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