Born into comic books at the height of the Great Depression, Superman owes some of his early fame to Dave and Max Fleischer, the American studio owners who animated him for the silver screen in 1941. A defender of “truth, justice and the American way,” the Man of Steel became a patriotic symbol for a country at war. As a cartoon – all sharp angles and muted colours – he stood out from Betty Boop and Popeye, his curvier contemporaries.
Nicholas Sammond, a professor of cinema studies and English at U of T, teaches a course on the early days of American animation. Last year, he created a website that will soon feature biographies of dozens of animators from the first half of the 20th century, including the Fleischers, who worked extensively on Superman. What’s unique about the project (at www.rarebit.org) is that web users will be able to track animators’ careers as they hopped from studio to studio. Sammond intends to reach beyond the university’s walls to encourage collectors and fans to share their knowledge. He also plans to add videos and photographs of animators’ work.
The animated Superman short above, The Mechanical Monsters, was released by Fleischer Studios in 1941