The Almost Death Of Superman

For every writer out there dealing with rejection (and yeah, I’ve gotten a couple of form rejection letters recently), I wanted to share the story of how much trouble Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had in getting Superman into print, a struggle spanning five years. When reading this, remember that Superman is now one of the most recognizable figures in the world – right up there with Jesus Christ and Mickey Mouse – and remains stronger than ever despite countless attempts to kill him by infamous enemies including Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Doomsday, and Zack Snyder.

By the way, this is taken from the Superman Wikipedia page:

Siegel shared his idea with Shuster and they hastily put together a comic story titled “The Superman” and submitted it to Humor Publishing in Chicago, which released three proto-comic books in 1933. Although the duo received an encouraging letter, Humor published no further comics. Siegel believed publishers kept rejecting them because he and Shuster were young and unknown, so he looked for an established artist to replace Shuster. When Siegel told Shuster what he was doing, Shuster reacted by burning their rejected Superman comic, sparing only the cover.

Siegel solicited multiple artists and in 1934 Russell Keaton, who worked on the Buck Rogers comic strip, responded. In nine sample strips Keaton produced based on Siegel’s treatment, the Superman character further evolves: In the distant future, when Earth is on the verge of exploding due to “giant cataclysms”, the last surviving man sends his child back in time to the year 1935, where he is adopted by Sam and Molly Kent. The boy exhibits superhuman strength and bulletproof skin, and the Kents teach him to use his powers for good. However, the newspaper syndicates rejected their work and Keaton abandoned the project.

Siegel and Shuster reconciled and continued developing Superman. The character became an alien from the planet Krypton with the now-familiar costume: tight-fitting clothes with an “S” on the chest, over-shorts, and a cape.

Siegel and Shuster entered the comics field professionally in 1935, producing detective and adventure stories for the New York-based comic-book publisher National Allied Publications. Although National expressed interest in Superman, Siegel and Shuster wanted to sell Superman as a syndicated comic strip, believing syndication would give them more lucrative and stable work, but the newspaper syndicates all turned them down. Max Gaines, who worked at McClure Newspaper Syndicate suggested they show their work to Detective Comics (which had recently bought out National Allied).

In March 1938, Siegel and Shuster sold all rights to the character to Detective Comics, Inc. for $130 (the equivalent of $2,200 when adjusted for inflation).

Superman debuted as the cover feature of the anthology Action Comics #1 (cover-dated June 1938, published April 18, 1938). The series was an immediate success, and reader feedback showed that Superman was responsible. In June 1939, Detective Comics began a sister series, Superman, dedicated exclusively to the character. Action Comics eventually became dedicated to Superman stories, and both it and Superman have been published without interruption since 1938.


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