Jerry Siegel Cites Both Tarzan and John Carter as Key Influences in Creating Superman

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By now those who have been following John Carter are pretty well aware that Jerry Siegel cited John Carter as a key influence in his origination of Superman.  But I didn’t realize that in Siegel’s description of the origins of Superman, it’s actually Tarzan who gets the first mention.  Here is the longer passage:

In the Beginning

By Jerry Siegel, 1983

As a science fiction fan, I have long been very familiar with the various themes in the field. The superman theme has been one of them ever since Samson and Hercules. I just sat down and wrote a story of that type – only in this first story, the Superman was a villain. (The Reign of the Superman, 1933)

A couple of months after I published this story, it occured to me that a Superman as a hero rather than as a villain might make a great comic strip character in the vein of Tarzan, only more super and sensational than that great character. Joe and I drew it up as a comic book.

Clark Kent grew not only out of my private life, but also out of Joe Shuster’s. As a high school student, I thought that someday I might become a reporter, and I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn’t know I existed or didn’t care I existed. So it occured to me: What if I was really terrific? What if I had something special going for me, like jumping over buildings or throwing cars around or something like that?

One night, when all the thoughts were coming to me, the concept came to me that Superman could have a dual identity, and that in one of his identities he could be meek and mild, as I was, and wear glasses, the way I do. The heroine, who I figured would be some kind of girl reporter, would think he was some kind of worm; yet she would be crazy about this Superman character who could do all sorts of fabulous things. In fact, she was real wild about him, and a big inside joke was that the fellow she was crazy about was also the fellow whom she loathed.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter was able to leap great distances while on Mars because the planet was smaller than Earth, and so he had great strength. I visualized the planet Krypton as a huge planet, much larger than Earth, so that whoever came to Earth from that planet would be able to leap great distances and lift great weights.

Initially, we were turned down by almost every comics publisher in the country.


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