Thursday, August 7, 2008

The first "Boys of Steel" tour

It's been just over two weeks since Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman came out, so it's a good time for a book tour.

I don't mean me hitting the road to promote it (that will start in September) but rather me touring you through the book itself, pointing out behind-the-scenes details.


The pages aren't numbered. (Publishers fear that could turn off readers by reminding them how short picture books are.) So I'll reference pages by their first few words.

"But Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers..."

attention to detail - The coroner's report for Jerry Siegel's father Michael stated that one man robbed Siegel's clothing store. His death certificate stated two men. Both the Cleveland Press obituary and the police report stated three. That left us with no way to accurately reflect all four reports, but showing two robbers covered us for three of the four reports (if there were three robbers, one is simply off-frame here).attention to detail - Both the police and coroner's reports identified the robbers as "Negro."
attention to detail - The coroner's report indicated that Michael Siegel had gray hair.
attention to detail - It is unlikely that the store was named "Siegel's" as there was another store in town with that name.
misbelief corrected - Men of Tomorrow was the first published source to address the tragic end of Michael Siegel—but the book got a crucial detail wrong. Siegel did die during a robbery of his store, but not by gunshot. His heart failed. No wounds were on his body. A key plot device in Brad Meltzer's novel The Book of Lies (which I have not read) is the missing gun that allegedly killed Michael Siegel—but none of the four reports invoke the possibility of murder. According to the police report, "At no time were any blows struck or any weapons used."

"Jerry read amazing stories..."

attention to detail - I try to avoid the word "amazing" (and other toothless adjectives including "wonderful" and "fantastic") in my writing, but I broke my own rule here as a nod to a pulp magazine called Amazing Stories. We depicted the influential August 1928 cover because the flying man was an image that stuck with Jerry.

"Jerry also wrote his own..."

attention to detail - The window and the view out it are depicted as they actually looked.

"Jerry was shy..."

attention to detail - "Weird tales" is another phrase I incorporated because it was the title of a pulp.

"Jerry and Joe could've passed..."


 attention to detail - I can't recall seeing any photos of a young Joe Shuster wearing glasses. I read that he always took them off before being photographed. However, he is wearing glasses throughout the book since he was not posing for photographs in any of the scenes.

"But he did it with pictures..."


 attention to detail - Joe was left-handed.
attention to detail - Jerry and Joe were Jewish. I wanted to indicate that but did not find an organic way to do so in the text. That's why we show Shabbat candles here. (I also mention their Jewishness in the afterword.)
attention to detail - That's a likeness of an actual drawing of Lois Lane that Joe did.

"Jerry managed to save..."


 attention to detail - That's a likeness of the actual cover. Notice what Jerry's strategically positioned arm blocks.

"The character would be like..."

design - Early on, I decided I didn't want the whole book to look like a comic book. I felt that would be too obvious. Instead, I wanted just this spread to be in comic book format. This is the moment of Jerry's epiphany, the moment that his mind turns into a comic book, and I wanted that to stand out visually.

"Before dawn..."


 misbelief corrected - Some articles and interviews state Jerry ran twelve blocks to Joe's. Nothing groundbreaking about this, but I measured it personally and it's exactly nine-and-a-half blocks.

"Just as Jerry had written all night..."

attention to detail - This scene takes place later the same day as when Jerry ran to Joe's wearing his clothes over his pajamas, yet his pajamas are not shown here. I didn't notice this till after the book was printed, but I can conveniently explain it away: it was hot so it's fair to assume that, at some point, Jerry would have taken off the pajamas at Joe's.

"The boys thought this hero..."

attention to detail - I am still conflicted that I wrote that the boys "happily" agreed to convert their comic strip to a comic book. Some sources give the sense that Jerry and Joe felt it was a step down. Comic strips were highly regarded at the time whereas comic books, in their infancy, were not. However, Jerry and Joe had turned down at least one previous offer for Superman (because they didn't feel the publisher could handle it properly), suggesting they did have some restraint and business savvy.

"One of the owners..."


 attention to detail - That's a likeness of Harry Donenfeld.

"The Great Depression had lasted..."


 attention to detail - Normally I would not use a phrase like "powers and abilities" because it's redundant, but as you've probably already observed, it's one of several phrases associated with Superman sprinkled throughout the book; others include "faster than a speeding bullet" and "up, up, and away."
attention to detail - There will always be dispute as to which character deserves the title of the first "true" superhero
—The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903), Tarzan (1912), Zorro (1919), Buck Rogers (1928), Popeye (1929), The Shadow (1930), The Lone Ranger (1933), Flash Gordon (1934), The Phantom (1936)?—but in terms of worldwide familiarity and overall influence, I'd give it to Superman.
attention to detail - In the first version of this spread I was shown, the movie was in full color. When I saw the finished book, I didn't notice right away that it had been changed to black and white. Technically, the former was correct. The first Superman movies (which is what this illustration is representing) were the Fleischer animated shorts that debuted in 1941
—and they were in vibrant color.

afterword, page 1

misbelief corrected - Despite what Men of Tomorrow and various other sources state, there is no known evidence and little likelihood that Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels personally banned Superman at a Nazi gathering. I consulted multiple professors who specialize in Nazi history and work at top institutions and none knew of it. None of the thick books on World War II that I checked mentioned it either. I explain in the text where this misconception probably came from, a theory courtesy of Dwight Decker.

afterword, page 2

attention to detail - I state that Jerry's 1975 press release was nine pages. Other sources state that it was ten. However, because the first page is not numbered and because it reads, "Full details are in the enclosed news release," I (and apparently Jerry) considered it a cover note. The second page is also not numbered and the third page is numbered "2." (Are you in awe of this hard-hitting investigative analysis?)

afterword, page 3

attention to detail - Can you find the typo on this page
the only one I've noticed in the book? Clue: it was a last-minute typo...

This concludes our tour.


8/20/13 addendum: A tour of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

1 comment:

Booksteve said...

I am impressed.John Grisham spoke in town recently and said he disliked doing non-fiction because you have to get your facts correct or someone will notice. As he put it, if you write that someone's office is on the ninth floor, it had better be on the ninth floor. In fiction, however, if you say the office is on the ninth floor and the building only has seven floors its called artistic license!

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