Superman is the brainchild of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. "Joe and I were high school classmates in Cleveland," Siegel recalls. "Like me, he was a science fiction fan; we published a fanzine called Science Fiction, with Joe as art director and myself as editor." In the January 1933 issue, Siegel's The Reign of the Superman, illustrated by Shuster, saw print. In this tale, the "Superman" becomes a villain after being granted super-powers by a mad scientist who is very much like the later arch-villain, Lex Luthor.
Later in 1933, when Siegel saw Detective Dan, one of the first comic books, "it occurred to me that a Superman who was a hero might make a great comic character," and wrote a comic book story that Shuster drew: The Superman. After it was rejected by Dan's publisher, a dejected Shuster destroyed all of the original art - only the cover survived. "We had a great character," Siegel remembers, "and were determined it would be published." They set out to recreate Superman as a comic strip. One summer night in 1934, Siegel came up with almost all of the Superman legend as we know it, wrote weeks of comic strips by morning, and had Shuster drawing it all the next day - including the creation of Clark Kent, named after Clark Gable. "I suggested to Joe he put an 'S' in a triangle," Siegel says. Shuster added the cape to help give the effect of motion to Superman. Together they chose primary colors for his costume because they were, Shuster recounts, "the brightest colors we could think of."
Over the next three years, their Superman strip was turned down by every comic syndicate editor in the country. Esquire Features suggested, "pay a little attention to actual drawing. Yours seems crude and hurried." But Sheldon Mayer, an editor at the McClure syndicate "went nuts! It was the thing we were all looking for!" He couldn't convince his boss, M.C. Gaines, to publish it - but when DC Comics publisher Harry Donenfeld called Gaines looking for material for his new title, Action Comics, Gaines sent him Superman. Donenfeld showed it to his editor, Vince Sullivan, who bought it, saying, "it looks good... it's different... and there's a lot of action! This is what kids want!"
In order to meet the first issue's deadline, Shuster cut, pasted, and redrew Superman's daily strips into 13 comic book sized pages. The cover was based on an interior panel; according to Mayer, "Donenfeld felt that nobody would believe it!" The first issue of Action Comics hit stands in 1938 and the legend of Superman was born.