Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family” explained

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s big idea, Superman, debuted with their names on it in 1938. After they sued their publisher and lost in 1947, their names were removed and not restored until 1976 (Superman #302).

But in 2013, the credit line changed again. It was no longer just “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.” Well, it was and it wasn’t. Underneath the longstanding credit now appears the elaboration “By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.”

I’m way late in addressing this, and technically I’m not capable of addressing it at all, but my friend and legal maestro Jeff Trexler is. I asked him to explain why this additional, seemingly redundant line has been added. His response:

Settlements are funny things. We tend to speak of them in legal terms—each side has a claim and reaches an agreement that in some way accommodates both without acknowledging either as the winner. As with lawsuits themselves, however, there is often much more at stake than the letter of the law. For the Siegels, the settlement embodied decades of perceived injustice, abuse, and misperception—they saw it as their chance to set history aright, and not just the history between the creators and DC.

From Joanne’s perspective, it appears that she didn’t see Joe Shuster as an equal—I bet if you asked her in private, she would have said that Joe ultimately didn’t matter at all. You may recall that she had Joe pay a percentage of his DC pension to her as a commission for negotiating raises (see Larry Tye’s book, pages 269-70)—her sense was that Joe wouldn’t have received anything if Jerry hadn’t pursued it.

Her perception of Joe as undeserving had deep roots. Remember that Joe drew Superboy when Jerry was in the military, which means that technically, since the victory leading to the settlement in the 1940s involved Superboy, not Superman, she could have seen Joe’s share of that settlement too as wholly underserved. Go back even further and there’s Joe’s decision to quit the character for a while in the early ‘30s, which left certain core elements to be first drawn by Russell Keaton.

And then there’s the storied Superman creation myth, which has Siegel alone in his room inspired to create the character fully formed. Sure, he gets Shuster to draw it, but in Siegel is the hero of the tale—if it hadn’t been Shuster, it would have been someone else. It’s akin to what Kirkman argued in regard to Tony Moore’s art for the early issues of The Walking Dead, as well as Tony Isabella’s insistence that Trevor von Eeden was not Black Lightning’s co-creator.

All of which brings us to the settlement. While the Siegels kept the hard-fought Siegel and Shuster credit, they also requested and received a credit acknowledging the family’s special place in the character’s existence—Superman et al. couldn’t appear anywhere without their permission. Legally this wasn’t true—DC held the Shuster share and could do what it wanted with the character, even if they’d let the Siegels claim their 50%—but it made the Siegels feel vindicated and so in it went.

Here’s a telling bit of correspondence in which [lawyer Marc] Toberoff ends up rejecting over twenty million bucks; if I recall correctly, there’s more recent info in the filings taking the rejected amount well over thirty mil. Without Toberoff’s jumping in to try to get her share for his production company, Joanne might have passed away happy and rich.

1 comment:

"T.V. Barnum" said...

Never liked the whole Marc Toberoff situation...wonder how much the family has lost in "real" money, and money lost to whatever fees Toberoff was getting.