Saturday, May 31, 2008

Calling all comic shops

Boys of Steel is on page 410 of the June 2008 Previews, which went on sale May 29. It is a "Spotlight On" title. Though I don't know what that means when compared to a "Featured Item" or a "Certified Cool," I'll take it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Believe in superheroes?

Recently I called a certain Montessori school about the possibility of a school visit involving Boys of Steel. I usually e-mail rather than call, but in this case, I first needed to find out who to e-mail.

The woman promptly said, "Montessori doesn't believe in superheroes."

I didn't get the chance to ask if Montessori believes in young people who have the power to change the world with their imaginations.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Saving the Boys of Steel: part 2 of 2

"Reporters don't like being interviewed."

That's from an e-mail John Sherwood sent me on 8/26/06. I'd asked him if I could ask him questions about his role in landing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman, a settlement for life in 1975. If you've read Men of Tomorrow recently, John's name may seem familiar, but he's been on my radar since long before that.

While good man Phil Yeh was the first journalist to pick up on Jerry's press release and write about the sad state of Siegel and Shuster, John was the journalist who broke the story on a national level. I learned of John's articleand later learned it was the first in a series of articleswhen, circa 1988, I read an essay on the origin of Superman written by Dennis Dooley published in a book called Superman at Fifty.

John's newspaper was the now-defunct Washington Star. After John's articles, other papers (including the Washington Post) began to cover the story, too.

But the Star is not a paper, I found, that is widely archived. I inter-library-loaned copies of several of John's articles. Here's the first part of the first one:

I thought that finding those articles would be easy compared to finding John himself. Googling his name alone would, of course, produce hundreds of possibilities. The Star ceased publication in 1981 so I didn't think there'd be much trace of it online.

However, I Googled his name and the name of the paper together, and a bio of him came up. He'd written a book (about Maryland) and edited a magazine (about sailing), so I contacted the publishers of both. Someone at the book publishing company gave me his number and I called him.

I gushed that I consider him as important to the Superman story as two high-profile names who did selfless work on Siegel and Shuster's behalf, artists Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson. John was predictably humble though I tried to talk him out of that.

Nearly two years went by before I finally sent him interview questions. (I didn't remind him that "reporters don't like to be interviewed.")

Whether or not he remembered that comment, he obliged graciously:

For those not familiar with your link to Siegel and Shuster, could you please give the capsule summary?

I suppose I got on the Siegel and Shuster trail because of plans to make a Superman movie. I called DC Comics as step no. 1 and also got in touch with some comic book historians (all this before Google). [NOTE: see third question.]

John Sherwood early 1980s; photo courtesy of John Sherwood

Were you a Superman fan before you wrote your Siegel and Shuster articles?

I read comics as a kid and especially loved the crooked "S" on S's long blue underwear. I was a fan of Captain Marvel, too. I liked to draw and would unmask heroes such as The Phantom and The Spirit and anyone else wearing an eye mask by simply copying the face and leaving out the mask. Then I would look at how the artist drew eyes and simply sketch those in, a simple task. And, of course, I wore a cape and thought I could fly with it.

Do you remember your reaction upon first reading Jerry Siegel's long press release?

I don't recall Siegel's "long press release."

Did you know no other paper had yet covered it?

I didn't have a clue if any other paper covered the story.

Was your editor immediately keen on running the stories?

My editor immediately jumped on the idea. In those long-ago days at The Washington Star (1962-1980) I always came up with my own ideas because in that way I was assured of doing what I wanted to do. The editors kind of let me roam and do what I wanted to do. I also wrote about The Spirit for The Star and covered the artist doing the last strip of Joe Palooka. I was a great fan of radio, too.

Were there any details which your editor did not want to include?

My editors let me alone and never changed my copy, although they may have asked a few questions.

What was the public's reaction to your articles?

The public, as far as I was concerned, never reacted much to anything although there may have been a couple letters to editors re: Superman story.

Did you hear from DC Comics?

Never heard from DC Comics, except when I got a press release announcing the (meager) pensions. Big hearts, those corporate types.

Has anyone else ever contacted you to ask about your Siegel and Shuster work?

