Gerard Jones Weighs In!

Gerard Jones, one of the premier comics historians in the world and an top expert on the Golden Age of Comics, offers his insights on Action Comics #1:

"As for the Pollaiolo as an influence on Shuster's Action cover, that kind of visual lineage is really hard to trace. Every artist learns from copying other artists and from art teachers and instruction books who pass on the same basic poses and compositions from generation to generation. Poses first seen in Roman sculpture and Renaissance paintings found their way into basic artistic vocabulary, and so they show up in book illustrations and comics from the 20th Century. Pollaiolo himself is pretty well recognized as one of the most influential figure artists of the Renaissance--his "battle of naked men" engraving was passed throughout Europe and influenced Durer and countless others (and there are a couple of figures in it very similar to his Hercules). There are ghosts of Pollaiolo in many images of muscular men in action from 1500 on.

"On the other hand, it's not at all unlikely that Joe Shuster, already comparing the hero mentally to Hercules, might have gone to the public library looking for classical Hercules imagery and found the Pollaiolo in a book. Jerry Siegel may even have said something to the effect of, "Hey, Joe, let's go look for pictures of Hercules and Samson at the library." To back this up further, you might have to dig around among art books that would have been available to the library-going public or a young art student in America in the 1930s. Although it seems pretty reasonable to assume that an image of the Pollaiolo Hercules would have been pretty available.

"The other thing you'd want to look at, though, is imagery that might have been closer at hand for Joe that might be similar. Make sure there isn't a Hal Foster Tarzan panel, for example, with the same basic composition. (Foster, having a lot more education and higher cultural aspirations than Shuster, would seem like a better bet to be lifting from Pollaiolo.)

"Even if the cover image is lifted from Pollaiolo, one thing to beware of is interpreting that as any sort of esoteric or occult reference. Classical mythology was quite mainstream in the US in the early 20th Century--kids had to read Bullfinch's Mythology in school, and Italian Renaissance art was being taught as the pinnacle of Western art. Jerry and Joe would have seen Hercules as a universal reference point for "strong man."- Gerard Jones

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