Connecticut author talks about the Jewish roots of the creators of the “Man of Steel”
By Cindy Mindell
COS COB – Connecticut native Marc Tyler Nobleman was born in Hartford and grew up in Avon and Cheshire believing that, with his unique last name, he might one day become a superhero like the pop-culture Men of his day – Superman, Spiderman, and the rest of the steelier species. But instead of appearing on the pages of comic books, he became a professional cartoonist and children’s author, with more than 70 books to his credit.
He is the author of “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.”
Nobleman will speak about his book and about Superman’s Jewish roots on June 17 at the Stamford Jewish Community Center. He gave the Ledger a preview.
Q: Was your bar mitzvah superhero-themed?
A: I did have a bar mitzvah and it was not superhero-themed. At that age, I was trying to escape from superheroes and become a man! Here I am now, a man who has come full circle by re-embracing superheroes both for work and for entertainment. However, in retrospect, I don’t think the theme I did choose was any less embarrassing: bow ties. You heard right. And no, I didn’t WEAR a bow tie – but the giveaway was a ceramic jar figure wearing a bow tie.)
Q: How did you get into the Superheroes as a kid? Did you know then about the Jewish backgrounds of the Superman creators, and did that play any role in that superhero’s appeal?
A: I became a Superman fan from seeing the 1978 “Superman: The Movie” with my parents from the front row, in my pajamas. After, I asked my dad for a Superman comic and I still remember the one he brought me. I wasn’t aware of anything about the creators until high school and I don’t remember if that’s when I learned about their Judaism. Once I did learn that Siegel and Shuster were Jewish, it did make my interest have deeper resonance.
Q: How did you get into cartooning and writing? How much of the impetus to write about Superman’s creators was a curiosity about their Jewish backgrounds and how that influenced their creation?
A: Cartooning… Easy: I was a kid. All kids cartoon at one point. Many grow out of it but I obviously was one who didn’t. The first thing I remember drawing that set me on the path was Scooby-Doo. Writing, of course, came a bit later, and my mom was a gentle influence. She saw some kind of aptitude and encouraged me. It became a big part of who I was in high school when I began to write short stories, humorous pieces, and other things on my own.
For the book, I wanted to cover multiple aspects of the story, including Judaism, with equal enthusiasm. However, I have been particularly keen on discussing the Jewish aspects, which is why I have been proactive in planning presentations at venues such as the Stamford JCC. There is one Jewish aspect in particular that has drawn a good number of people to my blog: the recurring account of Hitler personally banning Superman. As I state in the afterword of “Boys of Steel,” there’s no documentation to support it and it almost certainly never happened.
Q: What are some of the parallels you recognize between Jewish values and traditions, and Superman’s attitudes and behaviors?
A: Of course there is Hillel’s definition of Judaism, which is a version of the Golden Rule, and which I am paraphrasing: Everything hateful to you, don’t do to anyone else. And there is the idea in Judaism that happiness is not a goal but goodness is. That’s why we say “Yom Tov,” why the High Holy Days phrase is actually “Good New Year,” not “Happy New Year.” That sums up Superman. He always puts others first and works for the greater good, even if it means he will be lonely, or misunderstood, or even disliked.
Q: How did you research “Boys of Steel?” What were some of your most surprising discoveries?
A: Both Siegel and Shuster died before I began the manuscript and I never met or spoke with either. I relied mostly on interviews they gave, plus a few other trusted sources. I also did comprehensive photo research in Cleveland, where they lived. My two most significant discoveries were learning the truth about the death of Siegel’s father – before me, it had been documented as a murder, but it was actually a heart attack brought on by a robbery – and being the first to find a photo of the long-demolished building in which Shuster lived when he first drew Superman. Even though the book came out two years ago, I am still researching it! I continue to blog and speak about it.
Q: Are there any historical or living people you would bestow superhero status on?
A: No need for superhero status. There are plenty of heroes around, from the “professional” heroes – firefighters, rescue workers – to the everyday folks, many of whom we never hear about.
Q: You may not yet be Nobleman the superhero, but you survived 22 rejections before you found a publisher for “Boys of Steel.” How can you help aspiring writers and artists survive the rejection process?
A:If you’re a writer or artist who believes passionately in a work you created, you’ll find a way to see it through, as I did with “Boys of Steel.” Of course, you also need to be strategic about which editors to approach and how. Rejection is an inevitable part of the process; those who accept that from the start are better equipped to succeed. Some writers rip up their rejection letters, but more hang up their rejection letters as a badge of honor, to remind themselves of what they overcame. Rationalize it this way: a rejection is closer to an acceptance than never trying at all.
For more information on Marc Tyler Nobleman’s talk at the Stamford JCC call (860) 322-7900 or visit www.stamfordjcc.org.