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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Joe Shuster -- The artist and co-creator of Superman was born today in 1914. His importance to comics can hardly be overstated. If he and Jerry Siegel had not existed, comic books would have had a very different history.

I first became aware of Siegel and Shuster's version of Superman when I read Superman from the '30s to the '70s, a lavish hardcover issued at the perfect time for me, when I was about 10 or 11 years old and curious about the history of the characters that had entertained and amazed me since I was six years old. Shuster's art on the earliest Superman stories was crude, but even in black and white, as most of that reprint volume was, his art contained an obvious vibrancy and enthusiasm that immediately told the reader that the artist loved drawing comic books.

DC Comics has made millions -- if not billions -- off of Siegel and Shuster's legacy, and even though they were shamed over the years into providing financial recognition of their key contribution to the company's success, they never really got any kind of reward commensurate with their contribution. It is to the publisher's ongoing shame that they continue to dispute ownership rights claims by Jerry Siegel's heirs, when all along they could have prevented the need for court action by showing just the smallest fraction of gratitude and corporate responsibility. If you've ever wondered why no new memorable superheroes have come out of Marvel or DC over the past few decades, the disgraceful treatment of creators like Siegel and Shuster, and the growing understanding among writers and artists that they can expect much the same courtesy sooner or later, is largely to blame. It's not that there are no great superheroes still to be created in those universes, it's that the corporations that hold the purse strings remain unwilling to be fair and equitable to the creators that make it possible for them to exist in the first place.

Joe Shuster died July 30th, 1992, but his character, and he, will never be forgotten.


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