The very first origin story of Superman — long before Action Comics #1 introduced the Man of Steel.
Long before Action Comics #1 was conceived, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a character called The Superman and submitted a group of daily strips to the major news syndicates in 1934 and 1935. Before Superman became a comic book hero, Siegel and Shuster knew the money and fame was in the newspaper funny pages — not the comic book.
Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, George Herriman's Krazy Kat, E.C. Segar's Popeye, George McManus Bringing Up Father, Phillip Nowlan's and Dick Calkins' Buck Rogers, and Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon were the famous newspaper cartoons of the day, and all were bringing in huge sums of money during the height of the Great Depression. Herriman was making over $50,000 a year at that time, which is comparable to millionaire status today.
So, although Siegel and Shuster created a few prototype characters for the comic books, Superman was their big hope for the newspaper comic strips and their dream was to join the ranks of the great strips of their day.
They saw failure after failure, but through the years of 1934–1938 they polished, rewrote and redrew the series, with the final work ending up in the hands of the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in early 1938. This final work of 30 daily strips was also in the process of being rejected when DC editor Vincent Sullivan sent Sheldon Mayer over to the editor of McClure.
DC had come up with a new title called Action Comics and needed a lead character for this new comic book. They had a tight deadline and needed something they could use immediately, and newspaper syndicates were a great place to find fresh material that was rejected for print. The Superman strips were literally sitting on the editor's desk when Mayer arrived.
After looking them over, Mayer realized he could use the dailies to create the first story by cutting up some of the earliest panels and pasting them on a board for photo shoot.
Securing the dailies, Mayer called Siegel and Shuster with the good news. Both were already working for DC at the time, and although they were frustrated by yet another failed attempt at McClure News, they were happy that DC finally picked up Superman.
Sullivan had them redraw a few panels to allow for a better fit. They removed quite a few of the original panels, which almost entirely deleted the origin story. Rather than waste several pages on the background of Superman, they wanted to get right into the action of this amazing character, so they condensed the origin down to a few panels. He also asked Joe to create a high impact cover for the first issue. For the front cover, Shuster chose a panel from the dailies with Superman lifting a car over his head and smashing it into a mountain, scattering the crooks. It was approved and, within a week, Superman was off to the presses.
Success! And failure...
Although Superman was literally given away to DC Comics for nothing more than decent wages, the dream of making it big in the newspapers was still their hope. And in the fall of 1938, their dream finally came true. McClure saw the success that Superman was having in the comic book industry and decided to pick the series up for daily newspaper distribution. The original 30 strips were acquired from DC and shot for plates. But sadly, DC believed that they owned the rights to Superman by that time, and both Siegel and Shuster were shocked that they did not own the rights to create a Superman strip for newspapers.
Tempers flared and a lawsuit was threatened, but — let's face it — Siegel and Shuster were young and inexperienced in business at that time. They felt that a handshake and verbal promises were good and had no money to retain a good lawyer. They never did sell Superman — he just flew too far away for them.
But in this time of frustration, they were asked to both create and draw the dailies for McClure, which was their dream come true. They believed everything would work itself out. After all, it was their names on each daily episode of Superman.
While Siegel and Shuster had their hands full with the creation of the dailies and advertising, the McClure marketing department went to work and, with a tremendous effort, made Superman a hit even before he made his debut in the papers on January 16, 1939.
The publication, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow was created at about the same time as Action Comics #7 and was to be used by salesmen to show prospective newspapers the potential success of Superman, so that McClure would have a good following by the time they released the first daily Superman strip. In this amazing comic book, you will see never-before-shown advertising, plus the complete origin of Superman as originally conceived by Siegel and Shuster. These pages pre-date Action Comics #1 by several months. All of the advertising was created by Siegel and Shuster, as well.
The copyright dates at the base of most of the 30 dailies within this comic book were pasted on for the purpose of printing the dailies. They interchange 1938 and 1939 because the dailies were prepared for photo shoot in late 1938, when this publication was created. You will notice that many of the Superman images found here were later used in the comic books, including the front cover drawn by Joe Shuster, which was used on Action Comics #7, published in December 1938. Superman: The Man of Tomorrow is perhaps the rarest and most historic Superman comic book ever created
A streak of light! And a sad ending...
Comics gave Superman life for the younger kids but the newspapers opened him up to a much wider audience. By December 1939, Superman had earned a top spot in the Sunday comics pages of many newspapers coast-to-coast, and within months that number was climbing higher and higher.
In 1940, Fleischer Studios negotiated a handful of cartoons, and by 1941 Superman was a movie star!
The cartoons, by the way, were of the finest quality, further giving Superman a boost in popularity. The rotoscope method, first used in the 1939 animated Gulliver's Travels, made Superman appear to be almost real.
As Superman became a world wide success in the newspapers and movies, DC claimed that they owned him... completely. And slowly, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were replaced as both writer and artist as Superman finally slipped completely from their grasp.
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This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.