On History: 1984 Wayne Boring Interview
Wayne Boring calls himself "the cat who started this whole mess with Jerry and Joe!" - with an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence -- just like in a comic book word balloon. He's right, of course. After Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman and started the super hero genre, Boring's art gave the character power and grace and put him in a realistic-but-fantastic setting. His Superman is actually the definitive one. All other artists who've drawn the big guy from Al Plastino to Curt Swan to Dick Dillin to Joe Staton to Jose Garcia Lopez or anybody consciously or not follows Boring's example.
When artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel, two teenagers from Cleveland, first put the strip together, it was intended as a newspaper feature. Comic books weren't even considered at first, since most were reprints of material originally prepared for the daily and Sunday press. After gettting rejected by the syndicates, who distributed the strips around the country, Jerry and Joe placed their Man of Steel with Irwin Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz's Detective Comics, Inc.
When Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), he was an immediate hit. The demand for original material by DC obliged Jerry Siegel to find an assistant for Joe Shuster. He placed an advertisement in Writer's Digest.
Wayne Boring recalls: "I carried the magazine in my back pocket for a couple of weeks until I dropped them a line. And I got an answer back. I sent some samples of my work."
At the time, Boring lived in Norfolk, Va. working as an artist advertising salesman at the Virginia Pilot. Born and raised in Minnesota and South Dakota, Boring attended the Minneapolis Institute of Art after high school and studied anatomy at the Chicago Art institute with J. Allen St. John, the illustrator of the original Tarzan stories.
Although Wayne made a decent living at the Pilot, he wanted to be a cartoonist like his idols Frank Godwin and James Montgomery Flagg. When jerry Siegel asked him to come to New York, he jumped at the chance, secured a leave of absence from the paper, took a train to the Big Apple, and met Jerry at Grand Central Station. Siegel met him there and they went to see Joe Shuster.
"Joe was living over on Third Avenue in a real rat-hole right on the elevated (subway)," Wayne laughed. "He had a room with a cot that you had to walk over to get to the other end! And there was the elevated right outside his window! Joe was a very timid little guy who wore elevator shoes. He got up and we shook hands on the bed."
Jerry and Joe asked Wayne to move back to Cleveland with them. They set up a shop and were joined by three other artists -- Paul Cassidy, Leo Nowack, and John Sikela. DC had sold a daily and Sunday newspaper strip to the Bell McClure Syndicate, which placed it with hundreds of papers around the country. Boring pencilled, inked and even lettered the strip, which, like virtually all the Superman material during the time, was written by Jerry Siegel. Wayne also worked on stories for Action and Superman comics.
I asked Wayne how they'd work. Did Jerry write the scripts and then have Joe lay them out? Boring replied, "At first, Joe would sketch it out pretty lightly and we'd work over it. Later, he developed something wrong with his hand and his eyes were very bad. He already wore very thick glasses. Now, he's almost blind. But he came in one day and started to delegate the work to someone else. He wore a gadget a doctor gave him -- a leather glove that completely immobilized his hand!"
Boring laughed as he talked about the studio. "We had an office about 12 by 12 with four drawing boards set up there. Jerry had a desk in the anteroom. But it was the smallest office in Cleveland.
"Once, some reporters came out to interview Jerry and Joe for an article for the Saturday Evening Post. they had photographers and everything. So they were photographing Joe and talking to him and here I was working with my back to the.em. One of the reporters came over and said, 'Would you please leave because we need the room!'"
I asked Wayne if, in the beginning, DC knew that he had been drawing Superman.
"No," he replied. "They kept that pretty much in the dark, and I didn't sign it at that time."
In addition to Superman, Jerry Siegel wrote other features for DC, including Slam Bradley and Spy. But the company wanted him to spend all his time chronicling the adventures of The Man Of Steel.
"Donenfeld and Liebowitz came out to Cleveland and had a hell of an argument with Jerry," Wayne recalled. "They were paying him a fee for writing and they said 'Jerry, stop writing all this other crap! All we want you to do is write Superman' and Jerry had grown up poverty-stricken and said 'Look, I'm gonna write it all!' I think they paid him ten dollars a page for writing and they said they'd make up for it by paying him more to do Superman, but he said no. He was going to hang on to Slam Bradley and the others. Of course that didn't last."
In 1940, the Siegel and Shuster shop moved to New York City, at the urging of DC. Wayne, along with his bride Lois, made the trip to New York, too.
As Superman grew in popularity, a series of animated features were made by the Max Fleischer Studios for Paramount. A radio show also went on the air and was quite successful.
Siegel and Shuster and their team of artists continued to supply DC and Bell-McClure with hundreds of pages of material a year. Even after World War II broke out and Siegel went into the army, he continued to send in scripts to be drawn, although others started to contribute to the Superman legend around this time.
Despite the war, comics were booming. In addition to the usual pre-teen market, millions of servicemen now read comics, too. And after the war, the famous post-war baby boom continued the upward sales spiral.
Superman brought in millions of dollars for DC, but not nearly that much for its creators. Boring and the other artists were relatively well-paid by Siegel and Shuster, who in turn were paid by DC. But Dc owned Superman and didn't share the revenues generated by the outside merchandising, the cartoons, the radio shows, and (later) the movie serial and the television show.
Wayne Boring recalled the origin of the situation: "Donenfeld and Liebowitz knew that Superman was a hit, so they called these kids (Jerry and Joe) in and told 'em, 'Here, sign this' and they did and they signed away all their rights. Of course it was a swindle."
