Jerry Siegel

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Jerry Siegel
Jerry Siegel 1943.jpg
Siegel in 1943
Born Jerome Siegel
(1914-10-17)October 17, 1914
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Died January 28, 1996(1996-01-28) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Area(s) Writer
Pseudonym(s) Joe Carter, Jerry Ess
Notable works
Superman, Action Comics #1
Awards Inkpot Award, 1975
Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame, 1992
Jack Kirby Hall of Fame, 1993
The Bill Finger Award For Excellence in Comic Book Writing, 2005
Spouse(s) Bella Siegel (m. 1939–48)
Joanne Siegel (m. 1948)
Children 2

Jerome "Jerry" Siegel (October 17, 1914 – January 28, 1996),[1] who also used pseudonyms including Joe Carter,[2][3] and Jerry Ess,[2] was an American writer of comic books and strips. His most famous creation was Superman, which he created in partnership with Joseph Shuster. Other notable creations of Siegel include The Spectre and Lex Luthor.

He was inducted (with Shuster posthumously) into the comic book industry's Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1993.


Jerome Siegel was born on October 17, 1914, in Cleveland, Ohio. His father, Michael, was a tailor and shopkeeper. Siegel's family moved to the Jewish neighborhood of Glenville in 1928. He attended Glenville High School. It was here that he befriended Joseph Shuster. They had similar personalities and tastes, and became friends.

Siegel graduated high school in June 1934. His family didn't have the money to send him to college, so he worked various delivery jobs, all the while courting publishers. He and Shuster finally gained steady work in the summer of 1935, making comic strips for National Allied Publications in New York. They still lived in Cleveland at this time, and sent in their work by mail.

After Siegel married his first wife, Bella, he moved out of his mother's house in Glenville to University Heights. Siegel served in the Army from 1943 to 1946. After his discharge, he stayed at Shuster's home in New York to attend a civil trial over the copyright to Superman. There, he had an affair with an old friend named Joanne. He divorced Bella, married Joanne, and the couple settled in Long Island. In 1968, they moved to California, where they remained until their deaths.


Siegel's parents were Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York in 1900, having fled the anti-Semitism of their native Lithuania. His father was born Mikhel Iankel Segalovich and his mother was born Sora Meita Khaikels,[4] but they changed their names to Michael and Sarah Siegel after moving to America. Jerome was the last of six children (Isabel, Leo, Minerva, Roslyn, and Harry). Michael Siegel was a tailor and owned a clothing store. On June 2, 1932, Michael suffered a fatal heart attack after he was assaulted in his store by a shoplifter. Sarah Siegel died of a heart attack on August 17, 1941.[5]

Siegel married Bella Lifshitz on June 10, 1939. She was a Jewish woman from his neighborhood of Glenville. They had a son named Michael (Jan 27, 1944 - Jan 17 2006). Bella filed for divorce on July 25, 1948, and she took custody of their son.

In November 1948, Siegel married Jolan Kovacs, who renamed herself Joanne Siegel. Joanne was Lutheran, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. She and Jerome first met in January 1935, when she modeled for his colleague, Joseph Shuster. She and Jerome reacquainted at a costume ball in New York in April 1948.[6] Their affair was part of the reason Bella divorced Jerome. On March 1, 1951, Joanne gave birth to their daughter, Laura.

Military service[edit]

Jerome Siegel was conscripted into the US Army on June 28, 1943. His service number was 35067731. He was trained at Fort George G. Meade, where he was trained as an "Airplane Engine Mechanic, a Film Editor, Motion Picture Cutter, Public Relations Man or Playwright (Motion Picture Writer) or Reporter". He was posted in Honolulu, where he was assigned a writing job at Stars and Stripes. He focused mainly on comedy columns. Siegel was discharged on January 21, 1946.

Writing career[edit]

Siegel and Shuster were avid fans of science-fiction and adventure stories. Siegel aspired to become a writer. He wrote for his high school's newspaper, The Glenville Torch, and published his own magazine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. Shuster aspired to become an illustrator, and provided drawings for Siegel's earlier stories. Siegel and Shuster started making comic strips circa 1933, because they felt comic strips were more accessible and lucrative than pulp magazines. The art quality standards were lower, and the royalties from newspaper syndication were higher. They self-published their strips in a magazine called Popular Comics. This magazine featured such strips such as Goober the Mighty, a Tarzan parody; Interplanetary Police, a science-fiction adventure strip patterned after Buck Rogers; and Snoopy and Smiley, patterned after Laurel and Hardy.[5] It was in 1933 that Siegel and Shuster began developing their most famous character, Superman. Siegel and Shuster never managed to interest any newspaper syndicate in their strips.

