Superman in action, 1938, by Joe Shuster
First story of Superman (1938)

Joe Shuster was born in Toronto, Canada, as the son of a Jewish Dutch father and an Ukrainian mother. He met Jerry Siegel when his family moved from Canada to Ohio in 1923. As teenagers, they published science fiction fan magazines, and this was how they came in contact with 'Gladiator', the novel by Philip Wylie. This novel proved to be the biggest influence on their conception of Superman in 1933. Surprising as it may seem now, Superman was no instant success.

Spy: The Nearly-Weds, by Joe Shuster (Detective Comics #3, 1937)
Spy: The Nearly-Weds (Detective Comics #3, 1937)

Shuster and Siegel went on to work for Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publications, the future DC Comics, in the mid 1930s. They worked on comic books like New Fun, and created features like 'Henri Duval' and 'Doctor Occult', with Siegel as writer and Shuster as artist. They also contributed the features 'Slam Bradley and 'Spy' to Detective Comics.

Slam Bradley by Siegel & Shuster
Slam Bradley (Detective Comics #1)

It was in 1938 when National Periodicals brought out the first story of 'Superman' as the cover story for their title Action Comics. It was an overnight hit, changing the course of comic books forever. From that moment on, the superhero genre was established, and Superman imitations popped up everywhere, boosting the comic business into one of the most popular forms of media. In 1939, Shuster and Siegel saw their dream come true when 'Superman' was finally printed in the newspapers.

Superman, by Siegel & Shuster

In spite of the huge success, Shuster and Siegel saw relatively small revenues. The Superman character was claimed entirely by their syndicate, and eventually Shuster got so disillusioned that he retreated from comics completely. After World War II, the duo briefly returned at National/DC with 'Funnyman'.

Siegel entered into a long-running court battle over the rights to Superman. This eventually won him and Shuster a lifetime annuity from DC Comics in 1977. Shuster vanished, reportedly to a California nursing home, where he died in 1992.

Action Comics Cover (1938), by Joe Shuster

Series and books by Joe Shuster in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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