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December 01, 1989 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

CLOSE-UP

MICHAEL WEISS

Special to The Jewish News

ocketed to Earth
from the doomed'
planet Krypton by
his parents Jor-El
and Lara, young Kal-El was
adopted and raised by kindly
John and Martha Kent. They
named the infant Clark,
taught him virtue, ethics, and
a respect for truth, justice and
the American way. Gaining
fabulous superpowers under
Earth's lesser gravity and
yellow sun, Kent vowed to use
his abilities for good, gaining
fame and renown as the
world's greatest superhero —
Superman!
Unbelievable? Then try
this: Created in the
mid-1930s by two Jewish kids
from Cleveland, Superman
languished in publication
limbo until 1939, when he
was finally purchased by a
fledgling publishing company
looking for something dif-
ferent to launch its new title,
Action Comics. That first ap-
pearance spawned dozens of
spin-offs, hundreds of imita-
tions and a new art form that
has today developed into a
$275 million industry.
Welcome to the wonderful
world of comic book super-
heroics: a world where with
one magic word Billy Batson
could become Captain
Marvel, where a bite from a
radioactive spider could
change meek Peter Parker
into the spectacular Spider-
man, and where any kid from
the Bronx (or Cleveland, or
Detroit) could change a
brightly colored fantasy into
a profitable career.
The comic book was born in
1935 with a publication of
Famous Funnies, a magazine-
sized reprint collection of
daily newspaper comic strips.
Clearly, the supply of news-
paper strips would not last
forever, and so the first
original comic book material
soon appeared on the scene.
It wasn't until the ap-
pearance of Superman in
1939, however, that the com-
ic book really took off.
Created by Jerry Siegel and
Joe Shuster, the first issue
sold out almost immediately
nationwide. Suddenly, an en-
tire generation of artists dis-
covered a new storytelling
medium.
One of those artists was
Jacob Kurtzberg, who was
then drawing newspaper
editorial cartoons under the

30

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1989

The real-life faces behind
the masks of comic books'
greatest superheroes.

Captain America TM & (c)1989 Marvel
Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Inked by Jack Milgrom. Created by Simon
and Kirby.

name Jack Kirby. In his
50-year-long career, Kirby
was involved in the creation
of almost every major
character in comics, including
Captain America, Spiderman
and the Hulk.
"I first met (former partner)
Joe Simon just as Superman
came out," Kirby recalls. "It
was an instant hit. Publishers
suddenly came out of
nowhere, all wanting so-
meone to create another
Superman. Together, Joe and
I came up with Captain
America?'
Captain America was born
in 1941, as the nation stood at
the brink of war.
"There was a tremendous
search for villains at that
time," Simon recalls. "That
was when (Batman's nemesis)
the Joker was created. Jack
and I took a look at the world
and decided that Adolf Hitler
had to be the ultimate villain.
"Once we had our villain, it
became a matter of creating
a patriotic hero to fight him."
The Simon-Kirby team soon
became as well-known to fans
as the Siegel-Shuster team.
But these four weren't the
only young Jews making
their mark in the growing in-
dustry. During the first
quarter-century of the comic
book industry's existence, vir-
tually every major figure in
either the creative or
business end was Jewish.
Consider just a partial list
of Jewish comic book figures:
Simon and Kirby; Siegel and
Shuster; Bob Kane, creator of
Batman; Will Eisner, creator
of the Spirit, Uncle Sam and
Plastic Man; Alfred Harvey,
founder of Harvey Comics,
home of Casper the friendly
ghost and Richie Rich; and
Julius Schwartz, known as
the "father of science-fiction
comics."
In fact, 45-year comic
veteran Gil Kane remembers,
"It seemed like almost every
guy I knew in the field back
then was Jewish. The few ex-
, ceptions were all Italian."

hat brought so
many young ur-
ban Jews to com-
ics? In part, Kane
says, it was because of the
large number of Jews in the
publishing business.
"Most of the early comic
book people came out of the
publishing houses, and all of
the publishing companies in
New York were predominant-
ly Jewish," he says.

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