In the early 1930s, Jerry Siegel decided that he might have a better chance at selling comics to a publisher if he could collaborate with a well-known artist. So he ended his collaboration with Joe Shuster (this wound up being temporary, as we now know) and wrote to a number of artists, trying to convince them to work on Superman. One of these artists was Russell Keaton, who worked on Buck Rogers and his own Skyroads strip. Some of their correspondence, including several letters by Jerry Siegel and some sample artwork Russell Keaton provided for him, have been recovered, albeit in poor-quality multiple-generation photocopies. The correspondence is notable for providing a fascinating look into an early version of Superman that came not from Krypton, but from Earth in the future.
On this page are a restored version of the first letter from Jerry Siegel to Russell Keaton, a written transcript of it, and restored versions of Russell Keaton’s Superman artwork. While the restoration work done on the letter is mine, the restoration of Russell Keaton’s artwork was done by the folks at the Collector’s Society message boards. I have provided a link to the thread from which the restored images of Keaton’s artwork originate. Also, please note that I have only provided the very first of Jerry Siegel’s letters to Russell Keaton as a picture on this page. If you wish to read the rest of the letters, a link to a PDF file of the entire portion of the Siegel/Keaton correspondence currently available (albeit all in unrestored condition) is provided at the bottom of this page.
10622 Kimberley Avenue,
June 12, 1934.
Dear Mr. Keaton:
You will find enclosed the first week’s script for the cartoon strip, SUPERMAN. While the idea is a trifle fantastic — a man with “infinite strength” — I think it will follow the lines you like. We begin with “Superman” as a child and follow his history all the way up to maturity when the real story begins: of his adventures in helping those in need. Since Clark Kent possesses incredible strength there are great possibilities for humor and adventure in his experiences as a child and youth. The story of his youth will run a great length before we detail his adventures as an adult. Early, he will find that his great strength, instead of making friends for him, cause people to fear him. Mothers will not permit their children to associate with him, he will be hated in school sports because he never loses, etc. We can weave a very human story about him.
Here is the script for a possible sunday strip. It will acquaint you with the secret of Clark Kent’s origin.
1. In his laboratory, the last man on earth worked furiously. He had only a few moments left.
2. Giant cataclysms were shaking the reeling planet, destroying mankind. It was in its last days, dying….
3. The last man placed his infant babe within a small time-machine he had completed, launching it as —
4. — the laboratory walls caved-in upon him.
5. The time-vehicle flashed back thru the centuries, alighting in the primitive year, 1935 A. D. A passing motorist sighted the metal cylinder…
6. …and upon investigating discovered the sleeping babe within.
7. The infant was placed in an orphanage. The first day, it playfully bent its metal bed out of shape. The astounded attendants, of course, did not realize they were caring for a child whose physical structure was millions of years advanced from their own.
8. The babe, named Clark Kent, was a physical wonder. At the age of five, when an older boy sought to bully him, Clark sent him flying thru the air.
9. Clark’s colossal strength was a source of wonder and pleasure to him. He found, at twelve, that he could easily shatter the world’s high jump and dash records.
10. His powers increased unbelievably. When maturity had been attained, Kent discovered he could leap over a ten story building, raise unheard-of weights, run as fast as an express train, and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his tough skin.
11. & 12. Early, Kent decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind. And so was created SUPERMAN, champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!
Let me know if you would care to work with me upon this strip. I’ll be glad to receive suggestions. The idea, incidently, is liked by the General Manager of Bell Syndicate. Awaiting your reply….
Superman: The Genesis of a Legend
The Story Behind Superman #1 (By Jerry Siegel)
A PDF file containing all of the Siegel/Keaton correspondence currently available, including multiple letters not shown on this page:
The source of the restored comic strips:
Another big find surfaces in Siegel / Superman copyright docs – boards.collectors-society.com
NOTE: boards.collectors-society.com since become cgccomics.com. The original thread from board.collectors-society has gone offline from its original URL, but has been moved to the URL below:
Another big find surfaces in Siegel / Superman copyright docs – cgccomics.com
Wowie – this could indeed have been a very different history for Superman.
I notice the considerable similarities to “Superman: Red Son”, and even hints at the standard canonical origins of the Superman costume being made from the fabric inside the vessel that brought him to the Kents.
I’m sorry that it took me so long to approve your comment. I didn’t see it until now.
I agree. It contains very interesting seeds of later concepts and stories.
This is GRRRREAT conent. Thank you. True fan stuff.