In 1935, Siegel and Shuster began working for National Allied Publications, a comics magazine publishing company founded and owned by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Siegel created a number of characters for National, among them Henri Duval, a 17th-century French swashbuckler; Doctor Occult, a detective who fought paranormal threats; Slam Bradley, a street-fighting hero; and The Spectre, a ghost of divine retribution. Wheeler-Nicholson saw potential in Superman, but due to financial difficulties put off publishing him.[7] In late 1937, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz bought out Wheeler-Nicholson's business. In March 1938, Donenfeld and Liebowitz bought the full rights to Superman for $130 ($2,200 when adjusted for inflation) so as to feature him in their newest magazine, Action Comics. By this point, Siegel and Shuster no longer expected Superman to ever become a great success, having failed for years to get the character syndicated.

Superman became a surprise hit, earning National over a million dollars a year through magazines, radio and theatrical adaptations, and merchandising.[8] But Siegel and Shuster were not entitled to the immense profits because they no longer owned the character. They were given substantial pay raises, however. In 1942, they were together paid $63,776.46, which is about $923,700 when adjusted for inflation. The average yearly salary for an employee at National was $1,880.[9] Much of this money was spent on overhead costs such as ghost-artists, but there was enough to let them live in comfort.

In 1947, Siegel and Shuster sued National Comics Publications for the rights to Superman and Superboy. Back in 1940, Siegel had submitted a script featuring a child version of Superman called "Superboy", but National showed no interest then. In 1944, while Siegel was away serving in the military, National went ahead and published the story. National did not even inform Siegel of this, let alone pay him for the rights. He learned it through a letter from Shuster, who had been tasked with drawing the strips. Siegel and Shuster settled out of court with National, who paid them $94,013.16 ($925,900 in modern terms) for the full rights to both characters, then fired them. After paying their lawyers and splitting the remaining money, Siegel was left with $29,000.[10]

In 1947, Siegel and Shuster created Funnyman, a clownish superhero. He appeared in the magazine Funnyman, published by Magazine Enterprises, the first issue of which was published on December 22, 1947.[11] Funnyman was not a success. The magazine was cancelled after six issues, and a subsequent newspaper strip also flopped.

Siegel resumed working for National in 1957. He worked on National's new comics magazine, The Legion of Super-Heroes, creating many of the Legion's recurring characters, such as Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, and Chameleon Boy.

In 1965, Siegel and Shuster attempted to reclaim the copyright to Superman using the renewal provision of the Copyright Act of 1909. National promptly fired Siegel and the case went to court. The courts ruled that, in their 1948 settlement with National, Siegel and Shuster had transferred their renewal rights to Superman to National and thus could not reclaim the copyright.

Siegel's later work would appear in Marvel Comics, where under the pseudonym "Joe Carter" he scripted the "Human Torch" feature in Strange Tales #112–113 (Sept.-Oct. 1963), introducing the teenage Torch's high school girlfriend, Doris Evans; and, under his own name, a backup feature starring the X-Men member Angel, which ran in Marvel Tales and Ka-Zar.[12] Siegel wrote as well during this time for Archie Comics, where he created campy versions of existing superheroes in Archie's Mighty Comics line; Charlton Comics, where he created a few superheroes; and even England's Lion, where he scripted The Spider. In 1968, he worked for Western Publishing, for which he wrote (along with Carl Barks) stories in the Junior Woodchucks comic book. In the 1970s, he worked for Mondadori Editore (at that time the Italian Disney comic book licensee) on its title Topolino, listed in the mastheads of the period as a scriptwriter ("soggettista e sceneggiatore"). At Radio Comics, he worked on The Web, The Fly, Steel Sterling, and The Mighty Crusaders.

In the 1980s, he worked with Val Mayerik on his new comic called The Starling, which appeared in the pages of Destroyer Duck. Around this time, he also wrote some comics for Aardvark-Vanaheim.[13]

Final years[edit]

In 1975, Siegel learned that Warner Brothers was planning the production of a high-budget Superman movie. Siegel sent letters to various press agencies complaining about his miserable situation and his "mistreatment" by National and Warner Brothers. That year, he was interviewed by two journalists from Cobblestone, a fanzine published by California art students.[14] The interview caught the attention of a number of media figures, such as Neal Adams, a comic book artist and labor activist for comics authors, and Bobby Lipsyte, a writer for the television comedy show Saturday Night Live. They arranged a number of television and newspaper interviews where Siegel and Shuster could voice their grievances to the country.

