Sunday, May 25, 2008

Joe Shuster (1914-1992)

"No one is going to read about a strongman in tights, Joe. It'll never fly."

No Canadian blog would be complete without a post on Superman with his dual citizenship. Re-reading old favourites in the 1956 Star Weekly brought back a surge of memories. Wayne Boring’s Superman comic strip (later taken over by Win Mortimer another Canadian cartoonist from Hamilton, Ontario) was my first introduction to the red, white, and blue costumed hero. The comic strip stories teetered between domestic and time-travelling tales and were always well-written and nicely illustrated. We watched The Adventures of Superman TV show, with George Reeves, and the Fleischer cartoons which were still in syndication.

The comic books had fallen into a formulaic rut but by 1957 were showing signs of life as new writers were brought on board to revitalize the character. Suddenly Superman was an object of conversation again in the schoolyard as kids wrecked their tongues trying to pronounce Mr. Mxyzptlk, laughed at the double L’s, visited the Fortress of Solitude with it’s miniature Kryptonian prisoners in a jar, and boggled at the Bizarro world.

The stories were imaginative which was a good thing since Superman had no discernable personality in any medium. Edmond Hamilton, Otto Binder, and Bill Finger breathed life into the stories. The artwork was very good, in addition to Boring there were stories illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, and George Papp. Later I was attracted to the ACG comics which featured Magicman and Nemesis because of the similarity of the artwork of Pete Costanza and Chic Stone to the Superman style.

By the time of the Legion of Superheroes appeared I lost interest. I liked Krypto the Superdog but I drew the line at Comet the Superhorse and Streaky, the Supercat. Enough was enough. (A digression; our family dog looked just like Krypto and was named Spot after the character in the Dick and Jane books which, although American were also used in B.C. schools for teaching toddlers to read.)

Toronto born Joe Shuster’s Canadian identity was revealed by Alexander Ross, in Macleans Magazine for March 19, 1966 in an article titled Return of the old invincible. Superman and Batman were now “pop-culture heroes,” as the result of Susan Sontag’s Partisan Review article on Camp, which made the supermen and women the darlings of a “hyper-fashionable intellectual cult.” Ross visited Shuster in his Long Island home, where the fifty year old , single cartoonist was living with his aged mother. Rather naively he revealed “The Superman copyright reverts to me on April 19, 1966.”

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