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Inaction Comics #1
August 13, 2009 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Cleveland, Ohio, c.1932: A young American writer named Jerry Siegel teamed up with a young Canadian artist named Joe Shuster to create science fiction comic books. Out of this collaboration, a superhero was born. In 1938, the duo sold their creation to Detective Comics, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ten years and several lawsuits later, Siegel and Shuster, after being fired from the company they had helped to build, signed on with a fledgling comics publisher called Magazine Enterprises. Once again, their collaboration yielded fruit. But... would lightning strike twice? Sadly, it would not.
posted by Atom Eyes (62 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
... the chuckle-crammed, action-loaded adventures of Funnyman!

Dear lord.
posted by Huck500 at 11:16 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe it failed because the people of Funnyman's town are so easily terrorized. I doubt the readers experienced any real degree of suspense as they followed the story of a 12-inch kangaroo hopping about town.
posted by brandman at 11:17 AM on August 13, 2009


Well, they are called comics.
posted by longsleeves at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Batman is better than Superman. That is all.
posted by Bageena at 11:23 AM on August 13, 2009


Interesting, I had read about Funnyman, but never saw the comics. Thankfully, some guy posted them to his blog so I can now have that experience.

Reading suggestion: for anyone interested in the Siegel and Shuster story and the birth of comic books, I highly recommend Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book.
posted by marxchivist at 11:24 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Next it will be paper dolls." Words from the mouth of, in effect, a paper doll. Which the reader has just bought and paid for, presumably. Subversive fourth-wall-breaking humor, or just a magical coincidence?
posted by Western Infidels at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hopey Esperanza Leticia Glass is better than Batman or Superman. That is all.
posted by everichon at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


First reaction: It's a good version of the Joker.
Second reaction: No, it's just the Joker.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2009


I'm thinking about getting a tattoo of that dude on the bottom left of Action Comics #1.

I feel he really encapsulates the Modern Condition. "Holy fucking Christ," his expression says, "I have to deal with this shit now?" This Shit could be anything - some dude hurling a car about, nationalized healthcare, a late bus, whatever. Things have moved so fast in the past hundred years that freaking out constantly seems like an entirely logical state of being.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:28 AM on August 13, 2009 [82 favorites]


"Batman is better than Superman. That is all."

Maybe if Batman isn't in the room.
posted by NiteMayr at 11:29 AM on August 13, 2009


You guys dissing Funnyman better watch out, before I make with the knuckles!
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:32 AM on August 13, 2009


I sometimes think that the character of Superman is such an obvious idea in retrospect ("So get this, okay. There's this guy. He's a man, but he's super. Super: Man. He can, I don't know, jump really far? And he can punch hard! Later on we can think of other stuff he can do.") that the reason that Siegel and Shuster are significant in comics history is not because they thought of the character, but because they were lucky enough to think of him first. This Funnyman comic tends to reinforce that. ("Okay, here we go. This one is better than Superman--we don't need him anymore. Nuts to Superman. Okay. This time there's a man, and he's funny! Funny: Man. And he, I don't know, fights crime with jokes? We'll work it out as we go along.")
posted by Prospero at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


Comedic superheroes, with the possible exception of Plastic Man, don't seem to have much staying power. Even the incredibly good humor titles, like Kieth Giffen's "Heckler" and "Ambush Bug" quickly sink into obscurity.

You can have funny superheroes, as Guy Gardner, Deadpool and Lobo illustrate when in the hands of a decent writer, but starting from the premise of "He's a funny guy who does funny stuff!" is usually a non-starter. I think the only successful comedy titles of the modern day are "The Simpsons" and its spin-offs, and the Archie comics, both of which appeal to a different readership than the superhero crowd, and enjoy strong sales outside of the comics shop.

More to the point, "Funny Man" is a derivative character - by the time he came out, there were superheroes everywhere in the comics. He's a character designed to fill a niche - a clown-hero. Without the primal archetype of Superman, there would be no niche to fill, and so no creation to fill it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


oh. oh my.
posted by shmegegge at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2009


My elderly stepdad, bless his heart, still refers to teh gay as "funny". As in, "I didn't know you were funny, darkstar, until you told me." I suspect this was a widely used euphemism for "gay" back in his day.

