Heritage Auctions is offering up a number of never-before-seen production cels and models sketches from the first Superman cartoon from Fleischer Studios.
The bright big-screen wonder, created by animation pioneers Max and Dave Fleischer and voiced by some of the stars of the Mutual Network radio series, wasn’t just groundbreaking but earthshaking. The series did far more than merely introduce audiences to the immortal phrase, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” For the first time, a costumed hero leaped off the page and onto the screen – and in the process somehow looked as human as anyone in the audience.
This was kid stuff made for the grown-ups. Art Deco by way of Action Comics. The artistry of Citizen Kane dressed up in blue tights and a red cape.
“The oblique camera angles, the extended shadows, the chiaroscuro lighting, the diagonal lines, even the freeze frame of the scientist turning into the front-page picture in the Daily Planet – all seem right out of [Orson] Welles’ masterpiece,” Philip Skerry and Chris Lambert wrote in the book Superman at Fifty! “The technicolor hues are also gorgeous, retaining even today the vividness of the original dyes while other less stable coloring processes … are fading away on the original negative.”
Seventeen Superman cartoons were released between 1941 and 1943, and the art in this auction was thought to be lost, but now two separate collections of the Superman art will go on the auction block from December 11th to the 13th, 2020.
Here is a rundown of what is hitting the block:
Here, rather unbelievably, collectors will find the color model for Superman himself, whose stands with hands on hips while animators color-code each piece of the costume rendered in graphite. Below, Dave Fleischer’s signature provides the animators with the OK to proceed. There’s also a color model for Lois Lane as well, even more detailed than that of the Man of Steel.
Also included is the model sheet for Superman’s head and face – the square jaw, of course, topped with the spit curl – dated August 1941. Its five views of Superman serve as a quintessential piece from the Fleischer Studios, as does the model sheet for Lois known as the “Head and Mouth Action Chart,”which features 26 looks at the Daily Planet’s star reporter in various poses.
Another model sheet featuring Lois in various poses (flying, even!), alongside Clark Kent and a rough sketch of Superman, is just as indispensable.
The animation event also features several production cel setups with the key master backgrounds – including an extraordinary piece from “The Mad Scientist” in which Superman carries Lois to safety before the scientist’s lair blows to bits. From the same episode comes a production cel showcasing the Man of Steel staring down the scientist’s destructive “electrothanasia” ray aimed at Metropolis.
There’s another production cel, as well, from the second Superman short, November 1941’s “The Mechanical Monsters,”showing the hero demolishing the titular villains.
The event features drawings of a swaying Daily Planet under attack in “The Mad Scientist”; Krypton’s destruction from the first episode’s introduction; Lois, Clark and Perry White huddled around the Daily Planet editor’s desk; Superman repelling the death ray; and a detailed flyover look at the bright lights of Metropolis.
There are also several drawings from “Terror on the Midway” released in August 1942 – and, sadly, the final of the nine Superman cartoons produced under the auspices of Fleischer Studios before the brothers parted company and Paramount rebranded their production company Famous Studios. There is but one piece from the final batch of cartoons: a drawing of an airplane from September 1942’s “Japoteurs,” when the studio turned Superman’s attention from sci-fi villainy to real-world headlines.
This auction is going to a big one, and I suspect that the prices on these pieces of history will hit a high price, but that is okay, as Heritage Auctions has announced you can pay your invoice over a four month period under its new extended payment plan, or you can instantly flip the winnings to a future consignment auction.
I’ll be keeping my eyes on this auction, as the original Superman cartoons were my first introduction to Superman when I was a lad watching Popeye and Betty Boop in the early ’70s.