for $750. 58.33% gold (14k), 41.67% silver, proof finish, about a half-inch across and weighing in at a little less than a half ounce. They made 2,000 of these puppies.

And… they sold out faster than a speeding bullet. A quick check at eBay shows them offered for between $1500 and $3700 dollars. That’s in U.S. currency. But, as a comics fan since the age of four (back when all the continents were just one huge land mass), I’m hardly one to bitch about collector’s pricing. Perhaps you’ll make the comparison between the price of these coins and the price Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster got for creating The Man of Steel, but, to be fair, we must do so in constant dollars. That means Jerry and Joe got paid approximately $2500 in 2013 dollars. So they could have taken that payment and purchased one coin. To share. Between them.

The United States doesn’t honor the creators of our culture in this manner. Oh, sure, a few get commemorative stamps, but thus far Jerry and Joe haven’t received their props. The rule of thumb is 10 years after death; Jerry Siegel died 17 years ago, and Joe Shuster went to his Phantom Zone five years before that. But a set of silver and gold coins – that reeks of permanence. It’s really cool.

It would be nice if the United States chose to honor its top comics creators in this manner. I don’t see the Treasury Department aping Canada, but I think a Jack Kirby coin would be in order. Maybe even a Batman gold coin, noting Bob Kane.

I’d buy that… but only if Jerry Robinson’s face was on the coin instead of Kane’s.




Dennis O’Neil: Wolverine and The Real Life

O'Neil Art 130801I wasn’t wearing a tie last Friday when Mari and I hied ourselves up the road to the monsterplex to watch the movie du jour, The Wolverine. Nothing unusual there; to the best of my recollection, I’ve worn ties exactly twice in the last quarter century. The first such occasion was at my wedding, a bow to the mores of the tribe that spawned me. The second was when I accompanied Jenette Kahn, at the time my boss, to meet some guy from the United Nations at one of those hoity-toity Manhattan restaurants that don’t permit entry to gentlemen un-tied, and while they’re at it, the gents had best be wearing suits too – or at least jackets. These are classy joints. They don’t let just anyone in. To chow down at one of them, you have to be of the elite, or at least prosperous enough to buy a strip of cloth to hang down the front of your shirt.

They’re signifiers of distinction, of class, neckties are, and as such they’re akin to a clergyman’s vestments, a soldier’s uniform, a detective’s badge, the rented tuxedo I once wore to a prom…feel free to add your own examples. I’ll add one more of my own: superhero costumes.

Odd clothing has been a defining feature of superhero stories ever since that warm Cleveland morning when a teenaged artist named Joe Shuster made the first Superman sketch. This was almost certainly done at the behest of Superman’s co-creator, another Cleveland teen, Jerry Siegel. Why the funny suit? Well, Jerry and Joe were big science fiction fans and were probably influenced by the futuristic garments worn by the characters in the illustrations that were prominent in the pulp magazines – at the time, sci fi’s main venue. Circus costumes may have been another influence.

Whatever Jerry and Joe’s reasons for costuming their brainchild, it was a good idea. It was attention-getting, it marked Supes as something special, it was ideally suited to the iconic quality of the medium that eventually gave him a home, comic books. Consider it an unwritten rule: you want a superhero, bring on the costume.

But Wolverine is most surely a superhero and there he was on the big screen, embodied by Hugh Jackman who was wearing, not a costume, but duds you might buy at a sporting goods store. In so doing, he was nudging superherodom a tiny bit closer to what we will jocularly refer to as real life, and not the fantasyland versions of Mother Earth that have been superheroes’ usual domains. This is an aspect of the genre’s evolution and we’ll have to see if it becomes permanent. If it does stay, writing jobs may be get a bit simpler; storytellers won’t have to give their superdoers a pause to change clothes before dealing with the latest humungous crisis. (Lois, could you fall a little slower?…can’t get the cape to hang right…) But some quirky charm may be lost.

Time will tell. It always does.


THURSDAY LATER AFTERNOON: The Surprising Return of Emily S. Whitten!

NOTE: All allusions to “morning” and “afternoon” are EDT USA.


Dennis O’Neil: Flying High

61Y3TyHFBiL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_Larry Tye’s book was on the living room shelf for a month or more before I got around to reading it last week, and I’m not exactly sure why. I‘ve spent time with Larry and never doubted that he’d do good work, and he was kind enough to mention me in his biography, Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero.  But whatever the reason for my tardiness, I’ll mark it “happy” because when I did finally delve into the book, it happened to be during Superman’s 75th birthday week. (Note to casual fans: the Man of Steel’s debut was on April 18th, 1938.)

