Siegel during his service in the US Army in Hawaii, c. 1944
October 17, 1914
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||January 28, 1996 (aged 81)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Pseudonym(s)||Joe Carter, Jerry Ess|
|Superman, Action Comics #1|
|Awards||Inkpot Award, 1975|
Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame, 1992
Jack Kirby Hall of Fame, 1993
The Bill Finger Award For Excellence in Comic Book Writing, 2005
(m. 1939; div. 1948)
(m. 1948; his death 1996)
Jerome Siegel (; October 17, 1914 - January 28, 1996), who also used pseudonyms including Joe Carter and Jerry Ess, was an American comic book writer. His most famous creation was DC Comics character Superman, which he created in collaboration with his friend Joe Shuster.
Jerry Siegel was born on October 17, 1914, in Cleveland, Ohio, to a Jewish family. His parents were both Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York in 1900, having fled anti-Semitism in their native Lithuania. His father was born Mikhel Iankel Segalovich and his mother was born Sora Meita Khaikels, but they changed their names to Michael and Sarah Siegel after moving to America. Jerry was the last of six children (Isabel, Leo, Minerva, Roslyn, and Harry). His father was a tailor and owned a clothing store. On June 2, 1932, Jerry's father was assaulted in his store by a shoplifter and suffered a fatal heart attack. Jerry's mother died of a heart attack on August 17, 1941.
Siegel's family moved to the Jewish neighborhood of Glenville in 1928. He attended Glenville High School in Cleveland, Ohio. At about age 16, while at Glenville, he befriended Joe Shuster. Siegel described his friendship with the similarly shy and bespectacled Shuster: "When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together." They shared a love of science fiction, adventure fiction, and movies.
Siegel graduated from high school in June 1934.
Unable to afford college, he worked various delivery jobs, all the while courting publishers. In the summer of 1935, still living in Cleveland, he and Shuster began selling comic-book stories to National Allied Publications, the primary precursor of DC Comics, in New York.
Siegel and Shuster had been developing the Superman story and character since 1933, hoping to sell it as a syndicated newspaper comic-strip. But after years of fruitless soliciting to the syndicates, Siegel and Shuster agreed to publish Superman in a comic book. In March 1938, they sold all rights to Superman to the comic-book publisher Detective Comics, Inc., another forerunner of DC, for $130 ($2,314 when adjusted for inflation).
Siegel and Shuster later regretted their decision to sell Superman after he became an astonishing success. DC Comics now owned the character and reaped the royalties. Nevertheless, DC Comics retained Siegel and Shuster as the principal writer and artist for the Superman comics, and they were well-paid because they were popular with the readers. For instance, in 1942 they together earned $63,776.46 (AFI $977,949). Siegel bought himself a house in University Heights and a car.
Siegel was conscripted into the United States Army on June 28, 1943. His service number was 35067731. He was trained at Fort George G. Meade, where he was trained as an "Airplane Engine Mechanic, a Film Editor, Motion Picture Cutter, Public Relations Man or Playwright (Motion Picture Writer) or Reporter". He was posted in Honolulu, where he was assigned a writing job at the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. He focused mainly on comedy columns. Siegel was discharged on January 21, 1946, at the rank of Technician 4th Grade.
During his service in Hawaii, Siegel learned from his friend Shuster that DC Comics had published a story featuring a child version of Superman called "Superboy", which was based on an unsold story by Siegel. Because DC Comics never bought the copyright to Superboy from Siegel, Siegel sued DC Comics for the rights to Superboy. A second issue they had with DC Comics was that DC cheated them out of royalties from the Superman radio show and the merchandise. Siegel and Shuster simultaneously sued for the rights to Superman as well. At the conclusion of the trial, Siegel and Shuster agreed to relinquish the copyrights of both Superman and Superboy in exchange for a settlement of just over $94,000 (AFI $980,230). Siegel's 1948 divorce papers suggest he was left with $29,000 after paying his court fees but prior to settling his divorce.
After the war, Siegel moved to New York.
After leaving DC Comics in late 1947, Siegel and Shuster created the comedic superhero Funnyman, which proved unsuccessful. This was their last collaboration. Siegel then took freelance writing jobs. Some of them include the newspaper strip Tallulah, Lars of Mars, and G.I. Joe. The publisher Ziff-Davis hired him as a comic-book editor in 1951, but its comics division closed after less than a year in business. Siegel never found steady work, and fell upon hard times. By 1959, he and his family were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Great Neck, Long Island, and struggled to pay his bills.
Siegel returned to DC Comics in 1959 at the prompting of his second wife. Although he did write some Superman stories, he no longer had any creative control, but instead answered to the direction of his editor. During this time, he wrote extensively about the team the Legion of Super-Heroes, adding many enduring characters to its cast. Siegel's contributions during this time are difficult to determine because DC Comics did not generally give creator bylines. His last work for DC was a short story included in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #89 (December 1965). DC Comics ceased giving him work in 1966, when the company learned Siegel and Shuster were planning a second lawsuit to reclaim the copyright to Superman. He lost that lawsuit.
