Beard: Vintage Superman/JFK art mired in controversyWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A new conspiracy theory has risen around the late John F. Kennedy, this one concerning a certain Man of Steel and artwork for a famous comic book story that could be worth a pretty penny – if the proper owners could be identified.
The time-honored tradition of portraying U.S. presidents in shadow and nameless in comic books went out the window with the young, charismatic JFK and his “Camelot.” In 1963 DC Comics was preparing to publish a special story for their Superman book to promote Kennedy’s Council on Physical Fitness when an assassin’s bullet set the entire country on its heels. The story was pulled in deference to the President’s family until Lyndon Johnson’s people contacted the company to urge them to move ahead with the publication to honor the fallen leader. The story’s original art, drawn by classic Superman artist Al Plastino and appearing in Superman #170, was noted in the issue to have been donated to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library ay Harvard University.
Happy ending, right? Perhaps not. Plastino, now 91, recently learned that his art has been put up for auction. Confused, he contacted the JFK Library and learned they had no record of ever receiving the art back in 1963. Even more confused, the artist contacted the auction house to learn the name of the art’s consignor, but his request was refused – as well as his request to have the work returned to him. Internet pundits feel that Plastino may have some legal grounds to sue for the return of the art. The case became even stranger when comic historians pointed out that the famous story was first drawn by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, but that art also went missing back in the day and Plastino was asked to recreate it for the 1963 publication.
In other words, there’s a lot of Superman/JFK drawings floating around out there with dubious owners. Who has legal claim to the art? One might think DC Comics would, as the pages would have been originally produced as work-for-hire…but sometimes what’s legal isn’t always what’s right. Al Plastino may be comforted in his golden years by the return of a story that obviously marks a highlight in his long career, and that’s something Superman himself would most likely champion.