And here it was, the whole story: the early lives of Superman’s creators, a couple of Jewish kids from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; their attempts to sell their brainchild as a comic strip before they finally placed it at a comic book publisher that later became, and remains, DC Comics; the instant success, and then the deluge – radio shows, movies, novels, early television, recent television, trading cards, cereal boxes, animation, lunch boxes, Halloween costumes and everything I’m forgetting to mention. Larry Tye covers it all with a skillful combination of contemporary reporting and historicity.

The story isn’t always pretty. It has its share of sleaze. The most familiar scandal concerns the death of television’s first Man of Steel, George Reeves, found shot to death in his Hollywood bedroom with a gun at his feet. Suicide? Maybe. But there are doubts. That was the ugliness that made the papers, was the subject of other books, and was even the basis for a movie starring Ben Affleck.

The rest of the dubious behavior wasn’t as sensational – no slain actors – and mostly happened behind doors and walls.

I was around for some of it – that is, I was working for DC and even wrote the flagship Superman title for a year. Being close to the hub of big-time comics (though not very close) I must have heard rumors, and I did have a rough notion of the tribulations of Superman’s creators, and hey, I’m not immune to gossip, but I guess I wasn’t more than casually interested. I walked past those doors and walls, but I was never invited inside, and might not have cared to be. I mean, wouldn’t they have wanted me to wear a tie?

Good or bad, my ignorance? I don’t know. I can’t see how getting the inside dirt would have enhanced my scripts.

Would it have lessened them – maybe provide a distraction from the tasks at hand? Again, I don’t know. Never will, and don’t have to. But the information itself? That I’m glad to have, and I’m grateful to Larry Tye for providing it.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman




Happy Diamond Anniverary, Superman!

Seventy-five years ago on this day in 1938, the Golden Age of Comics began with the release of Action Comics #1, where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introducing us to a strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men– Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers– bend steel in his bare hands– and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!

And now, here are some scenes from the adventures of Superman*:


  • Sorry about that– reflex.


Martha Thomases: Breaking The Four-Color Wall — Comics About Cartoonists

Thomases Art 130118-aComics About Cartoonists • Edited by Craig Yoe • 192 pages • $39.99 retail in hardcover • IDW Publishing, on sale January 22nd

The creative life has its own circle of hell. The blank page, the blank canvas, the empty stage, all exist to remind us of our failure. When one is a professional with a deadline, the taunting is even more painful.

For those of us in the audience, it can also be excruciating. I don’t like songs about how difficult it is to be a rock star. I don’t like novels about how misunderstood teaching assistants can’t get laid.

But then it can also be fun. The Stunt Man is a wonderful movie about making movies. My Favorite Year is a laff riot about writing television shows, and it’s one of my favorites. All That Jazz? It’s show time!

Thomases Art 130118-bAnd now, Craig Yoe has put together an anthology of comics about creating comics, Comics About Cartoonists. It collects sketches and finished stories, newspaper strips and comic book covers from some of the most celebrated creators of the last century.

The book has comedy, horror, and romance. It has work by Jack Kirby, Winsor McKay, Steve Ditko, Ernie Bushmiller, Jack Cole, Al Capp, Milton Caniff, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Charles Schulz and lots, lots more. It has deep personal insight into the real lives of working stiffs, and also what happens to cartoonists when aliens attack.

To meet this deadline, I read the whole thing in one sitting, and that’s not something I would recommend to you, Constant Reader. There are only a few plots. Cartoonist has no idea, so he fells asleep and his characters have an adventure. Cartoonist isn’t appreciated by his editor. Cartoonist stumbles on plans for an alien invasion. Beautiful girl doesn’t realize that the dumpy guy who looks like the cartoonist is beautiful on the inside. I’m sure I would have enjoyed these stories more if I read them one at a time, instead of in a lump.

And then, it has Basil Wolverton, with a story that not only exhibits his energetic wit and exuberance, but dialogue that is so much fun it should be read out loud. I would pay for Childish Gambino to record it.

My favorite comic stories about comics were the ones Cary Bates and Elliott S. Maggin wrote themselves into with the Justice League. Yoe also doesn’t include Grant Morrison’s appearances in Animal Man. The rights were most likely not available, and all of these are too self-consciously meta for the book’s shaggy-dog aesthetic.

