Monday, March 31, 2008

Justice for Jerry Siegel

If you've followed comics at all, or have ever looked into the issue of creator's rights, you probably know the notorious story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Siegel and Shuster aren't as well known as their creation, but in 1938 the writer and artist saw their character, Superman, hit the streets in the pages of Action Comics #1. And like a lot of artists of the time — whether they were authors, composers or almost any other creative-type at the time — they were screwed. Losing their rights to Superman left the men with $130 bucks and a job working on a character that was no longer theirs. For a long time, they didn't even get credit for coming up with the idea at all.

Finally, that changed a bit recently when a judged ruled that Jerry Siegel's estate should be given half of the copyright to the original 1938 story. It's a little complicated, and Dirk Deppey sums it up much better than I could, but here's what I understood of it:

• The copyright given back to the estate is pretty narrow, and character developments that have happened since will still have to be hashed out, but the basic defining characteristics of the Superman character have been acknowledged as being created by Siegel and Shuster.

• Since Siegel and Shuster created Superman before taking it to Detective Comics, it doesn't come under the work-for-hire rules. In other words, DC doesn't have a right to the original character, the creators do. Whoops!

• The Shuster estate will be able to file for the same reversion rights in 2013, which if I understand this correctly means Siegel and Shuster could have full ownership of the original Superman concept (along with all things "Superman," such as Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Lex and the Daily Planet) sometime after the next five years.

As Dirk mentioned in his column (other items might be NSFW), this won't really change how DC uses Superman in their comics and merchandising. But it does mean the men who created the character — a character so iconic that just his symbol is recognized around the world — will finally get the official credit they deserve, and their estates will get a piece of the financial pie DC has fattened itself on for 70 years.

Think about that — 70 years. That's a long time to wait for what should have been yours in the first place. At the risk of being corny, I just want to say congratulations to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, wherever they are — and thanks.

Panels from Action Comics #1
Jerry Siegel, writer; Joe Shuster, artist


rob! said...

there's something i find sort of absurd about a corporation owning ANY sort of artistic concept, character, etc. a corporation doesn't exist, really; its a collection of people that changes over time.

but that'll never not be the way it is, so i'm glad this finally worked out, if waaaay too late.

Rick said...

I heard that Siegel and Shuster in the 1970's won a lawsuit, if you can consider this amount winning, where DC had to pay them $50,000 a year each for the rest of their lives. When they both died Siegel's estate had nothing to lose and went for all of it.
Also, I doubt Jimmy Olson would be part of the package. He was created first for the radio show. He proved so popular they worked him into the comic book.