The Story Of Creating The First American Superhero
♦ Writer Julian Voloj has teamed up with artist Thomas Campi to create graphic novel The Artist Behind Superman detailing the life of Joe Shuster and Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS interviewed him this week…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of The Artist Behind Superman?
JULIAN VOLOJ: It’s a story I wanted to tell for a long time. I’ve been fascinated by the origin story of the comic book industry ever since reading Michael Chabon’s fictional account “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” and Gerard Jones’ non-fiction account “Men of Tomorrow.” Around the time Brad Ricca’s “Super Boys” was published I visited Cleveland and retraced Siegel and Shuster’s steps. A year later, I got access to never before published letters by Joe Shuster that were donated to Columbia University, and after reading them, researched fanatically anything related to the story and started working on the script.
TW: How did you team up with the artist on the book?
JV: My agent presented me a bunch of portfolios from different artists and once I saw Thomas’ work, I knew he would be the right person for this project.
TW: What is it about this particular comic book creator origin story that still resonates all these years later?
JV: Unfortunately, there are still many sad stories of comic book creators who are struggling later in life. I recently read about Bill Messner-Loebs who had worked on Wonder Woman and was even credited in the movie, but was now homeless in Detroit. I’m not sure if it is a real Kirby quote, but I read that he once stated that “comics will break your heart” and the story of the Superman creators is one of the first heart-breaking stories of the industry.
TW: How closely did you work with the artist?
JV: There were things that were important to me, mostly related to historic accuracy, sometimes text flow, but at the same time, Thomas had the artistic freedom to visually tell the story in the best possible way. I strongly believe that graphic novels are a collaboration between writer and illustrator, and each partner should focus on his/her strengths, leaving the others to focus on theirs.
TW: It is a very ambitious project, clocking in at 184 pages. Was it because there was a fairly dense story to tell?
JV: It’s more than just the origin story of Superman, it’s the story of a whole industry, the story of a friendship, and a history of America in the first half of the 20th century. We cover a lot of ground, but at no point the story gets boring. We could have easily had it even longer, but it feels that it has just the right length, and in the additional nearly 20 pages of annotations, we cite the many sources we used, allowing the reader to dive even deeper into the story.
TW: It obviously involved a great deal of research before you began to write the book. How daunting did you find having to condense years of the pair’s history into one coherent story?
JV: Writing is like making a sculpture out of stone. You have a huge rock of information and then you slowly chip away things to make it coherent. I believe that the way the story is told is the best possible way. We could have easily added a lot more information, but it was important that the story has an overall good flow, and I believe it does.
TW: Were the Shuster family involved with the graphic novel at all?
JV: No, the book is exclusively based on publicly available resources including books, newspapers interviews, videos etc. Nearly every scene in the book is based on something and we list all the resources used in the nearly 20 pages annotations so that readers can explore more if they want.
TW: Now that the graphic novel is out, how do you feel about it?
JV: It’s always weird to know that a project is over. For over five years, we’ve been working on this book, and now it’s out of our hands. We hope that the readers will dig what we have done.
TW: 2018 is Superman’s 80th anniversary, of course. Was it a happy accident or a deliberate piece of scheduling to bring this out this year?
JV: We were initially planning to have the book ready for the 25th anniversary of Joe Shuster’s passing, but then it became clear that it was much more work than initially anticipated. We then switched to coincide the publication with the 80th anniversary.
TW: Do you have any other comic history stories you would like to tell?
JV: I’m working on some other projects related to comic book history, but it’s too early to give away the details. But let’s say I’m not done telling stories of comic book pioneers.
The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman is out from today, 15 May 2018, published by Super Genius