If you’re going to Bryant Park to watch tonight’s free outdoor screening of Superman: The Movie, take a look across Sixth Avenue and see if you can spot Marc Tyler Nobleman—he’ll be at a table with vendors from the children’s bookshop Books of Wonder, selling copies of Boys of Steel, his picture book biography of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the writer and artist who created Superman back in the 1930s. Of all the things to write about for young audiences, how did Nobleman settle upon the story of two twentysomethings from Depression-era Cleveland? “The Siegel and Shuster story has never been told in a standalone narrative volume for any age,” Nobleman noted in a recent email, but more importantly, it’s a story with “an accessible angle (everyone knows Superman) but a mystery backstory (few know who created him, when, or how).”
(It is not, however, always the happiest of stories—although Nobleman’s main tale celebrates Siegel and Shuster’s unbeatable optimism, a three-page afterword details decades of misfortune after selling their original story—and all rights to the character—for $130, until the pair were finally awarded pensions and a permanent creators’ credit on every comic book featuring Superman.)
“It’s a natural to tell their story in illustrated format because their character essentially launched one of the most iconic visual mediums of the 20th century, the comic book,” Nobleman continued; the pictures are provided by picture book veteran Ross MacDonald. “We’ve actually never met and first emailed only after his work was completed,” Nobleman says of the collaboration, but “his style is so suited to the material and he was a pleasure to work with, gracious and inventive.” As a followup, Nobleman is already deep into research on a book about Bill Finger, a comic-book writer who played a vital (uncredited) role in the creation of Batman and his most famous villains.