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By Vincent Dajani

The true story of Superman and his creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, has never been told like this.  After ten years of research, Brad Ricca provides more insight into the truth about Superman than ever before.  From Joe and Jerry's childhood to the lawsuits that still rage on today, Superboys (APR131392) covers it all and much more than anyone could've imagined. 

 

PREVIEWSworld takes an exclusive look at the book that uncovers the myth about Superman in an interview with author Brad Ricca.  Any fan of Superman or comics in general would not want to miss this!

*****

PREVIEWSworld:   How and why did you begin this project about finding out more about the creators of Superman?

Brad Ricca:  Growing up in Cleveland, my Dad used to tell us all about the local history of the city -- that included the almost unbelievable fact that Superman was created here in the thirties. I was an '80s X-men kid, so I didn't really care too much, but that story always stuck with me.

That two kids from this city could come up with this iconic, mythic character -- that was fascinating to me, mostly because it seemed impossible. How did they do it?  How could I? We all think those things.

As I got older, I began to appreciate the depth of the story more, and found that it really existed only as a thin quilt of myth and hope; there was little fact behind it that could answer those questions. I wanted to get to the truth of things -- certainly the "How," but also that important "Why?" That's what interested me.

 

It really started moving though on one early summer night when I drove out to Jerry Siegel's boyhood home, which was then a red-and-blue wreck. I wanted a photo of it, and my then-girlfriend went along and actually pushed me out of the car because I was wary after seeing someone on the porch.

But I got out (ok, was pushed), and Hattie Gray (who lives there) called me up, scolded me for being shy, and took me up to Jerry's old room.

Now I was a nerd English major so I've done the whole Emily Dickinson/Brontes/Thoreau/Poe pilgrimage thing -- and all of those places are both profound and ordinary -- but being in Jerry's room, where he had The Idea, was an interesting experience.

Certainly the time had long since passed, that was apparent, but the space felt closer than in those other, more famous places.

There was no souvenir map and no tour bus outside. It was just this place, ten minutes from my apartment, where this kid had this powerful, imaginary idea that he and his best friend  willed into existence simply because they wanted to change their lives.

I like those kinds of stories. Years later, when I actually figured out the exact night that Jerry came up with Superman, that story began to finally make more sense to me.

PREVIEWSworld: Over the ten years of researching for Super Boys, where did your research take you?

Brad Ricca:  I'd love to say I jetted off to a forbidden library of monks in Nepal to consult the Blu'dakorr, but I mostly stayed in Cleveland -- which was kind of the point, really. There is so much here that we had all somehow missed. It was just a matter of looking in the right places -- into library basements, police files, and schools that were about to be demolished.

So I retraced their steps a lot, and since Cleveland is kind of the same as it was in 1936, I was able to make some big discoveries. I also tried to read and look at everything they ever did, which was a challenge. I was very surprised at how much comics work they did do -- and how good it is-- even though much of it was anonymous, unpublished, or is now out-of-print.

I tracked down people as well, but made sure that they were new voices to the story -- Joe's sister, Jean, particularly helps paint a new portrait of her brother, who has always gotten short shrift. Not here, which is something I am very happy about.

I also dealt with the underworld of comics collectors -- and found some really amazing stuff -- and was even threatened a few times. People take their Superman very seriously. But even though I mostly stayed in Cleveland, what really surprised me was how much ground the story of Jerry and Joe covers:

from Miami to New York; FBI headquarters to Hollywood; Hawaii to wartime Berlin, this book covers their personal and creative lives not only across the world, but over the span of almost the entire 20th century.

I was not prepared for that.

PREVIEWSworld: What can you tell us about the true origins of Superman?

Brad Ricca:  The mantra we all learn is that Jerry and Joe created a colorful fictional character to rescue us all from the Great Depression -- and that sounds good on a motivational poster or in a junior high school essay -- but it's not really the whole truth. That reading is certainly valid, don't get me wrong, but only in a general sense of how we see it.

