Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of over seventy books, including Boys of Steel, a picture-book biography of Superman’s co-creators, which was recently released in paperback to commemorate the 75th’s anniversary of Superman’s debut. This week, Nobleman chatted with Kidsbiographer about his own lifelong enthusiasm for the Man of Steel and the lessons Superman’s creators can teach young readers.
Kidsbiographer: How did you decide to write a picture-book biography of Superman’s creators?
MTN: Being a lifelong Superman fan who turned into an author of nonfiction children’s books made it almost inevitable. But I would not have gotten far if the story lacked drama. The fact that no one else had written a stand-alone biography (in any format!) of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster also appealed to me.
Kidsbiographer: What sort of research did you do to write Boys of Steel, and what was the most surprising fact or anecdote you uncovered during that process?
MTN: Jerry and Joe both passed away in the 1990s, so I could not speak with either directly. Jerry’s family does not talk to press or writers of any kind due to ongoing litigation with DC Comics. So I relied heavily on the various interviews Jerry and Joe gave, plus did original research. Perhaps the most surprising fact I uncovered is that Jerry’s father was not murdered during a store robbery as had been previously reported; he DID die during a robbery, but due to heart failure. Here is how I found out: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2008/09/death-of-jerry-siegels-father-part-1.html.
Kidsbiographer: In some ways, Boys of Steel is an all-American success story: both Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster experienced difficult childhoods – the loss of a parent, poverty, ostracization at school –before launching their creation to great heights. What do you hope kids will take away from that aspect of the biography?
MTN: Be persistent! The alternative is worse. I’d much rather go through some rejection to get to success than to always wonder what would have happened if I only tried…
Kidsbiographer: However, in your afterword, you describe Siegel and Shuster’s battles to gain recognition for creating Superman as well as appropriate compensation for their work. What do you hope this part of their story will convey to readers?
MTN: The same! And also claim ownership of your work, with pride.
Kidsbiographer: In Boys of Steel, Superman begins to seem like an alter ego for Siegel and Shuster: he has the physical strength they lack, and he could prevent some of the terrible things that occurred in their own lives – including Siegel’s father’s death following a robbery in his store. How did you decide to develop this theme in their story?
MTN: The boys themselves laid this out for me, so to speak. They modeled Clark Kent on their own meek demeanor, figuring that would be the best disguise for a superhuman. And it just hit me to use a metaphor referencing Superman’s famous nickname, even more famous after the latest Superman movie, “the Man of Steel.” The boys did not feel strong in their lives till they created a character who was strong…and wildly successful.
Kidsbiographer: Would you like to discuss any current or upcoming projects?
MTN: Always! The one I am hoping to have news on soon is another true story that fills a gap in history…and involves a flying man. Only this time, he flew in a plane, not with a cape. He was a Japanese WWII pilot who did something no one before—or since—has done, and like Boys of Steel, the story explores what makes a hero. Here’s more: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2011/09/picture-book-for-sale.html.