Why didn't Siegel and Shuster fight it? Boring's opinion is that the company "scared the hell out of these kids. DC had a whole pack of lawyers. These guys would come in with their briefcases and there would be these two kids from Cleveland...!"
Eventually, Siegel and Shuster brought suit against DC. But they sued Wayne Boring, too.
He recalls: "Jerry hired a lawyer, the lousiest lawyer I've ever seen. I was sued for abrogation of contract and told that I was fired. Why his attorney advised him to do that, I don't know, but he said, 'You're no longer drawing Superman!'"
How did he feel about being sued for no apparent reason by his employers? "I didn't care about it. Not really. I also worked for Johnstone & Cushing, an advertising agency. I got 600 bucks for a half-page, which Stan Kaye would ink for me. Remember How to Fly a Piper Cub? I did that.
"But I went to see Jack Liebowitz at DC and said, 'Look, what the hell is this thing?' And he said that they were being sued by Siegel and Shuster and that I should continue to work for them (DC) until it was straightened out."
So Wayne Boring worked directly for the company now, while Siegel and Shuster went ahead with their case. But their suit never got off the ground. Jerry Siegel wrote for several other comic companies until returning to Dc in 1959. He wrote many more Superman, Supergirl, and Superboy stories as well as The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Joe Shuster didn't fare as well. With his bad eyes, he was unable to draw or do any other graphic work. He left comics completely. In the late seventies, Neal Adams and other comic creators and fans crusaded for Jerry and Joe. Warner Communications, who owned DC by then, agreed to pay Siegel and Shuster a yearly pension. They also receive credit in every Superman splash page for creating The Man of Steel.
Wayne Boring continued drawing Superman for DC into the 1960s. Originally, he was able to ink his own pencils, but because of all the scheduling demands, he eventually had to give it up. The DC bullpen occasionally inked his work, but Wayne eventually took on Stan Kaye as his regular embellisher; working closely under Boring, Kaye's inks kept the art clean and sharp and beautifully enhanced the lucid layouts.
Wayne now worked with writers other than Siegel. Bill Finger, the original Batman scripter, wrote several Superman stories, as did Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, and a very young Jim Shooter, who sent in little self-drawn and scripted comics to DC.
Boring says that Edmond Hamilton was his favorite writer. "No doubt about it. He wrote good pictures. I could always visualize his descriptions. There was no effort to draw. Always smooth. His stories sang."
Boring's work continued to mature. Whether he depicted downtown Metropolis or uptown Krytonopolis, it was always realistic. Steranko, in his History of Comics, refers to Wayne's "towering cities." However, the realism he brought to this fantastic otherworldly feature made Superman visually compelling throughout the '50s and '60s.
Editorially, Wayne worked first with Whitney Ellsworth and Jack Schiff, but later (and finally) with the legendary Mort Weisinger.
Weisinger, originally a science fiction fan, agent, and editor, came aboard as writer for the Sunday Superman strip, according to Boring. He eventually became editor of the line and stretched the Superman legend to include many more survivors of Krypton, as well as a host of Bizarros and other looney heroes and villains.
Boring recalls a stormy but productive relationship. Weisinger was somewhat difficult to work with and bullied artists and writers, he said.
One day in 1966, Weisinger told Boring he was fired. Wayne was astonished and asked, "You mean I'm not working for you anymore?"
Weisinger repeated: "You're fired!"
Boring persisted, "Fired? What do you mean? All you've got to do is stop sending me scripts!"
Weisinger then said, "Do you need a kick in the stomach to know you're not wanted?"
Weisinger said he'd call Stan Lee and try to find something for Boring at Marvel. Wayne said he liked what he called Marvel's "punchy style," but after doing some sample work for the company, didn't get any work just yet.
The day after he was sacked by Weisinger, he contacted Hal Foster, and went to work for him as his assistant (and ghost) on Prince Valiant. Wayne later worked with Sam Leff on Davy Jones, another newspaper strip, and with John Prentice on Rip Kirby.
But it must have been a shock to be fired from Superman. Wayne recalls, "I was kind of down after 30 years."
As for Weisinger, "I was afraid I'd die and go to hell and he'd be in charge! That would have been the capper!" he laughed. Wayne eventually did do some work for Marvel Comics, including some Captain Marvel art, with a Roy Thomas-scripted issue of Thor a few years back.
Now 66 and working as a part-time security guard, Boring draws a bit and started painting several years ago. He says, "Painting has improved my drawing 1000 percent. Now I'm cussing myself that I didn't start years ago. By God! I've still got some punch yet!"
He frequently hears from fans and loves to talk about his work on Superman. The fans, of course, love to talk to him. Ultimate fan Fred Hembeck, in fact, met Wayne at a comic convention a few years back in Orlando and the two artists swapped sketches.
Sitting on his patio, I told him that Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane returned to DC, once again drawing and entertaining a new generation of fans, and also about the company's new enlightened and benevolent management which seems to be far more considerate towards it artists than its predecessors. I wondered if Wayne would want to draw Superman comics again.
He paused for a few seconds and said, "You know, I'm pretty well situated now. This is a mild job I've got, as a day security man. They're the nicest people I've ever met. They pay me well." He paused again and looked me in the eye and said softly, "Of course. Yeah, I'd like to get back to drawing, now that you mention it."
Will the man who drew the classic "Superman's Return to Krypton" himself return to DC Comics and the Man of Steel? Stay tuned...