Writer Jerry Siegel died broke in 1996. Artist Joe Shuster was broke and legally blind when he died in 1992. Why is that a significant fact?
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created “Superman” for DC Comics in 1939.
Unfortunately for them, the common practice in the comic book industry at that time was for comic creators to sign away all rights to their characters. In their case, DC bought the rights to their creation for $130, and they became staff members paid $10 per comic book page even after “Action Comics”, the first Superman comic book sold out immediately as did following issues year after year. By 1948, they were only making $35 a page.
Of course, Superman went on to become a character known all over the world, and a mega-franchise spawning hit movies, television series, cartoons, and even a Broadway musical. And then there’s their “Superboy” character and the currently successful television series “Smallville.”
In 1948, Siegel and Shuster sued DC for the rights to the Superman character. They lost in court, but then settled for less than $100,000. This settlement was for the Superboy character not the Superman character.
Before Jerry Siegel was drafted into the Army for World War II, he had given DC pages of the first Superboy comics. While he was in service, DC published Superboy in 1943 and they never compensated the two men.
Although writer Jerry Siegel continued to work in the comic book industry, his partner artist Joe Shuster couldn’t find work because he had become legally blind.
The two men continued litigation against the comic book giant until the late 1970s when Warner Communications, the owner of DC at that time, decided to settle. They granted Siegel and Shuster a lifetime salary of $20,000 annually. Of course, this act wasn’t out of the goodness of their heart. Warner was about to make the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie.
As of 2004, the Superman franchise was worth at least $1 billion.
In 1999, the family of Jerry Siegel sued DC Comics to terminate their exclusive copyright ownership of the Superboy character, another Siegel and Shuster creation. And in 2004, they sued DC to terminate their exclusive ownership of the Superboy character. In 2006, the court decided in the Siegel family’s favor regarding ownership of the Superboy character. As of 2007, there had yet to be a family settlement with DC on Superman.
After the success of the first Superman movie, Warner Communications put “Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” on the credits of every following Superman movie.
“The Ongoing Struggle for Ownership of Superman and Superboy”, Michael Dean, The Comics Journal, URL: (http://www.tcj.com/263/n_marketable.html)
“Up, Up and Awaaay!”, Otto Friedrich, Time, URL: (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,966978-1,00.html)
“Inside the Superboy copyright decision”, Heidi McDonald, Publishers Weekly, URL: (http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6323787.html)