Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Help Save Superman!


On June 14th, 1938, seventy years before the virus quarantine goes into effect in the alternate future of Season 2 of Heroes, the LOS ANGELES TIMES front page was covering a trial that resulted in a guilty verdict for Police Capt. Earle Kynette with regard to the Harry Raymond bombing. It is also the date that some claim as the publication date for Action Comics #1.

Recent legal battles have revealed the "actual" publication date as April 18th, 1938, on which date the LOS ANGELES TIMES covered "the lawsuit brought by former child star Jackie Coogan against his mother and stepfather over the money he made as a youngster" -- a lawsuit with long term repercussions in the entertainment industry and a better starting point for the following commentary. You see, I'm one of those crazy people who believes that people should actually be paid for the things they create.

Like Jackie Coogan, the creators of Superman -- and their heirs -- had to wait a long time to receive copyrights to the contents of Action Comics #1 (unless you don't consider 70 years to be a long time). As everyone knows, Action Comics #1 is possibly the most important superhero comic book ever published. The book itself has an Overstreet value, in Very Fine condition, of $275,000 and which sold recently at auction in Very Fine minus condition for $69,000 (according to Heritage Auction Galleries). For decades Superman's creators, and their heirs, have been cheated by a claim that the comic was "work for hire" and thus the creators had sold their rights. In case you're wondering, while I am a "copyright stickler" I am not a fan of work for hire. I believe in creator ownership and limited rights for publishers.

Yet this injustice has been largely ignored by most, with the exception of hard core Superman fans. But then popular culture, and even hard core fans, tend to neglect those who entertain us as soon as those people move from the limelight -- even as their creations remain in the limelight. Who waits in Jerry Robinson's line at San Diego's famous Comic Con? Far fewer than the number of fans attending the conference who are fans of his collaborated creations -- Robin and the Joker. Americans -- even when they are die hard fans -- it seems, have no sense of history.

How else can one explain the fate of Joe Shuster's childhood home which was demolished in 1978, the same year that Richard Donner's SUPERMAN movie was released in movie theaters across the world. In a way that sentence describes the American attitude toward history. We had a "new" Superman, why do we need to remember or preserve historic locations associated with the old?

Thankfully, we Americans aren't always so fickle. Project Pride bought and restored the home of quintessential pulp author Robert E. Howard, and now author Brad Meltzer is working toward doing something similar with the childhood home of Jerry Siegel. It seems that exterior repairs of the site will cost around $50,000. Given my personal desire to make pilgrimages to the homes, childhood or otherwise, of the people who have entertained me, it shouldn't be surprising that I am so excited by Mr. Meltzer's efforts.

I only find it to be a shame that Meltzer has to have an auction at his website -- ordinarypeoplechangetheworld.com -- and that we couldn't just come together as a community without some material incentive.

To put it another way. I would rather someone invest $50,000 into a project that might be shared by thousands (hopefully more) of fans for years to come, than for someone to spend $275,000 for something that will remain encased in plastic locked away in someone's safe deposit box.
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