How does $130 sound?
That’s what publisher Jack Liebowitz paid to own all of the rights to the character in 1938. Pretty good deal.
Above is the actual check received by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to buy their new Superman character outright. The check is dated March 1, 1938, and also includes payment for work by the creative partners appearing in comics cover-dated June 1938: $210 for stories appearing in Detective Comics #16 (21 pages in the publisher’s flagship book at the time), and $36 each for work in More Fun Comics and New Adventure Comics (probably issues #32 and #27, respectively). The total comes to $412. Noticeably absent is payment for their work in Action Comics #1, also cover-dated June 1938, although it’s possible that the $130 payment includes both the rights to Superman and compensation for their writing and illustrating the story.
The check is going to auction next year at ComicConnect. On Monday, it was posted to Twitter by Gerry Duggan (writer of The Infinite Horizon and fellow Emerson grad), where it immediately spread like wildfire among the comics community.
Andy Khouri of Comics Alliance has a great write-up that covers the historical significance of this check resurfacing after being assumed lost for decades. It is the beginning of a long and depressing narrative of the fight for creator rights and fair compensation in comics, and the complex series of ugly legal battles between DC Comics and the families of Siegel and Shuster that continues to this day. In 2008, the Siegel Estate was awarded half of the copyright to Superman as he appeared in his earliest comics and newspaper strips, but that ruling is currently being appealed. The Shuster Estate may be able regain its portion of the copyright in 2013. (In what maybe should have been a red flag of the troubles ahead, both Siegel and Shuster’s names on the check were misspelled by Liebowitz.)
The check was also used as evidence in the first comic book copyright lawsuit, Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc. In 1939, Detective Comics sued Bruns regarding the latter’s Wonder Man character, which DC claimed infringed on Superman due to the likeness of their powers. That case was found in DC’s favor, establishing a precedent that led to the more popular Captain Marvel getting similarly squashed 11 years later. These cases allowed Marvel Comics to use both of these names in the 1960s and ’70s without any opposition. It also resulted in the British license of the original Captain Marvel to be reinvented as Marvelman by Mick Anglo in 1952, which is the beginning of a whole other epic battle of legal entanglements that only recently got cleared up (allegedly).
(Hat tip to Scott Shaw!)
The Hammer Museum here in LA reached out to let us know about a free event celebrating 75 Years of DC Comics on Tuesday December 14th at 7 PM.
Yes believe it or not, back in 1935 (!), 12 US Presidents ago, way before either Iraq Wars, before the Cold War, the Vietnam War, a few years before World War II and with the country still trying to shake off the Great Depression, a company then called National Allied Publications took a risk by publishing the first comic book of all-original material, New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine. Before then, comics were mostly or entirely made up of recycled newspaper comic strips. It was an uphill venture that initially didn’t pay off until 1938 with the release of Action Comics #1 and the debut of Superman. This was not only a huge hit, but it ended up inventing an entire sub-genre: superheroes. As National Allied changed hands, it’s name evolved to National Periodical Publications and eventually DC Comics and just recently DC Entertainment, named after the home of their second mega-hit Batman from Detective Comics. DC has remained an industry leader since the late 1930s, publishing more world icons like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash to accompany Superman and Batman.
Last month saw the release of a massive retrospective, 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, written by former DC Comics president Paul Levitz. (Levitz was among our interviewees for Dig Comics at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego.) To help in the yearlong celebration, Levitz will be joined at UCLA’s Hammer Museum by current DC executives and creators Jim Lee and Geoff Johns to discuss the history and future of DC. The event will be moderated by comedian Patton Oswalt, who’s no stranger to the world of comic books.
Within its short 75-year lifespan, DC Comics has created and destroyed entire cities, worlds, and universes with a cast of characters that includes the titans of the Superhero world. Comedian, actor, and writer Patton Oswalt will moderate a discussion among DC Comics’ Paul Levitz, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns, the creative and editorial superheroes behind the pages of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, who will discuss the pulp origins of DC Comics’ story lines and characters, as well as the future of digital publishing.
ALL HAMMER PUBLIC PROGRAMS ARE FREE. Tickets are required, and are available at the Billy Wilder Theater Box Office one hour prior to start time. Limit one ticket per person on a first come, first served basis. Hammer members receive priority seating, subject to availability. Reservations not accepted, RSVPs not required.
Parking is available under the museum for $3 after 6:00pm.
While this looks like fun, the really interesting part to me is the inclusion of discussing the future of digital publishing. DC has made some good moves in this area just in the last few months, but it has also sadly shut down its imprint for original webcomics Zuda Comics. Word is that some more bold moves are in the works. I’m not expecting any solid announcements, but I’m hoping there will be some positive discussion to show that they’re ready to push strongly in that direction.
And I’m also unrealistically hoping they’ll pass out free copies of Levitz’ 75 Years of DC Comics to everyone in the audience, Oprah-style.