An Invincible Dream (Conclusion)

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Last week: Joe and Jerry were just two Jewish kids who loved science fiction and adventure pulps. Both boys were sons of immigrants, both had overcome social and economic adversity, both dreamed of better things. After they met in a Cleveland high school, they began to hang out together, dream together, and create together! And together, Joe and Jerry came up with a brilliant idea for a new heroic character. There had never been anything like it. The two young men knew the idea couldn’t miss. Or could it?! Often, timing is everything. Was the world ready for something different? Probably so. Were the publishers ready? Not yet.

Joe and Jerry modeled their new science fiction character after the Old Testament hero Samson, and decided to make him an alien being trying to fit in to life on earth — because that’s what they themselves felt like in America, strangers in a strange land. And, like the story of Moses, their character’s mother would place her baby in a vessel that his father would launch into the river of space. The vessel would find it’s way to earth, where this extremely foreign child would grow up. He would live among us, blessing us with his special talents; but he could never be one of us. Even though he looked identical to humans, he would never actually feel like one. He would never be able to forget he was an alien.

Joe the Artist.

We said America was a land of opportunity, didn’t we? Originally, Joe and Jerry got the idea to market the hero as a comic strip for daily newspapers. They showed their ideas to an editor named Max Gaines. Gaines wasn’t interested. Then the boys approached several newspaper syndicates, none of which were interested in running a strip featuring their hero. So Joe and Jerry finally threw in the towel. They put away their story samples and started working on other things.

During the mid-thirties, something very American and very Jewish was beginning to captivate readers: comic books — which were mostly reprints of the Sunday “Funnies.” By 1938, magazine publishers began to fully realize the profitability of the form. One such publisher decided to start up a comics magazine featuring all new material. Word got around to Gaines, who apparently hadn’t forgot young Joe and Jerry. He contacted all the right people, and Joe and Jerry’s comic strip, reformatted as comic-book pages, was published in July 1938 as the lead story in the first issue of new magazine.

Jerry the Writer.

The hero created by two Jewish boys was an immediate hit. The character literally took off. Other publishers quickly copied him, and a lucrative new entertainment genre was born. A year later Joe and Jerry’s hero got his own comic book, with his name as the title (a first for comics). The next year a popular radio show premiered. It was almost immediately followed, in 1941, by a series of high-quality animated shorts that played before feature films. Eventually, the character got the live-action treatment, in a 1948 movie serial. All these appearances of the character were hugely successful.

In 1952, Joe and Jerry’s creation burst into television! The show was such a hit that people went out and purchased TV sets just so they could see it. There were lunch boxes, toys, games, and costumes. The trend of licensing a character for tie-in merchandise started with this character, and it changed the face of marketing. There were more cartoons and trading cards, and finally, in 1978, the character received the big-budget motion picture treatment. The movie cleaned up at the box office, and was followed by three sequels and another TV series.

Still another weekly series premiered in 2001 and ran for ten years. And in 2013, the most expensive movie version yet, premiered to legions of excited fans. It made $668 million worldwide, and its sequel, arriving in 2016, is one of the most discussed and anticipated movies in years. Have you figured out who we’re talking about yet?

Today, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world. He’s credited with jumpstarting an art form that has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry. If not for the success of Superman, there’d be no Batman or Captain America or Spiderman. And the movie industry would have lost the source material for several of its highest grossing films. In fact, movie versions of comic books (we call them graphic novels these days) have helped to invigorate Hollywood — just as Superman invigorated comics. It’s quite possible Superman is the most important fictional character ever created, the match that lit the fuse that ignited an entire industry — several industries, actually. But it almost didn’t happen!!! Superman almost succumbed to the kryptonite of rejection!

“Write the vision; make it plain … For still the vision awaits its appointed time; If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come….” (Habakkuk 2:2-3 ESV)

Here’s 77 Years of An Invincible Dream:

1941 theatrical shorts.
Kirk Alyn, 1948 serial.

