|The Melbourne Argus, March 22, 1947|
Monday, November 28, 2011
Siegel & Shuster's Funnyman in Australia
Funnyman is a largely forgotten strip created by Jerry Sigel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman. Originally intended to be the next big thing in comic books and designed to pick up the mantle from Superman and show DC Comics what they’d missed, the strip itself lasted just over a year before it folded. The strip also spawned a line of comics, but, sadly, that didn’t last long either and Funnyman never became the highly sought after hit that Siegel and Shuster desired. Lightning struck once for the duo, and in their attempts to recreate the blast, they fell somewhat short.
The sadness is that the strip wasn’t that bad, certainly not as bad as people might imagine. However the concept – Danny Kaye dressed as a clown fighting crime with comedy – was always going to be a hard sell and it’s possible ton theorise that the duo were just a little bit too burnt out from their trials and tribulations with DC Comics over Superman. The comic was published by one other than Vin Sullivan, who had originally bought Superman off the duo for DC Comics. On paper, at least, the ingredients were right. The comic made its appearance in 1948 and it marked the professional artistic debut of none other than Dick Ayers, who would later become better known for his involvement in the creation of the Marvel Universe with the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others. Ayers began drawing with the early issues of Funnyman and later co-created the original Ghost Rider with Sullivan. As Dick recounted to me in 2005, “I admired them (Siegel & Shuster) and I was quite honoured when Joe Shuster got friendly with me when I was going to school at nights with Burne Hougarth. I gravitated down to his studio and did some penciling for him and he was nice to work with. And Jerry would come in once in a while because he was the writer naturally.
“I was in awe of them. They created a word that got into the dictionary and they had all this popularity as Superman was really flying high. When I worked for them they were in the process of trying to get ownership of it back from DC.” Dick also confirmed that Funnyman was based on Danny Kaye. Sadly the comic would only last for six issues due to DC Comics cracking down on Sullivan using the Superman name to promote Siegel and Shuster and, by proxy, the Funnyman book.
In late 1948 Siegel and Shuster landed the strip with the Bell Syndicate who distributed it to newspapers across America and it wasn’t long before a daily strip and a Sunday strip were in place. Sadly the duo weren’t able to maintain the same standard that they’d set with Superman and the strip was cancelled by the end of 1949. Faced with yet another setback, Siegel and Shuster ran out of steam and Funnyman vanished, seemingly for good, destined to become a footnote in comic book history. Jerry Siegel returned to DC in the late 1950s and began to work anonymously before doing some editing and writing for Marvel in the mid 1960s, Joe Shuster would virtually drop out of the comic book world.
However Funnyman had an entirely different life in Australia. The strip never made it to newspapers, there were no Sunday strips, but it was published here in a very unique format. Funnyman began its Australian publishing life in the Australian Women’s Weekly on the 2nd of July, 1949. An ocean away from DC Comics and their lawyers, the Women’s Weekly, who also counted Lee Falk’s Mandrake, amongst its comic strips, decided to announce the new strip with a flourish and devoted an entire page to announcing the strip and introducing its famous creators to the country. The resulting article would be amongst the first to debunk the DC Comics myth of how Superman was created, and also made reference to Sigel and Shusters lawsuit, and their resulting defeat. The bulk of the material came from a press release that was released when Funnyman made its debut and clearly the Women’s Weekly had no issue with running it as they saw it.
Funnyman was reformatted for a weekly strip format, using daily strips, and it ran in Australia for just under a year, ending on the 5th of June, 1950. Finding a complete set of the Funnyman strips, as published in Australia, is a task in itself, and these scans aren’t of the highest quality, but as historical artefacts they stand as testimony to the fact that Funnyman reached shores beyond America, and lasted beyond its originally accepted cancellation date. It also stands as silent testimony that there was far more to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster than Superman and his own universe.