Which is to say, I can well imagine a whole subsection of his generation of kids seeing this comic and thinking the hero were...well...funny. The image on the first edition of Funnyman does nothing to dispel that perception.

(Not that there's anything wrong with that...)
posted by darkstar at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: chuckle-crammed, action-loaded.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:42 AM on August 13, 2009


And if you liked Men of Tomorrow, you should also consider The Ten Cent Plague, which is about the fall of EC and horror comics and the rise of the Comics Code. The fall of horror comics lead directly to the rebirth of superheroes in the Silver Age.

If you'd like to read some of the less known Golden Age comics from back when it was a new medium and pretty much everything went as creators tried to figure stuff out, check out Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes. Be sure to check out the Fletcher Hanks stuff. The two collections of his work I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! and You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! are jaw-droppingly bizarre. Hanks stuff adorns the cover of the above mentioned Men of Tomorrow.

Of course, if heroes are not your thing, you can always look into what poor, broke Joel Shuster had to draw to make ends meet in Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-creator Joe Shuster.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


He looks like Conan O'Brien.

Also, "dippy hipster?"
posted by designbot at 11:47 AM on August 13, 2009


Fletcher Hanks should be the official comic book artist of Metafilter.
posted by marxchivist at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


"He's a character designed to fill a niche - a clown-hero."

There's where your argument breaks down for me. I see no evidence that "clown-hero" is, or ever was, a niche.
posted by Naberius at 12:06 PM on August 13, 2009


You know who else liked super men?
posted by kmz at 12:15 PM on August 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: the everyday avocation of the dippy hipster known as Funnyman.
posted by escabeche at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2009


"Reading suggestion: for anyone interested in the Siegel and Shuster story and the birth of comic books, I highly recommend Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book."

Read it. A most excellent book!

I think Jones says in there somewhere that Funnyman was an elaboration on Jerry Siegel's original concept for Superboy. The original Superboy was supposed to be a raucous practical joker who hadn't yet learned the difference between right and wrong. National shot that down straight away and went with a more conventional Superboy, but Siegel kept the concept and dusted it off later when he needed a new idea.

Incidentally, there are a number of characters like Funnyman out there today. Kurt Busiek's Jack-In-The-Box is one of the better examples.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:30 PM on August 13, 2009


robocop is bleeding - I;m finally getting around to reading Kavalier & Clay, after having previously read pretty much all of those. It's fantastic stuff, but I'm not usre if it's a plus point or a minus point that it's so obvious when Chabon is doing straight grabs from comics history.
posted by Artw at 12:31 PM on August 13, 2009


Have you ever read Action Comics 1 cover to cover? No? You owe it to yourself to track down a reprint -- your local library might have one. Because you'll learn what might be a secret truth behind Superman's popularity: Action Comics 1 pretty much sucked from page 14 onward. You can't declare with a straight face that "Sticky-Mitt Stimson" or "The Adventures of Marco Polo" failed to go far simply because Superman was at the head of the lineup.

Certainly Siegel and Shuster unwittingly tapped into the zeitgeist, but I sometimes suspect that what gave Superman a chance at all was by being a decent character bundled among a lot of never-weres at a time when comic books could surprise people simply by showing some creativity.
posted by ardgedee at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


But Superman is still popular, ardgedee. Not as popular now as then, granted, but he's still one of the top characters in a much more crowded and evolved field.

I think Superman's appeal is pretty simple: he's an all powerful god who fights for the little guy. (Heck, he even lives as a little guy half the time.) Before he arrived, the definition of "Superman" was exclusionary. To be on top, you had to thold yourself apart from humanity like Wylie's Hugo Danner or even Doc Savage, which kind of discredits the whole concept of being "super" - but Superman embraced humanity, which made him more relatable. And being relatable made it easier for his fans to get vicarious thrills from the godlike adventure parts of his stories.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:49 PM on August 13, 2009


No comic hero before or after Flaming Carrot has ever held my interest.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:52 PM on August 13, 2009