On the other hand, the book’s endpapers are old ads promising to teach you — yes, you! — how to make big money and attract beautiful women as a cartoonist. “Cartoon Your Way to Popularity and Profit” says one ad that goes on to promise you a “Laugh Finder.” That ad alone is darker and more meta than anything on the market today.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Mike Gold: Passion and Wonder

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s death last week at 82 brings to mind… well, an awful lot of stuff. If I were to put it all in one folder, I would name that folder “Passion and Wonder.”

Passion is the binding force of our lives. Wonder is what keeps us moving forward, what propels us into the future. Passion and wonder combine to create the most vital force in nature.

Passion plus wonder is a formula. Passion plus wonder equals H.G. Wells. Passion plus wonder equals Alice Guy-Blaché. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Nicola Tesla. Bessie Coleman. George Washington Carver. Ray Bradbury. Jack Kirby. Terry Gilliam. Michael Jordan. Sinead O’Conner. Alan Moore. Passion plus wonder equals Harlan Ellison. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Passion plus wonder equals Neil Armstrong.

If not for passion and wonder, our 21st Century would look exactly like Galileo’s father’s 16th Century. Most of us would be living in small villages, never venturing more than 25 miles from the place of our birth. Not that it would be boring; avoiding boredom requires a sense of wonder.

Our culture tends to encourage and, upon occasion, even honor creativity. We are very lucky – previous generations received less support… if any. If you have the passion and the sense of wonder to go out there and create, you have the obligation to do so – both to yourself and to society.

Pursue your passion and create.

It does not take courage. Courage is a retroactive designation for the act of putting one foot in front of the other and finishing something. It’s not up to you to determine its ultimate value. Your job is to pursue your passion, employing your sense of wonder. Posterity is in the eye of the next generation.

Neil Armstrong already stepped on the Moon. You must step into the future.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil – You Don’t Exist

MIKE GOLD: The Curious Case of The Ghost Rider

Last week, the Internets were all aflutter with the story about how Disney/Marvel successfully defended itself against Gary Friedrich’s Ghost Rider lawsuit. This was hardly surprising. Just ask Marv Wolfman or the ghost of Steve Gerber.

Then Disney/Marvel turned around and demanded $17,000 from Gary for the Ghost Rider prints he sold at comic book conventions – you know, just like hundreds of other artists do at every artists’ alley at nearly every comic book convention held in the past decade. This was very surprising. And quite disgusting. Not to mention overwhelmingly petty.

Well, those of us who followed Disney’s Air Pirates lawsuit weren’t surprised at all, but that’s another story.

When Gary filed his appeal and the noise went into the can for a while, I whipped out Marvel Spotlight #5.  On that very first Ghost Rider story, the credits read “conceived and written by Gary Friedrich.” (Emphasis mine.) That was unique for comics at that time. The lawyers discouraged publishers for printing creator credits lest said creators pull what is affectionately known as a “Siegel/Shuster.” I remember being a bit surprised – perhaps impressed is the better word for it – back when I read that issue back in 1972. Nonetheless, Gary lost his case.

This wasn’t the only thing that surprised me. I was also surprised that Marvel plowed over the name of their western hero, first and last seen in his own seven-issue series back in 1967. It was a clever use of recycling intellectual property.

I remembered that Ghost Rider rather fondly. It was a good, solid macabre western character told in then-contemporary Marvel style featuring some of Dick Ayers’ best art in years. So I whipped out Ghost Rider #1, cover-dated February 1967. And then I took a look at the credits.

Please note that both Ghost Rider origins were edited by the same person, a guy named Stan Lee. And Roy Thomas was involved in both – as co-dialogist on the western, and as “aider and abettor” on the motorcyclist. And Gary Friedrich was a writer on both.

That didn’t give Gary any legal coverage, but it’s an interesting chain-of-evidence. Core to the issue of who owns what – in a moral sense but not legal – is the derivation of the original Ghost Rider. The first one. The one before the two published by Marvel Comics.

The one that was damn near exactly the same as Marvel’s western, right down to Dick Ayers’ artwork and design. The one that was published by Magazine Enterprises in various of their titles, including one called “Ghost Rider.” That one lasted twice as long as Marvel’s. The feature got its start in their Tim Holt title. This original version was, as noted, drawn by Dick Ayers and written – some say created – by editor Raymond Krank, who later replaced himself with Gardner Fox. Many of those Tim Holt covers were drawn by Frank Frazetta, who also illustrated a Ghost Rider text story.

This wasn’t the first time Marvel assumed the name of a character they did not create, as geriatric Daredevil fans know all too well. But that, too, is another story.

