Comics Interview: Greg Sadowski Talks Supermen!
Greg Sadowski is the editor of Supermen!, a book that looks at superheroes from the 1930s and 40s. This text “collects the best and the brightest of this first generation, including Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Lou Fine, Fletcher Hanks, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Basil Wolverton.” Moreover, it allows the reader to experience the diversity that these comic books provided, but that is often over looked.
Nicholas Yanes: What was your inspiration for creating Supermen!?
Greg Sadowski: I compiled Supermen! to shed some light on that original batch of superhero storytelling that preceded World War II. Superman’s breakout success in the late 1930s allowed several companies to set up shop, experiment with the medium and contribute to its evolution. Now that the industry had proven it could make money, it attracted better artists and writers, who helped create a new way of telling stories. The form was then able to shed its reliance on the newspaper-strip model, that is, single-page stories, and advance toward longer, more complex, self-contained continuities. Giving that little history lesson and presenting it in an entertaining fashion was my main motivation.
But it all goes back to when I was a kid, fascinated by rare glimpses of the early superheroes. In those days (the 1960s), apart from an occasional story in a DC Annual, you just couldn’t find that stuff – unless you could afford golden age comics, which I could not and still can’t. Over the past twenty years or so, DC and Marvel have put out many “Archival” editions, but I never liked the look or feel of them. Hated the glossy paper, the re-coloring – the whole format bugged the hell out of me. Why were those classic covers always presented with white space around them? Why couldn’t they go right to the edge of the paper like real covers do? The chance to demonstrate how I felt it should be done was a major impetus for me.
Yanes: When putting this book together, did you learn anything revelatory?
Sadowski: I guess the most revelatory thing was in seeing that the vast majority of what was printed in those days was garbage. There’s probably less than ten percent that’s worth revisiting. Some have written that I chose artists strictly for their name value, but the truth is that after you’ve gone through hundreds of golden age books, the same guys stop you time after time: Cole, Eisner, Everett, Fine, Hanks, Kirby, Wolverton, and every now and then a few others. That’s how they became “name” artists in the first place – because they were the best.
Yanes: When writing any of my publications the hardest thing that I have yet to overcome is getting permission to reprint panels from the comic books I was using. How did you go about getting reprint permission? Where there any unexpected obstacles?
Sadowski: My understanding is that you don’t need permission to show copyrighted panels, or even single pages, as long as they’re relevant to the text you’ve written. This would fall under “fair use.” Where things get sticky is when you want to reprint entire stories. For this you’ll need permission. But the stories I chose were from companies that have been out of the superhero business for over half a century, and that material is in public domain.
Yanes: There are probably dozens of characters you wanted to include, but couldn’t. What are some of the characters that almost made the cut? And in the end, why did you not include them?
Sadowski: I wouldn’t say dozens. As I said, most of the stuff was pretty lame. But there is enough for a second volume. As to why I chose those particular examples, I was simply trying to find the most interesting and entertaining work possible. Another thing to consider is the page count. You only have so many pages. Thankfully, Fantagraphics was kind enough to grant my request for an additional sixteen pages, so I’m very pleased with the final line-up.
Yanes: Finally, do you plan on following this text with one that looks at forgotten titles or characters from the late 40s and 50s?
Sadowski: I’m now working with John Benson on a 1950s horror collection for Fantagraphics that should be out next spring, plus I have several other ideas in various stages of development. If readers buy and enjoy these types of books, then I’m more than happy to continue producing them.
For more information about Supermen! check out the following sites:
Nicholas Yanes is a comic book academic who has written two theses focused on graphic literature: “X-Men as a Reflection of Civil Rights in America” and “Graphic Imagery – Jewish American Comic Book Creators’ Depictions of Class, Race, and Patriotism.” Additionally, he was privileged enough to create and teach “American Comic Book History”; a junior level course in the American Studies Program at Florida State University. His first publication is the essay, “The Super Patriot: World War II Warriors and the Birth of Captain America,” and will be published in Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays. He is currently working on two projects: 1) Editing an essay that has been accepted for publication in an anthology – this essay looks at African Religion in mainstream American Comic Books, 2) Putting together a collection of essays that look at Obama in Popular Culture: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/32305