No, no one else I can recall. It was a long time ago.

What was your proudest moment with regards to your Siegel and Shuster work?

Having the story splashed on the front page (bottom) and, more importantly, Siegel and Shuster getting recognized with a pension. I am happy I was of help to "the boys." It is a great human interest story to begin with.

How did Jerry and Joe respond to you and your articles about them?

I used to receive a Christmas card every year from Joe for a long time; nothing from Siegel, as I recall.

Are you a Superman fan today?

Not really. I follow Doonesbury, but not for the art. Few comic artists were as good as Hal Foster and The Spirit's gifted creator, who also had a great sense of humor.

John Sherwood today; photo courtesy of John Sherwood

What are you doing these days?

In 1997 I became a senior staff writer at Soundings, a national recreational boating magazine published out of Essex, Connecticut. I semi-retired in 2005 but continue to write a monthly, full-page personal column about sailing and my sailing experiences entitled "Bay Tripper." I have never missed a column in all those years. I sail and single-hand the Chesapeake Bay out of Annapolis, where I keep my classic fiberglass sailboat—a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Sailmaster 22 built in Holland in 1962. Named Erewhon. I am a widower and have lived in the same house for 44 years. I have three sons and one grandchild.

10/2/21 addendum: Today I learned that John died on 12/7/16. Sail on, storyteller.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saving the Boys of Steel: part 1 of 2

As you will read in Boys of Steel, 1975 was a pivotal year in Superman history.

That year Jerry Siegel turned 61 and resumed his mission to secure financial security from his co-creation. But that time, for the first time, Jerry did not sue. Instead he sent out a press release to hundreds of outlets. He wanted his and Joe's story to be told in the mainstream media. Then public pressure might get him and Joe what decades of litigation had not.

Trouble was, no reporters called.

Until Phil Yeh, publisher of a local newspaper in southern California. At the time, Phil was not much older than Jerry had been when he conceived Superman.

Phil assumed he would have to get in line to interview Jerry, but he became the first person to write on the Siegel and Shuster plight.

I consider Phil one of the two most significant yet unheralded people in the seventies segment of the Superman saga. He's now a friend and he kindly agreed to an interview about his role in nudging Jerry and Joe toward the Christmas 1975 settlement that changed their lives. As for the other person, he's also a friend now and his interview is my next post.

For those not familiar with your link to Siegel and Shuster, could you please give the capsule summary?

In 1975, I was publishing an arts newspaper in Long Beach, California called Cobblestone which later changed its name to Uncle Jam and continued through the 1990s. We did our typesetting at the Marina News, a local paper in the Belmont Shore area of the city (I also worked at the Marina News for a few years). Helen Arterburn, the editor of the Marina News got the press release from Jerry Siegel and thought that I would be interested in the story since she knew that I drew cartoons and often had done interviews with cartoonists.

Phil Yeh and friend 1974; photo courtesy of Phil Yeh

I recall that the press release was single spaced and obviously from a man who had been wronged by a big company. As I read through the whole thing which was several pages long, I too felt anger at this injustice to someone who had created Superman. I actually sold a gag to DC Comics when I was 14 and got a check for $5 and all my friends in Los Angeles thought I would go on to work for them when I grew up. It was very ironic that when I started to meet people who worked for Marvel and DC at the very first San Diego Comic Con, I quickly saw how the real people were treated by these companies and made a vow to just publish my own work. 

So getting this press release at the age of 21 was a very big deal to me. I had started publishing my own work professionally at the age of 16 but was still young enough to get angry about things like artists rights. Now, I have become used to big companies ripping people off. Anyway, I called Jerry and arranged to interview him in his place in Los Angeles.

Were you a Superman fan before you wrote your Siegel and Shuster articles?

I didn't grow up reading many American comics. But when I was in junior high, a friend gave me a few hundred DC comics so I started to catch up on the DC titles for a few years. I stopped reading most comics when I started to draw professionally a couple of years later.

Did you know no other paper had yet covered it? If not, when did you find out?

When I got to Jerry's apartment (I am pretty sure he lived in an apartment)—I naturally assumed that the rest of the media was covering the story. He told me that I was the first one to call and do the interview—at that point I could not believe it. I was very young at the time and would learn soon enough that most of the press doesn't cover most of the good stories until someone else does. Journalism in this country has gone steadily downhill ever since.

