LOOK! UP ON THE SHELF!
Back in December, we ran a monthlong series called TOYHEM! in which we explored various and sundry toys and collectibles from a wide variety of perspectives, including comics creators, commentators and the like.
Had I known Back Issue cartoonist Karl Heitmueller had the Superman collection you’re about to see, it would have gotten a big spotlight. But once I did catch wind of it, I didn’t wait to wait for TOYHEM II later this year to bring this warm, loving at Karl’s varied and sizeable assortment Man of Steel memorabilia.
This is the stuff I really dig – and I’m sure you will too – broken down in, yes, 13 categories.
Check this out. — Dan:
By KARL HEITMUELLER JR.
I first discovered Superman via the CBS Saturday morning showings of Filmation’s The New Adventures of Superman, and became an instant lifelong fan of the character.
While Superman initially appealed to me for the usual reasons kids love him (adolescent power fantasy, et al), as I grew older (and more cynical), he came to represent something else. The notion of absolute power absolutely UNcorrupted is an inspiration in an era where we see power abused on a daily basis. What was once simple enjoyment of action and adventure is now a necessary, cathartic escapism from a world that, frankly, scares the bejeezus out of me.
The fact that Superman feels anachronistic to an audience that prefers darker, troubled heroes only endears the character to me more: He’s a classic, timeless reminder to fight the good fight, no matter what others think.
I’ve been collecting Superman stuff for — Jeez Louise — a half a century. My collecting certainly has waxed and waned over the years, and not just due to varying levels of interest (life sometimes got in the way, y’know). I have a very subjective set of rules for what I collect. To me, those who indiscriminately consume every single item related to their particular passion (be it Batman, Star Wars, or whatever) with no aesthetic filter are not so much collectors as hoarders. There’s way more Superman stuff out there (especially these days) that I DON’T want than I do.
Some criteria are simple (although there are always a few exceptions): No action figures over 7” (Captain Action doesn’t count). No cutesy kid stuff. No household appliances (I do not want a Superman coffee maker, thanks).
Others are more complicated: I normally avoid any Superman item in which he’s not wearing the classic red trunks (I am a traditionalist). Exceptions to this rule include movie costumes (hard to avoid that one) and one Jae Lee figure (he’s literally the only artist who made that stupid armor look acceptable.)
T-shirts are tricky: Older graphics are fine as long as they aren’t augmented with some self-aggrandizing (and often incongruous) addition like, “Come at me, Bro!” I prefer softcovers to hardcovers most of the time, and I never, EVER want a reprint collection that utilizes modern digital recoloring.
Even with those criteria, I’ve managed to amass a sizable collection of Superman memorabilia. You can check it out every day on Instagram at TheDailySuperman. Dan was kind enough to ask me to share some of it here, so what follows is a small portion of my collection, divided into 13 categories….
My First Superman Comics. One day in early 1970, my father came home from work with an impulse buy in his pocket for me: Superboy #164, my very first comic book. Dad had no idea the Pandora’s Box he’d just opened with that 15-cent drugstore purchase. Later that week, my mother took me to the Thrift Drug down the road where I scavenged these other Superman titles (along with Detective Comics #398) off the HEY!! KIDS COMICS spinner rack. It’s worth noting that this was the same month that Green Lantern #76 hit the stands, what many consider the start of the Bronze Age of Comics, making me a bona fide Bronze Age Baby). These books remain on display on a shelf in my studio.
Some of My Oldest Collectibles. Many of the items in my collection have been purchased (or re-purchased) in the past few decades, but there are more than a few that I’ve had since I was a little kid, bugging my parents for whatever Superman item I saw on the shelf at Grants or Two Guys or wherever. Here are a few of them: The brown hair on the Chemtoy figures always bugged me, even as a kid; the Ideal Playset still has all the cardboard figures; the radio and squirt gun still work; I don’t have enough hair to use the Avon hairbrush; and the bank is empty.
The Golden Age of Whitman Publishing. Whitman Publishing hit its peak (at least as far as superheroes go) in the 1960s, as these classic books show. The coloring book and mini-novel are originals from my youth. The other three items are more recent purchases (I paid more for that Press-Out Book than almost anything in my collection).
Some of My Action Figures. (Just Some.) I read Superman comics religiously from 1970 through his Death and Return in the early 1990s. But when the Dark Age of Comics took over, I fell out of love with the medium that had defined me as a kid and stopped buying mainstream comics. (I continued to buy alternative stuff like Love & Rockets, Hate and Eightball). But my affinity for superheroes (Superman particularly) continued, so I turned my collecting focus back to memorabilia and toys.
Over the years, my action figure collection has grown to probably about a thousand (almost every one of them removed from the package, thank you very much), with about half of them related to the Man of Steel. My living room features 24 feet of shelving, housing many of these figures, dusted twice a year in a painstaking process (those exposed brick walls are pretty, but dusty!).
The section in the first picture contains the subjective cream of the crop, being my favorite figures, all clustered together to make it easier to grab them and swoop them into a bag in the horrific case of a fire or tornado or alien attack or something. The second montage details a few more. There’s not room here to talk about all of them, but the single most important item in my collection is in here, and we’ll get to more detail about that a bit later…
History Lessons. After a few years of casually reading comic books (and then cutting them up to make collages, DUMB DUMB DUMMY HEAD), I eventually became a “collector” and a student of the medium and its characters. These books, all from the early-mid 1970s were eye-opening history lessons on Superman and the media in which he thrived.
Whitman Frame Tray Puzzles. More Whitman gorgeousness! Oh what I would give for Chip Kidd to do a Superman companion to his Batman Collected book. Mr. Kidd, are you listening?
