Save the House Where Superman was Born
by Matt Brady
Date: 02 September 2008 Time: 01:30 AM ET
Save the Jerry Siegel House
It’s time for comic book fans to play the role of hero.Spearheaded by author (and occasional comics writer) Brad Meltzer, the Siegel and Shuster Society is kicking off an auction, the proceeds of which will repair the childhood home of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. The auction can be found at www.ordinarypeoplechangetheworld.com and will run through the month of September. The house, where Siegel lived as a teen, was where he and his friend Joe Shuster first came up with the idea for the Man of Steel. Meltzer toured the home, located in a Cleveland neighborhood, while researching his latest novel, The Book of Lies, and was shocked at its condition.
“I visited the house for the first time when I was researching the book, and went with [Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and regular Newsarama contributor] Mike Sangiacomo,” Meltzer tells Newsarama. “My goal was to physically see the room where this kid shot up in bed in the middle of the night and had this idea for a bulletproof man. I went there expecting that I would find a nice little piece of Americana, and it would look like a Norman Rockwell painting, and maybe there would be a flag and an apple pie.” What Meltzer did find was a rundown house in one of the city’s rougher neighborhoods, a place where adjacent boarded up houses have signs on them that say ‘NO COPPER PIPING INSIDE – PVC ONLY’ in order to prevent people from breaking in a literally tearing the buildings apart while looking for copper pipe to sell at the scrap yards. “When I got to the house, I almost fell over when I saw the state of repair it was in,” Meltzer says. “Mike and I were both blown away. We talked our way inside and you could literally look through the ceiling and see the baseboards that were underneath the plaster – there were giant holes in the walls, stairs where you felt like your foot was going to go through with the next step. The nicest couple in the world live there, but they can’t repair this place. It’s an old house that needs lots of work. It clearly has major amounts of water damage coming down from the roof that’s wrecking what’s inside.” For Meltzer and Sangiacomo, the condition of the house was too much. “The house where Google was created is preserved for its historical importance,” Meltzer says. “The idea that the house where Superman was created is falling apart? That’s just horrible. “I know that light bulbs went on in both mine and Mike’s heads, and we were both determined to not have that be the case. If Superman teaches us anything, it’s to take care of people that are in need. While I was there, I tried to see what condition Joe Shuster’s old house was in, but it was already gone. It was so devastated that they tore it down. That was what really did it for me – I thought that if we don’t help to save this house, it may not be this year, it may not be next year, but this house won’t be here for my kids, or anybody’s kids to see, and that seemed wrong to me. “The politicians of Cleveland have let this house rot. They put millions of dollars into the Rock and Roll hall of fame, and more power to them – they should do that, but they haven’t put a single dollar towards fixing this house, or even put a plaque there.” That said, there currently is a plaque in the house, paid for by Meltzer and Alex Ross. Ross created the art for the plaque, which was presented to the couple that has lived in the house for the past 20 years. So while he was still researching and writing The Book of Lies, Meltzer started making phone calls. “The name ‘The Siegel and Shuster Society,’ came up, and we all realized that was what it had to be, and from there, the mission was clear. I called up [award-winning graphic designer] Chip Kidd, who’d done some of my book covers to design t-shirts for it, and we were moving.” Metlzer then started tapping friends and associates in comics and entertainment, looking for items that could be auctioned. “The first two calls I made were to George Perez and to Gene Ha, and within a couple of days’ time, I had these two breathtaking pieces of original artwork that Gene and George had done,” Meltzer says. “We made more and more phone calls, and got Dave Mandell, one of the great comic art collectors involved, and a list of pieces from the most talented people in the industry started to grow.” The current list includes: Stephen Colbert (VIP tickets to a show taping), Jim Lee, Brian Michael Bendis (appear in Powers), Brad Meltzer (appear in his next novel), Geoff Johns, Richard Donner (an autographed preSuperman Superman movie script), Joe Quesada, Neil Gaiman, Alex Ross, Dave Gibbons, Jeph Loeb (a walk-on role on NBC’s Heroes), Murphy Anderson, Ed Brubaker (appear in his creator-owned work), John Cassaday, Gene Ha, Greg Rucka (appear in his comics), George Perez, Michael Turner, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Judd Winick, Frank Cho, Eric Powell, Tim Sale, Walt Simonson (Superman and Beta Ray Bill original art), Joe Staton, Eric Wight, Dave Mandel, Mike Mignola, Rags Morales, Bill Morrison, Ivan Reis, John Romita Jr., Jason Palmer, Amanda Conner, Geoff Darrow, Ron Garney, Renato Guedes, Heroes, Dave Johnson, Chris Bachalo, Mike Bair, Allen Bellman, Dan Brereton, Ernie Chan, Travis Charest, and Ian Churchill. Also in the list of items being auctioned – a “Superman” t-shirt signed by Siegel himself. How? “I called [Jerry Siegel's widow] Joanne Siegel to tell her what we were doing, and when she heard our plans, she was very excited about it and told us that when Jerry Siegel was older, he signed six t-shirts and left them for his family, saying, ‘If you ever need money, sell the shirts,’ Meltzer says. “Nobody – until now - knew about the shirts, and she sent us one for the auction. Of all things, it’s a Superman IV: The Quest for Peace t-shirt signed by Jerry Siegel. It’s just amazing that we have something from him in the auction.” According to Meltzer, the auctions will run for the month of September, with 10-11 items going up for auction each week. Newsarama will preview items that will be auctioned as well as talk to the various contributors of the items. The Siegel and Shuster Society is a registered 501(c)(3) charity, and all profits from both the auction and t-shirt sales will go directly to repairing the former Siegel house. The immediate goal of The Siegel and Shuster Society is to raise $50,000 which will, in Meltzer’s estimate, repair the outside of the house and weatherproof it against the elements. Monies raised after that will be used to repair the inside of the house. “We’re fixing it up for the family that lives there because it’s the right thing to do,” Meltzer says. “We do have the right of first refusal to buy the house, so that when they do sell it, we can buy it. If you ask what the big, giant dream is, that’s something that will be decided by people far smarter than me, but as one of the dreams though, I would love the idea that kids from Cleveland or Michigan, or any other place could leave school and get on a bus and go to this house and walk around and see kids’ art all along the walls, and learn the story of how two kids from Cleveland came up with the best idea in the whole damn world. I love the idea that we can preserve this one place where two kids dreamed bigger than anybody said they could dream.” Meltzer is staying grounded throughout the process though, realizing the place of this project and this charity within the larger picture. “Do I think it’s as important as feeding starving children in Africa?” the author asks, “Of course not. Do I think that saving an old house in a terrible part of a city will change lives? No. But this stuff matters, and how we take care of our heroes maters. How we honor what came before us matters. To me, Superman matters. “In the process of examining Superman’s life, I realized the Superman is not the best part of the story. The best part of the story is Clark Kent – the idea that any of us, in all our ordinary boringness want to rip open our shirt and help somebody. That’s the most beautiful thing that Superman ever gave anybody. So how could we not return the favor?” Meltzer's The Book of Lies hits bookstores this week. Messageboard signature images for The Siegel & Shuster Society can be found above.