In order to preserve the public's goodwill ahead of the release of this expensive movie and to pre-empt any potential lawsuits, Warner Brothers agreed to give Siegel and Shuster a yearly stipend, medical benefits, and credit their names in all future Superman stories, in exchange for never again contesting ownership of Superman. The stipend was initially $20,000 but was raised over the years. Both men kept this agreement until their deaths.

Siegel died of a heart attack on January 28, 1996.


Legal issues[edit]

Siegel & Shuster v. Warner Communications[edit]

Siegel in 1975 launched a public-relations campaign to protest DC Comics' treatment of Shuster and himself.[15] Ultimately, Warner Communications, DC's parent company, awarded Siegel and Shuster $20,000 a year, later increased to $30,000,[16] each for the rest of their lives and guaranteed that all comics, TV episodes, films, and, later, video games starring Superman would be required to carry the credit that Superman was "created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster." The first issue with the restored credit was Superman #302 (August 1976).[17]

Siegel estate v. Time Warner[edit]

On April 16, 1999, Siegel's widow Joanne Siegel, and their daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, filed a copyright termination notice.[16] Warner Bros. contested this copyright termination, making the status of Siegel's share of the copyright the subject of a legal battle. Warner Bros. and the Siegels entered into discussions on how to resolve the issues raised by the termination notice. DC made a settlement offer to Larson and her family on October 16, 2001, and three days later, DC received a letter from Larson’s attorney accepting the offer, which included millions of dollars in payment in exchange for the copyrights.[18] This offer was set aside by the Siegels at the last minute and in October 2004 they filed suit alleging copyright infringement on the part of Warner Bros. Warner Bros. countersued, alleging, among other arguments, that the termination notice contains defects.[19][20] On March 26, 2008, Judge Stephen G. Larson of the Federal District Court for the Central District of California ruled that Siegel's estate was entitled to claim a share in the United States copyright.[21] The ruling does not affect the international rights which Time Warner holds in the character through its subsidiary DC Comics. Issues regarding the amount of monies owed Siegel's estate and whether the claim the estate has extends to derivative works such as movie versions will be settled at trial, although any compensation would only be owed from works published since 1999.[22] The case was scheduled to be heard in a California federal court in May 2008.[23]

Both the Siegel estate and Time Warner have appealed Larson's ruling. The Siegel estate claims the judge erred by finding most of the Superman material written by Siegel from 1938 through 1943 to be work for hire.[24] Time Warner asserts the Siegel estate had agreed to a settlement that precludes termination,[25] and that the material awarded to the Siegel estate by Judge Larson was actually work for hire.[26] Oral argument was held on November 5, 2012, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[27][28] In January 2013, the Ninth Circuit reversed the 2008 decision, since the October 2001 agreement would have settled the dispute, and ruled the 2001 agreement would be followed.

Superboy lawsuit[edit]

Superboy was the subject of a legal battle between Time Warner, the owner of DC Comics and the estate of Jerry Siegel. The Siegels argued that Jerry Siegel was an independent contractor at the time he proposed the original character, which DC declined at the time. After returning from World War II, Siegel found that DC had published a Superboy story which bore similarities to his proposal.[29]

On March 23, 2006, federal judge Ronald S. W. Lew issued a summary judgment ruling that the Siegel heirs had the right to revoke their copyright assignment to Superboy and had successfully reclaimed the rights as of November 17, 2004. Warner Bros. and DC Comics replied that they "respectfully disagree" with the ruling and would seek review. Warner Bros. and DC Comics filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Lew's ruling in January 2007. On July 27, 2007, federal judge Larson (who had replaced Lew upon his taking "senior status") reversed Judge Lew's ruling that the Siegel heirs had reclaimed the rights to Superboy.[30]



