Joanne Siegel, second wife of Jerry Siegel, died this week. While most comic fans are probably not aware of her name, the lady she inspired is known even to non-geeks as Superman’s feisty, stubborn one and only: Lois Lane.
Sometime during the depression, Siegel (then Joanne Carter) placed an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer offering to model for artists. She wound up working for and become a friend of Jerry Siegel, and though, according to the Plain Dealer, there are quite a few women who modeled in Cleveland in the the 30’s who claim to be the inspiration for Lois Lane, Jerry Siegel himself maintained that Lois was based mostly on Joanne.
But serving as the inspiration for one of the most long standing stories of unrequited love in American comics (okay, so maybe Archie Andrews has had it worse), Mrs. Siegel was also a large part of the later legacy of Superman as a pieces of intellectual property. As the story goes, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were so desperate for work that in 1938 they sold the rights to their new Superman idea for $130 total to Detective Comics and set the precedent for the business model of the American comics industry. Writer and artists would primarily be contracted as freelancers or house artists, and the rights to their original concepts would be owned by the publisher, not the creator. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, when Richard Donner‘s Superman was just beginning to roll into production, that Jerry Siegel managed bring enough attention to the issue to convince Warner Communications to award he and Shuster a life-long stipend and a guaranteed credit whenever Superman appeared in any media.
In 1999 Joanne took the fight one step further, attempting to regain the rights to Superman, and courts ruled that Siegel’s estate did, indeed, have claim to a share of the US copyright for Superman. As of 2004, Joanne also managed to reclaim the rights to Superboy for her husband’s estate, a character he proposed before the outbreak of WWII, only to find that DC had published a similar character under the same name without crediting him after the war.
(via Mental Floss.)