Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--the Creators of Superman

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9780312643805: Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--the Creators of Superman

In time for the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel, comes the first comprehensive literary biography of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, creators of the DC Comics superhero Superman and the inspiration for Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay.
Drawing on ten years of research in the trenches of Cleveland libraries, boarded-up high schools, and secret, private collections, and a love of comic books, Brad Ricca's Super Boys is the first ever full biography about Superman's creators. Among scores of new discoveries, the book reveals the first stories and pictures ever published by the two, where the first Superman story really came from, the real inspiration for Lois Lane, the template for Superman's costume, and much, much more. Super Boys also tracks the boys' unknown, often mysterious lives after they left Superman, including Siegel's secret work during World War II and never-before-seen work from Shuster.

Super Boys explains, finally, what exactly happened with the infamous check for $130 that pulled Superman away from his creators--and gave control of the character to the publisher. Ricca also uncovers the true nature of Jerry's father's death, a crime that has always remained a mystery. Super Boys is the story of a long friendship between boys who grew to be men and the standard that would be impossible for both of them to live up to.

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About the Author:

BRAD RICCA earned his Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University where he currently teaches. He has spoken on comics at various schools and museums, and he has been interviewed about comics topics by The New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, and All Things Considered on NPR. His film Last Son won a 2010 Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas International Film Festival. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
The Eyes
 
