If you had your life’s passion taken from you, to which lengths would you continue being true to your craft?
In 1933, two high school students from Cleveland, Ohio created a character who would become the first and most notable superhero of all times: Superman. Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel came up with the concept of a child of two worlds who would find strength in what made him different in order to save others and the world. Jerry was the writer and Joe the illustrator. They had envisioned Clark Kent to be a comic strip but failed to find anyone who would buy their idea. Then, in 1938, National Allied Publications, which would eventually become DC, bought the rights to Superman for the shocking amount of US$130.
Less than ten years later, when the comic’s creators requested to annul this contract, a court ruled that the publisher had not only purchased that particular story but owned the title, name, and characters relating to Superman. It’s assumed that the fact that the creators were both children of Jewish immigrants gave way to the publication tricking them this way. But it’s because of their social status that Superman even came to life. Who else would think that an alien, immigrant or extraterrestrial could take both cultures that made up his consciousness to stand out from the crowd, to be aware of what others take for granted?
In the years following the disappointing loss of their character, Joe Schuster continued to seek work as an illustrator. His most notable work besides the man of steel was one that came with complete anonymity. He drew for a BDSM fetish comic book series titled Nights of Horror. Despite his name not appearing in any of the work, the similarities in the aesthetic of the art lead to comic book historian Craig Yoe to dig up the sadomasochistic imagery for a book titled Secret Identity: The Fetish Art Of Superman’s Co-creator Joe Shuster.
As Stan Lee says in the foreword:
“One of the ironies of life is the fact that in comic book stories the good guy always wins out, and yet in real life neither Jerry nor Joe reaped any vast financial rewards from their creation. In fact, Joe Shuster eventually found himself in a position where he had to accept any art job that was offered to him because of his need for funds.”
It’s completely heartbreaking that Joe Schuster was never able to enjoy the fruit of his labor. He continued to work odd jobs illustrating until the fifties when his eyesight got so bad he could no longer keep up. He took a job as a delivery man in a strange turn of events delivered a package to DC. Jerry Robinson, who was a member of the team behind the Batman comics, and co-created characters such as Robin and The Joker, stated that one day Shuster walked in the building delivering a parcel. Fully knowing who he was most of the employees felt uncomfortable, causing the CEO to call him out. The head of the department gave Joe a hundred dollars, told him to buy a new coat, and to find a new job.
In 1975, Jerry Siegel launched an entire campaign to have the rights returned to him and Joe. With the impending Superman movie coming out, and the relationship between DC and Warner Brothers, the company finally gave in to an extent. The settlement provided the two men a pension and covered health expenses. However, Joe Shuster died in 1992 still in serious debt.
These drawings might be kinky and bring out a giggle or two, but what they represent is a man who knew what his true passion was. He made his life’s work regardless of his name remaining a mystery to most.