Ghost Rider has had an interesting history, one that isn’t over. It’s a good example of how the whole comics creation thing is a can of worms. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman and Clark Kent and Lois Lane, but they did not create Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Kryptonite, among a great, great many other vital Superman concepts. If their estates wind up owning Superman, what happens to Perry and Jimmy and the rest?

Good grief. Back in the day, nobody was supposed to take all this seriously. But I think I know how either version of the Ghost Rider would have handled it.

Screw the lawyers. We’ve got us our six-guns, and one mother of a bike.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

MINDY NEWELL: “Superman? He Must Be Jewish!”

“I am a stranger in a strange land.”

As Superman zooms down into the torrent of Niagara Falls to save that dumb kid who is falling into the torrential waters of Niagara Falls, we hear an off-screen female voice – whom I’ve always imagined as Rob Reiner’s mother – saying:

“He must be Jewish.”

It’s a throw-away line, a bit of Yiddishkeit humor, in a movie (Superman II) about a comic book hero whose underlying themes are – you can say – chock full of Jewish mysticism and Jewish angst and Jewish hope and Jewish dissimilation and Jewish fatalism.

Think about it.

Facing annihilation as their world is torn apart by cataclysmic forces, loving parents rocket their child away in hope of their child finding refuge on an alien planet.

Facing annihilation as their world was torn apart by cataclysmic forces, loving Jewish parents in Hitler’s Europe spirited their children away into the hoped refuge of alien, Christian homes.

The child is raised in the Christian faith of his “foster” parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent of Smallville, Kansas, who do their best to keep the child’s true background a secret for fear that he would be taken away from them by the government and “studied” – or worse.

The Jewish children who survive the Holocaust learn the prayers and rites of the religion of their “foster” parents – Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim. All do whatever they can to keep the children’s true background a secret in fear of brutal, usually fatal, Nazi reprisals.

As an adult, the child uses his Earth name – Clark Kent – and religion as his “secret identity,” though he has learned that his true name is Kal-el, and that he is last survivor of the planet Krypton.

The Kryptonian “Kal-El” is close to the Hebrew קלאל, which can be interpreted as the “voice of God. The last name “Kent” is an Americanization of the name “Cohen,” and “Cohen” is a transcription of the Hebrew כֹּהֵן, or “kohen,” which means “priest.” Kohens were the priests in the Temple of Solomon in biblical Jerusalem – the last remaining remnant of which is still standing today, known as the Wailing Wall.

He is publicly known as Superman, a hero capable of God-like powers who uses those powers for the good of humanity.

“El” means “of God,” or just plain “God” in Hebrew, and is part of the names of the angels Michael, Gabriel and Ariel, who look human, but are agents of God who are capable of flying and performing great deeds of good through the use of their superhuman powers.

The schlemiel Clark Kent – schlemiel being Yiddish for an inept, clumsy, hopeless bungler – falls for the self-assured, brilliant, famous, respected and beautiful Lois Lane, but she only has eyes for Superman.

Jewish men are traditionally said to yearn for the forbidden shiksa – a non-Jewish woman – who represent the self-assured, respected women who belong to a world that is alien to Jews. These women traditionally ignore them in favor of the Don Drapers of the world.

So did Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster purposely create a Jewish superhero? The traditional answer is, of course, no. Siegel himself said he based the visual aspects of Superman on Douglas Fairbanks and Clark Kent on Harold Lloyd. But did he know that Fairbanks was actually born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman, and was Jewish? Did he know that Harold Lloyd was the son of a Welshman and not Jewish? I doubt it, on both counts. But the subconscious does its own thing. To coin a phrase:

“Who knows what dreams lurk in the hearts of men?”

Or you can call it Jewish mysticism.

TUESDAY: Michael Davis

MARTHA THOMASES: Copyrights … and Copywrongs

MARTHA THOMASES: Copyrights … and Copywrongs

Last week, ComicMix, along with most of the Internet, protested against SOPA and PIPA, two bills that would have seriously compromised our ability to use the web to share information … and gossip … and pictures of cats.

The protests were so widespread that Congress backed down and sent the bills back to committee. It was a victory for those of us who spend all day enthralled by our computer screens, and, more important, it was a victory for the free exchange of ideas.

Still, I can understand the motivation behind the bill, despite how crudely and ham-handedly it was written. The purpose was to protect intellectual property. As a writer, I enjoy getting paid for my work. It would make me grumpy if someone else made money from my efforts and didn’t include me in the payday.

