How To Get People To Pay $25,000 for a $400 Check: Invent Superman
Last year a pretty amazing piece of comics history surfaced from who knows where: the original check that publisher and accountant Jack Liebowitz used to pay Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster $130 when they signed over all rights to their new character Superman to Detective Comics Inc. The small piece of paper bears the signatures of Liebowitz, Siegel, and Shuster; as well as an ominous stamp from the U.S. District Court of New York dated April 6th, 1939, from when it was entered as evidence in Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, the first of a number of legal battles over who deserves compensation for the success of Superman that is still ongoing.
The check surfaced last year, around October, but this weekend it, like most ancient comic book memorabilia, went up for auction, and the bidding has climbed to $25,500 as of yesterday afternoon.
The check was apparently saved by a DC staff member in the seventies, left in a drawer for nearly forty years, and then consigned to ComicConnect auctions by the staffer’s heirs. I attempted to explain the significance of it when it first came to my attention:
This check represents the business transaction that sparked the explosion of American superhero comics, without which the American comics industry would be, for better or for worse, completely unrecognizable. It also represents the beginning of one of the thorniest, long lived legal battles in comics history…
Is the purchase of the full rights to Superman by DC Comics (Then Detective Comics Inc.) simply representative of the working condition of the day, full stop, no foul? Or did Superman, as a specific idea in a specific time and place, become so much more than anyone involved in the actual transaction could have imagined that DC Comics refusing to award further compensation and resisting many attempts to extract even the minimum of royalties for Siegel and Shuster basically like someone shouting “NO TAKEBACKSIES” very loudly?
As the New York Times reports, as of only this Monday DC Comics filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit courts, intending to protect their claim on the full rights to Superman despite court rulings to the contrary. It’s no wonder why this tiny piece of paper, which still has several week to go in its sale, would have attracted so much attention already.
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