New Children's Book Tells True Origin of Superman

Remarkably, Random House's all-ages picture book Boys of Steel is the first stand-alone biography of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.
For twenty years, Marc Tyler Nobleman lived with the story of Superman's creation, determined to share it with both children and adults who were unacquainted with the events that led teenagers Jerome Siegel & Joseph Shuster to birth one of America's foremost pop culture icons. When he finally got his tale published, it was in an unusual format--a 40-page Random House picture book called Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. Illustrated by Ross MacDonald (Another Perfect Day), it's the first such biography of Siegel and Shuster, and in fact their first stand-alone biography ever.

Nobleman revealed to Newsarama's ZACK SMITH that he first heard the origin story in high school, around 1988, but it wasn't until college graduation that he decided to write it up as a screenplay. However, warnings that the reclusive Siegel was unlikely to talk about Superman's beginnings discouraged Nobleman enough to give up the idea.

"So then I got into children's publishing, and it was a few years after that that I decided to tell the story as a picture book," he recalled. "And my goal was to tell it to a new audience in a new format, so whether it was a screenplay or a picture book, it would have the same result in my mind."

The desired format would present visually the story of one night in 1934 when Jerry Siegel had an epiphany concerning the heroic comic strip character he wanted to develop, and also of the next day when best friend Joe Shuster drew that character.

But after he submitted the first version, Nobleman was encouraged by an editor to expand the story beyond that initial 24-hour period. He took the advice and set a timeframe of about ten years, closing his tale before the bitter legal battles that ultimately separated the idealistic young creators from their creation. The writer wanted Boys of Steel to end on a high note, emphasizing the friendship and initial triumph of two Depression-era underdogs who wouldn't stop believing in Superman.

"These boys were not used to succeeding--they were not successful academically, they were not successful socially. But something inside them kept them going creatively," Nobleman explained. "And this was an era where they had no reason to think that they would ever make it--well, every era is different, but none of us do when we're starting out. But they had no reason to think that they could do it--they weren't go-getters in their lives in any other way. The fact that they were able to go through three and a half years of rejection and still keep at this is incredible to me."

It's been exciting for the writer finally to be able to share this story with others, sometimes even in person, as he's been doing since the book's cover (below) hit the 'Net in January.

"I'll talk to kids in elementary schools, and say, 'raise your hand if you have an older brother or sister in high school.' And of course a few will raise their hands, and then I'll say, 'That's how old the boys who created Superman were when they created him.' And that, to them, is like a jolt. They don't think of anyone who's still in school doing something like that."

While Nobleman doesn't think the Great Depression was the dominant force in Superman's genesis, he does believe it was crucial to his early success. "The character lifted people so far out of the doldrums--the Depression and the threat of war was so extreme, and Superman was so extreme in the other direction. I think there was a connection between those things."

While conducting his research, the writer chose not to contact the Siegel or Shuster families. Between published interviews with the creators (from which he cribbed his dialogue) and archival information gathered in Cleveland, Nobleman easily was able to build the framework for his version of the Siegel and Shuster story, which he described as "the Genesis in the Bible" of comic book history.

But he admitted, "I hope I get to meet their relatives as I move forward."

Someone else he'd probably like to meet is his book's artist.

The search for an illustrator didn't commence for at least six months after Nobleman sold Boys of Steel to Random House in March '05, at which point the writer submitted a wish list of artists, many of whom were unavailable, unaffordable or uninterested.

"Ross was someone the publisher pitched me, and I had already noticed his style, which was so suitable to this Art Deco period," said Nobleman. "And he also loved superheroes! So it seemed like a great fit, but we never met."

Because Random wanted all correspondence between writer and artist to go through their editor, Nobleman had to provide a list of scene-by-scene suggestions, which then were forwarded to MacDonald.

Despite this circuitous process, Nobleman was thrilled with MacDonald's work. "He's gotten nothing but high praise from everyone who's heard that he's done this book. He's a lot more experienced than I am, and a great guy, and I am just blown away by everything he's done for the book."

Reviews of both men's work on Boys of Steel have been overwhelmingly positive:

"More fun than any children's biography has any right to be."
- E. R. Bird,
“[T]his robust treatment does [Shuster and Siegel’s] story justice.”
- Booklist
"...Boys of Steel is for everyone who loves comics, Superman or artistic triumph. Let Boys of Steel take you up, up and away!"
- Erika Tsoukanelis,
“Nobleman details this achievement with a zest amplified by MacDonald's...punchy illustrations.”
- Publishers Weekly

The artist's skill even allowed the writer to get away with an amusing trick in his manuscript.

"I never say the word 'Superman,'" Nobleman pointed out. "I say the word 'Super,' but never 'Superman' in the story proper. It's a fun little trick about the power of observation and the power of picture books. I had an illustrator to show it, so I never had to say 'Superman' even once."

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is in stores now.

[Thanks to Yahoo News.]
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