Superman, the surprising true story of how it almost didn’t happen

The first issue of Superman was printed in 1938. Picked up in radio, movies, books, television and video games, it was a huge success. But it almost never happened. If it wasn’t for the tenacity of creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel the world’s first superhero would never have been published.

It took an incredible 5 years of perseverance for the creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel to get it picked up by a publisher. 

Initially they aspired to publish it as a syndicated newspaper comic strip. Jerry would write the script and Joe would illustrate it.

But rejections followed suit. Newspapers told them it needed to be more sensational.

So they tweaked their character and took their story to Consolidated book publishers. At first the publishers appeared to show interest, they even pitched it in person to a delegate, but ultimately Consolidated rejected them too. Writer, Jerry Seigel, even tried to switch up the illustrator and hired then established comic artist Russell Keaton. But that work was rejected by newspapers too – and to put the nail on the coffin, Russell Keaton abandoned the project.

Joe Shuster hadn’t been thrilled about his sudden replacement. But later that year they reconciled and in 1935 finally had a couple strips published. It would take another 3 years for their big breakthrough.

In 1938, while they thought they were negotiating a deal with McClure Newspaper syndicate for Superman Joe and Jerry were informed that McClure too would be rejecting them. But luck and timing would finally be on their side. At the same time as McClure was pulling the plug Action Comics were in the throes of publishing their first issue and were eager to have Superman featured. It was the perfect fit. The rest is, as one says, history.

With no guarantee of success, 5 years is a lot of time to continue with a project when receiving very little else than rejection. It reminds me of this famous cartoon below. You may never know how close you are to your dreams if you turn back.

With each rejection Jerry and Joe set to work to refine their story and their character. Had they had success from the get go Superman would have had psychic powers given by a mad scientist. But instead Superman progressed to develop super human strength, born on planet Krypton and raised by farmers in a small town on earth after being found in crashed space ship, where he was raised to have noble character. 

And the end result? A better character and storyline.

Business is like this. There’s a ten year story behind many an “overnight” success. With each new obstacle there’s an opportunity to improve and a decision to grow and continue. A mentor of mine used to say that when it comes to growing a business problems don’t go away, they simply get better.

Passionate about helping leaders grow their business, Jonathan Whiting is co-founder of StreetText. In addition to StreetText Hub, Jonathan has written for TechVibes and REM Magazine.

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