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Joseph "Joe" Shuster (July 10, 1914 - July 30, 1992) was a Canadian-born comic book artist best known for co-creating the DC Comics character Superman, with writer Jerry Siegel, first published in Action Comics #1 (March 1938).
Early life and career
Joseph Shuster was born in Toronto, Ontario, the son of Jewish immigrants. His father Julius, an immigrant from Rotterdam, South Holland, the Netherlands, and his mother Ida, who had come from Kiev in Ukraine, were barely able to make ends meet. As a youngster, Shuster worked as a newspaper boy for the Toronto Daily Star and, as a hobby, he liked to sketch. He had one sister, Jean Peavy.
When Joe Shuster was 10, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, eventually becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. In Cleveland, Shuster attended Glenville High School and befriended his later collaborator, writer Jerry Siegel, with whom he began publishing a science fiction fanzine. The duo broke into comics at Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's National Allied Publications, the future DC Comics, working on the landmark New Fun — the first comic-book series to consist solely of original material rather than using any reprinted newspaper comic strips — debuting with the musketeer swashbuckler "Henri Duval" and the supernatural crime-fighter strip Doctor Occult, both in New Fun #6 (Oct. 1935).
Creation of Superman
Siegel and Shuster used an early version of the character that would become Superman in short stories and in a 1933 comic-strip proposal. In 1938, after that proposal had languished among others at National, editor Vin Sullivan chose it as the cover feature for National's Action Comics #1 (June 1938). The following year, Siegel & Shuster initiated the syndicated Superman comic strip.
When Superman first appeared, Superman's alter ego Clark Kent worked for the Daily Star newspaper, named by Shuster after the Toronto Daily Star, his old employer in Toronto. According to an interview he gave a few months before his death, he modeled the cityscape of Superman's home city, Metropolis, on that of his old hometown. When the comic strip received international distribution, the company permanently changed the name to The Daily Planet.
In the same interview, Shuster stated that he modeled the look of Clark Kent after both himself and movie star Harold Lloyd, and that of Superman after Douglas Fairbanks Sr. He modeled Lois Lane after Joanne Carter, the woman who would later marry Jerry Siegel.
Shuster became famous as the co-creator of one of the most well-known and commercially successful fictional characters of the 20th century. National Allied Publications claimed copyright to his and Siegel's work, and when the company refused to compensate them to the degree they believed appropriate, Siegel and Shuster, in 1946, near the end of their 10-year contract to produce Superman stories, sued National over rights to the characters. Two years later, the New York State Supreme Court limited their settlement to US$60,000 each, finding that the artist and writer owned the copyright to Superboy — which they sold back to National for about $100,000. — but that the rights to Superman had been validly purchased by the publisher when they bought the first Superman story. After the bitter legal wrangling, Shuster and Siegel's byline was dropped by DC comics.
In 1947, the team rejoined editor Sullivan, by now the founder and publisher of the comic-book company Magazine Enterprises where they created the short-lived comical crime-fighter Funnyman. While Siegel continued to write comics for a variety of publishers, Shuster largely dropped out of sight.
Shuster continued to draw comics after the failure of Funnyman, although exactly what he drew is uncertain. Ted White reports that he continued to draw lacklustre horror stories into the 1950s. In 1964, when Shuster was living on Long Island with his elderly mother, he was reported to be earning his living as a freelance cartoonist; he was also "trying to paint pop art - serious comic strips - and hoped eventually to promote a one-man show in some chic Manhattan gallery". By 1976 he was reported to be almost blind and living in a California nursing home.
In 1967, when the Superman copyright came up for renewal, Siegel launched a second lawsuit, which also proved unsuccessful.
In 1975, Siegel launched a publicity campaign, in which Shuster participated, protesting DC Comics' treatment of him and Shuster. In the face of a great deal of negative publicity over their handling of the affair (and due to the upcoming Superman movie), DC's parent company Warner Communications reinstated the byline dropped more than thirty years earlier and granted the pair a lifetime pension of $35,000 a year plus health benefits. Joe Shuster died in Los Angeles, California in 1992.
In 2005 Shuster was inducted into the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame for his contributions to comic books. The Joe Shuster Awards, started in 2005, were named in honor of the Canadian-born Shuster, and honor achievements in the field of comic book publishing by Canadian creators, publishers and retailers. Superman remains one of the most popular superheroes of all time.
Neal Adams on the late-1970s settlement from DC Comics for which he and other comics creators fought: "Others made millions while Superman's creators lived in near-poverty. Jerry was a clerk and Joe was a legally blind man who lived in his brother's apartment, slept on a cot, and worked as a messenger. I met and fought for their small remaining rights when they both turned only 60 years old. Not 'old' by any definition. The battle took months and the settlement was meager, but it let the men live the remaining years of their lives with dignity. You know what they cared about most? They cared about having their names, once again, associated with their character, Superman! Why? Because it was what they were as people. They were their work.