Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Searching for Jerry Siegel

I wrote the first draft of Boys of Steel the picture book on May 3, 2004, but that wasn't the first format I envisioned for it. Ten years earlier, I began the process of writing a screenplay about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

I only began the process. I never began the writing.

My first step in 1994 was trying to contact Jerry, who was then still alive at age 80. I think I would have had better luck contacting him if he were already dead. I have no
séance experience, but it would have been easier to learn how to conduct one than to reach the Siegel family in those pre-Internet days.

I wrote a letter to a fine man named Dennis Dooley, who wrote the meticulously researched introductory essay in a little gem of a book called Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend. (Both its title and subtitle were followed by exclamation points, but I can't bear to use them here.) He responded with a letter dated 11/11/94 in which he wrote "I don't [think] anybody (including the mighty CBS) has had any luck in getting to Jerry for some years now. ... I'm afraid I can't be too encouraging." As some of you may already know, Jerry and Joe were involved with decades of litigation with DC Comics over Superman, so it was almost certain that even if I did reach Jerry, he would not have been able to comment.

So that one honest letter derailed my passion project. But only for ten years.

And since Jerry died in 1996 (four years after Joe), I will never know if I would have had their blessing, if not their participation. As for their families, that's a story for another post.

Sometime last year, I learned that Ilya Salkind, one of the producers of Superman: The Movie, was planning a biopic on Siegel and Shuster. The teaser info on his site has since been taken down. (4/9/08 addendum: It's back up. 2/13/14 addendum: It's down again.)

Changing subjects: I was in Reno this past weekend. I gave ten presentations in three days, and the Reno Gazette-Journal kindly covered it. That link will probably go dead before long, so click through while the clicking through is good. That first photograph is the first time the book cover has appeared in non-pixelated print. If you're going to read this blog, you'll have to get used to meaningless statistics like that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kimberley vs. Kimberly

What inspired me to write Boys of Steel as a picture book as opposed to another format was a single image from the summer of 1934: 19-year-old Jerry Siegel, clothes tugged on over pajamas, sprinting from his house to Joe Shuster's apartment with a dawn backdrop, eager to share with his friend the vision of a hero he'd had the night before.

Most sources say this distance was 12 blocks. Even Jerry himself did in at least one published interview. In January 2007, I paid my first trip to Cleveland and measured it myself. It was actually exactly 9
½ blocks—Jerry's house on Kimberley Avenue in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland was the 11th down on a street of 22, and Joe lived on a corner. Pulitzer-caliber investigative reporting? Hardly. But accuracy isn't always glamorous.

Speaking of which, in Superman literature, Jerry's street name is alternately written as "Kimberley" and "Kimberly." In fact, as of my research visit and almost certainly still today, the street signs themselves are at odds
—the sign on one end is with "e" and the sign at the other is without.

My book does not name the street but I nonetheless wanted to know which was correct, possibly with the vague intention of using it as a blog topic one day. My contacts at both the Cleveland Public Library and the Cleveland City Planning Commission (invaluable men both) verified that the official spelling is...begin erupting into a heightened and sweaty state...Kimberley.

It was Kimberley in a 1940 city directory and it was Kimberley when Cleveland annexed Glenville in 1898.

This was far from the most exhilarating research discovery I made on that trip, but of course you don't start a story with the climax.

9/19/09 addendum: I'm told that the city has addressed this and now the signs on both ends of the street read "Kimberley."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

First post: first picture book on first superhero

Superman was the first comic book superhero.

Boys of Steel is the first picture book biography of his creators, Jerry Siegel (the writer) and Joe Shuster (the artist).

It wasn't planned this way, but it's coming out in an anniversary year—Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Yes, timing its release for the 75th would have been cooler, but it's already taken three years from selling the manuscript to making this announcement and I don't want to wait another five.

The book won't be available to the general public until August. However, a select group will be able to buy it two months before that...if you want to be among this select group, stay tuned.

Then again, if you want to be among this select group, you can probably already guess what I'm talking about.