  1. ^ Roger Stern. Superman: Sunday Classics: 1939–1943 DC Comics/Kitchen Sink Press, Inc./Sterling Publishing; 2006
  2. ^ a b Rozakis, Bob (April 9, 2001). "Secret Identities". "It's BobRo the Answer Man" (column), Comics Bulletin. Archived from the original on November 14, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  3. ^ Evanier, Mark (April 14, 2008). "Why did some artists working for Marvel in the sixties use phony names?". P.O.V. Online (column). Archived from the original on November 24, 2009. Retrieved July 28, 2008. 
  4. ^ According to marriage records from
  5. ^ a b Ricca (2014)
  6. ^ According to Ricca (2014) and Andrae (1983), this was the Newspaper Comics Council Comic Strip Ball, held at the Plaza Hotel on April 1, 1948.
  7. ^ Interview with the son of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Douglas, in Alter Ego #88 (2009)
  8. ^ Kobler (1941), p. 76: "...bringing the company's 1940-1941 income to a jolly total of approximately $1,500,000 — and this is exlusive of the $1,100,000 from Donenfeld's other publications."
  9. ^ Agostino & Newberg (2014)
  10. ^ In an official document from Siegel's divorce (#592351, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio) it is written: "...there is a contingent liability for income taxes to the United States Government from said Party of the Second Part as a result of the receipt by him during the past few months of the net amount of approximately Twenty-nine Thousand Dollars ($29,000.00) in settlement of litigation in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Westchester, against National Comic Publications Inc. et al."
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Joe Carter". Grand Comics Database. 
  13. ^ Johnston, Rich (August 2, 2012). "When Jerry Siegel Wrote To Aardvark-Vanaheim Looking For A Publisher For Redd Death And Life-Queen, Zongolla The Ultroid, Doomsday-Y-Y Komics, Space Rock Kid And Ricky Robot". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  14. ^ Interview with Phil Yeh and Randy Kosht in Cobblestone #11 (Nov-Dec 1975). Not to be confused with Cobblestone Magazine, a children's history magazine first published in 1979. Cobblestone was published from January 1975 to summer 1977, and afterwards renamed Uncle Jam. It was written and published by art students from Long Beach, California.
  15. ^ Graham, Victoria (November 25, 1975). "Originators of Superman Destitute: Sold Rights in 1938 for $130". State Journal. Lansing, Michigan. p. D-3. 
  16. ^ a b Dean, Michael (November 2004). "An Extraordinarily Marketable Man: The Ongoing Struggle for Ownership of Superman and Superboy". Excerpted from The Comics Journal #263: 16. Archived from the original on December 1, 2006. Retrieved December 22, 2006. 
  17. ^ McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. For the first time since 1947, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's names were back in Superman comics, and listed as the Man of Steel's co-creators. 
  18. ^ McAfee, David (February 7, 2013). "Superman Creator's Estate Gave Up Rights, DC Comics Says". Retrieved July 22, 2016.  (subscription required)
  19. ^ Vosper, Robert (February 2005). "The Woman of Steel". Inside Counsel. Archived from the original on May 6, 2007. Retrieved January 26, 2007. DC isn't going to hand over its most valued asset without putting up one hell of a legal battle 
  20. ^ Brady, Matt (March 3, 2005). "Inside The Siegel/DC Battle For Superman". Newsarama. Archived from the original on August 13, 2008. Retrieved January 26, 2007. While the complaint, response and counterclaim has been filed, no one even remotely expects a slam-dunk win for either side. Issues such as those named in the complaint will, if it goes to trial, possibly allow for an unprecedented referendum on issues of copyright. 
  21. ^ "This Month in History," Smithsonian (June 2008).
  22. ^ Ciepley, Michael (March 29, 2008). "Ruling Gives Heirs a Share of Superman Copyright". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 3, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2008. 
  23. ^ Coyle, Marcia (February 4, 2008). "Pow! Zap! Comic Book Suits Abound". The National Law Journal. Archived from the original on February 17, 2008. Retrieved February 17, 2008. 
  24. ^ Trexler, Jeff (April 2, 2012). "The Legal View: Jack Kirby and the Siegel Appeal". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  25. ^ Trexler, Jeff (March 30, 2012). "The Legal View: Facebook vs. Superman". Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2012. 
  26. ^ Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and DC Comics (March 23, 2012). "Laura Larson v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., et al.". Second Brief on Cross Appeal. Archived from the original on March 12, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  27. ^ Heller, Matthew (November 5, 2012). "Superman Heirs Battle DC Comics Over Copyrights in 9th Circ.". Retrieved December 20, 2012.  (subscription required)
  28. ^ Reynolds, Matt (November 7, 2012). "Ninth Circuit Holds Back-to-Back Appeals on Superman Rights". Courthouse News Service. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  29. ^ McNary, Dave (April 5, 2006). "Super Snit in 'Smallville' – Skein Faces Copyright Infringement charges)". Daily Variety. Archived from the original on May 12, 2008. Retrieved August 12, 2008. 
  30. ^ Joanne Siegel and Laura Siegel Larson v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; Time Warner Inc.; and DC Comics (C.D. Cal. 2008) (“Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment”). Text. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.

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