Comic Review: The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman (Super Genius)

If you are interested in reading about the creators of Superman, and their own superhuman fight for justice, then The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman is for you! […]

If you are interested in reading about the creators of Superman, and their own superhuman fight for justice, then The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman is for you!

In graphic novel form, it’s the story of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, who created Superman and several other comic characters in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This publication is available in paperback and hardcover editions from Papercutz’ imprint entitled Super Genius. Macmillan is the distributor of The Joe Shuster Story, written by Julian Voloj and illustrated by Thomas Campi.

The Joe Shuster Story starts out in the mid-1970’s when Joe Shuster is napping on a park bench in Queens, New York. It looks like the low point in Joe’s long, colorful life. He doesn’t have a cent and he’s legally blind. But as strangers start to show their love and fascination for him, it also sparks the rebirth in public interest in both of the creators of Superman.

The basic story of the creation of Superman, and the subsequent struggle of the character’s creators to receive reasonable financial compensation is possibly one of the most well known cautionary tales of the 20th century. The two young men, one originally from Ontario Canada, and the other from Cleveland Ohio come up with a compelling hero, and market their comic idea to publishers. They unwittingly sign away ALL their rights to their own character by endorsing a cheque with a legal agreement on the back. They have sold ALL rights to Superman, and there is no recourse. Great Scott!!

Then, of course, having no legal ownership of the character, they are forced to keep working on Superman material, for a weekly wage. Until they are replaced by company insiders and friends of the publisher. It’s enough to drive a person crazy, and in this well-researched account of their lives, it almost does Jerry Siegel in.

Until late in the game, in 1975, when word starts to spread of their penniless plight; of the David and Goliath nature of their adversarial relationship with National Publications/ DC Comics. Fortunately, there is a turn in their luck, and a settlement is reached that allows the creators to maintain some dignity.

The story may be familiar, but where this book shines is in the details of the early years, before either creator was well known. Back in Toronto with Joe, and then how the two boys met in Cleveland. Julian Voloj catches the important pivotal moments of their passion for story and art and gives them a really well-depicted sense of the 1930’s. The school rooms, the school papers, and art contests, the constant trial and error on the road to being better!

Thomas Campi’s art works well in the same regard; it’s carefully researched, so we see drawings of the actual houses where Joe and Jerry lived, in a drawing style that is colourful but restrained; more of an illustrated story than a ‘comic book’, ironically. But to good result; it’s very believable.

Since the story is about Joe Shuster, it is told from his point of view. So sometimes his partner Jerry is shown as an overly driven, strong headed individual, intent on making it. Joe is the quieter, more subdued personality of the pair.

All in all, The Joe Shuster Story fills in the blanks about the early years of Superman and gives us a stronger understanding of the dynamics of the pairing of the co-creators of Superman. And for that, it’s definitely a graphic novel to check out!

Super Genius, The Artist Behind Superman: The Joe Shuster Story 19.99 softcover, 182 pages, Ages 13+

Alan Spinney

About Alan Spinney

After a career of graphic design, art direction and copywriting, I still have a passion for words and pictures. I love it when a comic book comes together; the story is tight, and the drawings lead me forward. Art with words... the toughest storytelling technique to get right. Was this comic book worth your money? Let's see!!