What was the public's reaction to your articles?

Even with only a few issues of our paper published (we were monthly), we had already figured out that other reporters and editors from the news media in Los Angeles (our paper was distributed through libraries, independent bookstores, museums, etc., from Santa Barbara to San Diego each month) often read the stories we covered and magically, once we covered something, they would do the same piece in much bigger papers. This was fine with us, we were a group of independent writers, artists, and photographers who just wanted to make the best paper possible, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Once the LA Times picked up the piece, the rest as they say was history.

Did you hear from DC Comics?

I called them right after I came back from Jerry's place. I wanted to hear their side of the story and I wanted to see what pressure I could put on them. The executive I spoke to was aware with the Superman movie coming out that this story had to have a better ending than what Jerry was presenting. He called me back shortly after the story ran with news of a settlement of sorts.

Has anyone else ever contacted you to ask about your Siegel and Shuster work?

The guy who did the Men of Tomorrow book [Gerard Jones] and sadly he got some critical facts wrong. I am not Filipino nor have I ever smoked dope. We joke about it but I would love to have the truth be printed especially because the subject we are dealing with is about the truth and the "American" way and justice. All the ideals that Superman stood for so I guess one can see the irony pretty easily here.

What was your proudest moment with regards to your Siegel and Shuster work?

I was just glad to have a chance to help two men who really were treated badly in an art form that I love. Over the years, I have been good friends with many artists who labored for these comic book companies and animation studios and were cheated all over the place. It makes me sad and sick and angry to see good people brought down by these lying greedy people. I am very lucky, I work for myself most of the time and have been always able to speak freely. Obviously DC and Marvel aren't calling me these days.

But as for taking credit for what we did or being proud, I never publicly made a big deal of what we did. I never bothered to tell my story in the comic book press and for years always read that Jerry Robinson (a very nice man whom I have met) and Neal Adams were the heroes here. Perhaps in my middle age, I have started to clarify what we did to just be fair to myself.

How did Jerry and Joe respond to you and your articles about them?

I can't recall anything special happening after we did the piece. I don't think that they owe me anything. I was acting as a journalist and covering a story, really nothing is expected when one is in that role.

Are you a Superman fan today?

I will always be a fan of any character created with heart. What I don't enjoy is all these characters who simply look the same and who do nothing for me as an artist. I guess I am old fashioned in that regard.

What are you doing these days?

For the last 23 years, our group Cartoonists Across America and the World has been traveling around the world promoting literacy, creativity, and the arts. Our tour started in 1985—Charles Schulz was the first cartoonist to endorse our campaign—and continues through 2010. A full 25 years of my life. In that time we have painted more than 1,800 murals around the world and spoken to hundreds of thousands of kids of all ages about the creative process and the importance of artists owning their rights.

Phil Yeh today; photo courtesy of Phil Yeh

I often mention Jerry and Joe's story but not my involvement in the saga when speaking to kids. What I want young people to know is that people like Jerry and Joe were young when they created one of the world's greatest superheroes. I want to inspire kids to do things when they are young and that is the lesson there. I also encourage them to turn off the electronic nonsense that fills their lives and to read and to write and to draw and most importantly to dream. 

I have also written and published more than 80 books in the last 38 years including one of the first modern American graphic novels in 1977. That is another true story that we have been correcting in the last few years since so many people in the comic book press are strangely afraid of telling the whole story.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The secret origin of "Boys of Steel"

Comicon/Pulse posted an interview with me about Boys of Steel. It allowed me to address how the book came to be. Since that's a good amount of reading, I'll keep this short.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The second "Boys of Steel" review... inand it's also a starred one! It's out in an issue dated 6/1/08, at which time I will post both this one and the first.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Joe Shuster Awards

I am not Canadian. Unlike many Americans, however, I can locate Canada on a map. (Just don't test me on Missouri.)

Joe Shuster, the artist half of the team who created Superman, was Canadian-born. This June 14, up in Toronto, they'll be holding the 4th annual Joe Shuster Awards for Canadian comic book creators. I have even less of a chance of winning one of these than I do of winning an Oscar or the Kentucky Derby.