If anything, this hubbub shines a light on our wonky and unfair copyright laws. The purpose of copyright is not only to protect the rights of creators, but also to encourage creativity in a capitalist system. If my writing can make me money, I’ll be encouraged to write more. The same is true for songwriters, artists, choreographers, filmmakers, and comic book crews.

Unfortunately, our particular version of the capitalist system doesn’t work that way.

Songwriters, for example, collect royalties from those who record (and then sell) their songs. In many, many cases, they are not able to get their work published without giving away a large percentage (usually as a co-writing credit) to the publisher. As a result, a lot of musicians don’t care if their work gets downloaded illegally, because it increases their audience and they can make more money – which they don’t have to share – on tour.

On a larger scale, this is true in movies and television. We’ve all heard the stories about actors, directors or screenwriters who supposedly have profit participation in their films, but the studios claim there are no profits.

In comics, at least in so-called mainstream comics, the price for a chance to work for a company that would distribute your creation was your copyright. The most famous example is Siegel and Shuster’s Superman. Things have improved, and if you work for Marvel or DC as a creator, you can now get health insurance and a contract (so you can get a mortgage), but you will still most likely have to agree to work for hire.

The major media corporations try to defend their anti-piracy efforts by saying they are protecting creative people. If only. As Kyle Baker  recently explained, the entertainment conglomerates treat creative people as interchangeable widgets. If one artist wants a living wage, ship the job overseas.


The Internet should make it easier for artists to communicate directly with their audiences, without paying the toll of working for a Disney or a Murdoch. It should level the playing field for all entrants.

It should also reduce the price of an admission ticket. Just ask Louis CK.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

Jerry Robinson: 1922 – 2011

Comics legend Jerry Robinson died this morning at the age of 89.

Best known for his work with Bob Kane during the earliest days of Batman, the Trenton, New Jersey born artist started off as a teenager lettering and inking the Batman feature in Batman, Detective Comics and World’s Finest Comics. As Batman rapidly grew in popularity, he progressed to the role of character designer and, shortly thereafter, penciler of the feature. It was Robinson who named Dick Grayson “Robin,” not after himself (as often reported) but after N.C. Wyeth’s famed illustrations of Robin Hood. Shortly thereafter, Jerry designed Batman’s most famed enemy, The Joker. His original art for that initial design, in the form of a playing card, has been on display at various museums across the nation.

(It should be noted that the late Bob Kane disputed this and most other creator-credits regarding The Batman. As a matter of contractual obligation, DC Comics gives Kane sole creator credit for the feature, a matter of significant dispute with Robinson as well as writer Bob Finger.)

In later years, Robinson started an international newspaper syndicate (the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate) and wrote an important history of the comics medium, titled The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. He also served as president of the National Cartoonists Society in the late 1960s.

His other comic book work included Bat Masterson and Lassie for Dell Comics, Black Terror for Standard Publications, Green Hornet for Harvey, Vigilante and Green Arrow for DC (with his friend and frequent collaborator, Mort Meskin), Green Lama and Atoman for Spark Publications, Journey Into Mystery, Battlefront, Crime Exposed, Strange Tales and Battle Action for Marvel, Rocky and His Fiendish Friends for Gold Key, and Astra for Central Park Media.

Jerry received numerous honors and tributes during his long life, including four separate awards from the National Cartoonists Society: the Comic Book award in 1956, the Newspaper Panel Cartoon in 1963 for Still Life, the Special Features Award in 1965 for Flubs and Fluffs, and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004 and, in 2010, was the recipient of the first annual The Hero Initiative Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award for his “outstanding efforts in changing comics one day at a time.”

The Giordano award focused on Jerry’s less-well known work as a political activist obtaining the release of jailed and tortured cartoonists in Uruguay and the Soviet Union. He also joined Neal Adams and others in the creator rights movement and aided Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their struggles with Warner Communications / Time Warner in obtaining recognition and financial security for their efforts.

[[[Jerry Robinson: Ambassador to the Comics]]], the definitive history of this critically significant cartoonist, was published by Abrams late year.

On a personal note, I had the honor and privilege of dining with Jerry and discussing both politics and comics on numerous occasions during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. When, last year, we met up at the Baltimore Comic-Con at the reception prior to his Giordano Award presentation, I found Jerry to be as gracious, as warm and as sharp as he had ever been, and he entertained my daughter with stories peppered with quotes from material I had written about him many, many years earlier.

It was one of the most wonderful moments of my life.