Siegel again fell into hard financial times after this second dismissal, as he was unable to find regular writing work. In 1975, upon hearing that Warner Bros. was producing a Superman movie, Siegel alerted the press to his condition. In response, Warner Bros, agreed to give Siegel and Shuster a lifetime stipend of $20,000 a year, later increased to $30,000, in exchange for never again contesting ownership of the copyright to Superman.
Siegel died on January 28, 1996, of a heart attack. He had been suffering from cardiac disease for years, and had a bypass operation.
Siegel wrote for his school's weekly newspaper, The Glenville Torch. One of his known works for that newspaper was Goober the Mighty, a parody of Tarzan. Joseph Shuster provided illustrations for some of Siegel's Goober stories. This was their first known collaboration as writer and artist.
Siegel also self-published a fanzine called Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. In the third issue of this fanzine, he published a short story titled "The Reign of the Superman" under the pseudonym "Herbert S. Fine". The story is about a vagrant named Bill Dunn who gains vast psychic powers after taking an experimental drug. Dunn then calls himself "the Superman" and proceeds to use his powers maliciously.
In 1933, Siegel and Shuster began making amateur comic strips together. They self-published their work in a fanzine titled Popular Comics.
Siegel and Shuster began working for DC Comics (then known as National Allied Publications).[a] in 1935. Siegel's writing career there was interrupted in June 1943 when he was conscripted into the Army, though he continued to receive credit for stories written by ghostwriters. After his discharge, he sued DC Comics for the rights to Superman and Superboy, and was consequently given no more freelance work from the publisher. In 1959, he returned to DC as a writer, and was dropped again in 1967 when he again attempted to take back the copyright to Superman.
During his first tenure at DC Comics (1935-1943), Siegel created the following characters:
During his second tenure at DC Comics (1959-1966), Siegel created the following characters:
During his second tenure as writer at DC Comics, Siegel did not receive any byline for his stories, which was the normal policy of DC Comics at the time.
Siegel and Shuster conceived Funnyman, a clownish superhero, while they were still working for DC Comics. They anticipated a decline in the popularity of conventional superheroes, and thought a comedy hybrid character would have sustainable appeal. Unlike other characters they created, Siegel and Shuster were determined to retain the copyright to Funnyman. This was unacceptable to DC Comics, so they instead made a deal with Magazine Enterprises, a comic-book publishing company owned by Vin Sullivan. The series Funnyman lasted six issues, and a subsequent newspaper strip also was unsuccessful. It was the last collaboration of Siegel and Shuster. By this time, Shuster's vision had deteriorated to the point he could not work.
Siegel first worked for Marvel in 1963, under the pseudonym "Joe Carter". With Stan Lee, he co-created the villain Plantman (Strange Tales #113). He also scripted the "Human Torch" feature in Strange Tales #112-113 (Sept.-Oct. 1963), introducing the teenaged Torch's high school girlfriend, Doris Evans; and, under his own name, a backup feature starring the X-Men member Angel, which ran in Marvel Tales and Ka-Zar. According to then-Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee, Siegel "was down on his luck" and in ill health at the time, so he gave him a job at Marvel as a proofreader, during which time Siegel wrote the Angel story.
Siegel worked for Archie Comics in 1966, on series including The Fly, The Mighty Crusaders, The Web, and Steel Sterling, all starring characters revived from the 1940s. Archie canceled its superhero line later that year, and Siegel was let go.
When Siegel served in the Army (1943-1946), he was posted in Honolulu, Hawaii and wrote for Stars and Stripes, Midpacifican, and Yank, all military publications written by soldiers. In Stars and Stripes, he had a small humor column titled "Take a Break wit T/5 Jerry Siegel". In Midpacifican, he wrote the comic strip Super Sam, in which an Army private gains superpowers after receiving a blood transfusion from Superman. This was not authorized by DC Comics.
In 1968, he worked for Western Publishing, for which he wrote (along with Carl Barks) stories in the Junior Woodchucks comic book. In the 1970s, he worked for Mondadori Editore (at that time the Italian Disney comic book licensee) on its title Topolino, listed in the mastheads of the period as a scriptwriter ("soggettista e sceneggiatore").
In the 1980s, he worked with Val Mayerik on the feature "The Starling", which appeared in the comic book Destroyer Duck. A projected series, The Starling, about a woman struggling to raise her half-alien, shapeshifting son after his deadbeat alien father abandoned them, went unfinished due to Siegel's death in 1996. Also in the 1980s, Seigel wrote for the comics publisher Aardvark-Vanaheim.
Siegel married Bella Lifshitz on June 10, 1939. She was a Jewish woman from his neighborhood of Glenville. With Bella, he had a son named Michael (January 27, 1944 - January 17, 2006). In 1948, Jerry had an affair with an old friend named Jolan Kovacs. Jolan was a Lutheran, and the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. She and Jerry first met in January 1935, when she modeled for his colleague, Joseph Shuster. They reacquainted at a costume ball in New York in April 1948. Their affair was part of the reason Bella divorced Jerry. In November 1948, Jerry married Jolan, who renamed herself "Joanne Siegel." The couple settled in Long Island. On March 1, 1951, Joanne gave birth to their daughter, Laura. In 1968, they moved to California, where they remained until their deaths. Joanne died on February 12, 2011.