The last comic I bought could be funnyman's adopted grandchild: The Heckler:
"A costumed fighter with only average strength and agility, Stu relies heavily on his razor-sharp wit to enrage and baffle his adversaries to the point of blinding frustration, opening a window of opportunity that he will exploit to his benefit. The Heckler also possesses an immeasurable level of durability that frequently allows him to quickly recover from extreme amounts of physical damage. Being swallowed whole by a monstrous beast or falling to the earth from staggering heights only to bounce back minutes later speak mildly of The Heckler's ability to absorb and recover from damage. His access to this ability sometimes teeters on the edge of invulnerability."
posted by boo_radley at 1:00 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


9 panel grids!
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's funny because, in the real world, the monkeys would have torn him to pieces! Hee hee!
posted by aramaic at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2009


Comedic superheroes, with the possible exception of Plastic Man, don't seem to have much staying power.

The Tick would like to have a word with you.

He counts, right?
posted by trunk muffins at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2009


> But Superman is still popular

He's incredibly popular. He's one of the few modern international icons. He's bigger than the Beatles and Michael Jackson combined and will be remembered long after they're forgotten. But he started small, somewhere, and he could easily have passed unnoticed. Siegel and Shuster couldn't find a buyer for Superman for five years, making it hard to argue that his appeal was immediate and obvious; he's the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time, the same as any other famous figure, real or fictional.
posted by ardgedee at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2009


boo_radley: Yay! I mean, this has to be the funniest comic cover of all time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:14 PM on August 13, 2009


Something worth noting about Siegel and Shuster: they'd made a deal with National/DC to share in the profits from the newspaper strip that gave them the equivalent of $750,000 each in today's dollars, but a lawyer convinced them to sue DC for an even bigger cut of the dough, with the result that they ended up with nothing. Kind of puts a different spin on the usual "The Man screwing the artists" meme.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:16 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have anything to add to Slap*Happy's invocation of Ambush Bug except to say, hell yeah, Ambush Bug.
posted by escabeche at 1:16 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, that should be $750,000 per year.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:16 PM on August 13, 2009


Fletcher Hanks should be the official comic book artist of Metafilter.

Metafilter: I shall destroy all the civilized planets!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:26 PM on August 13, 2009


I think Superman's appeal is pretty simple: he's an all powerful god who fights for the little guy. (Heck, he even lives as a little guy half the time.)

Not to mention the fact that he's an immigrant.
posted by brundlefly at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2009


Hopey Esperanza Leticia Glass is better than Batman or Superman. That is all.

I actually would have gone with Tonantzin but okay
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think Superman's appeal is pretty simple: he's an all powerful god who fights for the little guy. (Heck, he even lives as a little guy half the time.)

Not to mention the fact that he's an immigrant.



And he's hawt. And I know this is, on some level, a conscious marketing effort. I mean, just look at how those red trunks have gotten smaller and smaller over the years. George Reeves, while a stud, was wearing granny panties. Brandon Routh, on the other hand, is modeling an International Male set of bikini briefs.

I don't know where this is going to end up, but I like where it's headed.
posted by darkstar at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2009


I think we know exactly where this is going.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2009


The Tick would like to have a word with you.

He totally counts. So does, I think, Jimmy Olsen. His early stuff, before he became the launching pad for Kirby's New Gods, was totally madcap humor. I mean, there was a society of bearded dudes who had an evil plot to get more people to have beards by, uh, cursing Jimmy Olsen with a beard.

And if 100+ folks favorite that tattoo comment, I'll do it. I'll put the dude in a ring or banner that reads The Modern Condition: 1939.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two violins, a double bass and a euphonium? I want to know what they were going to play. I don't even care if the pianist and bongo player don't show up. Also I'm worried about that double bass.
posted by motty at 3:25 PM on August 13, 2009


Hopey Esperanza Leticia Glass is better than Batman or Superman. That is all.

I was going to say "Maggie Chascarrillo is better than Batman or Superman" but then I saw your post. I think we can agree that both statements are true.
posted by D.C. at 3:36 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funnyman in the first image totally has his arse sticking out, his back bent unnaturally and his chest poking forward in the exact same way people always complain uberbreasted female comic characters do. Just sayin'.
posted by Sparx at 4:05 PM on August 13, 2009


posted by Saxon Kane at 6:32 AM on August 14 [+] [!]

