LITERATURE HONOREES ― JERRY SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster medal, obverse designed by Eugene Daub, and reverse by Mel Wacks. Struck by The Highland Mint in quantities
 of 85 bronze, 52 pure silver, and 28 gold-plated silver. Obverse: Portraits, JERRY SIEGEL 1914-1996, JOE SHUSTER 1914-1992, DAUB.

Reverse: Fist and POW! punching through THE JEWISH-AMERICAN HALL OF FAME. 49 x 47 mm.

Jerry Siegel was born on October 17, 1914, in Cleveland, Ohio; his parents were Jewish immigrants who had fled antisemitism in their native Lithuania in 1900. Joe Shuster was born in Toronto on July 10, 1914; his father was from Rotterdam and his mother had come from Kiev. The family moved to Cleveland in 1824, where he became friends with Siegel in high school. They shared a love of science fiction, adventure fiction, and movies.

After developing the comic strip characters of Superman, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, etc., Siegel and Shuster began a 6-year quest to find a publisher. Eventually they sold their concept to DC comics for just $130. Superman began as one of several anthology features in the National Periodical Publications Action Comics #1 in June 1938. In 2021, a nearly pristine copy of this comic book sold for over 3 million dollars! The strip proved so popular that National launched Superman into his own self-titled comic book, the first for any superhero, premiering in the summer of 1939. And the rest is history.

On April 18, 1938, the first issue of Action Comics was released with Superman lifting a car above his head, drawn by Joe Shuster (1914-1992). Superman soon became one of the best-known characters in the world. The Superman stories flew off the shelves.

One of the reasons for the early success of Superman was how Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) wrote about real issues that affected everyday people.

As time passed, Hitler’s rise in Europe with his antisemitic words and the negative stereotypes of Jewish people, pushed Siegel and Shuster to make a hero that defended the weak, and to tell stories that would cheer Americans on as things looked grave in the war.

One of their more popular stories included Superman confronting Hitler and exposing the horror that was being inflicted on the Jewish people of Europe. Siegel and Shuster got the attention of the Nazi regime when they created a comic showing how Superman would end the war. Das Schwarze Korps, the weekly newspaper of the SS, wrote how Siegel and Shuster were brainwashing the children of America and that “there is nothing the Sadducees (Jewish, aristocratic high priests) won’t do for money.” The exact opposite was true. Siegel and Shuster had sold their rights to Superman to DC Comics in 1938 for $130 – but they continued to draw and write the comic strip. In 2012, that $130 paycheck fetched $160,000 at auction!

Source: Cassandra Burris, for the Ohio History Connection

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