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Canadian History for Kids: Joe Shuster

January 16, 1939 – Joe Shuster from Toronto publishes his first Superman comic strip.

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive, looks at Joe Shuster and his comic book hero, Superman!

Joseph Shuster was born in Toronto, Ontario, July of 1914. He came from a large family which included a cousin, comedian Frank Shuster of the Canadian comedy team Wayne and Shuster.

As a youngster, Shuster worked as a newspaper boy for the Toronto Daily Star. The family was quite poor, and the young artist would have to search for scrap paper, for his favourite pastime, drawing.

In 1924, Shuster and his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There, Shuster attended Glenville High School and became friends with Jerry Siegel, who would become his partner. They published a science fiction fanzine called Science Fiction.

The duo broke into comics at Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s National Allied Publications, the future DC Comics.

During these years Joe and Jerry did work on comics such as, New Fun, Spy, Slam Bradly, Henri Duval, Radio Squad, and Federal Men.

Canadian History for Kids has learned Siegel and Shuster created a bald telepathic villain, looking to dominate the world, as the title character in the short story “The Reign of the Superman”, published in Siegel’s 1933 fanzine Science Fiction #3.

The character was not successful, and Siegel eventually devised the more familiar version of the character. Shuster modeled the hero on Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and his alter ego, Clark Kent, derived from movie stars Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. Lois Lane was modelled on Joanne Carter, who later became Siegel’s wife.

Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent worked for the Daily Star newspaper, named by Shuster after the Toronto Daily Star, his old employer in Toronto. Shuster said he modeled the cityscape of Superman’s home city, Metropolis, on that of his old hometown, Toronto.

In 1939, DC Comics decided to give the two young men a chance, and published their character Superman a new comic title, “Action Comics”. Superman was an almost immediate hit.

Shuster and Siegel continued working on Superman for many years, but became increasingly angry of the profits that DC made off their character (because of the practice at the time, the creators had signed away all rights to the character to the publisher). They sold their rights to Superman away for $130 each.

Shuster was bitter about his treatment, and decided to leave the comics field. In 1975, after the Superman movie raised new interest in the character, the two men had their names put on the masthead as creators. Shuster died in 1992, nearly blind and still bitter about the treatment he’d received. Several copies of the original Action Comics #1 have fetched, at auction, over a million dollars each since 2010.

And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!

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