Joanne Siegel’s last letter to DC Comics

Joanne Siegel, wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, recently passed away. Last December she wrote a letter to DC CEO and Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes pleading with him to end the lawsuits and come to the table with a good faith business approach.

So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?

As you know, DC and Warner Bros. have profited enormously from 72 years of exploiting Jerry and Joe’s wonderful creation. Superman is now a billion dollar franchise and has been DC’s flagship property for all this time.

The full letter is over at

I like Tom Spurgoen’s reaction:

It’s mind-boggling that given the money involved that an honorable arrangement could haven’t been worked out at some point over the years. I used to be able to say “the money involved and the bad publicity that could result,” when making that statement, but the vast majority of folks with an interest in the matter have shown themselves to either not care at all or, depressingly, to be bizarrely hostile to the families of creators when asserting their rights — partly it seems out of fear that their access to their beloved characters be cut off.

Our industry’s continuing shame is that its artists perpetually fail to be rewarded to the degree that those who exploit them, or those who perhaps without guile are simply the beneficiaries of time and legal advantage, gain and gain mightily. Many of these agencies and individuals have gone so far as to make a commodity out of a pursuit of justice and moral outcome that they turn around and diligently ignore. I hope for the best possible outcome for the Siegel and Shuster families, and for every family like them. More than that, I hope for a different ethos for the comics creative community and the industries that should serve it, not the other way around.

7 thoughts on “Joanne Siegel’s last letter to DC Comics

  1. When someone creates any product while on a company’s payroll, that product belongs to the company. The creator’s knowledge and skills are the reason the employee was hired in the first place. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the way it is.

  2. Jeff: Siegel and Shuster weren’t on D.C.’s payroll or anyones
    when they created Superman. He first appeared as a secondary
    character in comic Siegel published himself. After making changes to the character it was later pitched to comic book pulishers. The character was created by two teenage kids in
    Cleveland not D.C.’s corporate office.

  3. The very first DC creator was Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who founded the company and was subsequently forced out of the company through the criminal fraud of his partners. This is how DC has always done business.

    The company’s treatment of creators from Siegel & Shuster to modern-day creators is a matter of record.

    So while I am appalled by the DC lawyers pursuing an attack plan of inflaming the poor health woes of the Siegel family, I’m not at all surprised by it.

    And, yes, I’m one of the more modern-day creators they have screwed over. They have never fully honored the partnership agreement between us over my creation of Black Lightning and they continue to violate it to this day.

    Tony Isabella

  4. Another reason I loathe corporations. I am NOT anti-capitalism, but when companies that have money pouring out of their butts can’t even be bothered to take what to them would be a small amount of money to do the right thing—we’ve definitely lost our way.

    Yesterday in the Wall St Journal was a story about Borders negotiating w/ the bankruptcy court to give their top execs bonuses. This being a family blog, I can’t even begin to describe my feelings on this.

    I understand businesses need to make money, that’s what they’re there for. But there is a human element, not to mention plain common sense. American business has lost sight of this.

  5. Creators need to educate themselves w/ how the company that they’re working for operates, its policies etc (even if you’re just freelancing for them) before creating anything for said company.

    Artists need to start understanding the business side of things; as in having a lawyer look over any contracts presented to them, etc. Otherwise, the creator is at the mercy of that company; and I’m sorry to say it; but that then is the fault of the artist if they do get stung, for not doing they’re due diligence.

    Too many artists…(you know who you are, in line at the comic book cons), want to work for DC and or Marvel so badly that they forget that these companies are big business machines.

    You have to have a contract that protects your creator rights drawn up by YOUR OWN LAWYER; and then present it to these companies (as a standard working contract, that you use for all your comic book work). If the comic book company really and truly wants your talents lent to their books, they won’t have a problem w/ signing your contract; or at the very least, will give you room to negotiate an “ironclad” fair contract for both parties.

    Until artists start becoming business people too…the stinging will continue.


  6. I realize this is a cynical thing to say, but Joanne’s references to the small, kind gestures of earlier Warner execs smack (to me) of stalling tactics. “Here’s a fruit basket. Aren’t we nice? Now go away for a few months until the next crumb I toss you. Oh, and you’ll die eventually, won’t you?”

    Corporations are inherently incapable of relinquishing anything they see as currently belonging to them. I cannot WAIT to see how Marvel responds to the coming wave of copyright claims on its cornerstone characters…start the popcorn!

  7. John@#5: I agree, for any creators from, say, the 1980s on when comics went from the local drugstore rack to comics retail stores. But Siegel & Shuster had no history to look back on, were pretty much broke, and had no idea they were selling a character that would almost single-handedly create the comic book industry. Warners should cough it up.

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