Celebrities and Comics have been connected since the beginning. Celebrities from sitting Popes, to Martin Luther, to reigning kings have all been lionized and lambasted by industrious illustrators and publishers in the earliest days of printing. In America, Presidents often faced the ire of satirists or the support of followers in cartoons. And the process continues through today with illustrated cameos and entire comics lines dedicated to celebrity. But something happened along the way.
Comics Characters themselves became celebrities.
As with all things in American comics, it all starts with Superman.
Barely a year after his first comic, Superman had already branched into his self-titled book and a syndicated newspaper strip. Detective Comics had a megastar on their hands, and they soon made the choice, following the Pulp hero tradition, of licensing him out for a Radio Show. Aired in 15 minute serials, listeners were greeted with the now iconic, “Look! Up in the Sky!” that is synonymous with the Man of Steel. It’s only the first of many influences the radio show had on the comic. Thanks to the Radio Show, the Daily Star became the Daily Planet. We first met Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, and we learned the terror of Kryptonite. Even DC’s other mega-star, Batman, met the Man of Steel for the the first time in this format.
The Radio Show led directly to the Fleisher/Famous Studios’ incredible Superman animated shorts. These marvelously produced adventures perfectly captured the high octane physicality of Superman. And in another case of one format influencing the source material, it was in these shorts that Superman first gained the ability to fly. The vocal cast of the Radio Show also lent their talents to the shorts in an amazing bit of synergy. After the shorts were cancelled, there was simply an explosion of live action serials. Starting with newspaper strip and pulp stars Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel all starred in multiple serials that captivated audiences.
And then there was the television show starring George Reeves. After its long run ended, the series could be found in syndication bringing the show to generation after generation in much the same way as Star Trek did later. By this time, Superman was truly a cultural icon.
He became a Super Celebrity.