What they really did was create a character based on the problems, people, and dreams they experienced in their own lives. Superman is, somewhat unbelievably, autobiographical. In fact, a majority of their comics were always based on real people and real events. That's not how we normally think of Superman, certainly -- we think of him as the ultimate corporate character nowadays. But he began as an independent.

Some people will read this book and think that Jerry and Joe stole the whole idea, but that's not what I'm saying. They had a Great Idea --  a fictional character that has, in some profound ways, become real -- but no such idea appears out of thin air. 

PREVIEWSworld: What types of things will this book reveal for fans of Superman?

Brad Ricca:  Early on, I made a promise to myself that I would not do this book unless I could tell a new story. I tried to write it as an exciting narrative that would be readable to anyone; certainly not as a textbook, but more like the weird stories Jerry and Joe grew up with. But PREVIEWS reader -- this book is so for you.

I get my comics on Wednesdays, too. I didn't want to write the Wiki entry or the Daredevil movie -- I wanted Whedon's Avengers and the untold, in-continuity Secret Origin comic we've all waited decades for.

Superman's origin gets rebooted every few years; we can't control that, but the story of his creators is a different story: we should be able to get closer to the truth than we are. We owe the creators of Superman that much. And I don't like spoilers, but this is PREVIEWS, so here are some:

 

Jerry and Joe's first published work, the incredible story of who Lois Lane really was, a suspect in the death of Jerry's father, the real first appearance of Superman (and no, its not in the fanzine), the truth behind Joe's dirty pictures, who the Spectre was, the last story of Jerry Siegel, new secrets behind the lawsuit, a religious mystery cult, and the real reason why National bought Superman.

And finally -- the secret, last collaboration of Jerry and Joe. And much, much more, including 100 new drawings, comics, and photos.

If you are a fan of Superman, Jerry, and Joe, I promise you will be surprised. I know I was.

PREVIEWSworld: What’s your favorite thing that you learned about Superman through your research that you had never known before?

Brad Ricca:  My favorite thing is probably the identity of Lois, which was really important to the story -- and an incredibly difficult mystery to solve, with a twist ending that came out of nowhere.

The sections about Jerry's father -- both in Cleveland and in Lithuania -- were also very dramatic, though time-consuming, and difficult to write. But that being said, and I don't know if "favorite" is really the right word here, but there is one piece of information that gets gradually revealed in the book that is so incredibly strange that I still have trouble believing it myself.

I don't want to give it away, but it shakes the very essence of one of the cornerstones of Superman -- the secret identity. This mystery culminates in a chapter that is the most bizarre thing I have ever written down -- and it is all true.

PREVIEWSworld: Do you feel like the Superman story is complete, or will your work take you ever further into discovering the truths about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster?

Brad Ricca:  I don't think the story will ever really be complete. For one, it's now over 80 years later. Until we get a time platform, everything is just a guess based on evidence -- and new evidence will surface, as it always does.

I have also been warned by other authors that publication will only increase the amount of stuff people send and tell, so I'm sure there will be more to add or subtract. That's how history is written.

That being said, I was very careful to construct this story on facts I could see, hold, and corroborate. I didn't trust anyone, especially the creators themselves. Jerry and Joe were professional storytellers who grew out of a culture of salesmanship; we have to keep that in mind when we hear them speak.

They had secrets to keep, too. But I think the real reason this story will always have room for interpretation is that it has become, I think, part of the Superman myth itself -- a more modern version that substitutes a baby from Krypton with a pair of boys who achieve an American success that is eventually tempered with economic and artistic loss -- and their struggle against overwhelming odds to regain a sense of justice.

This story is myth now, so it will always be told and re-told as we find new places in which to inhabit it. Mine is just one version. But this is the absolute best version I can do. And I feel pretty good about that.

For more exclusive pictures and previews, visit www.brad-ricca.com and on Twitter @BradJRicca


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