SHUSTER, Joe (1914-1992)

Joe Shuster and Superman. Photo by Henry Mietkiewitz

Joe Shuster and Superman. Photo by Henry Mietkiewitz

Joe Shuster (1914-1992)

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005

The JOE SHUSTER AWARDS are named in honour of the great artist, JOE SHUSTER (1914-1992), whose clear, dynamic style and inventive visual flourishes set the standard for graphic storytelling during the infancy of the North American comic book industry. It was Superman, a co-creation of Shuster and Siegel, that electrified the industry in 1938 and, almost overnight, transformed comic books into an enormous pop-cultural phenomenon.

Jerry Siegel, Superman, Joe Shuster

Jerry Siegel, Superman, Joe Shuster

In 1924, at the age of 10, Joe and his family moved from Toronto to Cleveland, Ohio, where he met Cleveland native Jerry Siegel. During the early 1930s, the friends collaborated on producing science-fiction fanzines and contributing cartoons to local publications. After devising and polishing the basic concept of Superman in the mid ’30s, Siegel and Shuster tried to sell their creation to newspaper syndicates as a comic strip character, but to no avail. However, they did manage to break into comic books -notably, the forerunner of today’s DC Comics – with many memorable characters, including Dr. Occult, Slam Bradley and the Radio Squad.

Detail from Superman 7 cover art

Detail from Superman 7 cover art

Finally, in 1938, Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, the June issue. In an interview shortly before his death in 1992, Joe told Toronto Star reporter Henry Mietkiewicz that Toronto’s skyline had served as the inspiration for Superman’s home town, Metropolis. In addition, Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, worked for a newspaper that in the earliest adventures was named the Daily Star, a tip of the hat to the Toronto Daily Star (as the paper was then called). In fact, Shuster had been a Star paperboy and had grown to love comics while sitting on his father’s knee and listening as his dad read the Star’s comic strips aloud.

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During his work on the comic book series Joe Shuster also prepared the model sheets for the groundbreaking series of Superman animated cartoons from the Fleischer Studios in the 1940s. Joe Shuster and his studio along with writer Jerry Siegel produced Superman comics until 1947, when Jerry and Joe, over well-publicized differences with their publisher, left the series. Failing eyesight eventually led to Joe’s retirement from comic books and strips but years later, due to the efforts of a number of the industry’s major talents, the incredible accomplishments of Jerry and Joe were finally duly acknowledged with well-deserved fiscal compensation; a return of co-creator credit on all subsequent Superman stories and a resurgence of public recognition that they had not seen for decades.

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Even Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler once counted himself among Superman’s fans. He noted that the Man of Steel hides extraordinary strength, speed, and stamina behind the bland, self-effacing guise of the weak and clumsy Clark Kent. Clark takes no credit for his own heroism, content simply to live his daily life in horn-rimmed glasses and blue suits. For this reason, Richler called Superman the perfect expression of the archetypal Canadian personality – a man whose modest exterior hides a “universal hero”, famed throughout the world as the champion of everything virtuous.

Biography compiled by the CCBCAA and the Shuster Estate.

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