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‘Boys of Steel’
Biography tells story of Superman's Jewish creators
by Bonnie Theiner
Jan 14, 2009 | 1712 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

He’s from Krypton! He’s from Metropolis! He’s from … Cleveland?

Yes, Superman was born in Cleveland, in the Depression era 1930s, the creation of two teenage boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The story of Jerry, Joe and Superman is told in a new children’s book, “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman,” by Marc Tyler Nobleman.

Too shy to participate in school life and activities, and sad about his father’s death, Siegel read comic strips and pulp magazines and saw movies about the fictional characters of that day, such as Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. On his typewriter, he composed stories of adventure and science fiction.

Also shy, Shuster escaped into the fictional world which he drew using a breadboard in his kitchen for a drawing surface. Because his family’s apartment had no heat and couldn’t afford art paper, Joe drew on butcher wrap paper, and in winter, wore outer clothing and gloves inside.

Both born in 1914, Siegel and Shuster met in high school. Siegel wrote stories. Shuster drew the illustrations. They followed comic strips such as Tarzan. Both thought that if they could come up with a different, exciting character — a hero not an Earthling — who would help real people on Earth in a strip they might be able to sell it to a newspaper syndicate.

So they created a character with superhuman strength, an alien from another planet who looked like a human and lived on planet Earth during the Great Depression. He had extraordinary characteristics and abilities, such as leaping from tall buildings, flying through the air with extreme speed and impenetrable skin. The hero was confident and also had a secret identity who was mild, meek, gentle, and wore glasses, someone much like his creators.

It was Shuster who designed the figure of the man and on his costume an “S” for “Super,” which Siegel said stood for his name and Shuster’s.

It was after high school that the partners created Superman. They sought a publisher for years before finally finding a company that was publishing a new kind of magazine called a comic book, Action Comics. Joe and Jerry were 24 when the first issue of Action Comics was published.

Nobleman’s book is well researched with bibliography. The book is suitable for reading to and with primary grades children and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Illustrations and cartoons enhance the narrative except for the faces of Siegel and Shuster, which are from the beginning of the book bespectacled in such a way that their eyes aren’t shown through their eyeglasses and any real expression on their faces is missing. The illustrator presents almost identical stereotypic cartoon faces and bodies for the two men. The reader never sees their visages even in cartoon caricature.

Even beyond their adolescence, well into adulthood, the illustrator is bent on portraying Siegel and Shuster as nerdy, dorky, with no individual facial features. Is this the appropriate portrayal of creative genius for young readers? Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster deserve admiration, respect and appreciation for their enormous talent and determination, as well as our outrage for their criminal mistreatment by DC Comics and Warner communications. The affirmation of their accomplishments and abilities are, however, affirmed in the written word by author, Nobleeman.

In his extensive research, Nobleman has unearthed information not previously published, including the building in Cleveland where Shuster had lived and where he and Siegel created Superman. In 1975 the building was destroyed before its history was known to the citizens of Cleveland.

(Bonnie Theiner is a Squirrel Hill-based freelance writer.)

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