Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"You look like you haven't eaten in days."
"No worries. My treat."
"Maybe some soup?"
"Soup it is. What didya do for a living?"
"I did comics."
"Oh nice. Anything I would know?"
Our opening prologue commences on a beautiful sunny day in a tree-lined park in Queens, New York, in 1975. An elderly man sleeping rough on a bench is taken by a kindly young cop to have some much needed breakfast, only to find to his surprise that he's eating with one of the creators of Superman. The cop is obviously puzzled as to how Joe Schuster could have possibly ended up like this and when he asks him the question our story proper begins, narrated in the first person, with a subtle shift to a more period art style, right back to when Joe was a lad.
In fact, this starts slightly beforehand as we get the story of how Joe's mother moved to North America from Russia with her sister. Along the way in Rotterdam they fell in love with the Russian Jewish owners' sons of the hotel they were staying in and got married, before all heading off to Toronto together. Eventually, Joe and his mother and father would end up in Cleveland, which is where Joe would meet Jerry Siegel at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School where both were contributors to the school paper, The Federalist.
The two chums hit it off instantly and were soon collaborating on stories for the paper, before beginning to dream of finding a wider syndicated circulation for their creations. After some initial trial and error, both in terms of content and carrier, their fledging Superman character was snapped up by Nicholson Publications for inclusion in their Action Comics publication.
This was when Joe and Jerry made their fatal mistake by signing a contract which waived all future rights to the Superman character in exchange for a cheque for $130. A cheque which had the ignominy of both their names being spelt incorrectly, ensuring much embarrassment at the bank when they went to cash it. That contract proved to be an extremely costly error which haunted Siegel and Schuster for the rest of their lives.
The subsequent chapters of this fascinating work shows their toiling endeavours to eke out a living in the industry, firstly working on ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN, all the whilst mentally calculating and crucifying themselves over how much the publishers were creaming in, and their unsuccessful efforts to create another winner. Plus, every time another piece of merchandise appeared, or the 1950s TV adaptation and finally the smash 1978 film starring Christopher Reeves, it was like another hammer blow to their hearts and indeed, mental well being.
Eventually a compromise deal was reached, which provided them with a very belated stipend and credit for their creation, but it took a lot of pressure from within the industry, led by Neal Adams, to make it happen and even then, it was little more than a token nod from Warner Brothers, nervous that the bad press whipped up might affect box-office takings.
If you're a true fan of comics and are aware of some of the various injustices perpetuated on creators by publishers over the years (and I note with some interest that the name DC Comics never actually appears anywhere in this work, presumably to avoid any litigious issues), you'll find this a heartbreaking if informative and entertaining read.
Art-wise, the watercolour style palette and illustrative style reminded me rather of some Kyle Baker, but generally it provides the perfect historical feel for the work. The lack of pencils neatly and dreamily captures the sense of bygone days and a mythical American golden era. When the art shifts back to the pencilled, slightly more focussed style, in the mid-seventies for the wrap-up pages, it only serves as a further jarring reminder that for Siegel and Schuster, their creation, so universally beloved by the public, had been little more than a waking nightmare for them their entire careers, a ubiquitous omnipresent reminder of their youthful moment of naivety.