This username always makes me think of Storm Saxon, for some reason.
posted by rodgerd at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2009


The Tick doesn't count, because he didn't become iconic until he was made into a television star. Before then, he was the star of a dozen or so irregularly released indie comics with a puny circulation. This is also why Milk and Cheese doesn't count, even though they sell exceptionally well for an indie book, and even though I mark myself as one dead by uttering that very phrase... and nor do JTHM or Bone. Funny, but too small-scale to make much of a dent in the medium.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:25 PM on August 13, 2009


Funny, but too small-scale to make much of a dent in the medium.
But... but... Gin!
posted by verb at 6:30 PM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Funnyman was too soon, this guy seems to have staying power.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:44 PM on August 13, 2009


robocop is bleeding: Wait. Those Doom Patrol villains, who hired the Beard Hunter, had a history?
posted by Pronoiac at 7:50 PM on August 13, 2009


I see no evidence that "clown-hero" is, or ever was, a niche.

There is a dissertation here just crying out to be written.

Also, you know, Superman is the Jewish-est superhero, what with the profile straight from a Forward cartoon about "Young Israel" and the changing his name from Kal-El to Clark Kent and the coming from a planet that was shattered into glassy shards by an evil dictator bent on conquest...

So I like him for that. Jimmy Olsen, on the other hand, needs to be devoured by rats.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:16 PM on August 13, 2009


I think we know exactly where this is going.

Touché.
posted by darkstar at 9:16 PM on August 13, 2009


Pronoiac: You can read all about Jimmy's adventure as the Bearded Boy of Metropolis here!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:26 AM on August 14, 2009


I think Wonder Wart Hog is pretty funny, but hey -- I'm old school.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2009


Jimmy's adventure as the Bearded Boy of Metropolis

That was amazing. I'd join the Beard Band in an instant.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:23 PM on August 14, 2009


Yup. The Beard Hunter employers were a callback.

Finding 20-year old in-jokes is awesome.
posted by Pronoiac at 7:18 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Before he arrived, the definition of "Superman" was exclusionary. To be on top, you had to thold yourself apart from humanity like Wylie's Hugo Danner or even Doc Savage, which kind of discredits the whole concept of being "super" - but Superman embraced humanity, which made him more relatable. And being relatable made it easier for his fans to get vicarious thrills from the godlike adventure parts of his stories.

You know, I've always thought much of Superman's appeal lies in the fact that he's just a less complicated version of Hugo Danner, which is a more cynical way of saying the same thing, I suppose.

His similarities to Danner (particularly in the beginning, when Clark didn't have heat vision or flight) are stronger than coincidental; his major difference is that he never really thought about any of the stuff Danner and just about everybody else on the face of the planet (except salt-of-the-earth Kansas farmers, apparently) would think about if they had that kind of power.

So yeah, that makes him more "good," and more appealing to people who need their heroes unalloyed, but as a fictional character, I find it also makes him less interesting, and less human, since we're just not that well-behaved.

Anyway, to the point at hand: I think those similarities to Danner are precisely why Siegel & Shuster never had another Superman-sized hit: after the first one, they were too high profile to get away with that kind of heavy "borrowing" again.
posted by Amanojaku at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2009


Mock-up of potential Action Comics #1 Tattoo.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:14 AM on August 18, 2009


Whoops. Here we go.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:26 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


oh, HEY robocop... oh this? yeah, it's a pretty great tattoo, right?

what?

no, I came up with it myself!

yup, just me and my little brain...

now, robocop, I don't think there's any call to get snippy. of course I came up with this tattoo. what do you think, I go around stealing tattoo ideas from people? come, now.

yeah, ok fine. whatever.
posted by shmegegge at 7:47 AM on August 18, 2009


maybe if we press our arms together while its still wet we can be tattoo bros
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:46 AM on August 18, 2009


blue_beetle: "Metafilter: chuckle-crammed, action-loaded."

I was all set to make fun of this, but then I chuckled...and my house caught on fire...and I got in a gun fight with a drug cartel...

So good call.
posted by mindless progress at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2009


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