 
JOE SHUSTER BLINKED at the back of his art teacher. She was bent over a student who clearly needed help portraying the simple bowl of fruit at the front of the room. Joe had finished his sketch a good ten minutes ago and was looking for something else to draw. With his left hand, he brought his pencil down at a forty-five-degree angle over the paper. It hovered there for a moment, floating over the page. His books wobbled in a pile under his desk. He tried to shift his dangling feet so no one could see they weren’t hitting the floor. Joe was short and skinny, parted his dark hair carefully on the side, and wore glasses that were incredibly thick. When it seemed that no one was looking, Joe put his face close—so close—down to the page, about two or three inches away, so he could finally see it.
Joe looked down at his drawing. He really wanted to draw something coming out of the apple—maybe an arrow or a smiling worm with funny eyebrows and a big cigar—but he didn’t want to get into trouble. He liked his teacher too much. Someday he would be a famous artist and he would come back to this classroom and she would be impressed. Class, she would say, this is a former student of mine who is a very successful artist, and his name is Joe Shuster. Or maybe Joseph Shuster. There would be clapping and she would smile and look very pleased. Joe looked at her and in his mind started drawing beams radiating from her head. But she straightened up and caught him staring even though he wasn’t really. Turning red, he went back to his sketch, brushing thick lines all going one way in the background. He hoped he could bring this one home to show his mother, he thought. He drew more lines.
At home, Joe’s mother, Ida, moved between the laundry and the stove. She knew she had only an hour or so before her boys, Joe and Frank, would be home from school. Their little sister, Jeanetta, was already staring out the window in anticipation of her two favorite, patient brothers. Ida’s husband, Julius, was working downtown at the Richman Brothers clothing store factory. Ida stopped for a moment, looked around her small apartment, and blinked. It looked small, but it was still an empire, so far from home.
Ida was born to Shemon Katharske and his wife, Chesie, around 1890 in a small town in the central region of Russia.1 Like many of the towns in the region, it was known by several names, depending upon where, whom, and when you asked.2 Here, in the town of many names, protected by a weak and crumbling fortress, Ida lived in a world of farms and hills. The area had enjoyed some peace, but there was always the promise of dreadful violence, especially against her people, the Jews, who were uneasy neighbors to the Russians. On April 27, 1881, a fight at a neighborhood bar resulted in the midnight destruction of several Jewish homes and businesses as police looked on. This went on for two days without any interest by the military authorities. The news spread fast through the towns and cities.3
Another wave of anti-Semitic violence was reported by The New York Times on December 13, 1905:
RUSSIAN CITY BURNING, JEWS BEING MASSACRED ODESSA IS PANIC-STRICKEN
Reports received here through refugees are to the effect that since Sunday the town of Elizabethgrad, Russia, has been burning and that a mob has been killing and plundering in the Jewish quarter.4
The looting was done by torchlight. The streets were covered with glass and feathers. The mob got larger as government officials looked on. Fires raged down the little streets. The midnight reports were terrifying. As the government internally debated the legality of the “action,” news spread that a Jew had been killed. Ida, whose name in Hebrew meant “life,” had heard enough of this word pogrom and its simple meaning, “destroy.” In a short, sad range of years, thousands of Jews were killed or financially ruined. Some of them organized into renegade militias, but they were no match for the Russian army, who marched with bright medals and silver swords. The army were not all soldiers, not all bloodthirsty, but they all had their orders.5
Ida never imagined she would have a child who would one day end up going to an American school in a place called Cleveland and sketch a simple bowl of fruit for her. America was not a place for her to think of. But she did anyway. When she saw the men marching up the streets, she knew there had to be a better place. Not in specific details, but more as a vague idea, like an exotic photograph of Paris or Rome. This imaginary escape had at least the possibility of being real in the most extravagant way imaginable. America ganef, they said. The future of the place where she lived would see people beaten, bloodied, and stiff. These were old, inscrutable grudges. If these ways would not change, the place must. Imagination had to become real.
When Ida and her sister, Bessie, were finally old enough to leave, they did.6 They packed up their belongings and escaped down the long north road. There were tense moments, but once they reached Rotterdam they were relieved. They were going to find a ship.
Rotterdam was a completely different world to the sisters. There, white buildings all crowded together, and the scent of the sea seemed to change everything. In Rotterdam, there was a substantial advertising campaign to encourage immigration to Canada. Colorful playbills had giant fingers pointing, to photos of Manitoba’s rippling rivers and promised free prairie land. Clifford Sifton, Canada’s minister of the interior, had organized hundreds of agents in Holland to give talks extolling the virtues of Canada. Sifton even worked with ship lines to get reduced rates for immigrants. In dark stage rooms all across Rotterdam, magic lanterns lit up scenes of a Canada free from screaming and fire.7
The invisible force behind some of the increasing violence, and the push toward the Americas, was the steep economic fall in Europe following World War I. Frustration was so high that all options had become viable. So many people were coming over that eventually the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 would limit immigrants from any one country to 2 percent. The rationale was to “maintain the racial preponderance of the basic strain on our people and thereby to stabilize the ethnic composition of the population.”8 The act would refer to these immigrants as “aliens.”9
Ida and Bessie finally booked their passage to Canada but had to wait a week before ship-off.10 So they found a second-floor room in a hotel right by the river that was for emigrants waiting to leave. The hotel at Wijnbrugstraat 8 was a little more expensive than they wanted, but the man in charge winked at them and may have taken a little off for their troubles. His name was Jacob Shusterowich and he was a Jew, so it would be fine. They would spend a week in Rotterdam with him, his wife, Roza, and their family, including two of his sons, Julius and Jack.
Something happened during that week, in the hotel near the sea. Maybe it was when Julius helped Ida carry her trunk up the stairs, or when he saw her for the first time at the dinner table, or when he convinced himself from an upper window that she would want to talk to him in the first place, but something completely unexpected happened during that week: Ida and Julius fell in love. Part of it was probably the shortness of the time before her departure, but every waking moment between Julius and Ida was soon filled with glances, touches, and eventually eager promises. This turn of events was of equal surprise to Julius, but he embraced it, as he did everything, wholeheartedly. He no longer wanted to stay at home. He wanted to protect this girl, this her. When the week finally ended, quickly, and they left, the boys made quick plans to follow them. When their ship was ready to sail, Julius Shusterowitz, son of Jacob, dramatically announced his intentions to follow Ida to Canada, where he would marry her. He was that kind of person, given to dining room pronouncements. His father scoffed, Why would you do this? But Julius remained undeterred. And to make matters more interesting, Julius’s brother Jack had fallen for Ida’s sister, Bessie—and was also going to leave.11
Their father’s heart was broken. Julius was thin and upright, with dark hair and a lean face that always seemed ready to laugh. But he was young, and his father knew he was beat. Still, he had one last gambit. Their father retorted that if Julius and Jack were going to Canada, they would have to pay for it themselves. Surely the prospect of an endless ocean would end this nonsense. He knew Julius had some money, but not enough to best the gray Atlantic. He was wrong. Pleading with the shipmaster, Julius and his brother secured jobs as deckhands on the boat.12 And soon, slowly, to the accompaniment of deep droning horns and swaying decks, they set sail for North America, streaming toward an imagined horizon.13 His father watched Julius disappear on a ship named the Uranium.14 Julius had $20 on him.15 They were off to the future.
Julius and Jack finally landed on September 2, 1912, in Halifax on Nova Scotia.16 He married Ida a year later on September 14, 1913.17 They lived in a few different places, including a shared house on 455 Richman Street.18 Julius kept smiling and got a job as a tailor. He and Ida smiled at each other and held hands. They wondered sometimes at what they had done, but this was destiny, Julius said. This was fate.
The alien couple Ida and Julius had three children in Canada, and “Shusterowitz,” in the slip of a pen became “Schusterowitz” and, then, “Schuster.” The eldest, named after Julius, was born on July 14, 1914, ten months from the day they were married.19 He would be followed by Frank four years later and little sister Jeanetta in six. Throughout the course of his life, Julius Jr...

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