Superman #226 (May 1970) through #243 (Oct. 1971). As mentioned above, I read every Superman comic (Superman, Action, World’s Finest, et al) for two and a half decades after my first issue, #225. But this year and a half of Superman (written by Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates, Denny O’Neil, and others, all drawn by the great Curt Swan with inkers George Roussos, Dan Adkins and the magnificent Murphy Anderson, plus three giant-size reprint collections) is my all-time favorite run of comics. It’s not just Denny O’Neil and Swanderson’s redefining Kryptonite Nevermore!/Sand Superman epic (the first time the character was seriously “rebooted”), the bracketing issues likewise took root in my psyche in a way that I can’t objectively explain. You just had to be there. Oh, but those Neal Adams covers should grab everyone who’s ever spun a spinner rack!
Dinnerware. Of course, it wasn’t just comic books and toys, Superman found his way into every aspect of my life, including everyday objects like dinnerware. The 1966 Melmac plate and cup were mine as a kid (I still use the cup, but not the plate). The NY mug was from the short lived Warner Bros. Studio Store in the mid-’90s (I use that almost every day). The “Superman in Action” vintage jelly jar glass is a recent purchase. The Superman: The Movie Pepsi/Burger King premium is the only one of that series I have (now). The shot glass was a gift from a lady friend, which I use sparingly. There’s more, these are just the highlights.
Records. Again, this is only a partial selection, including the goofy 1966 Tifton Musical Stories LP, the original Broadway cast recording of It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman, a handful of Power/Peter Pan Records, and Mondo’s gorgeous 2015 die-cut EP of music from Superman: The Animated Series.
Superman: The Movie Merch. Of course, the December 1978 release of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie was one of the pop culture highlights of my life (to this day, to be honest). While by today’s standards, the merchandising may seem lacking (very few actual action figures, no adaptation for contractual reasons), there was still enough STM stuff for sale to keep me happy. (Not pictured: the 1979 calendar, the art portfolio, the press book, more magazines, the 45 RPM single of the theme, General Zod and Jor-El action figures, an actual one-sheet and more posters, three more CD versions of the soundtrack…). Oh, and the covers on the two Blu-rays were custom jobs by myself.
Superman Shelves. Again, partial. But these two shelves (part of a floor-to-ceiling custom job in my living room) spotlight most of my books about Superman along with a selection of graphic novels and trade paperback and hardback collections. There’re also some Super-vehicles, a light-up shard of kryptonite, a Superman Soaky hiding behind that lamp, and some other stuff. This shelf is accessed practically daily for one reason or another. (P.S. I actually loathe Funko Pops, but a glow-in-the-dark Superman was too much for me to pass up on).
Homemade/One of a Kind. I’ve been lucky enough over the years to be gifted with some lovely homemade Superman items by friends and family. The pillow (one of two) was made by my friend Lauren Foti. The bust and painting were both by my pal and fellow cartoonist, Matt Caputo. But the two-layer plywood \S/ shield means the most to me, as it was made by my late father in his wood shop when I was a kid.
The Syroco Ashtray. I’ve saved the best for last: One of my earliest Superman figures turned out to be the centerpiece of my collection. A gift from my Uncle Ken, who found the item at a local flea market, it was a 6” pressed wood composition figure, fully painted and mounted on the back of a molded burnt-orange color ashtray. Decades would pass before I came to know its origin.
Created as a DC Comics promotional item (for the radio show) in 1941, the “Syroco statue,” as it is known, is one of the rarest Superman collectibles of all. Only about a hundred were produced and they were never commercially available. Most of the statues were brown with only red highlights painted. According to one online auction, only about a dozen of the figures were fully painted. And fully painted figures mounted on an orange ashtray are so uncommon that I’ve seen a few websites claim there are only two known to exist (I don’t think they know about mine, so there are at least three, probably more). I unscrewed the figure from the ashtray long before I knew its provenance, but thankfully, even as a kid, I was enough of a collector to not throw away the ash receptacle (it spends most of its time wrapped in a box of other Superman items, but I dug it out for this shoot).
So, those are the highlights. Oh, wait, I forgot about Action Comics #35, my oldest Superman comic… and the 6-foot Superman “Peace” poster that’s rolled in a tube waiting to be expensively framed because it’s so giant and that way my kid brother can’t tear it in half again like he did when we had that fight in 1976… OH! And the giant Aurora Poster Puzzle! And my original Superman Style Guide art! And the…
Well, you get the idea.
— TOYHEM: MEGOs Weren’t Perfect — But They Were What We Had, by KARL HEITMUELLER JR. Click here.
— TOYHEM: THE AURORA SUPERMAN MODEL, by TOM PEYER. Click here.
March 29, 2020
Thanks for sharing your collection with us. I enjoyed seeing all your items.
March 29, 2020
Wow. What a great collection! Just wanted to share this with you. For those fans that like to split hairs on origins and stuff like that. We know that Kal-El is Earth’s adopted son of Krypton, but to be even more specific, you can win any argument by proclaiming that SUPERMAN IS INDEED A BUCKEYE! (Born in the State of Ohio via his creators!)
March 29, 2020
I appreciate this post very much.
March 30, 2020
Wonderful collection Karl! Thanks so much for sharing, and I always look forward to your pages in Back Issue!!!
March 30, 2020
I have a rare Superman that I didn’t see you have any that are similar . Unless i sell him outright before, he will be going up for auction when this stay at home ban ends
July 3, 2020
There are actually 5 examples of the Syroco ashtray. I happen to own one of them which was repainted about 18 years ago