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“Superman” check drawing attention, bids

by Matthew Price Modified: April 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm •  Published: March 29, 2012

The 1938 check given to “Superman” creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for the rights to the character is now up for auction at comicconnect.com. The current bid for the item is more than $36,000. The item up for sale is a check for $412 that included a $130 line item for ownership of Superman.

Stephen Fishler and Vincent Zurzolo, co-owners of ComicConnect.com, say the check is a highly valuable historical document.

“That $130 check essentially created a billion dollar industry,” said Zurzolo in a news release. “Without this check being written out by DC Comics, there would be no Superman, and thereby no Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, X-Men, or any of the other characters that came into existence after the concept of the superhero was born with Superman.”

- Matt Price
Click past the cut for the full release.

It appears that historic, lopsided business deals seem to come in threes. The sale of Manhattan in 1626 for $24, the sale of Babe Ruth in 1919 for $100,000, and the sale of Superman for $130 in 1938.

It’s true. On March 1, 1938, DC Comics paid $130 to the creators of the Superman character for full ownership and rights to the now famous—and highly lucrative—iconic superhero.

DC Comics gave two young men from Cleveland, Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, a check for $412 that included a $130 line item for ownership of Superman. With that payment, Siegel and Shuster signed a release granting the company rights to Superman “to have and hold forever.”

Little did teenage creators Siegel and Shuster know that Superman would go on to become a national treasure and that they would be left without any rights to the character or to the millions of dollars he generated. The check and the rights they gave up, which was a standard business practice at the time, spawned 70 years worth of legal battles that continue to the present. The debate over “creator’s rights” was spawned that day.

In the 1970′s, Charles Schultz was earning millions of dollars off of his Peanuts creation while Siegel and Shuster were practically destitute. The difference is that Schultz owned his characters and Siegel and Shuster, by selling them for $130 in 1938, did not. At the time the first Superman movie came out, Shuster was an aging delivery boy.

The check—thought to have been lost over time or thrown away— was recently consigned to ComicConnect.com by the heirs of a DC Comics employee who had the foresight to save the check. In fact, the story goes that in the early 1970s, after DC Comics had won one of its many legal battles against Shuster and Siegel, the owner told employees to throw out a box of old court documents. But one of the employees found the check and decided to keep it. For 38 years, the check sat in the employee’s dresser drawer.

So, what is that now infamous check worth?

The market will have to determine that. And on March 26, when ComicConnect.com, the premier online auction site for vintage comic books, opens bidding on the historical document, we’ll find out. The auction closes on April 16.

Now, comic book fans have a chance to bid on what Stephen Fishler and Vincent Zurzolo, co-owners of ComicConnect.com, consider a highly valuable historical document.

“That $130 check essentially created a billion dollar industry,” says Zurzolo. “Without this check being written out by DC Comics, there would be no Superman, and thereby no Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, X-Men, or any of the other characters that came into existence after the concept of the superhero was born with Superman.”

With the controversy surrounding the business deal and the unique nature of the document, Fishler expects the check to generate a great deal of interest among collectors.

“In the comic collecting world, we often fixate on a character’s or an artist’s first issue, or on a book’s condition,” he says. “This item is completely different and unique. It’s new and uncharted territory in terms of what it’s worth. The value must be considered in comparison to the most valuable contracts, checks and signatures known to exist in the collecting world. This check has become a symbol of a questionable deal on par with the sale of the island that became Manhattan or the New York Yankees trade for Babe Ruth from the cash-strapped Boston Red Sox.”

Legal battles for credit and compensation surrounding Superman continue between Siegel and Schuster’s heirs and Warner Bros., the parent company of DC Comics. Zurzolo says the continuing lawsuits all tie back to that 1938 check. “People will always debate the fairness of that 1938 deal. It was an incredibly historic business transaction and this check is the document that played the pivotal role.”

Bids for the Man of Steel’s iconic check should soar. A third party letter of authenticity verifying the check, signatures and provenance will be included in the sale.

 


by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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