The Arty Semite

Was Superman a Frat Boy?

By Michael Kaminer

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Beta-Sigma-Rho Man?

The recent discovery of a 75-year-old pencil sketch by Superman creator Joe Shuster hints that Man of Steel’s origins have roots in a Toronto fraternity.

The Ontario Jewish Archives in Toronto recently released an image of the circa-1937 drawing, which depicts a familiar caped figure with a “BSR” logo emblazoned across his chest in place of the more recognizable “S.”

“This superhero is not saving the citizens of the fictitious Metropolis from evildoers,” the OJA said in a tongue-in-cheek press release. “Rather, he is a mascot for the University of Toronto’s Beta Sigma Rho fraternity.”

While Joe Shuster wasn’t a member of the frat, whose Toronto chapter launched in 1930, his first cousin Frank, a University of Toronto student, did belong. Joe Shuster would leave Cleveland often to visit his Toronto cousin; the two would spend days watching movies in downtown theaters. Frank Shuster would go on to form the legendary Canadian comedy duo Wayne & Shuster with Johnny Wayne.

Joe Shuster’s “BSR Man” drawing was found in Beta Sigma Rho scrapbook donated to the Jewish Archives of Ontario. “The sketch already exhibits many of the hallmarks of Superman as we know him — the shorts-over-tights costume, the square jaw, and the lone curl on his forehead,” OJA director Dara Solomon said in a statement.

“The signature crest contains the stylized ‘S’ between a smaller ‘B’ and ‘R’ for Beta Sigma Rho. The proportions are marked; the right boot is left undefined; the shading on the cape is started but not completed. Indeed, this sketch, like Superman himself, represents the genesis of Shuster’s career illustrating what would become the model for all future modern superheroes,” Solomon said.

The drawing will remain on view at the Ontario Jewish Archives office in North Toronto. No word yet on an early version of Lois Lane as sorority sister.


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