The Ghost of Jerry Siegel II

“Nature is a haunted house — but Art — is a house that tries to be haunted.”

                                                                                                      -Emily Dickinson

Over at The Beat, I wrote a post titled “The Ghost of Jerry Siegel” about the mysterious third man who contributed plots to early Superman stories. His name has not been lost to comics history, only misdirected, mostly because he has, 99% of the time, been attributed as an alias of Jerry.  He wasn’t.

Except for one tantalizing clue in an old article in a comics mag by Bob Beerbohm (see the post), everyone else, from Sam Moskowitz on (including me a few years ago), said Kenton was a pseudonym. Even after reading Bob’s article, I was still half-convinced he was. It took a long time to find actual proof — and the rest of this man’s surreal life story. Super Boys has an entire chapter devoted to him, titled “Bizarro.”  Kenton/Kantor is an exercise in never taking things at face value when it comes to comics history — truths are mislaid, adapted, and often deliberately altered. But more importantly: if Jerry had Kantor, how many other writers had ghosts out there? We know about Bill Finger — were there others?

 

Here are some random Kenton/Kantor appearances of the many I found. The really bizarre ones are in the book. My first clue that he was a real person was a letter to a pulp magazine — people were saying it was just Jerry behind a false name — but it didn’t sound like him.

 

 

His name also appears a few times in the Glenville Torch — in articles and stories that I am fairly sure were written by Jerry, his friend and admirer.

But his name appeared the most — dozens and dozens of times — in the comics themselves. As I read through their work, it became quickly obvious that Kenton was more than just an inside joke. In the book, I say what that is — and it’s big. This is from “Slam Bradley.”

The full story is in the book and it is way weirder — and incredibly telling of how difficult it was to make it in comics. It was hard to write the post for The Beat, because there will be people who do not want to hear that Jerry bought plots from someone else. And I get that, especially for those who admire him. I also know that there is a fair amount of anti-Siegel sentiment out there because of the lawsuit, and this may add fuel to that. But as I write in the piece, don’t read this as gossip or book-selling; read it as the truth. Comics as industry is something we tend to forget about the Golden Age. Comics were a business that was being improvised, and there was no better operator than Jerry Siegel. Readers, for decades, have read versions of Jerry as the sad victim of connected fatcats. I think that history says otherwise: Jerry, who doggedly pursued publication, helped create the side of things that finally made comics work. Siegel used the medium to tell personal stories with autobiographical elements, which forced comics from disposable serial (“Hanko the Cowhand“) to the beginnings of a legitimate artistic medium. Superman and Slam Bradley and all the others weren’t (just) adventure strips, they were mixing the real lives of their creators through a new uncanny, fictional genre. Superman was a type of magical realism. Ghosts haunt Superman; Superman was art.

Whether we knew it then or not.

5 thoughts on “The Ghost of Jerry Siegel II

  1. Thanks for the mention re that ground breaking Big Bang Theory of Comic Book History article I put together for CBM #50 August 1997 which built upon the one i did titled The First Superman Cover in Comic Book Marketplace #36 June 1996. I had always meant to come back to building it even further (which I am working on now again BTW after some years of medical imbroglio) Then I got side tracked distracted when I got on the hunt and scored a copy of America’s first comic book Brother Jonathan Extra #9, “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck,” Sept 14 1842 published by Wilson & Co out of New York City. Spent the next years figuring out there are literally thousands of comic strips in hundreds of publications back in the 1800s which had been forgotten. Even Fred Opper has been proven now to have done multiple sequential comic strips beginning in 1875 in Wild Oats magazine, not 1900 with Happy Hooligan as erroneously reported in dozens of comics “history” books who simply read ten books,wrote an eleventh.

    Similar in nature to Bernard Kantor(e) being forgotten for so long. I was given that letter by Julius Schwartz back in 1996 along with a wealth of other data and passed parts of it it on to my good friend John Coker. As I think back on the research events now some 17-18 years ago as of today, the “Bob” referenced by Julie in that letter from Jerry to Bernard you have posted on The Beat is me. I passed on a xerox to John as I had sent him a number of items Julie passed on to me. Conversely, back then John Coker sent me a number of similar type artifacts for research he had gotten from others of legendary “First” SF Fandom. Fort a long time we had a good two way street going there.

    You might have missed it, but on page 51 of the Big Bang Theory in CBM #50 I reprint the 1929 Amazing Stories letter written by Jerry approx 14 years old which at the bottom also references two of his local friends John Reibel and Bernard Kantor, all three of whom “…are….waiting for a chance to number as contributors to “Our” Magazine…” Makes one wonder if John Reibel also sold Jerry story ideas, helping out his friends as his boat was lifted. Stands to possible reason to check out,

    I always thought of Bernard as a “real” person, not a Jerry pen name. Julie point blank tolds me Bernard was a “real” person, sending me that letter with his hand written “Bordello” reference as proof.

    Julie and I also discussed the concept that in 1941 Mort was brought in to work for Harry Donenfeld to “handle” Jerry, who by 1939 had moved to Long Island in order to be closer to the growing Superman energy post Superman #1 hitting around a million sold copies. It was late 1939 the contract with Donenfeld was renegotiated to reflect exactly the contract Bob Kane’s father had worked out on Batman. I interviewed Irwin Donenfeld for some 18 aggregate hours over a few years 1999-2001. Lots of fun stuff for my long overdue next Big Bang updated piece.

    Seventeen years ago was I trying to track down who he was and where he was gone to, the wonders of the internet makes such research a lot easier now, still a long ways to go.
    I have been meaning to score your book (among a ga-zillion other neat ones come out the past years). Still digging out of the medical pit which saw me lose half a decade of my life, looking forward to reading it and chiming in what two cents worth of comment I may be able to add in to your research

  2. And just for laying down a record, for it is worth, my fascination with uncovering “origins” of Superman began n 1971 when I was basicly given the original art to Joe’s first finished cover to The Superman from 1933 which one can check out here http://www.ebay.com/itm/FIRST-SUPERMAN-1-1933-SIEGEL-AND-SHUSTER-COVER-DONE-ORIGINAL-ART-/390627386989?pt=US_Comic_Books&hash=item5af334e66d as well as read more about in Comic Book Marketplace #36 June 1996 as well as in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1029 approx same month of the same year. I wrote a piece which I sent to both Gary Carter and Don Thompson, both of whom deemed to publish it.

    Funny thing is they both cut away about a third of it.. Each cut out a different third so to get all of The First Superman Cover meant for Humor Publishing, one has to read both. At some point here I am going to combine those two as well as the CBM #50 Big Bang as well as a LOT more data gleaned in the 17 years since I did all that initial research, Back then even Jack Williamson was still alive.

  3. Bob — your articles and posts over the years (incl. the CBM ones) were of IMMENSE help and you are credited for all of that in the book. Can’t wait to see your long-awaited history!!

  4. Given the “Atlantis” clue in the letter from Siegel to Kantor, and the date given, has anyone identified the story in question?

  5. I *think* it refers to “Luthor’s Undersea City” (a fairly significant story) from Superman #4 (March, 1940) — but not completely sure.

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