 

 

George Reeves, 1952 TV series.
Superman comics were as popular as ever in the sixties!

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Christopher Reeve in the first big movie version, 1978

 

Still stamping out crime in 2008!

 

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel, 2013. (Sequel in 2016)
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An Invincible Dream! (Encouragement for Creators)

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This is the story of two Jewish kids, Joseph and Jerome. Joe was born in Canada. His father had immigrated there from Rotterdam and opened a tailor shop in Toronto’s garment district. His mother had come from Kiev in the Ukraine.

An early inspiration: Douglas Fairbanks defends the oppressed people in the silent film THE MARK OF ZORRO.

When he was about eight or nine years old, Joe got a job selling newspapers to help support his family. He would also scrounge around for scraps of paper — anything with some blank space on it, like the backs of discarded handbills, shreds of unused wallpaper — whatever he could get his hands on. Joe dreamed of someday becoming an artist, but he needed drawing paper.

In 1924, Joe’s family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Joe started attending Glenville High School. Joe was painfully shy and had trouble making friends, until he met Jerry — just another shy Jewish kid with big dreams. Jerry once said, “When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together.”

“The Man of Bronze” used his great fortune, knowledge and strength to help people.

Jerry, the youngest of six children, was a Cleveland native. His dad had immigrated from Lithuania, and opened a haberdashery. America in the 1920s was indeed a land of opportunity — but it was not without its share of problems: in 1932, while Jerry was in junior high, his father’s shop was robbed. Reeling from the shock and the resultant loss of the crime, Jerry’s father suffered a fatal heart attack.

A year later, Jerry met Joe. Two shy dreamers, both sons of immigrants, both struggling with adversity, both trying to fit in. These two Jewish loners discovered they had similar interests and similar goals. They both found escape in the popular adventure movies and science fiction magazines of the day, which featured stars like the dashing Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and heroes such as Doc Savage and Flash Gordon. And together they wanted to write and draw the same kinds of stories that so thrilled them. That’s right, a couple of depression-era geeks.

Joe and Jerry hung out together, dreamed together, created together! They were closer than brothers. They were the two sides of a single coin. And together, Joe and Jerry came up with a brilliant idea for a new heroic character. There had never been anything like it. The two young men knew the idea couldn’t miss. Or could it?! Often, timing is everything. Was the world ready for something different? Probably so. Were the publishers ready? Not yet.

A primitive first version of the character appeared in 1933, in a short story published in a science fiction fan-magazine produced by Jerry. A few months later, he and Joe refined the character, produced a new illustrated story, and started looking for a real publisher. Then came the rejections, the closed doors, the don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you disappointments. Four long years of NO!

The two friends had knocked on the doors of every publishing company, every newspaper syndicate, and not a single editor or publisher wanted their story or saw the potential of their fictional character. At one point, Joe the artist got so discouraged that he burned all the pages of the story; with Jerry the writer managing to rescue only the cover from the fire.

Flash Gordon, the original guardian of the galaxy.

Things looked bleak for their new hero. And Joe and Jerry’s future was starting to dim. They shelved their idea and moved on to other things. Both men finally found work with various magazines, doing the things they loved: Jerry wrote; Joe illustrated. They were content — mostly. They had overcome social and economic adversity, and at a time just a few years after the Great Depression, they were actually being paid to create fiction and artwork. But Joe and Jerry continued to dream of their forgotten hero and all the fun and adventure they could have shared with the world. Little did they know the fate awaiting both them and their idea for a bold, new character, little could they imagine that their work would continue to influence and shape pop culture for the next eight decades, or that their names would feature prominently in the media of the then distant 21st Century.  Little could they comprehend that their’s was an invincible dream that would not die!

To Be Continued:

Tune in Friday to Encouragement for Creators to see the fate awaiting our heroes Joe and Jerry, as they continue their battle against the forces of adversity! Don’t miss Chapter 2 of AN INVINCIBLE DREAM!

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