Will Eisner’s courtroom drama
If you have a bit of time today, get comfortable and settle in with the transcripts of testimony by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger and Victor Fox in a 1939 court case in which Mr. Fox was accused of copying DC’s new and quite popular character Superman.
Ken Quattro, a.k.a. The Comics Detective, recently got a transcript of the case, and he sets up the story for us: In 1939, shortly after the spectacular success of DC’s Superman, Fox hired Eisner and his partner Jerry Iger to produce a knockoff. DC noticed, and they sued. In Eisner’s account of the story, Iger encouraged him to say he had created the story himself, but rather than perjure himself he told the truth, that Fox had commissioned it.
The transcripts, which make fascinating reading in their own right, don’t bear this version out. Under questioning, Eisner states quite clearly that he had created the tights-clad character himself in January 1938, before Superman appeared in any DC comic, and that Wonderman was actually inspired by another tights-clad character, The Phantom. (The judge gets pretty testy about this whole line of defense, insisting that when the character was created is not relevant; the finished product is what’s important.) As Quattro says, “Contrary to the image of the idealistic young artist risking his financial well-being on principle, it appears he succumbed to the urgings of his partner and their client.”
(Quattro notes something else that isn’t in the transcripts: As an editor, Eisner had reviewed and rejected the proposal for Superman, so he had actually seen it before it was published.)
The testimony provides some interesting sidelights on the way comics are made, and the judge is all over things—at one point, he criticizes Eisner for using pen names.
Wonderman is now in the public domain, and a helpful commenter to the first post points to a site where it can be downloaded.