September 2013 Issue
Fan of Steel
Brad Ricca’s book about Superman’s origins and the Clevelanders who created him offers an insightful look at a legend.
Brad Ricca’s research led him to old Cleveland Glenville High School newspapers and radio broadcasts of “The Phantom.” To tell the story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the two men who invented the Superman mythology while still teenagers, Ricca immersed himself in the era in which they lived. The result of his work, Super Boys
(St. Martin’s Press, $27.99), offers a detailed account of the story you don’t know about the Man of Steel and the lives of the men who brought the iconic superhero to life. We recently talked to Ricca, who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, about his book and Superman’s ongoing appeal.
Q: What prompted you to write the book?
The story always stuck in my head growing up in Cleveland. My dad would always tell us that [Siegel and Shuster] were from here. It’s one of those things you hear and it seems so impossible. … I’d been a comics fan forever, and the weird thing is I’d just come off writing my dissertation on Emily Dickinson, which is about as far away from Superman as you can get. I did a lot of research for that and really liked it and started thinking that nobody had really taken the story of the Superman creators seriously, and by that I mean going in there and really taking a look at it.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: I think it goes back to it’s somehow easier for us to write the story off in a couple sentences: They were these great kids, they made Superman and then they lost it all and that was it. It makes the bad guys the bad guys and the good guys the good guys and that’s it. But it’s always more complicated.
Q: Why do you think Superman has had such lasting appeal across generations?
A: For kids, it’s the colors and the flying and the punching Brainiac into space. Certainly, when you get older there’s the nostalgia for your childhood but it’s also nostalgia for a simpler morality. … Superman is always good, he’s always right. … I think the coolest thing is the story of the creators has now become part of the myth. When people think of Superman, they think of power, they think of the symbolism, but more and more they also think about the creators. You have these underdog kids create this thing, and they lose it but they still end up, artistically, with a major win because they have this character that’s still going strong. It’s a real story of the American Dream.
Read the introduction to Super Boys at brad-ricca.com