Buy the Check That Bought Superman

SLATE

April 2, 2012

Byline: David Haglund

In 1938, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, budding comic book artists, sold the rights to one of their creations to Detective Comics, Inc., for $130. That sale led to copyright battles that are still being waged in U.S. courts today. Why? Because that creation was Superman, one of the most valuable cultural properties in the world.

So valuable, in fact, that people are willing to pay big money just to own the check that Detective Comics (known today as DC Comics) used to buy the character. The check, which is being auctioned by ComicConnect, is actually for $412; it was used to pay Siegel and Shuster for several bits of work, which are detailed on the left. First item: Superman, $130.

According to ComicConnect, the check was rescued from "piles of court papers and corporate records" by a DC Comics employee in 1973, after one of the many lawsuits stemming from that original sale. The employee, they say, kept it safe in a dresser drawer for the next 38 years.

As of this writing, bidding on the check is, after 18 bids, near $40,000; with another couple weeks before the sale, that figure may go quite a bit higher. Ironically, the check is now worth a great deal precisely because it was worth so little at the time.

And the document does contain some nice details. The most striking: Whoever at DC Comics wrote out the check didn't know how to spell Siegel and Shuster's names, so the men double-signed the check on the back, using both the incorrect spellings provided on the front as well as the correct spellings. This detail seems so perfectly symbolic of the whole transaction that, were one to write a novel about Shuster and Siegel, people wouldn't believe it. (By the way, if you're thinking of writing such a novel: It's been done.)

Article Copyright 2012 SLATE