Friday, February 10, 2006


I have just started reading been trying to find time to read Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow, his chronicle of the origins of the comic book in America. That history is, in his take, a story of not-so-very-nice people doing some not-so-very-nice things while inadvertantly cutting a new facet on popular culture. One of the better-known stories of this sort from comics' closet is the rather shabby treatment of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the creators of Superman, who were kept for far too long from what many believe was their fair share of the financial bonanza that that character created. Perhaps that alone is the reason this comic remains in the shortbox:

Siegel and Shuster: Dateline 1930s
Eclipse Comics
November 1984

This isn't a single comic or even a collection of stories; it is more of a portfolio: single chapters of series, stand-alone panels, and short gag strips are presented with little rhyme or reason. All of the material was culled from work created by Siegel and Shuster around 1935, before they had success with Superman. Also included are a text page written by Siegel specifically for the comic and an interview conducted by Shel Dorf with Siegel and Shuster some months before publication.

To be frank, none of the stuff is very good: it is the juvenalia of two clearly talented guys, but it is immature work nonetheless. None of it is very engaging, some of the influences are obvious, and all of it is pretty mainstream. Two things strike me, however. One is the breathtaking breadth of genres the pair was willing to experiment in; the collection contains a wide range of writing and art styles - these kids were really hustling. The other is the energy that crackles in the pages. As undeveloped as these pages are, it's not hard to believe that the creative team went on to create a long-lived American icon.

Here's a sampling of works:

A single-panel "What the future will bring" feature:

A science fiction cop series that reminds me of Dick Calkins's Buck Rogers:

Some sort of potpourri gag strip:

A rich-guy-in-the-depression strip that looks a lot like The Little King:

And a -- well, I'm not sure what this is. Sort of like Smurfs?

Actually, now that I think about it, I remember a strip a lot like this last one running in the New York Daily News when I was a kid in the sixties... Acorn People or something.

Siegel's text explains that these were originally intended for publication in a special digest but never saw the light of day (and that the creators never got paid for them either). It was a beau geste on the part of Eclipse, I think, to devote some ink, however belatedly, to the early work of two men who should have been a bigger figures in - and had a bigger piece of - the comics field.

PS: I also like the subtle way the cover makes you think that you are looking at Joe and Jerry creating Superman on some weird, futuristic comic book generator - that's Jerry on the left, manipulating the scriptomatic, and Joe in the center, operating the page-layout controls. At least to me.

PPS: There was at least one more issue of this title; I have number 2, but it mostly contains unfinished black and white artwork.

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