They have a piece of art on their site that is one of the coolest Superman-related images I've seen in recent memory; here's the art for this year's event. And their organizer Jame Waley is one nice guy. He's kindly offered to take a stack of postcards off my hands and distribute them to the attendees of the all-day event, held in a library.

In honor of the awards that honor Joe, I'm recommending a short (literally a minute) film that a Canadian heritage company made about him. It's almost entirely inaccurate but it is fun nonetheless.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The first "Boys of Steel" review... in!

The book is not out until July 22 and the review will not be published until the 6/1/08 issue, so though I have it, I don't think it's my right to post it here...yet.

What I can say, and may repeat, possibly even to strangers in passing, is that it is a starred review. Not on a scale
—not x out of 5 stars—but a simple lone star to indicate special merit.

By various accounts, the two publications that are most influential in terms of library penetration are School Library Journal and this one.

Sometime before I reveal the full review, take this short quiz:

1. I think the publication you're not mentioning is...

a. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
b. Las Vegas Home & Design
c. Booklist
d. Publishers Weekly

2. Which seems like a real excerpt from the review?

a. "A four-color romp spotlighting two teens who couldn't get a girl but who got a whopper of an idea"
b. "Factual muscle behind the subject’s literary brawn ... this robust treatment does [Siegel and Shuster's] story justice"
c. "[Kids] will thrill to the story behind Superman just as they have to stories about him"
d. "Introducing young readers to the dawn of comic books in a picture book...why did this take so long?"

Answers June 1.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The books to be in

Just over a month ago, Ross MacDonald told me that one of his illustrations from Boys of Steel was selected to appear in American Illustration 27, out in November.

The tagline on the American Illustration (and American Photography) site is "The Books To Be In." I learned that this hardcover annual is the definitive source for creative directors looking for art talent.

Ross's work has been in the book each of the past 20 years. Of the Ross pieces submitted this year, only the Boys of Steel one made it in. And that piece is a personal favorite. It's the two-page kinetic centerpiece of the story—and the only part of the book that is a visual tribute to the medium Superman debuted in.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Forty-five boxes of postcards

Random House produced a postcard to promote Boys of Steel. This is what one looks like:

Oh, and this is what 108,000 look like:

That is 45 (heavy) boxes of 2,400 postcards each. Sitting in my front hallway. I would need only a fraction of those; the rest are for Random House's use. But it seems there was a shipping error and the entire run of postcards was sent to me. I'll find out for sure tomorrow.

If you fear you're not one of the 108,000 who will be sent one, the postcard is also blown into every issue of the May 2008 Previews.

5/18/08 addendum: If you'd like to have a stack of postcards to distribute in your store, please let me know. Depending on the type of store, I may well be able to provide!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Double "S"

We live in an era when movie trailers have trailers. The tease keeps starting earlier.

Speaking of earlier...

Boys of Steel will now be at Comic-Con in San Diego
at the end of July—yes, the book itself. The release date was moved up from August 26 to July 22—probably because of Comic-Con.

I, however, may not be there. It looks unlikely that I'll be able to go to all the events I had originally planned to attend this year. Comic-Con is probably the easiest to cut because
I'm confident the book can trumpet for itself quite capably there. Most fans need little spiel to interest them in Siegel and Shuster, and those that do will be ably served by Random House.

Three years ago, I was first struck with a guerilla marketing idea for Comic-Con. I envisioned producing T-shirts and handing them out free at the entrance on the first day. Limited run
—when they're gone, they're gone. The purpose of the shirts would not be to spoil fanboys' perfectly accurate Ferro Lad costumes but rather to direct people to Boys of Steel at the Random House booth.

I did not want the T-shirt to feature the book cover. Instead a symbol had popped into my head, something that would grab attention from down a crowded aisle, something familiar yet new, a tease. So scroll down for my tease of the tease:

Even though these shirts would not be for sale, even though I'd happily print a small disclaimer on them, even though only a small quantity would be produced, the lawyer friends I consulted about this image advised against using it.

What do you think?