The first Superman cartoon from the famous Fleischer brothers was in cinemas in 1941. Not only did it successfully adapt Superman into movies for the first time, but it did so in full colour, with painstaking animation, and invented aspects that would stick with the character over the decades, including "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" amd for the first time, actual flight, a power that the comic books soon picked up.
The production cels from the shorts – each of which cost $30,000 to produce – were thought vanished. The hand-rendered graphite-made production drawings were surely lost somewhere between buyouts, break-ups and bankruptcies. And there was no reason at all to believe the sketched models of Superman and Lois Lane would ever been seen again.
However, a number have been compiled together by Heritage Auctions for the Dec. 11-13 Animation Art event. More than 50 original pieces from the's run on Superman, amassed from two separate collections never before available to the public, creating the largest assemblage of Fleischer Superman originals ever to come to auction.
Jim Lentz, Heritage's Director Animation Art, says the 28 total lots being offered in December constitute "almost everything that exists" from the Superman cartoons. Perhaps, he says, this is as much as 80-85% of all the surviving artwork. "To have a collection like this is a once-in-a-lifetime event," says cataloger David Tosh, Heritage's in-house expert on the Fleischers' work. "When I first saw it, I thought I must be dreaming. This material just doesn't show up. In 17 years at Heritage I've seen a few pieces, but nothing this gorgeous. It's mind-blowing to me."
This includes the color model for Superman himself, whose stands with hands-on-hips while animators colour-code each piece of the costume rendered in graphite, with Dave Fleischer's signature signing off permission for the animators to proceed.
There's also a colour model for Lois Lane as well.
We also have the model sheet for Superman's head and face, the square jaw with the spit curl, dated August 1941 with five views of Superman, alongside 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 features Lois in various poses, including flying, alongside Clark Kent and a rough sketch of Superman.
The lot also includes including a piece from the first cartoon, 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. Another production cel from the second Superman short, November 1941's "The Mechanical Monsters," showing the hero demolishing the monsters.
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 – 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 also one piece fom the final batch of cartoons, a drawing of an aeroplane from September 1942's Japoteurs, when the studio turned Superman's attention from sci-fi villainy to the Second World War.
"But the Superman collection serves as a historical document on the making of one of animation's greatest series," Lentz says. "It continues to mean so much to so many. It was a gateway to everything from the George Reeves TV series to the Christopher Reeve movies to the more recent Batman and Superman animated series to The Dark Knight Returns. And it's likely we'll never see a collection such as this one ever again."
Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world's largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.