Jerry Siegel’s 3-Page Letter on the Origin of Superman Sold at Auction

A 3-page letter written in 1934 by Superman’s co-creator Jerry Siegel in which he tells artist Russell Keaton about the idea behind his new for a fantastic comic strip character has sold at auction for US$264,000 at Heritage Auctions.

Jerry Siegel Letter

Across these three historic pages, Jerry Siegel outlines the concept for Superman to comic strip artist Russell Keaton in June 1934, nearly four years before Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1. Siegel’s letter details an origin story both familiar and unfamiliar to long-time Superman fans. A miraculous canister lands on contemporary Earth containing a child of untold strength and ability, a fearful sight for others who will strive through adversity to become “a champion of the oppressed”; the young Clark Kent comes not from Krypton or any alien world, but the cataclysmic far future of Earth, one of the future’s supremely evolved humans sent back in a “small time-machine.”

In the proposed comic strip, Molly and Sam Kent discover the baby and drop him off at an orphanage before adopting him, with many following episodes detailing his childhood adventures long before becoming the adult “Superman”. Siegel’s summary and script echo Superman’s later origins and retellings across Action Comics, Superman, and the Superman comic strip. While there are many differences, the core concept remains unchanged to this day.

From their earliest meetings in 1932, Siegel and Joe Shuster began workshopping the Superman concept before debuting the character in Action Comics #1 in 1938. This letter comes from the middle of that period, when both creators envisioned Superman as an ongoing comic strip, before the debut of the modern comic book format.

Siegel and Shuster were young unknowns, who had failed to sell the concept to multiple publishers including Consolidated Books and the Bell Syndicate, while Russell Keaton was an experienced artist, known for his work drawing Buck Rogers and Skyroads comic strips.

Siegel sought Keaton as an alternative partner for his budding creation, certain that an established artist would lead to greater cachet and a published strip. Keaton would go on to draw two weeks’ worth of strips based on this letter, which were also rejected by newspaper syndicates, leading Siegel and Shuster to reunite and further refine the Superman concept. In June 1935, Siegel and Shuster would begin working for the budding comic publisher National Allied Publications, where the pair debuted Superman in 1938. While Siegel and Shuster were relative unknowns in the mid-1930s, today renown far exceeds that of Russell Keaton. This letter offers an incredible window into the history of comics, showcasing a major turning point in the development of both the superhero and modern pop culture.

In Very Good condition from the Denis Kitchen Collection, the letter was typewritten on three separate pieces of paper, with the opening page hand signed in the lower margin. Creasing, minor holes, tears, and chips, toning, and handling wear.